WASHINGTON (REUTERS) – U.S. President Donald Trump threatened on Tuesday to withdraw funding and aid from Honduras if it does not stop a caravan of people that is heading to the United States, in his latest effort to show his administration’s tough stance on immigration.
Up to 3,000 migrants crossed from Honduras into Guatemala on Monday on a trek northward, after a standoff with police in riot gear and warnings from Washington that migrants should not try to enter the United States illegally.
“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!” Trump said on Twitter.
It was not clear how Honduras would be able to exercise control over people who had already left the country.
The crowd more than doubled in size from Saturday, when some 1,300 people set off from northern Honduras in what has been dubbed “March of the Migrant,” an organizer said.
The migrants plan to seek refugee status in Mexico or pass through to the United States, saying they are fleeing poverty and drug-fueled violence in their countries.
Reuters could not independently verify the number of participants, but images showed a group carrying backpacks and clogging roads near the border, some waving the Honduran flag.
The impoverished nations of Central America, from which thousands of migrants have fled in recent years, are under mounting pressure from Trump’s administration to do more to curb mass migration.
Guatemala said in a statement on Sunday that it did not promote or endorse “irregular migration.” Guatemalan police initially blocked migrants from reaching a customs booth, Reuters images showed. The group was ultimately able to cross, said march organizer Bartolo Fuentes, a former Honduran lawmaker.
Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez said last month cuts in U.S. support for Central America would hinder efforts to stem illegal immigration as he welcomed China’s growing diplomatic presence in the region as an “opportunity.”
In an interview with Reuters, Hernandez expressed regret that prior U.S. commitments to step up investment in Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador had been scaled back since Trump took office.
China is strengthening ties with Central America. In August, El Salvador broke off diplomatic relations with Taiwan in favor of China, citing economic reasons and following on the heels of Panama in 2017.
Honduras is one of a dwindling number of countries that still has formal diplomatic ties with Taiwan.
(Reporting by Doina Chiacu in Washington and Frank Jack Daniel in Mexico City; Editing by Bernadette Baum, Susan Thomas and Frances Kerry)
(Honduran migrants, part of a caravan trying to reach the U.S., gesture while arriving to the border between Honduras and Guatemala, in Agua Caliente, Guatemala October 15, 2018. Photo: Jorge Cabrera-REUTERS)