This caravan of migrants headed south to Mexico – for Christmas

This caravan of migrants headed south to Mexico – for Christmas
By Daniel Becerril

JALPAN DE SERRA, Mexico (Reuters) – Poor Central American migrants who form caravans to fend off predatory gangs as they cross Mexico’s interior en route to the United States have made global headlines and drawn the ire of President Donald Trump.

But last week in the Texan border city of Laredo a caravan of about 1,500 families made up of Mexican migrants and Americans of Mexican origin set out in the opposite direction – for their Christmas holidays.

Driving large cars laden with clothes, perfumes and other Christmas presents, the Mexicans, all with U.S. legal status, bore scant resemblance to the Central American migrants trudging north on foot, except for their shared fear of criminal gangs.

“There’s a lot of extortion, corruption, many people have been attacked,” said Jesus Mendoza, a 35-year-old painter who obtained U.S. legal residency in August and returned to Mexico for the first time this year since 2001.

About half of the 12 million Mexicans living in the United States have legal residency, and Mexico’s Senate expected more than 3 million to return home this year.

But doing so by car poses a challenge as Mexico’s northern border regions have been racked by a tide of drug-fueled violence that led to a record 29,000 murders last year.

With three young children and a wife he met on Facebook, Mendoza was going back to a Mexico different to the one he left behind as a teenager before the country embarked on a so-called war on drugs in 2006 and violence spiraled.

“It’s a sad thing that some don’t want … to visit with their family because of the situation,” he told Reuters in Jalpan de Serra in central Mexico after arriving there on Dec. 16.

Trump has called migrant caravans bound for the United States “invasions” and has threatened to close the U.S. border with Mexico.

Mendoza’s caravan of hundreds of cars set off around 5 a.m. local time from a Walmart car park in Laredo, reaching its final stop in Jalpan some 14 hours later, shortly after dusk.

Such car caravans moving south into Mexico have been rare over the past decade. But those who reached their family homes say safety in numbers is vital.

“It’s sad that when I enter Mexico I don’t feel safe,” said Mariela Ramirez Palacios, a Mexico-born resident of Oklahoma. “The caravan is safe.”

(Reporting by Daniel Becerril; Writing by Drazen Jorgic; Editing by Leslie Adler)

Honduran migrant group grows, heading for United States

Thousands of Hondurans fleeing poverty and violence move in a caravan toward the United States, in Santa Rosa de Copan, Honduras October 14, 2018. REUTERS/ Jorge Cabrera

TEGUCIGALPA (Reuters) – A growing group of more than 1,500 Honduran migrants headed for the United States moved toward the Guatemalan border on Sunday, witnesses and organizers said.

The migrants, who included families of adults and children, and women carrying babies, began a march on Saturday from the violent northern city of San Pedro Sula, days after U.S. Vice President Mike Pence called on Central America to stop mass migration.

The U.S. Embassy in Honduras said it was deeply worried about the group and that people were being given “false promises” of being able to enter the United States. The embassy said the situation in Honduras was improving.

Children help each other get dressed, part of a group of Hondurans fleeing poverty and violence, during their journey in a caravan toward the United States in Ocotepeque, Honduras October 14, 2018. REUTERS/ Jorge Cabrera

Children help each other get dressed, part of a group of Hondurans fleeing poverty and violence, during their journey in a caravan toward the United States in Ocotepeque, Honduras October 14, 2018. REUTERS/ Jorge Cabrera

Honduras’ government echoed part of that language, saying it regretted the situation and that citizens were being “deceived.”

Mexico’s government issued a statement on Saturday reminding foreign nationals that visas should be requested in consulates, not at the border, and said migration rules were “always observed.”

March organizer Bartolo Fuentes told Reuters that participants were not being offered or promised anything but were fleeing poverty and violence back home.

Fuentes, a former Honduran lawmaker, said the group had grown on its journey to some 1,800 migrants from 1,300.

The so-called migrant caravan, in which people move in groups either on foot or by vehicle, grew in part because of social media.

The group began to arrive in Nueva Ocotepeque, near the Guatemalan border, on Sunday. The plan is to cross Guatemala and reach Tapachula in southern Mexico to apply for humanitarian visas that allow people to cross the country or get asylum, Fuentes said.

A man carries a baby as he walks with other Hondurans fleeing poverty and violence as they move in a caravan toward the United States, in the west side of Honduras October 14, 2018. REUTERS/ Jorge Cabrera

A man carries a baby as he walks with other Hondurans fleeing poverty and violence as they move in a caravan toward the United States, in the west side of Honduras October 14, 2018. REUTERS/ Jorge Cabrera

Honduras, where some 64 percent of households are in poverty, is afflicted by gangs that violently extort people and businesses.

Last week, Pence told Central American countries that the United States was willing to help with economic development and investment if they did more to tackle mass migration, corruption and gang violence.

(Reporting by Gustavo Palencia; Editing by Peter Cooney)

Italy tells rescue ship to take migrants to the Netherlands

Italy's Interior Minister Matteo Salvini looks on during the news conference at the Viminale in Rome, Italy, June 20, 2018. REUTERS/Stefano Rellandini

By Steve Scherer and Angelo Amante

ROME (Reuters) – Italy’s anti-immigrant interior minister accused a German charity on Thursday of ignoring coastguard orders when its Dutch-flagged ship picked up 226 migrants off Libya’s coast and he said they should be taken to the Netherlands not Italy.

Earlier this month Matteo Salvini pledged to no longer let charity ships offload rescued migrants in Italy, leaving the Gibraltar-flagged Aquarius stranded at sea for several days with more than 600 migrants until Spain offered them safe haven.

On Thursday, Mission Lifeline, a charity based in Dresden, Germany, pulled migrants off two rubber boats in international waters even though it was told by Italy that Libya’s coastguard was coming to get them, a spokesman for the charity said. They would not have been safe if taken back to Libya, he said.

Salvini, also leader of the anti-immigrant League party, addressed the charity in a Facebook video: “You have intentionally not listened to Italian or Libyan authorities. Good. Then take this load of human beings to the Netherlands.”

International maritime guidelines say that people rescued at sea should be taken to the nearest “place of safety”.

The United Nations and other humanitarian agencies do not deem Libya “a place of safety” because they say migrants there are subject to indefinite detention, physical abuse, forced labor and extortion.

A Lifeline statement indicated its vessel was heading northwards with the 226 migrants and called on “the competent authorities to swiftly react according to their obligation to designate a place of safety”.

“NOT DUTCH RESPONSIBILITY”

“They have a Dutch flag, but they are not registered in the Netherlands, and therefore are not under Dutch state flag responsibility,” Dutch Foreign Ministry spokesman Lennart Wegewijs said in response, without elaborating.

Italian Transport Minister Danilo Toninelli said he had asked the coastguard to investigate state flag issue.

Lifeline spokesman Axel Steier said the migrants aboard its boat included 14 women and four small children. “We didn’t want to wait for the Libyan coastguard because people were in danger,” Steier told Reuters.

Waiting for the Libyans would have constituted allowing “an illegal pushback” of refugees to a country where they are not safe, he added.

With its hard line on rescue boats, Italy’s new populist government has thrust migration back onto the European Union agenda. Italy has seen more than 640,000 land on its shores since 2014 and is currently sheltering 170,000 asylum seekers.

Germany is also seeking to restrict asylum-seekers’ movement in the bloc. An emergency “mini-summit” has been called for Brussels on Sunday to discuss immigration ahead of a full, 28-state EU summit on June 28-29.

Toninelli, who oversees Italy’s ports and coastguard, had called last weekend on the Netherlands to recall Lifeline and another Dutch-flagged ship, Seefuchs. On Thursday, Toninelli said Lifeline was acting “outside of international law”.

“The transport minister is lying,” Steier shot back. “We always act in line with international law. Always.”

Salvini has denounced the charity ships as “deputy traffickers”, suggesting they profit from the rescues.

Earlier this week a tribunal in Palermo shelved an inquiry into whether German charity Sea Watch and Spain’s Proactiva Open Arms were in contact with smugglers, saying no evidence was found.

(Additional reporting by Anthony Deutsch in Amsterdam; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

Business leaders turn up heat on Mexican government over crime surge

FILE PHOTO: Police officers guard the entrance of the Coca-Cola FEMSA distribution plant after it closes down due to the issues of security and violence during the campaign rally of Independent presidential candidate Margarita Zavala (unseen) in Ciudad Altamirano, Guerrero state, Mexico April 3, 2018. REUTERS/Ginnette Riquelme/File Photo

By Anthony Esposito and Sharay Angulo

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – Mexican business leaders called out the government on Monday over a recent wave of criminal activity that has terrorized large swaths of Latin America’s second-largest economy and led some prominent firms to cut back operations.

Two of Mexico’s top business groups urged the administration of President Enrique Pena Nieto and the candidates hoping to succeed him in a July 1 election to stem the violence and robberies, which they say are putting workers’ lives at risk and hurting investment.

“The high levels of violence have become the greatest obstacle to (economic) activity,” Mexico’s powerful CCE business lobby said in a statement.

Tens of thousands of people have been killed in turf wars between drug cartels and their clashes with security forces since former President Felipe Calderon sent in the military to crush the gangs soon after taking office at the end of 2006.

In recent weeks, dairy producer Grupo Lala shuttered a distribution center in the northern state of Tamaulipas and the world’s biggest Coke bottler, Coca-Cola Femsa, indefinitely shut down a 160-employee distribution center in southwestern Guerrero state.

Canada’s Pan American Silver Corp was the latest to act, saying on Monday it would reduce operations and suspend staff movements at its Dolores silver mine in the border state of Chihuahua because of recent security incidents.

Companies risk extortion, theft, attacks on their logistics chain and physical assault on their employees, according to the American Chamber of Commerce of Mexico (AmCham).

“The impact of corruption, public insecurity, an inadequate justice (system) definitely impacts the cost of investment,” while fear of crime even keeps some executives from coming to Mexico, said Luis Gerardo del Valle, AmCham Mexico’s head of tax affairs.

Train and truck freight thefts have jumped as criminals employ more sophisticated methods.

Last week, miner and infrastructure firm Grupo Mexico said seven freight train derailments between the port of Veracruz and central Mexico were due to “sabotage” and would cost the company 312 million pesos ($16 million).

Mexican industry association Canacintra estimates that small and medium-sized companies spend the equivalent of 6 percent of their income on security, double what they did a decade ago.

‘WE CAN’T KEEP WAITING’

Mexican employers’ federation Coparmex called on the government to stop waiting until the election was over.

“Time is running out for this government, as is the public’s patience. We can’t keep waiting. This is the last call,” Coparmex said in a statement.

Pena Nieto took office in December 2012 promising to get a grip on gang violence and lawlessness. After some initial progress, the situation deteriorated and killings hit their highest level on record last year.

The president’s office had no immediate response to a request for comment.

Pena Nieto is constitutionally barred from seeking re-election, and the prospects of his Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) retaining power look grim. PRI candidate Jose Antonio Meade has been running third in nearly all opinion polls.

The principal beneficiary has been leftist Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, who has built up a strong poll lead on the back of widespread disenchantment with the PRI over corruption and rising violence, as well as sluggish economic growth.

But Lopez Obrador has also faced criticism for floating a possible amnesty for criminals to restore order.

In a thinly veiled jab at Lopez Obrador, the CCE said: “While it is true that violence is not solved by violence, it is also true that crime is not ended by forgiveness or calls to Mass.”

(Reporting by Anthony Esposito and Sharay Angulo; Additional reporting by Stefanie Eschenbacher; Editing by Dave Graham and Peter Cooney)