"BREAKING: Footage in Honduras giving cash 2 women & children 2 join the caravan & storm the US border @ election time. Soros? US-backed NGOs? Time to investigate the source!"
- Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., in a tweet , Oct. 17, 2018
"Can you believe this, and what Democrats are allowing to be done to our country?"
- President Donald Trump, in a tweet , Oct. 18, 2018
"Now we're starting to find out, and I won't say it 100 percent, I'll put a little tiny question mark at the end . . . a lot of money's been passing through people to come up and try and get to the border by Election Day because they think that's a negative for us. They [Democrats] wanted that caravan, and there are those that say that caravan didn't just happen, it didn't just happen."
- Trump, in a rally in Montana , Oct. 18, 2018
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What's happening in this grainy and abbreviated footage from Central America? Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., tweeted a video he said was from Honduras of women and children receiving cash to "join the caravan" and "storm" the U.S.-Mexico border.
A caravan of Honduran migrants crossed the border into Guatemala on Monday. The next day, President Donald Trump threatened the Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez on Twitter, saying if the group didn't turn around there would be "no more money or aid."
Gaetz's tweet and the video in question appeared just a day after that. Without offering evidence, Gaetz said liberal billionaire George Soros or non-governmental organizations were paying the migrants.
The day after the Gaetz tweet, Trump tweeted the same video. And hours later, at his Montana rally on Thursday, Trump floated his own conspiracy theory: that this was all a big ruse financed by his political opponents. The caravan "didn't just happen" and "a lot of money has been passing through to people to come up and try to get to the border by election day because [Democrats] think that's a negative for us," Trump told the crowd.
All of it seemed outlandish. It's no secret that rampant violence and poverty in Central America have spurred thousands of families to flee for the United States in recent years. "Time to investigate the source!" Gaetz tweeted. Let's take him up on his call to action.
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The one-minute video clip Gaetz tweeted shows no direct evidence of Democrats, NGOs or Soros-funded groups paying migrants.
What the video does show: Dozens of people separated by gender are standing in loose lines along a roadside. Many of them are carrying bags or backpacks. Two men in white T-shirts and jeans make their way down the lines handing out what appears to be cash (red-and-white rectangular bills). One of the men is seen carrying a handgun in his waistband. The other is wearing a baseball cap that says "Fox," a clothing company.
Through a little digital detective work, we found the video was shot when the caravan was passing through Chiquimula, Guatemala - near the border with Honduras but not in Honduras, as Gaetz said. (After we sent an email to Gaetz's office pointing this out, along with several questions, Gaetz tweeted a correction. He and his staff did not respond to our questions.)
The cash being handed out appears to be Guatemalan currency. Gaetz's video is grainy and hard to parse. But a Facebook video of the same scene, which was posted before Gaetz's tweet, has a sharper resolution.
But who are the men? Why is one of them armed? And where did the money come from?
On Twitter, Gaetz said he got the video from a Honduran government official. (Never mind the Facebook video that surfaced before his tweet.)
U.S. and Latin American journalists and humanitarian and nonprofit workers on the ground consistently report that these caravans are rare and mostly self-organized by residents with real concerns about safety and poverty in Central America. The messaging app WhatsApp is a hub of activity for these caravan members. They travel in large groups to ensure a safe journey. Yet there are several wide-eyed theories flying around on who's leading these particular migrants and who might be behind the men with the money. Let's break them down:
- George Soros or U.S.-backed NGOs. Soros, a Hungarian American Jew, is often cast as the boogeyman in right-wing conspiracy theories. But usually his critics make a bare effort to scare up at least some trace of evidence to support their case. Gaetz didn't even try. Anyway, the Open Society Foundations, which is funded by Soros, were quick to say neither the foundation nor Soros were "funding this effort." Regional experts say that U.S.-backed NGOs have worked to increase public safety and economic stability, mitigating the insecurity that often contributes to why people flee in the first place. We couldn't find any evidence that an NGO was behind this effort to hand out cash in Guatemala.
- Democrats. Trump at his rally hinted that Democrats might be behind this caravan. There's no evidence to support this theory. In a video message in Spanish, the acting U.S. ambassador to Honduras said to migrants: "Please, go back to your country. You are being deceived with false promises from political and criminal leaders." That's a vague statement, but it doesn't make reference to any fanciful theories about Soros, Democrats or NGOs. Instead, the statement suggests internal Honduran politics is behind the exodus. The White House did not respond to our questions.
- The Honduran opposition party. The U.S. ambassador's statement appears to stem from a claim by the Honduran government - that an opposition party, Partido Libre y Refundacion, organized the caravan as part of a political ploy. There is no evidence this is true, however. A leader of the Honduran opposition party, former president Manuel Zelaya, who was deposed in a coup in 2009, released a statement saying the party was not involved.
- Chiquimula residents. Multiple reports from journalists and nonprofits following the caravan have noted that Guatemalan locals have been providing water bottles, spare cash and other supplies to support them on the long journey to the U.S.-Mexico border. A photographer from Agence France-Presse in Guatemala confirmed this, saying locals often provide money, food and clothes to migrants, though he could not say that's what was happening in this video shared by Gaetz and Trump But that doesn't really explain the presence of an armed man or the organized effort to distribute cash. Annie Bird, director of the Guatemala Human Rights Commission, said it's not unusual for people to carry arms in Chiquimula, unlike in other parts of the country. It's a mix of safety concerns and local culture, she said. Other experts confirmed Bird's assessment, noting that because Chiquimula is along a migratory route, many of which are controlled by narcos, it's typical to see an increase in security.
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The Pinocchio Test
Multiple reports from non-governmental organizations active on the ground have said the movement was organized and grew organically. That's not hard to believe. There are plenty of reasons to leave Honduras right now. There is the massive and rising poverty level. The worsening security situation, as gangs extort and destroy small businesses. And all of that before noting on average more than ten people are killed per day. Plus, moving in a large group provides protection for individuals, saving the expense of a coyote to shepherd them through the journey north.
While we haven't been able to pin down exactly who is distributing cash in Guatemala, we can rule out the groups Gaetz and Trump suggest: Soros, U.S. backed NGOs or the Democrats. Neither Gaetz's office nor the White House responded or provided any evidence to the contrary. As always at the Fact Checker, the burden of proof is on the speaker. This seems to be a cherry-picked video reused as a political scare tactic. For their willingness to promote propaganda, Trump and Gaetz earn Four Pinocchios.
(This story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)