Mexican officials rescue Venezuelans and other migrants kidnapped out of a bus in Mexico

In 2018, Venezuelan migrants wait in line to get their passport stamped at the Immigration office next to the bridge in Cucuta, Colombia. (Jose A. Iglesias | El Nuevo Herald | TNS)
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By Antonio Maria Delgado | Miami Herald

The Mexican officials said Wednesday that they had successfully rescued 31 migrants, most believed to be Venezueans, who had been kidnapped over the weekend as they traveled by bus towards the U.S. border.

Mexican officials did not provide details of the rescue, nor did they identify the criminal group behind the kidnapping, but Jesús Ramírez Cuevas, spokesman for the Mexican presidency, announced the rescue and said the migrants were safe and undergoing a medical exam.

“Thanks to the coordinated effort of the Government of Tamaulipas (state), the FGE (State Attorney General’s Office), Sedena (Secretary of National Defense), National Guard and the SSPYC (Secretary of Security and Citizen Protection), all 31 migrants that were kidnapped on December 30, 2023 were rescued,” Ramírez Cuevas, said through his X account.

Five of the 31 initially abducted were rescued Monday night by members of the National Guard, after two of their kidnappers abandoned the car in which they were transporting the migrants in the bordering state of Tamaulipas, the Security Ministry said in a press release. The rest were rescued later.

According to local press reports, the group of immigrants, which included women and children, were traveling by bus from Reynosa to the border town of Matamoros when they were forced to stop by armed men — believed by authorities to be members of local drug and human trafficking cartels.

Some were traveling to Brownsville, Texas, where they had appointments with immigration officials to go over their asylum petitions. Officials said the lion’s share of the group was made up of Venezuelans, but among them there were also Colombian, Honduran and Mexican nationals.

The abduction took place at a time when the U.S. officials are dealing with a growing number of people attempting to enter into the United States through the southern border. According to a CBS article published last week, the number of migrants processed at the border reached the record level of 300,000 per month in December.

But reaching the border is fraught with danger for immigrants, who risk being extorted by corrupt officials and victimized by criminal gangs as they make their way throughout Central America and Mexico.

The Mexican government reported that more than 2,100 immigrants were kidnapped by smuggling gangs and drug cartels in 2022 as criminal organizations attempted to turn the massive wave of immigrants moving into the country into a lucrative side business.

In one case reported by the Miami Herald last year, a Venezuelan national was kidnapped while traveling by bus near Matamoros by men pretending to be Mexican officials, who took them them to a hostage house where other previously kidnapped migrants were being held.

“There were people who had been there for two weeks, others had been there for months,” said the migrant, who identified himself as José. “The one who was there the longest had been there for four months.”

Some of the passengers were tortured by the kidnappers, he added.

José was later released after his father agreed to pay via Western Union a ransom amounting to about $900, a small fortune for his impoverished family.