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In Pictures: Desperation to migrate grows in battered Honduras | Latin America News



The second-largest city in Honduras, San Pedro Sula, is the economic engine and the departure gate for thousands of Honduran migrants in recent years. There, many families are caught in a cycle of migration. Poverty and gang violence push them out and increasingly aggressive measures to stop them, driven by the United States government, scuttle their efforts and send them back.

The economic damage of the COVID-19 pandemic and the devastation wrought by November’s hurricanes have only added to those driving forces. Word of a new administration in the US with a softer approach to migrants has raised hopes, too.

In his first weeks in office, US President Joe Biden signed nine executive orders reversing Trump measures related to family separation, border security and immigration. But fearing a surge in immigration, the administration also sent the message that little will change quickly for migrants arriving at the southern US border.


The Chamelecon River flows by the Saviñon Cruz neighbourhood which was completely submerged during last year’s hurricanes Eta and Iota in San Pedro Sula. [Moises Castillo/AP Photo]

The Sula Valley, Honduras’s most agriculturally productive, was so heavily damaged by hurricanes Iota and Eta that international organisations have warned of a food crisis. The World Food Programme says three million Hondurans face food insecurity, six times higher than before the hurricanes. The dual hurricanes affected an estimated four million of 10 million Honduran people. The area is also Honduras’s hardest-hit by COVID-19 infections.

“It’s a vicious cycle,” said Dana Graber Ladek, head of the International Organization for Migration office in Mexico. “They’re suffering poverty, violence, the hurricanes, unemployment, domestic violence, and with that dream of a new [US] administration, of new opportunities, they’re going to try [to migrate] again and again.”

A man cleans outside his shack, built after his home was destroyed by last year’s hurricanes Eta and Iota in the La Samaritana community of La Lima, on the outskirts of San Pedro Sula. [Moises Castillo/AP Photo]

The last several attempted caravans have been foiled, first in Mexico and later in Guatemala, but the daily flow of migrants moved by smugglers continues and has shown signs of increasing. The hope and misinformation associated with the new US administration help that business too.

After the 2018 caravans and rising number of migrants at the US border in early 2019, the US government pressured Mexico and Central American countries to do more to slow migration across their territories. Numbers fell in the latter half of 2019 and Mexico and Guatemala effectively stopped caravans in 2020. In December, a caravan leaving San Pedro Sula did not even make it out of Honduras.

But the US has reported a rising number of encounters at the border, showing that beyond the caravans, the migration flow is increasing again.

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Colombia launches ‘elite force’ to target rebels, drug gangs | Crime News



The new unit consisting of 7,000 personnel will be deployed to border with Venezuela and to drug trafficking hotspots.

Colombia on Friday launched a new military unit to target coca crops and cocaine production, illicit mining, and the illegal armed groups who use such activities for financial gain.

Colombia’s decision to launch the unit, known as CONAT in its Spanish initials, came while the country was preparing to restart aerial spraying of coca crops with the herbicide glyphosate – possibly starting at the end of March – depending on the government receiving approval from the Constitutional Court.

“The unit was born to hit, repress, and break down the structures of drug trafficking and transnational threats linked to illegal mining, the trafficking of wildlife and people, and – of course – any transnational form of terrorism,” President Ivan Duque said at a military base in Tolemaida.

Colombia, considered the world’s leading producer of cocaine, suspended aerial spraying of glyphosate in 2015 following warnings by the World Health Organization that the chemical was potentially damaging to health and the environment.

The new unit will be deployed to zones such as the Catatumbo region on the border with Venezuela, as well as the provinces of Cauca and Putamayo [Courtesy Colombian Presidency/Handout via Reuters]

The new unit, consisting of 7,000 personnel, will be deployed to zones such as the Catatumbo region on the border with Venezuela, as well as the provinces of Cauca and Putamayo, Defence Minister Diego Molano said.

Colombia has faced constant pressure from the United States, a major destination for cocaine, to reduce the size of crops of coca, the drug’s chief ingredient.

During 2019, coca crops covered some 154,000 hectares (380,000 acres) in Colombia, with a potential to produce 1,137 tonnes of cocaine, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. There are no figures available for 2020.

The armed forces eradicated 321,240 acres (130,000 hectares) of coca last year, according to the government, and seized 500 tonnes of cocaine.

Drug trafficking has long driven Colombia’s internal armed conflict, which has left more than 260,000 dead and millions displaced.

During his address, surrounded by helicopters, tanks and hundreds of soldiers, Duque also said the force would pursue “without qualms” members of the ELN – the last active rebel group in Colombia, as well as drug gangs and ex-FARC rebels who have abandoned the terms of a 2016 peace deal, he said.

“Soldiers, it is a morally necessary, morally correct battle … Let’s go for the defence of Colombia!” he said.

Surrounded by helicopters, tanks and hundreds of soldiers, President Ivan Duque also said the force would pursue ‘without qualms’ members of the ELN and ex-FARC rebels [Courtesy Colombian Presidency/Handout via Reuters]

When he first announced the creation of the elite force earlier this month, he said many of its targets “are protected in Venezuela” though he did not mention direct military action in the neighbouring country. On Friday, Duque did not mention Venezuela.

But his statement prompted Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro to pledge to “respond forcefully”.

From Caracas, he said the country’s security forces should “clean the barrels of our rifles to answer them at any level we need to answer if Ivan Duque dares violate the sovereignty of Venezuela.”

Colombia and dozens of other countries recognise opposition leader Juan Guaido as interim president, prompting Venezuela to break off diplomatic ties with its neighbour in 2019.

Colombia has repeatedly accused Venezuela of providing refuge to leftist armed groups, a charge Caracas has denied.

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