Mexico braces for new caravan of Central American migrants
Central American migrants, part of the caravan hoping to reach the U.S. border, take a break in Acacoyagua, Chiapas State, Mexico, Thursday, March 28, 2019. A caravan of about 2,500 Central Americans and Cubans is currently making its way through Mexico's southern state of Chiapas. (AP Photo/Isabel Mateos)
MEXICO CITY – Mexico is bracing for the possible arrival of the "mother of all caravans," even as doubts arise over whether the group of Central American migrants will be all that big.
Interior Secretary Olga Sanchez Cordero has said a caravan of migrants from El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala could be forming.
"We have information that a new caravan is forming in Honduras, that they're calling 'the mother of all caravans,' and they are thinking it could have more than 20,000 people," Sanchez Cordero said Wednesday.
But a WhatsApp group calling for people to gather Saturday in El Salvador to set off for Guatemala only has about 206 members.
Activist Irineo Mujica, who has accompanied several caravans in Mexico, said reports about "the mother of all caravans" were false, claiming "this is information that (U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen) Nielsen is using to create fear."
His group, Pueblo Sin Fronteras, said in a statement there was no evidence the new caravan would be that large, noting "there has never been a caravan of the size that Sanchez Cordero mentioned." Indeed, past caravans hit very serious logistical hurdles at 7,000-strong.
He and others suspect the administration of President Donald Trump may be trying to fan fears of a big caravan to turn the U.S. national agenda back to the immigration issue.
Honduran activist Bartolo Fuentes, who accompanied a large caravan last year, dismissed the new reports as "part of the U.S. government's plans, something made up to justify their actions."
Later Thursday, Honduras' deputy foreign minister, Nelly Jerez, denied that a "mother of all caravans" was forming in her country.
"There is no indication of such a caravan," Jerez said. "This type of information promotes that people leave the country."
A caravan of about 2,500 Central Americans and Cubans is currently making its way through Mexico's southern state of Chiapas. The largest of last year's caravans in Mexico contained about 7,000 people at its peak, though some estimates ran as high as 10,000 at some points.
Mexico appears to be both tiring of the caravans and eager not to anger the United States. It has stopped granting migrants humanitarian visas at the border, and towns along the well-traveled route to Mexico City sometimes no longer allow caravans to spend the night.
Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said Thursday that Mexico is doing its part to fight immigrant smuggling.
"We are going to do everything we can to help. We don't in any way want a confrontation with the U.S. government," he said. "It is legitimate that they are displeased and they voice these concerns."
Sanchez Cordero has pledged to form a police line of "containment" around Mexico's narrow Tehuantepec Isthmus to stop migrants from continuing north to the U.S. border.
The containment belt would consist of federal police and immigration agents, but such highway blockades and checkpoints have not stopped large and determined groups of migrants in the past.
There is no indication of any large caravan, says Honduran official
The government of Honduras has rejected the claim by Interior Secretary Olga Sánchez Cordero that “a mother of all caravans” is forming in that country, while a migrant advocacy group contends that the term was used as a ploy to justify the implementation of stricter immigration policies in Mexico.
Honduran deputy foreign secretary Nelly Jeréz said yesterday that “there is no indication of such a caravan” and “this type of information” only encourages people to leave the country.
Jeréz’s remarks came after United States Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen met with Honduran, Guatemalan and Salvadoran officials in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, to discuss the issue of migration.
Her department said in a statement that Nielsen signed a multilateral compact with the three Central American countries that aims to bolster border security, prevent the formation of new migrant caravans and address the root causes of the migration crisis.
A day after her own meeting with Nielsen, Interior Secretary Sánchez said Wednesday that “we are aware that a new caravan is forming in Honduras that they’re calling the mother of all caravans . . . and which could be [made up of] more than 20,000 people.”
She also said that the Mexican government plans to set up federal checkpoints on the Isthmus of Tehuantepec to halt the flow of migrants as they travel through the country.
But the non-governmental organization Pueblos Sin Fronteras (People Without Borders) contended that the containment belt policy was ordered by the United States government and that Sánchez used the “mother of all caravans” term to justify it.
It pointed out that the interior secretary didn’t provide any evidence or details to support the claim that such a large caravan was gathering.
The only certainty is that after the meeting with Nielsen, the Mexican government planted the idea of the ‘mother of all caravans’ in its discourse to justify the United States contention order, demonstrating a Mexican immigration policy that is servile and submissive to the Trump government,” Pueblos Sin Fronteras said.
The organization contended that the federal government has “sold out to the interests” of the Trump administration.
“By promoting the idea of the ‘mother of all caravans orchestrated by criminal groups,’ the Mexican government is contributing to a migration crisis that justifies the extension and strengthening of the [border] wall – just what Trump has been looking for,” it said.
“The discourse of fear and crisis spreads criminalizing, racist and xenophobic sentiment against migrants . . . and coincides with the discourse Trump is using for his presidential reelection. It appears that the Mexican government is part of the election strategy of the current United States administration,” the statement continued.
“The creation of an atmosphere of crisis in migration to Mexico and the United States is conducive to [making] law changes that have a security focus and don’t respect human rights.”
Despite those claims, Sánchez’s indication that federal forces will be deployed to the Isthmus of Tehuantepec to stem migration failed to appease President Trump.
He wrote on Twitter yesterday that “Mexico is doing nothing to help stop the flow of illegal immigrants to our country,” adding “they are all talk and no action.”