The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley

Forced Criminal Activities along Mexico's Eastern Migration Routes and Central America Department of Public Affairs and Security Studies


Central Americans who entered Mexico from the states of Chiapas and Tabasco converge to the state of Veracruz as they move north. In Veracruz, railroad lines coming from Oaxaca and Tabasco merge. In the train stations of Veracruz, migrants choose whether to move to Tamaulipas or to continue following the railroad towards the state of Mexico.

The route converges in the city of Medias Aguas. Before reaching Medias Aguas, migrants, most of whom are coming from Tabasco, transit through the city of Coatzacoalcos. The majority of our fieldwork in Veracruz took place in Coatzacoalcos. It was challenging to conduct research in Veracruz, as there were significant obstacles to accessing relevant information and data. The security measures taken by the migrant shelter in Coatzacoalcos are so strict that the location of the shelter is hardly known to the public.

Transiting in Veracruz is very difficult for migrants. Experts told us that from 2009 to 2011, it is possible that migrants were victims of human trafficking in the state. However, it is unclear if that has been the case since then. When the Zetas had a stronger presence in the state, there was a higher incidence of migrants allegedly being coerced to act as cartels’ hitmen and lookouts. As the Zetas have currently kept a low profile, no signs of human trafficking for forced criminal activities are evident in Veracruz.

Nevertheless, migration experts still report the presence of TCOs, such as the Zetas and the Jalisco Nueva Generación Cartel, in the state. Organized criminal groups who have infiltrated the local and state governments, are the biggest threat for migrants. Criminal infiltration in the government allows cartels to exert de facto control over railroad tracks used by migrants. In Veracruz, hydrocarbon pipelines run parallel to train tracks, increasing the interest of organized criminal organizations in controlling railroads.      

Migration experts in Veracruz have noted that migrants have increasingly used buses to transit through the state. They informed us that migrants who board buses usually pay coyotes to ensure that they will not be apprehended by immigration agents on the road. Furthermore, bus drivers have connections with corrupted migration officers. Female migrants arriving in Coatzacoalcos primarily utilize the buses. Traveling by bus is more expensive than traveling on freight trains.

Experts told us that currently there are no official cases of human trafficking involving migrants. Nevertheless, some experts reiterated that organized criminal organizations are involved in forced prostitution and labor exploitation of Central American women in Veracruz, especially in the area of Coatzacoalcos. It is common to find migrant women working as domestic servants near the bus station. It is valid to note that between 2015 and 2016 there has not been evidence of compelled labor for criminal activities in Veracruz, even though the presence of organized crime in the state is significant.