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HomeTopicsLatin AmericaPanama's President-Elect Vows Deportation for Darién Migrants

Panama’s President-Elect Vows Deportation for Darién Migrants

Panama’s president-elect, José Raúl Mulino, promised this Thursday to deport migrants who enter the country through the Darién jungle, which borders Colombia, on their journey to the United States.

More than 520,000 people, mostly Venezuelans, crossed the inhospitable jungle in 2023, which has forced the Panamanian government to allocate resources to assist them. In the first quarter of the year, more than 110,000 people made the journey, according to official figures.

“To end the Darién Odyssey, which has no reason to be (…), we will begin with international help a process of repatriation with full respect for the human rights of all those who are there,” Mulino said during a speech at the event where the National Board of Scrutiny formally proclaimed him as the next president for the period 2024-2029.

Mulino had announced on April 16, during a campaign walk, his intention to “close” the Darién, the 266 km long and 575,000 hectares wide jungle border, which in recent years has become a corridor for migrants from South America trying to reach the United States.

“So that those over there [in South American nations] and those who would like to come know, here whoever arrives will be returned to their country of origin,” added Mulino, a 64-year-old right-wing lawyer, who is due to take office on July 1.

“Our Darién is not a transit route, no sir, that is our border,” Mulino added, who replaced as candidate the disqualified former president Ricardo Martinelli (2009-2014), to whose popularity he owes his victory in Sunday’s elections.

Migration is a key issue in the United States electoral campaign, and the head of U.S. diplomacy, Antony Blinken, announced on Wednesday $578 million in aid for Latin America, at a continental conference in Guatemala, as well as sanctions for those who facilitate “irregular migration.”

About 2.8 million migrants enter the United States irregularly each year, increasing pressure on President and reelection candidate in November, Democrat Joe Biden, while Republicans of his rival Donald Trump accuse him of doing nothing about it.

Central America also faces complications from the hundreds of thousands of migrants, mostly Venezuelans, who travel through the isthmus after crossing on foot the inhospitable Darién jungle, where criminal gangs assault, rape, and kill the defenseless travelers.

We will revive the Canal

In his speech, Mulino also said he will seek a solution to ensure the supply of fresh water to the Panama Canal, affected by a drought that threatens its contributions to the treasury.

“[We will] solve together with the Panama Canal Authority the problems of the interoceanic route, providing that lake [Gatún] with the necessary amount of water so that the transit of ships does not stop and navigation of the Canal is affected,” said the president-elect.

The drought forced a reduction in 2023 in the number of transiting ships. From 39 daily that crossed a year ago, now 32 circulate.

“We will make it well resurge [the Canal], to be efficient and for more and more ships to cross our isthmus, generate foreign currency, and contribute to the national treasury as they have been doing year after year,” Mulino indicated.

He indicated that he will soon meet with the Canal’s administrator, Ricaurte Vásquez, to discuss plans to secure the water supply for this 80 km route between the Pacific and the Atlantic, which moves 6% of the world’s maritime trade.

Treaty with Mercosur

Mulino, who denied in his speech being an “ultra-rightist”, indicated that he spoke by phone with the Brazilian president, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, about a possible Free Trade Agreement between Panama and Mercosur, the block comprising Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, and Paraguay.

“It will give us an important economic muscle […] what we can have with that economic block from the south,” said Mulino.

Furthermore, he evoked the Chilean socialist former president Ricardo Lagos (2000-2006), stating that he will not promote constitutional reforms to seek reelection.

As Lagos said, “presidents have to learn to pack” and know when to retire, Mulino stated, referring to statements made by the former president in June 2013 to CNN en Español.

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