Panama Prepares The Final Transfer Of Cubans To Mexico / 14ymedio, Mario
14ymedio, Mario Penton, Miami, 29 April 2016 — The Panamanian Foreign
Ministry has begun to take a census of more than 670 Cuban migrants in
the hostel of Los Planes in the province of Chiriqui, in anticipation of
their transfer to Mexico in the coming days. Another three thousand
Cubans, most stranded on the border with Costa Rica, will also benefit
from this operation, the last of its type, according to the Panamanian
president, Juan Carlos Varela on Thursday.
“Starting from the completion of transfer operation of the Cubans
counted in the census, those who enter later will have to make a
decision about what country they want to return to; we can’t become a
permanent logistical support for the trafficking of migrants,” warned
the Panamanian president.
According to the regional director of migration, commissioner Alfredo
Cordoba, the transfer of more than 200 migrants in various shelters to
the Los Planes encampment began yesterday afternoon. “This mainly
involved pregnant women and families with children, who need to be
brought to a place with the attentions they deserve,” he said.
The official told this newspaper that the purpose of this measure is to
“concentrate all the migrants in one area where their basic needs can be
met, taking into account their rights as people.”
Cordoba said that right now there are 3,704 Cuban migrants in the
Republic of Panama, who should be gradually transferred to Gualaca,
where a joint task force–which includes the National Civil Protection
System (SINAPROC), the Panama National Migration Service, the State
Border Service (SENAFRONT), and the National Police–have mobilized to
address the humanitarian crisis.
“I believe we are in the final stretch, at least they are already making
photocopies of our passports, and that’s something,” said Angel Chale,
one of the stranded who came through Ecuador. Chale decided to abandon
the old Bond warehouse, in San Isidro, a mile from the Costa Rican
frontier, where she shared the floor with 400 other Cubans in the most
Both Angel and Leslie Jesus Barrera have spent a week at the Los Planes
shelter. “This place where we are now is pretty fun. Usually we play
baseball, dominoes or we dance,” says Barrera. “We help when they ask us
to collaborate with some chore and for the rest, it’s like camping.” He
added that he is very grateful for the treatment he has received from
the Panama government, which right now includes free medical care.
The godmother of Cubans
Angela Buendia is the director of community organizing for SINAPROC, but
migrants have dubbed her “the godmother.” As she herself says, “They
call me that because I identify with their needs and all the pain they
have gone through.”
Buendia says she learned to deal with migrants from the island in the
last crisis and since then sympathizes with the plight of “these
thousands of people who have to leave their land and often go through
very intense trauma.” She stresses that, even after spending weeks in
Panama, many still live in fear.
According to her, the migratory flow does not seem to stop, although
official statistics indicate a decline. “Every day we receive between 20
and 60 Cuban migrants in Chiriqui. This is why we decided to prepare
Buendia explained that Los Planes was originally built to shelter Swiss
workers who worked on a local dam. “It’s a ten acre site with a fresh
landscape and all amenities,” she added. She also stressed that “the
only prohibition is not to leave at night, and this is for their own
security.” She said they will have free WiFi, but right now they can use
data connections on a local network.
“The biggest problem I’ve had with the Cuban people is that when they
come here, having come from a place without freedom, they feel
completely free and clear, sometimes confusing liberty with license,”
Not everyone wants to be in the shelter
But not everyone wants to go to the shelter in Los Planes. “The problem
that I see to this place is that it is very far away. From the Milennium
one can at least work ‘under the table’ and earn a few bucks,” said
Dariel, who prefers to omit his last name for fear of discovery. His
work as a carpenter, a trade he learned in Cuba, allows him to cover his
expenses and at the same time, he confesses, save something “for the end
of the journey.”
“Here there were even Cubans who were whoring and charge less than the
Panamanians. Those were the smart ones, because in the end, they managed
to get together the money and now they’re in the [United States],” says
In overcrowded rooms, hallways, or simply in tents put up at dusk in the
doorways of neighboring houses, hundreds of Cubans have preferred to
stay near the Costa Rican border.
“It’s a problem that affects communities that often find themselves
overwhelmed by the number of migrants arriving,” says Commissioner Cordoba.
Many of the local inhabitants, from Puerto Obaldia to Paso Canoas, have
seen a business opportunity in the Cubans. With the flow of migrants,
businesses have flourished from hostels to simple restaurants where the
prices are usually double for inhabitants of the island.
“I don’t want to go to the Gualaca shelter because it’s very far away, I
prefer to stay here because I’m in a village and at least I can fend for
myself,” says Yanieris, a 35-year-old Cuban woman who arrived in Panama
from Guyana. “It’s hard, sure, but if I want to go with a coyote
tomorrow, there will be no one to stop me.”
The coyotes prowl…
Juan Ramon is one of those Cubans stranded in Panama who decided not to
wait any longer to reach the United States. After collecting $1,400 from
family and friends in Miami, he left one night sneaking across the Costa
Rican border, along with six other companions under the guidance of a
coyote. “In each country a coyote handed us off to another, and we have
gone all the way: through the jungles, rivers, lakes… it is very hard,”
The worst thing for the young man was the moment they ran into a
military checkpoint in Nicaragua, where “a thug assaulted us, sent by
the same guide, who robbed us of everything we had. He even took our
cellphone. It was a terrible experience because it could have cost our
lives and nobody would have known about it,” he told this newspaper.
After more than 12 days on the road, Juan Ramon found himself at the
border crossing station of El Paso, Texas, hoping they would process his
documents to enter the United States under the “parole” program.
To try to circumvent the army and police control on the borders of Costa
Rica and Nicaragua the migrants use unique measures such as hiding
themselves in a water pipe or hiding in a boat to pass through the
dangerous coastal regions of the Pacific Ocean.
In November of last year, Daniel Ortega’s Sandinista government closed
the borders of his country to Cuban migrants using Central America as a
path to the United States.
The measure worked like a plug, leaving 8,000 people stranded in Costa
Rica, which in turn also closed its border transferring the problem to
Panama. Following an agreement with Mexico, both countries managed to
build a humanitarian bridge that allowed the orderly exit of a great
part of the migrants.
The coyotes, or human traffickers, have turned the migration to the
north into a huge business that generates millions of dollars. From
October of 2014, almost 132,000 Central Americans and around 75,000
Cubans reached the southern border of the United States.
The Cuban government has reiterated that all the migrants have left Cuba
legally and so can return to the country.
Source: Panama Prepares The Final Transfer Of Cubans To Mexico /
14ymedio, Mario Penton – Translating Cuba –