Migrant caravan trudges through ‘route of death’ in Mexico
ISLA, Mexico — Thousands of wary Central American migrants resumed their push toward the United States on Sunday, entering a treacherous part of the caravan’s journey on a trek through one of Mexico’s deadliest states.
About 4,000 migrants are now headed along what some called the “route of death” toward the town of Cordoba, Veracruz, which is about 124 miles (200 kilometers) up the road from their last rest stop. The day’s hike was one of the longest yet, as the exhausted group of travelers tried to make progress any way it could to the U.S. border still hundreds of miles away.
Along the way, ordinary Mexicans were lending a hand.
Catalina Munoz said she bought tortillas on credit to assemble tacos of beans, cheese and rice when she heard the caravan would pass through her tiny town of 3,000 inhabitants in the southern state of Oaxaca en route to Veracruz.
She then gathered 15 members from her community of Benemerito Juarez to help make the tacos, fill water bottles and carry fruit to weary travelers on the roadside.
Manuel Calderon, 43, a migrant from El Salvador, said he felt blessed when he saw the townsfolk waiting with food and water.
“I hadn’t eaten and I was very thirsty,” he said, before slinging his backpack over a shoulder and placing a straw hat on his head to resume the long journey ahead.
On Sunday, others who set out on their own began arriving in Puebla and Mexico City after the group was beset by divisions between migrants and caravan organizers.
Some were disappointed after organizers unsuccessfully pleaded for buses after three weeks on the road. Others were angry for being directed northward through the Gulf Coast state of Veracruz, calling it the “route of death.”
A trek via the sugar fields and fruit groves of Veracruz takes the majority through a state where hundreds of migrants have disappeared in recent years, falling prey to kidnappers looking for ransom payments.
Authorities in Veracruz said in September they had discovered remains from at least 174 people buried in clandestine graves, raising questions about whether the bodies belonged to migrants.
But even with the group somewhat more scattered, the migrants trekking through Veracruz on Sunday were convinced that traveling as a large mass was their best hope for leaving their old lives behind and reaching the U.S. The vast majority of migrants are fleeing rampant poverty, gang violence, and political instability primarily in the Central American countries of Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador and Nicaragua.
“We think that it is better to continue together with the caravan. We are going to stay with it and respect the organizers,” said Luis Euseda, a 32-year-old from Tegucigalpa, Honduras who is traveling with his wife Jessica Fugon. “Others went ahead, maybe they have no goal, but we do have a goal and it is to arrive.”
Mynor Chavez, a 19-year-old from Copan, Honduras, was determined to continue.
“I have no prospects (in Honduras). I graduated as a computer technician and not even with a degree have I been able to find work,” he said of life in his home country.
In his desperation to flee, Chavez was one of the many people who crossed a river from Guatemala into Mexico, defying authorities deployed to patrol that country’s southern frontier.
It remained to be seen if the main group will now continue directly north through Veracruz to the closest U.S. border, or veer slightly westward and make a stop in the country’s capital.
The capital could serve as a better launching pad for reaching a broader array of destinations along the U.S. border. They could also receive additional support, although Mexican officials have appeared conflicted over whether to help or hinder their journeys.
Mexico now faces the unprecedented situation of having three caravans stretched over 300 miles (500 kilometers) of highway in the states of Chiapas, Oaxaca and Veracruz.
On Friday, a caravan from El Salvador waded over the Suchiate River into Mexico, bringing around 1,000 people who want to reach the U.S. border. That caravan initially tried to cross the bridge between Guatemala and Mexico, but Mexican authorities told them they would have to show passports and visas and enter in groups of 50 for processing.
Another caravan, also of about 1,000 people, entered Mexico earlier this week. That group includes Hondurans, Salvadorans and some Guatemalans.
The first, largest group of mainly Honduran migrants entered Mexico on Oct.19.
The Interior Ministry estimated Saturday that there are more than 5,000 migrants in total currently moving through southern Mexico via caravan or in smaller groups.
Mexico’s Interior Ministry says 2,793 migrants have applied for refuge in Mexico in recent weeks and that around 500 have asked for assistance to return to their countries of origin.
Uncertainty awaits migrants who reach the U.S.
President Donald Trump has ordered U.S. troops to the Mexican border in response to the caravans. More than 7,000 active duty troops have been told to deploy to Texas, Arizona and California ahead of the midterm elections.
He plans to sign an order next week that could lead to the large-scale detention of migrants crossing the southern border and bar anyone caught crossing illegally from claiming asylum.