Doina Chiacu and Jorge Cabrera, Reuters, October 16 2018
The organizer of a migrant caravan from Honduras was detained in Guatemala on Tuesday as the U.S. government threatened to withdraw aid from both countries and El Salvador if the flow of migrants north to the United States was not stopped.
Up to 3,000 migrants, according to organizers’ estimates, crossed from Honduras into Guatemala on a trek northward after a standoff on Monday with police in riot gear.
The Honduran Foreign Ministry called on its citizens not to join the group. The government “urges the Hondurans taking part in this irregular mobilization not to be used by a movement that is clearly political,” it said.
Honduran president Juan Orlando Hernandez said in a public address on Tuesday evening some Hondurans in the caravan had already returned home and the government was preparing to support them. He did not specify how many had turned back.
Over the border, Guatemalan police officers detained Bartolo Fuentes, a former Honduran lawmaker, from the middle of the large crowd that he and three other organizers had led from San Pedro Sula, Honduras, since Saturday.
The moves followed comments by U.S. President Donald Trump that his administration would halt aid if the Central American governments did not act, his latest effort to demonstrate his tough stance on immigration.
The Honduran security ministry said Fuentes had been detained because he “did not comply with Guatemalan immigration rules” and would be deported back to Honduras in the coming hours.
Security officials at the Honduran border with Guatemala in Agua Caliente blocked the road to prevent another much smaller group from getting through, television images from the border showed.
Adult citizens of Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador and Nicaragua need only present national identity cards to cross each others’ borders. That rule does not apply when they reach Mexico.
“NO MORE MONEY”
Trump took to Twitter on Tuesday to express his annoyance at the caravan, which follows a similar event in May that ultimately led to hundreds of migrants either seeking asylum in the United States or remaining in Mexico.
“The United States has strongly informed the President of Honduras that if the large Caravan of people heading to the U.S. is not stopped and brought back to Honduras, no more money or aid will be given to Honduras, effective immediately!” Trump wrote.
Trump expanded his threat in a later tweet to include Guatemala and El Salvador.
“We have today informed the countries of Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador that if they allow their citizens, or others, to journey through their borders and up to the United States, with the intention of entering our country illegally, all payments made to them will STOP (END)!” he said.
Hernandez said last month cuts in U.S. support for Central America would only hinder the country’s ability to stem illegal immigration. He welcomed China’s growing diplomatic presence in the region as an “opportunity.”
The migrants in the group making its way north plan to seek refugee status in Mexico or pass through to the United States, saying they are fleeing poverty and violence.
“What Trump says doesn’t interest us,” organizer Fuentes said in an interview shortly before his arrest. “These people are fleeing. These people are not tourists.”