Panama Is Preparing A New Shelter For More Than 1,000 Cubans / 14ymedio, Mario Penton

In Puerto Obaldia, Panama, there are already more than a thousand Cubans. (La Estrella de Panama)
In Puerto Obaldia, Panama, there are already more than a thousand Cubans. (La Estrella de Panama)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario Penton, 9 April 2016 — An old and abandoned building in the district of Gualaca, in western Panama, is being refurbished to accommodate some of the more than 2,000 Cuban migrants who have been arriving in that country from Ecuador and Guyana in recent weeks.

The flow of migrants has continued despite warnings from the Panamanian authorities to discourage Cubans seeking to reach the United States through Central America. In the coming days at least 1,300 more Cubans are expected to arrive, joining those who are currently stranded on the western border of the country.

The local news channel Telemetro reports that the preparations for the shelter have not been well received by Gualaca’s authorities, who claim they were not consulted on the issue. However, after a meeting between residents of the community of Planes, local authorities and governor Hugo Mendez, it was agreed to allow the Caribbeans to be sheltered in exchange for social projects in the district.

The Panamanian press has also reported that among the conditions imposed by local authorities is the presence of the National Police along with troops from the National Civil Protection System to prevent the migrants from leaving the immediate area. A situation that has been denounced by human rights activists which categorize it as “forced confinement.”

Local people are also sensitive to issues of health and public safety, and the government will guarantee the presence of primary care personnel to provide for the healthcare needs of the migrants.

In the information published so far it is unclear whether the new shelter will be for Cubans who are arriving from Puerto Obaldia or those already in Paso Canoas. The latter have received the news with skepticism and concern.

For Silvio Enrique Campos it is “another media lie.” According to this migrant the conditions in the current camps are subhuman, the food is terrible and they have to pay for medical attention. “It is not like they say in the media,” he said.

Orislandy Diaz, meanwhile, told this newspaper that the Panamanian government has “a strategy” to keep them away “from the view of the pres.” The young man wonders why they want to keep them 50 miles from the Costa Rican border and believes that the purpose is to “hide” the thousands of migrants.

Isleyda Lelle, a Cuban who reached the Isthmus a week ago, considers the crowded conditions of the thousands of Cubans “grim,” and calls on the international community to help them continue their journey.

This week Costa Rica’s Foreign Minister said his country has no capacity to serve more islanders and will not allow access because the country’s capacity is exhausted after receiving more than 8,000 migrants last year. He added that “the problem can not come here,” referring to the nearly 2,000 Cubans settled on the Panamanian border.

This coming week there will be a meeting convened by Costa Rican President Guillermo Solis; invited to attend are United States immigration authorities, the Central American countries, along with Cuba, Colombia and Ecuador. Costa Rica is expected to again call for an end to the Cuban Adjustment Act and the tightening the conditions for granting visas to citizens of the island.

“What is appropriate,” said the Costa Rican Foreign Minister, “is the elimination of this legislation that responded to a historical context that is not current and that is affecting all of us who are in the middle.”

Facts and figures to understand the crisis of Cuban migrants in Central America. (14ymedio)
Facts and figures to understand the crisis of Cuban migrants in Central America. (14ymedio)