It’s Saturday morning and dawn is breaking over the main square in Ciudad Hidalgo, a small city in the southern Mexican state of Chiapas that sits on the River Suchiate that separates Mexico from Guatemala. The thousands of Honduras migrants who slept here are rustled from their sleep by organizers who are gathering them for an impromptu assembly. The migrant caravan is largely a self-organized affair but several people have taken it upon themselves to ensure people are fed, sheltered, as kept as safe as possible given the conditions.
Nearly all of of those on this journey are Honduran and hail from cities like San Pedro Sula, Tela, and Progreso, where crime and poverty have driven them to seek opportunity elsewhere.
When asked, all of the migrants express the same thing: they endure this because they truly feel like they have no other option. The government of Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez is uninterested in the welfare of the country’s poor, Indigenous, and afro-descendent people. In fact, under his rule, poverty has only grown worse and efforts to oust him through elections were stymied by a naked electoral fraud.
So they migrate, heading north as part of this caravan.
Though the journey has really only barely begun, many are tired and malnourished, while some are tending to wounds inflicted on them by the Mexican Federal Police a day earlier.
A Scene of Repression
The caravan had already passed through Guatemala and had reached the Guatemala-Mexico border on Friday, where it was met with a shuttered fence. It didn’t take long before the fence was brought down and the massive crowd pushed forward, reaching the official checkpoint at the other end of the bridge on the Mexican side of the border.
Federal Police unleashed tear gas on the crowd, despite the fact that women and children were at the front. In the face of repression, many ran backward, back across the bridge, some jumped over the side into the shallow river below, paramedics on site reported having to treat sprains, bruises, and psychologists expressed concern for the mental health of those present, especially the children.
Mexican officials claimed they were merely trying to control the crowd so there could be an orderly entry. But from that point on, the official entry point was effectively closed. Officials said they would process 300 people a day, but with thousands already on the border and thousands more headed their way, they would never be able to keep pace.
For the migrants on this caravan, there is no going back, the only thing that awaits them in Honduras is unemployment and violence. Many chose to make camp there on the bridge, hoping the chain holding the massive white gate will be unlocked and the crowd allowed to pass.
But others press forward, one way or another.
The Journey Continues
Mere metres from the official crossing there is a landing where for $1.80 you can be ferried across the river on a homemade raft made of wooden planks and tractor tire inner tubes. Migrant families pile onboard, carrying infants and toddlers in their arms for the quick journey across. Despite the fact that the Mexican government had sent a Boeing 727 full of police, this crossing is totally unguarded. Migrants are met by their compatriots who cheer as they set foot on Mexican soil. A few metres ahead is a truck from the Red Cross, who hands out water to each person as they pass.
Inside the main square in Ciudad Hidalgo people take shelter from the relentless heat and humidity, a local band has come to the plaza to play and a crowd forms around them as some dance to the music, elsewhere kids of all ages chase a soccer ball.
The local mayor has come out to greet the migrants and hand out much needed supplies: milk for the children and sanitary napkins for the women. She also makes an impassioned plea to the media, asking for support. By Friday afternoon there are already an estimated 7,000 migrants in Ciudad Hidalgo, far more than the city has ever had to receive at once, and even more are headed here.
Marching in the Scorching Sun
The migrants have already endured over a week of travel, but here the will of the majority is respected and the assembly has decided it is time to move on to the next city, in this case Tapachula, approximately 30 kilometres away. People pack up their things and set out on foot.
Walking through the crowd as they march up the two-lane highway to Tapachula, you see the face of Latin America. The vast majority of people here are afro-descendent, Indigenous, or mestizo. Throughout Latin America there is an undeniable correlation between your ethnicity and your class. The elite tend to be white, descendants of the Europeans who invaded these lands over 500 years ago and have largely kept power for themselves since the era of colonization.
The political and economic elites maintain a firm grip on this power largely through the political control they have on the country, though they’re not averse to using brute force at times, like the US-backed coup in 2009 against democratically elected President Manuel Zelaya, a moderate reformer who had aligned his government with other progressive leaders in the region; or the assassination of Berta Caceres in 2014, masterminded by people with ties to the state, over her work to stop the construction of a dam in the Lenca people’s territory.
Honduras is not a poor country, it is rich in history, culture, and resources. However, it is largely ruled by a cabal of seven families, who enrich themselves through the theft and plunder of lands that do not belong to them and by serving the interests of their masters in the United States and Canada. They treat the country as if it is their fiefdom, unwilling to share even the crumbs from their table. Ordinary Honduras are thus forced to endure this journey in order to find whatever means they can to survive and to keep their children from dying from hunger.
Only the Beginning
The crowd of 7,000 stretches out for nearly two kilometres, even from atop a pedestrian bridge, it is impossible to see where it ends.
As the sun takes its place above the crowd, the heat grows more and more intense, everyone is dripping with sweat. Those at the front of the rally stop every few hundred metres or so to give people a rest. This journey is hard but people’s spirits are raised by local residents who come out to cheer them on and offer them water. Some families apologize to them for not having more to give, others rush inside and come back with their arms full of food from their pantries.
Organizers receive word that the Federal Police have set up a roadblock ahead and have been given orders to contain the caravan. This news makes people nervous but they press on. Then another update: the police have lifted their blockade and have boarded their buses.
At the very least they won’t have to endure police repression but conditions are still harsh, the heat is wearing people out, kids who were laughing at the start are now restless and crying. Fortunately, many residents offer to drive them up the road, women and children are given priority, while young men cling on to the semis and trucks that pass through.
By 3:00 PM the caravan has made it to Tapachula, here they will rest until morning, when they will once again set out for their next stop: the city of Huixtla, an eight-hour walk away.
This will be their routine for the next few months as they make their way toward the United States. Along the way they will endure hunger, violence from organized crime groups, hot days and cold nights.
Meanwhile at their destination, US President Donald Trump tries to portray this caravan as an invasion when it should rightfully be called an exodus, one provoked by the very policies promoted by the US government in Latin America.
Still the migrants have faith that the good people in the United States will receive them with open arms.