Cubans Continue To Arrive In Panama and About 300 Take Refuge in Churches / 14ymedio

Cubans crossing the Darien jungle to get to Panama. (Courtesy to '14ymedio')
Cubans crossing the Darien jungle to get to Panama. (Courtesy to ’14ymedio’)

14ymedio biggerEFE (14ymedio), Panama, 29 August 2016 – About 300 Cubans took refuge in several churches in the Panama capital and at the site of Pastoral Caritas in hopes that the governments of the region will again reach an agreement for a special operation and they will be transferred to Mexico to get to the United States.

“At the Caritas headquarters we have about 80 Cubans, but our parishes are looking after 300 people in total,” Denia Manguelis, a representative of Caritas Panama told EFE.

The situation, he added, highlights the migrant crisis, which erupted in November of last year when Nicaragua decided to close its borders on the grounds of national security, which still has not been solved.

“Our obligation as Catholics is to welcome them. Every day new Cubans arrive, but last Wednesday there was a massive influx,” said Manguelis.

The headquarters of the Catholic organization, located in the capital neighborhood of Ancon, is flooded with mattresses where Cubans rest and await news from local authorities.

“We are waiting for the president (of Panama, Juan Carlos Varela,) to help us to fulfill our dream and reach the United States,” Odiky Hernandez, who left Havana at the end of the year when things were still “the same” on the island, admitted to EFE.

The migrants receive food but also health care, as many have skin infections and foot ailments from walking, said the Caritas worker.

“My wife is eight months pregnant, it is a risky pregnancy. We crossed part of the Darien jungle (on the border with Colombia), but she became ill and the authorities of Panama decided to bring her to the city. I stayed behind and we rejoined each other a few days ago,” said Hernandez.

The decision of the Nicaraguan government to close its border caused, late last year, about 8,000 migrants, mostly Cubans, to pile up in Costa Rica and Panama and both countries came to an agreement with Mexico for a special operation of direct flights to various Mexican cities.

But the flow of migrants has not ceased and both countries decided to close their borders and prevent the passage of illegal immigrants. First it was Costa Rica in December 2015 and later Panama, on 9 May of this year.

The passage of Cubans through Central America and through countries like Brazil, Ecuador, Guyana and Colombia is a phenomenon that has grown in recent years but has intensified with the restoration of relations between the United States and Cuba.

Cubans fear that after normalization the Cuban Adjustment Act (1961), which awards them many advantages in getting US residence, will be eliminated.