Caravan migrants at crossroads as they reach Mexico

Honduran migrants heading in a caravan to the US as they leave Arriaga in southern Mexico yesterday on their way to San Pedro Tapanatepec. A Central American migrant washing himself in the Suchiate River yesterday in Tecun Uman, Guatemala. Far left:
Honduran migrants heading in a caravan to the US as they leave Arriaga in southern Mexico yesterday on their way to San Pedro Tapanatepec. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
Honduran migrants heading in a caravan to the US as they leave Arriaga in southern Mexico yesterday on their way to San Pedro Tapanatepec. A Central American migrant washing himself in the Suchiate River yesterday in Tecun Uman, Guatemala. Far left:
Honduran Eva Carrillo carrying a friend's baby while she waits for food to be handed out at a church in Tecun Uman, Guatemala, last Friday. PHOTO: REUTERS
Honduran migrants heading in a caravan to the US as they leave Arriaga in southern Mexico yesterday on their way to San Pedro Tapanatepec. A Central American migrant washing himself in the Suchiate River yesterday in Tecun Uman, Guatemala. Far left:
Hondurans loading baby strollers onto a van near Pijijiapan in southern Mexico last Friday. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS
Honduran migrants heading in a caravan to the US as they leave Arriaga in southern Mexico yesterday on their way to San Pedro Tapanatepec. A Central American migrant washing himself in the Suchiate River yesterday in Tecun Uman, Guatemala. Far left:
Migrants, part of a caravan of thousands from Central America en route to the US, walking on the train tracks in Arriaga last Friday. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS
Honduran migrants heading in a caravan to the US as they leave Arriaga in southern Mexico yesterday on their way to San Pedro Tapanatepec. A Central American migrant washing himself in the Suchiate River yesterday in Tecun Uman, Guatemala. Far left:
A Central American migrant washing himself in the Suchiate River yesterday in Tecun Uman, Guatemala. PHOTO: REUTERS

Decisions include which is best route to the US border and if it will be by train, bus or on foot

ARRIAGA (Mexico) • The thousands of migrants travelling through southern Mexico towards the US border poured into the rail town of Arriaga last Friday, filling the town's main park and the surrounding streets, clustering together in spare shade under a torridly hot sun.

Their arrival came a day after news broke in Washington that US President Donald Trump was considering sealing the south-western border to all migrants. The revelation barely registered here - the migrants had other things on their minds.

With their arrival in Arriaga - on the 15th day of their journey - they had reached a literal and figurative crossroads. The town has historically been a place of big decisions for migrants making the northward trek from Central America.

This is the fork in the road between two main northbound migratory routes - one passing through the state of Oaxaca and the other through the state of Veracruz.

It also offers a range of travel methods, including La Bestia - the Beast - the infamous freight train that hundreds of thousands of migrants have illegally ridden north.

Honduran migrant Acner Adolfo Gutierrez Rodriguez, 30, who is seeking work in the United States, was sprawled under the low-hanging boughs of a tree, near the railroad tracks that slice through Arriaga.

He said he and his two travelling companions - men he met on the road - were waiting for guidance from the caravan's de facto leadership, one that has organically emerged among the migrants.

MODE OF TRANSPORT

There are rumours that we are going to be helped with buses. Or we will go by train. And if not, on foot.

HONDURAN MIGRANT ACNER ADOLFO GUTIERREZ RODRIGUEZ, who is seeking work in the United States.


PAYBACK TIME

Why would we go looking for it in the United States? Because for many years, they took the riches of Latin America. For that, they owe us work.

MR HECTOR MENESES, the mayor of Pijijiapan, where the caravan stopped for the night.

 

"There are rumours that we are going to be helped with buses," he said. "Or we will go by train. And if not, on foot."

The caravan is still perhaps several weeks and at least 3,540km by road from Tijuana, the likely border destination.

In Arriaga, some were treated for blisters, dehydration and other ailments at medical tents run by the government and community groups. Several men stripped to their underwear and had a shower under a hose connected to a water truck. Most laid down in the shade and tried to nap.

The stop in Arriaga comes amid a gradual erosion of the caravan. Though still large and robust, the core group has waned in recent days as smaller groups have cleaved off and gone ahead, moving ahead at a faster pace.

Other migrants have fallen behind, slowed down by injuries and sickness. Still others have stopped, applying for asylum in Mexico or turning around and heading home.

Mr Melvin Josue Gomez, 21, was killed last Monday when he fell off a truck while travelling with the caravan. He was buried last Friday in San Pedro Sula, Honduras.

The caravan's advocates said attrition is normal.

Furthermore, they said, taken together, the various groups associated with the caravan still number closer to the 7,000 or so at its apparent peak - soon after it crossed into Mexico two weeks ago - than to the current count of fewer than 4,000 offered by the Mexican government.

Mr Trump's repeated criticisms of the caravan since its inception on Oct 12 in Honduras have not dented the resolve of the group and, indeed, may have hardened it.

They also appeared to have inspired some government officials in Guatemala and Mexico, as well as community groups and ordinary citizens, to double their efforts to help the caravan.

Officials and residents have largely greeted the travellers with an outpouring of support, preparing food, handing out water and providing rides.

Last Thursday, Mr Hector Meneses, the mayor of Pijijiapan, where the caravan stopped for the night, delivered a rousing speech in the town's central square. "In Latin America, young people don't have a future," he said. "Why would we go looking for it in the United States? Because for many years, they took the riches of Latin America. For that, they owe us work."

Caravans of migrants from Central America have made their way to the US border before, but this is the largest in recent memory.

The large size of the caravan has provided participants with safety from the thieves and gangs that prey on migrants in Mexico.

It has also apparently discouraged the Mexican authorities from trying to detain all of them.

But for many, fatigue and illness were proving to be a strong test of will.

Ms Evelyn Perdomo Ortiz, 31, a migrant from Puerto Cortez, Honduras, was convinced that Mr Trump, despite his threats against the group, would eventually open the border to them.

"God will touch the heart of everyone," she said. "He can turn hearts of stone into ones of flesh."

NYTIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on October 28, 2018, with the headline 'Caravan migrants at crossroads as they reach Mexico'. Print Edition | Subscribe