Will Panama's New President Really Close the Darien Gap and Stop the Flow of Illegal Migration?

Will Panama's New President Really Close the Darien Gap and Stop the Flow of Illegal Migration?
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The Darien Gap, a jungle in Panama, is a major link along the invasion route that leads from South America into Central America, and eventually to the U.S.

It’s estimated that half a million migrants, including 113,000 children, passed through it in 2023. These people came from South America, the Caribbean, and even Africa and Asia.

The Darien Gap is a dangerous place, filled with rivers, cliffs, animals, and criminal gangs.

Closing down the Gap could significantly reduce the amount of people coming to the U.S.

Believe it or not, the newly-elected president of Panama pledged to do exactly that during his campaign.

Usually, Latin American leaders tacitly encourage mass migration as it gets people out of their country. President Jose Raul Mulino may be different.

On May the 5, Cinco de Mayo in Spanish, Panama held its presidential election.

It was a real doozy, with six candidates contending. Mulino was the standard-bearer of the right-wing Realizando Metas (Accomplishing Goals) party.

Mulino wasn’t even the party’s candidate until February, when the previous candidate, former president Ricardo Martinelli, had to drop out due to a money laundering conviction.

Mulino went on to win the election on Cinco de Mayo and is scheduled to take office on July 1.

One of Mulino’s campaign pledges was to close the Darien Gap.

The border of the United States, instead of being in Texas, moved to Panama,” Mulino said.

Good observation.

Mulino’s pledge?

We’re going to close the Darien and we’re going to repatriate all these people.”

Sounds great.

"I am committed to ending this migratory crisis on our soil with a respect for human rights and robust international cooperation.”

Mulino also suggested the construction of a wall to restrain the masses of migrants constantly crossing through Panama.

The candidate gave a positive shout-out to Donald Trump, asking him to “add some cement” to the wall.

Could Mulino really close the Darien Gap?

Of course, there are naysayers.

Juan Pappier of Human Rights Watch said, “Closing the Darien Gap is virtually impossible.”

But if you listen to more of what Pappier says, you get the impression that what he really means is that it shouldn’t be done.

Restricting the flow would push people to take even more dangerous paths. People will risk their lives, organized crime groups will get richer, and Panama will have even less control.”

Wait a minute there. Crossing the Gap is already dangerous, people already risk their lives, criminal gangs are already involved, and Panama has already lost control.

Sounds like the critics of a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border: First they say it can’t be done, then they say it shouldn’t be done. Which is it?

As for Mulino in Panama, will he really do it? We have to wait and see on that.

But if anybody could do it, it just might be Mulino. He actually has some experience in these matters, having served as Panama’s Minister of Public Security from 2010 to 2014.

In that capacity, Mulino set up police checkpoints, preventing 15,000 criminals from fleeing Panama.

Mulino dealt with the seizure by Panama of the Chong Chon Gang, a North Korean cargo vessel being used to smuggle weaponry from Cuba to North Korea. The armaments were hidden in a cargo of brown sugar. (You can’t make this stuff up!)

The most relevant accomplishment on Mulino’s resume is an operation he oversaw in the Darien Gap itself. Mulino recovered a section of the Gap on the border of Colombia, wresting it back from narco-guerrillas who had taken control.

That bears some resemblance to what is going on now.

So let’s see what Presidente Mulino does after taking office July 1.

As a realist, I understand that a lot could go wrong. We know that politicians do not, and cannot, always keep their campaign pledges.

But hey, let’s give Mulino a chance and see what he can do.

It would be great, wouldn’t it?

And come January of 2025, there may be a new government in Washington D.C. that could work together with Jose Raul Mulino.

That would be good for both countries.

You can find more of Allan Wall's work at his website and Mexico News Report.

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