Guatemala president faces quick migration test as Honduras caravan nears

GUATEMALA CITY/TEGUCIGALPA (Reuters) - Guatemala's new president faces an early test of his ability to impose migration controls sought by Washington as a caravan of hundreds of people left neighboring Honduras on Wednesday, aiming to cross his country en route to the United States.

President Alejandro Giammattei inherited a contentious deal that his predecessor's government struck with Washington designed to make migrants from Honduras and El Salvador seek asylum in Guatemala rather than the United States.

The conservative politician, who has already discussed migration with top U.S. officials, is scheduled to speak by phone with his U.S. counterpart Donald Trump on Wednesday, his first full day in office.

Giammattei has yet to detail how he will treat the migration agreement, instead focusing on economic development.

"Physical walls aren't going to stop migration... the only things that stop migration are walls of prosperity," Giammattei told Mexican broadcaster Televisa.

Hours after Giammattei took his oath of office, several hundred people set off before dawn from San Pedro Sula in northern Honduras, about 25 miles (40 km) from the Guatemala border.

"Here there's no work, there's nothing. That's why we are fleeing to the United States," a young man traveling with his wife and two children told local Honduran television.

San Pedro Sula, one of Central America's most violent cities, also was the departure point for a large caravan in 2018 that angered Trump, prompting him to press governments in the region to do more to contain migration.

Guatemala's former President Jimmy Morales last July agreed with the U.S. government to implement measures aimed at reducing U.S. asylum claims from migrants fleeing Honduras and El Salvador, averting Trump's threat of economic sanctions.

Giammattei said a top priority would be reviewing the text of migration agreements made with the United States. He also said he would work with Mexico on migration and economic development.

Mexico and Guatemala will hold bilateral talks on migration once the new Guatemalan government has become familiar with "the situation," Mexico Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard said following a meeting with Giammattei he called "cordial."

(Reporting by Frank Jack Daniel in Guatemala City, Daina Beth Solomon in Mexico City and Gustavo Palencia in Tegucigalpa; Editing by Bill Berkrot)

01/15/2020 17:57

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