Mexico City – The director of a migrant shelter in southern Mexico, Rev. Alejandro Solalinde, said at least 80 migrants, including women and children, were likely abducted from a train late last week in the Gulf coast state of Veracruz.
The interior department "is now aware (of the abduction). That day (Friday) we began filing complaints in a certain place. I can't say where to protect the safety of these witnesses, but that's where we stand now," Solalinde said Monday in an interview with MVS radio.
Hours later, the National Human Rights Commission, or CNDH, Mexico's equivalent of an Ombud's Office, said in a statement that "it is investigating the disappearance of migrants in Medias Aguas, Veracruz."
Without indicating how many were missing or their nationality, it demanded authorities locate the migrants, solve the crime and punish those responsible.
Solalinde, a prominent immigrant-rights activist who runs the Hermanos en el Camino shelter in Ciudad Ixtepec, said Monday that "about 10 people with R-15 (rifles) speaking in code, in numbers, shouting" carried out a new mass kidnapping of migrants in an isolated area near Medias Aguas.
That town is about 80 kilometers (50 miles) southwest of Coatzacoalcos and some 120 kilometers (75 miles) north of Ixtepec.
The undocumented migrants had boarded a freight train in Ixtepec - in the Isthmus of Tehuantepec - and were heading north when they were accosted Friday by people armed with R-15 rifles when the train came to a stop.
"The (train) operators didn't stop where they usually do, at the Medias Aguas station. Instead, they continued on to a remote area where the trains that come from Coatzacoalcos pass by," Solalinde said.
The gunmen were waiting in the area with "at least three big SUVs" and "went straight - like they already knew - to (the cars in which the) women and children were riding."
"We estimate based on the seating capacity of the SUVs that a minimum of 80 people" were taken away amid violence and verbal abuse, he added.
Solalinde said he is very concerned about "what is happening with those poor people" and recalled the brutal methods used by criminal gangs such as Los Zetas in southern Mexico against kidnapped migrants.
He said there are cases in which they kill "people in front of the others" or seek out the smallest member of the group of kidnap victims and nearly suffocate the individual with plastic bags to show the others "they're not playing around."
"We're now really worried about where these people are ... We know they're torturing them. I hope the government does something soon to rescue them," he said.
An Hermanos en el Camino spokesman said earlier that eyewitnesses had reported the kidnapping to the shelter.
"Some of them ran into the bushes to save their lives and others who were unable to escape were captured by these people and later taken away in the SUVs to an unknown destination," the shelter said in a statement released on Sunday.
According to Solalinde, this latest criminal action is an act of defiance by organized criminals.
While the government says it is "lowering (crime) rates and doing a lot to combat kidnappings," this abduction a month before a visit by a top official of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, Rodrigo Escobar, is a way of "taunting" the government, Solalinde said.
He said it is regrettable the kidnappings occurred after six months of relative calm in the region and in an area, Medias Aguas, where there was a "permanent presence (of security forces) guarding the installations of (state oil monopoly) Pemex."
Although much about the abduction remains a mystery, immigrant-rights activists said gunmen with the Los Zetas drug cartel, which controls that area of eastern Mexico, may be responsible.
At least 11,333 migrants, the majority of them from Central America, were kidnapped in Mexico between April and September 2010, the CNDH said in a report released in February.
An estimated 300,000 Central Americans and 400,000 Mexicans undertake the perilous journey across Mexico each year on their way to the United States.
Central American migrants follow a long route that takes them into Chiapas state, which is on the border with Guatemala, walking part of the way or riding aboard freight trains, buses and cargo trucks.
The trek is fraught with danger, with criminals and corrupt Mexican officials preying on the migrants.
The flow of migrants has increased markedly in the northern and northeastern parts of Mexico since U.S. officials increased security along the border in the northwestern part of the country.
Authorities say they were slain by Los Zetas after refusing to work for the gang as couriers or enforcers.