By Rosi Orozco
ARLINGTON, Virginia, Sep 6 2023 (IPS)
In the years when Mexico did not have a general law against human trafficking, there existed an evil man known as “El Osito” (“The Little Bear”). His alias could mislead those who heard of his criminal record: he was a ruthless pimp, devoid of any trace of kindness in his body, who claimed to collect kidnapped women to exploit their bodies.
“El Osito,” whose real name was Noe Quetzal-Mendez, did not operate alone. Despite having not completed primary education and struggling with reading and writing, he built and established a path of pain between Mexico and the United States. This route began in his hometown of Tenancingo, Tlaxcala, and ended in New York City, United States.
Along these more than 4,000 kilometers, his victims suffered physical, emotional, and sexual violence within safe houses controlled by his criminal organization.
On the Mexican side, “El Osito” paid dirty police officers, human traffickers, and members of the Sinaloa Cartel who provided him with protection and aided in crossing hundreds of victims through Tijuana. He had eyes and ears on the country’s roads and cruelly punished any escape attempts.
On the other side of the border, he had corrupt authorities and a long list of clients eagerly waiting for the teenagers and women he brought to the United States to be raped in exchange for coins.
Areli was one of his victims. Deceived, kidnapped, trafficked, sexually exploited for the benefit of “El Osito’s” criminal organization. She is one of the few Mexican women who survived his reign of terror and has the courage to tell how this man, who was once one of the FBI’s most-wanted criminals, operated.
Her testimony not only calls us to be ashamed of the past but also to reflect on the present and plan for a future without human trafficking: on both sides of the border, we all failed.
Areli never imagined that life without “El Osito” could be as difficult as being in captivity. Once she escaped from his criminal organization, she did not find the necessary support in her own country, such as specialized shelters or emotional support. Her safety in Mexico was not guaranteed either, so she had to seek asylum in the United States out of fear of the Sinaloa Cartel.
Today, she lives in a secret location. Gradually, her wounds are beginning to heal thanks to family members who have taken her in and have not hesitated to lend a helping hand. Despite all the accumulated suffering, Areli is one of the luckier cases because two more survivors of another binational human trafficking gang, Los Melendez, are abandoned by the United States government and need help as victims of this transnational crime.
These other two young women are experiencing a painful reality firsthand: neither in Mexico nor in the United States is there sufficient support from both governments for the victims of this crime that enslaves 50 million people worldwide and generates around 150 billion dollars annually for organized crime.
In the absence of action from the political class, it falls to civil society to step forward and take on a debt with the most vulnerable people on both sides of the border.
That is why on July 27th, a new binational center against human exploitation began, one of the most important agreements of the International Summit Against Human Trafficking 2023 held in Washington D.C.
This historic center is funded by the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) and benefits from the expertise of American and Mexican legislators, leaders, activists, specialists, and journalists, who will be guided by the testimonies and knowledge of survivors of this crime.
Among its most urgent tasks are raising awareness in educational institutions, preventing the crime within families, creating new laws, promoting a culture of reporting, decriminalizing victims, and ensuring that exploitative clients are held accountable by the law as active members of human trafficking networks.
In Mexico, ten brave mayors, such as Adrián Rubalcava and Fernando Flores, will spearhead efforts to teach more authorities how to combat these dark businesses. Their experience in fighting this crime will be crucial to ensuring the success of this mission on Mexican soil, led by Nallely Gutiérrez Gijon, president of the Association of Municipalities of Mexico.
This new center joins forces with the movie “Sound of Freedom,” produced by Eduardo Verástegui and starring Jim Caviezel and Mira Sorvino, who have surprised the world by getting involved in this fight beyond just a story about the courage to stand up against human trafficking. Now, it’s time to move from the excitement of the movie theater to taking action in real life.
These are times for the braves. The globalization of organized crime forces us to think about how to safeguard our families beyond the borders of both countries and political rhetoric.
This new center welcomes all people from all backgrounds, colors, and ideas who want to act under a single premise that contains an irrevocable truth: in no country in the world should a victim be abandoned by civil society.
We dare to dream of a world where no human can be for sale.
Rosi Orozco is Activist and Founder Unidos Vs Trata.
IPS UN Bureau