Posted: Thursday, July 13, 2017. 2:04 pm CST.
By Osmany Salas: Today my wife, Lupi Salas, and I experienced the true meaning of the phrase “It takes a village”.
Last night we witnessed a mother’s horror and this afternoon we shared in that same mom’s happiness. Had it not been for the intervention and quick response of many people, this story would not have had a happy ending.
Before anything else, I want to thank the following people for their tremendous support: Belize’s Ambassador to Mexico Oliver del Cid and Counsellor Carlos Montero, Officer in Charge of Immigration at the Northern Border Ms. Estrada, Maria del Carmen and Orlando de la Fuente for lending us their Telcel SIM card, the mother’s concerned family members, and Comandante Varela and his amazing staff at the Secretaria de Seguridad Publica in Chetumal, Quintana Roo.
I’ll start this story by pointing out what is an open secret: Botes, a major hub of illicit activity, is a major contraband hotspot. What few people realize is that Botes is also a major passage for human trafficking. Anecdotal information from the ubiquitous “kayuckeros” of the Rio Hondo suggests that people are being smuggled from Belize into Mexico via Botes on almost a daily (or nightly) basis.
And so the story begins. I will not divulge the real names of the mother and daughter in order to protect their privacy. For purposes of this story, I will call the mother Maria and the daughter Natalie.
Maria called us last night to say that her teenage daughter, Natalie, ran away from home earlier that day. From eyewitness reports, Maria was able to ascertain that Natalie crossed the border at Botes along with other girls in the company of a male escort. Maria had good reason to suspect that her gullible daughter was enticed by unidentified people on the Mexican side. She was understandably horrified that she would never see her daughter again, and for good reason: Natalie had no money. She left hurriedly with all her belongings. An unidentified woman met Natalie at her house and accompanied her on the bus ride to Santa Cruz. Along the way an unidentified man boarded the bus and joined them. He paid the bus fare for all the girls. Very suspicious all around. All the makings of human trafficking.
The Embassy staff – Ambassador del Cid and Counsellor Montero – were helpful from the get-go right through to the happy conclusion of this story. At their urging, we immediately emailed copies of Natalie’s identification card and a recent photo to our Embassy in Mexico. Next, we filed a report at the Police Station late last night and emailed a copy of the report to the Embassy. The report was then translated into Spanish to be sent along with Natalie’s photos and ID to the Mexican Foreign Ministry so that the Mexican authorities could launch a search for the missing teenager.
And so the day ended yesterday. Nobody was able to sleep. The wait for the sunrise seemed endless. The long wait was gut wrenching.
Early this morning after what seemed like an eternity, Natalie called a family member, followed by a call to her mom. She wanted to meet Maria in Chetumal. A rendezvous point was arranged. We immediately contacted the Embassy staff who were able to arrange in a matter of minutes for us to meet with Comandante Varela in Chetumal. So off we went to Chetumal.
I have nothing but praise for Comandante Varela and his staff. They were extremely cordial, helpful, and professional. It pains me to say this, but I have not seen anything near this level of professionalism among our own Police Officers. The QRoo State Police we encountered today were smartly dressed, physically fit, very respectful, exuded self-confidence, and were obviously proud of their jobs. Comandante Varela was the consummate leader. The respect that his officers showed him was palpable. Varela was completely in charge, and it showed.
Varela laid out a strategy to recover Natalie, and it worked to a T. Plainclothes and uniformed police men and women, along with an unmarked police car and three marked police cars, were involved in the operation to recover the teenager. As soon as we met her at the rendezvous point and confirmed via a pre-arranged signal that it was Natalie, the police moved in and took over. Where they came from, I had no idea, because I had only seen the unmarked police car that trailed us. The police cars came from everywhere and within seconds, the frightened teenager was in police custody. None of the policemen touched Natalie. That was left to a policewoman who, as per their protocol, took charge of the teenage girl.
Natalie is now safely at home, sleeping in her own bed tonight. She is lucky to have a second chance. The sad reality is that this is not the case for the vast majority of girls who go missing. Human trafficking is happening all around us and on a daily basis. It does not only trap women from other countries in Belize, as my friend Lisa M. Shoman has written. As I saw today, it also traps our Belizean girls and women in other countries. We have been turning a blind eye to this problem for far too long. We don’t realize it until it hits close to home. It does not have to be this way.
Natalie was saved in the nick of time. She had already been offered a “waitress” job in Chetumal with a promise that she would also “work” in Cancun on weekends. Comandante Varela says that, had we arrived an hour later, she would have been lost. Another lost terrorized soul, enslaved to serve the criminal money-making machine of the underworld and to satisfy the sexual fantasies of men with no conscience.
Natalie would not have been saved were it not for the help of all the people in this story. It took a village to save her. For that, we are forever grateful.
The views expressed in this article are those of the writer and not necessarily those of Breaking Belize News.
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