BOB GARFIELD: This is On The Media, I'm Bob Garfield.
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BOB GARFIELD: For the past two weeks, little was known about the enormous human caravan wending its way toward the US-Mexico border, except that it was a political bonanza for the Republican Party.
PRESIDENT TRUMP: And remember it's going to be an election of the caravan, you know what I'm talking about. [END CLIP]
Donald Trump characterized the exodus as a hoard of would be illegal immigrants, about to surge over our unprotected borders to take our jobs, flood our communities with gang activity and drugs. And as a bonus, harbor Middle Eastern terrorists.
MALE CORRESPONDENT: And is now obviously trying to conflate both Middle Eastern fare and illegal immigration. It's sort of a double racist sandwich.
MALE CORRESPONDENT: We're going to put the safety of Americans in the hands of Mexico, Geraldo? No. [END CLIP]
BOB GARFIELD: That as opposed to the truth. Thousands of desperate people, many of them women and children in fear of their lives, taking advantage of safety in numbers and no need to pay parasitic coyote traffickers. Yet destined to wait in line for weeks or months to apply for legal political asylum. Sarah Kinosian, a freelance reporter traveling with the caravan, has written for The Daily Beast about the cruel reality behind the surge of migrants. Not an invasion or a stunt to bait Donald Trump, but the desperate reaction to ongoing crisis in Honduras. Sarah, welcome to On The Media.
SARAH KINOSIAN: Thank you for having me.
BOB GARFIELD: Now until the last couple of days, we're speaking on Thursday afternoon, it was kind of mysterious how this gigantic population of trekkers would so quickly coalesce. But we now know more. And it begins, I guess, with a guy named Bartolo Fuentes, a leftist former politician in Honduras. What was his role in all of this?
SARAH KINOSIAN: Well, to be honest, I think that Bartolo is sort of the second stage of this. According to Bartolo, and I have not been able to confirm this, there were other people who live in much smaller caravans. He saw information about it on Facebook and decided to get in touch with those organizers. He has a lifetime of experience in facilitating immigration. And so he got in touch with them, verified it and then he shared the post on Facebook. According to Bartolo, what happened was there is maybe 200, 300 people and then there is this news report on Honduras' most-watched cable news network called HCH.
[CLIP IN SPANISH] HCH anchor: “You’re going to go walking to the United States?”
Guest: Yes, good afternoon...
SARAH KINOSIAN: That identified him as a Leader.
[CLIP IN SPANISH] Guest: “His name is Bartolo Fuentes. He’s one of the...
SARAH KINOSIAN: And that ultimately said that he would be paying for food and other costs for people.
[CLIP IN SPANISH] HCH Anchor: So he’s the one who is going to give you food and other costs for this trip?
Guest: We’re expecting help...
SARAH KINOSIAN: And he said he got tons and tons and tons of calls. But, you know, I don't think that sort of the explanation, I think it helps start things and get them going. But then all of the other factors for why people migrate contribute to why it has snowballed in the way that it has. And that doesn't take away from the fact that this is an extraordinary amount of people. But he definitely credits that positive news report with the initial explosion.
BOB GARFIELD: On that report from HCH. Here is what Bartolo Fuentes told you. And I'm reading from your story. “In Honduras, the government wants to minimize why people are leaving. They know they're going to leave and they want to say that they're doing so because of lies and the opposition, not the conditions that they–that is the government–created. This is in line with what the United States is saying that there are false promises being made and this pro-government news program played into that messaging trying to say that there is financing when people really just need to get out. There is this right-wing media meme, it's actually video of caravan members–
[CLIP IN SPANISH] Man: Only the women, only the women first. Come on up, come on.
BOB GARFIELD: Being paid cash money. As the story is told that it's you know, George Soros money or Democratic Party money, bribing people to head northward to invade our borders.
PRESIDENT TRUMP: The Democrats want caravans, they like the caravans. A lot of people say, 'I wonder who started that caravan.' But that has been debunked, has it not? [END CLIP]
SARAH KINOSIAN: Yeah, absolutely. There's been multiple fact checks on it. First by Univision, by the New York Times, by Snopes, there is absolutely nothing to back up that George Soros was paying anyone on the caravan. I believe that it was local businessmen and it was a very, very small amount of money that was passed out to them. And that's really not unusual considering the local support that we're seeing from migrants here in Mexico. Both in the towns, once people get there and then along the road way. There's people passing out water, bananas, clothes–.
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SARAH KINOSIAN: Yesterday, in the town where the migrants settled, people came out and were giving out toys, underwear, all sorts of different necessities. So you're really seeing a groundswell of local support for this caravan.
BOB GARFIELD: Now, what's interesting about that trope is that its origins seem to be the Honduran ambassador to the United States who sent that video footage to a Republican congressman, who immediately tweeted it out and thereupon caught fire. So this is not only midterm politics playing out its Honduran domestic politics. Why would it be the Honduran government's interest to plant that false explanation?
SARAH KINOSIAN: The explanation I've seen mostly going around Honduras and something that I've seen parroted by the Chargé D'affaires. The closest thing to the ambassador that the United States has around Honduras is that this is funded by the opposition of Honduras and that is sort of a political game that people within the country are playing. That sort of more of the line that I've been seeing raised in Honduras. Which makes sense, the country is extremely polarized and they just had a political crisis last year where there was a razor-thin election and the machine's counting the votes shut down and when they came back on the lead of the opponents slowly started to slip away and the current president Juan Orlando Hernandez, who had been the incumbent, won power. And so critics allegedly he stole the election and it sort of threw the country into unrest. Thirty people died in that shuffle, mostly killed by security forces. So the country is kind of grown in polarization since. So, you know, this sort of feeds that narrative with a president that's frankly facing quite a legitimacy crisis.
BOB GARFIELD: Now I know you have to go, let me ask you one last question, is there one story that you've encountered that you think kind of crystallizes the situation, the personal drama, the politics and the fear?
SARAH KINOSIAN: I mean, you turn out and every person you ask has another story that really just makes their claims credible. I met somebody the other day who said that his son was killed by guns. His son was 14. He made a claim to the police and now he's fleeing for his life. He's afraid to come forward, you know, with his name or any of the details in the press because he's afraid to let his family back home will be killed.
BOB GARFIELD: All right, thank you very much. I appreciate your, your time.
SARAH KINOSIAN: All right, thank you.
BOB GARFIELD: Sarah Kinosian has been reporting on the migrant caravan for The Daily Beast.