PANAMA CITY.- More than 600 migrants have transited in the country of the isthmus trying desperately to reach the United States. About 150 Cubans are still in Panama. Most of them are sick, wounded, very old or very young to bear the journey. Forecasts show that faster than what many think, there will be a new humanitarian crisis caused by imposition of an ideology spread in 1960s and is still with Raúl Castro in power. Information that is no longer so confidential shows that with new groups of displaced Cubans will also include Venezuelans that are trying to protect themselves from what they consider a dictatorship worse than that imposed by Fidel Castro.
2016 started in Panama with a migration crisis out of proportion. The rapprochement between the United States and Cuba rose in many Cubans a terrible feeling that it will soon be eliminated the Adjustment Act, whose purpose is to help rafters running away from the island and reinforced in 1996 with the concept “dry foot, wet foot” policy to help Cubans entering through the borders with Mexico.
That fear, according to General Secretary of Cáritas Panama, Engineer Víctor Berrío, caused that in August 2015 thousands of Cubans mobilized by land using the Central American corridor to reach to the promised land. Those migrants not only came directly from the island, but many have been first in Venezuela, Ecuador or Brazil, where they worked as part of a mission. At some point of this story, Berrío tells, “Nicaragua closes its borders and more than 5 thousand Cubans are stuck…And at the same time, to contain the concentration of migrants a little, Costa Rica closes its borders to Panama, thus accumulating about 4 thousand people in the worst of times at the border of Paso Canoa”.
From craziness to the air bridge
At this moment Cáritas got involved; it is an organization of the Panamanian Episcopal Conference which is part of an international network that reports in Rome directly to the Pope and fulfills a specific policy regarding migrants care and humanitarian aid. Berrío highlights that they concentrated in enabling several shelters and during the whole process they had the support of Juan Carlos Varela’s Government, facilitating the accommodation of some people in motels, hotels, and other places.
“Finally, that could be solved once an airlift was built from Costa Rica, for those who were in Costa Rica and Panama for those ho were in Panama. By May this year, the end of May the last flight will depart from Panama with 90 something percent of the Cubans who had migrated,” says the General Secretary of Cáritas.
Red flags reactivated
But, by the end of July, beginning of August this year, new groups of migrants started to arrive between 600 and 650 people, through Turbo, in Colombian border. “Due to a humanitarian intervention from President Juan Carlos Valera they were let into Panama. Many came to the city, others, the last of them, some 150, stayed in Puerto Obaldía, near La Miel. In the city we had to enable a total of 4 shelters, sorry, we had to enable 5 shelters in a given moment to lodge more than 500 migrants we had at the same time. The Catholic Church offered 4 places and Cáritas Panama transformed its offices into shelters. In the worst of moments it had 200 people sleeping for 2 days in those offices, and Santa Ana parish had another lot until we were able to enable other shelters,” says Víctor Berrío.
Stories about that journey are horrifying, says the Secretary of Cáritas. But instead of telling us about them, he prefers to give us access to those offices of Cáritas so we can take some of these bitter experiences and raise awareness in the world of the severe humanitarian crisis that is increasing in that part of the continent. We, with camera in hand, recorded the story of four groups of people and will present it throughout this week so that every one of our readers draws their own conclusions.
In conclusion, Berrío tells us that currently there are about 120 Cubans distributed in three shelters. However, everything indicates that this crisis will continue or, possibly, will get worse: “15 leave, but 6, 7 come in… We are concerned also about a fact that we have already been told about. In Venezuela, with the terrible political, economical and social situation Venezuelans are experiencing, there is the organization of groups that are thinking of migrating to Panama, Central America, running away from political conditions, hoping to be able to enter the United States although they have no law that guarantees them the granting of shelter of residence. This is the current situation,” he says.