Migrant Women With Children Risk Rape and Robbery in the ‘Hell’ of the Darien Jungle

So far this year, 104,000 adults have crossed, of which 35% are women

A migrant with her child rests at a reception station after crossing the jungle / EFE

14ymedio biggerMoncho Torres/EFE, Bajo Chiquito (Panama), 4 May 2024 — Migration has long ceased to be something only for men. Women alone, with children or with their partners, leave their homes behind and cross through the “hell” of the Darién jungle, where they are victims of rape and robbery even while carrying their children. “¡Let’s go, we’re almost there!”

At the checkpoint of Bajo Chiquito, the first indigenous town that migrants come to after crossing the Darién, which is the jungle border between Panama and Colombia, the Panamanian authorities collect data from the hundreds of newcomers who, exhausted, are waiting patiently to take their turn. Behind the officials, apart, sits a girl. Suddenly, it seems that she has identified someone in the line.

“Do you know this girl?” the officer asks a woman. “Is she 12 years old?” she replies. They ask the girl and she nods. The officer then asks her if she knows where her mother is. “Yes, she’s coming further back.”

Venezuelan Karely Salazar, 31, travels with her 7-, 10- and 12-year-old daughters. They have gone to the village outpatient clinic. “The smallest one has a fever and a cold from spending two days in the river,” the woman explains to EFE, exhausted. “Their father is in Venezuela,” she adds. continue reading

 “The smallest one has a fever and a cold from spending two days in the river”

“Thank God we crossed the jungle, but it really wasn’t easy, very difficult for the children,” she says. “Did your eldest daughter get lost?” “Yes,” the mother nods, and her face changes. She says that on the second day of walking her leg hurt and she couldn’t move, and the little girl walked into the crowd and “lost her way.”

“Last night I cried and cried because I didn’t know where she was,” says the mother. Hundreds of migrants, or thousands, pass through that jungle every day.

According to data from the Panamanian authorities, after the historic record of more than 520,000 migrants who crossed the Darién in 2023, so far this year more than 130,000 have crossed. Of the 104,000 adults, about 35% are women, and of the more than 28,600 minors, 47% are girls.

The Panamanian authorities generally issue strong warnings against migration, since the Colombian side is controlled by the Gulf Clan, a criminal organization that in 2023 received 68 million dollars for the passage of migrants, in addition to other gangs that steal from and attack those who pass by.

The director of Migration of Panama, Samira Gozaine, goes further: “There are stories that some mothers leave their children to drown in the river because they are too heavy to carry; they abandon them to their fate,” she told EFE a year ago.

 “It’s a total hell,” says the young woman, but the crisis in Venezuela gave her no other option; working 12 hours a day in a supermarket gave her only 20 dollars a week

For the international lawyer and human rights activist Iván Chanis, these stories”dehumanize” the migrants and deny the reality, because, as he explains to EFE, “what mother wants to leave her daughter behind?”

Luisannys Mundaraín, 22 years old, carries her baby in her arms and breastfeeds him. She tells EFE that when she crossed one of the rough parts with the baby he slipped, but she was able to hold onto him at the last moment. To this were added the snakes, spiders, rivers, and “those thieves who rob and rape women.”

Mundaraín then recounts how her group was intercepted on a hill by a group of armed men wearing hoods, who asked them for “100 dollars for each person. Those who did not give them money had to hand over their phones, or if it was a woman she had to stay for you know what.”

Doctors Without Borders (MSF) reported, before the Panamanian authorities banned them from continuing to provide medical care in the country, that they treated more than 1,300 people for sexual violence in the Darién between April 2021 and January 2024.

“It’s a total hell,” says the young woman, but the crisis in Venezuela gave her no other option, with 12-hours of work in a supermarket for 20 dollars a week, when “a package of diapers cost 5 dollars and food was even more expensive.”

Thus, when in the middle of the electoral campaign some Panamanian politicians say that they are going to close the 165 miles of border in the Darién, the young woman sighs. “It’s impossible to close it, because even if there are thousands of dangers, migrants will always try to cross because of the poverty they suffer in their countries.”

Translated by Regina Anavy


COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORKThe 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.

Cuba Says It Will Address ‘Important’ Issues in Wednesday’s Immigration Talks With the United States

The mother of the Secretary of Homeland Security of the United States fled from Europe because of Nazism and, years later, from Cuba because of Castroism. (EFE)

14ymedio biggerEFE / Moncho Torres (via 14ymedio), Havana/Panama City, 12 April 2023 — Cuba and the United States will discuss “important and determining” issues in the round of immigration talks that take place this Wednesday in Washington, according to the Deputy General Director for the United States of the Cuban Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MINREX), Johana Tablada. She states that the delegation, lead by the Deputy Minister of MINREX, Carlos Fernández de Cossío, will have on its agenda matters “of concern for the Cuban government that are not resolved.”

Among those issues, Tablada referred to “incentives” that remain for irregular emigration, such as “the continuity of extreme, inhuman, siege measures, that directly influence the socioeconomic living conditions of the population of Cuba” and that make many Cubans seek to emigrate to the United States.

The Government of Cuba, Tablada added, blames the United States for “those high migratory flows and those extreme measures that have caused a direct threat to the well-being and livelihood of our population.”

“Regular migration will not be achieved, and this issue will not be resolved as long as there is that policy of asphyxiation against Cuba,” she said in statements reproduced by state media, although she acknowledged that last year there were “positive steps,” such as the resumption of the issuance of visas at the U.S. Embassy in Havana and the granting of the visas established in the migration agreements.

The Island’s delegation will also denounces “the admission of people who arrive irregularly in the United States,” which it considered “a stimulus for others to adopt that unsafe route,” and gave as an example the case of Rubén Martínez Machado, who stole a plane, fled to Miami and was granted political asylum, an “explicit violation of the migration agreements” and a “danger to the air safety of both countries,” she said. continue reading

Cuba will also reiterate its request for the re-establishment of non-immigrant visa programs so that the citizens of the Island can visit their relatives in the United States.

This round of talks will be marked by a sharp increase in the arrivals of Cubans to the U.S. coast, where the Coast Guard has intercepted some 5,000 Cuban rafters since last October.

Cuba’s grave economic crisis has intensified an unprecedented mass exodus, especially to the United States, where authorities detained more than 313,000 Cubans on the southern border with Mexico, a figure that represents about 3% of Cuba’s total population.

In this context, the Secretary of National Security of the United States, Alejandro Mayorkas, held a meeting in Panama with the foreign minister of that country and of Colombia and Mexico, to discuss migration through the dangerous Darién jungle. He insisted that migrants must use “legal means” or  be “returned” to the other side of the border.

“There is a very important message to send in addition to the fact that we are building legal avenues so that people do not have to risk their lives in the Darién, and that is that we are enforcing our border laws,” the secretary remarked.

“It is so tragic to see people risk their lives, undertake the dangerous journey, suffer the trauma, put the savings of a lifetime in the hands of traffickers who only seek their own benefit, only to be returned,” said Mayorkas, who is of Cuban origin.

The Darién jungle is one of the most dangerous border crossings for migrants, who have to cross swollen rivers and risk the attacks of armed men who steal and rape. There is also a lack of drinking water, which is often contaminated by excrement and corpses.

Most migrants, when they have left the jungle and are exhausted and out of breath, say that they regret having taken that route, calling on their compatriots to choose another option, in vain.

This year alone, about 400,000 migrants are expected to cross the jungle, almost double the more than 248,000 who did so in 2022. In the first three months of 2023 alone, about 87,390 migrants crossed the Darién, seven times more than the same period in 2022.

“And those are the individuals, the human beings who survived to tell the trauma of the trip. We also think about the people who didn’t make it. That is exactly why we are generating legal avenues so that they can come to the United States in a safe and orderly way in search of a better life,” he explained.

Mayorkas highlighted as “the most powerful example of the success” of this legal path the creation of the program for nationals of Cuba, Haiti, Nicaragua and Venezuela, a measure that recently led to a 95% reduction in the arrests of individuals from these countries at the border.

“We have already received thousands and thousands of people in this way,” he said. The program can reach 30,000 humanitarian permits per month, “360,000 people per year.”

The U.S. official also warned that they are “expanding” the legal avenues. “We will be revealing in the coming weeks the additional avenues that people must take,” he announced.

The Secretary of Homeland Security also noted that migrants have at their disposal other ways to travel legally to U.S. territory, such as visas for seasonal workers, or for agricultural or non-agricultural workers for limited periods to “gain money lawfully and send remittances.”

In addition, next month the government of President Joe Biden will lift the controversial Title 42, a health measure imposed by the government of former President Donald Trump (2017-2021) that allows immediate expulsions of migrants at the border.

“We are concerned that there may be an increase in the level of migration” due to the lifting of that measure, Mayorkas acknowledged, recalling that the basis of the country’s immigration law, in Title 8, will remain fully in force.

In the meeting with EFE, Mayorkas was accompanied by Samantha Power, administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. She highlighted the important role played by countries that were initially going to be only transit routes for migrants.

In Colombia, “more than two million Venezuelans” are settled, she said, and it is “a very important and laudable decision” that the Colombian authorities have offered them “a temporary protection status.”

“When that happened, USAID hurried to support the Colombian government to establish that system, the registration, the mechanism, but also to support the Venezuelans who entered to make sure that they did not overload the host communities,” said Power, who remarked that they are dedicating “more than 200 million dollars a year” to that mission and seek to increase it by 34 million.

The U.S. official insisted that it is the “responsibility” of the United States to support the countries south of the Darien — Colombia,  Ecuador and Peru — “that are doing everything possible to absorb these migrant populations.”

For Mayorkas, the need to leave his country for political or economic reasons is not something foreign. A native of Cuba, he arrived with his parents and sister in the United States as “political refugees” when he was a child. “It was the second time, by the way, that my mother was a refugee,” having fled the Nazis in Europe.

“I understand very well the fragility of life, the vulnerability of people, the importance of humanitarian aid; and at the service of that fragility, at the service of that vulnerability, we generate  legal avenues and urge people not to take such an costly risk. But it is also very important to remember that we are not alone in this. The migratory challenge that our region is experiencing is a challenge to which we must all respond together,” he said.

Translated by Regina Anavy


COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORKThe 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.