Satanic rituals and forced cannibalism. How many refugees share this fate?

The news service Noticias Telemundo recently reported a case of kidnapping, murder and cannibalism which, it seems, may not be so uncommon among refugees trying to cross Mexico into the United States.

Noticias Telemundo Investiga interviewed 32 migrants kidnapped from 2019 to 2021 in Mexico and the U.S. Their relatives were made to pay $1,500 to $5,000 as ransom to criminal gangs for the release of the kidnapped migrants.

The latest story follows the ordeal of a young man named David Sanabria and his little girl Ximena, who are from Honduras.

David Sanabria had arranged a coyote (smuggler) to escort them to the Texan border, where he planned to turn himself and his daughter in to U.S. immigration authorities and seek asylum. But when they reached Reynosa in the Mexican state of Tamaulipas, the coyote turned them over to a cartel gang. David and other captives were repeatedly made to call relatives to ask for a ransom, and were beaten if the relative said they couldn’t afford it. The victims are not US citizens so relatives cannot ask for help from the FBI, and in many cases the local police in Mexico are in the pay of the cartels.

If the ransom was not paid by the deadline, the captives would be murdered. David said:

“With a machete they dismembered them, killed them, and the only thing I could do was cover my daughter’s eyes and ears so that she would not know what was happening, nor would she have those memories for her whole life.”

After that, the corpses were cooked and the surviving migrants were made to eat the human meat, “so that there would be no trace of anything — that’s what one had to eat.” The term “innocent cannibal” is usually reserved for those who are not aware that human meat is in their meal, but in this case, I think we can apply it to David and Ximena.

At night, the kidnappers performed satanic rituals. “They knelt down. They had images of the devil, of Santa Muerte. They made pleas. They made offerings. It was something horrible,” he said. Several survivors who spoke to Noticias Telemundo Investiga talked about the kidnappers’ “cult of death”.

David’s brother borrowed money from his co-workers, friends and relatives and even asked strangers for money on the streets of Nashville. He eventually raised the $7,500 ransom and David and Ximena were released. David waded across the Rio Grande with Ximena on his back. So they made it to the US border where they were detained for three days, but then were returned to Mexico. Under Title 42 to curb the spread of COVID-19, migrants who are detained at the border are returned to Mexico while their petitions for asylum are processed. This year, 100,000 migrants a month are being returned to Mexico.

They were put in a shelter by the National Migration Institute of Mexico, and Al Otro Lado, which provides free legal assistance to migrants from Baja California, helped David fill out an asylum application.

In August, the U.S. granted David and Ximena humanitarian parole so they could enter the country and live with his brother in Tennessee while they await the results of their asylum petitions.

This is Ximena in the shelter.

The United Nations estimates there are over 82 million people in the world who have fled their homes, of whom 26 million are refugees, half of those under the age of eighteen. That means one in every ninety-five people on earth has fled their home as a result of conflict or persecution.

Imagine, if you can, being a refugee, anywhere in the world. You are fleeing from a place which doesn’t want you, and where people are possibly threatening to imprison or kill you, to another place that also does not want you and may send you back, and almost no one will support you en route. Men, women and children are helpless, easy prey for unscrupulous smugglers and criminal gangs. If you disappear, no one will find you, particularly if you have been eaten.

Migrant kidnappings happen all the time. Mexican authorities at the beginning of September 2021 reported a total of 697 migrants kidnapped and rescued in just 10 days. These are not statistics. They are people like David and Ximena, who may be robbed, kidnapped, beaten, killed, forced into cannibalism, and even eaten themselves, as the world ignores them. In a world where we capture, kill and eat some 350 million animals every hour of every day, is it really surprising that we sometimes do the same to members of our own species?

It made me think of the last line of the film Cannibal Holocaust:

CANNIBAL NEWS 2021: Mexican man allegedly ‘slaughtered and ate 30 women in a cellar’

Andres Filomeno Mendoza Celis, 72, was arrested on Saturday evening, 15 May 2021, in his home in Calle Margaritas, in the Mexican municipality of Atizapan de Zaragoza. Detectives arrived at Mendoza’s home to interview him about the suspicious disappearance of a woman, Reyna González, a mother of two children, only to find her mutilated remains on a table. González is said to have gone to the house of Mendoza, a family friend, to buy cellphone parts for her business.

Mendoza reportedly admitted to slaughtering around thirty women over the last twenty years. Most of their names were listed in a notebook found on the premises. According to Imagen Television Mexico, Mendoza confessed to eating his victims’ body parts; he recorded the murders and mutilations on 25 videotapes. He allegedly peeled off his victim’s faces and scalps, the last one because she was “pretty”.

From @c4jimenez

Bystanders watched as personnel from the Attorney General’s Office of the State of Mexico (FGJEM) came and went, carrying out excavations inside the house, looking for skeletal remains.

Investigators used sniffer dogs to locate human body parts; officers drilled through the flooring to recover the remains and hair of several other women. They also found women’s shoes, items of clothing and the voter identification cards of Flor Vizcaino, 38, who was last seen October 16, 2016 and Rubicela Castillo, 32, who was reported missing July 20, 2019.

According to the news site Televisa, the police found the skeletal remains of up to five people at the suspect’s house, as well as knives suspected of being used to kill and dismember the “victims.”

If confirmed, this would exceed the toll of Mexico’s “Monsters of Ecatepec” – a couple who killed and ate about twenty victims between 2012 and 2018 in in Ecatepec de Morelos.

Local reports claim the suspect “could not bear the rejection of young and pretty women.” A young neighbour reported:

“He always bothered women, his gaze travelled over their bodies and fixed on their buttocks, legs and breasts… They always said he looked perverted. When they found him drunk on the street, they preferred to turn around. He drank too much and made them uncomfortable by comments he made to 30-40-year-old women.”

Mendoza is being held at the Tlalnepantla Penitentiary for the murder of Reyna González, whose remains were found at the property. Lead prosecutor for the Attorney General’s Office division, Dilcya García, said the evidence investigators were able to uncover and gather strongly indicates that they could be dealing with a cannibal “serial” killer.

Mendoza, like many modern, domestic cannibals, seemed a harmless citizen; he had been president of the council of citizen participation in the Municipal Government of Atizapán de Zaragoza. He had also been a butcher for many years, working in a slaughterhouse that prepared meat for human consumption in Tlalnepantla, so he knew how to cut skin and keep it in good condition. Well preserved, skinned faces were found, with the hair still attached.

Are there more such cases of cannibalistic murders happening now, or are authorities discovering cases which previously might never have been uncovered? In either case, there is a clear trend toward the innocuous neighbour, the seemingly bland citizen, being dragged off in cuffs, leaving behind mangled corpses missing portions of flesh. Very often, the perpetrator has been shown to have worked in a slaughterhouse. Eduard Seleznev, the “Arkhangelsk Cannibal”, worked in an abattoir, as did Sofia Zhukova, the ‘Granny Ripper.’ Alberto Sánchez Gómez lived next to a bullfighting ring. Watching other animals being sliced up into commodities must make it easier to do it to humans.

Is our flesh fetish catching up with us?

Hansel, Gretel and incestuous cannibalism: WE ARE THE FLESH – Tenemos la carne (Emiliano Rocha Minter, 2016)

It’s Hansel and Gretel, Captain, but not as we know it. This Mexican film is a visual experience, rather than a traditional narrative. It is set, like many of the films we have covered in this blog, after what appears to be an unexplained apocalypse. The “witch” is a crazy old guy named Mariano (Noé Hernández) who makes fuel out of old bread and trades it to persons unknown, through a hole in the wall, for food – mostly eggs and meat. Mariano is more Satan than witch.

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He believes in chance, which, he says, is “the greatest criminal to ever roam the Earth.”

He is an aficionado of solitude, but when a young brother and sister, Lucio (Diego Gamaliel) and Fauna (María Evoli), appear in his abandoned apartment, he feeds them and puts them to work on ever more peculiar projects, such as a womb-like cocoon, made of wooden struts and vast amounts of packing tape.

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Mariano receives some meat through the hole in the wall, and cooks it for his guests. But there’s a problem: Lucio is a vegetarian. Fauna tucks into her steak, rather reversing the normal situation where Hansel ignores Gretel’s warnings and eats the gingerbread. But Mariano has laced the meat with poison that, he says, the Nazis used to kill Jews. He won’t give Fauna the antidote until Lucio eats his meat.

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So, it’s all about transgression, overcoming taboos, abandoning inhibitions, accepting pleasure rather than bothering with difficult questions of ethics. Mariano then decides that the kids need to have sex, and Lucio’s objection, that she is his sister, is dismissed:

“Do you think your cock gives a damn about her being your sister?”

So then there’s lots of incestuous sex, some of which is captured in lurid neon heat-map images. Mariano sings to them and masturbates as they perform for him, finally fainting as he ejaculates. Or dies, but is resurrected, because, as we know, the monster is never really gone.

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The Brothers Grimm was never like this. Although who knows what siblings Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm got up to before they became philologists?

Anyway, we finally get to the cannibalism, about an hour into the film, as Mariano captures a soldier, tells him exactly what they have planned.

“We won’t kill you for money. We won’t kill you for an ideology. Or for the pleasure of watching you suffer. It’s not revenge for what you have done. We are neither avengers nor executioners.”

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They sing the Mexican anthem and then slit his throat, catching his blood in a container. Various body parts are rendered into liquid and sealed into buckets, presumably to be traded through the hole in the wall.

Another girl comes into the maze looking for shelter, but is instead raped by Fauna and then Lucio.

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Have we shattered every convention and broken every taboo yet?

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Not quite. Mariano celebrates his naming day, a party in which all sorts of weirdos turn up and get it on. Mariano is to be the guest of honour, but also the main course.

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“It is also the day I’ll live inside your squalid bodies. Don’t forget that the spirit does not reside in our flesh. Flesh is the spirit itself! So I kindly ask that all you lowlifes devour me until there is nothing left.

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There’s a twist at the end, but hey, enough spoilers. Go watch it – it’s only 80 minutes.

Catherine Bray in Variety called the movie a “joyously demented portrait of humanity.” She summarised the theme very well:

“Much of its most vivid imagery is purpose-built to interrogate the moral values society projects onto biological matter: human meat ground to a slush, slopping about in a bucket; a clitoral close-up; a pipette inserted casually into a hole in a boy’s temple; a sister’s gelatinous menses dripping into her brother’s mouth.”

The stubborn belief that humans, unlike other animals, have some sort of spirit that elevates us into the ranks of demi-gods and therefore justifies the havoc we unleash on the rest of nature has crumbled. As Mariano insists, flesh IS the spirit. We are meat, driven by our appetites. Our carefully crafted moral convictions can vanish like smoke in the face of hunger or desire.

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Hansel and Gretel is a seminal cannibal text of course: innocents, abandoned for daring to expect to be fed, and left to face the voracious appetite of the outside world. Many of us probably first heard about cannibalism while sitting on a parent or relative or baby-sitter’s knee, crafting our next nightmare as they read us stories from the Brothers Grimm. Variants of the story are everywhere – a new movie is due soon (I’m looking out for it) called Gretel and Hansel. Here’s the trailer: