AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
Many of the migrants now traveling north originated in Honduras, and journeys like that happen every year. But this group is far larger than most, and it's fueled competing narratives about how it was organized. NPR's Carrie Kahn reports many of the migrants say they heard about it on TV and social media and jumped at the chance to flee in the safety of numbers.
CARRIE KAHN, BYLINE: Thirty-four-year-old Gisele Vasquez and her sister, with seven kids between them, stopped to grab some free coffee and bread handed out by local residents in southern Mexico. They've been walking for days. They heard about the hundreds leaving Honduras via social media last week and grabbed a bus, catching up with the caravan right before it crossed into Guatemala.
GISELE VASQUEZ: (Speaking Spanish).
KAHN: "We'd been waiting months to join up with a caravan leaving," says Vasquez, who said she wanted to flee Honduras after her husband was extorted and killed by gang members. She says there was no way she could pay a smuggler thousands of dollars. And when she got a text on WhatsApp describing the size of this one, it seemed the safest way to go. Talking to migrants on the trek north, you hear similar stories. Early in October, flyers began circulating in the Honduran city of San Pedro Sula. The march north would leave from the city's central bus station.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Ultimo momento.
KAHN: The popular cable station HCH went live from the bus station, showing hundreds already lining up. Bartolo Fuentes, a former legislator and human rights activist who put the original posters up, says the TV shots were the best publicity.
BARTOLO FUENTES: No, no, no, no, (speaking Spanish).
KAHN: "I never, never imagined so many people would join the caravan and that it would grow into the thousands," says Fuentes. The president of Honduras has accused Fuentes of receiving funds from Venezuela. Other officials have said Fuentes is using the migrants to score political points back home. He denies all those claims.
FUENTES: (Speaking Spanish).
KAHN: "You just have to spend 15 minutes with these people, and you'll know why they're fleeing," he says. Rodolfo Pastor Campos is a spokesman for Honduras' main opposition party, Libre.
RODOLFO PASTOR CAMPOS: Saying that behind the caravan are radical political interests, leftist and criminal interests, is grotesque and absurd.
KAHN: He says it's easier for the current government to blame the migrants than provide needed jobs, safety and freedom of political expression. Calls to the Honduran president's spokesman were not answered, and an interview request to the Honduran ambassador in Mexico was declined. Carrie Kahn, NPR News, Mexico City.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.