Migrants in caravan shrug over US vote, eye change at home

Migrants from Central American countries -mostly Hondurans- heading in a caravan to the US, get on board a truck on the Puebla-Mexico City highway, in Puebla state, Mexico, on November 5, 2018. (AFP)
Updated 08 November 2018
0

Migrants in caravan shrug over US vote, eye change at home

  • Mexican authorities say some 3,230 migrants from the caravan have requested refuge

MEXICO CITY: The migrants in a caravan used by President Donald Trump as a campaign issue were almost universally unaware of the results of the US midterm elections.
The Central Americans were more concerned with the dangers of northern Mexico as they struggled to reach the US border, still hundreds of miles away, than with who controls the US Senate and House of Representatives.
Kenia Johana Hernandez, a 26-year Honduran farmworker, left her country with her 2-year-old daughter because she couldn’t afford child care or schooling. Asked if her decision to emigrate had anything to do with the US elections, the answer was a simple, “No.”
For her, the caravan was merely a safety measure. “If I had come alone with just my daughter, maybe I wouldn’t have even made it this far because it is so dangerous,” she said.
Gilberta Raula, 38, from Samala, Guatemala, joined the caravan at the Mexican border because it seemed her best chance to get her 15-year-old daughter out of the country. She left six other children behind, but wants to give her daughter an opportunity to study and work.
She had only the vaguest idea of the issues surrounding Tuesday’s US midterms.
What she did know, she said, was that “the US president has acted badly.”
“The way we hear it, he doesn’t like anybody,” she said of Trump. Told that Trump’s Republican party had lost control of the US House of Representatives she said, “Ah, good.” She, like others, expressed hope that somehow it might help their chances of finding refuge.
Franklin Martinez, a 46-year-old farmworker from La Esperanza, Honduras, said Wednesday he’d probably stay in Mexico City for a while before setting off again northward, to see if things changed following the US elections.
“Because now it’s an anti-immigrant wave,” Martinez said. “They’re not well-received at the border.”
Experts agree that the formation of this latest caravan and the others that have set off for the US border before it have far more to do with politics in Central America and current conditions in Mexico, where drug gangs frequently kidnap migrants to demand ransom from their families in the US.
“The first concern is collective security, there is safety in numbers,” said Mexican security analyst Alejandro Hope. “There is a political logic to this, but it’s not exactly aimed at influencing the US elections.”
“It brings pressure on the authorities of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador more than anything else,” he said. “This sends a message that there is a human rights crisis in the Northern Triangle of Central America.”
That view was shared by former Honduran lawmaker Bartolo Fuentes, who helped formed the caravan of just a few hundred migrants that set out from Honduras on Oct. 13, before growing to as many as 7,000 at its peak. Fuentes told a news conference at the Mexico City stadium where the migrants are staying that the caravan embarrasses the Honduran government “because now the world is seeing the tragedy we live with.”
Raul Benitez, a security expert at the National Autonomous University of Mexico, said the Republican losses in the House suggest that Trump tried to use the migrants “politically, to depict the caravan as an invasion, and it didn’t work.”
Benitez said the caravan has put as much pressure on Mexico as the United States. After the migrants entered, Mexico came under pressure to accelerate the refugee and asylum process for Central Americans.
“The caravan shows that Mexico could give more humanitarian treatment to these people,” said Benitez, “that Mexico should treat these people the way Mexico wants the US to treat migrants.”
On Wednesday afternoon, Christopher Gascon, the Mexico representative for the International Organization for Migration, estimated there were about 6,000 migrants at the sports complex and maybe another 4,000 in caravans that are working their way through southern Mexico.
But some migrants had been visiting the organization’s tent asking about how they can return home.
“They perhaps didn’t have a very clear idea of what they faced,” Gascon said. He said the first bus leaving Mexico City to take migrants back to their countries was scheduled to depart Wednesday night with 40 to 50 people.
Meanwhile, other migrants were focusing on the daunting task of reaching the US border and presenting asylum requests there. The US elections occupied only a small part of their thoughts.
Nora Torres, a 53-year-old Honduran, anxiously asked a reporter: “How did he (Trump) do? Did he do well or poorly?“
Torres had run a small restaurant but closed it because gangs were demanding too much protection money.
For her, Trump’s threats to make attaining asylum even more difficult, of detaining applicants in tent cities and of sending as many as 15,000 US troops to the southern border were hard to understand.
“The United States needs Hispanic labor, because it is cheaper,” she said. “So why do they discriminate against us?“


French police clear fuel protesters as movement wanes

Updated 55 min 40 sec ago
0

French police clear fuel protesters as movement wanes

PARIS: French police cleared demonstrators blocking roads and fuel depots Tuesday in a crackdown on the so-called "yellow vest" protests against President Emmanuel Macron that have left two people dead.
Hundreds of thousands of people blockaded roads across France on the weekend, wearing high-visibility yellow vests in a national wave of defiance aimed at 40-year-old centrist Macron.
The protests had waned by Tuesday but the disruption underlined the anger and frustration felt by many motorists, particularly in rural areas or small towns, fed up with what they see as the government's anti-car policies, including tax hikes on diesel.
Macron, who has made a point of not backing down in the face of public pressure during his time in office, called Tuesday for more "dialogue" to better explain his policies.
Prime Minister Edouard Philippe, meanwhile, urged ruling Republic On The Move lawmakers to stand firm in the face of voter criticism, saying the party would reap the rewards of its "constancy and determination".
Two people have been accidentally killed and 530 people injured, 17 seriously, over four days of protests that have come to encompass a wide variety of grievances over the rising cost of living.
A 37-year-old motorcyclist died Tuesday from injuries sustained a day earlier after being hit by a truck making a u-turn to avoid a roadblock in the southeast Drome region, a judicial source said.
The other victim was a 63-year-old woman accidently killed by a panicked driver in the eastern Savoie region on the first day of protests.
Interior Minister Christophe Castaner has instructed police to break up the remaining roadblocks, particularly those around fuel depots and sites of strategic importance.
"We can see today that there are real excesses from a movement that was for the most part conducted in good spirit on Saturday," he told France 2 TV.
The ministry said about 20 "strategic" sites and fuel depots in several regions were cleared of protesters Tuesday.
Some hardliners kept blockades and slowdowns at some tolls, motorway junctions, and roundabouts.
"The movement won't run out of steam," said Olivier Garrigues, a farmworker at one protest in the south. "There are less people because everyone is working. But we are organised."
Several of the injuries were caused by motorists trying to force their way through roadblocks, but some protesters have also been accused of intimidating and endangering motorists.
A 32-year-old man with a history of violence was given a four-month prison sentence by a Strasbourg court for putting lives at risk by taking part in a human chain across a motorway.
Protests have also erupted in Reunion, a French overseas territory island in the Indian Ocean, where authorities introduced a partial curfew in some neighbourhoods after a night of violence.
AFP judicial sources Tuesday denied media reports that a group of men arrested earlier this month in the city of Saint-Etienne on suspicion of plotting an attack had planned to strike during Saturday's fuel protests.
On Tuesday, the "yellow vests" appeared to be losing steam, with only a fraction of the nearly 300,000 people that manned the barricades on Saturday still camped out in the bitter cold.
Further protests are planned for the weekend, with some calling for a blockade of Paris.
The grassroots movement, which has won backing from opposition parties on both the left and right as well as a majority of respondents in opinion polls, accuses Macron of squeezing the less well-off while reducing taxes for the rich.
"It's about much more than fuel. They (the government) have left us with nothing," Dominique, a 50-year-old unemployed technician told AFP at a roadblock in the town of Martigues, near the southern city of Marseille.
Macron's government, trying to improve its environmental credentials, has vowed not to back down on trying to wean people off their cars through fuel taxes.
The government has unveiled a 500-million-euro package of measures to help low-income households, including energy subsidies and higher scrappage bonuses for the purchase of cleaner vehicles.