A Honduran migrant rests before a road blockade imposed by security forces in Poptun, Guatemala. (The Associated Press)
Morales, Guatemala – Before dawn on Saturday, a quarantine post in northern Guatemala where about 1,000 migrants spent the night on their way to the United States was empty.
There was no trace of the men, women and children who hours before had settled in that place in the middle of the Guatemalan jungle of the Petén, with few belongings and the occasional blanket.
According to the Guatemalan police, in the early hours of the morning, private buses and army trucks transported the migrants back to El Corinto, on the border with Honduras . A press release on Saturday afternoon indicated that 2,065 migrants had already been returned, which implies almost all of those who crossed that border on Thursday from San Pedro Sula, in the north of the neighboring country.
In recent days, such transfers had been carried out without violence and apparently voluntarily, although with soldiers armed with clubs or assault rifles.
Tiredness, rain, hunger and the fact that the military and police blocked their way on Friday, made the vast majority give up their attempt, although small groups of people remained on the road that crosses the Petén on Saturday morning. less than 10 migrants who were still walking towards Mexico.
Honduran migrant Marcos Pineda, his wife Keysi Girón and their children Génesis and Ezequiel walk in San Luis Petén, Guatemala.
“We will continue. We stayed to rest and the larger group continued, we don't know what happened to them ”, explained Olvin Suazo , a 21-year-old farmer, who was traveling behind on Saturday with three friends from Santa Bárbara, Honduras. “We know that there is a barbaric danger to face, but it must be faced.”
Along a lonely road in the middle of an African palm plantation in San Luis Petén, a group was still walking with the hope of reaching the United States and seeking to meet the bulk of the caravan, without knowing that the largest group had already been returned. to the border with Honduras.
Among them was Marcos Pineda with his wife and two young children. “We are not going to know defeat. We have faith in arriving, ”said Pineda upon learning that the large group had already been returned.
Rarely since 2018 has a migrant caravan had such bleak prospects of achieving its goal. The president of Guatemala sees them as a risk of contagion in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic and has promised to deport them. His Mexican counterpart believes the march is a plot to influence US elections. And the newly formed Tropical Storm Gamma threatens to dump torrential rains on its foreseeable route through southern Mexico.
Fear of a confrontation had increased on Friday when more than 100 Guatemalan soldiers and police stopped the advance of the migrants , who were increasingly frustrated by the lack of food after walking hundreds of kilometers.
Migrants ride in the back of a freight truck that slowed down to allow themselves to jump up in Rio Dulce, Guatemala.
As night fell, Honduran migrant Paola Díaz spread a blanket on the side of the road and put pajamas on her 4 and 6-year-old children in the hope that they could get some sleep.
Díaz decided to join the caravan along with her husband, Alejando Vásquez , 23, because their salary as a mechanic was not enough for them to buy food for the children.
“At first I wanted to go back, but doors have opened that I think will allow me to move forward,” he said, acknowledging that he fears for his children if a confrontation occurs.
Some migrants took on makeshift leadership roles to try to dialogue with security forces.
“It is that they cannot deny us the right to continue (…). Tell your bosses to give us a chance, ”one man, who did not identify himself, told a police officer. The agent replied that the migrants had entered the country illegally and that they had an order to return them to Honduras or, at least, not to let them advance towards the border with Mexico.
Guatemalan immigration authorities indicated that some of the 2,000 people who initially made up the caravan had agreed to return to Honduras. The rest were divided into two routes: some traveled north to Peten, where the checkpoint was, and others took buses west to the capital, Guatemala City.
In Mexico, its president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador , suggested on Friday that the caravan that left San Pedro Sula, in northern Honduras, may have been organized with US policy in mind.
Honduran migrants stand in a Guatemalan army vehicle before returning home, Saturday, Oct.3, 2020, in Morales, Guatemala.
“I think it has to do with the election in the United States,” said López Obrador. “I don't have all the elements, but there are indications that this was put together for that purpose. I do not know for whose benefit, but we are not sucking our fingers, there is a month left ”.
The caravan brought to mind the one that was formed in October 2018, shortly before the mid-term legislative elections in the United States and which became a prominent issue in the campaign, fueling anti-immigration rhetoric.
Later, the face of the fight against the pandemic in Mexico, the undersecretary of Health, Hugo López-Gatell , assumed a more conciliatory tone by ensuring that migrants do not pose a threat to health and that the country was “moral, legal and politically obliged to assist them ”.
He added that “2,900 people, of whatever nationality, are unlikely to contribute significantly to a public health problem in Mexico or for Mexico.”
On the eve, the president of Guatemala, Alejandro Giammattei , promised to deport the migrants to Honduras, citing his efforts to contain the pandemic.
“We will not allow someone foreigner who is using illegal methods to enter this country to believe that they have the right to come to contaminate us and put us at serious risk,” he said during a televised speech.
Central American migrant caravans have gained some popularity in recent years because traveling north in large groups is considered much safer, and many do not have the money to pay for a coyote to enter the United States irregularly.
At first they counted on the generosity and solidarity of the communities through which they passed, especially in Guatemala and southern Mexico, but the situation was complicated last year when the president of the United States, Donald Trump , threatened the authorities Mexicans with imposing sanctions on all their exports if they did not cut off those flows. In response, the Mexican government blocked the passage of the new caravans with thousands of members of the National Guard.
The last one, in January of this year, was dismantled by Mexican guards.
This week, Mexico warned that it will enforce its immigration laws and that it will bring to justice those who put public health at risk.
But even if they could get through Mexico without a hitch, the United States has essentially closed its borders to legal immigration, and entering irregularly is as difficult as ever.