Guatemalan police and soldiers launched tear gas and used batons and shields against a group of Honduran migrants who tried to push through their barricade early on Sunday.
A group of about 2,000 immigrants had stayed outside the barrier the night before. The roadblock was strategically placed at a choke point on the two-lane highway to Chiquimula in an area called Vado Hondo. It is flanked by a high mountainside and a wall that leaves migrants with few options.
About 100 migrants tried to get through authorities around kl. 07.30 on Sunday. The security forces repulsed them and put in tear gas. No one got through and the larger remaining contingent kept their distance during close combat.
Some migrants were visibly injured by relay money. A man, who did not give his name, leaned against a wall near the police with a bandage on top of his head.
“They hit me in the head,” he said. “I did not come with the intention of looking for problems with anyone. We are brothers, Central Americans. We are not looking for problems. We just want to pass. ”
Later, hundreds of migrants sat down on the roadway, refused to leave, and insisted that they get through and appealed to the soldiers like other Central Americans.
Leila Rodriguez, of Guatemala’s Human Rights Office, spoke to the migrants, acknowledging that “this is a worrying moment we are experiencing.”
“We want to enter into a dialogue with you, ask you to accept some of the needs of the Guatemalan people right now,” Rodriguez said, referring to President Alejandro Giammattei’s refusal to allow caravans through for fear of spreading COVID-19.
Some of the migrants wore face masks, others did not, but there was little social distance between them. Few had the negative COVID-19 tests that Guatemala requires for people entering the country.
Guatemala’s Ministry of Health reported that 21 of the migrants sought medical attention at health centers and tested positive for coronavirus. The department said the 12 men and nine women would not be returned to Honduras until they were quarantined at Guatemala centers.
As the distance extended to 24 hours, some migrants, such as Ismael Eliazar from Choloma, Honduras, lay down in the grass next to the roadway. “We have only had water, even the stomach mumbles,” said Eliazar.
Referring to the damage caused by two major hurricanes that hit his hometown near San Pedro Sula in November, Eliazar said “there is still mud everywhere there, everything was cracked, we lost everything.”
Guatemalan soldiers and police had blocked part of a caravan with as many as 9,000 Honduran immigrants on Saturday night at a point not far from where they entered the country and tried to reach the US border.
The soldiers and the riot police – about 450 in total – formed lines across a highway.
Guatemala’s immigration agency distributed a video showing a couple of hundred men fighting with soldiers, shooting and running through their lines, even when troops held hundreds back on Saturday night.
On Saturday, Giammattei issued a statement urging the Honduran authorities to “maintain the mass exodus of the inhabitants.” On Friday, the migrants entered Guatemala by pushing past about 2,000 police and soldiers stationed at the border. most enrolled without showing the negative coronavirus test required by Guatemala.
“The Guatemalan Government deplores this violation of national sovereignty and calls on the governments of Central America to take steps to avoid putting their citizens at risk due to the health crisis,” Giammattei said in a statement.
Guatemala has set up nearly a dozen highway checkpoints and can begin to bus more migrants back to Honduras, as it has done in the past, arguing that they pose a risk to themselves and others by traveling during the coronavirus pandemic.
Governments throughout the region have made it clear that they will not let the caravan through.
Mexico launched a deterrent campaign on its southern border, circulating videos and images of thousands of national guards and immigration agents preparing for migrants to cross Guatemala.
On Saturday, the Mexican State Department issued a statement praising Guatemala’s stance.
“The Mexican Government acknowledges the outstanding work of the Guatemalan Government, which has acted in a determined and responsible manner against the migrant who violates its sovereignty,” the statement said.
The department said that Mexico “rejects any unregulated and unrestricted entry that endangers the life and health of the immigrant population or the host country.”
Honduras has been ravaged by the COVID-19 pandemic and hurricanes that hit the country in November, leaving their most productive northern regions in tatters. Many of the migrants are hoping for a warmer reception from the incoming administration of President-elect Joe Biden, who will be inaugurated on Wednesday.
So far, Biden’s team has stated that it will not make immediate policy changes at the US-Mexico border.