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Panama Replaces Foreign Minister who asked for Migration Help

The Panamanian government on Monday relieved Foreign Minister Erika Mouynes, who days before asked for international support to face a migratory wave that “has surpassed” the capacity of her country, used as a transit territory.

She will be replaced by Janaina Tewaney Mencomo, current Minister of Government. The administration of President Laurentino Cortizo, who thanked Mouynes for his services, did not detail the reasons for the change.

Last week, during his participation in the 52nd General Assembly of the Organization of American States (OAS), Mouynes assured that the continent is currently facing a “Venezuelan migratory wave” that crosses the inhospitable Darien jungle, on its border with Colombia, going from 2,000 Venezuelan citizens received in 2021 to 111,000 so far this year.

It is “an unprecedented increase”, he detailed. All of them seek to reach the United States by land and cross the jungle “tricked by organized crime,” said Mouynes.

“We are in a situation of decontrol and crisis. We have to work together to solve this. Panama is the only country that offers shelter, food, aid but we have exhausted all our resources and our capacity to handle this new outbreak has been exceeded, help us to help,” the now former minister said in Peru.

Darien, on the 266 km Panama-Colombia border, has become a corridor for irregular migrants from South America trying to cross Central America to the United States.

In this virgin jungle of 575,000 hectares, travelers face multiple dangers, such as wild animals, raging rivers and criminal groups.

More than 160,000 migrants, mostly Venezuelans, have crossed the Panamanian jungle so far in 2022, a record that shatters the record of 2021, when 133,000 people did so, more than the accumulated in the entire previous decade.

Until last year, Haitian citizens made up the majority of migrants. 

According to press reports, Mouynes’ departure is due to an alleged refusal on his part to support a government candidate for the leadership of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO). 

“He betrayed his own country to support another character,” Carlos Perez Herrera, leader of the ruling Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD), wrote on Twitter. 

Tewaney will be the third person to head the foreign ministry in Cortizo’s government (2019-2024).

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