Chronicle of a ‘Rafter’ on Foot
Chronicle of a ‘Rafter’ on Foot / 14ymedio, Mario Penton Martinez
Posted on November 14, 2015
Today we publish the first part of the testimony of a Cuban who has made
the dangerous trip to Guatemala US
14ymedio, Mario J. Penton Martinez, Guatamalan/Mexican Border, 13
November 2015 – I live proud of being Cuban. I always have been. Cuba
evokes the warmth of a mother’s lap, the tenderness of my great-nephews,
friends, my first love, the pain of a suffering nation. I am one of a
generation born on the threshold of the euphemistically called Special
Period, so also coming to mind are blackouts, scarcities, building
collapses and censorship. How can I forget that I had to come to
Guatemala to hear the music of Celia Cruz for the first time, or to
learn of the valiant struggle of the opponents of the Cuban regime? How
can I forget that rights like freedom of expression, assembly,
enterprise and the press were something that I never experienced, things
that according to what was said could only be obtained “outside”?
It was pouring down rain in the Guatemalan capital the day they gave me
the news. “After serious consideration we believe that your path is not
to be a consecrated religious.” The temperature dropped and like every
Caribbean in these mountainous lands, I began to feel a glacial cold. A
lapidary moment. One by one the floor tiles start to sink to the rhythm
of my life: the dreams that I had forged, the people with whom I had
related, the university students, everything was being erased by that
hurricane, whose vortex would be the duty of returning to Cuba.
It took a few hours to get over the shock: the decision was made. I
would melt into this human river that had been written about in the
independent media, and that few or no one in the world knew: the
hemorrhage of Cubans who risk Central America and Mexico to get to the
United States. Rather than return to slavery, at least I would try to
get to a land of freedom. I knew it could cost me my life, but it was
worth it to try.
The first point was to find an appropriate coyote. Not all are reliable,
so you have to make sure it is someone who has made successful trips.
Through friends who made the journey previously I got Juan’s number.
What first drew my attention was his ring tone. It was a popular
Christian doxology. “It is so people will feel confident,” I thought. On
the other end of the cell a voice assured me that the journey would be a
success and that a group of Cubans was already waiting for me to leave.
The cost, $2,500 US, in cash in Guatemala, was the price of the American
dream, $5,000 if it was from Ecuador and you wanted to be sure to
arrive. I had to leave, on my own account and at my own risk, from one
of the most violent countries in the world to a border city with 18,700
quetzales in exchange. They were waiting for me there.
The bus that took me to the site was a tower of Babel: Africans, Hindus,
Cubans… It seemed very ordinary, as no one was surprised. After a six
hour journey, I arrived at my destination. At least a dozen people
crowded around the terminal offering, to anyone who looked foreign, help
in crossing the border illegally. Another passenger told me that the
whole border region lives off human trafficking. My experiences
Behind me, making me shudder: “Are you Juan?” I was facing the emissary
of my coyote. Following a positive response, we wended our way through a
web of intricate alleys to a poor neighborhood on the outskirts of the
city. “Don’t worry, bro, this neighborhood is controlled by us, there’s
no problem.” Both the fake Cuban accent and the difficulty of getting to
the place sparked the exact opposite of what the guide intended.
That same afternoon, I was installed in one of the many houses used to
hide the island migrants. In the full light of day, and unrestrainedly,
because the law in Guatemala constitutes these networks tied to violence
and nobody knows for sure how many millions of dollars move. Just to
give an idea, it is said that globally, human trafficking generates
gross revenues of more than 32 billion dollars annually, some $13,000 on
average that each subject brings his coyote.
It was there that I met in person, I learned later, one of the most
recognized coyotes in the traffic between Central America and Mexico.
His humble demeanor hardly reflected the power he possessed. Emerging
from the underworld of rural Guatemala, this person had trafficked drugs
and belonged to the maras (armed groups or gangs who generally control
the extortion, human trafficking and drugs in the region). Alcohol and
drug use, along with little schooling, marked his life. In time, and
according to what he himself told me that afternoon, he converted to
evangelical Christianity, and today is its staunch promoter.
Juan alternates conversation with preaching, and while he charged me
$2,500, he affirmed to me that today Christ is the center of his life
and the one who has given him everything he possesses. “God and Cubans,”
he corrects himself. Under his protection are charitable sites and he
shares his life between both passions: “The Church and crowning people
so that they get to their destination: the flagpole with the stars and
stripes.” Before leaving he let me know that I should leave there
everything I owned. I will only be allowed to depart with a change of
clothes and my papers. The rest will go into the coffers of his
charities. “It doesn’t matter, at the end of the day when they will
crown you in la yuma,” he blurts out as consolation.
Once the coyote left, I was alone in an unknown house, in the midst of
an unknown city and in the hands of unknown people without very good
references. I’m facing a mountain of clothes, shoes and the belongings
of those who came before me. Judging by the number of garments there
were dozens. On the walls graffiti recorded the names and hometowns of
Cubans. Manuel from Matanzas, May 2013; Yoenia González from Camagüey,
December 2013; Yendry from Bayamo, June 2015… What had become of them?
Did they make it to the United States or are they in a mass grave?
Images of Auschwitz crossed my mind, while on the roof rats frolicked.
The die is cast. I waited three days in solitary confinement, three days
“with the Creed in my mouth” as my grandfather used to say: facing death
and praying to God to save me.
Thus began the long road of a “rafter” on foot. Swamps, jungles, rivers,
robbers, internal divisions and police would take turns adding to the
difficulties of a crossing already difficult, to reach free soil.
Editor’s note: The author worked as a religious consecrated to the
Catholic Church in Guatemala for almost two years before embarking on
the journey to the United States.
Source: Chronicle of a ‘Rafter’ on Foot / 14ymedio, Mario Penton
Martinez | Translating Cuba –