Cuban migrants stranded in Panama have nowhere to go
BY MARIO J. PENTÓN
After escaping deportation in Colombia, some 650 Cubans hoping to make
it to the United States managed to cross the border through the Darien
jungle and are now in the Panamanian town of La Miel.
The migrants are being assisted under that nation's Flujo controlado
(Controlled flow) operation and will be allowed to continue their journey.
But with borders across Central America closed to migrants traveling
north, they have no safe place to go.
"Costa Rica is in solidarity with the migrants but we have no
possibility of receiving more," said Maurice Herrera Ulloa, the minister
of communication. "Some 66 Cubans have been returned to Panama. Our
message is clear: Costa Rica will not receive any more migrants. The
border with Nicaragua remains absolutely closed and there is no passage
to the United States."
Herrera said his nation will not provide transportation of any kind to
help Cubans, or any other migrants, reach their sought-after
destination: "If they reach the border of Costa Rica they will be
Panama's Security Minister Alexis Betancourt, meanwhile, said the border
with Colombia also remains closed. But those migrants who manage to get
into the country through the jungle will receive help because "we will
not let anyone die."
Betancourt added that, "they are illegal in Panama, in Colombia and
throughout the Central American corridor. We do not allow migrants who
come through normal points of entry to pass through. In our country,
migration is not a crime, but they should not be here. For those who
come through the jungle and are at risk, we provide humanitarian aid."
At a press conference in Miami on Thursday, the Foundation for Human
Rights in Cuba strongly criticized the governments of Latin American
countries for cutting off the passage to Cuban migrants, characterizing
the move as "ignorant" and "insensitive."
Juan Antonio Blanco, foundation director, also accused Colombia of
"truly notable perversity" stating that the nation has sought to "seek
and hunt Cuban migrants, pushing them to certain death in the Darien
Betancourt, the Panamanian minister, reported that the current flow of
Cubans is relatively low compared to the numbers attended during the
first months of the year. So far this year, Panama has launched two
humanitarian operations to transport more than 5,000 Cubans to Mexico,
where the migrants make their way to the U.S. border.
"We want to make it clear that we recommend that migrants not go through
the Darien jungle, where dangerous animals, violence and diseases
exist," Betancourt said, adding that several reported cases of corpses
found in the area are under investigation.
"Bodies have been found," he said. "Some may be in the slope of the
ridge, but the ones that have been documented are on the top, which is
an area that belongs to Colombia."
Those Cuban migrants who do manage to enter Panamanian territory are
given 72 hours to leave. Betancourt warned that "it would be advisable
they not come" and said his government is not responsible for those who
decide to risk the journey through the jungle.
Once inside Panama, the migrants are transported to one of three camps
where they receive medical care, food and water. "Then they are given
information about the camp, which has accommodations to bathe and rest.
Then their fingerprints are taken, an interview is done and they pay
their own passage to the border."
Ubernel Cruz, one of the Cubans in La Miel, said the situation there "is
"Most of these people do not have money and those who do, fear crossing
paths with coyotes (people smugglers)," Cruz said. "No one knows exactly
what will happen to us, although they have organized it so that 75
people are allowed to leave per day."
On the opposite end of the country, along the border with Costa Rica,
Yunior Peñate and six other Cuban migrants remain hidden in the village
of Peñas Altas.
Peñate said he had saved up $2,000 from seven years of work in Ecuador
and sent the money to friends in the United States. The plan was for his
friends to wire money as needed while Peñate made his way across Central
America to the U.S.-Mexico border. But communication ended once they
received the money, he said.
The group has been assaulted twice while trying to trying to cross into
"I had to return to this village," Peñate said. "We were picked up by a
family and, thanks to them, we have food and shelter. As gratitude, we
do whatever work is needed here. We don't know how long this situation
"If Costa Rica finds you in their territory, you're deported to Panama,
where you can't be, either. Nicaragua does not let us pass," said
Peñate, who does not have any family in the U.S. "The only option is to
cross clandestinely, but there is a lot of fear."
REPORTER NORA GÁMEZ TORRES CONTRIBUTED TO THIS REPORT.
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Source: With Central America borders closed, Cubans can't get to U.S.
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