SUCHIATE, Mexico – The growing presence of Mexican security forces has resulted in a significant reduction in the number of undocumented migrants crossing the Suchiate River to make their way from Guatemala into Mexico.
Israel Lopez Ordoñez, a Guatemalan who earns his living ferrying people and goods across the river, told EFE that the volume of traffic started falling a week ago.
“Yes, it has dropped quite a bit,” he said. “Things will never be the same, because on seeing the presence of authority here, people will no longer dare to cross.”
Lopez, who charges migrants 25 pesos ($1.30) a head for passage across the Suchiate, said that Mexico’s announcement of plans to deploy thousands of National Guard troops to the border had an immediate deterrent effect on migrants from outside the region.
Most of the people venturing to make the journey now are from El Salvador, he said.
“They were quite a few, the people who from Congo, from Haiti, from Cuba. But no longer from those places now,” Lopez said.
More than 1,500 boat operators ply this stretch of the Suchiate between Ciudad Hidalgo, Mexico, and the Guatemalan town of Tecun Uman, and the core of their trade is carrying shopkeepers and merchants who make the trip daily to buy and sell goods.
Grain merchant Zeferino Rodas said that the larger security presence has hurt his business.
Away from the border, the slow deployment of the National Guard to Mexico’s southernmost state of Chiapas continues amid confusion among local officials about what exactly the troops will do.
President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, who took office Dec. 1, originally conceived of the National Guard as a new public-safety force to suppress violent crime, but has seen himself forced to re-purpose the body for border protection.
Faced with threats by US President Donald Trump to levy tariffs on all Mexican imports if Mexico didn’t halt the northward flow of migrants, Lopez Obrador agreed to send the National Guard to the Guatemalan border.
Suchiate’s mayor, Eloina Hernandez Aguilar, acknowledged having concerns about “not knowing what is the mission of the National Guard,” but said she was confident the troops would stop unauthorized immigration.
In a press conference Monday at city hall in Tapachula, Chiapas, Mexico’s deputy foreign secretary for Latin America and the Caribbean, Maximiliano Reyes Zuñiga, said that more than 420 members of the National Guard have taken up positions on the border.
The plan calls for some 2,400 guard members – 40 percent of the force’s total complement of 6,000 – to be deployed on the border with Guatemala.
At the same time, Lopez Obrador is preparing to meet later this week in Tapachula with Salvadoran President Nayib Bukele to discuss the Mexican leader’s program of promoting economic development in Central America as the real answer to forced migration.