Seventy-two shattered dreams

October 1, 2010

Carlos, a migrant and three-time deportee, commented to me, “I’ve been there and back, too. I’m a migrant and I want a better future.” Carlos’ brother is one of the 16 Hondurans whose bodies were repatriated on September 1st after being found among the 72 immigrants executed by a drug cartel in Tamaulipas, Mexico, as they neared the border with the U.S.

I couldn’t help thinking of a recent magazine article about 800 expatriate soccer players in Europe and how, according to the author, their story might open doors for other foreign “workers” in this globalized world. It struck me that while many of those athletes were born in the slums of Latin America just like most of the 72 dead migrants, the difference was that their talent made it good business for them to cross borders.

At the same time any number of talented musicians from Peru or Bolivia, artists from Ecuador, craftsmen from Guatemala, farmers from Honduras, or laborers from El Salvador, either die while emigrating towards a better life in the U.S. or survive there with a feeling of well-being thanks to their material gains, but suffering the pain of having been uprooted. They are all migrants just like Carlos who go and return tirelessly, with the conviction that comes from having been propelled from their homes by failing economies. The enormous obstacles make me believe that they won’t have the same luck as those who entertain us with their passes and goals.

All these thoughts came to me while covering the story of Miguel Carcamo, another of the dozens who died with the brother of Carlos in Tamaulipas as they headed north in search of a better life. Miguel and his wife Marleny Suarez had four children, the eldest of whom is Isabel. Before emigrating north Miguel worked with his brother near home, carting sand in a wheelbarrow to sieve by hand and sell to brick factories.

Jose Carcamo holds a picture of his late son Miguel Carcamo in Villanueva neighborhood in Tegucigalpa August 28, 2010. Carcamo, 43, the father of four children, left Honduras on August 3 to enter the U.S. illegally through Mexico. According to Honduras' Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Carcamo was one of 21 Hondurans killed in Tamaulipas, Mexico, where a series of firefights with drug gang members occurred.   REUTERS/Edgard Garrido

To find them I first called Miguel’s sister Maria, who allowed me into her life in the unguarded manner so typical of victims of injustice whenever journalists appear. She told me to meet her on the corner “where they sell chickens,” and then led me up the side of a mountain to her home. That’s where I met her family and Marleny, without her four children. We spoke of their lives and they showed me photos of Miguel. In spite of their pain they treated me like a distinguished guest.

Santos Carcamo (R) holds a picture of his late brother Miguel Carcamo as he sits next to their father Jose Carcamo in Villanueva neighborhood in Tegucigalpa August 28, 2010. Carcamo, 43, the father of four children, left Honduras on August 3 to enter the U.S. illegally through Mexico. According to Honduras' Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Carcamo was one of 21 Hondurans killed in Tamaulipas, Mexico, where a series of firefights with drug gang members occurred. REUTERS/Edgard Garrido

“Where are your children,” I asked Marleny. In tears, she answered that they stayed at home in El Guante, a village 70 km from Tegucigalpa. “We don’t have the money for them to come too.”

After seeing their family photos we all left in the same taxi to the foreign ministry. They had to sign papers to begin the repatriation of Miguel’s remains and I was looking for other photo opportunities to complete the story. Marleny’s deep sobs resounded inside the taxi. “My husband! Give me back my husband!”

Marleny Suarez (R), wife of Miguel Carcamo, cries next to his sister inside the foreign affairs building in Tegucigalpa August 28, 2010. Miguel Carcamo, 43, the father of four children, travelled illegally for the first time to the U.S. on August 3. According to Honduras' Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Carcamo was one of 21 Hondurans killed at Tamaulipas, Mexico, where a series of firefights with drug gang members occurred. REUTERS/Edgard Garrido

Relatives of the illegal Honduran immigrants killed in Tamaulipas, Mexico, attend a news conference at the Foreign Affairs building in Tegucigalpa August 31, 2010. Honduras is evaluating a claim against Mexico for the deaths of at least 21 Hondurans among the 72 immigrants murdered in the worst slaughter perpetrated in Mexico by organized crime gangs, said Honduran Foreign Minister Mario Canahuati on Tuesday. The arrival of 16 of the 21 bodies of the Honduran victims has been pushed back to Wednesday, due to unfavourable weather conditions, according to Honduras' Ministry of Foreign Affairs.                          REUTERS/Edgard Garrido

Isabel, the eldest of their children, arrived days later in Tegucigalpa with her siblings. When the immigrants’ bodies arrived on September 1st the whole family was at the airport, including Isabel. Marleny and her four children mourned amidst the smell of 16 decomposing corpses. She had told me that she was just 13 when she met Miguel and that his mission was always to make a better life for them. I sensed at the airport that their children understood that the sacrifice had been for them. The times Marleny had asked him not to leave were always answered with, “I want to give them a better future.”

Relatives of Miguel Carcamo, one of the 21 Hondurans who were among the 72 illegal immigrants murdered recently in Mexico, cry on his coffin during an official ceremony in Tegucigalpa, September 1, 2010.  Mexican marines found 72 corpses at a remote ranch near the U.S. border, the Mexican navy said on August 24. The marines came across the bodies of 58 men and 14 women, thought to be migrant workers, on Tuesday at the ranch in Tamaulipas state, 90 miles from the Texas border, after a series of firefights with drug gang members. REUTERS/Edgard Garrido

Miguel’s body finally reached their home in El Guante. The wake was held in a room adorned with plastic tablecloths. So much mud was treaded around that the floor inside merged with the ground outside.

A girl walks next to the coffin of murdered immigrant Miguel Carcamo during his funeral in El Guante September 2, 2010. Carcamo, 43, the father of four children, travelled illegally for the first time to the U.S. on August 3. According to Honduras' Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Carcamo was one of the 21 Honduran immigrants murdered and identified so far at Tamaulipas, Mexico, where a series of firefights with drug gang members had occurred. REUTERS/Edgard Garrido

The sound of church bells accompanied the funeral procession and Agua de Florida was abundant to revive anyone who fainted. A relative sustained Isabel, keeping her standing through one of innumerable fainting spells.

Isabel Carcamo, daughter of Miguel Carcamo, faints during the funeral of her father in El Guante, September 2, 2010. Miguel Carcamo, 43, the father of four children, travelled illegally for the first time to the U.S. on August 3. According to Honduras' Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Carcamo was one of 21 Honduran immigrants murdered and identified so far at Tamaulipas, Mexico, where a series of firefights with drug gang members have occurred. REUTERS/Edgard Garrido

Then as I photographed Isabel during one of her spells I noticed several people run to help her, and the moment impacted me.  Her mother collapsed simultaneously a distance away. The women to whom Miguel meant so much were consumed by grief.

Mourners treat Isabel Carcamo, the daughter of Miguel Carcamo, with a traditional herbal medication known as "agua florida" after she fainted during her father's funeral in El Guante September 2, 2010. Carcamo, 43, the father of four children, travelled illegally for the first time to the U.S. on August 3. According to Honduras' Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Carcamo was one of the 21 Honduran immigrants murdered and identified so far at Tamaulipas, Mexico, where a series of firefights with drug gang members had occurred. REUTERS/Edgard Garrido

I moved well ahead of the procession as it advanced towards the cemetery, and suddenly found myself photographing butterflies attracted by the wild flowers growing around other tombs. Finally, Miguel arrived at his resting place next to his mother. His wife, Marleny, draped his favorite pants and shirt on the coffin, as a flag on a soldier’s casket.

 Marleny Suarez, wife of Miguel Carcamo, lays a piece of her husband's clothing on his coffin during his funeral in El Guante September 2, 2010. Carcamo, 43, the father of four children, travelled illegally for the first time to the U.S. on August 3. According to Honduras' Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Carcamo was one of 21 Honduran immigrants murdered and identified so far at Tamaulipas, Mexico, where a series of firefights with drug gang members have occurred. REUTERS/Edgard Garrido

Isabel and Marlene asked to see Miguel for one last time, but the rest of the family refused to open the coffin. I saw myself reflected in mirrors standing between the Carcamos, the only one without tears, and I left without disturbing them with goodbyes.

Mourners bury the body of murdered immigrant Miguel Carcamo in El Guante September 2, 2010. Carcamo, 43, the father of four children, travelled illegally for the first time to the U.S. on August 3. According to Honduras' Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Carcamo was one of the 21 Honduran immigrants murdered and identified so far at Tamaulipas, Mexico, where a series of firefights with drug gang members have occurred. REUTERS/Edgard Garrido

Maybe each of the 72 migrants was talented in some way. Some may have even been professionals. All were migrating for some reason. All had dreams motivated by something like material needs, or dreams of becoming competitive and successful. All of those dreams are now shattered.

View a selection of large format Reuters images on the immigration debate here.

4 comments

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I have been a big fan of your work for a while now Edgard and the empathy you have for your subjects can be felt in the images.

Posted by CorinnePerkins | Report as abusive

Children, orphan young persons, widows … it is what is harvested of all this obligatory pilgrimage in these countries where the basic needs of the human being are not covered.The government offered some employment to these families?
The phenomenon of migration was not stopping there.
The images speak for if same.

Posted by Yohanna | Report as abusive

I like much your photographic work, can catch the spirit of the histories without using words. This phenomenon of migration is very sad, produces orphans, separated families, death.

Posted by Yohanna | Report as abusive

Your words and photos were vivid and descriptive, compassionate, while avoiding bias. You did not sensationalize the tragedy. Thank you.

My statement has validity because my husband was the same age as Miguel when I draped his favorite shirt over the casket before burial. It was eerily familiar seeing Marlene do something similar. That poor woman has four children and oppressive poverty to contend with, and a lifetime of sorrow without her husband. Thank you for bringing awareness of the suffering that results from a political situation that caused this to happen.

Posted by EllieK | Report as abusive