Guatemala Tries to Block US-Bound Caravan of 9,000 Honduran Migrants

January 17, 2021 Updated: January 17, 2021

GUATEMALA CITY—Guatemalan soldiers blocked part of a caravan of as many as 9,000 Honduran migrants on Jan. 16, at a point not far from where they entered the country seeking to reach the U.S. border.

The soldiers, many wearing helmets and wielding shields and sticks, formed ranks across a highway in Chiquimula, near the Honduras border, to block the procession of migrants.

Guatemala’s immigration agency distributed a video showing a couple of hundred men scuffling with soldiers, pushing and running through their lines, even as troops held hundreds more back.

Guatemala Honduras Migrants
Honduran migrants hoping to reach the U.S. cross the border patrolled by Guatemalan soldiers, in El Florido, Guatemala, on Jan. 16, 2021. (Sandra Sebastian/AP Photo)

Guatemalan President Alejandro Giammattei issued a statement calling on Honduran authorities “to contain the mass exit of its inhabitants.” On Jan. 15, the migrants entered Guatemala by pushing past about 2,000 police and soldiers posted at the border; most entered without showing the negative coronavirus test that Guatemala requires.

“The government of Guatemala regrets this violation of national sovereignty and calls on the governments of Central America to take measures to avoid putting their inhabitants at risk amid the health emergency due to the pandemic,” Giammattei said in the statement.

Guatemala has set up almost a dozen control points on highways, and may start busing more migrants back to Honduras, as it has done before, arguing they pose a risk to themselves and others by traveling during the coronavirus pandemic.

Governments throughout the region have made it clear they won’t let the caravan through.

Mexico continued to drill thousands of National Guard members and immigration agents on its southern border, in a show of force meant to discourage the caravan from crossing into Mexico.

Honduran police stand guard at Guatemala
Honduran police stand guard at the crossing border with Guatemala, in El Florido, Honduras, on Jan. 16, 2021. (Sandra Sebastian/AP Photo)

On Jan. 15, two groups of more than 3,000 Honduran migrants each pushed their way into Guatemala without registering, a portion of a larger migrant caravan that had left the Honduran city of San Pedro Sula before dawn. A third group entered Guatemala on July 16.

Video shared by the Guatemala Immigration Institute showed cheering people streaming in, while border agents looked on and tried to keep them from blocking traffic.

The Honduran migrants walked deeper into Guatemala, driven by deepening poverty and the hope of a warmer reception if they can reach the United States border. However, several previous attempts at forming caravans have been broken up by Mexico, Guatemala, and Honduras.

On Friday, the migrants had set out at about 4 a.m. from San Pedro Sula, young men and entire families carrying sleeping children. Some quickly caught rides while others walked along the highway escorted by police.

Migrants in Guatemala
Migrants hoping to reach the distant U.S. border rest on the side of a highway, in Jocotan, Guatemala, on Jan. 16, 2021. (Sandra Sebastian/AP Photo)

Before the large breach on Jan. 15, Guatemalan authorities had reported picking up only small groups of Hondurans and returning them to the border. But Guatemala may start busing more migrants back to Honduras.

The migrants leave with little certainty about how far they will make it. Regional governments have recently appeared more united than ever in stopping their progress.

Migrants travelling in Guatemala
Migrants hoping to reach the distant U.S. border walk along a highway, in Jocotan, Guatemala, on Jan. 16, 2021. (Sandra Sebastian/AP Photo)

Francisco Garduño Yáñez, head of Mexico’s National Immigration Institute, said in a Jan. 15 statement that his country has “to guarantee our national territory” and called for “an orderly, safe and legal migration with respect for human rights and with humanitarian policies.”

On Jan. 13, the 11-nation Regional Conference on Migration “expressed concern over the exposure of irregular migrants to situations of high risk to their health and their lives, primarily during the health emergency.”

On Jan. 14, Mexican officials said they had discussed migration with U.S. President-elect Joe Biden’s pick for national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, and raised “the possibility of implementing a cooperation program for the development of northern Central America and southern Mexico, in response to the economic crisis caused by the pandemic and the recent hurricanes in the region.”

When hundreds of Hondurans tried to form a caravan last month, authorities stopped them before they even reached the Guatemala border. Other attempted caravans last year were broken up by Guatemalan authorities before they reached Mexico.

By Sonny Figueroa and Claudio Escalon