A violent end to a desperate dream makes a city in Guatemala mourn

The journey from Central America to American soil has always been dangerous, but a massacre with many victims from one corner of Guatemala shook the country.


They leave behind homes, families, everything they knew, and risk their chances of a dangerous trek north toward an uncertain future, driven by poverty, lack of opportunity, and the hope of something better.

For most migrants leaving Central America, such as that of the municipality of Comitancillo, in the mountains of Western Guatemala, the goal is to reach the United States, find work, save money, and return home, roots to put down, maybe even find love and start a family. Usually, the biggest obstacle is to cross the increasingly fortified U.S. border without getting caught.

A group of 13 migrants who left Comitancillo in January did not even get the chance. Their bodies were found, along with those of six other victims, shot and burned; the bodies are in the back of a pickup truck that was set on fire and left in the Mexican state of Tamaulipas, just shy of the U.S. border. Dozens of state police officers were arrested in connection with the massacre.

The remains of the migrants made the return journey on Friday, March 12, each in a coffin with the Guatemalan flag, turned into a military airport in Guatemala City. A somber repatriation ceremony there, with a speech by President Alejandro Giammattei, was broadcast live on national television. Family members, friends and neighbors in Comitancillo watched the broadcast in their homes as they made final preparations for the arrival of the bodies and for waking up and funerals to follow.

At dusk, after climbing along the switches that meander through the western highlands of Guatemala, the motor vehicle arrived in Comitancillo with 12 of the crates. Community leaders and families of the victims received the bodies during a ceremony on the city’s soccer field.

Above, neighbors stand on a lookout for the welcoming ceremony in a soccer field in Comitancillo. Below, seating is limited to family members.

Some mourned from behind a fence in the glow of an ambulance’s emergency lights.

This is a common lament in Comitancillo: there is no work, there is no chance of getting ahead. Farming is a major source of local income for the mostly indigenous people, many of whom speak a Mayan language, but the fields of wheat, maize and potatoes that cover the nearby hills can provide just as much work.

As a result, some young residents are looking for work in the capital. However, there is much more in the United States. Mónica Aguilón, a community leader who serves as director of the municipality’s cultural center, estimated that about 80 percent of Comitancillo youth migrate – ‘because there are no jobs in the municipality or in the country.’

A significant portion of the municipality’s diaspora settled in Mississippi, especially in and around the city of Carthage, where some found work in the poultry processing plants in the area. Other concentrations of Comitecos – as residents of the municipality are called – arose in New York, Oklahoma and elsewhere. They send money backing families to build new homes and local businesses.

But getting there has never been easy, especially not because of the lawlessness of Mexico. Criminals, who sometimes work hand in hand with corrupt officials, enchant the trek routes, rob, extort, kidnap and sometimes kill migrants.

Although many migrants from Comitancillo were victimized during the battle to the United States, the municipality has never experienced anything approaching the horrors of the January massacre.

“It was the worst case,” she said. Aguilón said.

During the ceremony on the soccer field in Comitancillo, Rev. Mario Aguilón Cardona, a local parish priest, demanded an end to violence against migrants in Mexico. “Nothing more!” he said in a homily, according to The Associated Press. “No more violence against migrants.”

Above, nuns attend the welcoming ceremony. Below is a card with the coffins of 12 of the victims arriving at the soccer field in Comitancillo.

Irma Yolanda Ximena Pérez, an aunt of Rivaldo Danilo Jiménez (18), who was one of the victims, was comforted by a family member.

When the Friday night ceremony was over, the families of the victims, who traveled in small processions, carried the coffins home. Some follow rich, dusty roads that branch out of the city center and lead to the hilly villages from which the migrants left only a few weeks earlier.

They huddled with friends in small houses of adobe brick or concrete block for awakenings that extended until late at night. Some of the deceased were buried on Saturday, others on Sunday.

The 13 victims of Comitancillo included ten men and boys and three women, almost all in their late teens and early 20s.

Among them, Edgar López was an anomaly. Not only was he, at age 49, significantly older than the others, but he not only left the house just as much, but Mr. López tried to reunite with his wife and three children in the United States, where he lived. for more than two decades.

An orchestra playing outside a house that Mr. López built in Chicajalaj, a village in the municipality of Comitancillo, with money he returned from the United States.

A funeral procession that Mr. Transported López’s coffin from his home to his parents’ home.

Mr López first entered the United States illegally in the late 1990s, settling in Carthage with his wife and daughter. He was deported shortly thereafter, but quickly turned around and moved north again, successfully entering the United States for a second time and reuniting with his family.

In Carthage, Mr. López found work in the poultry plants in the area, and he and his wife had two more children, both born in America, Rev. Odel Medina, the priest of the St. Anne Catholic Church in Carthage, said, where Mr. López was a church leader.

But in 2019, Mr. López was again detained by immigration officials during a raid on the factory where he worked. He has been detained for most of a year and is trying to fight deportation.

He kept in touch with Reverend Medina. “He always tried to organize groups to pray and have faith and stay strong,” the priest recalled.

Mr. However, López eventually lost his legal battle and was deported to Guatemala in 2020, Reverend Medina said. Because he desperately missed his family, he decided in January to try his luck again and move north for a third time, Reverend said.

Last Saturday, family members held a vigil for Mr. López attended his parental home. The funeral service was held in a church in the town of Chicajalaj, of which he helped fund the construction by raising money under the Guatemalan diaspora in Mississippi.

Above, family members woke up to Mr. López. During a march below, which Mr. López’s remains carried to the church and then to a cemetery, his cousin, Sebastián López (75), clung to a framed portrait of his deceased family member.

Mr López’s daughter, Evelin López, left a can of Coca-Cola, a favorite drink of his, as a tribute in his grave. This was her first trip to Guatemala.

In the home of Santa Cristina García Pérez (20), another victim, family members decorated an altar with framed photos, flowers and a bottle of water – so Ms. García’s spirit was not thirsty during the journey to the next life. , explained her father, Ricardo García Pérez.

Before she migrated, Mr. García said his daughter has been living in the city of Zacapa, on the other side of the country, for three years, with a range of low-paid jobs, including as a housekeeper and as a saleswoman in shops.

One of the 11 brothers and sisters, Mrs. García, hoping to earn enough money in the United States to cover the cost of surgery for her one-year-old sister, Angela Idalia, who was born with a cleft lip, her father said.

She wanted to save Ángela Idalia from what she thought would be a life of ridicule, family members said.

Me. García had hoped to reach Miami, where a friend lived, “but her life was unfortunately cut short along the way,” her father said.

“The saddest thing in life,” he continued. “There is no explanation.”

Family members gathered during the mass for Mrs. García and two other victims, Iván Gudiel Pablo Tomás and Rivaldo Danilo Jiménez, all from the village of Tuilelén.

Including Ricardo García Pérez and Olga Pérez Guzmán de García, the parents of me. García, while awake.

The killings stunned the community, spurred a wave of international media attention on Comitancillo and poured financial support for the victim’s families. Donations from nearby communities in the region and from the Guatemalan diaspora also paid for Ángela Idalia’s first operation to repair her cleft lip and enabled the García family to build a new home.

Yet locals predict that the migration of Comitancillo to the United States will not decline despite the massacre.

Residents said the election of President Biden and his promise of a more humane approach to migration policy have inspired many young Comitecos over the past few months to leave for the United States. Many residents are thinking of leaving soon, residents said.

Aguilón said that employment opportunities in Guatemala were too scarce and that the potential in the United States was too great.

“It was a big blow for us,” she said of the massacre. “But that will not stop people from migrating.”

Family members and neighbors attending the funeral of Ms. García, mnr. Pablo and Mr. Jiménez attended.

The coffin of mr. Jiménez is carried to the Tuilelén Cemetery above, and friends and family members holding the coffin of Mr. Pablo dra.

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