They’re gathering in the early morning hours of Friday 12 October 2018 outside the city. At least a hundred, nursing mothers and motherless teens, a man on crutches and another pushed by his brother in a wheelchair. Someone holds up a sign that reads, “We are not leaving because we want to. We’re fleeing violence, poverty, unemployment (No nos vamos porque nos guste. Fuimos la violencia, pobreza, desempleo)”. It’s daybreak in Honduras and a new caravan has formed, about half a year after an earlier group successfully reached the U.S. border, and it’s moving north.
By the time they get to San Pedro Sula, recently named the most violent city on earth, their numbers have grown to almost five hundred. Handwritten notes taped to the walls of the main bus station organize them into groups by their cities of origin. Choloma Cortés. El Progreso. La Ceiba. An eighteen year old from Santa Barbara cradles her friend’s infant in her arms as she sits on the curb, her feet clad only in pink socks and white plastic slides. A HCH TV reporter asks her if she’s afraid of Donald Trump. “No, I believe in God. God is greater than anyone on earth.” They’re going to cross into Guatemala, and then on to Mexico. “We hope they give us free passage to travel through Mexico to the border,” a 49 year old man says.
The number of children and single mothers is astounding, and they’re sprawled on colorful blankets all along the sidewalk outside the terminal, which has pulled down its gates for the night. One single mother from La Ceiba is travelling with her three children, ages 4, 5, and 10. Have you heard that it might be difficult for you over there? “Yes, but you have to have faith.”
A man from Tegucigalpa explains, “There’s no leader here. Todo fue auto-comunicado (Everything was word-of-mouth)”. The plan is to head out of town at 6 am. “No tenemos la ayuda de nadie. No contamos con nadie. (No one is helping us. We are not dependant on anyone.)” An eleven year old and her eighteen year old sister are travelling on their own. “Ya no puedo más (I just can’t take it any more),” says the older one.
The U.S. has had no ambassador to Honduras for almost two years, or at least since Honduras held national elections in late 2017 that were met with mass demonstrations and widely contested abroad, though approved by the Trump administration. Heide Fulton, the embassy’s “chargé d’affaires ad interim” (to use her mixed language title), issued a hasty warning to caravan participants late Sunday. It consists mainly of a verbatim translation of the words of Vice President Mike Pence, saying “Don’t risk your families… If you can’t come to the United States legally, don’t do it.”
But they are already on the move, 1,500 persons walking next to trucks and buses along the highway. Another sign reads: “Si los gringos pueden estar en territorio hondureño, los Katrachos tenemos derecho a entrar y estar en Estados Unidos.”
“If the gringos can come to Honduras, we Katrachos have the right to enter and stay in the United States.”
“Catracho” is a sometimes pejorative term for Hondurans that’s been reclaimed, especially by Afro-descendants and people of mixed race. “Gringo” is a sometimes pejorative term for Americans, Canadians, Europeans and other white nationalities.
Honduras was the original “banana republic” run by the United Fruit corporation at the turn of the 20th century, and Chiquita workers in Honduras struck for months this past winter over health concerns.
With little more than the proverbial clothes on their backs, the growing group has set a brisk pace. Brightly patterned backpacks bop up and down, more than one of them sporting a swish and the words “Just do it.”
By Monday they are 2,000 strong, according to Guatemalan police, who finally ceded the way as they crossed into Guatemala. By midday, a priest says that at least 2,000 were fed at one of three rest stops his church was managing.
Guatemalan authorities arrested former Congressman Bartolo Fuentes of Honduras’s Libre Party and two others on Tuesday morning, claiming they had organized the march. Guatemala has announced that Fuentes may be deported back across the border to Honduras.
The Libre Party was supported in the 2017 election by former president Manuel Zelaya, himself the subject of a coup in 2009. Libre candidate Salvador Nasralla ran neck-and-neck with incumbent Juan Orlando Hernández in a contest that the OAS (Organization of American States) contends was rife with irregularities. A 10 day curfew was instituted by Hernández after the election in an attempt to curb ensuing protests throughout the country.
While the Guatemalan government may have succumbed to political pressure in arresting Fuentes, there appears to be popular support for the walkers. Besides churches and schools opening their doors and providing rest and food to the Hondurans, trucks and pickups can now be seen weaving in and among the crowd. There are so many children, pregnant women, elderly and handicapped it would take a hard heart to drive by and not offer a lift.
While Donald Trump has threatened to cut off financial aid to Honduras if the caravan is not stopped, the walkers, already in Guatemala, are hoping to enter Mexico. Mexico, in turn, has dispatched federal agents to “ensure the security” of its border crossings in the southern state of Chiapas, and insists it will request legal documentation of every person.
It looks like many people will be sleeping rough Monday night in Chiquimula, a town part way between the Honduras-Guatemala border and Guatemala City. Meanwhile another group of 500 Hondurans have left San Pedro Sula hoping to meet up with them soon.
It remains to be seen if Mexico will allow this new caravan to pass safely through their country as they did in April. It also remains to be seen what the United States will do to their children when they get there.