For 5280, Chris Walker recounts the terrifying ordeal of Enrique Orlando León, a Guatemalan-born freelance trucker, or transmigrante, who was hired by a Colorado employer in 2014 to deliver a truck full of furniture to his homeland — and was kidnapped. Walker’s dive into León’s story exposes a very dark side of the transmigrante industry, which operates under a special visa program allowing individuals to transport and sell American goods in Central America via Mexico.
Even now—years later—Orlando still hears rumors about what may have been concealed in the truck’s cargo, including guns or even up to $2 million in cash hidden inside pieces of furniture. If that much money had gone missing, though, Orlando doesn’t think he’d be alive—or that he’d have been able to negotiate his release for such a comparatively small sum. While his kidnappers originally asked for $15,000, Orlando says he negotiated it down to $7,000 by telling his captors they could keep the school bus he’d driven down to sell in Guatemala. Only in retrospect does it appear that some outside factor—perhaps his family’s calls to local Guatemalan police—saved him from a shallow, unmarked grave.