In Chiquimula along the Guatemalan-Honduran border, the heat of the day didn’t slow down the exodus of roughly 1500 people – mostly men – from marching down the small city’s main highway this week. It was the second wave of migrants who are trying to catch up with the nearly 14,000 people that have joined what Guatemalan, Honduran and U.S. officials describe as a ‘highly organized’ movement backed by leftist political groups and organizations to get thousands of migrants to the United States.
On the heels of the second movement of migrants, the Defense Department said Thursday that Defense Secretary James Mattis will sign deployment orders to send 800 plus troops to the border with Mexico to assist U.S. Customs and Border Patrol in stopping the caravan.
The caravan is creating a snowball effect, with more and more people joining the groups as they move through Central America and Mexico. The numbers are totaling roughly 14,000, said Guatemalan intelligence officials.
“There are only so many resources we can dedicate to this issue,” said Guatemalan Secretary of Strategic Intelligence Mario Duarte. “The human traffickers are also moving their people and contraband into the caravans. The Guatemalan government is doing everything it can to turn them around and get them to go back home.” Duarte said that the migrants are also creating problems for the Guatemalan people, with robberies and other crimes increasing in the areas where they are traveling.
On Monday, the situation became more precarious. A seemingly endless column of men could be seen from the Guatemalan old Bell UH-1 Iroquois (commonly known as the Huey military helicopter) carrying Duarte and other intelligence officials to the border with Honduras. SaraACarter.com was embedded with the Guatemalan officials and watched as the men made their way across the border.
On the ground, the group of men was chanting in unison that they were the “caravan of poverty.” American government watchdog organization, Judicial Watch, also had investigators on the ground and spent the day with the marchers during their visit to the Central American nation.
From the outside, the caravan appeared like a well-coordinated Washington D.C. march with men at the front and middle of the columns leading the chants. Most of the people interviewed said the exodus developed spontaneously but they could not explain how buses were provided to get them to the Honduran border from their homes. They could not explain who paid for the buses or the food that was provided to them along the route to Mexico.
Guatemalan Minister of Defense Luis Miguel Ralda Moreno said that the strain on the government’s resources has been difficult and said his nation is actively investigating to find the ‘culprits’ behind the exodus of people from Honduras trying to reach the United States border. Moreno has been coordinating with other Guatemalan law enforcement and intelligence agencies from his office at the Ministry of Defense in Guatemala City.
This was not a spontaneous caravan, but one that was highly organized.
“We’ve already deported nearly 4,000 people back to Honduras,” said Gen. Ralda, in Spanish, while stressing Guatemala’s strong cooperation with the United States. “This was not a spontaneous caravan, but one that was highly organized. The people behind this put women, children and the disabled in the front of the groups and put these people’s lives in danger. Our government is ensuring the safety and health of those who have been manipulated into this march, giving them aide and asking them to go back to their homes. Some have gone home, others have decided that they were moving on to Mexico.”
In Chiquimula, “migration” officials attempted to do just that. Warning the nearly 200 plus women, along with those with children, of the dangers that lay ahead if they chose to continue onto the United States. Those in the make-shift camp who was the first to cross the border listened intently but some remained stoic in their decision to continue on with the group.
“You need to turn back,” said a Guatemalan federal law enforcement official, who was in the make-shift building where the women and children were resting from the sun.
“We have buses to ensure their safe return home,” said an immigration official, who was at the scene of the second wave of people and asked not to be named. “It’s not safe for the women and children. We had four buses just today sending people back to Honduras, but we can’t force them to leave.”
Another government intelligence official warned the smaller group of women saying, “This is a dangerous journey for you and your children. There is nothing for you in Mexico and they may not let you in. The United States will not allow you to just cross the border. For the safety of you and your children go back.”
Down the road, the troves of men were yelling, “We are coming to America, Trump” as well as “This is not about politics but about poverty.”
Almost every person SaraACarter.com interviewed in the group had the same answers to every question asked about the caravan. They would in concert say, “We were not paid” or “We walked out of our homes to join the caravan because we are poor,” or “This was not organized, this was a natural movement.”
The men did not discuss their free bus rides from their villages in Honduras to the border of Guatemala. A Guatemalan government official said, “We are investigating the situation and have received information that leftists groups in Honduras have been organizing these people and gathering them from their villages, paying them to take the trek and lying to them about the prospects of getting into the United States.”
THE OPEN BORDERS IN CENTRAL AMERICA
The Guatemalan authorities said keeping these waves out is all but impossible. They emphasized that Central America is much like the European Union, which allows its residents with proper identification to travel freely across borders making it “more problematic to control the migrants entering Guatemala,” said Mario Duarte. Even those without identification are able to find their way around the “migration” officials who are overwhelmed with those waiting for hours at the border crossing.
Only two Honduran men –who had broken away from the main group and were lingering in the back–divulged that there were actually leaders in the group and that people had been recruited to join the caravan. One man, who went by the name Miguel, said that once it started, “more and more people kept joining – we’ve had food, water, and supplies from various groups supporting the caravan.”
“It’s not a natural event, but what do we have to lose?” Miguel added.
Although several men at the front of the trove of men appeared to be operating as leaders, they denied they were when asked by SaraACarter.com. Later, they could be heard saying to some of the men at the front of the pack “keep moving’ and “don’t speak to them.”
As this second wave plows through Guatemala, government officials said that they will do everything they can to cooperate with the United States to turn people back home, but they also hope that the administration will work with Guatemala to provide training for their troops and assistance to help them build their forces to continue to support efforts to protect their American allies and the migrants from a very dangerous situation, they said.
“We’re working closely with our allies in the U.S.,” said Duarte. “We are investigating this situation and will continue to seek information that will expose the criminals who are making this happen and hopefully find a way to prevent it from happening again.”