HomeNewsBriefPanama's Colombia Border Closure Could Fuel Human Trafficking
BRIEF

Panama's Colombia Border Closure Could Fuel Human Trafficking

COLOMBIA / 10 MAY 2016 BY MIKE LASUSA EN

Panama has announced that it will temporarily close its border with Colombia in an attempt to halt irregular migration, a decision that could impact the dynamics of human smuggling in the region.

Panamanian President Juan Carlos Varela made the announcement On May 9.

"We have taken the difficult decision to close the border with Colombia to confront the passage of irregular migrants," Varela said. "We have to close the border to this irregular flow."

The same day, the Panamanian government revealed that it had initiated a process that will see around 3,800 Cuban migrants transferred by airplane to Mexico, where they will presumably continue on to the United States.

The Cubans had been stranded in Panama after the country's northern neighbor, Costa Rica, closed its border with Panama in November 2015.

That border closure coincided with a diplomatic spat between Costa Rica and its own northern neighbor, Nicaragua, centering on the issue of Cuban migration. The Nicaraguan government refused to allow Cuban migrants to pass through its territory, due to its close relationship with the Cuban government, which considers the migrants traitors.

Ultimately, Costa Rica also opted to airlift to Mexico some of the thousands of Cuban migrants stuck in their country.

The ongoing process of "normalizing" relations between the United States and Cuba, announced in December 2014, seems to have spurred an uptick in emigration from Cuba. Many Cubans have reportedly decided to attempt to reach the United States before any possible changes are made to US laws that give special treatment to Cuban migrants.

InSight Crime Analysis

The decision by Panamanian authorities to close the border with Colombia could mean an increase in business for human traffickers operating in the region. A recent report by the Miami Herald detailed how the increasing number of Cuban migrants fueled a rise in violence on the Colombian side of the border as gangs fought for control of lucrative people smuggling networks. Previous reports indicate migrants from Cuba, as well as those from Asian and African countries, pay hundreds or even thousands of dollars per person to be smuggled over the border with Panama.

SEE ALSO: Coverage of Human Smuggling

The border shutdown could also impact cooperation between Panamanian and Colombian authorities on combating organized crime in the border area, known as the Darién Gap -- an infamously difficult-to-traverse jungle region where various paramilitary and criminal groups maintain a presence. A large back-up of migrants on the Colombian side could stretch resources thin and overwhelm local authorities.

"We don't have any contingency plans if that were to happen," a Colombian Navy captain told the Miami Herald. "We don't have the resources to handle it, and the local mayors don't have the capacity to provide emergency shelter."

In sum, the border shutdown appears to be motivated more by politics than practicality. Following the release in April of the so-called "Panama Papers," which showed how a Panamanian law firm apparently facilitated dubious tax-dodging and money laundering schemes using offshore companies, the Panamanian government has made a significant public effort to repair the country's rule-of-law reputation. As part of that effort, the government recently signed on to new anti-tax avoidance measure and promised to ramp up the fight against organized crime.

share icon icon icon

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.

DONATE

What are your thoughts? Click here to send InSight Crime your comments.

We encourage readers to copy and distribute our work for non-commercial purposes, with attribution to InSight Crime in the byline and links to the original at both the top and bottom of the article. Check the Creative Commons website for more details of how to share our work, and please send us an email if you use an article.

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.

DONATE

Related Content

COLOMBIA / 2 SEP 2014

Spain has returned 691 indigenous artifacts to Colombia that were smuggled out of the country by a drug trade money…

COCA / 13 NOV 2015

US anti-drug officials reportedly believe Colombia's coca cultivation will continue to increase significantly this year, a trend that is…

PANAMA / 17 MAR 2011

When President Barack Obama makes his first visit to Central America next week, Panama will most likely not be on…

About InSight Crime

THE ORGANIZATION

Venezuela's Cocaine Revolution Met With Uproar

6 MAY 2022

On May 4, InSight Crime launched its latest investigation, Venezuela’s Cocaine Revolution¸ accompanied by a virtual panel on its findings. The takeaways from this three-year effort, including the fact that Venezuela…

THE ORGANIZATION

Venezuela Drug Trafficking Investigation and InDepth Gender Coverage

29 APR 2022

On May 4, InSight Crime will be publishing The Cocaine Revolution in Venezuela, a groundbreaking investigation into how the Venezuelan government regulates the cocaine trade in the country. An accompanying event,…

THE ORGANIZATION

InDepth Coverage of Juan Orlando Hernández

22 APR 2022

Ever since Juan Orlando Hernández was elected president of Honduras in 2014, InSight Crime has provided coverage of every twist and turn during his rollercoaster time in office, amid growing…

THE ORGANIZATION

Venezuela's Cocaine Revolution

15 APR 2022

On May 4th, InSight Crime will publish a groundbreaking investigation on drug trafficking in Venezuela. A product of three years of field research across the country, the study uncovers cocaine production in…

LA ORGANIZACIÓN

Widespread Coverage of InSight Crime MS13 Investigation

8 APR 2022

In a joint investigation with La Prensa Gráfica, InSight Crime recently revealed that four of the MS13’s foremost leaders had been quietly released from…