One day a few years ago, 300 migrants were kidnapped between the remote desert towns of Altar, Mexico, and Sasabe, Arizona. A local priest got 120 released, many with broken ankles and other marks of abuse, but the rest vanished. Óscar Martínez, a young writer from El Salvador, was in Altar soon after the abduction, and his account of the migrant disappearances is only one of the harrowing stories he garnered from two years spent traveling up and down the migrant trail from Central America and across the US border. More than a quarter of a million Central Americans make this increasingly dangerous journey each year, and each year as many as 20,000 of them are kidnapped.
Martínez writes in powerful, unforgettable prose about clinging to the tops of freight trains; finding respite, work and hardship in shelters and brothels; and riding shotgun with the border patrol. Illustrated with stunning full-color photographs, The Beast is the first book to shed light on the harsh new reality of the migrant trail in the age of the narcotraficantes.
This searing account of the hardships suffered by Central American migrants headed through Mexico to the United States comes from true shoe-leather reporting. In 2007 and 2008, Salvadoran journalist Martinez criss-crossed the most dangerous parts of Mexico to capture stories of Hondurans, Salvadorans, and Guatemalans traversing what's increasingly become a criminal narco-state. Robbery, kidnapping, rape, and assault are "the inevitable tolls of the road" imposed by cartels that have branched out into human trafficking and extortion. Martinez observes that today, human trafficking and prostitution isn't " a scar-faced man tending a cage of women. It's a complex system of everyday lies and coercions that happen just behind our backs." A journey marred by armed assaults and fatal accidents on "The Beast" (a freight train running north through the state of Oaxaca) is a trip "soaked with blood." This straightforward translation, first published in Spanish in 2010, doesn't flinch at migrants' plight, and as the drug wars further rend Mexico asunder, it's hard to imagine the situation changing.
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The very best book on Mexico and its coyotes, pollo, cartels and soldiers I've read. I didn't want it to end.