Panama Closes Border with Colombia to Stop Cubans

Juan Carlos Varela, president of Panama. Photo:
Juan Carlos Varela, president of Panama. Photo:

HAVANA TIMES — Panamanian President Juan Carlos Varela ordered the closure of the border with Colombia on Monday in an attempt to stop the flow of undocumented immigrants, activities of bandits and drug trafficking, reported dpa.

The announcement was made during a ceremony which also confirmed the start of a humanitarian airlift to transport 3,800 Cubans stranded in Panama, to a destination near the Mexican-USA border, following an agreement reached with Mexico.

When they arrive at the US border, the Cubans receive special treatment under the Cuban Adjustment Act, in effect since 1966. They will receive some financial assistance and within a year will be permanent residents in the United States.

The border between Panama and Colombia extends 299 kilometers, much covered in dense jungle and difficult river crossings, which are scenes of armed incidents between police and criminals.

“We will use the full force of the state to protect our citizens,” the president said about the start of Operation Shield, which covers the struggle against drug trafficking, money laundering and irregular migration to the country.

He added that the measure is based also on the fact that drug production in neighboring countries, particularly Colombia, has doubled in the last two years, which is a threat to Panama and its efforts to combat organized crime.

Varela said the border closure took effect in the town of Puerto Obaldia, on the Caribbean coast and areas in the jungle province of Darien, which has seen a sharp increase in recent months in the flow of Cuban immigrants, as well as refugees from areas of conflict in Africa and Asia.

Irregular migrants arriving by land to Panama, made a long journey from Brazil, Ecuador and Colombia, exposed to dangers of all kinds, such as the theft of belongings, sexual abuse and other crimes by criminal groups.