Spain sentences Salvadoran ex-officer to 133 years in jail over priests’ massacre

MADRID (Reuters) – Spain’s High Court sentenced a former army colonel from El Salvador on Friday to 133 years in prison for the murder of five Spanish Jesuit priests in 1989 during the Central American country’s civil war.

Inocente Orlando Montano Morales, 77, was also found responsible by the judges for the murders of the priests’ housekeeper and her 15-year-old daughter, as well as a local Jesuit priest. The court could not convict him of these crimes because his extradition to Spain did not cover these cases.

The massacre was one of the most notorious acts of a decade-long civil war during which 75,000 people were killed and 8,000 went missing.

The judges said they found Montano Morales guilty of five counts of “murder of terrorist nature,” adding that the killings were committed by the state apparatus, making them what “is commonly known as terrorism implemented by the state”.

They added that the total maximum prison term is 30 years.

Montano Morales has been in custody since 2011 when he was arrested in the United States on immigration fraud charges. He was deported to Spain in 2017.

The Spanish government has indicted 20 former Salvadoran army officers for the killings of the priests, their housekeeper and her daughter. One of the priests, Father Ignacio Ellacuria, was a prominent critic of the U.S.-backed right-wing government.

The massacre occurred on Nov. 16, 1989, when a group of soldiers from the U.S.-trained Atlacatl Battalion entered the campus of the Central American University where Ellacuria was rector.

Ellacuria had advocated a negotiated settlement to the military-led junta government’s war against the left-wing Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN). International revulsion at the murders of the priests helped to push through such a solution, with the war ending in 1992.

(Reporting by Nathan Allen and Andrei Khalip; Editing by Ingrid Melander and Frances Kerry)

U.S.-bound migrant caravan in tense standoff at border between Mexico and Guatemala

By Roberto Ramirez

TECUN UMAN, Guatemala (Reuters) – A large caravan of Central Americans was preparing to cross the Guatemalan border into Mexico on Monday, posing a potential challenge to the Mexican government’s pledge to help the United States contain mass movements of migrants.

The migrants were massed on a bridge connecting the two countries early on Monday morning in what appeared to be a tense standoff with Mexican migration officials and soldiers.

U.S. President Donald Trump has threatened to punish Mexico and Central American countries economically if they fail to curb migrant flows, resulting in a series of agreements aimed at taking pressure off the United States in absorbing the numbers.

Migrants crossed into Mexico in small groups during the weekend after Mexican security officials blocked an effort by some Central Americans to force their way through the border.

The bulk of at least 2,000 migrants remained in the Guatemalan border town of Tecun Uman, opposite the Mexican town of Ciudad Hidalgo, with some saying they planned to set off for Mexico en masse early on Monday, believing that they stood a better chance of making progress in a large caravan.

Mexico has offered migrants work in the south, but those who do not accept it or seek asylum will not be issued safe conduct passes to the United States, the interior ministry said.

The ministry said in a statement on Sunday afternoon that Mexican authorities had received nearly 1,100 migrants in the states of Chiapas and Tabasco and set out various options to them in accordance with their migration status.

“However, in the majority of cases, once the particular migration situation has been reviewed, assisted returns will be carried out to their countries of origin, assuming that their situation warrants it,” the ministry said.

According to Guatemala, at least 4,000 people have entered from Honduras since Wednesday, making for one of the biggest surges since three Central American governments signed agreements with the Trump administration obliging them to assume more of the responsibility for dealing with migrants.

Mexico has so far controlled the border at Tecun Uman more successfully than in late 2018, when a large caravan of migrants sought to break through there. Many later crossed into Mexico via the Suchiate River dividing the two countries.

(Writing by Dave Graham; Editing by Nick Zieminski and Diane Craft)

High-tech mapping, apps fight deadly dengue outbreak in Honduras – medical charity

High-tech mapping, apps fight deadly dengue outbreak in Honduras – medical charity
By Anastasia Moloney

BOGOTA (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – High-tech mapping and mobile phone apps are being used to combat dengue fever in Honduras as the Central American nation struggles to fight the worst outbreak of the mosquito-borne disease on record, medical charity MSF said on Thursday.

Honduras has one of the Americas’ highest incidence rates of dengue, with some 92,000 suspected cases of the infectious disease and 250 deaths recorded this year, according to the Pan-American Health Organization (PAHO).

Across the Americas, more than 2.7 million people have caught the virus and 1,206 have died so far in 2019, making this year’s dengue fever outbreak the highest on record in the region, according to latest PAHO figures.

Medical charity Medicins Sans Frontiers (MSF) said it is using GIS mapping technology and a mobile phone app as key tools to combat the virus and plan their work.

The technology allows health workers to identify dengue hotspots and direct prevention and awareness-raising campaigns to the most-affected areas.

“It allows you to see the evolution of the epidemic in each neighborhood and city and all over the country per day, per week,” said Pascal Olivo, MSF logistics coordinator for Mexico, Honduras and Guatemala.

“We have adapted our strategy accordingly because we can see the evolution of the epidemic on the maps,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Using a mobile app to record data, about 20 MSF health workers have been asking residents up to 10 questions about the dengue virus and what is being done to prevent its spread in their neighborhoods.

Questions include whether residents have cleaned water tanks and buckets in their homes – ideal breeding grounds for mosquitoes – if and when local authorities have carried out fumigation, or whether any relative has caught dengue.

The data, along with the GIS maps produced based on data collected by MSF, health authorities and public hospitals, allows health workers to build a timely geographic overview of areas where the virus is most acute and in need of targeting.

As the region faces new mosquito-borne outbreaks, there is a growing need to find new ways to monitor and reduce the spread of infectious diseases like dengue and Zika, which includes using tech and giving affected communities tech-based solutions.

Aid groups are accordingly embracing technology from geographic information system (GIS) mapping tools, drones and satellite imagery to map areas affected by conflict, disease outbreaks and natural disasters, along with mass vaccination programs.

“In the past two to three years we have seen an evolution in GIS, and it’s used by MSF for almost all emergencies,” Olivo said.

(Reporting by Anastasia Moloney @anastasiabogota, Editing by Chris Michaud. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights, and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org)

Facing new asylum curb, nerves for those waiting at U.S.-Mexico border

A board with the number of migrants that are requesting asylum is pictured at the premises of the state migrant assistance office in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, July 15, 2019. REUTERS/Jose Luis Gonzalez

By Julia Love

CIUDAD JUAREZ (Reuters) – Number 12,026 – better known as Marcial Artigas, 33, from Holguin, Cuba – waited nervously at a migration office at the U.S.-Mexico border as a Mexican official called out numbers from a long list of hopefuls waiting to cross to the United States.

Artigas said he was praying his number would be called next, before a new U.S. policy announced on Monday enters into force that bars almost all immigrants from applying for asylum at the country’s southern border.

The Trump administration’s interim rule, set to take effect Tuesday, requires asylum-seekers to first pursue safe haven in a third country through which they traveled en route to the United States.

The former cafeteria worker said he left Cuba in February, traveling to Nicaragua by plane before heading north through Central America and into Mexico by bus. If the new policy sticks, he could be required to apply for asylum in Mexico, or any one of the countries he passed through en route.

He had been waiting his turn to cross to El Paso, Texas, from Ciudad Juarez since mid-April, joining a line of thousands, according to officials and a list of asylum-seekers the city keeps.

By 9.20 a.m, the official calling out numbers from the National Migration Institute’s Grupo Beta unit had read out 10. He reached number 12,025 and called it a day.

As the other migrants clapped, number 12,025 rose, pumped his fist, and followed the official to cross to the United States to begin his asylum process.

Artigas was wearing a black backpack stuffed with clothing and other essentials, ready to leave Mexico behind for good. If he felt despair at falling a single digit short, the Cuban remained stoic.

He hoped there would be another round of numbers called that afternoon at the migration office, he said.

Still, he said, the constant shifts in U.S. policy made him feel annoyed that while he was playing by the rules, people who crossed illegally and then requested asylum were at an advantage.

“One is here patiently doing things as they should be done,” he said. “There are people who go illegally.”

Beside him, most of the nearly two dozen migrants at the office, in the shadow of the bridge connecting the two counties, appeared not yet to have heard about the newest U.S. policy.

If they had, they appeared unsure about what it might mean for their asylum chances.

Carolina Puente, 35, still had a crushing wait ahead. At number 17,243, hundreds more were scheduled to cross ahead of her, she said.

“I’m desperate,” she said. “Desperate is the word.”

Puente said she had fled violence in Quito, Ecuador, and moved to Cuba two years ago, to live with her husband’s family. But in Cuba she faced poverty and a lack of economic opportunities.

Since June 24, she had been renting a house in Ciudad Juarez. But she said she had little faith in Mexico, which is racked by drug-related violence and high murder rates and notoriously unsafe for migrants.

“This country has opened the doors for us, but it’s an unsafe country,” she said.

Enrique Valenzuela, head of COESPO, the state population commission which oversees the center for migrants in Ciudad Juarez, said he had no prior knowledge of the new U.S. measure, having learned about it on television.

The number of people adding themselves to the asylum list in Ciudad Juarez had been dropping this month and last, he said.

But if the new policy holds, he said, “The number of (asylum) applicants will rocket in Mexico.”

(Reporting by Julia Love; writing by Delphine Schrank; Editing by Frank Jack Daniel and Tom Brown)

Migrants rush to enter Mexico ahead of security crackdown demanded by Trump

Migrants from Central America cross the Rio Bravo river to enter illegally into the United States to turn themselves in to request for asylum in El Paso, Texas, U.S., as seen from Ciudad Juarez, Mexico June 11, 2019. Picture taken June 11, 2019. REUTERS/Jose Luis Gonzalez

By Hugh Bronstein

CIUDAD HIDALGO, Mexico (Reuters) – Central American migrants eager to beat a crackdown by Mexico on its southern border with Guatemala scrambled into the country on Thursday as the government prepared to send thousands of National Guard members to plug gaps in the porous frontier.

Mexico has agreed with the United States to demonstrate by late July that it can contain a surge in U.S.-bound migrants, following a threat from U.S. President Donald Trump to impose tariffs on Mexican goods if it failed to do so.

Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard said this week that Mexico would beef up control of its southern border, including sending 6,000 members of the National Guard. The deployment was due to begin on Wednesday though witnesses saw no signs of the deployment.

Migrants from Central America run towards the Rio Bravo river to cross and enter illegally into the United States to turn themselves in to request for asylum in El Paso, Texas, U.S., as seen from Ciudad Juarez, Mexico June 12, 2019. Picture taken June 12, 2019. REUTERS/Jose Luis Gonzalez

Migrants from Central America run towards the Rio Bravo river to cross and enter illegally into the United States to turn themselves in to request for asylum in El Paso, Texas, U.S., as seen from Ciudad Juarez, Mexico June 12, 2019. Picture taken June 12, 2019. REUTERS/Jose Luis Gonzalez

As dawn broke on Thursday, a family of Honduran migrants floated across a narrow crossing of the Suchiate River from Guatemala on a raft and staggered onto Mexican soil.

“They told us that they were deploying the National Guard,” said Melvin Ochoa, 28, carrying his 20-month-old daughter. Beside him was his heavily pregnant wife. “It made us hurry. I’m pushing to continue faster so they won’t catch us.”

The trip was especially risky for Ochoa’s wife who was only one month shy of giving birth. She declined to give her name.

“But the risks at home were worse,” Ochoa said, explaining that the family had fled loan sharks affiliated with a criminal gang who demanded money even after they had paid them back.

“If not, they were going to kill us.”

Behind them, the steady daily traffic of the river continued unabated, with no Mexican official in sight. Migration officials remained in the shadow of immigration posts on a bridge linking the two countries.

Improvised rafts made of planks of wood floating on giant inner-tubes carried black-market Corona beer, coffee and other contraband toward Guatemala. Half a dozen more floated toward Mexico crowded with Central Americans fleeing gang violence and poverty.

It was business at usual too at immigration checkpoints along the highway north.

“We haven’t seen any increase,” said a police officer at a checkpoint, when asked about any build-up in security forces. He asked not to be identified because he lacked permission to speak to the press.

Mexico and the United States brokered an immigration agreement last week to prevent Washington from imposing tariffs starting at 5% on Mexican goods. The Mexican government has agreed to consider changing its migration laws after 45 days if it proves unable to stem the flow of people.

The standoff over the border has piled pressure on Mexico’s leftist President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador. He has called for national unity, describing the tariff threat as unfair, but vowing to avoid confrontation with the United States, Mexico’s largest trading partner.

Threatening to raise tariffs on Mexican imports as high as 25%, Trump wants Mexico to accept asylum seekers as part of his effort to slow the flow of migrants and to relieve pressure on stretched U.S. border and immigration authorities.

Mexico in December agreed to start taking in mostly Central American asylum seekers while their cases are being heard in the United States and absorbed about 10,000 during the first few months of this year, according to the Mexican government.

However, under the deal struck last week, tens of thousands could be sent back to Mexico before the end of this year, putting increased pressure on Mexican migration authorities, said Deputy Interior Minister Alejandro Encinas.

“This has become a national problem,” he told Reuters.

‘AS FAR AS GOD PERMITS’

Mexico sends around 80% of its exports to the United States so any move by Trump to impose levies on its goods would have serious repercussions for the economy, which is already struggling after contracting in the first quarter.

Given that the United States had never managed to properly seal its own southern border, the chance of Mexico doing any better were extremely remote, said Andres Rozental, a former Mexican deputy foreign minister responsible for North America.

“We’re never going to be able to get what presumably Mr. Trump wants in 45 days,” Rozental told Reuters.

Complicating the deployment of the militarized police force along the border is the fact that the National Guard was only formally created a few weeks ago, and Lopez Obrador’s six-month-old administration is still finding its feet.

For some migrants, those issues are of small consequence.

“We have no plan. Only to go forward, as far as God permits,” said Antonio Hernandez, 29, stepping off another raft at dawn with his wife and 2-year-old son. Anxious and exhausted from days of travel since they fled El Salvador, they hustled on.

 

(Reporting by Hugh Bronstein; Additional reporting and writing by Dave Graham and Delphine Schrank in Mexico City; Editing by Daniel Flynn and Cynthia Osterman)

Mexico Immigration deal reached, Trump says must be approved or tariffs

Central American migrants cross the Suchiate river on a raft from Tecun Uman, in Guatemala, to Ciudad Hidalgo, as seen from Ciudad Hidalgo, Mexico, June 10, 2019. REUTERS/Jose Cabezas

By Makini Brice

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump on Monday hinted more details were to come about a migration pact the United States signed with Mexico last week, saying another portion of the deal with Mexico would need to be ratified by Mexican lawmakers.

He did not provide details but threatened tariffs if Mexico’s Congress did not approve the plan.

“We have fully signed and documented another very important part of the Immigration and Security deal with Mexico, one that the U.S. has been asking about getting for many years. It will be revealed in the not too distant future and will need a vote by Mexico’s legislative body,” Trump tweeted.

“We do not anticipate a problem with the vote but, if for any reason the approval is not forthcoming, tariffs will be reinstated.”

Last month, Trump threatened 5% tariffs on Mexican goods to be imposed on Monday. The duties would have increased every month until they reached 25% in October, unless Mexico stopped illegal immigration across its border with Mexico.

On Friday, the tariffs were called off, after the United States and Mexico announced an agreement on immigration. The joint communique issued by the two countries provided few details.

Critics have said there have been no new major commitments to slow the migration of Central Americans to the United States.

FILE PHOTO: Trucks cross the borderline into the U.S. and into Mexico at the World Trade Bridge, as seen from Laredo, Texas U.S., June 3, 2019. REUTERS/Carlos Jasso

FILE PHOTO: Trucks cross the borderline into the U.S. and into Mexico at the World Trade Bridge, as seen from Laredo, Texas U.S., June 3, 2019. REUTERS/Carlos Jasso

The agreement would expedite a program known as the Migration Protection Protocols, which sends people seeking asylum in the United States to wait in Mexico as their cases are processed.

That program, announced in December, would be expanded across the entire U.S.-Mexico border under the terms of the agreement, according to the State Department.

The deal would also send the Mexican National Guard police force to its own southern border, where many Central Americans enter Mexico.

“We’re very pleased with this agreement. It has an enforcement mechanism. It has an enforcement feature to it because these tariffs can go on at any time,” White House adviser Kellyanne Conway said in an interview with Fox News Channel.

Mexican Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard wrote in a tweet on Monday morning that he would brief the Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador on the details of the agreement.

Ebrard said Lopez Obrador would discuss the deal during his morning news conference.

Marta Barcena Coqui, the Mexican ambassador to the United States, said in an interview with CBS’ “Face the Nation” on Sunday that Mexican officials had agreed to take steps to reduce illegal immigration “to previous levels that we had maybe last year or in 2018.”

During the talks last week, Mexican sources said officials were resisting safe third country status, which would mean migrants seeking asylum would have to make such a request in the first safe country they crossed.

Under such safe third country status, that country for many Central American migrants fleeing poverty, violence and corruption in their native countries would be Mexico.

Such a change would require legal changes that would take at least 90 days and would need to be ratified by Mexico’s Congress.

(Reporting by Makini Brice; Additional reporting by Doina Chiacu in Washington and Frank Jack Daniel in Mexico City; Editing by Larry King and Chizu Nomiyama)

Mexico meets migrants at southern border with armed forces

Migrants gesture while arguing with a federal police officer during a joint operation by the Mexican government to stop a caravan of Central American migrants on their way to the U.S., at Metapa de Dominguez, in Chiapas state, Mexico June 5, 2019. REUTERS/Jose Torres

By Delphine Schrank

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – Mexican soldiers, armed police and migration officials blocked hundreds of migrants after they crossed the border from Guatemala in a caravan into southern Mexico on Wednesday, and detained dozens of them, a witness from a migrant aid group and an official said.

The Mexican response in the border town of Metapa, which included dozens of soldiers, marked a toughening of the government’s efforts to curb the flow of mainly Central American migrants, said Salva Cruz, a coordinator with Fray Matias de Cordova.

Migrants from Central America walk on a highway during their journey towards the United States, in Ciudad Hidalgo, Chiapas state, Mexico, June 5, 2019. REUTERS/Jose Torres

Migrants from Central America walk on a highway during their journey towards the United States, in Ciudad Hidalgo, Chiapas state, Mexico, June 5, 2019. REUTERS/Jose Torres

“That many sailors and military police, yes, it’s new,” Cruz said, by WhatsApp, from Metapa, in the southern border state of Chiapas, where the vast majority of migrants from Central America cross into Mexico. Many are asylum seekers fleeing violence and poverty in Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador.

The operation in Chiapas coincided with a meeting of Mexican and U.S. officials at the White House on Wednesday to thrash out a deal that would avoid blanket tariffs on Mexico threatened by U.S. President Donald Trump last week.

Trump announced the tariffs in retaliation for what he called Mexico’s failure to stop Central American migrants from reaching the U.S. border.

Mexico’s National Migration Institute (INM) said in a statement that a group of about 300 people entered Mexico by a border bridge Wednesday morning, and another 120 people joined the group as they walked to the city of Tapachula.

The migrants later agreed to be taken by bus to a migration office to be processed, the INM said.

U.S. border officers apprehended more than 132,000 people crossing from Mexico in May, a third more than in April and the highest monthly level since 2006, reaching what U.S. officials said on Wednesday were “crisis” levels.

An INM official in Mexico City who was unauthorized to talk to the media said, on condition of anonymity, that the migrants were being asked to show their status in Mexico.

Migration officials detained 350 to 400 people, the official said, noting that federal police and agents from the National Guard were present. Mexico’s government recently created a militarized police force called the National Guard made up of soldiers and federal police.

On Wednesday afternoon in Mexico City, police detained Irineo Mujica, director of the U.S.-Mexico migrant aid group Pueblo Sin Fronteras, and Cristobal Sanchez, a migrant rights activist, according to Alex Mensing, a coordinator with the group.

Pueblo Sin Fronteras has for several years guided annual caravans through Mexico, seeking to protect migrants and to advocate for their rights along a 2,000-mile trail ridden with criminals and corrupt officials who prey on lone travelers through kidnapping, extortion and other forms of assault.

Since April 2018 Trump has lashed out at the caravans of Central Americans wending their way to the United States, while blaming Mexico for failing to stop their movement to the U.S. border.

(Reporting by Delphine Schrank, Lizbeth Diaz and Diego Ore; Editing by Richard Changand Leslie Adler)

Mexican president says illegal immigration to U.S. ‘is not up to us’

FILE PHOTO: Mexico's President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador looks on during a meeting with industry bosses and members of his cabinet to discuss the new administration's policy on the minimum wage at National Palace in Mexico City, Mexico December 17, 2018. REUTERS/Edgard Garrido/File Phot

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said on Thursday he was committed to helping curb illegal immigration after renewed Twitter criticism by U.S. counterpart Donald Trump, but he suggested it was an issue chiefly for the United States and Central America to address.

Illegal immigration across the U.S. border has caused persistent bilateral tensions ever since Trump launched his bid for the presidency almost four years ago, saying that Mexico was sending rapists and drug runners into the United States.

With initial campaigning for the 2020 U.S. presidential election already underway, Trump sent out a tweet early Thursday that again attacked Mexico over migration.

“Mexico is doing NOTHING to help stop the flow of illegal immigrants to our Country,” Trump wrote. “They are all talk and no action. Likewise, Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador have taken our money for years, and do Nothing.”

Trump again threatened to close the U.S. southern border.

At his regular morning news conference, Lopez Obrador was asked about Trump’s tweet, and said he was focused on addressing the root causes of migration. He repeated that he wanted a cordial relationship with Trump.

“We respect president Trump’s position, and we are going to help. That is, this is a problem of the United States, or it’s a problem of the Central American countries. It’s not up to us Mexicans, no,” Lopez Obrador told reporters.

“I just emphasize that migration flows of Mexicans to the United States are very low, a lot lower,” he said. “The Mexican is no longer seeking work in the United States. The majority are inhabitants of our fellow Central American countries.”

Trump’s latest broadside came one day after the United States, Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador agreed to conduct joint police operations in Central America to improve border security and tackle illegal immigration.

The three countries account for the bulk of migrants apprehended trying to cross illegally into the United States.

Trump’s remarks also followed calls on social media for a new caravan of migrants to form in Honduras.

Over the weekend, a group of around 1,200 migrants, most of them from Central America, began moving toward the U.S. border from southern Mexico.

(Reporting by Miguel Angel Gutierrez, Dave Graham and Lizbeth Diaz; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe)

Mexico prepares for arrival of next Central American migrant caravan

FILE PHOTO: Migrants, part of a caravan of thousands from Central America trying to reach the United States, leave a temporary shelter voluntarily, which is to be closed by Mexican authorities for sanitary reasons, in Tijuana Mexico January 5, 2019. REUTERS/Jorge Duenes

By Diego Oré

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – Mexican authorities will meet with Central American officials to prepare for the arrival of a planned new caravan of migrants headed to the United States next week.

The head of Mexico’s immigration office, Tonatiuh Guillen, left on Wednesday on a trip to El Salvador and Honduras to meet with his counterparts and other authorities, said Interior Ministry spokesman Hector Gandini.

Mexico hopes to discourage a mass exodus from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, and wants Central Americans who decide to migrate north to do so in an orderly way and through legal ports of entry.

“The doors to Mexico are open to anyone who wants to enter in an orderly fashion,” Gandini told Reuters in a telephone interview. “But whoever wants to come in illegally will be deported.”

Previous Central American caravans became a flashpoint in the debate over U.S. immigration policy.

That was intensified by the recent deaths of two migrant children in American custody and a partial U.S. government shutdown over U.S. President Donald Trump’s demand for $5.7 billion in funding for a wall along the border with Mexico.

There are 12 legal ports of entry for Central Americans on Mexico’s southern border, but Mexican authorities have identified an additional 370 illegal points of entry on that frontier, Interior Minister Olga Sanchez said this week.

Mexico borders in the south with Guatemala and Belize.

The illegal entry points will be “monitored and controlled to avoid undocumented access of people to our territory,” Sanchez said.

Guatemala’s deputy foreign minister, Pablo Cesar Garcia, met with Mexican authorities on Tuesday to discuss the caravan and to “provide all the necessary support to the migrants,” said Guatemalan Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Marta Larra.

“In Honduras, they kill us,” read an appeal circulating on social media for people to assemble in the violent Honduran city of San Pedro Sula next Tuesday to start the long trek north to the United States.

While other social media posts invite people to leave from nearby Santa Barbara on Jan. 20, U.S. authorities hoped to dissuade Central Americans from making the journey.

“The risks of illegal immigration are serious. Don’t waste your time and money on a trip destined to fail. The road is long and very dangerous. Thousands of Hondurans who participated in the caravan came back sorry,” Heide Fulton, the U.S chargé d’affaires to Honduras, said on Twitter on Wednesday.

(Reporting by Diego Ore; Additional reporting by Gustavo Palencia in Tegucigalpa, Sofia Menchu in Guatemala City, Nelson Renteria in San Salvador and Lizbeth Diaz in Tijuana, Mexico; Writing by Anthony Esposito; Editing by Peter Cooney)

Violence, gangs cast pall over life in Honduras

"El Fresa" (L), a Barrio-18 gang member, sits on a sofa next to another Barrio-18 gang member in San Pedro Sula, Honduras, May 27, 2018. REUTERS/Edgard Garrido

By Edgard Garrido

TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras (Reuters) – Ana Luz, sister-in-law of Ronald Blanco, looked on grimly as neighbors of the murdered Honduran man washed away the rills of blood left where his bullet-ridden body had lain outside his house in a troubled barrio on the outskirts of Tegucigalpa in Honduras.

 

The body of Ronald Blanco, 37, who was shot dead outside his house, lies on a police pick-up truck in Japon neighbourhood in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, August 2 2018. REUTERS/Edgard Garrido

The body of Ronald Blanco, 37, who was shot dead outside his house, lies on a police pick-up truck in Japon neighborhood in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, August 2 2018. REUTERS/Edgard Garrido

It was just one of many scenes I witnessed this year while on assignment in Honduras, where thousands of people sought to escape violence and poverty by joining a migrant caravan in hope of making it to safety across the Mexico-U.S. border. The problems in this small Central American country grabbed international attention as U.S. President Donald Trump cracked down on illegal immigration.

Honduras has for years been one of the world’s most murderous countries. Though official data show the homicide rate has fallen sharply, it continues to be a highly challenging environment in which to work.

According to Honduran government figures, the homicide rate reached 86 per 100,000 people in 2011-2012. This year, the rate should end below 40 per 100,000, the security ministry says. This compares to the latest statistics in the United States, where there were 5.3 murders per 100,000 in 2017, according to the FBI’s most recent report on its website.

Danger in Honduras is never far away.

Forensic workers carry the body of a man who was killed in San Pedro Sula, Honduras, June 4, 2018. REUTERS/Edgard Garrido

Forensic workers carry the body of a man who was killed in San Pedro Sula, Honduras, June 4, 2018. REUTERS/Edgard Garrido

During my roughly three months spent in Honduras in 2018, I photographed mothers waiting at the morgue for the bodies of murdered sons and daughters, police keeping watch over corpses left lying on streets after shootouts and families wailing over the coffins of loved ones.

Blanco, 37, lived in the Japon neighborhood, a breeding ground for gang violence, according to local authorities. It was here that I experienced the most tense moment of my time in Honduras, as I moved between police, soldiers, gang members, forensic experts, hearse drivers and pastors.

At Blanco’s funeral, I was stopped by a young man with piercing eyes, one green and one blue. He demanded to know why I was there.

Civilians and former gang members gesture inside a rehabilitation centre in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, July 13, 2018. REUTERS/Edgard Garrido

Civilians and former gang members gesture inside a rehabilitation centre in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, July 13, 2018. REUTERS/Edgard Garrido

I explained that I was a journalist taking photographs of the event. But the youth kept pressing me with questions about what had brought me to Blanco’s funeral. As I continued taking the photos, I felt increasingly uncomfortable.

Finally, the tension eased when one of Blanco’s friends intervened, saying that the grieving family had authorized my presence.

 

(Reporting by Edgard Garrido; Additional reporting by Delphine Schrank; Writing by Daina Beth Solomon and Julia Love; Editing by Diane Craft)