The Darien Gap is one of the thickest jungles in the world. A current image of this inhospitable place would show a difficult topography, rivers, wild animals and thousands of migrants facing these and other dangers, many dying there and with them their lives. “American dream”.
This 575,000-hectare jungle is a Panamanian national park that joins South America with the Central American isthmus, and is the only point where the Pan-American highway, the longest highway in the world, is interrupted.
But for decades organized crime has enabled trails through which weapons, drugs and irregular migrants have passed, the latter now in abundance, turning this trafficking into one of the most lucrative illegal activities, if not the most.
“The reality behind all this is that it is a very, very profitable business”more than “drugs and with fewer risks (…) it can be organized so that people pay in each country if they want to continue”the head of Mission of the International Organization for Migration (IOM) in Panama, Giuseppe Loprete, told EFE.
The authorities of Panama, the only country in America with a humanitarian operation around the migratory flow that moves towards the United States, recorded that 248,284 travelers entered their territory in 2022 after crossing the jungle, an unparalleled figure but one that will pale before the 400,000 expected this year if the current rate of arrivals is maintained.
Gone are numbers such as the 133,726 irregular migrants who suffered in Darién in 2021 or 30,055 in 2016, during the first migration crisis due to the passage of Cubans.
Although the nationals of South American and Caribbean countries stand out for the bulk of their numbers, undocumented immigrants arrive in this swampy tropical forest from more than fifty countries around the world moved by transnational networks and through air and sea means.
The route they follow in America crosses several southern countries until they reach Colombia, the entrance to the jungle that ends in Panama. This jungle journey of about 260 kilometers is described as hellish by migrants.
It is so that the phrase “If I find out, I won’t”, resounds in Panamanian immigration stations, where migrants receive food and health care. They say they were deceived by those who offered the jungle route as fast, while they recount episodes of violence, including sexual violence, or how they saw deaths everywhere.
The central role of the Colombian Gulf clan
A report by the Ideas for Peace Foundation (FIP) and the Global Initiative against Transnational Organized Crime (GI-TOC), as members of the network of the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime in Latin America, reports of the central role of the Colombian Clan del Golfo in the trafficking of migrants through the Darién.
The Clan maintains a “hegemonic control of the region on the Colombian side of the border with Panama”therefore both “National and international trafficking networks such as migrants who arrive alone must somehow interact with the group to allow and facilitate their passage.says the 40-page document.
This Colombian criminal group charges a “immigration related activities tax”says the report “The Clan border. Irregular migration and organized crime in the Darién”, Posted last November.
The researchers said that “No evidence was found of the direct incidence of the Clan del Golfo in the transit or transportation of the migrant population outside its area of dominance or beyond the border line with Panama.”
This situation can be attributed to the Clan’s attempt to “avoid being visible” to the Panamanian National Border Service (Senafront), “which, unlike its Colombian counterpart, carries out operations in the jungle to counter migrant raiders.”
The researchers also recall “Background of criminal control over informal economies derived from the migratory phenomenon and the regulation of migrant smuggling”citing a 2013 report by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (Unodc).
that document “I already pointed out the relationship of the armed groups in the Darién with migration, assuring that ‘they take advantage of the phenomenon of the illicit trafficking of migrants to Panama, generating an alternative source of financing for the control of the routes and mobility corridors in the Tapón of the Darien’”.
And not only criminal networks profit. “It cannot be hidden, and it must occupy a central place in public policy discussions”that this growing wave of irregular migration is economically benefiting border municipalities of Colombia and Panama, as stated in a report.
Authorities from the United States, Colombia and Panama held a new meeting in mid-February to “coordinate efforts to safeguard the lives of migrants crossing the Darién, dismantle criminal organizations that control human trafficking networks, and “combat misinformation about the supposed benefits of undertaking the dangerous journey”among others.
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