an area of the map for world news.
the September 2001 issue of World Press Review (VOL.
48, No. 9).
Mexico's 'Southern Plan': The Facts
Crackdown Underway on Migration from Central America
Velia Jaramillo, Proceso
(liberal newsmagazine), Mexico City, Mexico, June 26, 2001.
Plan Sur (Southern Plan), announced by the Mexican
government [on June 19], may already be underway. Over a period
of 15 days, starting on June 4, the southern border of Mexico
was the stage for a large-scale police action that resulted
in more than 6,000 deportations of illegal aliens to Guatemala
from Mexico and 3,000 Central Americans located in Guatemala
back to the borders of Nicaragua, El Salvador, and neighboring
This is a part of a regional program backed by U.S. authorities
in which the governments of Mexico, the Central American nations,
and the countries of the Caribbean Basin are taking part.
Its first phase ran from June 4 to June 20, as confirmed by
the director of Guatemalan immigration, Luis Mendizábal.
According to this Guatemalan official, the reinforcement of
anti-immigration actions on the border between Guatemala and
Mexico is the initial stage of the Southern Plan in Mexico.
Because of these measures, the flow of undocumented migrants
illegally returning to Mexico from the Guatemalan border was
reduced by 30 percent.
The prelude to the Mexican governments Southern Plan,
also known as orderly and secure repatriation,
had its counterpart in Guatemala called Venceremos 2001
(We Shall Overcome 2001). This operation mobilized more than
200 police agents over the past few weeks. They checked hotels,
parks, bars, brothels, and public areas in search of illegal
aliens living in border cities, mainly Tecún Umán,
on the border across from Hidalgo in Chiapas state. More than
1,200 foreigners who reside there as a floating population,
awaiting the chance to cross over into Mexico on their way
to the United States, were detained and sent back to their
In this program, the participation of the Mexican army was
confined to cordoning off certain areas, according to information
provided by Mendizábal. The director of the Centro
de Apoyo al Migrante (Immigrant Support Center) of the Social
Pastoral Initiative of Guatemala, Mauro Verzeletti, reported
that according to statements by immigrants who managed to
evade the checkpoints, the Mexican army is already taking
part in identity checks.
Between June 4 and June 17, Mexico deported 6,000 illegal
aliens, of whom 50 percent were Guatemalan, 28 percent Honduran,
and 22 percent Salvadoran, according to Mendizábal.
Simultaneous operations throughout the entire border with
Mexico, conducted by the Guatemalan Department of Immigration
with the support of the Civilian National Police, concluded
in the same period with the detention and deportation of 3,666
people from Guatemala. More than 1,600 Hondurans, 1,500 Salvadorans,
100 Nicaraguans, and 400 from other countries, including Pakistan,
India, Ecuador, Peru, and Iran, were transported from the
border to hostels in Guatemala City and deported that same
day to the border of the country from which they entered,
according to the Guatemalan official.
Starting on June 4 as a part of this plan for massive deportations,
more than 18 buses carrying deportees were moving out on a
daily basis. Until Venceremos, the immigrants expelled by
Mexico were transported to the border with Guatemala, and
hundreds of them remained in that area. Now, the government
of the United States has supported the expenses connected
with the transportation of these people from Guatemala back
to their own countries, the immigration official pointed
He reported that the inspections were extended to Honduras
and El Salvador, where about 1,000 illegal aliens were detected.
The countries involved in the anti-immigration program shared
information on trafficking and illegal immigration rings,
Mendizábal emphasized. He explained that Venceremos
and its counterparts in the region concluded this past Wednesday,
but an evaluation will be done, and if it is positive,
we will consider continuing this project for the whole year.
I think that the results have been favorable, but we have
to review the type of economic support we are going to get
in order to continue it.
He reported that in border areas like Tecún Umán,
those deported [from Mexico] used to live as a marginalized
population, sleeping in parks and on sidewalks, and in some
cases, joining criminal groups or prostitution rings, thus
creating insecurity and fear among local residents. Now that
the deportees have been moved out, he assured us, crime has
begun to decrease.
As to whether the plan is in effect, Guatemalan authorities
offered differing versions. While the director for immigration
maintained that this plan has already started, the spokesman
for the Foreign Ministry, Edgar Arana, assured us that Venceremos
2001 is a program distinct from the Southern Plan, concerning
which, he asserted, the Guatemalan government has not received
Arana reiterated that he had no official knowledge of the
Southern Plan and did not expect any notification, since this
involves internal decisions of the Mexican government.
As for the report that military personnel might be involved
in the immigration identity checks, We do not see this
as a threat, he stated.
Alejandro González Navarro, the attaché for
immigration at the Mexican Embassy in Guatemala City, told
Proceso that the recently concluded program of deportations
is not part of the Southern Plan, but rather a temporary operation.
He defined it as a pilot test and specified that
what marked the difference this year was the fact that precise
information on the nationalities of those deported was handed
over to the Guatemalan authorities, which facilitated the
deportation from Guatemala of citizens of other countries
in Central America and elsewhere in the world.
What is certain is that the anti-immigration operation was
conducted discreetly and that the massive deportations from
Mexico, as well as the dispatch of dozens of buses transporting
the deportees out of Guatemala, went almost unnoticed.
Ricardo Gatica, the spokesman for Guatemalas Ministry
of Internal Affairs, explained that the details of the Southern
Plan were made known on May 11 during the visit to Guatemala
of a delegation of Mexican officials headed by the assistant
secretary for population and immigration affairs, Javier Moctezuma,
and the Guatemalan minister of the interior, Byron Barrientos.
At this meeting, the officials announced that they would implement
joint policies aimed at stemming the flow of illegal immigration
coming from Central America and heading for the United States.
According to the data provided by Moctezuma, each year 100,000
Guatemalans try to cross the border between Mexico and the
United States; fewer than 1 percent succeed. In the year 2000,
he reported, 50 died in the attempt.
When asked by Proceso, González Navarro clarified that
in 2000, Mexico had expelled from its southern border 152,967
illegal aliens. Most of them, more than 70,848, were Guatemalans,
40,892 were Hondurans, 33,960 came from El Salvador, 3,340
from Ecuador, and 1,836 from Nicaragua. The remaining aliens
were citizens of other countries, mainly China and India.
The immigration from Asian countries, which involves more
organized immigrant trafficking rings, has appeared in the
last 10 years, the Mexican official explained. He estimated
that in general terms the number of deportations is increasing
by 30 percent each year.
During his visit to Guatemala as Mexicos president-elect
on Sept. 11, 2000, Vicente Fox offered to set up mechanisms
to stop abuses by Mexican authorities against Central American
immigrants. But as the director of the Immigrant Support Center,
Mauro Verzeletti, pointed out, militarizing the anti-immigration
effort in Mexico may result in a major increase in violations
of the human rights of immigrants.
We see inconsistency between [Foxs] words and
actual practice; if they keep on involving the army in the
immigrant identity checks, there will be no improvement,
Verzeletti said. He said that he had received testimony from
some undocumented immigrants indicating that Mexican military
personnel are already present in the anti-immigration operations
along the southern border. He reported that according to information
received by the House for Immigrants, abuses against undocumented
Central American immigrants are on the increase. With
such strict measures in place, the immigrants seek out the
most dangerous roads, placing their lives in jeopardy,
he said. They cross over in more remote areas in the
north, near Petén, where there are a lot of mountains
and jungle, and many immigrants lose their lives along this
route, because they cannot find water or means to survive.
Verzeletti explained that the Immigrant Support Center in
Guatemala City alone takes care of an average of 500 people
a month who were deported or abandoned by the coyotes (immigrant
traffickers) and do not have the resources to return to their
country of origin. The abuses they most often report
are swindles, followed by rapes, assaults, robberies, and
poor conditions in the detention centers, where they may be
kept without food, water, or an appropriate place to sleep.