14ymedio, Mario Penton, Miami, 18 August 2016 — After escaping deportation in Colombia, some 650 Cubans managed to cross the border through the Darien jungle area and are now in the Panamanian town of La Miel. They have been assisted by the Panamanian government’s “Controlled Flow” operation, and may continue their journey but face an uncertain route affected by the decision of the countries of the region to deny them passage.
“Costa Rica is a supportive country, but it has no ability to receive more migrants,” Maurice Hererra Ulloa, the nation’s Minister of Communications told 14ymedio. “Some 66 Cubans have been returned to Panama. Our message is clear: Costa Rica is not going to receive them. The border with Nicaragua remains absolutely closed and there will be no way to get to the United States.”
Herrera made it clear that his country would not provide transportation of any kind for these Cubans and would not make efforts to get them to the United States. The same applies for transcontinental and Haitian migrants. “If they reach the border of Costa Rica they will be turned back immediately,” he says.
Panama’s Minister of Security Alexis Betancourt told this newspaper that his country’s border with Colombia remains closed, but it is permitted to shelter those who have penetrated the jungle because “we will not let anyone die.”
“They are illegal in Panama, in Colombia and throughout the Central American corridor. Those who come to our borders by normal means are not allowed to pass. In our country migration is not a crime, but they should not be here. For those who come through the jungle and run that risk, we will offer humanitarian aid,” he explains.
The minister also reported that the flow of Cubans right now is relatively low compared to the number seen during the first months of the year. So far this year, Panama has undertaken two humanitarian operations to transfer more than 5,000 Cubans who were stranded in their territory.
“We want to make it clear that we recommend that they do not go through the Darien jungle where there are dangerous animals, violence and disease,” says Betancourt.
“We are investigating the matter of the bodies that have been found. It could be that there are some in the lowlands of the mountain range, but those that have been documented are on the rise, which is an area belonging to Colombia,” he adds.
With regards to the 72 hours granted to Cubans to leave Panamanian territory, the minister said that “it would be advisable not to come” and that his government is not responsible for people who decide to go into the jungle.
“Those Cubans we find are taken to one of three camps that we have set up,” where they are provided with medical care, food and water. “We then explain to them the conditions of the camp, where they can bathe and rest. We take their fingerprints, and interview them and they pay their own passage to the border.”
Ubernel Cruz, one of the Cubans in the village of La Miel, said that the situation there “is getting ugly.”
“Most of these people do not have money and those who do have are afraid of getting into contact with the coyotes. Nobody knows exactly what will happen to us, although 75 a day are leaving.”
On the opposite border, the Costa Rican side, is Cuban Yunior Peñate. He is in the village of Peñas Altas, hidden along with six other migrants.
According to Peñate’s account, he sent friends in the United States more than $2,000, the result of seven years of work in Ecuador, with the aim that they would help him during the trip, sending money for each segment of the journey. But once the money was in the hands of his “friends” they never wrote him again.
He has suffered two assaults while trying to cross Nicaragua.
“I had to return here (Costa Rica). A family took us in and thanks to them we have food and shelter. In gratitude we work on everything they need done here. We do not know how long this situation is going to last,” he explains.
“If Costa Rica finds you in their territory they deport you to Panama, where you can’t be either. Nicaragua doesn’t let us pass. The only option is cross in hiding, but there is a lot of fear,” explains the young migrant whose destination is the United States.
The blockade on the borders of Central America to prevent the passage of Cuban, Haitian and transcontinental immigrants is feeding the underground networks of human trafficking. Several countries have asked the United States to eliminate the privileges enjoyed by migrants from Cuba, who are immediately welcomed when they step onto American soil.
The Foundation for Human Rights in Cuba and other exile groups have said that such statements “reflect a significant ignorance” of the true causes of Cuban emigration. “They focus their attention on the differential treatment of these migrants in the destination country, ignoring the incredible and exceptional disadvantages of these citizens in the country of departure,” the foundation explains.