Five foremen at a camp where tomatoes are sorted and packed for export have been arrested for holding at least 275 people in near slavery in Mexico's western state of Jalisco. Mexican authorities rescued the workers, including 39 teenagers, after one of the victims managed to escape and file a complaint with police. Regional prosecutor Salvador González de los Santos told Informador.com that police attending to the complaint found the workers living in subhuman conditions.

"Several people or families were found who were hired by a contractor in Veracruz, who offered them jobs and told them they would be provided housing, food and attractive working conditions, offering them 100 pesos a day, and schools. However, when the people got there, the conditions were totally different," said De los Santos. 

The prosecutor added that as many as three families -- each with at least two adults and three minors -- were living packed into rooms of about 50 square feet, which were also ridden with bedbugs. Water was rationed. 

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AFP reported that the workers only received about half the pay they had been promised, with much of it delivered in vouchers redeemable only at the company store, which sold products at a high markup. One of the victims, Valentín Hernández, told the news service that the food served there was "rancid and rotten" and that he and his wife and children were "held as slaves," adding, "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."

Workers had been brought to the Bioparques de Occidente camp in Tolimán, in western Jalisco state, from the central and central-eastern states of Hidalgo, Veracruz and San Luis Potosí. They said they had responded to radio advertisements soliciting workers. After their release, authorities transported them back to their places of origin.

Jalisco is a major exporter of tomatoes in both the winter and summer, along with Michoacán and Baja California. Exports of tomatoes from across Mexico to the United States are worth some $1.1 billion yearly, with nearly $1.1 million tons of tomatoes trucked across the border. 

The state's governor, Jorge Aristóteles Sandoval Díaz, said that an in-depth investigation would be done of the whole of the Tolimán municipality to prevent a similar human rights violation from happening again.