By Sofia Menchu and Gustavo Palencia
GUATEMALA CITY/TEGUCIGALPA (Reuters) - Guatemala invoked special measures for security forces on Thursday, after thousands of Central American migrants crossed the border without authorization as part of a caravan aiming to reach the United States.
President Alejandro Giammattei's declaration gives security forces additional powers to disperse public gatherings in six of Guatemala's departments, as more Central American migrants are expected to try to enter the country in the coming days.
On Thursday morning, more than 2,000 caravan members, many wearing face masks, barged past armed Guatemalan troops at the border, as they sought to escape poverty exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic.
Guatemalan officials expressed concern about contagion.
"We're talking about a caravan in the middle of a pandemic. The situation is complicated because they broke the health protocols and we don't know who has entered (the country)," said Guatemala's migration director Guillermo Díaz.
One member of the caravan died in Guatemala on Thursday after falling from a trailer and getting trapped under its wheels, the Guatemalan Red Cross reported.
The caravan is the biggest since the coronavirus pandemic hit Central America in March, triggering strict government shutdowns that battered already precarious economies, leading to rises in unemployment and poverty.
It is likely to face challenges crossing through Mexico, where President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has deployed the National Guard to the border with Guatemala and dispersed previous caravans under pressure from the United States.
Republican President Donald Trump has made cracking down on unauthorized immigration a key part of his platform, ahead of the U.S. presidential election in a month's time.
Members of the caravan said they were fleeing dire conditions in Honduras, which is experiencing the worst economic decline in its history.
"No one migrates because they want to, it's out of necessity," Carlos, a Honduran migrant who asked not to use his last name, told Reuters via WhatsApp after reaching Guatemala. "We don't have any money to eat."
Migration experts said the pandemic has exacerbated long-standing social issues in Central America.
"This new caravan is yet another effect of the pandemic, but even more than that, it's a result of social inequalities that are on the rise," said Misael Hernandez, a migration expert at the Colegio de la Frontera Norte.
(Reporting by Sofia Menchu and Gustavo Palacio; Additional reporting by Lizbeth Diaz; Writing by Laura Gottesdiener and Drazen Jorgic; Editing by Frank Jack Daniel, Rosalba O'Brien and Daniel Wallis)