Covering the Caravan: Perspectives from Women Journalists

Part 1 — From a country that does (not) count

By Julia Gavarrete

It matters who reports the news. Gain a deeper look into what it’s like to report on the migrant caravan from four female journalists who were covering the story on the ground. As the first part of the series, Julia Gavarrete, a journalist from El Salvador, provides insight into the realities inside El Salvador, and why that leads people to risk it all to flee.

I’m from a country that does not count, without a strong or powerful voice, a country where most of its people wake up waving at the perfectly organized crime called gangs. I’m from a country that has not been able to heal the wounds left by decades of violence and that still remains inside the same violent circle. I’m from a country where children and youth run away. All they think about is fleeing.

I’m a journalist from a country considered one of the “most violent” in the world.

El Salvador, the tiniest country in Central America, has been for years the perfect scenario to create criminals, people who has no other choice than join a gang or defend themselves. At the end, all victims.

On October 31, 1700 Salvadorans made their way to the United States to achieve a dream; a dream to survive, to live without fear or just live. Two days later, I saw them crossing the Suchiate River that divides Guatemala with Mexico. That morning they were determined to not return to El Salvador. The moment I saw them crossing the river, as a Salvadoran, made me question myself and question the system. I won’t forget the face of this little girl, 12 years old, crying when she was jumping into the water or the deep and lost look of Daysi, an 18-years-old pregnant girl, when she realized what she needed to do. I met Daysi at Tecun Uman, in Guatemala, she was migrating with her husband and her 14 months baby. I saw her, and looked at her big 7 months belly and immediately thought about how desperate someone can be to take a decision and leave everything, a whole life behind.

In my opinion, some of these migrants have nothing to lose; the worry to get out is the biggest burden they have, no matter how difficult the road is.

There are many who have been on the verge of losing their life, maybe that’s one of the explanations of why being part of the caravan has been considered as an act to escape from a suffocating reality.

Why there are entire families migrating? Babies in arms, pregnant girls, children and young people, all simple “dreamers”, to whom the system has failed them. Between 2016 and 2018, Cristosal — a Salvadoran human rights organization — has identified 418 children and teenagers that have been sent into forced displacement. Half of them have been displaced multiple times. The majority were children between 0 and 11 years old.

El Salvador counts more than we thought and that’s perhaps the reason why the circle of violence hasn’t been stopped yet.

I have worked in El Salvador covering politics, politicians and their fabulous speeches, but I also had the opportunity to listen to stories from outside the power, trying to understand the different issues that keep on affecting my society. About 8 years ago, at the beginning of my career, a veteran journalist told me one of the most important truths that this country has: El Salvador is a country full of stories that undoubtedly count. Listen to one by one is impossible, I know, but it is our commitment to look after them. I took his comment seriously and that’s why today I became a freelance journalist –that’s how I found the IWMF. The facts are more than numbers and have a face and many times that face, for the local press, is not relevant.

PC Frederick Meza

On November 18th a new caravan left. It seems that the migration that has always existed, but in silence, and it has taken courage to do it in a crowd to show it as a manifestation against everything. Apparently, once they did it for the first time, they’ll do it again: plan the caravan through secret groups on Facebook or WhatsApp, make a call and take a trip together.

How are the caravans organized? Why did they decide to be visible today?

I have so many questions whose answers I still do not know. The opportunity to approach these facts and hear the stories that walk among the migrant caravan is one of the first steps to understand a complex and complicated phenomenon like the one that exists in the countries of the Northern Triangle. Although it is a fact that El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala aren’t countries with a voice of their own, but it is also important to document that there are geopolitical interests and a foreign policy to keep the violations against the human rights of this region. El Salvador counts more than we thought and that’s perhaps the reason why the circle of violence hasn’t been stopped yet.

Julia Gavarrete is a freelance journalists based in El Salvador, as well as a grantee from the International Women’s Media Foundation Adelante fellowship. To see more of her work, follow her on twitter and instagram.