By Misión Verdad – July 27, 2022
In recent weeks, the Venezuelan migrant issue has rebounded in the media and in the anti-Chavista discourse after several months of not making the headlines. The epicenter of this new wave is the Selva del Darién (the Darién Gap), a thick and dangerous jungle that separates Colombia from Panama; a place full of threats where Venezuelan migrants, on their northward journey, have faced vicissitudes of all kinds.
WHO CROSSES IT?
The Darién Jungle is a highly dangerous irregular migration passage that has been historically exploited by drug trafficking groups and gangs dedicated to human trafficking due to the refuge offered by its impassable geography, intense humidity and complicated stretches of swamps and large rivers.
In a statement put out at the end of 2021, UNICEF reported that half of the migrants who cross the Darién are Haitians, while people of more than 50 nationalities use this route to reach the United States. This report did not reference Venezuelan migrants.
In October of last year, the UN reported that only 66 Venezuelan migrants were registered as having used this route in 2017. However, in 2021, the number of Venezuelan citizens reached 1,500. There was no mention of how the figure behaved in the last four years.
The total number of migrants registered by the UN as having crossed the Darién in 2021 was 93,000, which means that Venezuelan migrants have a marginal place with respect to other nationalities.
However, it was not until a few weeks ago that the crossing through the Darién became the central issue in the coverage of the media, which, in the absence of figures to support the proclaimed “emergency,” and as if to update the “humanitarian crisis narrative,” have exploited unfortunate individual stories to articulate a general picture of forced migration. This narrative is highly beneficial for a far right opposition mired in irrelevance and in need of returning to the media landscape in order to regain visibility.
An example of how unfortunate events are politicized can be found in David Smolansky himself, a politician of Voluntad Popular [the Popular Will party], who made the following confessions a few months ago: “People will not stop fleeing until democracy is restored;” an interesting confession about the use of migration as a resource for political pressure.
Es tanta la población migrante venezolana que ha cruzado la Selva del Darién en lo que va de 2022 que equivale a la tercera parte de TODA la población de Catia La Mar y a la MITAD de la población de Pampatar.
La gente sigue huyendo del país o reasentándose en la región.
— David Smolansky (@dsmolansky) July 25, 2022
PERVERSE INCENTIVES: HYPOTHESES
The “boom,” magnified by this media narrative, of Venezuelan migrants crossing through the Darién could be explained by certain factors.
One of them is the renewal of the Temporary Protected Immigration Status (TPS) recently approved by the Biden administration for Venezuelan migrants, effective until March 2024.
This incentive, which allows Venezuelans to legally remain in the United States while they regularize their immigration status, was expanded because as of January of this year, Central American countries and Mexico in particular, have been suffering visa restrictions.
This drives and encourages the use of irregular routes to reach the United States.
Another factor has to do with the wide constellation of criminal groups that operate in the Darién and benefit economically from the transit of migrants.
An in- depth investigation by El Colombiano, published in February 2019, shows that the fearsome Clan del Golfo has controlled access to the jungle, from the Gulf of Urabá, at least since 2007, from where they charge coimas [fees] to coyotes. The Clan del Golfo is the most representative group of the criminal organizations involved in the control of the Darién, but not the only one.
Different reports have shown a huge range of (misleading) offers to cross the Darién, in which adventure tourism jargon is used by which the “traveler” is led to believe that he will enjoy a set of comforts throughout the journey to the final destination.
The security crisis and expansion of paramilitarism on the Venezuela-Colombia border that marked the last stage of Iván Duque’s government could be the cause of this excessive promotion of misleading offers, used by criminal groups in the area to extort money from Venezuelan migrants, who are then abandoned to their fate in the middle of the jungle.
Recently, Argenis Sánchez, president of the Association of Wholesalers and Companies of Touristic Representatives of Venezuela (Avemarep), warned that Venezuelans should avoid these contracts, since these are travel agencies that offer an illegal clandestine service, organized in Colombia, mainly in Cúcuta.
Although the story of the far right opposition and the media insists that the crossing [of migrants] through the Darién is due to the country’s economic crisis, some reports allow us to doubt this statement.
A recent report by the NGO Human Rights Watch, which is on the payroll of the [US] State Department, was reviewed by Inter Press Service. The report, through interviews with Venezuelan migrants, noted that the trip to Mexico or Central America would not only be safer by air, but also less expensive. The report stated that the crossing through the Darién can cost thousands of dollars per person.
The cost-need relationship of crossing the Darién seems to overturn the thesis that those who have taken this route do so because they do not have economic resources to guarantee a minimum subsistence in Venezuela, especially considering that the crossing is generally paid for per family group.
One of the most popular stories in recent weeks, published by the Los Angeles Times, confirms certain contradictions: the piece tells the story of a Venezuelan family that survived on $40 a month, but managed to gather $30,000 to take on the entire trip to Florida, through the Darién.
THE CONTEXT: EXPLOITING MIGRATION AND THE INFORMATION WAR
Almost all the leaders of the different anti-Chavista parties have taken the Darién issue as a weapon to catapult themselves into the media spotlight and harm the population’s positive perception of Venezuela’s recent economic recovery.
Necesitamos decir que más de la mitad de los migrantes que intentan cruzar el Darién son venezolanos, miles de personas que aún hoy siguen intentando sobrevivir a la selva en busca de oportunidades para ellos y sus familias. No juzguemos, luchemos por hacer justicia
— Luis Somaza (@LuisSomaza) July 27, 2022
This intention has most clearly been expressed by Liz Jaramillo, the regional leader of the Primero Justicia [Justice First] party. Jaramillo has asserted that the Venezuelan government is trying to create a false climate of well-being for returning migrants, in view of which it is necessary to “make visible the tragedy faced by those who fight for favorable life alternatives” in other countries.
The leader [Jaramillo] doesn’t seems to grasp the situation. There are stories of migrants who have returned and say that the economic recovery is real. They have not been promoted by the Venezuelan government but by the BBC, which published a report in early July on the case of Fátima Camacho, a Venezuelan woman who migrated to Peru three years ago and who recently returned to the country to start a small business given the new favorable conditions.
Seen from this perspective, Jaramillo confesses what is already evident: exploiting the Darién issue in the media and in politics is a propaganda resource, hence the push to “make visible the tragedy” of the migrants in order to combat the optimistic angle with which the population observes the economic recovery.
In turn, reviving the vector of the “humanitarian crisis” of “forced migration” once again has the same economic goals as always. A few days ago a new “platform” dedicated to migration was born: “Venezuelan Brothers,” based in Colombia. The fugitive from Venezuelan justice Julio Borges participated in its launch to the public.
The launch of this new organization, dedicated to this issue, shows how the migration industry has taken advantage of the Darién plot as it seeks to expand its own extractive frontier of international funds and resources. Especially given the $314 million granted for Venezuelan migration by the United States at the last Summit of the Americas.
It must be remembered that in July, 2019, USAID itself admitted that the millions of dollars of resources delivered for the care of migrants had not reached its destination, indirectly indicating that they had been subject to mismanagement (corruption and waste) by the fictitious “parallel government” of Guaidó.
Interestingly, using the unfortunate cases which have occurred in the Darién Gap seems to be the last opportunity to wipe the slate clean and keep the faucet of foreign money open, exploiting the suffering of Venezuelan migrants to the very end.
Translation: Orinoco Tribune
Misión Verdad is a Venezuelan investigative journalism website with a socialist perspective in defense of the Bolivarian Revolution
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