José Alfredo Corea Santos left Honduras in 2002 and had a terrible accident in Queretaro, a city just north of the Mexican capital, when he tried to board a moving train while fleeing immigration agents.
“I could not grab the train well,” said the 39-year-old. “I fell under the train and lost my right foot.”
Freddy Omar Vega Ardón, 37, suffered a similar accident in 2006 in the central Mexican state of San Luis Potosi.
After walking for hours, Vega Ardón tried to get on the train known as La Bestia (The Beast) — but failed.
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“I started to run and run alongside the train and when I tried to grab, another migrant came from behind and we tried to climb at the same time,” he said. “I was unable to support his weight and I fell under the wheels of the train, which chopped off my left foot.”
I fell under the wheels of the train, which chopped off my left foot.
Freddy Omar Vega Ardón, 37
The two men were among five Hondurans who lost their limbs to The Beast while traveling through Mexico toward the U.S. border.
They recently came to Miami to publicize their plight as well as the hardships and consequences of poverty and violence, key factors behind the increasing migration of Hondurans and other Central Americans to the United States.
This is the first group of Central Americans maimed by The Beast who have traveled in an organized way to the United States. The Beast is the generic name given to each and every freight train the Central American migrants ride through Mexico from the Guatemalan border to the U.S. border.
The group gave a press conference in Miami and plans to visit other major cities in the United States to promote their cause.
Their main goal is to persuade the White House to grant them a meeting with President Barack Obama and raise money from the public to help the hundreds or thousands of people maimed by The Beast over the years.
Normally, Central American migrants board the freight trains while they are in motion, and therefore, some fall to the rails. The wheels then cut off their feet, hands, legs or arms — or kill them. Another danger is that migrants travel on the roofs of the trains and sometimes fall to the ground or onto the rails.
Each of the five mutilated Hondurans separately told their story in the office of the Francisco Morazán Honduran Organization run by Honduran community leader Francisco Portillo.
Portillo’s team provided logistical and legal support to the group.
The maimed migrants belong to a group called Association of Returned Migrants with Disabilities. Portillo said the group has opened a bank account to collect donations from those who wish to help the migrants. For more information on how to donate, call Portillo’s group at 305-962-4089.
José Luis Hernández, 30, began his journey in 2006 seeking a better life in the United States.
“I left Honduras in search of the promised land I had dreamed of for my own country, but could never find there,” Hernández said. “That led me to leave Honduras.”
Hernández said the trip was a nightmare even before he fell off the train.
“In Guatemala, the gangs began to extort the migrants, and entering Tapachula in Mexico, extortions continued and intensified by well-armed criminal groups who demanded money to let us pass,” he said.
His accident occurred 20 days after he initially boarded the first train near the border with Guatemala.
As he tried to climb aboard another freight near Delicias, in the northern Mexican state of Chihuahua, south of El Paso, Texas, Hernández fell onto the rails.
“In trying to climb, I fainted and fell, and the wheels mutilated my right leg and my right arm,” he said.
I fainted and fell, and the wheels mutilated my right leg and my right arm.
José Luis Hernández, 30
After a long stay in the hospital, Hernández was deported by the Mexicans to Honduras.
Eventually, he joined the group of maimed Hondurans who began their new trip to the United States by other means last year. They entered the United States without papers, were detained at the border but eventually were released pending deportation trials.
Originally, the group consisted of 17 men. But four left the group in Mexico and returned to Honduras. Three others asked to be deported from the U.S. border when they grew tired of being in detention. Eventually, 10 traveled to the Washington area upon release. Five stayed there and the other five traveled to Miami.
“We come for the purpose of showing the world the sad reality of emigration from Central America,” Hernández said.
We come for the purpose of showing the world the sad reality of emigration from Central America.
José Luis Hernández, 30
Another Honduran who told his story was José Naín, 27. He suffered his accident in 2009, when he fell off the train while trying to escape gang members who had pushed him from the train.
“I fell onto the tracks, and the train passed and I lost my right leg,” he said. “That ended the dreams I had.”
After his accident in Orizaba, in the Mexican state of Veracruz, Naín was deported to Honduras, and returned with the group of maimed migrants who visited Miami.
Norman Valera, 45, originally left Honduras in 2005 and also boarded The Beast.
His accident occurred in Villahermosa, in the Mexican state of Tabasco, when a man he described as an immigration officer hit him in the chest.
“When he hit me, I fell under the train,” he said. “At that moment, the train began to move, and cut off my right leg. I screamed at the immigration agent to please stop the train. But he didn’t do anything. He just smiled.
“The train dragged me like 60 yards,” Valera said. “The immigration agent kept on smiling, and walked away from me, leaving me there to bleed. He did not care.”
Follow Alfonso Chardy on Twitter: @AlfonsoChardy