Close to 1,000 people gather in Honduras' second largest city forming a migrant caravan that will soon head for the US, as Guatemala leader says Mexico plans to contain the migrants.
Hundreds of mainly Honduran migrants started walking and hitching rides on Wednesday from the city of San Pedro Sula, in a bid to form the kind of migrant caravan that reached the US border in 2018.
Some migrants waved Honduran flags and shouted slogans against President Juan Orlando Hernandez as they set out for the Guatemalan border. Some reached the Guatemalan border by early afternoon.
Most attempts at forming caravans in 2019 were broken up by police and the national guard in Mexico, which has come under increased US pressure to prevent migrants from arriving at the US border.
In his first full day in office, Guatemala's new President Alejandro Giammattei said the Hondurans would be allowed to enter Guatemala, which they must cross to reach Mexico and the United States.
Giammattei also met with Mexican Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard early on Wednesday and later told reporters that Mexico was determined to halt the caravan's advance.
"The Mexican government told us that they won't let it pass," said Giammattei, "that they will do everything in their powers to stop it from passing."
Giammattei said that travel agreements between Central American nations required Guatemala to grant the migrants passage. But Guatemalan police appeared to be detaining migrants at the Corinto crossing, apparently, to demand they show identification.
"We cannot prevent people who have identification" from entering, Giammattei said. "We are going to ask for their papers from the parents of guardians in the caravan, and if they don't have them they will be returned to Honduras. We have to protect the rights of children."
'Die there, or die here'
Most countries don't allow minors to travel without the consent of their parents or guardians, and some participants in past caravans have travelled with children who are not theirs.
"We are going to be extremely demanding as far as minors are concerned," Giammattei said.
Some migrants said they were aware that getting to the United States would be tough, but said they would try anyway.
“We aren't living here, we're just surviving," said Elmer Garcia, 26, a migrant from the town of Comayagua who set out from San Pedro Sula early Wednesday. "So it doesn't make much difference if you die there, or die here.”
Gerson Noe Monterroso, 34, has been unemployed for the last five years. He left his hometown of Choloma, just north of San Pedro Sula, in hopes of finding a job and sending money back to his family.
Monterroso set out with his toddler son in his arms but left his other children with their grandparents in Choloma.
“Here in Honduras, opportunities are scarce and crime is unbearable," Monterroso said. “We are not even safe in our own homes.”
This, by his own account, was his third attempt to reach the United States. He was turned back the other two times.
The prospects for any kind of caravan like the one in 2018 — which involved thousands of people — appear remote. Many of the migrants from the 2018 caravan applied for asylum, something that is now difficult or impossible.
The US has used a carrot-and-stick approach in bilateral agreements struck since July with Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador to deny people an opportunity to apply for asylum in the US. They are instead to be sent to Central America with an opportunity to ask for protection there.
“The truth is, it is going to be impossible for them to reach the United States," said human rights activist Itsmania Platero. “The Mexican police have a large contingent and they are going to catch all the migrants without documents and they will be detained and returned to their home countries.”
Israel Connor, a Nicaraguan who has been living in Honduras since fleeing political and social unrest in his home country, was undeterred. He set out on Wednesday with his wife Darlen Suazo and their three children, aged 3 to 5.
“We are going to struggle, but if God is with us, nobody can stop us,” said Connor. “We know we are going to get through Guatemala, and God will soften the hearts of the Mexican authorities.”
That was similar to rhetoric heard from migrants in the first caravans, but things have changed since then.
Immigration analyst Sally Valladares told local media, “The risks have become much higher because of Mexico's threats of deportations, but also because, when they are not able to cross [Mexico] as part of a caravan, they are going to search out routes as individuals, and they could fall into the clutches of criminal gangs that prey on migrants.”