Exiled from El Salvador? Castaway's Story Takes a New Turn

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Jose Alvarenga, the castaway from El Salvador who washed up on the Marshall Islands last week, cannot return home.


At least, that's what several fishermen in his native village of Garita Palmera told a Univision correspondent.

“I don’t think he’ll come back here,” said Armando Perez, a local fisherman. "Maybe he can visit his family briefly, but he would have to get out of here quick for sure.”


“If he comes back here, they will make sure he disappears,” said one fisherman who refused to give his name.

Residents of Garita Palmera told Univision that Alvarenga had left his home country 15 years ago after he was severely beaten by local thugs. His family refused to comment on the allegations when approached by Univision.

Alvarenga eventually settled near Tapachula, a city on Mexico’s Pacific coast, where he also worked as a fisherman.

Alvarenga’s mother, Maria Julia, told the AP that he stayed out of touch with his family for the past eight years, even though he had left a young daughter behind in El Salvador.


“We thought he was dead already,” Salvarenga’s mother told the news agency.

As Alvarenga recovers from his supposed 13-month long voyage across the Pacific Ocean in the distant Marshall Islands, more facts about his past are emerging.


People who knew him in Mexico say he had forged a new identity for himself there.

“He called himself Cirilo Vargas…that’s how everyone on the coast knew him,” Giovanni Cordoba, a resident of the village of La Finca told Univision.


Cordoba said that his brother was the teenager named Ezequiel, who was with Alvarenga when their boat got lost at sea in December of 2012.

Alvarenga claims that he spent 13 months at sea after a storm caused his small boat to drift away from the Pacific coast of Mexico while he was shark fishing. He told officials in the Marshall Islands that Ezequiel died four weeks into the odyssey because his body couldn’t handle the castaways’ diet of turtles and raw birds.


Alvarenga, whose health has been deteriorating recently, told officials that he had no choice but to throw Ezequiel's body into the sea.

Mexican officials have confirmed to The Guardian that Alvarenga worked for a shrimp fishing cooperatve in the small town of Costa Azul in Mexico's Chiapas State, and records indicate that a local rescue team tried to search for his boat after it had gone missing.


But there are some doctors who are skeptical of Alvarenga’s story. Dr. Juan Rivera, Univision’s chief medical correspondent said on Tuesday that Alvarenga had not “lost much weight,” even though he claimed to be at sea for 13 months.

He also said that the skin on the fisherman’s hands did not seem to show the right kind of burns, or deterioration, that someone who’s been exposed to a long time in the sun would experience.


“There are more questions than answers at this moment,” Rivera said.

CNN reported on Wednesday however, that Alvarenga's health has taken a turn for the worse, with the castaway suffering from dehydration and swollen legs.


According to CNN, plans for Alvarenga's repatritation to El Salvador have been postponed while his health improves.

Manuel Rueda is a correspondent for Fusion, covering Mexico and South America. He travels from donkey festivals, to salsa clubs to steamy places with cartel activity.

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