Donald Trump has threatened to cut off millions of dollars of aid to Honduras if it fails to stop a group of as many as 2,000 migrants fleeing violence and poverty who are attempting to the reach the US border overland.
The migrant caravan set off from the city of San Pedro Sula on Friday, in an attempt to make the grueling 3,000-mile overland journey to the US. The migrants crossed into Guatemala on Monday despite warnings from local authorities that they would no be allowed to enter the country.
Early on Tuesday morning, Trump tweeted: “The United States has strongly informed the President of Honduras that if the large Caravan of people heading to the U.S. is not stopped and brought back to Honduras, no more money or aid will be given to Honduras, effective immediately!”
Honduras is a key ally in Central America, and US troops have been stationed in the country since 1954.
Last year, the US gave Honduras at least $181m in aid, to finance security, anti-drug trafficking and poverty reduction programmes, according to the Washington Office for Latin America, a Washington DC-based group, more than any other Central American country.
While critics of Honduras’ authoritarian government argue that much of the aid is lost to corruption, stopping the aid flow could provoke widespread consequences for both countries.
It was unclear what actions Trump expected from Honduran president Juan Orlando Hernandez, given that migration is not a crime, and the caravan is already in neighbouring Guatemala.
But the US president may look to his beleaguered Guatemalan counterpart Jimmy Morales, who needs US support in his bid to shut down UN-backed criminal cases against him, his family and political allies. Earlier this year, Morales followed Trump’s lead and authorized moving the Guatemalan embassy in Israel to Jerusalem.
Honduras is the second poorest country in Latin America, after Haiti, and one of the most dangerous in the world. Forced migration has surged since a military backed coup in 2009 unleashed a wave of organised crime, violence and environmentally destructive mega-projects.
Miriam Miranda, a leader of the Afro-Honduran Garifuna ethnic group, tweeted: “The #migrantcaravan is the result of the destruction of the country’s institutions and the transfer of resources to the political and economic mafia, and the foreign investors who control Honduras.”
Since the coup, Honduras has emerged as a major transit country for cocaine shipments from South American heading for the US market and the US has given Honduras at least $230m in security aid. Honduras is the country most visited by US special forces in the western hemisphere, with 21 US missions between 2008 and 2014.
The caravan, which includes scores of infants and children, spent the night in the Guatemalan border town Esquipulas where local people donated food and water. On Tuesday morning, the migrants resumed their march north.