Migrant caravan storms Guatemala border into Mexico

Published October 20, 2018, 9:49 AM

by AJ Siytangco

By Agence France-Presse

Thousands of Honduran migrants broke through a Guatemalan border barrier and forced their way onto Mexican territory Friday, as riot police tried to keep them from advancing past a border bridge and continuing their trek toward the US.

The crowd hurled rocks and other objects at the security cordon on the Mexican side, wounding multiple migrants, federal police and journalists, an AFP correspondent said.

Honduran migrants taking part in a caravan heading to the US arrive at a border crossing point with Mexico in Ciudad Tecun Uman, Guatemala on October 19, 2018. (AFP / ORLANDO SIERRA / MANILA BULLETIN)
Honduran migrants taking part in a caravan heading to the US arrive at a border crossing point with Mexico in Ciudad Tecun Uman, Guatemala on October 19, 2018. (AFP / ORLANDO SIERRA / MANILA BULLETIN)

Chanting “Yes we can!” and “Mexico! Mexico!” migrants climbed or violently tore down a series of barriers leading to the final fence and police line on Mexico’s southern border.

“We ask you to please name a committee to hold a dialogue with officials from the National Migration Institute. Don’t continue putting women’s and children’s lives at risk,” a Mexican official pleaded with them through a bullhorn.

The migrants could be seen passing babies overhead through the crowd, as women holding crying children by the hand or pressing their infants to their chests streamed past the broken metal barriers and onto the bridge.

“Open please!” one woman said through tears at the final barrier, carrying a baby in her arms.

A young man said “the children are suffocating”

“We’re going to get in! We’re going to get in together!” shouted another young man as the migrant caravan — whose journey has triggered escalating anti-immigrant rhetoric from President Donald Trump ahead of congressional elections — massed on the bridge.

Chaotic scenes

Some migrants used a rope to jump off the bridge and swim across the Suchiate River, which forms the border.

At the front of the caravan, others briefly broke through the final barrier on the bridge — a tall fence of white metal bars — before police forced them back and closed it again.

Eventually, police began allowing women and children through in a trickle.

One of them, Marta Ornelas Cazares, described the tumult on the bridge.

“I don’t know what happened, I thought we were going to cross peacefully and then suddenly there were rocks flying and tear gas,” she sobbed as she nursed her baby.

Ornelas, 28, said she lost her other two children, aged 10 and 15, in the turmoil.

“We’re running away from violence, and we arrive here and they just hit us more,” she said as she walked toward a migration office to begin the process of requesting asylum.

The migrants are generally fleeing poverty and insecurity in the Central American country, where powerful street gangs rule their turf with brutal violence.

With a homicide rate of 43 per 100,000 citizens, Honduras is one of the most violent countries in the world.

Defying Trump’s threats

Various caravans have been traveling by bus or on foot from Honduras, converging in recent days on the town of Tecun Uman, Guatemala, near the border bridge.

Authorities in Ciudad Hidalgo, on the Mexican side, were expecting around 3,000 migrants to arrive in total.

Local police chief Gerardo Hernandez said that five shelters had been set up to accommodate up to 4,000 people.

On Thursday, Trump branded the migrant caravan an “onslaught” and an “assault on our country” in a series of typically fiery tweets.

He also threatened to send in the US military to “CLOSE OUR SOUTHERN BORDER!” and keep out “MANY CRIMINALS” among the migrants.

He called on Mexico to ensure the migrants do not reach the US border, while threatening Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador with financial penalties.

‘American sovereignty’

In Mexico City, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said after meeting his Mexican counterpart that migration across the two countries’ border is reaching “a moment of crisis.”

“The challenge related to security for our southern border is… a challenge for American sovereignty,” he said.

Mexican Foreign Minister Luis Videgaray insisted Mexico would not cave to pressure to detain the migrants, urging the Trump administration to address the root causes of their northward flight: violent crime and poverty.

“Mexico’s migration policy is for Mexico to decide,” he said.

“Our position, in essence, is to respect human rights and dignity and protect this group of migrants, particularly the most vulnerable: children, the elderly, pregnant women.”

But Mexico has also been keen to show Trump it is working to slow the stream of migrants.

The Republican billionaire has made curbing undocumented immigration a keystone of his presidency.

Barely a week goes by without him warning about the danger posed by ultra-violent Central American gangs like MS-13, while chants of “build the wall” are a staple of his pre-midterms campaign rallies.