Hondurans mauled by 'The Beast' adapt to new lives

Choluteca (Honduras) (AFP) –


They tried to get to the United States on Mexican freight trains collectively known as "The Beast" but failed, losing a limb on the way to the frenzy of wheels slicing along tracks.

Now these hundreds of would-be migrants have to adapt to new lives back in their home countries after returning with less than what they started out with.

Jorge, 28, was 17 when he tried to jump on a moving train in Mexico to get to the US border, just like thousands of others do clandestinely each year in the hope of escaping violence or poverty at home for a better life in the north.

Jorge didn't make it and fell on the track, where the train ran over him. He survived only because three friends and two other people there reacted quickly, tying tourniquets to stem the bleeding. He lost his right leg and a finger from his right hand.

Today, 11 years later and after receiving assistance to buy a prosthetic leg, Jorge runs a grocery stand in a market in Choluteca, a town 100 kilometers (60 miles) south of Honduras' capital Tegucigalpa.

"He never gave up. For him, nothing is impossible," his 62-year-old father Jorge Alberto Carbajal, who works with him, said with pride.

Jorge is one of several hundred Hondurans who have returned in recent years with amputations as outward signs of their fateful brush with "The Beast."

A foundation backed by the Red Cross, called New Life, has stepped in to help give them prosthetic limbs.

Walter Aguilar, 33, who lost his right leg in a 2001 road accident, is a specialist in polypropylene prosthetics in charge of the foundation's program handling Jorge and other patients.

- Still running -

For Jorge, the assistance given has allowed him to pursue his passion for sport.

"Every day I get up to run 20 minutes before opening the shop," said the student in social sciences, who also runs a fresh juice stand in a school.

The loss of his of flesh-and-blood leg, though, has "slowed me down," he admitted. He also said he can carry only 20 kilos (40 pounds) of produce now, down from what he hauled before.

The head of the foundation, Reina Estrada, estimates it has helped around 200 amputees since 2011, providing prosthetics that each cost between $800 and $1,100 -- a substantial amount in a country where monthly wages are typically below $400, and 20 percent of the population lives in poverty.

The New Life foundation also gives psychological support to help the returnees cope with the emotional trauma of being forced to give up their dream of emigration.

Its psychologist, Hellen Briceno, explained that the first step was to curtail thoughts of suicide, because losing a limb often generates an extremely painful period of grief.

"They have to make huge efforts because quite a few of them even dream that they still have their leg or their arm," she said.

Jorge said that many Hondurans leave on the perilous voyage to the United States despite the well-known risks because they have no choice: conditions in the country for many are so poor that survival is difficult, and gangs reign with terror over swathes of the population.

- US policies ineffective -

Tough US policies and campaigns to dissuade the emigrants have no effect, he said. Many in Central America are determined to try for their "American dream" come what may.

After his own experience, he participated in a campaign in schools in Choluteca to try to warn youths off the dangerous path north.

According to the government-funded National Migration Forum, in the first seven months of 2017, 232 emigrants died trying to make the journey -- 17 percent more than in 2016.

In the United States, there are more than a million Hondurans. Last year they sent nearly $4 billion in remittances to relatives still in the Central American country, a hefty sum equivalent to 18 percent of gross domestic product.