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Frustration Grows for Migrants         04/21 11:22

   MAPASTEPEC, Mexico (AP) -- Madison Mendoza, her feet aching and her face 
burned by the sun, wept as she said she had nothing to feed her 2-year-old son 
who she'd brought with her on the long trek toward the United States.

   Mendoza, 22, said an aunt in Honduras had convinced her to join the migrant 
caravan, which she did two weeks ago in the capital of Tegucigalpa. The aunt 
said she'd have no problems, that people along the route in Mexico would help 
as they did for a large caravan that moved through the area in October.

   But this time, the help did not come. The outpouring of aid that once 
greeted Central American migrants as they trekked in caravans through southern 
Mexico has been drying up. Hungrier, advancing slowly or not at all, and 
hounded by unhelpful local officials, frustration is growing among the 5,000 to 
8,000 migrants in the southern state of Chiapas.

   "What causes me pain is that the baby asks me for food and there are days 
when I can't provide it," said Mendoza, who fled Honduras with almost no money 
because she feared for her life after receiving threats from the father of her 
son. "I thought that with the baby, people would help me on road."

   Members of the caravan in October received food and shelter from town 
governments, churches and passers-by. Drivers of trucks stopped to give them a 
lift. Little of that is happening this time. And local officials who once gave 
them temporary permits to work in Mexico, now seem to snare them in red tape. 
Truckers and drivers have been told they will be fined if caught transporting 
migrants without proper documentation.

   Mendoza bathed her son, Jos, under a stream of water in Escuintla, a 
Mexican town 95 miles (150 kilometers) north of the Guatemalan border. It was 
the first time she has been able to bath the child since they left Tegucigalpa.

   "I don't even have a peso," she said, teary-eyed. Many migrants are 
collecting mangos and fruits from trees along the route and sharing food among 
themselves.

   Some 1,300 migrants spent the night in Escuintla and were heading north to 
the town of Mapastepec, Chiapas. Mendoza and Jos arrived in Mapastepec on 
Saturday. They joined thousands of stranded migrants waiting to see if local 
authorities provide them with a temporary permit or visa to work in Mexico or 
whether they would continue their trip to the U.S. border.

   Heyman Vzquez, a parish priest in Huixtla, a community along the caravan's 
route, said local support for the Central American migrants has dried up 
because of an anti-migrant discourse that blames them for crime and insecurity.

   "It is due to the campaign of discrimination and xenophobia created through 
social networks and the media that blames migrants for the insecurity in 
Chiapas," he said.

   Oscar Prez, who sells cooked pork in Ulapa, a village along the way, said 
people have become tired of supporting the migrants because of reports that 
"they've become aggressive." He acknowledged, however, that he doesn't know of 
anyone who has been attacked by a migrant.

   The frustration felt by the migrants is affecting Geovani Villanueva, who 
has spent 25 days along with several hundred other migrants at a sports complex 
in Mapastepec waiting for a permit that would let him legally and safely travel 
north with his wife, two small children and four other relatives.

   "I think it's a strategy by the government to wear us out," said Villanueva, 
51.

   The latest caravan is heading north during Holy Week in Latin America, when 
many activists organize processions to dramatize the hardships and needs of 
migrants.  Caravans became a popular way of making the trek because the 
migrants find safety in numbers and save money by not hiring smugglers.

   Mexico is under pressure from the Trump administration to thwart them from 
reaching the U.S. border. In April, President Donald Trump threatened to close 
the U.S.-Mexico border before changing course and threatening tariffs on 
automobiles produced in Mexico if that country does not stop the flow of 
Central American migrants.

   U.S. border facilities have been overwhelmed by the number of migrant 
families. U.S. Customs and Border Protection announced recent that 53,000 
parents and children were apprehended at the border in March.

   Nancy Valladares, who is from the city of Progreso in Honduras, is part of 
the caravan that reached Mapastepec. She is traveling with her husband and two 
daughters in baby carriages.

   She said the family hoped to reach the U.S. and find help for her 2-year-old 
daughter Belen, who she says was born with microcephaly due to a Zika 
infection, and cannot walk or talk.

   Valladares complained that they weren't able to find anyone to give them a 
ride, and when her family and scores of other migrants climbed on to a 
truck-trailer in Escuintla, federal police forced them to get down and walk.

   Tired and angry, many migrants no longer want to talk to reporters.

   Villanueva, who owned several small stores back in Honduras, said he left 
his homeland because gangs had threatened to kill him after he refused to pay 
extortion.

   He said he left to save his life and one thing is clear to him: there is no 
turning back.


(KA)

 
 
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