Darién's cap, the jungle that devours migrants on the way to the US

Necoclí, Colombia -By Julie Turkewitz, Natalie Kitroeff and Sofía Villamilthe New York Times

​For decades, the Darién plug, a stretch of jungle without roads and without law that joins South America with the north, was considered so dangerous that only a few thousand people a year dared or desperate enough to try to cross it.

But the economic devastation caused by Pandemia in South America was such that in the first nine months of this year, according to Panamanian authorities, it is estimated that 95.000 migrants, most of whom are Haitians, tried the passage on their way to the United States.

They made the trip in shorts and flip flops, their belongings put in plastic bags, their babies in arms and their children hand.It is not known how many did it and how many not.And yet, tens of thousands have gathered in Colombia, anxious for their turn to try.

The disposition of migrants to try to transfer the notoriously dangerous land bridge that connects Colombia and Panama, which for a long time was an impediment to walk to the north, presents not only an imminent humanitarian disaster among those who make the walk, experts said, but also a potential immigration challenge for the American president Joe Biden.

The thousands of Haitians who crossed the border towards Texas last month, shaking the city of Del Río in Texas and pushing the White House to a crisis, were only the avant -garde of a much larger movement of migrants who were heading to theJungla and then to the US.UU.

People who had fled from their troubled Caribbean nation to places as south as Chile and Brazil began to move to the north months ago, hoping that they were received by the Democratic government.

Historical displacement

"We could be on the edge of a historical displacement of people in the Americas to the United States," said Dan Restrepo, the National Security ex -analysis for Latin America during the presidency of Barack Obama.

"When one of the most impenetrable jungle sections in the world no longer stops people, it means that political borders, regardless of how they apply, will not" either ".

The Darién, also known as the Isthmus of Panama, is a narrow strip of land that divides the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea.The parties are so inaccessible that when the engineers built the Pan -American Highway in the 1930s, which linked Alaska with Argentina, only one section remained unfinished.

That piece, 106 km.Without turbulent rivers, steep mountains and poisonous snakes, it was known as the Darién Gap, the Darién cap.

Today the trip through the gap becomes more dangerous due to the activity of criminals and the traffickers of people who control the region, often extorting and, sometimes, sexually assaulting migrants.

Now, Necoclí, a small Colombian tourist city just at the mouth of the passage, has become a scenario for migrants waiting to cross.

El Tapón de Darién, la jungla que devora a los migrantes camino a EE.UU.

Thousands of families await their time in shelters or in tents along the beach.Hungry and without money, everyone expects their turn to be transported by boat on the edge of the forest.

"We are afraid," says RuthAlix, 30, who was traveling with her husband, her daughter, Farline, 3, and her son, Vladensky, 6 months.The number of migrants who have made the trip so far this year is more than triple the previous annual record established in 2016.

At one time, the Cubans constituted most of the migrants walked through the gap.Now, they are Haitians who settled in South America for a better economic era, but who were one of the first to lose jobs and homes when he hit the pandemic.

Up to 1.000 migrants cross Panama through Darién every day, said Panamanian Chancellor Erika Mouynes.An influx that has border the border infrastructure on the edge of the abyss.His government has tried to provide food and medical care to those who survive the jungle, he said, but officials cannot meet demand.

"We have completely overcome our ability to support them," he said, adding that he was "giving the alarm" about the need for a regional response to the crisis ".

Each group that leaves is quickly replaced by another 1.000 or more migrants, creating a bottleneck that has transformed necoclí.The sewers overflow in the street.Water has stopped leaving some taps.The markets now sell kits made to cross the Darien;include boots, knives and baby bandits.

They know that the trip ahead is dangerous, they said.They had heard stories of fatal drowning and falls.Only this year at least 50 bodies have been found in the Darién, although estimates of the real number of dead are at least four times higher, according to the International Organization for Migration.

Sexual aggression is also a risk: doctors without borders has documented 245 cases in the Darien in the last five months, although the group believes that the real number is much higher.

Ruth, Farline's mother and Vladensky, said that with her family they fled from Haiti to the French Guiana, on the north coast of South America, but only found poverty.Returning to Haiti was not an option.

The country is made Jirones after a presidential murder and an earthquake, its staggering economy and its streets tormented by gang.The only option, saidAlix, was the road to the north."We assume this risk because we have children," says Vladimy Damier, 29, Ruth's husband.

Many knew that the Biden administration had been deporting Haiti to those who had managed to enter the United States, but were still willing to try.

Henderson Ecclesias, 42, also from Haiti, lived in Brazil with his wife and 3 -year -old daughter when pandemic.In May, he lost his job, he said.In August, he and his family were on their way to the United States.

"I hope they change the way they are acting," he said about Americans."Our lives depend on that".

Desperate families

In recent years, a growing number of migrants had begun to challenge the corridor, a trip that can last a week or more on foot.

But after pandemic, which especially affected South America, that increase has become an avalanche of desperate families.At least one in five of those who crossed this year were children, Panamanian officials said.

As the number of migrants who reached the US border grew.UU., The Biden administration retired from a more open approach to migration adopted in the first days in the president's position to a harder position with a singular objective: deter people from even trying to enter the United States.

If you come to the United States illegally, they will return you, ”said the Secretary of National Security, Alejandro Mayorkas in September."Your trip will not succeed and endanger your life and that of your family".

But it is unlikely that the warning goes back to the tens of thousands of Haitians who are already on the road.

On a recent day, there were about 20.000 migrants in necoclí, in Colombia.And there are up to 30.000 Haitian migrants already in Mexico, according to a senior official of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Mexico who spoke on condition of anonymity.

"The trip has already begun, they have already begun to think about the United States," said Andrew Selee, president of Migration Policy Institute."It's not so easy to turn off that".

In a recent morning, the Ruthalix and Damier woke their children before dawn in the small house they had been sharing with a dozen more migrants.They had reached the turn of boarding the boat that would take them to the edge of the jungle.

In the dark, she Alzosu a backpack on the hombros and tied Vladensky to her chest.In one hand he wore a spaghettis pot, aimed at holding them while lasting.His other hand approached his little one, Farline.

On the beach, the family joined a crowd.A port worker gave a large life safe to Mrs..Alix.He placed it on Farline's small body and got on the boat.On board: 47 adults, 13 children, seven babies, all migrants.

"Bye!"A man from the ship company shouted."Have a good trip!"Government officials are largely absent from Darién.The area is controlled by a criminal group known as the Gulf clan, whose members see migrants as much as they see drugs: goods that can tax and control.

Once migrants get out of boats, they are received by traffickers, usually poor men in the area who offer to take them to the jungle, from $ 250 per person.For US $ 10 will carry a backpack.For other US $ 30, a child.

Farline and his family spent the night in a tent on the edge of the jungle.In the morning, they left before dawn, along with hundreds of more people.

"I carry bags," the smugglers shouted."I wear children!"Soon, a vast plain became an imposing forest.Farline climbed among the trees, following his parents.Vladensky slept on his mother's chest.Other children cried, the first to show signs of exhaustion.

While the group crossed river after river, tired adults began to leave their bags.They climbed up and then down for a steep and muddy slope, only to stare at the next.The hopeful faces, even excited, that morning relaxed by fatigue.

A woman with a leopard print dress passed out.A crowd formed.A man gave him water.Then everyone got up, picked up their bags and started walking.

After all, it was just the first day in the Darién and they had a long way ahead.

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