GUATEMALA CITY (AP) – Guatemala and Honduras have set up a joint border task force to fight criminal gangs and tackle other causes of migration as part of an attempt to reduce the number of people headed north to the United States, officials said Monday.
The "Maya-Chorti" task force comprises around 700 agents from police, military, intelligence, and migration agencies. It will be based at the Central American neighbors' El Florido crossing and have a 12-mile (20-kilometer) radius of operation on either side of the border.
Guatemalan Foreign Secretary Carlos Raúl Morales said the matter was discussed with the United States, but was born as a border-security project along the lines of a similar task force the Central American country has with Mexico.
U.S. Vice President Joe Biden met with the presidents of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador in early March on ways to improve the lives of Central Americans and lower migration rates.
President Barack Obama has included $1 billion in aid for Central America in his budget request to Congress.
Jose Carvajal, a priest with the Roman Catholic organization Pastoral Care of Migrants, said militarizing the border is cause for concern about possible violations of migrants' rights. He argued that the best way to lower migration is through development projects.
Guatemalan Interior Secretary López Bonilla said the measure is also part of a move by the two governments to open customs and facilitate the legal movement of goods, people and services beginning in December.
"Obviously opening borders implied an issue of threats and vulnerability," he said, "so we are getting ahead of that process by creating this task force."