Violence broke out between migrants and security forces Thursday when the National Guard detained about 30 migrants at the back of the 2,500-strong caravan which has been traveling north through Chiapas since October 23.
The move triggered a vicious attack against some 50 National Guardsmen equipped with riot gear. At least as many members of the migrant caravan armed themselves with sticks and stones and eventually began forcing the troops back along the highway.
At one point, one of the National Guard troops fell and was immediately fallen upon by at least a dozen people who launched a violent attack, kicking the man and throwing rocks at him from point-blank range as he lay unconscious on the roadway. One took up his shield and struck the man repeatedly with its edge.
But shortly after other migrants arrived, provided the Guardsman with protection and carried him away from the scene.
The migrants caravan had departed from Pijijiapan at 6 a.m. Thursday in the direction of Tonalá. In a short time, it became dispersed, with faster walkers racing ahead despite efforts by organizers that the convoy be led by slower walkers.
At the back of the line, meanwhile, the Guard appeared to move in to detain the stragglers. Witnesses said children were being handled with undue force; in one case a girl was picked up by her hair. About 30 migrants were detained, the newspaper El Orbe reported.
The National Guard said in a statement later that “between 100 and 150 migrants … attacked [them] with sticks and stones” and five Guardsmen had been hospitalized with injuries.
A representative of the National Human Rights Commission observed that most of the National Guard are drafted directly from the military, and some are carrying mental health issues from conflict. He added that they are better trained for combat than controlling migration.
With tensions high under a blazing sun, the caravan reconvened and continued to Nuevo Milenio Santa Cruz where it rested at midday before moving on to Tonalá.
Some migrants walked but the majority hitched rides on empty trucks despite truckers having been warned not to pick up migrants because they could face charges of migrant trafficking, the Associated Press reported.
The migrants are now nearing Arriaga, seen as an important milestone on the journey because it is the southernmost point of the rail line on which the freight train known as The Beast operates. The train has long been a transportation option for migrants, albeit a dangerous one.
Caravan leader Irineo Mújica has said he plans to make for the Chiapas capital of Tuxtla Gutiérrez.
Meanwhile, there is also an immigration checkpoint on the way to Arriaga, where some observers have predicted another showdown with security forces.