Mexico rescues 275 workers, including teenagers, from 'slavery'

TOLIMAN, Mexico (AFP) - Mexican authorities have rescued at least 275 people who were being held in slave-like conditions at a camp where tomatoes are sorted and packed for export, officials said.

Thirty-nine teenagers were among those being held against their will at the Bioparques de Occidente camp in Toliman, in the western state of Jalisco, regional prosecutor Salvador Gonzalez said late on Tuesday.

Five foremen were arrested for "grave violations and crimes, including the illegal privation of liberty and human trafficking", Mr Gonzalez said.

The victims were rescued when a worker escaped and made it to the state capital Jalisco to file a complaint.

Mr Gonzalez said the contractors ran ads on the radio seeking workers, and offered room and board.

But when the workers arrived, they found themselves in overcrowded housing and were paid half of what had been offered, much of it delivered in vouchers redeemable at the company store, where items were sold at a high markup.

One of the victims, Mr Valentin Hernandez, went to work at the site with his wife and children. He said he was housed in a tiny room with two other couples who also had children.

"The food was rancid and rotten. They held us as slaves," Mr Hernandez said.

"They told us that we could leave if we wanted to, but they didn't let us. They would hide our belongings and threaten us to stay. And if someone tried to escape and they were discovered, they were brought back and beaten."

Mr Gonzalez said as many as 280 people may have been held against their will at the site.