President-elect Jose Raul Mulino of Panama vows to SHUT DOWN the Darien Gap
05/14/2024 // Laura Harris // Views

President-elect Jose Raul Mulino of Panama has announced plans to shut down the Darien Gap, a largely undeveloped region in southern Panama crossed through by over 500,000 South American migrants in 2023 on their way north to the United States border.

The Darien Gap has become an increasingly popular route for hundreds of thousands of migrants traveling to the U.S. despite its dangerous terrain and the risks of violent encounters with gangs. Organized crime groups and cartels from Colombia have been capitalizing on the demand by providing smuggling services through the dense jungle.

With nations like Mexico imposing tighter visa restrictions on different South American nationalities, including Venezuelans and Peruvians, air routes have become more difficult. This has resulted in desperate migrants increasingly turning to the overland path through the Darien jungle.

The route also became more established, with crossings that once took a week or more now taking just two or three days. Support services sprang up along the way, further entrenching the path as a key migration corridor. Panama has been facilitating the rapid transit of migrants across its territory to help them continue their journey north for several years now. Nearly 150,000 migrants have already traversed the Darien Gap into Panama this year alone.

Mulino, who won Panama's presidential election on May 5, is determined to end the booming business in the Darien Gap. (Related: Panama intensifies efforts to prevent migrants from making their way to the U.S.)

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"Panama and our Darien [Gap] are not a transit route. It is our border," Mulino said, reinforcing his campaign promise to terminate "the Darien odyssey that does not have a reason to exist." The 64-year-old lawyer and former security minister said Panama should not serve as a conduit for illegal mass migration.

"Because when we start to deport people here in an immediate deportation plan, the interest for sneaking through Panama will decrease," Mulino said. "I assure you they are going to say that going through Panama is not attractive because they are deporting you."

Experts doubt the feasibility of the proposed deportation

Some experts doubt the feasibility of the proposed mass deportation, as Mulino has not yet given further details.

Adam Isacson, an analyst with the Washington Office on Latin America, argued that Panama cannot "massively deport" thousands of migrants due to logistics and financial burdens. He claimed that even a daily flight would only repatriate around 10 percent of the daily flow, which is only about 1,000 to 1,200 migrants. In comparison, the U.S., with significantly greater resources, manages approximately 130 deportation flights globally per month.

"This would be a radical change to Panamanian policy in terms of migration to avoid more deaths and organized crime using the route," said Julio Alonso, a Panamanian security expert. He also stressed the difficulties of implementing such measures along Panama's open and uncontrolled borders.

"In Panama, there is no kind of suppression with this situation, just free passage, humanitarian aid that didn’t manage to reduce the number of assaults, rapes, homicides and deaths along the Darien route," Alonso explained.

Meanwhile, Giuseppe Loprete, the chief of mission in Panama for the United Nations' International Organization for Migration, warned of the broader implications of restricting migration routes.

"People migrate for many reasons and frequently don’t have safe, orderly and legal ways to do it," said Loprete. "When the legal routes are not accessible, migrants run the risk of turning to criminal networks, traffickers and dangerous routes, tricked by disinformation."

Experts agree that any impact would only be temporary if the root causes of migration were not addressed, just like past efforts to close migration routes have often resulted in traffic displacement to even riskier alternatives.

For instance, visa restrictions in the past unintentionally pushed migrants toward the hazardous overland route through Panama. Should the proposed crackdown be implemented, there are concerns that it might redirect migrants to perilous sea routes from Colombia to Panama.

Read more stories like this at

Watch this short clip of the United Nations-run migrant encampment facilitating the movement of illegals through the Darien Gap.

This video is from the GalacticStorm channel on

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