Guatemala ups pressure on U.S.-bound migrant caravan, clears road

VADO HONDO, Guatemala (Reuters) – Guatemalan security forces on Monday cleared a road of hundreds of people in a mostly Honduran migrant caravan that had camped out overnight when authorities barred it from advancing toward the United States.

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The government said the road in eastern Guatemala had reopened to traffic after troops wielding plastic shields closed in on the migrants just beyond the village of Vado Hondo, some 55 km (34 miles) from the borders of Honduras and El Salvador.

The removal of the large group was the latest effort by Guatemalan authorities to break up the caravan, which authorities said numbered close to 8,000 people within hours of its departure for the United States from Honduras last week.

“We’re scared,” said Rosa Alvarez, a Honduran mother who was at the roadblock just before troops began clearing the area. “We just want to pass freely to the United States.”

About 2,000 of the migrants installed themselves on the road after they clashed with Guatemalan security forces on Sunday during a failed effort to make their way past.

After the clearance, groups of migrants went back into Vado Hondo looking for alternative routes, the government said. It was unclear how many were turning back altogether.

The migrants included families with young children. Many say they are fleeing poverty and lawlessness in a region rocked by the coronavirus pandemic and two hurricanes in November.

Late on Sunday, Guatemalan authorities said they had sent more than 1,500 migrants back home since Friday, the vast bulk to Honduras. Nearly 100 were returned to El Salvador.

The first migrant caravan of the year comes just before Democratic U.S. President-elect Joe Biden takes office on Wednesday promising to adopt a more humane approach to migration than outgoing Republican President Donald Trump, who favored a hard-line approach.

Mexican President Andres Lopez Obrador on Monday warned migrants not to try to enter countries by force, and said he was in touch with both the outgoing and incoming U.S. administrations over the migrant caravan.

Lopez Obrador said he was hopeful that Biden would carry out an immigration reform and work with Mexico and Central America on a plan that could provide alternatives to migration.

Guatemalan Foreign Minister Pedro Brolo said on Monday he was surprised that Honduras did not want to collaborate in stopping the caravan, citing earlier joint discussions on it.

The head of the Honduran border police, Julian Hernandez, said more than 800 security officials had tried to stop the caravan at the Guatemalan border, but migrants pushed through the barrier, some using children “as shields.”

“We weren’t there with our arms folded,” he told Reuters.

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