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KPBS Midday Edition

Missing San Diego Activist Recovering After Being Found Wounded In Mexico

Hugo Castro, San Diego activist, volunteers to help Haitian refugees in Mexico, March 16, 2017.
Matthew Bowler
Hugo Castro, San Diego activist, volunteers to help Haitian refugees in Mexico, March 16, 2017.
Missing San Diego Activist Recovering After Being Found Beaten In Mexico
Hugo Castro is in stable condition after being found Tuesday in Tlalnepantla de Baz, a city just north of Mexico City. Castro disappeared Thursday, after posting an appeal for help on Facebook Live.

UPDATE: 2:09 p.m., April 19, 2017

Border Angels Founder Enrique Morones is working with the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City to have his volunteer coordinator Hugo Castro transferred to a San Diego hospital from the Red Cross facility in the State of Mexico.

The San Diego activist is receiving medical attention and is stable after being found wounded Tuesday on an street called Avenida San Rafael in Tlalnepantla de Baz, a city in the State of Mexico, Mexico's attorney general said in a press release Tuesday. He had been missing for nearly five days.

Investigators at the office of the special prosecutor for disappeared persons received an anonymous phone call describing his location.

Details surrounding his disappearance are still unclear, but the office of Mexico's attorney general said it has since launched an investigation into "the illegal deprivation of freedom" of Castro.

Castro's partner, Gaba Cortes, shared a few details on her Facebook page Tuesday night, saying representatives from the attorney general's office had been with her all day.

"The health state of Hugo Castro is delicate, he is hospitalized, the medical prognosis is guarded," she wrote.

Morones said he was "delighted" to learn that his volunteer was found alive, although he is very worried about Castro's physical health and is also unaware of the circumstances.

"He is so loved by so many people, I'm sure that positive energy and all the help from so many people played a key role," Morones said. "There's been so many people helping us — the U.S. government, the Mexican government, organizations, individuals, and we really want to thank everybody because it takes a team effort."

Original Story

Hugo Castro Facebook Live
US Consulate Following Case of San Diego Activist Who Has Disappeared In Mexico
Hugo Castro of Border Angels has been missing since Thursday, when he posted a Facebook Live video saying he was being pursued by criminals.

Hugo Castro, a U.S. citizen and immigrant rights activist from San Diego, went missing Thursday evening after posting a Facebook Live video from the shoulder of a highway near Mexico City, saying a group of criminals was "hunting" him.

"Seriously, I was threatened, they want to kill me," he said in Spanish, asking for someone to pick him up, describing his location as Kilometer 37 of the highway to Puebla out of the Mexican capital.

Translated Transcript of Hugo Castro's Facebook Live Video
San Diego activist went missing after posting a Facebook Live video asking for help, saying he was being "hunted" by criminal groups. KPBS is providing an English-language transcript of his words.
To view PDF files, download Acrobat Reader.

Castro is a volunteer coordinator at Border Angels, a San Diego-based advocacy group. KPBS aired a story on Monday that followed Castro as he delivered donations to migrant shelters in Tijuana.

His disappearance came while he was en route to Querétaro, Mexico to participate in a caravan that is following asylum seekers from Central America on their dangerous trek to the U.S.-Mexico border.

The caravan is meant to raise awareness about allegations that the U.S. has been turning away refugees without reviewing their cases, as well as human rights abuses they reportedly suffer in Mexico.

Castro said in his Facebook Live video, posted at 6:28 p.m. on Thursday, that a criminal organization had been following him for days and that they were now cornering him on the highway in freight vehicles. Castro had been traveling on buses and taxis.

He pointed the camera at an area of the highway where he said the drivers of freight vehicles were pulling over and watching him. The video is unclear but the tail lights of a vehicle are visible on the shoulder.

Castro, who appeared distressed, said he was almost out of money and that his phone's battery would soon die.

He added that the criminal organization that he believed was following him was from Tamaulipas and that he suspected the government and various transportation industries were involved.

"I can't trust the police," he said.

U.S. consular officials in Mexico have been aware of the disappearance of Castro and said they plan to assist in the search, a spokesman told KPBS on Monday.

"The welfare of U.S. citizens is one of the Department's highest priorities," said Preeti Shah, a spokesman for the U.S. Consulate. "We stand ready to provide all possible consular assistance. Due to privacy considerations, we have no further comment at this time."

Castro is one of the highest-profile American individuals to disappear in a country where officials estimate more than 10,000 people are missing. Mexico's attorney general is investigating. According to some estimates, only about one percent of those who go missing are ever found.

Border Angels founder Enrique Morones told KPBS that Castro had received multiple death threats in recent months due to his work to protect Haitian migrants.

“These people that threatened him were trying to take advantage of the Haitians and Hugo was defending them," Morones said.

In Mexico, drug cartels regularly profit off of migrants. They kidnap hundreds of them each month for human trafficking or ransom.

Castro, who regularly posted Facebook Live videos, posted one on March 10 from the Tijuana side of the San Ysidro Port of Entry, where he said he had just received a death threat. He recounted the incident in the dark, saying he had been advising a newly deported group of about 50 migrants on how to avoid being robbed, kidnapped and exploited.

A cab driver confronted Castro, saying he was going to kill him for interfering with his plans to pick up the deported migrants, Castro said. He added that the angry driver — from the Taxi Amarillo line in Tijuana — called his friends and that several of them surrounded Castro, backing off only when they saw security cameras at the port of entry.

"If anything happens to me, I hold responsible the Taxi Amarillo line of cabs here in Tijuana," he said.

San Diego Activist Disappears In Mexico After Begging For Help On Facebook Live
Missing San Diego Activist Recovering After Being Found Injured In Mexico
Missing San Diego Activist Recovering After Being Found Beaten In Mexico GUEST:Jean Guerrero, Fronteras reporter, KPBS News
San Diego Activist Disappears In Mexico After Begging For Help On Facebook Live
San Diego Activist Disappears In Mexico After Begging For Help On Facebook Live GUEST: Jean Guerrero, fronteras reporter, KPBS

There are fears for the life of an immigrant's right advocate, a volunteer with the border Angels. And, civic discourse seems to be a lost art. We hear about a conference this week to relearn it. This is "KPBS Midday Edition." I'm Allison to St. John in Fortran eight. It's Monday, April 17. A volunteer coordinator with border Angels, a San Diego-based group that advocates for migrants has gone missing. Hugo Castro was recently featured in our story on air. Castro was on his way to join a caravan of asylum-seekers from Central America when he went live on Facebook from the side of the freeway. [ Speaking foreign language ] That was Castro pleading for help. Jean Guerrero is following the story. Tell us more about what he said in the video. In the video he appears very distressed. He says he was threatened, he believes people want to kill him, that he had noticed people following him from as far away as northern Mexico. He was taking public transportation to participate in the caravan. He noticed people following him. He does not provide any details so there is a lot of uncertainty about how that went down. He tried to outsmart them, he was switching vehicles and was very surprised to find that they followed him all the way to Mexico City until they eventually cornered him on this highway. He repeatedly points his phone to these freight vehicles that he says have been repeatedly passing him and pulling over on the side of the road, and just staying there, and that the drivers would sometimes come out and stare at him. It doesn't make a lot of sense, but it seems like he was very convinced that there was -- that he was being followed. That he was in danger? That he was in danger and wanted somebody to pick him up because he did not trust the Mexican police. What is the status of the search? The Mexican prosecutor in Mexico City has begun to investigate. And the U.S. Consulate in Tijuana has been notified. The Mexican consulate in San Diego. Apparently the family is having a little bit of trouble getting the U.S. Consulate in Mexico City involved. But, there is a very sincere effort on the part of the family and activist organizations on both sides of the border to get a binational investigation going. What does Castro say about why people might be threatening his life? One of the most frustrating things is that he is does not provide details as to why this would be happening. However, I spoke with someone at border Angels, and I spoke with Hugo Castro's partner. They both indicated to me that they believe -- they know that Castro had received death threats before because of his work to protect migrants. They are very vulnerable populations. Often they are targeted by criminal groups, exploited, kidnapped for ransom, often they lack identification. They are a very vulnerable group and easily exploited by criminal groups. They had told Castro a few weeks ago he had received a death threat saying, you know, you are interfering with our work and we are going to kill you. And actually, Castro had posted another Facebook live video just a few weeks ago saying he had just received a death threat from a taxi driver who appeared to be organized in crime because if he was upset with his work with Haitian migrants. We heard about Haitian migrants in our feature earlier this last week, I believe. Tell us more about the work he was involved in. He was involved with the San Diego nonprofit, SOS migrant. Adopt a shelter where they provide donations for food, and other essentials to the migrant shelters that are trying to provide help to the Haitian migrants in Tijuana. Because a lot of them are stuck in Tijuana, they were trying to get into the U.S. And where they got away. They are trying to start life over. He is providing them with supplies as well as suggestions on how to stay safe and not be exploited by criminals. According to some estimates, 10,000 people have gone missing. Is there something that stands out about the disappearance of Houston Castro? The problem of disappearance is a widespread problem. There are at least 10,000 missing in Mexico. Castro's case is unique because he is, A, a U.S. citizen, and B, a very high profile person. And, it has always been believed, you know, that a majority of the people who go missing in Mexico are from very low income areas and or that they themselves are in calls -- involved in crime. That is an explanation often given. It was always believed U.S. citizens are safe. And, it is very interesting and notable that Castro is a person that is out there, in the spotlight, fighting for migrant rights. He is a U.S. citizen, and you would think that would give him a level of safety. If something has happened to him, it's going to create a new dynamic between the two countries in terms of how these issues are dealt with. Problems of the missing have always been seen as a Mexican issue but it might be seen as more of a binational issue if in fact something has happened to Castro. Thank you very much for bringing this up today. That's Jean Guerrero, KPBS front Harris reporter. -- Fronteras reporter.