Guatemala forces stall migrants with tear gas, batons

Guatemala forces stall migrants with tear gas, batons

Honduran migrants clash with Guatemalan soldiers in Vado Hondo, Guatemala, Jan. 17, 2021.


Sandra Sebastian/AP


Thousands of migrants from Honduras were met with force on Sunday by Guatemalan police and soldiers who launched tear gas and wielded batons as they tried to push through a roadblock.

The roadblock was strategically placed at a chokepoint on the two-lane highway to Chiquimula in an area known as Vado Hondo. It’s flanked by a tall mountainside and a wall leaving the migrants with few options.

Some 100 migrants tried to make their way through authorities around 7:30 a.m. Sunday. The security forces beat them back and deployed tear gas. None made it through and the larger remaining contingent kept its distance during the melee.

Some migrants were visibly injured by baton strikes. One man, who did not give his name, leaned against a wall near police with a bandage atop his head.

“They hit me in the head,” he said. “I didn’t come with the intention of looking for problems with anybody. We’re brothers, Central Americans. We’re not looking for trouble. We just want to pass.”

Later, hundreds of migrants sat down on the roadway, refusing to leave and insisting they be allowed through, appealing to the soldiers as fellow Central Americans.

Leila Rodriguez, of Guatemala’s human rights office, spoke to the migrants, acknowledging “this is a distressing moment we’re experiencing.”

“We want to start a dialogue with you, to ask you to accept some of the needs of the Guatemalan people right now,” Rodriguez said, in apparent reference to President Alejandro Giammattei’s refusal to allow caravans through out of fear they could spread COVID-19.

Some of the migrants wore face masks, others didn’t, but there was little social distancing among them. Few had the negative COVID-19 tests that Guatemala requires for people entering the country.

Guatemala’s Health Ministry reported that 21 of the migrants sought medical attention at health centers and tested positive for the coronavirus. The department said the 12 men and and nine women would not be returned to Honduras until they undergo quarantine at centers in Guatemala.

As the standoff stretched toward 24 hours, some migrants, like Ismael Eliazar of Choloma, Honduras, lay down in the grass beside the roadway. “We have only had water, even my stomach is grumbling,” Eliazar said.

Referring to the damage wrought by two major hurricanes that hit his hometown near San Pedro Sula in November, Eliazar said “there is still mud everywhere there, everything got knocked down, we lost everything.”

Guatemalan soldiers and police had blocked part of a caravan of as many as 9,000 Honduran migrants Saturday night at a point not far from where they entered the country, seeking to reach the US border.

Guatemalan soldiers block part the passage of Honduran migrants in their bid to reach the US border, in Vado Hondo, Guatemala, Jan. 17, 2021.


Sandra Sebastian/AP

The soldiers and riot police — about 450 in total — formed ranks across a highway.

Guatemala’s immigration agency distributed a video showing a couple of hundred men scuffling with soldiers, pushing and running through their lines, even as troops held hundreds more back Saturday night.

On Saturday, Giammattei issued a statement calling on Honduran authorities “to contain the mass exit of its inhabitants.” On Friday, the migrants entered Guatemala by pushing past about 2,000 police and soldiers posted at the border; most entered without showing the negative coronavirus test that Guatemala requires.

“The government of Guatemala regrets this violation of national sovereignty and calls on the governments of Central America to take measures to avoid putting their inhabitants at risk amid the health emergency due to the pandemic,” Giammattei’s statement continued.

Guatemala has set up almost a dozen control points on highways, and may start busing more migrants back to Honduras, as it has done before, arguing they pose a risk to themselves and others by traveling during the coronavirus pandemic.

Governments throughout the region have made it clear they will not let the caravan through.

Mexico mounted a dissuasive campaign at its southern border, circulating videos and photos of thousands of National Guardsmen and immigration agents preparing if the migrants manage to cross Guatemala.

On Saturday, the Mexican Foreign Relations Department issued a statement praising Guatemala’s stance.

“The Mexican government recognizes the outstanding work of the government of Guatemala, which has acted in a firm and responsible manner toward the contingent of migrants that violated its sovereignty,” according to the statement.

The department said Mexico “rejects any unregulated and disorderly entry that puts at risk the lives and health of the migrant population or the host country.”

Honduras has been ravaged by the COVID-19 pandemic and the hurricanes that hit the country in November leaving its most productive northern regions in tatters. Many of the migrants hope for a warmer reception from the incoming administration of President-elect Joe Biden who will be inaugurated Wednesday.

So far, Biden’s team has indicated it will not make immediate changes to policies at the US-Mexico border.

By Sandra Sebastian/AP

George Floyd to be buried Tuesday as global anti-racism protests spread

George Floyd to be buried Tuesday as global anti-racism protests spread

A portrait of George Floyd is seen during a protest against racial inequality in the aftermath of his death in Minneapolis police custody, in New York City, New York, June 8, 2020.


Shannon Stapleton/Reuters


Thousands of mourners paid their respects to George Floyd will be buried in Houston on Tuesday two weeks after his death while being held by police in Minneapolis, Minnesota, as more anti-racism rallies inspired by his treatment were set to take place around the world.

The mourners filed past Floyd’s open coffin at the Fountain of Praise Church in Houston, Texas, where he grew up.

Some mourners bowed their heads, others made the sign of the cross or raised a fist. Many wore face masks to prevent the spread of the coronavirus in a service that lasted more than six hours. The funeral will be a private ceremony and he will buried next to his mother’s grave.

“I’m glad he got the send-off he deserved,” Marcus Williams, a 46-year-old black resident of Houston, said outside. “I want the police killings to stop. I want them to reform the process to achieve justice, and stop the killing.”

Floyd, a 46-year-old African American, died on May 25 after a white police officer knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes.

Unarmed and handcuffed, he lay face down in the street, gasping for air and groaning for help before falling silent, footage filmed by a bystander showed.

His death unleashed a surge of protests across the US cities and around the world against racism and the systematic mistreatment of black people.

The case also thrust President Donald Trump into a political crisis. He has repeatedly threatened to order the military on to the streets to restore order and has struggled to unite the nation.

The demonstrations have reinvigorated the Black Lives Matter movement and raised demands for racial justice and police reforms to the top of the political agenda ahead of the Nov. 3 presidential election.

“I’m here to protest the mistreatment of our black bodies. It’s not going to stop unless we keep protesting,” said Erica Corley, 34, one of hundreds attending a gathering in the Washington suburb of Silver Spring, Maryland.

Around the world

Floyd’s death triggered protests across the globe, particularly in countries with a history of colonialism and involvement in the slave trade.

In Britain, thousands of people of all races rallied in several cities over the weekend. In the port city of Bristol, the statue of Edward Colston, who made a fortune in the 17th century from trading African slaves, was pulled down and dumped in the harbor.

A protest is scheduled for Tuesday night at Oxford University to demand the removal of a statue of Cecil Rhodes, a 19th century businessman in southern Africa long accused of imperialist exploitation.

Mayor Sadiq Khan ordered a review of London statues and street names which largely reflect Britain’s empire in the reign of Queen Victoria.

“It is an uncomfortable truth that our nation and city owes a large part of its wealth to its role in the slave trade and while this is reflected in our public realm, the contribution of many of our communities to life in our capital has been wilfully ignored,” Khan said.

The British parliament held a minute’s silence at 11 a.m. to mark Floyd’s death.

In France, the family of a black Frenchman who died in police custody called for a nationwide protest on Saturday and spurned a government offer of talks.

Adama Traoré died in July 2016 after three police officers used their weight to restrain him. His family and supporters have demanded that the officers involved be held to account. No one has been charged.

Thousands of people marched in Paris last Saturday to mark Traoré’s death and in solidarity with the US protesters.

Murder charge

Derek Chauvin, 44, the policeman who knelt on Floyd’s neck and is charged with second-degree murder, made his first court appearance in Minneapolis by video link on Monday. A judge ordered his bail raised from $1 million to $1.25 million.

Chauvin’s co-defendants, three fellow officers, are accused of aiding and abetting Floyd’s murder. All four were dismissed from the police department the day after Floyd’s death.

Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden met with Floyd’s relatives for more than an hour in Houston on Monday.

“He listened, heard their pain and shared in their woe,” family lawyer Benjamin Crump said. “That compassion meant the world to this grieving family.”

In Washington, Democrats in Congress announced legislation to make lynching a federal hate crime and to allow victims of police misconduct and their families to sue law enforcement for damages in civil court, ending a legal doctrine known as qualified immunity.

Trump resisted calls to defund police departments, saying 99% of police were “great, great people.”

In Richmond, Virginia, a judge issued a 10-day injunction blocking plans by the state governor to remove a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee.

By Erwin Seba/Reuters