MEXICO CITY ( Associated Press) – The two cousins returned to the small, rugged hamlet in which they grew up in southern Mexico about two weeks ago to say goodbye to what has become a rite of passage for generations of migrants from their remote, impoverished mountainous region in Oaxaca state.
After the farewell, Javier Flores López and Jose Luis Vásquez Guzmán began their trek north to the U.S.-Mexico border and to their final destination in Ohio, where construction work and other work awaited.
Flores López is now missing, his family said, while Vásquez Guzmán was hospitalized in San Antonio after surviving stifling heat in a truck trailer near the city of Texas that killed at least 53 people in the deadliest smuggling episode ever in the USA
This was not the first trip to the U.S.-Mexico border for Flores López, now in his mid-30s, who left Cerro Verde years ago and moved to Ohio, where his father and brother live.
He was back home to briefly see his wife and three young children, a cousin, Francisco López Hernández, said. Vásquez Guzmán (32) decided to go with his cousin for his first trip across the border and hoped to reach his eldest brother who is in Ohio as well.
While everyone knew the risks, many people from Cerro Verde made it safely across the U.S.-Mexico border with the help of smugglers, so it was a shock, López Hernández said, to learn that Vásquez Guzmán was under 67 people were what was packed in the truck. Monday abandoned found near car storage yards. The family believes Flores López was too, but they are still awaiting confirmation.
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The driver remained in custody with two other men from Mexico while the investigation continues.
Officials had potential identifications on 37 of the victims by Wednesday morning, pending verification with authorities in other states, according to the Bexar County Medical Examiner’s Office.
The dead include 27 people from Mexico, 14 from Honduras, seven from Guatemala and two from El Salvador, said Francisco Garduño, head of Mexico’s National Immigration Institute.
Identifying them was challenging because some were found without identification documents and in one case carried a stolen ID. Remote towns, such as Cerro Verde, have little or no telephone service to reach family members and fingerprint data must be shared and matched by the governments involved.
Cerro Verde is a community of about 60 people who were largely abandoned by the young people. Those who keep working earn meager lives by weaving sun hats, rugs, brooms and other items from palm leaves. Many live on as little as 30 pesos a day (less than $ 2).
“The truth is that people are leaving here out of necessity,” said Felicitos García, who owns a small grocery store in nearby San Miguel Huautla, adding that he saw the two men about two weeks ago. “Life is difficult here. People survive by growing their own crops such as maize, beans and wheat. Sometimes the land gives and sometimes not, when the rain comes late. There is nothing in place for people to have other resources. People live one day after the next. ”
Vásquez Guzmán’s mother, who is trying to get a visa to see her son in Texas, raised him and his three siblings alone after their father died when Vásquez Guzmán was 10, García said. She is now the only one of the family left in Cerro Verde. Vásquez Guzmán left when he was 18 and joined the Mexican army.
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His eldest brother, Eloy, moved to the United States just over a year ago and settled in Ohio, said López Hernández, who grew up on the neighboring farm.
“I imagine he commented to him on how the work situation was and everything and how to make more money,” López Hernández said. “I imagine he called him so that he would also come to have a better life. This is the draw for why he is going. “
Vásquez Guzmán, who has lived in Mexico City for the past six years, returned to Cerro Verde only to say goodbye to his mother, López Hernández said.
He knew it was an expensive and risky journey. López Hernández said most people rely on those who made it to the U.S. to send them money for the trip, which usually costs about $ 9,000.
“There are a lot of risks, but for those who are lucky, the fortune is there, to be able to work, to earn a living,” he said.
With so many leaving and heading to the United States, it’s easy to find a smuggler and so far the people have arrived safely, López Hernández said.
“I do not know in this case whether they changed or what happened, why they were abandoned,” he said.
López Hernández, who also has a brother living in Ohio, thought about joining him. But he said family, work, school and other responsibilities kept him in Mexico.
On Sunday night, he asked his uncle if he had heard of Vásquez Guzmán. He told him he was in Texas.
“I told him, ‘How nice, he’s trying hard and we’ll see him on his return,” López Hernández replied before losing their phone signal.
He later learned from the internet of the tragedy.