Migrant caravan faces roadblocks in Guatemala

RIO DULCE, GUATEMALA (AP) — About 1,000 Honduran migrants headed for the United States (US) became increasingly desperate on Friday in the face of a police and army roadblock in northern Guatemala that was preventing them from continuing toward the US.

Seldom since 2018 have the prospects for a migrant caravan been so discouraging. Guatemala’s President sees them as a contagion risk amid the coronavirus pandemic and has vowed to deport them.

Mexico’s President thinks the caravan is a plot to influence the US elections. And newly formed Tropical Storm Gamma threatens to dump torrential rain on their planned route through southern Mexico.

Fears of a confrontation grew as over 100 Guatemalan soldiers and police blocked the migrants, who became increasingly frustrated with the lack of food and forward movement after walking hundreds of kilometres from Honduras earlier this week.

Migrants’ voices rang out on the rural highway, demanding authorities either let them through or provide them food.

As night fell, Honduran migrant Paola Díaz spread a blanket on the roadside and put pajamas on her children, aged four and six, in hopes they might sleep awhile.

An Honduran migrant and her daughter sit at a roadblock set by security forces in Poptun, Guatemala. PHOTO: AP

Díaz said she decided to join the caravan with her husband, Alejando Vásquez, 23, because what he earned as a mechanic was no longer enough to buy the children food.

“At first I wanted to turn back, but some doors have been opened, and I think we are going to be able to make it through,” said Díaz, while acknowledging that she was afraid for her children if a confrontation develops.

Some migrants playing improvised leadership roles tried to dialogue with the security forces.

“You cannot deny us the right to go on,” one of the migrant leaders told a police officer.

“Tell your bosses to give us a chance,” said the man, who did not identify himself. The police officer responded that the migrants had entered the country illegally, and that their orders were to return them to Honduras, or at least not allow them to proceed toward the Mexican border.

Guatemala immigration authorities said some of the original group of about 2,000 migrants had agreed to return to Honduras. The others had split between two routes: Some travelled north to Peten, where the roadblock was, and others walked, hitched rides or took buses west toward the capital, Guatemala City.

Honduran Fernando Sabión, 20, walked along shirtless on the northern route, carrying Angel, a four-month-old baby, in his arms. The boy isn’t his, but Sabión was helping the baby’s mother, Madelin, on the wearying walk through tropical heat.

“I am going (north) because I want to meet my father. He is in the United States,” said Sabión. “He left when I was a baby, and I want to go up there and find a job in construction.”