Panamanian authorities recorded the transit of 2,100 people of "interest" to Washington in 2018.

  • Of the 8,445 illegal migrants located in Darien (an increase of 20% in two years), 91% were from Asia and Africa, with goal mostly from reaching the US.

  • The US Southern Command deployed helicopters in January and February 2019 to improve surveillance capabilities in the dense jungle area.

  • Washington's awareness of the presence of AIS in the Central American migrant caravans last autumn prompts it to focus on the Darien Gap.

report SRA 2019 / Alex Puigrefagut[PDF version].

One of the best-known icons on the American continent is the Pan-American Highway: network of roads that runs from Argentina to the United States and even goes as far as Alaska. Between one end and the other, there is only one point where you have to get out of your car: 130 kilometres of dense vegetation between Panama and Colombia, which is truly impassable, even difficult to cross on foot. It is the Darién jungle, which is known as the Darién Gap.

Precisely because it blocks land transit between South America and Central America, it has traditionally been a area with little surveillance of migratory flows. This lack of monitoring, however, has led in recent years to a call effect of illegal immigration, mainly from Asia and Africa, which is of concern to the United States. Many of these immigrants are classified by Washington as Special Interest Aliens (SIAs), as they come from countries that, according to the US, show a tendency to promote, produce or protect criminal organisations, mostly terrorist organisations. If they emerge in Panama, they can easily use Central American migratory routes to the US, as has been denounced in the recent crisis of the caravans that departed from Honduras.

Panama' s National Migration Service recorded the passage through Darién of 8,445 illegal immigrants in 2018 (with December still to be counted), of which 5,400 were from Asia and 2,287 from Africa, which together accounted for 91 per cent of the entire contingent. This is an increase of 20 per cent in two years. Of these, 2,123 were nationals from countries the US sees as a potential terrorist threat: most were from Bangladesh (1,440), but also from Eritrea (418), Pakistan (151), Yemen (34), Somalia (32), Afghanistan (10), Iraq (10), Mauritania (10), Syria (7) and Egypt (2). At the end of 2017, the Panamanian National Border Service detained 26 Yemeni nationals with suspected links to terrorist groups.

This migration flow of people labelled as SIAs by Washington was already alerted in 2016 by the US Homeland Securitydepartment , which sent a memo to US border authorities to be vigilant.

With a focus on Darién, in June 2018 the US and Panama agreed to establish a Joint Migration Task Force (JMTF), goal to ensure more effective and comprehensive coordination to address illegal and uncontrolled immigration in the region. Security authorities from both administrations prioritised action against drug trafficking and other types of organised crime that could pose a threat to the security of both Panama and the US, as well as the region as a whole. In January and February 2019, the US Southern Command used helicopters for transports to improve surveillance facilities in Darién.

USA and Colombia

The main purpose of the JMTF created between the two States is that there can be exchange of information and resources to establish strategic border points and thus combat all subject of organised crime on the southern border of Panama, such as drug trafficking, arms trafficking, human trafficking and above all for the comprehensive monitoring of the possible penetration of illegal migrants considered CIS that may be effectively related to international terrorist organisations. In addition, for the proper functioning of the JMTF, the two governments agreed to meet bilaterally twice a year to effectively supervise and coordinate the border security groups.

Already in 2016, the governments of Panama and Colombia implemented further measures in the Binational Border Security Commission (COMBIFRON) to strengthen the fight against drug trafficking and organised crime, as well as illegal migration. These measures included the creation of two shared surveillance points between the two navies in order to control migratory flows along the border of both countries, especially in the Darién region. The area had historically been a place of influence for Colombian cartels and a rearguard for guerrilla forces, so the peace process with the FARC was an opportunity to seek greater state control.

The main problem in the Darién challenge in recent decades, according to some observers, was the passivity shown by Colombia, which gradually decreased patrolling and land control of its part of the border, leaving Panama with limited resources in the face of criminal groups, which led to a considerable increase in the illegal trafficking of drugs, arms and people along the border. This Colombian passivity was mainly due to the fact that the transit of illegal migrants did not create migratory pressure on Colombia, as the flows were towards the northern part of the continent. Although today both countries pay attention to the Darién, control of the area is still deficient, partly because maritime security is prioritised over land security, especially in the case of Colombia.


Irregular transit of foreigners in 2018


Central American caravans

The illegal passage through the Darién of people Washington considers "of interest" because they come from countries that may foment terrorism is part of international routes to the southern border of the United States. Ample evidence sample that the Darién Gap has become a strategic point for regional and US security.

The presence of individuals labelled as SIAs was at the centre of the discussion on the various migrant caravans that in autumn 2018 departed from Central America - emerging in Honduras and increasing in size as they passed through El Salvador and Guatemala - and headed for the US-Mexico border. According to the US think-tank Center for a Secure and Free Society (SFS), these caravans involved individuals from outside Central America, from the Middle East, Asia and Africa, some of whom entered the label of SIA. According to agreement with SFS, these individuals had a privileged attention in the development of the convoys, which could even indicate collusion between SIA networks and certain Central American migration channels. The same centre found that Guatemalan officials detected no less than 157 irregular migrants from other continents, at least 17 of whom were of "special interest" to the US because they came from countries such as Pakistan, Bangladesh and Eritrea.

It is difficult to establish how many people with profile SIAs actually transit through Central America to the US, as their identities are falsified in order to go unnoticed during their journey. On the other hand, the US president exaggerated the state of alarm over the large Central American caravans, because even if there were grounds for the alert, it should not be forgotten that the vast majority of Special Interest Aliens who enter the US and who are highly dangerous because of their direct connections to terrorism arrive by air and not by land. According to an explanatorystatement of the US Homeland Security department , average of ten people on the "terrorist watch list" are apprehended every day (3,700 in the last fiscal year), although few of them enter through the US-Mexico border.

More blog entries

Publicador de contenidos

Carrera por los recursos espaciales: de la minería al control de rutas

▲ proposal of lunar base for obtaining helium, taken from [Christopher Barnatt]. GLOBAL AFFAIRS JOURNAL / Emili J. Blasco [8-page document.... ReadmoreAboutRace for space resources: from mining to route control "

Conexión eléctrica entre Ceuta y la Península: un asunto de seguridad energética y medioambiental

The routeing of a submarine cable for power transmission to Spain's place has been stalled since 2016 The project of electrical interconnection between Ceuta and the Peninsula, of the network Eléctrica... ReadmoreAboutElectrical interconnection between Ceuta and the Peninsula: a matter of energy and environmental security "

Ecuador desaprovecha su salida de la OPEP y pierde producción petrolera

The country left the cartel in order to expand its pumping, but the Covid-19 crisis has cut extraction volumes by 10.8%. Construction of a variant of the pipeline that crosses the... ReadmoreAboutEcuador misses out on OPEC exit and loses oil production "

Argentina ve en Vaca Muerta una tabla de salvación, pero falta más capital para su desarrollo

The hydrocarbon field is the central axis of the Gas 2020-2023 Plan of President Alberto Fernández, which subsidizes part of the investment Activity of YPF, Argentina's state-owned oil and gas... ReadmoreAboutArgentina sees Vaca Muerta as a lifeline, but more capital is needed for its development "

El gas natural licuado cambia el juego en el hemisferio americano

U.S. LNG sales to its neighbors and exports from Latin American and Caribbean countries to Europe and Asia open new perspectives Not to depend on gas pipelines, but to be able to buy or sell... ReadmoreAboutLiquefied natural gas is a game changer in the American hemisphere "

Could Spain partner up with Morocco in the field of solar energy?

The two countries are greatly exposed to solar radiation and they already share electricity interconnectors Spain was an early developer of solar energy, but it didn't keep the pace with the... ReadmoreAboutCould Spain partner up with Morocco in the field of solar energy? "

Surinam sigue a Guyana en el ‘milagro’ petrolero

The finding of a "significant" amount of oil in off-shore wells places the former Dutch colony in the footsteps of neighboring Guyana. The intuition has proved to be right and the... ReadmoreAboutSuriname follows Guyana in the oil 'miracle' "

Climate Refugees will raise, nations should find the way for shelter them

▲ Flood rescue in the Afghan village of Jalalabad, in 2010 [NATO]. ESSAY / Alejandro J. Alfonso In December of 2019, Madrid hosted the United Nations Climate Change Conference, COP25,... ReadmoreAboutClimate Refugees will raise, nations should find the way for shelter them "

La nueva guerra de precios petroleros

March and April 2020 will be remembered in the oil industry as the months in which the perfect storm occurred: a drop of more than 20% in global demand at the same time that the oil industry... ReadmoreAboutThe new oil price war "

Was the Madrid COP25 useful?

The UN Conference did little to increase international commitment to climate change action, but did at least boost the assertiveness of the EU In recent years, the temperature of the Earth has... ReadmoreAboutWas the Madrid COP25 useful? "

La minería ilegal, la otra destrucción de la Amazonía

Gold mining and oil transport pollute Amazonian rivers It is not only the fires that are negatively affecting the Amazon, which is undergoing an accelerated reduction of... ReadmoreAboutIllegal mining, the other destruction of the Amazon "

Centroamérica aprovecha sus volcanes para generación eléctrica

Geothermal energy already accounts for 7.5% of the Central American electricity mix, with installed capacity still far below the estimated potential. Volcanic activity and tectonic movement... ReadmoreAboutCentral America harnesses its volcanoes for power generation "

Jordan River Basin: Hydropolitics as an arena for regional cooperation

▲Satellite imagery of the Jordan River [NASA]. ANALYSIS / Marina Díaz Escudero Water is an essential natural resource, not only for individual survival on Earth, but also for nation-states... Read moreAboutJordan River Basin: Hydropolitics as an arena for regional cooperation "

Qué hará Bolivia con su gas natural cuando Brasil y Argentina ya no lo necesiten

The upcoming gas self-sufficiency of its two major gas-buying neighbors forces the Bolivian government to seek alternative markets Yacimientos Pretrolíferos Fiscales gas plant in... ReadmoreAboutWhat Bolivia will do with its natural gas when Brazil and Argentina no longer need it "

Blood diamonds keep going through Antwerp

The Belgian city, the world's capital of diamonds, has applied more regulations, sanctions and scrutiny on the industry, but still there are some bad practices ▲ The diamond industry has... ReadmoreAboutBlood diamonds keep going through Antwerp "

Cumbre del Clima 2018, un paso hacia adelante

The meeting COP24 made progress in regulating the Paris agreement , but "carbon markets" remained blocked. Mobilizations in favor of governments taking more drastic measures... ReadmoreAboutClimate Summit 2018, a step forward "

La nueva Guyana petrolera y su proyección internacional

One of the poorest countries in the Americas may become the world's largest oil producer per capita, disrupting the relationship with its neighbors. The promising oil discoveries... ReadmoreAboutThe new oil Guyana and its international projection "

Acuífero Guaraní: mejor que otros, pero pervivencia no asegurada

Geopolitical misgivings about perceived foreign interests should not distract beneficiary countries from implementing sustainable use. The Guarani Aquifer has given rise to a... ReadmoreAboutAquifer Guarani: better than others, but survival not assured "

El 'boom' de la quinoa

Global interest in this fashionable grain has brought additional income to Andean communities. The localization of quinoa production, especially in Peru and Bolivia (together they account for... ReadmoreAboutThe quinoa boom "

Impulso a la conexión gasística de los países de la Iniciativa de los Tres Mares

Poland-Germany struggle for influence in the European region between the Baltic, the Adriatic and the Black Sea The latest summit of the Three Seas Initiative (TMI) was attended by the... ReadmoreAboutBoosting the gas connection of the Three Seas Initiative countries "