Training, equipment, key to US support against Darien migrant smuggling

By Moncho Torres

Panama City, June 16 (EFE).- The head of the United States Southern Command told EFE Friday that the two-month campaign announced in April between Panama, Colombia, and the United States amid the migration crisis in the Darien jungle isn’t over.

“The campaign has not ended”, Gen. Laura Richardson said, after a high-level meeting on Apr. 11 between Colombia, the US and Panama ended in a two-month joint effort to deal with the humanitarian situation in Darien.

Richardson said then that the assembled authorities predicted that once this campaign began, it would “extend for many months,” and even more so when “the successes and progress it is having” are reviewed, for which the countries want to counter border crime in the region.

The Darien jungle, the natural border between Colombia and Panama, is crossed daily by hundreds of migrants on their way to North America, despite the many dangers they face, from swollen rivers and falling hills, to attacks by wild animals or lack of drinking water.

There are also criminals who abuse migrants, committing robbery, rape and murder, a reality that contrasts with the idyllic image of the “walk” through the jungle that traffickers advertise on social media to feed their lucrative business.

To put an end to criminal activities in the jungle, coordination between Panama and Colombia is essential, Richardson said, because many times, border troops of both countries do not want to “get too close” to each other, and criminal groups take advantage of that.

Richardson said the support they are providing is above all “the development of institutional capacity, training with the security forces,” a task their teams from the Security Forces and Civil Affairs Assistance Brigade carry out both in Colombia and Panama.

“These are very small teams, we have five teams from the Security Forces Assistance Brigade. Teams of between six and eight members, and our Civil Affairs team,” said the general, adding that their only mission is to “develop their ability.”

They also send equipment. Just last month, the US donated 63 Jeep J8 with their respective maintenance parts, valued at $8 million, for the exclusive use of the National Border Service (Senafront) and the National Aeronaval Service (Senan) of Panama. Richardson said the total now stands at 84.

But weapons aren’t part of that support, said the general, who is on her fourth official visit to Panama, where this week she led the US representation in the third “Disaster Response and Humanitarian Assistance Drill” in Central America, with the participation of 17 countries and more than 600 rescue units. EFE


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