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Many in migrant caravan bused back to Honduran border

POPTUN, Guatemala — Hundreds of Honduran migrants who had entered Guatemala this week without registering were being bused back to their country’s border Saturday by authorities who met them with a large roadblock.

By 5 a.m. Saturday, none of 1,000 or so migrants who had been stalled by police and soldiers remained along a stretch of rural highway remained. Police said that hours earlier, migrants had boarded buses and army trucks to be taken back to the border.

Small groups of fewer than 10 migrants each could still be found walking along the highway before the roadblock Saturday morning.

Olvin Suazo, 21, was walking with three friends, all from Santa Barbara, Honduras.

“We’re going to continue,” he said. “We were resting and the bigger group continued. We didn’t know what happened to them.”

The four, all in their early 20s, are farmworkers. They heard about the caravan that formed earlier this week in San Pedro Sula via WhatsApp and Facebook.

Late Friday, hundreds of migrants headed for the United States had become increasingly desperate after running into the roadblock.

On Friday, over 100 Guatemalan soldiers and police blocked the migrants, who became increasingly frustrated with the lack of food and forward movement after walking from Honduras earlier this week.

Migrants’ voices rang out on the rural highway, demanding authorities either let them through or provide them food.

The others had split between two routes: Some traveled north to Peten, where the roadblock was, and others walked, hitched rides took buses west toward the capital, Guatemala City.

Some had hitched rides aboard passing trucks. Wilmer Chávez, 35, got aboard the bed of one truck in his wheelchair with the help of fellow Honduran migrants.

In Mexico, President Andrés Manuel López Obrador suggested Friday that the estimated 2,000 migrants who set out from San Pedro Sula, Honduras, had perhaps been organized with U.S. politicis in mind.

The new group was reminiscent of a migrant caravan that formed two years ago shortly before U.S. midterm elections. It became a hot issue in the campaign, fueling anti-immigrant rhetoric.

But on Friday, Mexico’s point man on the coronavirus pandemic, Assistant Health Secretary Hugo López-Gatell, sounded more conciliatory, saying the migrants didn’t represent a health threat and that Mexico was “morally, legally and politically obliged to help them.”

On Thursday, Guatemalan President Alejandro Giammattei vowed to return the migrants to Honduras, citing efforts to contain the pandemic.

Migrant caravans from Central America gained popularity in recent years because they provided some degree of safety in numbers and allowed those who couldn’t afford to pay a smuggler to attempt the trip to the United States.

The last attempted caravan was broken up by Mexican guardsmen in January.

This week, Mexico has been warning that it will enforce its immigration laws and even prosecute people who knowingly put public health at risk.

The U.S. has essentially closed its border to legal immigration and entering illegally is as difficult as ever.

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Associated Press writer Christopher Sherman in Mexico City contributed to this report.

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