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Mexican journalists chronicle lives of two who died at San Fernando slaughter

The small town of San Fernando, situated just 90 miles south of Brownsville in the Mexican state of Tamaulipas, emerged as a symbol of the ferocious drug war gripping Mexico in late August 2010 when authorities stumbled upon the bodies of 72 South- and Central-American immigrants who had been bound, blindfolded, and methodically executed by gunmen on the outskirts of an abandoned ranch.

Following the grisly discovery, a group of reporters from the Mexican media group Hora Cero set out to tell the story of those killed in the massacre, migrants who risked travel through treacherous Mexican countryside hoping to make it to the U.S. Their documentary, De San Salvador a San Fernando: Una Ruta Nada Santa, which they premiered before a small San Antonio audience last week, tells the story of two such victims, Salvadorian immigrants who never made it past that deserted open-air tomb just hours from the U.S. border.

“It was very important for us to document the route these two people took from their homeland toward the U.S. … to relive their experience, see all that they saw, all those dangers,” said Moises Gomez, an Hora Cero reporter who traveled to El Salvador, Guatemala, and across Mexico to trace the perilous route thousands of immigrants follow to the U.S. border. “When we saw the story [of the massacre], we wanted to put a face to these immigrants.”

Gomez and fellow Hora Cero reporter Erick Muñiz tracked down friends and relatives of Yedmi Victoria Castro, a 15-year-old girl who left El Salvador to connect with her mother in the U.S., and Francisco “Toñito” Blanco, a 30-year-old husband and father who left El Salvador to find work in the U.S. to support his family.

The San Fernando massacre, which gained widespread attention, brought to light the routine abuse of South- and Central-American immigrants traveling through Mexico en route to the U.S. border, Gomez said. Human rights groups have long insisted Mexican immigration and law enforcement officials collaborate with traffickers to exploit and extort migrants venturing north through Mexico, and early this year Human Rights Watch reported that roughly 18,000 migrants are kidnapped every year while traveling through Mexico.

“One of the largest risks on that journey is once you get to Mexico, because not only do you have to worry about organized crime but also the authorities that are in charge,” Gomez said. In Una Ruta Nada Santa, the filmmakers detail how thousands of those migrants are kidnapped, raped, beaten, and even killed on their journey north.

When discovered last summer, the mass grave in San Fernando sent a shockwave of fear across the volatile border region, and authorities blamed the killing on gunmen with the Zetas, a feared drug gang known for its brutality across Mexico. Days after the discovery, details began to emerge from a Ecuadorian survivor of the massacre, who told reporters the victims were kidnapped by cartel gunmen and executed when they refused to work with the gang.

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