(SAYULA, Mexico) – Thousands of Central American migrants traveling through Southern Mexico in a caravan continued their journey to the US by taking a car-free stop on the highways on Saturday after a governor had canceled a short offer of dozens of buses to Mexico City faster.
Governor Miguel Angel Yunes announced Friday night that authorities in the Gulf Coast state of Veracruz would not only provide migrants with humanitarian aid, but also fines to take them to the country's capital, three weeks after the migrants began their grueling journey.
"It's very important that they can move from Veracruz to another location soon," Yunes said in a video message. "That's why we offered them a transport so that they could drive tomorrow to Mexico City or to the desired location."
The organizers of the caravan of some 4,000 migrants told their members that they would leave the city of Sayula on Saturday at 5am in convoys of 10 buses for the 10- to 12-hour journey. A cheering caravan coordinator told the group, "We're all going!"
Almost immediately afterwards, Yunes released a second video that said that Mexico City's water system would be maintained and that 7 million people would be without water over the weekend. Therefore, it would not be correct to send the migrants there. Maintenance has been known for weeks.
The migrants were surprised and disappointed by the decision before embarking on their own to La Isla, a city about 70 kilometers away. The day before, the migrants made a trek of 65 miles (65 miles) from Juchitan (Oaxaca) to Donaji (Oaxaca) and then on to Sayula.
"They play with our dignity. If only you could have seen the happiness of people last night when they told us we were going by bus, and today we are not there, "said Gerardo Perez, a 20-year-old migrant tired from the trip.
Saira Cabrera, a 36-year-old immigrant traveling with her husband and two children aged 7 and 13, said she was frustrated.
"It was a flop that they first told us yes and then said no. People are crazy and confused, "she said.
The organizers of Caravan issued a statement rejecting Yunes' decision and demanding that he fulfill his offer of buses to Mexico City. The migrants' demand for buses to the capital was also ignored by the Mexican government a few days earlier when they were in Juchitan.
The recent reversal comes as the Mexican authorities appear conflicted and divided over their approach to the caravan.
On Friday, another caravan of migrants – this time from El Salvador – crossed the Suchiate River to Mexico. It brought 1,000 to 1,500 people who wanted to reach the US border.
This caravan tried to cross the bridge between Guatemala and Mexico, but the Mexican authorities told travelers that they needed passports and visas, and that they needed to enter groups of 50 for processing.
The Salvadorans expressed concerns that they would be deported. They turned and waded across a shallow section of the river to get to Mexico.
Although the police were present, they did not try to stop the migrants who later walked on a highway towards the nearest big city, Tapachula.
Mexico now faces the unprecedented situation of three caravans spanning more than 500 miles of highways in the states of Chiapas, Oaxaca and Veracruz, with more than 6,000 migrants in total.
The first, largest group of predominantly Honduran migrants arrived in Mexico on 19 October. Although this caravan once amounted to 7,000, it has shrunk significantly, though it has become difficult to name an exact number as migrants have moved toward small towns you can.
Another caravan, also with about 1,000 to 1,500 inhabitants, traveled to Mexico earlier this week and is now in Mapastepec, Chiapas. This group includes Hondurans, Salvadorans and some Guatemalans. In addition, the government identified a smaller group of 300 Central American migrants continuing to advance into the Gulf state of Veracruz.
Immigration agents and police have bitten off at the edges of the two furthest caravans.
One federal official, who could not be cited by name, said 153 migrants in the second caravan were arrested earlier this week during road inspections in Chiapas, not far from the Guatemalan border.
There was also pressure on the main caravan. The federal police have trucked up and forced migrants to be dangerous to their habit of holding themselves on the top or sides of the trucks.
At other points along the route, the police have forced the overloaded pickups to drop off the migrants and instruct the passenger cars to stop transporting.
With or without the help of the Mexican government, it remained unclear how many migrants would make it to the US border. Many days of scorching heat, constant walking, chills, rain and illness have taken their toll. Mexico's Interior Ministry says that nearly 3,000 of the migrants in the first caravan have sought sanctuary in Mexico and hundreds more have returned home.
In front of them, they expect even more uncertainty.
President Donald Trump has ordered US troops to the Mexican border in response to the caravans. More than 7,000 active troops have been deployed to Texas, Arizona and California.
Trump has told the US military, which mobilizes on the southwestern frontier, that US troops should react when they are directed against immigrants thrown like a rock. He plans to sign an order next week that could result in large-scale migrants crossing the southern border and blocking anyone who was illegally caught seeking asylum.
Although some migrants collided with Mexican policemen at a bridge on the border with Guatemala, they repeatedly refused to arrive with abusive intentions and said they flee poverty and violence.
"We are not murderers," said Stephany Lopez, a 21-year-old Salvadoran with the first caravan.