Guatemalans aid Honduran caravan migrants

Honduran migrants who are traveling to the United States as a group, get food from a a group of volunteers in Teculutan, Guatemala, Wednesday, Oct. 17, 2018. The group of some 2,000 Honduran migrants hit the road in Guatemala again Wednesday, hoping to reach the United States despite President Donald Trump's threat to cut off aid to Central American countries that don't stop them. (AP Photo/Moises Castillo)
Honduran migrants who are traveling to the United States as a group, get food from a a group of volunteers in Teculutan, Guatemala, Wednesday, Oct. 17, 2018. The group of some 2,000 Honduran migrants hit the road in Guatemala again Wednesday, hoping to reach the United States despite President Donald Trump's threat to cut off aid to Central American countries that don't stop them. (AP Photo/Moises Castillo)

Zacapa, Guatemala (AP) — Sweaty, sunburned and exhausted, Jonathan Zuniga had been carrying his 1-year-old baby in his arms for five hours when help arrived unexpectedly from a local woman who offered him a used baby carriage.

"Thank you, thank you very much," Zuniga told her, accepting the gift with a broad grin. "I couldn't stand it anymore."

Many of the more than 2,000 Hondurans in a migrant caravan trying to wend its way to the United States left spontaneously with little more than the clothes on their backs and what they could quickly throw into backpacks.

In neighboring Guatemala, where their journey continued Wednesday amid warning tweets from President Donald Trump and other U.S. officials, they were helped at every turn by residents who offered them food, water and rides in pickups or on flatbed of semi-trailer trucks.

More than 2 million Guatemalans live in the United States, and locals here saw the Hondurans streaming in front of their homes and businesses with dreams of making it to the U.S. as their Central American brothers and sisters.

"We are all human beings," said Deidania Cabrera, the woman who offered the carriage to Zuniga. Outside her wood-frame business, she had also set out children's clothing and baby carriers. "It is moving, above all seeing the babies, so tiny, who are traveling."

Guatemalan acts of solidarity toward the Hondurans have been everywhere in recent days.

Henry Tejeda, who hails from Puerto Colon, Honduras, stopped at the side of a highway in the eastern department of Zacapa along with a group of women and children to ask for money. From a car a man tossed a 10-quetzal bill — worth about $1.30 — saying, "So you can eat." In all, Tejeda scraped together the equivalent of about $2, enough to get a bite.

Tejeda said he had left his wife and four children behind and was fleeing the poverty and rampant violence of his country, one of the world's most dangerous by homicide rates. Four years ago his mother was murdered, and his brother was also shot.

"I am carrying the documents to prove I'm not lying," Tejeda said. "I want to seek political asylum (in the United States) and help my family."

Marta Julia Veliz, a Guatemalan, organized with about 20 neighbors in Teculutan, Zacapa, to cook in the street for migrants. They served up beef broth, rice, tortillas and coffee to migrants passing on foot who paused for refreshment at the impromptu oasis. For those who didn't get down from vehicles, the volunteers tossed them water, bread and toilet paper.

"We have been here since 4 a.m.," said Veliz. "We have given breakfast and lunch to thousands of people."

From about 160 people who departed last Friday from the Honduran city of San Pedro Sula, the migrants' ranks have ballooned as much as twentyfold, with estimates ranging as high as 3,000.

Their hope is that traveling in numbers protects them from robberies, assaults, extortion and other dangers common to the northward migrant route.

But the mass exodus also drew the ire of Trump, who warned that governments in the region that allow this kind of migration face a possible end to U.S. aid, putting considerable pressure on even U.S. allies.

Washington has committed $2.6 billion in assistance to the Northern Triangle countries of Central America — Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador, all of which are the source of many migrants.

Trump also sought to turn the caravan into a domestic political issue three weeks before U.S. midterm elections.

"Republicans must make the horrendous, weak and outdated immigration laws, and the Border, a part of the Midterms!" he tweeted Wednesday.

The government of Mexico, next in the migrants' path if they make it across Guatemala, issued a statement on the caravan, saying anyone with travel documents and a proper visa will be allowed to enter, and anyone who wants to apply for refugee status can do so.

But it added that all cases must be processed individually, suggesting Mexican authorities have no intention of letting the migrants simply cross the border en masse without going through standard immigration procedures.

The statement warned that anyone who enters Mexico in an "irregular manner" faces detention and deportation.

Mexico requires Hondurans to present a passport and in most cases a Mexican visa in order to enter. None of the migrants The Associated Press spoke to on the road was carrying a passport.

Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales said Wednesday that while Central Americans are legally free to transit from country to country under a regional agreement, a "massive ingress of people without registering" puts Guatemala in a difficult position because it's impossible to know who the people are and what may be the intentions of any of their leaders.

Luis Arreaga, the U.S. ambassador to Guatemala, posted a video message on Twitter to migrants thinking of entering the United States illegally.

"If you try to enter the United States, you will be detained and deported," Arreaga said in Spanish. Addressing those already en route, he added: "Return to your country. Your attempt to migrate will fail."

 

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