A Final Word on the Latest Honduras Migrant Caravan, Probably

Is the resolve to stop future caravans wavering?

By Todd Bensman on January 19, 2021

The final sequel of the second Honduran caravan since Joe Biden won the presidential election, its modest beginnings having swelled into an angry, police-assaulting freight train of some 9,000 people, is all but written. It ended badly for the caravanners, who will not even reach Mexico in any significant number, thanks to Guatemalan resolve, planning, and tailored crowd-control tactics.

Guatemalan army and anti-riot police used tear gas, clubs, and flash bang grenades to subdue the aggressive mob after it had smashed its way by brute force of numbers through Honduran police and Guatemalan border guard forces in an eastern border province. It nearly pushed through a five-layered law-enforcement and military skirmish line at a point in the highway where a mountain rose on one side and a deep ravine formed a cliff on the other. In all, Guatemala had deployed more than 5,000 soldiers throughout its network of roads and highways.

By the end of Monday, the caravan had whittled down to some 5,000 or 6,000 by low morale, hunger, and deportations of at least 1,600 to Honduras. The deportations were continuing into the night Monday as about 500 military troops and police kept at the work of channeling those who had not already left voluntarily onto buses home. Smaller groups that had peeled off earlier to take other routes also met riot shield lines across roads. Those remaining in what was the biggest concentration, unable to advance at the thickest riot line, were likely realizing by Monday night that a bus home was a far more sure thing than reaching the new Joe Biden administration and its promises of unobstructed, permanent lives in the United States, and now possible amnesty. At least 21 who later tested positive for covid were among them.

Left in this caravan's short wake were growing recriminations of the sort that suggest a gradual erosion of political resolve to halt the next caravan with politically unpalatable tear gas and wooden batons. The Trump administration had threatened to cut off foreign assistance to these governments unless they worked harder to break up caravans, and they did. But now Honduras, which just last month used force to break up the previous U.S.-bound caravan, on Monday issued calls "to the national and international community" to investigate "the actions carried out by the Guatemalan security forces." With Trump exiting the White House, Honduras obviously felt emboldened to add its official voice to a growing cacophony of human rights advocacy groups angry that Guatemala had used force to stop this caravan. It seems unlikely that Honduras will do anything to break up the next caravan and would return to the old familiarity as an unobstructed transit nation.

Guatemala appeared to be still in the game, though with Trump out of the equation, its longevity there should probably be regarded as questionable as it comes under fire for how it had to stop the violent lead caravan elements. On behalf of Guatemala, Foreign Minister Pedro Brolo Vila called out Honduras for a failure of will and tactics that put the hot potato in his country. He said that instead of Honduran promises to deploy a large contingent of security forces, the Honduran police who were deployed ended up accompanying the migrants "to our borders, where unfortunately we saw how violently they entered, violating Guatemalan territorial sovereignty."

Will a domino effect knock over Guatemalan and Mexican resolve next? 

While this caravan ran headlong into the remnants of a blocking arrangement that Trump sculpted with big-stick threats, the arrival of a new American president with no known taste for such hardball diplomacy occurs amid hope among aspiring migrants that will only soar higher on Biden's first moves to lay down his vast 2,000-mile welcome mat of immigration policy prescriptions.