By Sofia Menchu and Lizbeth Diaz
GUATEMALA CITY/MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador on Friday said he suspected an ulterior motive behind a caravan of more than 2,000 migrants from Central America that set out just a month before the U.S. presidential election.
Lopez Obrador, who has taken measures against illegal immigration to keep Mexico off U.S. President Donald Trump’s campaign agenda, said he suspected the caravan’s departure from Honduras on Thursday was timed to provoke.
“It is very weird, very strange,” the president said at a regular government news conference.
“It’s a matter that I believe is linked to the U.S. election,” he said, adding that he did not have “all the elements” to support his theory.
On Thursday, more than 2,000 migrants, many wearing face masks against the coronavirus, barged past armed Guatemalan troops at the border, with some saying they were seeking to escape poverty exacerbated by the global pandemic.
Pressure has been building in Central America, where months of strict lockdowns have devastated local economies and spread hunger, while restrictions on freedom of movement have slowed traditional flows of immigration toward the United States.
On Friday morning there were signs some caravan members were choosing to return home following threats of consequences from the Mexican and Guatemalan governments and after spending a night in the open because churches and other shelters remain closed because of coronavirus risks.
Guatemala’s government invoked special powers in much of the country on Thursday to give security forces more latitude to break up the group.
Mexico warned of prison sentences of up to 10 years for people who “put in danger of contagion the health of others” in a statement instructing officials to toughen health checks at entry points on the border with Guatemala.
(Reporting by Sofia Menchu and Lizbeth Diaz; Writing by Frank Jack Daniel; Editing by Steve Orlofsky)