TAPANATEPEC, Mexico (AP) — Several thousand Central American migrants planned to resume their trek through southern Mexico before dawn Monday, while authorities in that country and Guatemala tried to sort out the killing of a migrant at a border crossing.
On Sunday, while the band of migrants was resting and reorganizing in Tepanatepec, several hundred in another group more broke through border barriers in the Guatemala town of Tecun Uman just as members of the caravan did more than a week earlier. Those migrants clashed with Mexican authorities determined not to let the caravan grow or be repeated.
The new group, whose members called themselves a second caravan, gathered on the international bridge leading from Tecun Uman to Mexico. Guatemalan firefighters confirmed that a 26-year-old Honduran was killed from a rubber bullet hitting his head.
At a news conference late Sunday, Mexican Interior Secretary Alfonso Navarrete Prida denied that his country’s forces were responsible.
He said that Mexican federal police and immigration agents were attacked with rocks, glass bottles and fireworks when migrants broke through a gate on the Mexican side of the border, but that none of the officers were armed with firearms or anything that could fire rubber bullets. Navarrete said some of the attackers carried guns and firebombs.
“Mexico does not criminalize undocumented immigration,” he said.
Also on Sunday, about 300 Salvadorans departed from San Salvador hoping to make their way to the U.S. as a group.
Meanwhile, some of the migrants in the initial caravan, now estimated at 4,000 people, rested Sunday in the shade of tarps strung across the town plaza or picked up trash in Tapanatepec, population 7,500. Others soaked themselves in the nearby Novillero river.
Tensions from a long trek through searing heat with tenuous supplies of food and other goods spilled over Saturday night when a dispute in a food line devolved into a beating. Many in the caravan have been on the road for more than two weeks, since the group first formed in San Pedro Sula, Honduras.
Raul Medina Melendez, security chief for the tiny municipality in Oaxaca state, said the town was distributing sandwiches and water to migrants camped in the central square Saturday night when a man with a megaphone asked people to wait their turn.
Some hurled insults at the man with the megaphone, then they attacked him, Medina said. Police rescued the man as he was being beaten and took him to a hospital for treatment, though his condition was not immediately clear.
On Sunday, several in the caravan took to microphones to denounce the attack.
“Is that the way we’re going to always behave?” a woman from Honduras asked.
Others complained of trekkers smoking marijuana or warned that images of litter and uneaten food made them appear disrespectful.
The group planned to set out early Monday for Niltepec, 54 kilometers (33 miles) to the northwest in Oaxaca state.
The caravan still must travel 1,000 miles (1,600 kilometers) to reach the nearest U.S. border crossing at McAllen, Texas. The trip could be twice as long if the migrants head for the Tijuana-San Diego frontier, as another caravan did earlier this year. Only about 200 in that smaller group made it to the border.
Most of the migrants in the caravan appeared determined to reach the U.S., despite an offer of refuge in Mexico.
Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto launched a program Friday dubbed “You are home,” which promises shelter, medical attention, schooling and jobs to Central Americans who agree to stay in the southern Mexico states of Chiapas or Oaxaca, far from the U.S. border.
Mexico’s interior minister said Sunday that temporary identity numbers had been issued to more than 300 migrants, which would allow them to stay and work in Mexico. The ministry said pregnant women, children and the elderly were among those who had joined the program and were now being attended at shelters.
He said 1,895 had applied for refugee status in Mexico.