Migrant surge into Guatemala reaches 3,500, heads for Mexico

Migrant surge into Guatemala reaches 3,500, heads for Mexico
By Sofia Menchu and Drazen Jorgic

GUATEMALA CITY/MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – More than 3,500 Central Americans had poured into Guatemala by Friday in U.S.-bound gatherings known as caravans, officials said, posing a headache for the leaders of Guatemala and Mexico amid fierce U.S. pressure to curb migration.

President Donald Trump has repeatedly urged the region to prevent such groups of migrants reaching Mexico’s border with the United States, and the latest exodus from Honduras that began on Wednesday has been accompanied by U.S. border agents.

The migrants, some travelling in groups as small as a dozen people while others formed caravans of more than 100, said they planned to unite at the Guatemalan border city of Tecun Uman before crossing together into Ciudad Hidalgo, Mexico.

Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said his government was monitoring the situation as the migrants approached, saying there were 4,000 jobs available on the southern border, as well as shelters and medical help.

“We are keeping an eye on everything,” Lopez Obrador said during a regular press conference.

Lopez Obrador did not say if Mexico would seek to keep the migrants in the southern part of the country. Most Central Americans who leave their countries escaping poverty and violence are eager to make their way towards the United States.

Under U.S. pressure, Mexican security forces have increasingly broken up large groups as they head north.

On Wednesday, Guatemala’s new President Alejandro Giammattei suggested Mexico would prevent any caravans from reaching the United States.

About a thousand migrants entered Guatemala on Thursday, with local officials busing some of the migrants back to the Honduran border to fill out official paperwork, said Alejandra Mena, a spokeswoman for Guatemala’s migration institute.

“We haven’t returned people from Guatemala and we have a total of about 3,543 people who have so far crossed the border,” Mena said.

At least 600 Honduran migrants spent the night under tents in a shelter in Guatemala City on Thursday night, sleeping on mattresses.

“Now we have more experience, and we know how to treat them,” said Father Mauro Verzeletti, director of the Migrant House shelter in Guatemala City.

Guatemala’s former President Jimmy Morales agreed last July with the U.S. government to implement measures aimed at reducing the number of asylum claims made in the United States by migrants fleeing Honduras and El Salvador, averting Trump’s threat of economic sanctions.

New leader Giammattei said a top priority would be reviewing the text of migration agreements made with the United States.

(Reporting by Sofia Menchu in Guatemala City and Drazen Jorgic in Mexico City; Editing by Dave Graham and Frances Kerry)

Over 1,000 migrants enter Guatemala, caravan heads toward Mexico

By Sofia Menchu

GUATEMALA CITY (Reuters) – At least 1,300 people have entered Guatemala in a new U.S.-bound caravan from Honduras, authorities said on Thursday, putting pressure on the region to satisfy Trump administration demands to contain northbound illegal immigration.

Mexico’s government is bracing for the arrival of hundreds of Central Americans on its southern border in coming days, an event likely to be closely monitored by the U.S. government, which has made curbing illegal immigration a priority.

Arriving in Guatemala chiefly via crossings on its northern border with Honduras, around 1,350 migrants had been registered entering legally by late morning, said Alejandra Mena, a spokeswoman for Guatemala’s National Migration Institute.

U.S. President Donald Trump has put Mexico and Central American nations under pressure to accept a series of migration agreements that aim to shift the burden of dealing with asylum-seekers on to them, and away from the United States.

The bulk of migrants caught on the U.S. border with Mexico depart from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador seeking to escape chronic poverty or gang violence.

Unlike Guatemala, Mexico has refused to become a so-called safe third country obliging it to accept asylum claims from migrants that set foot on its soil. Still, Trump has threatened trade sanctions if it does not contain the flow of people.

Guatemala’s new president, Alejandro Giammattei, said on Wednesday that Mexico’s Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard had told him Mexico would not allow the new caravan to pass.

Mexico’s foreign ministry has not responded directly to that assertion. However, Interior Minister Olga Sanchez said the border would be policed and that the Mexican government would not be issuing any visas of safe conduct to the migrants.

“That’s very clear,” she told reporters.

According to communications shared by some of the migrants on messaging service WhatsApp, some of the Hondurans said that they planned to meet in the town of Santa Elena in northern Guatemala and head for the Mexican border on Saturday.

Under a freedom of movement accord between northern Central American countries, Giammattei said he would let the caravan enter Guatemala provided people had the necessary paperwork.

Some migrants were turned back at the Guatemalan border on Wednesday and Honduran police fired tear gas on others who tried to cross without going through migration checks.

(Additional reporting by Lizbeth Diaz in Mexico City and Gustavo Palencia in Tegucigalpa; Writing by Dave Graham; Editing by David Gregorio)

U.S. Senate panel advances North American trade deal, final vote timing uncertain

By David Lawder

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Senate Finance Committee overwhelmingly approved the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement on Tuesday, moving the revamped North American trade deal a step closer to a final Senate vote in the coming days or weeks.

The committee advanced the USMCA implementing legislation by a 25-3 vote, drawing opposition from Republican senators Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania and Bill Cassidy of Louisiana and Democratic Senator Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island.

The timing of a long-delayed final U.S. congressional vote to approve the trade pact remains uncertain, as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said its consideration would likely have to wait until after a Senate trial over the impeachment of President Donald Trump.

The trade deal, first agreed in October 2018 and revised last month, aims to modernize and broaden the 26-year-old North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

Trump’s Senate trial is also in limbo, because House Democrats have not yet sent articles of impeachment approved in December to the Senate as the two parties argue over terms of the proceedings.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley earlier told CNBC http://bit.ly/36vNLSN television USMCA would “pass the Senate sometime within the next few days or at the most the end of this month.”

Following the Senate panel’s vote, Grassley said the timing was up to McConnell, but articles of impeachment would take precedence over USMCA. A vote could occur quickly as there was little other legislation to stand in its way, he added.

The Senate’s parliamentarian has directed other some other committees to consider the legislation, which could delay a floor vote slightly, but Grassley said those panels were expected to quickly approve the trade deal.

“The intent is for the leader to get them to move quickly,” Grassley added.

The finance committee’s vote indicates broad bipartisan support for USMCA, which includes new chapters covering digital trade, stronger intellectual property protections and new requirements for automakers to use more parts and materials sourced in the region and from high-wage areas, notably the United States and Canada.

Toomey, an ardent free trade Republican, objected to the new automotive content rules, saying they were “designed to raise the cost to American consumers of buying Mexican-made cars.”

“It’s the first time we are ever going to go backwards on a trade agreement,” Toomey said during the committee’s debate.

Cassidy complained that the agreement weakens NAFTA’s investor-state dispute settlement mechanism, which will deter big projects such as a gas pipeline from the United States to Mexico.

Whitehouse, an ardent environmentalist, said he objected to USMCA because the trade deal does not mandate any action to fight global warming and rising sea levels.

(Reporting by Kanishka Singh in Bengaluru; Editing by Andrew Heavens and Tom Brown)

U.S. consulate warns employees as gun battles rock Mexican border city

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – The United States consulate in Mexico’s border city of Nuevo Laredo issued a security alert on Wednesday, warning against gun battles and urging government employees to take precautions.

Gun battles have killed at least three people this week in the northern city bordering the Texas city of Laredo, media have said. It one of the Mexican cities where the U.S. government has sent asylum seekers to wait as their cases are decided.

“The consulate has received reports of multiple gunfights throughout the city of Nuevo Laredo,” it said in a Twitter post. “U.S. government personnel are advised to shelter in place.”

On Twitter, users purportedly from Laredo reported hearing gunfire ringing out from the neighboring Mexican city.

In a Twitter post late on Wednesday, Francisco Cabeza de Vaca, the governor of Tamaulipas, the state home to Nuevo Laredo, blamed the attacks on its Cartel of the Northeast.

“After the cowardly attacks on the part of the Cartel of the Northeast in Nuevo Laredo, the (government of Tamaulipas) will not let down its guard and will continue acting with strength against criminals,” he wrote.

Tension over the cartels intensified in November when suspected cartel members massacred three women and six children of U.S.-Mexican origin in northern Mexico.

U.S. President Donald Trump has threatened to designate the groups as terrorist organizations in response to a series of bloody security breaches triggered by cartel gunmen.

(Reporting by Julia Love; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

‘Oh my God, look at that ship!’: massive cruise liners collide off Mexico

‘Oh my God, look at that ship!’: massive cruise liners collide off Mexico
By Lizbeth Diaz

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – Two Carnival Corp cruise ships collided on Friday in the port of Mexico’s Caribbean resort of Cozumel, the luxury cruise operator said, crushing the stern of a 952-foot-long (290-meter) vessel and leaving passengers stunned at the loud impact.

One person was lightly injured while evacuating a dining room on the massive ship named Carnival Glory, according to Carnival, the world’s largest cruise operator. A passenger said the incident occurred during rough sea conditions.

“Carnival Glory was maneuvering to dock when it made contact with Carnival Legend which was already alongside,” the company said in a statement. “We are assessing the damage but there are no issues that impact the seaworthiness of either ship.”

Carnival added that the ship itineraries were not affected.

Civil protection authorities in Cozumel said the incident took place at around 8:30 a.m. (1430 GMT) and that officials were investigating.

Passenger Jordan Moseley said he was eating breakfast on the docked Carnival Legend, a 963-foot-long (294-meter) ship that can hold more than 2,000 passengers, when he felt the crash.

“All of a sudden we felt the ship rock to one side and then back into place,” Moseley told Reuters. “A few minutes later, the cruise director announced that the Carnival Glory had crashed into our ship while docking due to the high winds and rough ocean conditions in Cozumel.”

A video taken from an upper deck of Carnival Glory, which can carry nearly 3,000 passengers, shows pieces of the ship tumble onto the deck of the oncoming vessel, with some splashing into the churning water.

“Oh my God, look at that ship!” an onlooker can he heard saying in the video posted on social media.

Other images of the battered vessel show a railing along the Carnival Glory stern bent downwards at a roughly 45-degree angle, revealing a twisted and mangled ship interior.

Christopher Macijeski, who was on a third cruise ship nearby, said there was a loud boom from the impact.

“Could see it coming before it happened,” he said.

(Reporting by Lizbeth Diaz, Oleksandr Ieltsov and Mariana Sandoval; Additional reporting and writing by Daina Beth Solomon, Editing by Alistair Bell and Will Dunham)

U.S. House passes new North American trade deal replacing NAFTA

By David Lawder

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. House of Representatives overwhelmingly approved a new North American trade deal on Thursday that includes tougher labor and automotive content rules but leaves $1.2 trillion in annual U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade flows largely unchanged.

The House passed legislation to implement the U.S.-Mexico Canada Agreement 385-41, with 38 Democrats, two Republicans and one independent member voting no.

The bipartisan vote contrasted sharply with Wednesday night’s Democrat-only vote to impeach U.S. President Donald Trump. [nL1N28S09W]

The House vote sends the measure to the Senate, but it is unclear when the Republican-controlled chamber will take it up. Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell has said that consideration of the measure would likely follow an impeachment trial in the Senate, expected in January.

The USMCA trade pact, first agreed upon in September 2018, will replace the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement. Trump vowed for years to quit or renegotiate NAFTA, which he blames for the loss of millions of U.S. factory jobs to low-wage Mexico.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi gave USMCA a green light last week after striking a deal with the Trump administration, Canada and Mexico to strengthen labor enforcement provisions and eliminate some drug patent protections.

Pelosi said she was not concerned about Democrats handing Trump a political victory on USMCA as they are trying to remove him from office.

“It would be a collateral benefit if we can come together to support America’s working families, and if the president wants to take credit, so be it,” Pelosi said during House floor debate before the vote.

CONCESSIONS FOR DEMOCRATS

The changes negotiated by Democrats, which include tighter environmental rules, will also set up a mechanism to quickly investigate labor rights abuses at Mexican factories. They have earned the support of several U.S. labor unions that have opposed NAFTA for decades.

U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer made a concession by dropping a requirement for 10 years of data exclusivity for biologic drugs, a provision that Democrats feared would keep drug prices high and that they called a “giveaway” to big drugmakers.

Some of the most ardent trade skeptics in Congress have voiced support of the deal, including Representative Debbie Dingell, who represents an autoworker-heavy district in southeastern Michigan. Dingell said in television interviews that she backed the bill, even though she was skeptical it would bring auto jobs back to Michigan.

Representative Ron Kind, a pro-trade Democrat from Wisconsin, one of the top dairy-producing states, praised new access to Canada’s closed dairy market under USMCA.

“A no vote is a return to the failed policy of the old NAFTA, the status quo, rather than this more modernized version,” Kind said in floor debate.

AUTOS, DIGITAL, CURRENCY

The agreement modernizes NAFTA, adding language that preserves the U.S. model for internet, digital services and e-commerce development, industries that did not exist when NAFTA was negotiated in the early 1990s. It eliminates some food safety barriers to U.S. farm products and contains language prohibiting currency manipulation for the first time in a trade agreement.

But the biggest changes require increased North American content in cars and trucks built in the region, to 75% from 62.5% in NAFTA, with new mandates to use North American steel and aluminum.

In addition, 40% to 45% of vehicle content must come from high-wage areas paying more than $16 an hour – namely the United States and Canada. Some vehicles assembled in Mexico mainly with components from Mexico and outside the region may not qualify for U.S. tariff-free access.

The U.S. Congressional Budget Office estimated earlier this week that automakers will pay nearly $3 billion more in tariffs over the next decade for cars and parts that will not meet the higher regional content rules.

(Reporting by David Lawder in Washington; Additional reporting by Andrea Shalal in Washington and David Ljunggren in Ottawa; Editing by Matthew Lewis and Leslie Adler)

‘There’s a deal:’ Mexico says USMCA trade pact to be signed Tuesday

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – Canada, Mexico and the United States have reached an agreement on a new North American free trade deal and they will sign it on Tuesday, but the pact still needs the approval of U.S. and Canadian lawmakers, Mexico’s president said.

President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said the three countries had agreed on tweaks to labor, steel and aluminum provisions in the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA), after U.S. Democrats pressed for changes, particularly to strengthen enforcement of new Mexican labor laws.

U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, Canadian Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland and U.S: White House adviser Jared Kushner will take part in the signing ceremony at 1200 (1300 ET), a senior Mexican official said on Twitter.”On our end, there is now a deal. We’re convinced that it’s a good deal for Mexico, just as it is for Canada and United States,” Lopez Obrador said, adding that the signing would happen in Mexico’s historic National Palace.

“In the case of the United States, there’s a deal from the government, but we need Congress to ratify it,” Lopez Obrador said.

U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who will hold a news conference on Tuesday morning, has said the deal is close to being finalized.

(Reporting by Daina Beth Solomon and Abraham Gonzalez, Editing by Frank Jack Daniel)

Mexican president eyes cooperation after U.S. meeting on security

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said on Friday that his government is not at odds with the Trump administration after what he called good meetings on security with U.S. Attorney General William Barr on Thursday.

Lopez Obrador told a regular morning news briefing there was scope for bilateral cooperation on issues such as migration and the trafficking of drugs and arms, but that his government would not accept military intervention by foreign powers in Mexico.

(Reporting by Dave Graham)

Daughter’s murder led activist to hunt for Mexico’s disappeared

By Christine Murray

(Thomson Reuters Foundation) – When a worried parent calls for help finding a missing child, Norma Ledezma says she often immediately has a sense of whether they are likely to be found alive.

Seventeen years after her daughter Paloma disappeared in northern Mexico, Ledezma has helped hundreds of families cope with the psychological and legal aftermath such cases, and experience has taught her how to react.

“You have to learn to understand human behavior, the victim’s environment, the possible perpetrator’s environment,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

“We’ve found a lot dead and unfortunately most are still missing, that’s the reality.”

The former factory worker, who left school at 11 but has completed a law degree since becoming a campaigner, is one of three finalists for the 2020 Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders.

The 53-year-old founded her organization Justice for our Daughters in 2002 and has had some success.

She succeeded in getting the government to name a justice center for women was named after Paloma, who was 16 when she went missing. She has also helped locate some victims alive, including several who were being trafficked.

Most, however, are never found.

Mexico’s president has promised justice for the more than 40,000 people who disappeared in the country, many in the last decade of corruption and violence fuelled by drug gangs.

But civil society groups have said the government is yet to implement the measures it promised.

They have often stepped in to do the job of authorities – particularly where investigators are unwilling or unable to take on organized crime.

Collectives of mothers who have lost children have scoured the Mexican countryside armed with shovels following tips of where mass graves might hold their loved ones.

About one in four of those listed as missing are women, though the government said earlier this year it was reviewing the data.

Ledezma said the government had no strategy to fix the issue.

The government did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Earlier this year it said it would allow the United Nations to review reports on cases of disappearances.

Paloma left the house for school in March 2002 and never came home. Her killer was never found.

When her body was found, authorities did not run DNA tests on her, instead relying on clothing samples and the color of her nail polish. Ledezma could not bring herself to go into the room where her body lay.

“I saw very concretely, very clearly the impunity and the lack of justice…that unfortunately is still missing in Chihuahua and Mexico,” she said.

It was on the day of Paloma’s funeral that Ledezma decided to help those who seek justice for similar cases and she has pressed on despite threats from organized criminals.

“I haven’t left the country because I have a debt to my daughter… I’ll be here until the last day”, she said.

The 2020 Martin Ennals Award, named after the British activist who ran Amnesty International, will be given to one of the three finalists on Feb. 19 in Geneva.

(Reporting by Christine Murray, Editing by Claire Cozens. 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)

Mexico resists U.S. demands on trade deal, wants Senate to back tweaks

Mexico resists U.S. demands on trade deal, wants Senate to back tweaks
By Dave Graham

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – Mexico’s president on Tuesday pushed back against U.S. efforts to subject his country’s labor market to external oversight under a new North American trade deal, and said the Mexican Senate should be consulted before new changes are signed off.

Mexico approved the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) earlier this year, but U.S. ratification has been held up by Democratic lawmakers seeking to have stricter enforcement of new Mexican labor rules enshrined in the deal.

Speaking at a regular morning news conference, President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said there was no need for supervision of Mexico’s labor standards because his government was fully committed to strengthening workers’ rights.

“We don’t accept that there should be some sort of inspectors checking on whether a company is sticking to what is established by law,” the veteran leftist said.

Instead, Mexico is ready to accept panels made up of representatives of the United States, Mexico and a third country reviewing standards over an extended period, Lopez Obrador said.

Mexican senators should be entitled to give their opinion on what he described as an addendum to the accord, because they would need to ratify any additions, he said.

The president noted Mexican business associations rightly regarded the imposition of monitors on its labor market as a provision which could impede investment.

Mexico’s powerful CCE business association said it was extremely concerned about some of the U.S. labor demands, describing them as “extreme and totally unacceptable.”

“We have the impression that some U.S. players are trying to apply pressure to stop a deal,” the CCE said in a statement. “Respect for Mexican sovereignty is not negotiable.”

Mexico’s chief USMCA negotiator, Jesus Seade, was on Tuesday traveling to Washington for more talks, the government said.

Seade said last week tweaks could be made to how labor disputes are handled to enable an accord, but was cautious on whether a deal was possible this year.

Gearing up for the November 2020 U.S. presidential election, Democrats have been under pressure from American trade unions to ensure that Mexico does not backslide on commitments to strengthen the rights of organized labor in the country.

Those unions have pressed for labor rules that could make lower-cost Mexico less attractive to U.S. companies, which have increased their manufacturing capacity south of the border significantly over the last two decades.

Lopez Obrador said he hoped the USMCA would be approved soon so that the accord is not increasingly caught up in the politics of the U.S. election campaign.

(Reporting by Dave Graham; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama, Steve Orlofsky and Jonathan Oatis)