EL FLORIDO, Guatemala — A once large caravan of Honduran migrants that pushed its way into Guatemala last week had dissipated by Tuesday in the face of Guatemalan security forces. Small groups pressed on toward the Mexican border, while others accepted rides from authorities back to Honduras.
Many of the migrants were driven by an increasingly desperate situation in Honduras, where the economic ravages of the COVID-19 pandemic and two major hurricanes in November have piled atop chronic poverty and gang violence. That combined with a hope that the new U.S. administration of President-elect Joe Biden would be more welcoming gave birth to the year’s first caravan.
But Tuesday, buses carrying dozens of migrants and police patrol vehicles carrying handfuls arrived sporadically through the morning at the Guatemala-Honduras border crossing of El Florido. They were passed from Guatemalan border agents to their Honduran counterparts and then boarded buses that would take them back to their hometowns.
Some 25 miles into Guatemala where hundreds of migrants had been stalled at a roadblock in Vado Hondo for several days, traffic flowed smoothly Tuesday and few migrants remained. Guatemala’s immigration authorities reported that through Monday more than 2,300 migrants had been returned to Honduras.
If Guatemala’s government had indeed dissolved the year’s first caravan, it would be a relief to the incoming U.S. administration. Biden has promised immigration reform, but for now plans to leave Trump-era border policies in place fearing a surge of migrants when he takes office.
Guatemala’s government had made clear it would stop the caravan for immigration and health reasons before it had even formed in San Pedro Sula, Honduras last week. President Alejandro Giammattei said 2,000 police and soldiers would be sent to the border.
Those forces did not stop the caravan at the border, but a series of strategically places roadblocks where forces deployed tear gas and batons dissolved the mass of people.
On Tuesday, Michael Kozak, acting assistant secretary for the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs, commended Guatemala via Twitter for “carrying out its responsibilities by responding appropriately & lawfully to the recent migrant caravan.”
Central American migrants began turning increasingly to caravans as a low-cost alternative to hiring a smuggler in 2018. Migrants gain a degree of safety in numbers and initially pushed successfully through Guatemala and Mexico. However, the U.S. government has led an effort to co-ordinate a more aggressive response from countries along the way to try to keep them from advancing far.
Caravans still represent only a fraction of the overall immigration flow that moves largely undetected.
In the past year, Guatemala has become a critical bulwark against the caravans, egged on by the more aggressive immigration policies of the Trump administration. Guatemalan forces effectively dissolved multiple migrant caravans last year.
At Guatemala’s northern border with Mexico, there were reports of small groups of migrants continuing to arrive and a possibility that a larger contingent could form in the border city of Tecun Uman.
Mexico had sent thousands of National Guard members and immigration agents to that border last week in preparation. President Andrés Manuel López Obrador has promised to respect human rights, but also to enforce an orderly, legal migration.
One year ago, Mexican forces in riot gear rounded up hundreds of Central American migrants as they stopped to rest along a rural highway after crossing into the country.
AP writer Christopher Sherman in Mexico City contributed to this report.
Oliver De Ros, The Associated Press