By Esteban Biba
Puerto Barrios, Guatemala, Oct 21 (EFE).- Venezuela’s Jose Luis Linares cried tears of frustration this week when Guatemalan security forces shoved him into a military jeep ahead of his deportation to neighboring Honduras.
Like Linares, thousands of other Venezuelans trying to reach the United States overland are seeing their plans thwarted in that Central American country.
“We only want to continue on to the United States. We have nothing in Venezuela. We’re not doing any harm,” he told Efe while fighting back tears, saying he had unsuccessfully tried to convince the Guatemalan authorities to let him proceed northward.
Linares’ journey ended at an immigration checkpoint on the Motagua River in Puerto Barrios, a municipality roughly 250 kilometers northeast of Guatemala City and very close to one of the three Guatemala-Honduras border crossings.
The 50-year-old man was traveling with five other members of his family, including a three-year-old boy, when they were intercepted by National Civil Police officers just a few kilometers from the border crossing at El Cinchado.
The Linares family are among the 5,269 Venezuelans who have been detained by police and soldiers near the Honduran border between September and October and subsequently expelled from Guatemala, according to the Guatemalan Migration Institute.
Recent rains have made the idea of safely crossing the Motagua River unthinkable, so migrants now have no choice but to use public or cargo transport and try to conceal themselves from the watchful eyes of the Guatemalan authorities.
The crackdown in Guatemala was spurred by a policy shift in the United States, which until a few weeks ago had allowed Venezuelans arriving at the US-Mexico border to enter the country and apply for asylum.
That changed last week, when President Joe Biden’s administration announced that Venezuelans who arrive at the border will be sent back to Mexico immediately after being detained.
The White House’s move is aimed at tackling a dramatic increase in irregular migration from Venezuela in recent years and marks an expansion of Title 42, a US pandemic-related policy that has allowed border agents to quickly expel migrants to prevent the spread of Covid-19.
Also last week, US Ambassador to Guatemala William Popp met with local immigration authorities to analyze the surge in Venezuelan migrants trying to make their way through that country.
Guatemalan immigration authorities say that over the course of 2022 they have expelled a total of 13,284 undocumented migrants, 77 percent of them from Venezuela, a country hard-hit by US sanctions that has been mired in economic crisis for years.
The Guatemalan army, meanwhile, told Efe that some 1,200 soldiers have been sent to the three official crossing points on the Guatemalan-Honduran border – El Florido, Agua Caliente and El Cinchado – amid rumors of new migrant caravans forming in that neighboring country.
“I’ve spent more than a month traveling. I struggled to carry my baby through the jungle (the perilous Darien Gap straddling the Colombian-Panamanian border) and now in Guatemala they’re blocking our way. It’s not fair,” Estela, a 24-year-old Venezuelan, said in the eastern Guatemalan border department of Izabal, whose capital is Puerto Barrios.
With no money to return to their home country and a wall of soldiers in front of them, the range of options for Venezuelans hoping to reach the US has become even narrower.
“We can’t go forward or backward,” said Carlos, a young Venezuelan who had hoped to meet up with several of his countrymen in the southern Mexican state of Chiapas so they could travel together to the US-Mexico border. EFE