President-Elect Wants to Close Migration Route in Panama

Path through Darien jungle is a dangerous but popular way to head toward the US
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted May 11, 2024 3:00 PM CDT
President-Elect Wants to Close Migration Route in Panama
Presidential candidate Jose Raul Mulino celebrates his victory after his rivals conceded, in Panama City on Sunday.   (AP Photo/Matias Delacroix, File)

Panama is on the verge of a dramatic change to its immigration policy that could reverberate from the dense Darien jungle to the US border. President-elect José Raúl Mulino says he will shut down a migration route used by more than 500,000 people last year. Until now, Panama has helped speedily bus the migrants across its territory so they can continue their journey north, the AP reports. Whether Mulino can reduce migration through a sparsely populated region with little government presence remains to be seen, experts say. "Panama and our Darien are not a transit route. It is our border," Mulino said after his victory with 34% of the vote in Sunday's election was formalized Thursday evening. He will become president on July 1.

The 64-year-old lawyer and former security minister said he would try to end "the Darien odyssey that does not have a reason to exist." The migrant route through the narrow isthmus grew exponentially in popularity in recent years with the help of organized crime in Colombia, making it an affordable, if dangerous, land route for hundreds of thousands. It grew as countries like Mexico, under pressure from the US government, imposed visa restrictions on various nationalities including Venezuelans and just this week Peruvians in an attempt to stop migrants flying into the country just to continue on to the US border.

But masses of people set out on foot through the jungle-clad Colombian-Panamanian border. A crossing that initially took a week or more was whittled down to two or three days as the path became more established and entrepreneurial locals established a range of support services. It remains a risky route, however. Reports of sexual assaults have continued to rise, some migrants are killed by bandits in robberies, and others drown trying to cross rushing rivers, per the AP. Even so, some 147,000 migrants have already entered Panama through Darien this year. (Chinese migrants who are increasingly crossing into the US have used the Darien route.)

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