By SONIA PEREZ D.
CHIQUIMULA, Guatemala (AP) — A caravan of some 2,000 migrants hoping to reach the United States marched deeper into Guatemala as President Donald Trump threatened to cut off aid to Central American countries that don’t stop them.
The weary Hondurans covered some 30 miles Tuesday to arrive in Chiquimula after crossing the border into Guatemala a day earlier. Some hitched rides, while others walked. They expressed faith that obstacles would be removed and were generally undeterred when told of Trump’s exhortations.
As stifling daytime heat gave way to an evening downpour, Norma Chacon, 31, prepared to sleep on the floor of a town auditorium with her 18-month-old son, who was barefoot and clad in overalls. Town residents brought the migrants bread, beans, cheese and coffee.
Chacon said she had tried selling Avon beauty supplies in Honduras, but “people are so poor they can’t buy.” She left two other children in Honduras, but said she had to bring her youngest because he is still nursing.
As she was settling in, Trump unleashed fresh messages via Twitter saying the U.S. had told the governments of Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador that aid will be stopped if they allow people to travel from or across their countries intending to enter the United States without authorization.
“Anybody entering the United States illegally will be arrested and detained, prior to being sent back to their country!” he tweeted.
Late Tuesday, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights called on Honduras, Guatemala and Mexico to respect the rights and ensure the safety of the Honduran migrants traveling in the caravan. Estimates of their numbers ranged up to 3,000.
The group’s numbers have snowballed since about 160 migrants departed Friday from the Honduran city of San Pedro Sula, with many people joining spontaneously while carrying just a few belongings. A Guatemalan priest estimated more than 2,000 were fed at three shelters run by the Roman Catholic Church in Esquipulas, the group’s first stop in Guatemala.
Three weeks before midterm elections in the United States, the caravan was bound to draw Trump’s fury. But he did not follow through on a similar aid cut threat to Honduras in April over an earlier caravan, which eventually petered out in Mexico.
In his first comments on the latest migrant group, Honduran President Juan Hernandez accused “political groups” he did not identify of using lies to organize the caravan as a way to cause problems in Honduras.
“There are sectors that want to destabilize the country, but we will be decisive and we will not allow it,” Hernandez told reporters.
Earlier, Honduras’ Foreign Ministry said people had been lured to join the migration with “false promises” of a transit visa through Mexico and the opportunity to seek asylum in the United States.
Mexico has warned that only those who meet entry requirements will be allowed into the country. Hondurans need visas to visit Mexico in most cases.
Still, it remains unclear if Mexico and other governments in the region have the political will to physically halt the determined Honduran migrants, who are fleeing widespread poverty and violence in one of the world’s most murderous countries.
Carlos Reyes, 20, said he was attacked a week ago for being gay and dressing in women’s clothing.
“Some men were going to kill me. … They wanted to kill me for who I am,” Reyes said.
The migrants hope that traveling en masse affords them protection from robbery, assault and other dangers that plague the journey north.
On Tuesday, Guatemalan officials detained a former Honduran lawmaker, Bartolo Fuentes, who was traveling with the caravan, along with two other men. Some Honduran organizations had identified Fuentes as a coordinator or spokesman for the caravan, though the migrants said he was merely accompanying them and helping.
Fuentes’ wife, Dunia Montoya, said her husband would be detained for 72 hours and then deported if interventions by Guatemalan human rights groups were unsuccessful.
Guatemala also closed migration facilities at the Agua Caliente border crossing to prevent the entry of any more Hondurans. Honduran police and soldiers were posted on their side of the border preventing other migrants from trying to catch up to the caravan.
Since 2014, the United States has committed $2.6 billion in aid for Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador. For 2019, Washington has earmarked $65.7 million in aid to Honduras for security, democracy building, human rights and economic and social development programs.
Gabriela Natareno, 27, who was traveling with her 16-year-old cousin, said Honduras’ president is to blame for continued migration by desperate Hondurans.
“He keeps the country mired in poverty and corruption,” she said.
Associated Press writers Freddy Cuevas in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, and Luis Alonso in Washington contributed to this report.