Perilous Darien Gap offers ray of hope for Venezuelan migrants

By Irene Escudero

Capurgana, Colombia, Oct 12 (EFE).- “They say Venezuela is improving, but look how it is,” Jose Muñoz said while gesturing toward hundreds of his countrymen camped out on a beach in this town on Colombia’s northern coast.

In the coming days or hours, they will begin making a dangerous trek through the so-called Darien Gap, a jungle- and swamp-covered, 100-kilometer-long (60-mile-long) expanse that straddles the Colombia-Panama border and is one of the most treacherous sections of their United States-bound journey.

“Darien isn’t as dangerous as what we’re leaving behind,” Muñoz told Efe in Capurgana, a town just southeast of that missing stretch of the Pan-American Highway that is home to armed guerrillas, drug traffickers and deadly wild animals.

“Darien is a ray of hope for us; leaving our families behind is more painful,” he said.

Muñoz, who is making the trek alone, said his inability to afford food and medicine for his family was the decisive factor.

“That’s the reality we face in Venezuela, not what they say … it’s a dictatorship,” he said.

Like Muñoz, Angelismar had spent years debating whether to take this step.

That Venezuelan woman said she had suffered through a steady rise in prices and her family’s inability to make ends meet, but it was not until the birth of her son, Nelson Giovanny, less than a year ago that she made up her mind to migrate in search of a better future.

She is making the crossing with her husband, other members of her family and her infant son, who is still breastfeeding.

Angelismar’s mother, Ada Yolimar, said she was blacklisted after politically opposing then-President Hugo Chavez 20 years ago and went from having a bright future as an aspiring engineer in Venezuela’s natural gas industry to being forced to clean houses for a living.

This year, a record total of more than 150,000 people have attempted the dangerous trek across the Darien Gap, whose myriad dangers include turbulent rivers; steep, muddy hills made dangerous by torrential rains; gangs that rape, rob and kill migrants and asylum seekers; and potentially deadly snakes, spiders and insects.

More than 71 percent of these people are Venezuelans who have either set off directly from their homeland or from countries of the region they had initially fled to – particularly Colombia, which has received the lion’s share of these exiles.

“Last year it was the Haitians’ time. Now it’s ours,” one Venezuelan migrant told Efe. EFE


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