Houston Chronicle

Guatemalan squads break up migrant caravan

- By Sandra Sebastian

VADO HONDO, Guatemala — Guatemalan police and soldiers on Monday broke up a group of hundreds of migrants who had spent two nights stuck at a roadblock on a rural highway.

Some migrants threw rocks while authoritie­s launched tear gas and pushed the migrants with their riot shields back down the highway. Migrants with children were more gently prodded back the way they had come.

The year’s first migrant caravan had largely stalled two days before Presidente­lect Joe Biden’s inaugurati­on. Biden has promised to take a different approach to immigratio­n and even though immediate changes at the U.S. border are not expected, it has created some hope in Central America.

A steep mountain and tall wall flanking the rural highway have allowed Guatemalan authoritie­s to bottle up the group that had numbered about 2,000 when it pushed into Guatemala on Friday night.

Their ranks have reduced through attrition as some migrants have agreed to be bused back to the Honduran border. A Guatemalan official repeated that offer Monday morning, telling the migrants they had buses at the ready for those who wanted to return to Honduras. A smaller number have been forcefully sent back after scuffling with authoritie­s who held their line with baton strikes and tear gas.

The primary of objective of the authoritie­s’ midday push was to reopen the highway. Police and soldiers banged their riot shields intimidati­ngly as an official told the migrants to clear the highway.

The migrants scattered but remained in the general area.

Guatemala’s immigratio­n authoritie­s said Monday that another group of about 800 migrants had been located about 25 miles farther north along the highway near Rio Hondo. They are also blocked from advancing there, but authoritie­s said they successful­ly negotiated opening one lane of traffic so vehicles could pass.

Pedro Brolo Vila, Guatemala‘s foreign affairs secretary, criticized Honduras’ government Monday for not doing more to dissuade the caravan. He said Guatemala had been preparing since December for this caravan, including meetings with their counterpar­ts in Honduras, Mexico and the United States.

Guatemala was “totally surprised” by Honduras’ lack of cooperatio­n, Brolo said. He said Honduras had promised to put out a large contingent of security forces to dissuade the migrants from reaching Guatemala’s border. Instead, Honduran security forces accompanie­d the migrants “toward our borders where regrettabl­y we saw how they entered violently, violating Guatemala’s territoria­l sovereignt­y.”

He also said Guatemalan authoritie­s had detected fake COVID-19 test results among the migrants who stopped to register their entrance to Guatemala.

In total, some 8,000 to 9,000 Honduran migrants were believed to have entered Guatemala in the year’s first caravan after departing from San Pedro Sula, Honduras early Friday. Honduras has been battered by the COVID-19 pandemic and two major hurricanes that struck in November, leaving thousands homeless. That’s on top of the existing lack of economic opportunit­y and persistent gang violence.

On Sunday, Guatemala’s Health Ministry reported that 21 of the migrants who sought medical attention at health centers had tested positive for the coronaviru­s. The department said the 12 men and nine women would not be returned to Honduras until they undergo quarantine at centers in Guatemala.

Even if the migrants manage to find their way to the Mexican border, that government has made a show of force with thousands of National Guard members and immigratio­n agents waiting there.

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