“Migrants from everywhere, entrenched along the rail ties. Far away from where they come, further away from where they go,” singer Eddie Ganz croons in Spanish over the Caribbean beat of the marimba, a wooden xylophone-like instrument from Guatemala. “They call her the Beast from the South, this wretched train of death. With the devil in the boiler, whistles, roars, twists and turns.”
People throughout Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador call their local radio stations to request this song, a harrowing tale of violence and death set against the backdrop of Central America’s traditionally upbeat cumbia music. “La Bestia,” or “The Beast” refers to the notoriously dangerous freight train upon which thousands of migrants ride from Southern Mexico, risking robbery, kidnapping, rape, and murder just to make it to the U.S. border. It’s a familiar tale told by an expected source. In fact, the popularity of “La Bestia” owes itself in large part to the fact that its audience is not aware of its origins. The song, and others like it, are part of a U.S. Customs and Border Protection campaign to deterring illegal immigration to the United States.
Last week, CBP announced plans to launch a new, million-dollar “Dangers Awareness Campaign,” aimed at discouraging families in Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador from sending their children with smugglers to cross the U.S. border through Mexico. A press release described billboards and public service announcements to be aired on television and radio in those three countries as well as U.S. cities with large Central American populations. Not highlighted was “La Bestia,” the song written and produced for the sole purpose of spreading CBP’s message through music. . .