Overwhelmed in Panama’s Darién, Venezuelan migrants keep their eyes on the US
Venezuelan migrants arrive at Canaán Membrillo, the first border checkpoint in the province of Darién, in Panama, on October 13, 2022 Luis Acosta AFP
Crossing a road full of mud, hundreds of Venezuelan migrants walk in a row through the Darién jungle, the border between Colombia and Panama, with the mission of reaching the United States, which has just closed the door to travelers from Venezuela without papers.
With sores on their feet, blows and recounting the horrors they experienced for several days, they arrive in groups at the indigenous community of Canaán Membrillo, the first Panamanian border control in this jungle region. Several travel with children and babies.
"Everyone risks his life for a future, but I really don't recommend anyone to come through the jungle, he's very strong, it's very hard," Jesús Arias, 45, told AFP.
The man, wearing a blue T-shirt and shorts, arrived at the village on the backs of other boys after breaking his knee during his week-long trek through the 575,000-hectare virgin jungle.
He says that he is going to the United States because "there is no future in Venezuela" where "every day it gets worse."
But his dream could be shattered by the new order of the United States, which in mid-October decided to close the passage to irregular migrants from Venezuela who have crossed Panama and Mexico illegally, and accept only 24,000 with prior permission who arrive by air and have a sponsor on US soil.
A Venezuelan migrant rests on the ground in the village of Canaán Membrillo, the first border control of the province of Darién, in Panama, on October 12, 2022 Luis Acosta AFP
"We will still go there. We will go to the United States and if there is restricted passage at some point we will go through," says Jesús, who worked in a fishmonger's network in his country.
The migration of Venezuelans through the Darién jungle broke a record in 2022.
According to data provided to AFP by the Panamanian Security Minister, Juan Manuel Pino, between January and mid-October, some 185,000 people passed through the jungle, including more than 133,000 from Venezuela, pulverizing the figure for all of last year when they crossed through the Darién 2,800 Venezuelans.
I saw "many dead, many mountains, many rivers that took many people (...), that was horrible," says Nélida Pantoja (46). In addition to the topography, the migrants are at the mercy of wild animals such as poisonous snakes and also criminal groups.
Migrants line up to be transported from the village of Canaán Membrillo to the migrant reception station in Metetí, in the Darién province of Panama, on October 13, 2022 Luis Acosta AFP
He travels with 10 other people, including acquaintances and relatives, and despite Washington's order to expel irregular Venezuelans, he also affirms that he "will continue trying" to reach the United States.
In Canaán Membrillo, a village of wooden houses, many Venezuelan migrants and other nationalities take the opportunity to rest in tents before continuing their journey. Others prefer to play basketball.
According to forensic authorities in Panama, since 2018 at least a hundred people have died trying to cross the Darién, with 2021 being the worst year with 53 deaths.