Tuesday, June 28

Guatemala forcibly stops the migrant caravan heading to Mexico

The first great migratory wave of 2021 in Latin America, thousands of Hondurans fleeing violence and misery, has been surrounded this Sunday by the military and police as they pass through Guatemala. The armed forces of the Central American country forcibly detained, with tear gas and charges, migrants who are heading to Mexico and seek to reach the United States in the hope that the Joe Biden Administration, which will take office on Wednesday, will give a turn to their host policies. On Friday, a group of about 3,500 people left the city of San Pedro Sula, where hurricanes Eta and Iota had devastating effects. As the hours passed, other columns were added to reach approximately 9,000, according to estimates by the authorities.

“We are seeing that these people who joined this caravan are really in a totally irregular situation and very difficult to handle. However, we have coordination with PNC [Policía Nacional Civil], the Army and all the support institutions, ”said Guillermo Díaz, director of the Guatemalan Migration Institute. The euphemism collides with the scenes of repression that were seen around kilometer 177 in the Department of Chiquimula, in Vado Hondo, according to videos released by reporters and humanitarian organization personnel deployed in the area. “We are very concerned because another group is coming of the same proportion that is leaving El Florido this morning,” added Díaz. “We hope that the situation stops and this flow ends.”

One of the reasons alleged by the Guatemalan authorities for stopping the caravan is the coronavirus pandemic. “We are concerned with this situation that somehow puts the population at risk in terms of health,” argues the head of Migration. Mexico also warned that any migrant who wants to cross the border with the State of Chiapas must submit to the controls and protocols against covid-19. The Government of Andrés Manuel López Obrador redoubled with military troops the armoring of the Rodolfo Robles International Bridge between Ciudad Hidalgo and Tecún Umán and in Tapachula.

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Human rights organizations have been warning for days about the exposure of migrants and possible violations. “Many people suffer accidents and amputations, face extortion and sexual violence, or disappear and are separated from their families. Some are assassinated or die as a result of diseases or inclement weather ”, declared Lorena Guzmán, Migration Coordinator of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in Central America and Mexico. To these dangers are now added the risks of the pandemic: scarcity of water or access to hand washing and crowds.

This wave of migration is of special political significance because it occurs at a crucial juncture. Democrat Joe Biden is about to take office as president of the United States and has in his hands to turn around the decisions adopted by Donald Trump in the last four years. The outgoing president and López Obrador came to cooperate to contain the caravans and in the face of threats from the magnate, who stirred up the specter of a tariff war on exports, Mexico agreed to militarize the southern border and tighten controls on migrants entering from Guatemala.

In a telephone conversation between López Obrador and President-elect Biden days before Christmas, both agreed to start a new path in immigration policy and, at least on paper, promised to promote “cooperation between the United States and Mexico to guarantee a safe and orderly migration, contain the coronavirus, boost the economies of North America and secure the common border ”. This will also mean, according to both governments, “dealing with the root causes of migration in El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and southern Mexico, to build a future of greater opportunity and security in the region.” Biden admitted in the final stretch of the electoral campaign that during the terms of Barack Obama, when he served as vice president, this emergency was not addressed with the urgency it deserved. Now he plans to regularize 11 million people who are in the United States without papers in the first days of his administration.

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