Migrant injured in Panama: ‘American dream is practically madness’

By Moncho Torres

David, Panama, May 10 (EFE).- José Gregorio Hidalgo, a Venezuelan national, woke up in a hospital in northern Panama, wearing a neck brace, unable to move. He had survived a migrant bus accident in February in which 39 people died.

He did not remember his daughter when he opened his eyes, nor the “horrible” journey through the jungle of the Darien Gap, the natural border between Colombia and Panama, when he saw “eight dead bodies lying around”.

The jungle was the most dangerous part of the journey, but after overcoming the rivers, the possible robberies and rapes, as well as drinking water that was contaminated by the corpses and the migrants’ excrement, the only thing left to do was to move north, towards the United States.

So, accompanied by his Ecuadorian partner and her teenage son, he boarded one of the buses provided by the Panamanian authorities to expedite the migrants’ passage through the country and began the journey towards the Costa Rican border.

But they never arrived. When they were only a few meters away from the migrant reception center in Gualaca, in the border province of Chiriqui, the bus began to lurch. “Watch out, my love!” he shouted to his partner, grabbing her.

The vehicle went off the road and crashed into a small gully. Sixty-six people were traveling, killing the driver, his assistant, both Panamanians, and 37 migrants, several of them minors.

His Ecuadorian partner survived the accident, rescued by her son, who suffered minor injuries but was left with a disfigured face that required successive reconstructive surgeries.

“The American dream is practically madness, yes you understand me”, the 26-year-old tells EFE, warning also of the recent hit-and-run in front of a migrant reception center in the United States, in which at least seven Venezuelans died.


Hidalgo plans to stay in Panama for a while while they recover and for now does not plan to resume the journey to North America.

Nor is he looking to return to Venezuela. “I don’t want to return to my homeland defeated, to arrive there empty-handed. As my mother tells me, that doesn’t matter to her, but it does matter to me”.

His partner, who requested anonymity, is only thinking about recovering “100%” before considering the next step, and is frustrated at “stagnating” at the center.

In Ecuador, she worked in a pharmacy, and had also taken a nursing assistant course, as evidenced by the way she describes each of the fractures and wounds on her body. She “had to leave because the salary was not enough.”

With a salary of $450, she spent half of it on rent for her home, plus $2 a day for transportation, $45 for Social Security, and other expenses. In addition, she recalls, her quiet town had become very violent, so her son could be “easy prey” for gangs. So they decided to migrate.

They had the experience of acquaintances who had made it to the United States in 10-15 days, even with a smaller budget than theirs.

But unlike when they traveled, “now everything is money,” making it a constant drain. Everything costs money, be it washing, camping, transportation. Migrants, however, continue to travel, in seemingly ever-growing numbers.

In the first four months of this year alone, more than 127,000 migrants heading to the US arrived in Panama after crossing the jungle, six times more than the same period in 2022, a year which closed with a record number of more than 248,000 people transiting through the area. EFE


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