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Guatemalans Killed in Migrant Center

The fire in March left 40 people dead.

The burial of Gaspar Josué Cuc Tziquín, 23, one of the Guatemalan migrants who died last month.

Nobody expected them back so soon.

Last week, the remains of 17 Guatemalan men killed in a fire at a migration center near the U.S. border were flown back home, where three days of national mourning have been declared. They were among 40 people who died in March at the migration center in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, near the border with Texas.

It is not the first time the Guatemalan president has had occasion to declare such a period of mourning. He has done so at least twice before: in December 2021, when at least 40 Guatemalans died in a vehicular crash in Chiapas, Mexico, and in March of that same year, when more than a dozen migrants were shot and burned in Tamaulipas, Mexico.

So far this year, the Guatemalan authorities have helped repatriate 58 dead nationals. In 2022, they brought back 427 people, 361 of whom had died in the United States. Many had been migrants trying to cross the American border.

Mexico has detained five people in connection with the fire in March. The prosecutor’s office is also expected to press criminal charges against the leader of the National Institute of Migration.

Below, the remains of the migrants arriving at an air force base in Guatemala City on Tuesday night.

Francisco Gaspar Rojche Chiquival, 24, and Miguel Rojché Zapalu, 40, were two of the men laid to rest in Chicacao, a predominantly Indigenous community in southwest Guatemala. They were uncle and nephew and had left for the United States on March 19.

Two of Mr. Rojché Zapalu’s daughters attended his wake.

Their relatives said they had taken out loans to cover payments to the coyotes — human traffickers — who demanded around $15,000 to $19,000 for each migrant. The men had been detained near the U.S. border and were expected to be deported back to Guatemala.

“He didn’t think he’d be back in a coffin,” said Rosa Elvira Chiquival, 37, Mr. Rojché Zapalu’s widow. She recalled the family going out to hug him the morning he left. She has six children, ages 3 to 15. “He said, ‘I have to go for you, to get ahead.’”

Mr. Rojché Zapalu’s burial in San Pedro Cutzán.

Mr. Rojche Chiquival’s burial.

“The president of Mexico has to look for the people responsible,” said Aurelia Gutiérrez, 50, a relative of Mr. Rojche Chiquival, while a funeral band played. “They’re not thieves. They look for a way to support the family because everything in Guatemala is expensive.”

The wake of Marcos Abdón Tziquin Cuc, 21, in the village of Paquilá.

Relatives and friends carrying the coffin of Gaspar Josué Cuc Tziquín.

Mr. Cuc Tziquín’s coffin was lowered into the ground at the cemetery.

Friends and relatives during Mr. Cuc Tziquín’s funeral.

Jody García contributed reporting.

A correction was made on April 17, 2023: Because of an editing error, four picture captions misidentified one of the people being buried. He was Gaspar Josué Cuc Tziquín, not Francisco Gaspar Rojche Chiquival.

Photographs by Daniele Volpe By Elda Cantú and Daniele Volpe

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