Incoming Panama Government Debuts Plan to Keep U.S.-Bound Migrants Out of Darién Gap

DARIEN GAP, COLOMBIA - NOVEMBER 20: Haitian migrants climb down a muddy hillside trail in
File Photo: Jan Sochor/Getty Images

Frank Ábrego, recently tapped to be Panama’s next public security minister, outlined on Thursday the upcoming government’s planned first steps to crack down on U.S-bound migrants that cross through the dangerous Darién Gap jungle trail.

Closing the Darién Gap, a jungle trail shared by Panama and Colombia, was one of the main campaign promises of Panamanian President-Elect José Raúl Mulino, a recently elected 64-year-old conservative who will take office for a five-year term on July 1.

On Thursday, Mulino introduced the majority of the men and women who will form his cabinet of ministers once he takes office, including Ábrego. In remarks given to reporters shortly after Mulino’s presentation, Ábrego detailed that the new Panamanian government has initiated “diplomatic contacts” and begun conducting “studies through international organizations” to close down the Darién Gap, a goal that Ábrego described as a priority of Mulino’s administration.

“We have already initiated a series of studies, through international organizations, he [Mulino] has made some contacts at the diplomatic level and we are preparing a plan that will be announced later,” Ábrego said.

The upcoming Security Minister stressed that, while closing the Darién Gap is not an easy task, it is nevertheless “not impossible,” and ruled out the construction of a border wall that stretches from the Caribbean Sea to the Pacific Ocean.

Instead, Ábrego asserted that the government plans to establish checkpoints to detain migrants and deport them.

“This idea of ​​building a wall is impossible, but if tomorrow we declare a border closure and establish checkpoints where we can detain migrants, then proceed with deportation and repatriation, as the president talked about, I think that will reduce the volume of migrants at the border,” Ábrego stated.

According to official statistics from the Panamanian government, a record-breaking number of more than 520,000 migrants were found to have crossed the Darién Gap in 2023, doubling the number of 247,784 registered in 2022. More than 125,000 migrants crossed through the Darién Gap between January and April 17.

The majority of the migrants who crossed the Darién Gap in 2023 hailed from Venezuela, Ecuador, Haiti, and China.

Last week, during his official proclamation as president of Panama, Mulino reiterated that he intends to deport U.S-bound migrants crossing through the Darién Gap and return them to their country of origin.

“I will make an effort, that I have already started to talk about, to end the odyssey of the Darien, which has no reason to exist, and I reiterate that Panama and our Darien is not a transit route,” Mulino said:

No sir, that is our border, and the concept of closure [of the Darién Gap] that I have outlined also implies a philosophical concept that is related to closing the border on the grounds that we will initiate with international help a process of repatriation with full respect for the human rights of all the people who are there.

Ábrego, prior to his upcoming tenure as public security minister, served as the first director of Panama’s Senafront national border service from its establishment in 2008 until 2016. During his time at the head of Senafront, Ábrego promoted operations that led to the banishment of an armed front of the Marxist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) terrorist group.

Christian K. Caruzo is a Venezuelan writer and documents life under socialism. You can follow him on Twitter here.


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