A split between two Central American migrants groups came to a head Tuesday when the advocacy organization Pueblo Sin Fronteras called authorities to have a Honduran exile removed from the primary shelter in Tijuana where some 2,000 migrants are staying.
The man who was ejected from the El Barretal shelter, Alfonso Guerrero, made international headlines when he led a group to the U.S. Consulate in Tijuana and demanded in a letter that Honduran migrants be paid $50,000 each to return home to the country they fled in November.
Guerrero’s supporters said he was planning to return to the consulate Tuesday morning with 30 of his supporters but a larger group blocked them.
Municipal and federal police, in a press release, said they detained Guerrero for “altering the public order” by trying to organize a march to the border.
“What he wants to do will hurt the entire caravan, especially the women and children,” said Luis Cruz, 41, of Pueblo Sin Fronteras. “That is why we stopped him and asked authorities to remove him from the shelter.”
Tuesday’s confrontation revealed an ongoing power struggle within the caravan. The group of migrants who removed Guerrero said he had no authority to speak on behalf of the caravan while his supporters say Guerrero stepped up when other leaders abandoned them.
“The problem is that this man wrote a letter demanding $50,000,” said Walter Coello Burtillo, 41, of Honduras. “Here, nobody speaks on behalf of the entire caravan and if they do we hold an assembly first so the people can decide. The assembly rules.”
Burtillo, who supports Pueblo Sin Fronteras but is not a member of the organization, said the caravan has not organized an assembly in the last two weeks. He insisted there would be an assembly in El Barretal Tuesday about 6 p.m.
“There is no direction, there is division,” he said. “We need to organize.”
Burtillo recorded a video of Guerrero, draped in a Honduran flag, being taken away. People shouted, “out, out,” as a police officer put him inside the vehicle.
Before Guererro was detained, he handed his phone and wallet to Deny Ramon Calix, 48.
Calix said Guerrero has a loyal following within the caravan and that outsiders wanted him detained as a way to influence the migrants.
“They called the police and they took him away,” he said. “People don’t want the caravan to be united. They want us divided.”
Tension between Pueblo Sin Fronteras and Guerrero began as soon as Guerrero joined the caravan in Córdoba. Guerrero brought a political element to the caravan that the organizers were uncomfortable with, some of his detractors said.
Specifically, they said, Guerrero spoke out against Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández
“The man was yelling about Juan Orlando,” Cruz said. “But we don’t care about Juan Orlando. We care about the people who want to go to the United States because they can no longer live in their own countries.”
Guerrero left Honduras in 1987 after being accused of planting a bomb in a Chinese restaurant that injured six U.S. soldiers in Honduras. Guerrero claimed the charges were false and, despite protests from the U.S. government, Mexico offered him political asylum. Now 54, he has spent the last 31 years living in Mexico City selling inexpensive jewelry. It is unclear what will happen to him now.
A few hours after police officers detained Guerrero, migrants began advertising the Tuesday night general assembly.
Burtillo walked around El Barretal announcing the meeting through a megaphone. He said people would be able to nominate migrants for a committee that would decide what the caravan would do next. Specifically, he said, they want to find ways of speeding up the U.S. asylum wait list.
Guerrero’s followers, mostly young men from Honduras, watched silently as Burtillo walked by with his megaphone. Still bitter over what happened in the morning, they refused to participate in Tuesday’s general assembly.
“He was the only one helping us and they took him away,” Marvin Antonio Lagos, 24, said of Guerrero.
Lagos, who is from Honduras, said Guerrero established himself as a leader when the previous organizers stopped holding general assemblies in Tijuana. Whenever the migrants weren’t getting enough water or toilet paper, Guerrero would complain to the authorities and made sure the migrants got what they needed, Lagos added.
To members of the caravan not aligned with either side, Tuesday morning’s events were more of a sideshow than a power struggle. Several groups of people have tried to take control of the caravan and failed, they said. Now migrants are skeptical of anyone who tries to organize.
“I don’t know if (Guerrero) was the leader because there have been a lot of people saying they are leaders,” said Santos Hernandez, 36, of Honduras. “They try to have assemblies but most people stay in their tents.”
© 2018 The San Diego Union-Tribune
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.