An American rail company is challenging reporting by WND and many major news organizations – including the New York Times and the Washington Post – of its association with the notorious "death trains" known in Spanish as "La Bestia," or "the Beast," which have transported tens of thousands of illegal aliens from Central America to the U.S. through Mexico.
In response to a recent WND report, "Mexicans blame Americans for 'death trains,'" an attorney for Kansas City Southern railroad, KCS, and its subsidiary, Kansas City Southern de Mexico, KCSM, emailed WND, contending that neither railroad operates “the Beast.”
The original WND report states, “The Beast is owned and run by a Mexican wholly owned subsidiary of Kansas City Southern, a U.S. train company.”
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Likewise, the New York Times, in a May 10 feature, reported the train line "labeled the Beast" is run by Ferrosur and Kansas City Southern de Mexico and notes that a lawsuit has been filed against the companies by the Mexican state of Veracruz, alleging criminal neglect and complicity in crimes with regard to the Central American stowaways.
Journey 'along the 'Bestia' route
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The attorney contested WND's use of a photo of migrant stowaways atop a train in southern Mexico and its reporting that KCSM runs "the Beast."
“This is not true,” the attorney maintained. “The train depicted in the photograph is not a KCSM train, nor does KCSM own or operate ‘La Bestia,’ as you call it.”
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“La Bestia” has become a generic term in Spanish describing freight trains in which Central American migrants hitch a ride north so they can illegally cross into the United States. In a May interview with the El Paso Times, one immigrant from Honduras, Griselda Navarro, described her family’s journey north, explaining they rode a bus to Guatemala, crossed into Mexico and “hopped on several non-passenger trains along the ‘Bestia’ route” all the way north to Coahuila, a Mexican state that borders Texas.
The attorney stated, “In the context of the [WND] story, the clear inference is that the photograph depicts ‘La Bestia,’ and the express statement is that the train is owned and operated by KCSM.”
The following photo – which appeared without a caption in the original WND report – was meant to represent the migrant train problem and was not intended to depict a KCSM rail line:
In the letter to WND, the attorney conceded illegal immigrants have ridden KCSM trains, though he asserted the number of migrants is minimal.
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The attorney also acknowledged that a lawsuit has been filed with the attorney general of Mexico against KCSM by the attorney general of the state of Veracruz. He corrected WND's statement that the suit was against the parent company in the U.S. and said KCSM has not been served.
“Had you fully researched the topic, you would have also learned that, contrary to the images created by your story and accompanying photo, the number of Central American migrants coming from Mexico’s southern border, where KCSM does not operate, to the U.S.-Mexico border aboard KCSM trains is minimal and subject to heavy railroad security enforcement," the attorney said.
“KCSM has a robust security system aimed at preventing illegal migrant trespassing, protecting cargo and preventing vandalism and accidents, and complies strictly with the security rules and regulations in close coordination with public security authorities at three government levels in Mexico.”
Attorney general files criminal complaint
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On March 31, Luis Ángel Bravo Contreras, the attorney general of the state of Veracruz, Mexico, under the instruction of Gov. Javier Duarte de Ochoa, presented formal charges with the attorney general of the Republic of Mexico, alleging that Ferrosur and KCSM were criminally negligent in operating their railroad, allowing Central American migrants to board trains and ride illegally at great personal risk.
Prosecutors charge the railroad companies were complicit in the commission of various crimes against migrants jumping on the train for a ride to the Mexican border, including robbery, human trafficking, kidnapping, murder and extortion.
In a formal statement posted on the state of Veracruz website, Bravo Contreras said facts produced by state government ministerial researchers were available to back up the allegations.
The complaint alleges Ferrosur and KCSM employees had stopped trains in desolate areas or slowed them enough to allow Central American migrants to jump aboard, knowing the offending riders would be subject to injuries, including loss of limbs, or possibly death.
As reported by the Periódico La Jornada newspaper April 1, Bravo Contreras said, “The testimony of the undocumented Central American stowaways riding ‘The Beast’ north from the state of Chiapas through the state of Veracruz to the center of Mexico has provided evidence Ferrosur and KCSM were complicit in allowing operators of their trains to permit the assaults to occur.”
Bravo Contreras told the newspaper the "undocumented migrants riding the trains speak of ‘strange or suspicious stops and decreasing speed just before robberies occur.'”
“We all know that on top of ‘The Beast’ serious things happen such as extortions, kidnappings, rapes, personal injuries and homicides,” he said.
The El Paso Times reported, “Veracruz officials said their complaint is aimed at Grupo Mexico and Kansas City Southern de Mexico, S.A. de C.V. (KCSM), whom they consider responsible for the trains that make up part of La Bestia’s route.”
On April 5, La Jornada Veracruz reported KCSM had agreed to cooperate with the government of Veracruz in the investigation of the claims.
“KCSM is fully ready to cooperate with any request appropriately registered by the competent authorities,” a KCSM statement read, according to the newspaper.
In response to WND’s request for comment prior to publication of the original story, a Kansas City Southern spokeswoman sent a July 12 email to WND senior staff writer Jerome Corsi, but due to a technical problem the email wasn’t received by WND until days after it was sent.
It stated, “Kansas City Southern de Mexico … and KCS are aware of the situation where immigrants illegally board trains, mainly Central American immigrants coming from Mexico’s southern border where KCSM does not operate. The 'La Bestia' train often shown and referred to in media reports in southern Mexico is not on KCSM and KCSM does not operate such a train."
Freight train routes near hotbeds for kidnapping
KCSM’s Mexico routes go as far south as Veracruz, Puebla and Lazaro Cardenas, roughly 500 miles from the Guatemala border. A map of the routes can be seen below:
Ferrosur, the second company listed in the criminal complaint, runs as far south as Minatitlan in Veracruz, Mexico, about 350 miles from Guatemala.
Both railways run within the vicinity of areas that reportedly have been hubs for migrant kidnappings, such as Veracruz.
Amnesty International reported Mexico’s National Human Rights Commission, or CNDH, issued a 2009 report documenting that 9,758 migrants had been kidnapped in just a six-month period between 2008 and 2009.
“The report suggested that Mexico was experiencing a hidden epidemic of kidnappings, with the majority of the most severe abuses occurring in the states crossed by freight trains on the principal routes used by migrants, such as Chiapas, Oaxaca, Tabasco, Veracruz and Tamaulipas,” according to Amnesty International (Page 8).
The report also stated: “The stretch of countryside from the Guatemalan border, through the state of Tabasco to reach the main railway junction in the next state of Veracruz, is notorious for abuses against migrants making the journey on foot or riding the freight trains. Many fall victim to assaults and abduction.”
According to various media reports, illegal immigrants from Central America often begin their long journey through Mexico at a rail yard in Arriaga, a town in Chiapas state that is the southernmost point in Mexico’s rail system. Arriaga is only about 125 miles from the border with Guatemala.
Media report stories of migrants on freight trains
On April 10, the London Daily Mail reported, “Ferrosur, a Mexican rail line, and KCSM, a subsidiary of the U.S. railway Kansas City Southern, noted that migrants board their trains illegally, and said they were doing everything to cooperate with authorities.”
The Daily Mail included the following statement from KCSM: “The guidelines of KCSM state that security personnel must respect the physical safety of those who travel illegally on the trains.”
On July 15, 2013, the Washington Post reported on the issue of Central American migrants boarding freight trains in Mexico to the U.S. border.
“Migrants and their advocates say the private guards who work for the railroad companies, including Kansas City Southern de Mexico, a U.S. subsidiary, have been just as venal as the police who shake the migrants down until they’re left with nothing,” the Post reported.
After the report was published, the Post ran a letter to the editor from KCSM President Jose Guillermo Zozaya Delano stating: “KCSM has a robust security system in Mexico aimed at preventing trespassing by migrants and others. It has made substantial investments to increase the security of its railway operations and works closely with Mexican immigration authorities to ensure proper treatment of migrants who may illegally try to use the railroad.”
KCSM’s letter to the editor did not object to a series of photos the Washington Post published showing dozens of Central American migrants “catching freight trains in Mexico to the U.S. border for year,” with none of the trains identified as having been operated by specific railroad companies.
In an April 9 Associated Press article, Mark Stevenson reported that prosecutors in Veracruz were alleging KCSM was complicit in crimes committed against migrants riding their trains.
The Washington Office on Latin America, WOLA, a U.S. non-governmental organization constituted as a tax-favored 501(c)(3) group with a stated purpose of promoting human rights and democracy, as well as social and economic justice in Latin America and the Caribbean, issued June 17 a report on Mexico’s southern border with Guatemala, titled “Mexico’s Other Border: Security, Migration, and the Humanitarian Crisis at the Border with Central America.”
The WOLA report confirmed that “La Bestia” is a nickname applied generically by Central American migrants passing through Mexico and noted, “For tens of thousands of yearly Central American migrants these trains, nicknamed ‘La Bestia’ (The Beast), are the main option for getting across Mexico.
“The long ride atop the train is physically dangerous, and the lack of security leaves migrants at the mercy of Central American gangs, bandits, kidnappers, and corrupt officials. The stunning frequency of kidnapping, extortion, human trafficking, rape, and homicide puts Central American migrants’ plight in Mexico atop the list of the Western Hemisphere’s worst humanitarian emergencies.”
The WOLA report referenced the criminal complaint filed with the attorney general’s office against KCSM and Ferrosur.
“Governor Duarte argued that because they allow migrants to ride on top of the train, the companies are complicit in the crimes against migrants that occur on the train,” WOLA reported. “He accused some train workers of being accomplices of organized crime, and alleged that some workers also commit crimes directly against migrants.”
WOLA's report explained the consequences of the legal action.
As a result of the governor’s complaint, the train companies began to prohibit migrants from traveling on the Tenosique-Palenque train line, which resulted in a concentration of migrants in southern Mexico," the report said. "Some large groups decided to walk towards central Mexico in the hope of picking up the U.S.-bound train hundreds of miles to the north. In at least one massive detention operation, discussed below, the migrants’ decision to travel on foot through Mexico put them at greater risk of abuse by Mexican authorities. As of early June 2014, it is unclear whether the train companies are continuing to prohibit migrants from riding on the train.
Cooperation with immigration authorities
In addition to statements cited earlier in this report, the KCS attorney also told WND:
KCS is and has been actively engaged with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security providing intelligence briefings to the Commissioner of Customs and Border Patrol (‘CBP’) and his executive staff and other U.S. intelligence agencies on the illegal immigration issue. KCS is in daily contact with Texas Department of Public Safety (‘DPS’) sharing information and conducting continuous research to support and provide timely information to DPS in the Rio Grande Valley.
Similarly, KCSM closely coordinates with Mexican federal immigration authorities to ensure proper respect and treatment to immigrants who illegally use the freight railroad. Being respectful of the Mexican laws and migrants’ human rights, KCSM’s substantial security is focused on coordination with Mexican authorities and prioritizes respect for the human rights of people who illegally trespass on the railroad. KCSM regularly provides its security and operations contractors with precise training to respect the physical integrity of any people who trespass on the railway illegally. KCSM also has strict internal controls to monitor and identify any incidents involving its security contractors and enforcing the law accordingly. KCSM acts in adherence to the processes established by Mexican laws related to immigration and railroad security.
The Kansas City Southern Railway Company (KCSR) in the U.S. and KCSM in Mexico are responsible corporate citizens who have invested heavily in security technology, staff, intelligence gathering and operating systems. Both companies comply strictly with the respective security laws and regulations in the U.S. and Mexico, and respect the physical integrity of any person who might illegally gain access to one of their trains and travel on the railway. Both companies have coordinated and will continue to coordinate closely with U.S., Mexican, and State of Texas officials to address these issues of public concern.