Guatemalan boy left for better life, died alone

2014-07-02 22:37
The boy's mother. (Luis Soto, AP)

The boy's mother. (Luis Soto, AP)

Multimedia   ·   User Galleries   ·   News in Pictures Send us your pictures  ·  Send us your stories

San Jose Las Flores - Gilberto Ramos wanted to leave his chilly mountain village for the United States to earn money to treat his mother's epilepsy.

His mother begged him not to go. "The better treatment would have been if he stayed," Cipriana Juarez Diaz said in a tearful interview with The Associated Press on Tuesday. When he wouldn't relent, she draped him with a white rosary for safe passage.

A month later, his decaying body was found in the Texas desert. Now, the boy has become a symbol for the perils faced by a record flood of unaccompanied children from Central America who are crossing illegally into the US.

Authorities said on Monday that Gilberto was 11, which would have made him one of the youngest known such children to die crossing the desert. But his parents said on Tuesday that Gilberto was 15.

The parents explained that they had taken several years to register his birth because of the remoteness of their village in Guatemala's northern mountains. When they did, they had forgotten Gilberto's actual birth date, so they listed the same date as his younger brother.

"He was a good son," Juarez said. "May God give me the strength to endure." The boy was shirtless, having likely suffered heat stroke, but still wearing the rosary.

Seeking escape

Teenage boys seeking work have long been part of the stream of young men heading north from Central America, seeking to escape poverty and gang violence. But the number of unaccompanied immigrant children picked up along the US border has been rising for three years.

Migrants tell of hearing that children travelling alone and parents travelling with young kids would be released by US authorities and allowed to continue to their destination. Gilberto, too, had heard in Guatemala that if he got in, he would be allowed to stay, his family said.

He was born and grew up in San Jose Las Flores in a modest wood and sheet-metal home in the Cuchumatanes mountains of Huehuetenango province along the Mexico border. At 2000m above sea level, the exuberant beauty of peaks and canyons are in stark contrast to the extreme poverty.

There is no running or potable water and only a latrine in the family home. In the kitchen, there is food, tortillas or wheat atole, an oatmeal-like drink, but never enough.

The cluster of homes where Gilberto lived is accessible only by foot, a difficult walk of about 1.5km along a rocky and often muddy kilometre-long path through the canyons. Gilberto took that path each way to school, where he went as far as third grade before dropping out.

"He had to work to help the family," said his teacher, Francisco Hernandez, who remembered that Gilberto loved to draw.

Older brother finds work in US

Gilberto and his father, Francisco Ramos, hired themselves out to harvest and clean corn. Things improved when the oldest son, Esbin Ramos, reached Chicago and started working in a restaurant. He sends $100 to $120 a month when he can afford it, allowing the family to build a two-room home out of cement block to replace their wooden shack and paint it bright red and green. Gilberto slept on a piece of foam on the floor.

Short, quiet and humble, he stayed close to home. But he grew despairing and bored, Esbin Ramos said. Their mother grew sicker. The older brother suggested Gilberto come to Chicago, where he could return to school and work at night and on weekends.

Gilberto set out on 17 May with a change of clothes and a backpack along the same path as his brother, walking the rugged road to the centre of town and then hitching a ride to Chiantla to meet up with the smuggler, known as a coyote. He left his cowboy boots behind because he didn't want them to get ruined, his father said.

The trip cost $5 400, and the family had borrowed $2 600 of that, paying $2 000 the first week of the journey and another $600 the week before he died. They still owe the debt.

Esbin Ramos said on Tuesday that he didn't know much about how Gilberto reached the Mexican border city of Reynosa. Esbin went the whole way in the back of a semitrailer. He said Gilberto told him he arrived by bus.

"I'm OK, just the deposit money," Gilberto told his father as he was about to cross into Texas.

Disappearance

Then Gilberto and the coyote disappeared. His parents tried to call the coyote. Four days passed, then five, then six. By the eighth day, Esbin Ramos was worried. He called the Guatemalan consulate in Houston and in Guatemala seeking help, he said.

Then he got a call from a woman McAllen, Texas, from what agency he doesn't know, telling him his brother was dead. They had found the body 15 June, authorities said, and Esbin's phone number on the inside of Gilberto's belt buckle, a tactic many migrants use to hide information from drug traffickers who are looking to extort money from their families.

The Guatemalan consulate in the United States notified the family on Tuesday that Gilberto's body would be returned soon, whenever there is an available flight. His father is already preparing his grave site in the local cemetery.

His bedridden mother stumbled to her feet on Tuesday to pray at the altar set up where he slept. There are no photos placed there because the family sent most of them to the US to identify the body.

"The coyote told me that he was going to take him to a safe place and I believed him," Francisco Ramos said. "But that was the fate of my son."

- AP
Read more on:    guatemala  |  us
NEXT ON NEWS24X
SHARE:

Read News24’s Comments Policy

24.com publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
26 comments
Add your comment
Comment 0 characters remaining
 

Inside News24

 
/News
 

Joburg hot spots for cocktails, craft beer, tapas and wine!

It’s the season to be jolly – so we’ve rounded up some new Joburg hot spots!

 
 

I love summer.24

Summer Survey!
Great ideas for the best summer sandwiches!
Christmas lingerie to make this festive season the best one ever!
13 things you might not know about Disneyland

Jobs in Cape Town [change area]

Property [change area]

Travel - Look, Book, Go!

Kalahari.com - shop online today

2DAYS ONLY – 30% off Appliances

Coffee makers, blenders, fans, juicers and more. T&Cs apply. Shop now!

2 DAYS ONLY – 40% off books

Get 40% off when you buy 2 books. For two days only! T&Cs apply. Buy now!

Up to 50% off on outdoor gear

Save on chairs, blankets, cooler bags, umbrellas and more. Shop now!

Save on Samsung

Cameras, mobile phones, TVs, Tablets and more. While stocks last. Shop now!

Grand Theft Auto 5

Now available on PS4, Xbox One and PC from R649. Buy now!

OLX Free Classifieds [change area]

Samsung Galaxy s4

Mobile, Cell Phones in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 24

Best bargain in big bay

Real Estate, Houses - Apartments for Sale in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 25

VW Golf 6, 1.6 Trendline (Excellent condition)

Vehicles, Cars in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 25

Horoscopes
Aquarius
Aquarius

The energy today is serious, materialistic and hardworking. You may find you get a new outlook on things and you may want to spend...read more

There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.
 
English
Afrikaans
isiZulu

Hello 

Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.


Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire 24.com network.

Settings

Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.








Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.