The Clan del Golfo, the main drug trafficking cartel in Colombia, has earned tens of millions of dollars this year from controlling the migration route in the Darien Gap, Human Rights Watch says in a report published this Thursday.
"In the last year more than half a million people have crossed the Darién Gap on their journey north, generally towards the United States," reports the NGO, which visited this swampy jungle on the border between Colombia and Panama on four occasions.
On the Colombian side of the Darién, the Gulf Clan "regulates the routes that migrants and asylum seekers can use, decides who can assist them along the way, extorts those who benefit from the migratory flow and establishes standards of conduct," he says.
According to data obtained by HRW, the Colombian Ministry of Defense estimates that the Clan charges an average of $125 for each person who crosses the Darién, so that "it could have obtained a total of $57 million between January and October 2023." .
At a time when the price of coca is falling, this clan uses migratory flows to diversify its finances, according to experts consulted by AFP.
Sometimes it combines the two illicit activities.
"It sends boats with cocaine in parallel to the boats with migrants and when the Navy approaches to intercept them, they throw the migrants into the sea to be able to advance" with the boats that transport the drugs, explained Juan Pappier, deputy director for the Americas of HRW during a press conference in Washington.
Those migrants who do not have the money to pay to cross the Darien "are asked to carry cocaine or other illicit products across the border," adds Pappier, whose organization has conducted 300 interviews to "document the causes and responses to this crisis." .
The NGO claims to have obtained "evidence that restrictions on movement from South American countries to Mexico and Central America, often promoted by the United States, have contributed to increasing the number of people crossing the Darien Gap, exposing them to abuse. including sexual violence, and strengthens organized crime.
The majority are Venezuelans: more than 440,000 since January 2022, cited in a statement.
- Women and children -
On the Panamanian side, migrants are also exposed to "criminals and delinquents" who "routinely commit robberies and sexual abuse and, on numerous occasions, rape."
The humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders (MSF) claims to have treated 950 people, most of them women, who suffered sexual violence while crossing the Darien Gap since April 2021.
Among the migrants who venture on this dangerous route there are "almost 20%" of minors, says Pappier.
"In most cases, what usually happens is that due to lack of economic resources, parents end up sending their children along other routes," which are shorter and safer, and therefore more expensive, and they take "the longer ones," he explains. .
According to him, upon arriving in Panama the child is alone and the response of the authorities "is very limited" to verify if he is traveling accompanied or is being trafficked and to provide him with assistance.
To remedy this drama, a "regional protection status for migrants is needed, at least for Haitians and Venezuelans, which will allow people who would be willing to stay to be regularized in the region," Juanita Goebertus, director for the Americas, declared at the press conference. from HRW.
To this end, he adds, "United States policy cannot be focused on stopping migrants along the way" but rather on "investing in regularization and socioeconomic integration" in Latin America.