11132018Tue
Last updateFri, 09 Nov 2018 11am

Mexico allows migrant caravan through, extends hand of friendship

The Jalisco government will take a humanistic approach when the Honduran migrant caravan passes through Guadalajara sometime in the next month, as expected.

pg6Government Secretary Roberto Lopez has admitted there are not enough shelters in the city to accommodate the 7,000-strong migrant wave that is currently moving through the state of Chiapas, about 1,000 miles from the U.S.-Mexico border, their eventual destination.  However, adequate measures will be found to ensure the well-being of the migrants should such a large number arrive in Guadalajara, he said. Although many of the Central American migrants will have crossed into Mexico illegally, their human rights will be respected and their safety guaranteed, Lopez said.

Although the migrants have several route options on their travels north, passing through Guadalajara would seem a sensible one given the comments of controversial Nuevo Leon Governor and former presidential candidate Jaime Rodriguez (“El Bronco”), who said this week that his state does not have the resources to assist the migrants and he will deport them.  (That is possibly an empty threat since the federal government is entrusted with this task.)

Even though President Enrique Penã Nieto sent more than 400 federal police officers and troops to Mexico’s southern border to secure the official crossing points, thousands of Honduran migrants managed to find their way across the Usumacinta River and into Mexico. Once the migrants reached Mexican soil, authorities declined to detain them or halt their progress through the state of Chiapas. Many families and some unaccompanied minors are among the caravan and evidently the Mexican government wants to avoid any negative publicity that would be caused by violent confrontations with the migrants.   The majority of the migrants have no money and are relying on the good nature of of residents of the communities they pass through for food, hygiene supplies and, sometimes, accommodation. Red Cross paramedics are treating the the participants for general health conditions, such as blisters and dehydration.

Reporters from around the world have converged on Chiapas to cover the caravan. Media outlets have been filing stories of the human face of the contingent, detailing their backgrounds and reasons for joining.  The common themes are poverty, lack of work and repression from the Honduran government. Some travelers from rural areas have complained of hardship because of ongoing drought. Honduras is one of the countries most affected by climate change, with the region known as the Central America Dry Corridor now reduced to producing a single harvest each year, instead of two.

Studies show that two-thirds of Honduras’ population lives in poverty, a figure that increased by six percent in 2017. In addition, 80 percent of workers earn below the minimum wage of a few hundred dollars per month.

While Central American caravans have passed through Mexico previously, none has mushroomed to the size of the current one. Dismissing the theories that the march is being financed by foreigners, including financier George Soros or the Venezuelan government, most participants have told reporters they learned about the caravan through social media, television news reports or word of mouth. Some mentioned that they believed some reports that said the migrants would be guaranteed asylum when they reached the United States.

The Trump factor

Several media outlets have taken up U.S. President Trump’s call to reporters to look inside the caravan and identify the “Middle Easterners” who have joined the throng.  As yet, none have have been pinpointed.  His comments have been largely dismissed by knowledgeable terrorism experts as electioneering and scaremongering.

Although Trump urged Mexico to stop the caravan, he has not said he will sanction this country for letting most of the migrants through. (In reality, he would be unwise to do this, since Mexico has returned almost 500,000 Central Americans in the last five years. In earlier times, all would most likely have made it to the U.S. border.)

Trump has, however, vowed to suspend Honduras’s $US127 million annual aid package, as well as similar handouts to El Salvador and Guatemala. Honduras’ aid package, however, doesn’t amount to much for such a poverty-stricken country on the doorstep of the United States. It adds up to $US13 per inhabitant, compared with $US130 for Iraq (more than $US5 billion).

Cutting aid to Central America will only exacerbate the problem, many foreign policy experts say, and lead to further caravans. Some suggest that increasing contributions to the poorest nations in the region that specifically help their citizens remain at home is actually cheaper in the longterm than pumping more resources into immigration control activities.

While his tough stance may gain traction among undecided voters in November’s midterms, Trump could soon find himself at odds with Mexico’s president-elect on the issue. While Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has steered clear of criticizing his counterpart’s threat to militarize its southern border, he has voiced his support for the Central American migrants and promised to respect their rights.  He also said he will give Central Americans visas to work in Mexico, and urged the United States and Canada to take part in a major development program in the region that will help the population stay put.

Thanks to their “safety in numbers,” the migrants’ security in Mexico appears guaranteed for now. The big unknown is what happens when they reach the U.S. border, which might not be until the start of December – around the time Lopez Obrador is installed as president. Complicating the problem is the intense coverage by the international media, which has been a factor in the formation of “secondary” caravans in both El Salvador and Guatemala, now en route to the Mexican border.

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