Between 2008 and 2010, Óscar Martínez, a journalist from El Salvador, set out to trace the trail that so many poor Central Americans had been following for decades but that by then had grown increasingly and unprecedentedly dangerous. He followed the route taken by thousands of men, women and children, fleeing brutal violence and unsurmountable poverty. Martínez chronicled his journey for El Salvador's pioneering news website El Faro, as he went from the Guatemala-Mexico border, through the deadly train route ominously called The Beast, to the no-mans-land of the Sonora desert, and the U.S.-Mexico border cities. He chronicled the harrowing pilgrimage of the most downtrodden people of the most downtrodden countries in the hemisphere fleeing unfathomably difficult lives behind and seeking survival.
Martínez's account is powerful, the reader feels immersed in the reality he describes. It's also a story of how U.S. policy debates are so utterly detached from reality — immigration and drug policies enacted by both parties in the past decades have worsened the problems they sought to resolve. Even though today these policy failures are abundantly clear for all to see, 10 years ago it was not so obvious, as it was the focus of much partisan altercation. But for those, like Martínez, who were paying attention, the failures were not just glaring, they were also deadly, and they were hurting those most vulnerable of the western hemisphere (incidentally, fleeing societies that have been ravaged by military and economic interventionist policies imposed by the U.S.).
I believe the worst tragedies along the path — the rapes, the mass kidnappings, the torturing done by Los Zetas, the fee to cross the border — are things that the migrants who have suffered them, in my experience, don’t even tell their own families. I’m convinced that it’s something they don’t tell their employers or their friends if they have any friends in the United States. I think people in the U.S. know that migrants have a long and hard journey. But I’m convinced that the country in which they work — where they cut tomatoes and clean houses — has no idea at all that what the migrants are going through is actually a humanitarian crisis. In other words, it’s a humanitarian crisis where organized crime takes care of extracting the very last drop it can from people who are already leaving their country with practically nothing.
The fact that in the almost nine years that have passed since the Martínez’s book was published the situation in those countries and the conditions on the route of those fleeing them have only worsened only makes the book even more urgent. As the U.S. and the EU both face a refugee crisis of their own making, this book is a moral call to action, a reminder that those people being scapegoated are the most vulnerable, fleeing unimaginable suffering and destruction to a large extent created or at least exacerbated by Western military and trade policies abroad and, domestically, met with hostility and resentment resulting first and foremost from austerity politics that dismantles the welfare state.