Salta el Tapón del Darién y la migración a EEUU pasa a ser continental

Darien Gap Breaks and migration to the U.S. goes continental


14 | 04 | 2023


The worsening of the status of Haitians, Cubans and Venezuelans has pushed them to make their way through the impassable passage between Colombia and Panama.

In the picture

Migrants at the end of their passage through the Darien Jungle; canoes take them to reception centers in Panama [IOM/Idiam Osorio].

report AMERICAN REGIONAL SECURITY, SRA 2023 /PDF version from article


Until 2018, a few thousand people from Asia and Africa crossed the Darien, seeking to join the Central American caravans unnoticed.

° In 2021, transits soared to 130,000; in 2022, with a boom first from the West Indies and then from Venezuela, it reached 250,000 and in 2023 it may double again.

° Once the Darien Dam overflowed, the migratory wave reached the US border, making 2022 the year of greatest illegal migratory pressure in the country's history.


The Darien Gap is located in Panama and borders Colombia. The inhospitable and intricate jungle has historically made overland connection between the two countries impossible. The exhibition to diseases, the risks of wild animal life and the lack of water and possible supplies make this route extremely dangerous. Although exposed to mafia exploitation, robbery, sexual violence and even death, migrants have been making their way through this impassable passage, driven by necessity. From a previous transit of irregular migrants that annually stood at under 10,000 people, in recent years the number has skyrocketed: 133,726 in 2021 and a record 248,284 in 2022.

The serious migratory crises in several countries -singularly Haiti, Cuba and Venezuela- and the news that other migrants managed to overcome the test have multiplied the flow enormously. Once the bottleneck was broken, these migratory masses advanced through Central America to reach the border with the United States. The year 2022 was the year of greatest illegal migratory pressure in the history of the North American nation: the border services made 2.7 million apprehensions.


Until the present status, migrants from the Caribbean and South America who wanted to march to the United States avoided this route. Washington's attention was then directed to the attempt of people from other continents to use the unsuspected Darien gateway to then dilute themselves among the caravans of migrants from the Central American Northern Triangle moving towards the United States. It was a way to set foot on the American continent, in a place of very difficult surveillance, without leaving any trace of arrival. This made U.S. authorities suspect that radical Islamists from the Middle East might be using this tactic.

But things began to change due to the pressure of Haitian migration, to which other doors were being closed, and the worsening conditions in Cuba: desperate situations that led to risk everything by crossing the Darien jungle to reach the United States. If in 2018 the total number of irregular migrant transits through the Darien was 8,445, 91% of which came from Asia and Africa, in 2019 the issue rose to 23,968, of which 10,510 corresponded to Haitians and 3,276 to Cubans.

In 2020, the restrictions of mobility caused by the Covid-19 health emergency brought the numbers down to a total of 6,465, a reduction of 73%. However, the effects of the pandemic aggravated the causes that pushed people to leave their own country in search of better living conditions, which led to an increase in the migratory flow. Thus, in 2021 the volume of transits through the Darien increased twenty-fold, reaching 133,726, most of them of people from the Antilles: 101,072 Haitians (82,952 arrived from Haiti and the rest through Chile and Brazil) and 18,600 Cubans.

In 2022, the marked growth continued, with a 90% increase, reaching a transit of 248,284 people. There was less migratory pressure from the Caribbean, but this was more than compensated for by the Venezuelan exodus: last year, 150,327 Venezuelans transited the Darien jungle, with entire families. The presence of children on such a dangerous journey has been highlighted by Unicef. So far in 2023 the flow continues to increase, this time with a large presence of Ecuadorians, whose country has experienced a sharp increase in violence and a deterioration of economic conditions. The total for this year could exceed 400,000 migrants.

In this bet on a route that Latin American migrants used to absolutely discard, social networks are influential, transmitting advice on how to overcome the difficult test, although they also spread false information presenting the crossing as less inhumane than it really is. The Darien hashtag, for example, had been viewed almost 500,000 times on TikTok by September last year.

To cross the Darien Gap, migrants leave from Necocli in Colombia. There they embark and cross the Gulf of Urabá to the Colombian town of Acandía and then penetrate the jungle until they reach San Vicente in Darién, where the Panamanian government offers attendance to migrants. They also have temporary migrant reception stations at both borders, where data takes biometrics of the migrants and offers health and food services. They are then transported to another center near the Costa Rican border.

Migratory pressure

The high flow of migrants seeking to reach the north presents a security problem for the entire region, especially for Panama, which until now has not been affected by the large migratory flows, precisely because the Darien was a buffer, and for the United States, the country to which all these migrants aspire to reach. Panama and the other Latin American countries lack sufficient resources to mitigate the humanitarian and migratory crisis they are currently experiencing: all Central American nations are affected by these routes to the US, but South American nations are also suffering an increase in this problem, with the arrival of Venezuelan migrants in recent years (Colombia, in the access to the Darien Pass, participates in both dynamics).

Once the obstruction of area of the Darien to pass by land from South America to Central America was reduced, a dam was broken that previously contained the South American migration with minimum resources to try to reach the United States on foot (also the Caribbean migration that moved to South America). The Venezuelan diaspora that did not have money for plane tickets had to concentrate in neighboring countries, but some of them have started to require visas, making their stay more difficult, which also encouraged their movement northwards.

As the main destination of migrants, the measures adopted by the United States have a direct impact on migratory flows. The decrease of issue of Haitians in Darien in 2022 -still at high levels, but below those of the previous year-, was due to the fact that at the end of 2021 the US government, seeing the Haitian pressure it was suffering at its border, carried out a massive expulsion of those nationals, which discouraged migrants from Haiti to follow this route. For their part, Cubans also resumed their attempts to enter the United States directly by sea.

One of the ways adopted by the United States to alleviate the migration crisis was the signature in June 2022 of the Los Angeles Declaration on Migration and Protection, which seeks greater cooperation from the countries of the Western Hemisphere in this subject. But it was above all the provisions of the White House last October that may have the greatest effect, by reducing to 30,000 the monthly permits to entrance to the United States for migrants from Venezuela, Haiti, Cuba and Nicaragua, who must have their application approved before presenting themselves there, and the notice that all nationals from these countries who attempt to enter illegally will be expelled.

The advertisement was first applied to Venezuelans, as they were the ones who at that time were arriving en masse to the southern border of the United States, but was later extended to other important migratory groups. Mexico also committed to process a similar issue of stay permits for Venezuelans, Central Americans and Caribbeans who were expelled from the United States.

These commitments include Nicaraguan citizens because in 2021 and 2022 Nicaragua also suffered a high exodus due to the intensification of Daniel Ortega's dictatorship, although this migration does not affect the Darien Passage as it already originates in Central America.