Honduran Migrant Caravan Grows as it Moves Toward the US

The migrant caravan that started in San Pedro Sula in northern Honduras has grown as it crosses the country. 

Some are walking. Some are in vehicles. But they all seem to have a common goal — they want a better life. 

Many of them want to seek that life in the United States. 

March organizer Bartolo Fuentes told Reuters that participants are fleeing poverty and violence back home. 

San Pedro Sula has one of the world’s highest murder rates. 

Sixty-four percent of the households in Honduras live in poverty. 

The population of the caravan has swelled to an estimated 1,700 from the initial 1,000 who left San Pedro Sula. 

Word of the mass migration has spread through local and social media. 

Many had already planned to leave Honduras and felt traveling in a large group would lessen their chances of falling victim to robbery and assault. 

The Associated Press reports that “families arrived with infants in their arms and toddlers in strollers…most carrying little more than a backpack.” 

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence recently told the presidents of Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala to stop the mass migrations.

“Tell your people: Don’t put your families at risk by taking the dangerous journey north to attempt to enter the United States illegally,” Pence said. 

U.S. President Donald Trump has threatened to cut off aid from countries that allow the caravans to pass through their countries. 

But that means little to people who are poor already and want better for themselves and their children. 

“There’s a misery and a violence that is overwhelming people,” Dunia Montoya, a volunteer helping the migrant in Honduras told the Associated Press. “People no longer have faith in this country and they are fleeing.” 

Sunday night the convoy arrived in Ocotepeque, near the border with Guatemala. The caravan will attempt to cross into Guatemala Monday and then trek to Mexico. 

Some migrants will seek refugee status in Mexico, while others will request a visa to enter the United States. Some who are not granted visas will try to enter the U.S. illegally. 

Mexico issued a statement Saturday saying it does not issue entry visas for people who do not meet “the requirements to transit toward a neighboring country.” Mexico also said it issues visas at its consulates abroad, not at border entry points. 

Roberto Castro, a 26-year old bus driver and construction worker, when he can find work, joined the caravan because he had put his two young children and their mother on a bus two weeks ago, from San Pedro Sula, and he has not heard from them in days. 

He hopes to find them at one of the waystations between Honduras and the U.S. 

“It hurts,” he told the Associated Press, between tears, “because one just wants an opportunity.”

Nicaragua Police Arrest 20, Use Stun Grenades to End Anti-govt Demo

Some 20 protesters were arrested Sunday when Nicaraguan police swooped in to break up a meeting of demonstrators gathering for a protest march against the government of President Daniel Ortega.

Police wielded clubs and hurled stun grenades to break up the  demonstrators gathering at a shopping mall parking lot, beating men, women and even some elderly people.

Those arrested were beaten and dragged down the street to be later loaded onto police patrol vehicles.

Some reporters were also beaten and briefly detained, local independent reporters said.

“They respect no one, not even older people or children,” said Azhalea Solis, head of the Civic Alliance, an umbrella group that represents business people, students and social groups.

Police had earlier announced that they would not allow any unauthorized demonstrations.

Hundreds of anti-riot police officers were deployed early in the day to key points of the capital Managua as well as to the highway to the restive city of Masaya.

Government supporters took over city roundabouts where protesters had planned to gather.

Anti-government demonstrations began on April 18, initially protesting changes in the social security system.

Since then the demonstrations have grown in size and the protestors are calling for the resignation of Ortega and his wife and vice president Rosario Murillo.


Pope to Canonize El Salvador’s Oscar Romero, Pope Paul VI

Thousands of people are converging on the Vatican for the canonization of two of the towering figures of the 20th-century Catholic Church: Pope Paul VI, who oversaw the modernizing church reforms of the 1960s, and Archbishop Oscar Romero, a human rights icon who was murdered for his defense of El Salvador’s poor.

Pope Francis is to celebrate Sunday’s saint-making Mass wearing the blood-stained rope belt that Romero wore when he was gunned down in 1980 and using Paul VI’s staff, chalice and pallium vestment, evidence of the strong influence both men had on history’s first Latin American pope.

About 5,000 Salvadoran pilgrims traveled to Rome for the ceremony, and tens of thousands more stayed up all night to watch it on giant TV screens outside the San Salvador cathedral where Romero’s remains are entombed.

For many it was the culmination of a fraught and politicized campaign to have the church formally honor a man who publicly denounced the repression by El Salvador’s military dictatorship at the start of the country’s 1980-1992 civil war.

“I am here to give glory to Monsignor Romero,” said Aida Guzman, a 68-year-old Salvadoran woman who carried photos of people killed during the war as she joined thousands in an evening procession in San Salvador. “He is a light for our people, an inspiration for all.”

Archbishop of San Salvador

Romero, the archbishop of San Salvador, was gunned down by right-wing death squads as he celebrated Mass, March 24, 1980, in a hospital chapel. A day before he was killed, he had delivered the latest in a series of sermons demanding an end to the army’s repression, sermons that had enraged El Salvador’s leaders.

Almost immediately after his death, Romero became an icon of the South American left and is frequently listed along with Martin Luther King Jr. and Mohandas Gandhi as one of the world’s most influential human rights campaigners. The United Nations commemorates the anniversary of his death each year.


His influence continues to resonate with El Salvador’s youth as the country endures brutal gang violence that has made the Central American nation one of the most violent in the world, a scourge that Francis has frequently lamented.


“He is my guide, and from what I have read about his life, I want to follow in his steps,” said Oscar Orellana, a 15-year-old who participated in the San Salvador procession wearing a white tunic like the one Romero used to wear.

Pope Paul VI


Paul VI, for his part, is best known for having presided over the final sessions of the Second Vatican Council, the 1962-65 church meetings that opened up the Catholic Church to the world. Under his auspices, the church agreed to allow liturgy to be celebrated in the vernacular rather than in Latin and called for greater roles for the laity and improved relations with people of other faiths.


Paul is also remembered for his two most important encyclicals, or teaching documents, that have had a profound effect on the church and Francis: One, “The Progress of Peoples” denounced the mounting inequality between rich and poor, and the other, “Humanae Vitae,” reaffirmed the Catholic church’s opposition to artificial contraception.


The stark prohibition empowered conservatives but drove progressives away. Even today it remains one of the most contested and ignored of papal encyclicals, with studies showing that most Catholics use contraception anyway.


Francis was deeply influenced by Paul, who was the pope of his formative years as a young priest in Argentina and was instrumental in giving rise to the Latin American church’s “preferential option for the poor.”


Francis has styled his papacy on another of Paul’s exhortations, and has adopted the “church of the poor” ethos that Paul embodied when he formally renounced wearing the bejeweled papal tiara.

El Salvador’s Oscar Romero, Pope Paul VI Become Saints

Pope Francis has created seven new saints in a canonization ceremony at the Vatican.  The new saints included two important Church figures who were strong voices in the favor of the poor: Pope Paul VI and Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero. 

Before tens of thousands of faithful in Saint Peter’s Square, Pope Francis elevated to sainthood seven people including Pope Paul VI and murdered Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero.  Both were controversial figures in the church.

Large tapestries with the images of the seven new saints hung from St. Peter’s Basilica as is customary during a canonization ceremony.  The other five lesser-known new saints were from Italy, Germany and Spain.  They included an Italian orphan who died from bone cancer when he was just 19 years old.  

Salvadoran President Salvador Sanchez Ceren, Chile’s President Sebastian Pinera and Spain’s Queen Sofia attended the ceremony.

Pope Paul VI was the third pope to be declared saint by Francis since his election in 2013.  He was best known for having presided over the final sessions of the Second Vatican Council, the church meetings in the 1960s that reformed the Catholic Church and opened it to the world.

Francis said Paul VI, like the apostle, spent his life for Christ’s Gospel, crossing new boundaries and becoming its witness in proclamation and in dialogue, a prophet of an extroverted Church looking to those far away and taking care of the poor.

In a sign of the importance Pope Francis placed on Romero and Paul, Francis wore the blood-stained rope belt Romero wore when he was murdered in 1980 and also used Pope Paul’s staff, chalice and vestment.  Both men strongly influenced Francis and he praised them for their courage in turbulent times and their dedication to social justice and the poor.

Romero was killed in San Salvador by a right-wing death squad.  He had often denounced violence, repression and poverty in his homilies.  He became an icon for Latin America’s peasants.   

In his homily, Pope Francis praised Romero for “disregarding his own life to be close to the poor and to his people.”


Venezuela Economic Crisis Leaves Kids Without Food

As the economic crisis in Venezuela deepens, the number of children asking for money or food in the streets is sharply on the rise. For some children, it means skipping school to find something to eat. They target supermarkets and restaurants and work on corners begging for money just to survive. Adriana Nunez Rabascall has a report from Caracas, Venezuela, narrated by Cristina Caicedo Smit.

Guatemala’s Volcano of Fire Again Spews Ash, Lava

Guatemala’s Volcano of Fire spewed ash and lava Saturday just months after an eruption killed at least 110 people.

The country’s seismology and volcanology institute said hot lava was spilling from the crater and flowing toward a ravine.

Constant rumblings from the volcano sounded like an engine, and columns of gray ash billowed 4,600 meters (15,091 feet) into the air.

Authorities urged nearby residents to evacuate and be alert for possible lahars — flows of mud, debris, water and pyroclastic material — that could be fed by afternoon rains.

The Volcano of Fire is one of the most active in Central America.

Dozens of people were buried alive or burned beyond recognition in June when the volcano expelled smoldering gas, ash and rock, catching residents off guard.

Honduran Migrants Trek North as US Calls for Tighter Borders

More than 1,000 people, including families and women carrying babies, set off from Honduras toward the United States on Saturday, days after the United States urged Honduras’ president to halt mass migration.

Recent attempts at group crossings from Central America to the United States have tested U.S. President Donald Trump’s “zero tolerance” stance on illegal immigration, as people fleeing violence and poverty defy threats of deportation.

“I believe we’ll get to the United States. There’s no work in Honduras, and you live in fear that they’re going to kill you or your children,” said Fanny Barahona, 35, an unemployed teacher who walked with her 9-year-old son and carried a 2-year-old daughter.

Some 1,300 people joined the “March of the Migrant,” planning to walk from San Pedro Sula in northern Honduras through Guatemala and into Mexico, organizer Bartolo Fuentes said. Once in Mexico, they plan to request refugee status to remain in the country or a visa to pass through to the

U.S. border, he said.

In April, media coverage of a similar group of migrants, dubbed a “caravan,” prompted Trump to press for tougher border security and demand such groups be refused entry. Most in the caravan said they were fleeing death threats, extortion and violence from powerful street gangs.

Poverty, violence

More than 64 percent of Honduran households live in poverty, and San Pedro Sula has one of the world’s highest murder rates. 

“There is no work and so much violence that you can get killed walking down the street,” said Javier Solis, 25, who said he had not found work in a year and wanted to enter the United States. On a previous attempt, he was deported to Honduras upon reaching Mexico.

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence met with the presidents of Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador in Washington on Thursday and told them the United States would be willing to help with economic development and investment if they did more to tackle migration, corruption and gang violence.

Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez said U.S. funding was declining, and he called on the United States to reunite migrant children with their parents after Washington’s policy of separating families trying to cross the U.S.-Mexican border put Honduras under “huge pressure.”

Pope Defrocks 2 Chilean Ex-Bishops for Abusing Minors

Pope Francis has defrocked two Chilean former bishops for sexually abusing minors, the Vatican said Saturday, after a meeting between the pontiff and Chile’s president.

The decision to expel former Archbishop Francisco Jose Cox Huneeus and former Bishop Marco Antonio Ordenes Fernandez — the latest heads to roll in a country hit hard by the clerical abuse scandal — is not open to appeal.

Both were stripped of their priesthood “as a consequence of overt acts of abuse against minors,” the Vatican said.

The announcement came a day after the pope accepted the resignation of Washington, D.C., Archbishop Donald Wuerl, who has been blamed for not doing enough to deal with pedophile priests.

Saturday’s defrocking was “an extremely unusual, if not unprecedented” move, wrote Ines San Martin, a Vatican expert working for specialist Catholic website Crux.

Defrocking is considered the church’s harshest penalty for priests, barring the offender from exercising any clerical duties at all, even in private.

Scores of new cases involving the abuse of minors by priests have come to light in Chile, deepening a crisis in the Roman Catholic Church that has also embroiled Pope Francis.

On Saturday, Francis met with Chilean President Sebastian Pinera at the Vatican for talks on the “difficult situation” in Chile.

They discussed “the painful scourge of abuse of minors, reiterating the effort of all in collaboration to combat and prevent the perpetration of such crimes and their concealment,” the Vatican said.

The leaders “shared the hope that the church could live a true rebirth,” Pinera said in a statement.

A total of 167 bishops, priests and lay members of the church in Chile are now under investigation for sexual crimes committed since 1960.

Years of allegations

Fernandez became a bishop in 2006, at age 42, but resigned just six years later, allegedly for health reasons.

It later transpired he had been accused of sexual abuse, sparking both a church and a civil investigation.

“The civil investigation is still ongoing because he’s never responded to a court subpoena to give testimony,” Vatican expert San Martin said.

Last seen in public in 2013, Fernandez has reportedly been living a life of penitence and prayer in Peru, she wrote.

The allegations of abuse against Cox date to the 1970s.

The Vatican said he would remain part of the Schoenstatt Fathers institute in Germany.

Now 85 and reportedly in poor health, the prelate has lived at the institute since 2002, San Martin said.

In a statement, the Schoenstatt Fathers reaffirmed its “willingness to collaborate” with anything that the judicial authorities required.

It pledged to “ask for a medical evaluation to determine whether it is possible for Francisco Jose Cox to return to Chile.”

Legal proceedings were initiated in Germany against Cox over the alleged abuse of a child in care in 2004, Deutsche Welle radio reported.

Good day for survivors 

Francis has already apologized repeatedly to Chileans over the scandal, admitting the church failed “to listen and react” to the allegations, but has vowed to “restore justice.”

In May, the Argentine pontiff accepted the resignation of five Chilean bishops following allegations of abuse and related cover-ups.

Francis himself became mired in the scandal when, during a trip to Chile in January, he defended 61-year-old bishop Juan Barros, who was accused of covering up abuse by pedophile priest Fernando Karadima in the 1980s and 1990s.

Karadima was suspended for life by the Vatican over allegations of child molestation.

Francis eventually accepted he was wrong to defend Barros and subsequently accepted his resignation.

On Saturday, Juan Carlos Cruz, one of Karadima’s victims, tweeted that it was “a good day for the survivors of these monsters.”

“Now it’s up to the Chilean justice to do something!”

WFP: Climate Change to Accelerate World Hunger

The World Food Program warns climate change will have a devastating impact on agriculture and the ability of people to feed themselves.  The WFP forecasts a huge increase in worldwide hunger unless action is taken to slow global warming.  

The WFP warns progress in reducing global hunger is under threat by conflict and the increase in climate disasters. For the first time in several decades, the WFP reports the number of people suffering from chronic food shortages has risen.

This year, it says, 821 million people went to bed hungry, 11 million more than the previous year.  

Gernot Laganda, WFP’s chief of Climate and Disaster Risk Reduction, notes the number of climate disasters has more than doubled since the early 1990s.  He says extreme weather events are driving more people to flee their homes, leading to more hunger.

He told VOA the situation will get much worse as global temperatures rise.

“We are projecting that with a two-degree warmer world, we will have around 189 million people in a status of food insecurity more than today.  And, if it is a four-degrees warmer world, which is possible if no action is taken, we are looking beyond one billion more.  So, there is a very, very strong argument for early and decisive climate action,” said Laganda.

Data from this year’s State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World report by six leading U.N. agencies show the bulk of losses and damages in food systems are due to drought and most of these disastrous events occur in Africa.

Laganda says the number of people suffering from hunger because of climate change-induced drought is rising particularly in Africa and Latin America. He notes that until recently progress in Asia had led to a reduction in world hunger, but that trend has slowed markedly.  


Report: White House Seeks New Approach on Family Separations at Border

A report in The Washington Post says the Trump administration is “actively considering plans that could again separate parents and children at the U.S.-Mexico border,” but would add options to previous approaches.

Citing anonymous sources, the report says the plans are under consideration because of the “soaring numbers of families” trying to enter the U.S. from Mexico.

One plan, the sources say, would allow the government to confine asylum-seeking families for up to 20 days and then give them two choices.  

One choice would have parents remaining in government detention with their children as their cases proceed through the court system, a process that could take months or years.  

The other choice would give parents the option of allowing their children to be taken to government shelters where relatives or guardians could seek custody of the children.

Lee Gelernt, deputy director of the American Civil Liberties Union, said in a statement “It is deeply disturbing that this administration continues to look for ways to cause harm to small children.”

The newspaper account says the White House is not, however, planning to revisit the “chaotic forced separations” that it implemented earlier this year when at least 2,500 children were taken from their parents.  That scheme sparked widespread political outrage and a court order that brought a halt to the deal.

The Washington Post sources say government officials “have proposed new rules that would allow them to withdraw from a 1997 federal court agreement that bars ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) from keeping children in custody for more than 20 days.”

One roadblock, however, to the proposed focus on detaining families, The Post says, is a lack of “detention space.”  The newspaper says “it is unclear where the government would hold all the parents who would opt to remain with their children.”