By Julia Willis
WASHINGTON –- While Central American leaders are attempting to confront the issues causing a flow of unaccompanied minors from leaving their countries, and the U.S. grapples with how to handle the surge, the federal government also has turned to music in an effort to impede illegal immigration.
As part of a new multimillion dollar “Danger Awareness Campaign,” U.S. Customs and Border Protection commissioned the creation of a catchy Spanish song with the aim of discouraging families in Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador from sending their children to the U.S. border after crossing through Mexico.
The song titled “La Bestia,” or “The Beast,” begins with the sounds of a train coming closer. As it speeds down the tracks, drums begin to play and the sounds of the locomotive are quickly replaced by a snappy Caribbean beat created by specialized xylophones.
The song tells the story of the “wretched train of death” that carries thousands of migrants each day from Mexico’s southern Chiapas state to cities farther north, where passengers are forced to get off and continue to the U.S. border by other means.
Although many believe that a ride on “The Beast From the South” is the only way to secure a better life for themselves and their families, the song’s lyrics tell a different tale. “With the devil in the boiler,” the train is compared to a menacing snake whose “womb of iron” threatens to swallow riders whole.
Passengers are described as cattle riding to “the slaughterhouse, taking hell’s route within a cloud of pain.”
Although the lyrics may instill fear in the heart of any listener, the song has become a surprise hit in Latin America. Playing on 21 radio stations across Central America, the song depicting the real dangers of migration seems to have won the hearts of many Latino listeners.
But just as the song says that the Beast “does not know about favors,” apparently neither do radio stations — listeners in the Latin American countries are not being told how or why the song was originally devised. Almost a “Truman Show” situation, the only people who seem to have recognized it as propaganda seem to be U.S. journalists.
Many news organizations have contacted the song’s composer, Carlo Nicolau, to ask him how he feels about working with U.S. Customs and Border Protection for this mission. “I thought I was going to bed with the Devil,” Nicolau told The Daily Beast, a news and opinion website. “But I’ve learned that a lot of (border control agents) are risking their lives to help people not die.”
What the song’s lyrics leave out is that gang members have hijacked all routes to the train and are charging potential passengers $100 or more to board “The Beast.” In addition, it neglects to mention that passengers are risking robbery, kidnapping, rape and murder.
The most shocking aspect of the song is that it is not the first that the U.S. government has commissioned aimed at potential migrants. In 2009, the Border Patrol released “El Mas Grande Enemigo,” or “The Biggest Enemy,” on a five-song CD that aimed to convince Mexican listeners of the dangers of attempting to cross into the U.S. illegally.