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Avoid the Darién by sea: the other dangerous route used by Venezuelans seeking to migrate to the US

The last message from María arrived at dawn: “we are going out now (to) grab the boat”. She was traveling with her mother and her husband from the Colombian island of San Andrés to Nicaragua, to then set out on the road to USA like so many of his fellow Venezuelans.

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They were never heard from again.

María Zamora, 37 years old and five months pregnant, was traveling with her mother Noris López (72), her husband Carlos Arrieta (40) and ten other Venezuelan migrants, including a seven-year-old boy.

The last contact was when boarding, on October 12 at dawn, just hours before the Biden administration announced that it would deport to Mexico any Venezuelan who crosses the land border illegally. In less than a year, some 150,000 have reached the US border, asking for asylum.

“If it had been before, maybe they would stop and say ‘what are we going to do there’, they would stop to decide what to do”, His uncle Danilo Zamora, 72, tells AFP that he does not lose hope that they are alive.

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María’s family opted to take a boat from San Andrés and thus avoid crossing the Darien Gapa 266 km jungle corridor between Colombia and Panama, described as hell due to its impregnable geography and the threat of armed groups.

The boat ride is not cheap: $1,500 per person; children, 1,000. From San Andrés, 150 km to Corn Island in Nicaragua, and from there in another boat to the mainland.

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“They sold cars, a little house and with that, and the help of their brothers, they completed”says Danilo, who assures, however, that he does not have more details of the budget.

María and her family left a week before they disappeared: they traveled by car from Maracaibo (Zulia, west) to Riohacha (Colombia), where they took a plane to Bogotá and then San Andrés. Danilo says that the departure was delayed several times due to weather conditions.

Maria, Noris and Carlos shared photos posing at the hotel, wearing new life jackets they bought before the trip.

Migrants line up to be transported from the town of Canaan Membrillo to the Migrant Reception Station in Meteti, Darién province. (Photo: Luis ACOSTA / AFP) (LUIS ACOSTA /)


The Colombian Navy maintains an “active search”, which will last 30 days. So far they have not been successful.

Octavio Gutiérrez, head of the command of San Andrés and Providencia, points out that they first learned of the case through complaints on social networks and that only later a relative of one of the fishermen confirmed the departure.

“As they come out clandestinely, we do not know where the incident could have occurred,” explains to AFP. “And the area is really gigantic.”

But in two weeks, he continues, “if it had capsized, (the bodies) would have reached the coast” in Nicaragua or Costa Rica. “We don’t know if they arrived somewhere uninhabited, that is far from any means of communication. There are many hypotheses, hence the importance of continuing the search”.

Other vessels on these Caribbean routes were alerted, as were the authorities of Costa Rica, Honduras and Nicaragua.

Gutiérrez warns of the danger of this illegal route, which he indicates began to be used in April, but was triggered in June, as the terrifying testimonies arrived from the Darién, where some 185,000 Venezuelans have passed this year.

They are boats without navigation systems or conditions to face the strong waves of the route.

The clandestine journey through the Darién Gap usually lasts five or six days at the mercy of all kinds of bad weather: snakes, swamps and drug traffickers who use these routes to bring cocaine to Central America.  (Photo: Luis ACOSTA / AFP)

The clandestine journey through the Darién Gap usually lasts five or six days at the mercy of all kinds of bad weather: snakes, swamps and drug traffickers who use these routes to bring cocaine to Central America. (Photo: Luis ACOSTA / AFP) (LUIS ACOSTA /)

Daily departures

The Navy detected a drop in travel. Gutiérrez estimates that it is because of the US provision.

Although the offer continues.

“Boats leave practically every day”says a man who coordinates departures in San Andrés. “Everyone wears their respective security, their vest and everything. The only thing illegal is before the authorities.”

And it minimizes the risks. “Everything in life is dangerous, my old man: planes crash, boats sink.”

Danilo tries to remain optimistic as he connects with authorities in various countries looking for news. “Until the bodies turn up, there is hope,” he repeats, correcting himself every time he refers to his family in the past tense.

Two weeks have passed and nothing since that “we’re going out now (to) grab the boat” on WhatsApp.

Source: Elcomercio

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