A bandit with a cobra tattoo marches Wendy into a cornfield.
She is 17 and the only woman among 11 Central Americans trying to sneak around a Mexican immigration checkpoint at Huehuetan in Mexico’s Chiapas state. The man with the cobra tattoo and four other bandits have been lying in wait.
A Central American man tries to bolt. One of the bandits broadsides him three times with the flat blade of a machete. The bandits tell the nine other men, including Wendy’s husband, to strip to their underwear, then lie face down on the ground. A bandit searches their clothing for cash.
Then, say Wendy’s husband and the other Central Americans, the man with the cobra tattoo on his arm orders Wendy to remove her pants. She refuses. He throws her to the ground and places the tip of his machete against her stomach.
She begins to cry.
He puts the edge of the blade to her throat.
She takes off her pants, and he checks them for money. “If you scream,” he says, “we cut you to bits.” Then he rapes her.
The other bandits curse the men on the ground, then curse their mothers and threaten to castrate them. “What the hell are you doing outside your country?” they say. One by one, during an hour and a half, each of the five bandits goes into the cornfield and rapes Wendy.
Her husband fills with rage.
The bandits bring her back, crying. She cannot speak. She vomits, then faints.
As they flee, her husband and the others carry Wendy to the checkpoint. She says, trembling, “I want to die.”
None of the bandits is arrested.
Wendy, from Honduras, is one of a large number of immigrant girls who say they are raped as they travel north through Mexico to get to the United States. A 1997 University of Houston study of U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service detainees in Texas shows that nearly one in six says she was sexually assaulted.
The rapes are part of the general denigration and humiliation of Central Americans in Mexico, where the migrants are seen as inferior because they come from less developed countries, says Olivia Ruiz, a cultural anthropologist at El Colegio de la Frontera Norte in Tijuana.
The targets, she says, can be men or women.
On Aug. 22, 2000, three weeks after Wendy’s rape, a 15-year-old girl named Karen, also from Honduras, was raped at Ixtepec in Oaxaca state. In that case, police arrested Jhony Martinez Castro, 17, of Honduras and Salvador Armando Garcia Ramirez, also 17, of El Salvador.
Karen, authorities and court documents give this account:
In her third month of riding trains to reach the United States, Karen wades into a river in Ixtepec to wash her clothes and her face, which was cut open by a tree branch that struck her as she rode on top of a freight car.
"¡Eh, tu, bicha, ven aqui! Hey, you, bitch, come over here!” Martinez yells from the riverbank.
He wears tattoos on his forehead, face, chest and arms.
Karen is wary, but he insists.
As she leaves the water, he throws an arm around her neck and jabs her ribs with a knife. “Now you are going to make love to us.” Garcia appears with a machete and a knife. “Walk,” Martinez demands.
Two shoeshine boys, ages 9 and 12, who are wading nearby, slip away to get help.
Karen resists, then begins to cry. She begs the men not to harm her.
Martinez places the point of his knife at the middle of her throat. “Drop your shorts,” he demands.
She pulls her shorts to her knees.
He steps between her legs, stomps her shorts the rest of the way down, then shoves her to the ground. He rapes her.
Karen is a virgin, and it feels as if he is cutting her open. She thinks of her mother, who has always told her to take care of herself. She prays that the police will come. Tears stream down her cheeks.
In half an hour, Martinez is finished.
“Your turn,” he tells Garcia. Martinez laughs and smokes a marijuana joint as his friend rapes her.
“Now you will bathe. I don’t want any evidence,” Martinez says. He grabs her hand and leads her into the river.
Karen cries quietly. Surely he will kill her.
“Don’t try to call the police. My gang is waiting for me--you won’t last one day,’' he warns her. "¡Andate! Get out!”
At that moment, officers arrive and apprehend both men, still in their underwear.
Ixtepec Police Chief Juan Ruiz Toledo says Martinez heads a set of the Mara Salvatrucha gang. He says that Martinez yelled at Karen from his cell, “You’ll be sorry!” He said he will order his 50 followers in El Carmen, Guatemala, to deal with her.
Karen, waiting in another cell for deportation to El Carmen, is terrified. “That,” she says, “would seal my fate.”
On Feb. 26, 2001, Garcia and Martinez were sentenced to 15 years each for the rapes, says Tito Ramirez Gonzalez, a prosecutor with the attorney general’s office for Oaxaca state.