The highways in large swaths of Mexico are no-go areas for people who aren’t involved in organised crime. That's why for the third year in a row, Mexicans living in the United States are organising convoys to travel home to their families for the Christmas festivities.
During the holiday season, millions of Mexicans living in the US return home, loaded with presents and the money they’ve managed to save. Everyone is aware of this annual pilgrimage: customs officials, police officers, thieves and kidnappers.
The same tragedy occurs every year: the holiday-makers are milked dry the moment they set foot on Mexican territory, regardless of how they arrive: by plane, bus or even worse, in their vehicles with American or Canadian license plates.
The lawlessness on Mexican motorways has left entire communities cut off from the rest of the world, much like what happened in Europe when the collapse of the Roman Empire gave way to the Dark Ages. For those carrying more presents than Santa Claus and the Three Wise Men, returning home to hug their loved ones has become almost an act of suicide.
For the police and thieves, lorry robbers and customs officials, the visitors in their cars and lorries amount to a fantastic booty.
Safety in numbers
People who have to drive on Mexico’s highways have become so sick and tired of all the dangers and hassle that they’ve organised convoys. Dozens of cars drive off together from various points in the United States, according to their destination down south.
Last year, one of these convoys came under fire, leaving two children injured, but the vehicles and their occupants managed to escape.
Tito Sánchez, who is one of the convoys’ founders, explains that “the first year, we had a lot of people and nearly 50 vehicles. Last year, there were twice as many, and we expect the number to increase.”
Sánchez has friends and family in Minnesota and Michigan. They travel together to Querétaro, which lies north of Mexico City. “We’re going to meet in Texas on December 21”, explains Sánchez, “and the following morning we’ll head off. In Matahuala, we’ll rest for a few hours, take part in a religious service and then continue to Sierra de Querétaro.”
Sánchez also plans to join the caravan back to the United States. He says he still doesn’t know whether they will ask Mexican police or soldiers to escort the caravan. So far, the drivers of 40 lorries and 100 vans have said they’ll join in.
For its part, the Mexican federal authorities have launched a programme to provide assistance and information to the travellers. A special government website offers a series of “essential” tips. For example, “don’t eat or drink anything that you’re offered, even if the person appears to be friendly”. The site doesn’t offer any further explanation, but it’s obvious that if your drink is spiked, you’re likely to wake up in only your underwear.
The site also lists the Mexican consulates in the United States and their telephone numbers, as well as a special hotline to report attempted robberies or extortion by customs officials and immigration officers. The Mexican government has also printed thousands of brochures that show the uniforms and badges of the various police and security forces to prevent the travellers from being hoodwinked.
Sánchez says the brochure “is very useful because it also informs people about their rights and duties. But the underlying problem remains: the Mexican authorities are infamous for their abuses of power and levels of corruption.”