The personal secretary of Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto is under fire this week for apparently tweeting an image that mocks Honduras’s national football team by comparing its players to desperate Central American migrants, such as those currently flooding the US-Mexico border.
On June 12, an image of a flying plane Photoshopped with a group of people huddled atop it, with a caption reading “the Honduras team’s arrival to Brazil,” was posted to the Twitter account of Erwin Manuel Lino Zarate, who serves as a gatekeeper to Peña Nieto and controls his agenda.
The image mocks the widely documented phenomenon of Honduran migrants, many of them minors, risking their lives by traveling atop the Mexican freight train known as La Bestia, or “The Beast,” on their way to the US. Amnesty International has described the trek as “the world’s most dangerous journey.”
Twitter users quickly responded to what many of them said was a joke made in bad taste. The tweet was quickly deleted from Lino Zarate’s account. He then tweeted an apology — kind of — and an explanation that users immediately doubted.
“My account has been used by someone who is not me,” Lino Zarate said. “I have changed my password and email. An apology for the previous tweet.”
VICE News reached out to Lino Zarate for comment on the tweeted image, but a spokeswoman at the presidential residence Los Pinos declined to answer questions on the matter, and promptly hung up on a reporter suggesting we call after business hours.
Shortly after the message was posted, Lino Zarate's account was quickly bombarded with skeptical responses.
“Ah! Drunk tweeting like @Erwin_Lino and then feigning a hack. So #PRI,” one Twitter user said, referring to the Institutional Revolutionary Party, the current ruling party, and its knack at shirking accountability on serious political missteps.
Earlier this year, Peña Nieto’s Minister of Social Development Rosario Robles managed to avoid consequences for what many publicly called offensive statements regarding family planning for Mexico’s indigenous population.
In recent weeks a wave of hundreds of thousands of Central American migrants entering the US through the northern border with Mexico has been making headlines. Meanwhile, US holding and detention facilities have been overwhelmed, leading to awful conditions for people in custody. Thousands of Hondurans are being held in detention centers as they await deportation, with scores being moved to temporary shelters at US military bases.
Mexican officials are often critical of the US’s treatment of Mexican citizens who are caught trying to enter the country. However, relatively little is said of Mexican officials’ treatment of Central American migrants and the horrors and they face while travelling through Mexico — particularly on the dangerous Bestia.
Long-standing concerns have been raised by the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights about abuses against migrants in detention in Mexico, the denial of labor rights to migrant workers, and shortcomings in the immigration and asylum processes. Independent reports also fault Mexican authorities for being complicit in the extortion and kidnapping of migrants in many cases.
In 2012, the last year with complete data, Mexico’s National Migration Institute reported that 27,998 Honduran citizens were held in detention centers across the country, and almost 28,020 Hondurans were deported. That same year, only 55 refugee visas were granted to Hondurans in Mexico.
This equates to a catch-and-deport policy, similar to the US’s current policy on Mexican and Central American migrants.
According to the US Department of Homeland Security, 31,515 Honduran migrants were “removed” from the United States in 2012. This figure is just the small fraction of the number of migrants who travel across Mexico and make it to the northern border with the US, migrant advocates say.
Up to 1,500 undocumented migrants travel atop “The Beast,” beginning at Mexico’s southernmost border, each day. This train is also known as the “train of death.” Injuries and limb loss are frequent, while mass kidnappings by illicit groups, extortion, rape, and murder are also devastatingly common occurrences. While all migrants face the risk of abuse, women and children — especially unaccompanied children — are especially vulnerable, according to a report by Amnesty International.
Los Pinos has made its support of Mexico’s national squad very public in recent days, with photos of President Peña Nieto and his cabinet and family watching Mexico’s matches at the World Cup being published across official social media platforms.
Despite the public outcry and stories in the national press, normal-sounding tweets directed at friends and Mexico’s national team competing at the World Cup have been posted to Lino Zarate’s Twitter account.
Neither the Honduran national team nor Honduran officials have made an official responses to last week’s tweet.