A small group of Honduran migrants left from the city of San Pedro Sula in a new migrant caravan for the United States on March 30. On March 31, some of them succeeded in entering the neighboring country Guatemala through “blind spots”, avoiding official border patrol checkpoints. Meanwhile, over 200 adults and minors were detained and returned by bus to San Pedro Sula, according to the Guatemalan National Police.
Since 2018, Hondurans have been traveling in large groups to escape extreme poverty, violence, corruption, unemployment and lack of opportunities in their country. Thousands of people, including men, women and children, have set off on the perilous 3-month and 4,000-km long journey to the US, walking and sometimes traveling in trucks, with hope to apply for humanitarian asylum there.
The recent caravan is relatively small as compared to the ones that usually leave from Honduras. This could be because the last one, which departed in January, was violently repressed by Guatemalan military and police forces in the Chiquimula department. The security forces confronted thousands of Honduran migrants with tear gas and stun grenades. The security officers charged the crowd with batons and sticks, and prevented them from moving forward in the country and continuing their journey towards the Mexico-US border.
The governments of Guatemala and Mexico both took tough measures to regulate the passage of migrants. Both the countries signed the “Safe-Third Country” immigration agreement with the US under threats of economic sanctions during the government of former President Donald Trump.
Some believe that the group that recently left Honduras seeks to take advantage of a much talked about relaxation of immigration policies by President Joe Biden’s administration. However, Guatemalan President Alejandro Giammattei has warned that his government will not let the group pass through the country. He has also authorized the use of force against undocumented migrants by decreeing a state of prevention in five departments bordering Honduras, namely Izabal, Zacapa, Chiquimula, El Progreso and Petén, for a period of 15 days. Furthermore, reports are currently surfacing in the US about the continued use of child detention centers and the inhumane conditions that migrants are subjected to in these centers.
Most of the people who join these caravans, say that they have been forced to leave their country in the absence of a response to their dire conditions from the far-right government of President Juan Orlando Hernández (JOH). The already acute socio-economic crisis in Honduras worsened in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the devastation caused by the Eta and Iota hurricanes, which struck Central American countries in November 2020. JOH’s administration barely took measures to deliver aid to the affected population.
On top of the humanitarian crisis in the country, the national government is also suffering an institutional crisis of legitimacy. On the same day that the latest caravan departed from Honduras, JOH’s younger brother, Juan Antonio “Tony” Hernández, was convicted in a drug trafficking case in the US. On March 30, Judge Kevin Castel of the Federal Court of Manhattan, New York, sentenced Tony Hernández to life imprisonment and ordered him to forfeit 138.5 million USD for smuggling tons of cocaine into the US, using and carrying machine guns and making false statements to federal agents.
Tony Hernandez was arrested during an anti-drug operation in Miami in November 2018. This Tuesday, he was found guilty in the case, in which JOH himself is implicated. Judge Castel pronounced that Tony Hernández received at least one million USD from Mexican drug lord Joaquín Guzmán or “El Chapo” to receive protection from his brother’s government.
The US prosecutors have alleged that JOH played a key role in the “violent and state-sponsored drug trafficking conspiracy.” In Honduras, he has been accused of using the bribe money and drug trafficking connections to advance his political career. In October 2019, when this trail began, a popular rebellion broke out in Honduras demanding JOH’s resignation. Now, with the conviction of Tony Hernández, JOH is once again in the midst of the controversy over his alleged relationship to drug trafficking.
Image Courtesy: Peoples Dispatch