Michael's Dispatches

Faces Without Joy: The Fate of Children — Darien Gap, the March to America

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Darien Gap, Panama

I write these words beside the Pan Am highway. The highway system stretches from Tierra del Fuego to Alaska. In other words, with my American passport, I can walk to this highway, take a right, to Alaska. But if I take a left, I will quickly reach the end of the road.

The end of the road starts the Darien Gap. 60 miles of wild jungle. Mountains. Floods. Mud like peanut butter. Only the best boots can get you through that without sucking right off your feet. Easier is to go barefooted. But a cut foot can spell gangrene and death. Many people I see limping from The Gap have no shoes at all. And those I saw entering from the Colombia side often war sandals barely suitable for a few miles on a Florida beach.

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From the Colombia side, they carry items they will quickly shed, including even food, though many who do emerge will suffer days of walking without food. No clean water.

Many become lost in the jungle. Never seen again. Vanished. Large jaguar and peccary roam the jungles. Crocodiles and caiman in the waters. Extremely venomous snakes, and more.

Worst are the human bandits. Armed with guns, machetes, rested, and with home terrain advantage. They rob, rape and murder with impunity. Law of the jungle.

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Even the Embera Indians tell me they get barely a warning from flash flood, especially at night. And Embera are Indian people who bath in the rivers three to four times per year. Migrants who know nothing of jungles, nothing of flash-floods, and nothing of Darien, vanish. No ashes to ashes. Just mud to mud. Or vanished.

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Children frequently emerge without parents. Their parents having died along the way, or been killed. Even young girls and boys, and “all pretty women” are raped. Maybe this sounds ludicrous. Call the Red Cross. Or Doctors without Borders. They are here. Doctors without Borders is here now with a doctor, a nurse, an engineer, and a psychologist for the trauma.

Yesterday, I came into Bajo Chiquito village. You will have difficulty finding Bajo Chiquito on Google Earth. Imagine if you have difficulty finding it on Google Earth how difficult it is to find when you are from Ghana or Bangladesh. One wrong turn in that jungle and goodbye.

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So I came into the Embera Indian village of Bajo Chiquito. This was my third attempt and second time reaching Bajo Chiquito. The village where survivors emerge.

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I met this man, Daniel Isador, who said he is 28 from Port-au-Prince. I asked if the two little girls are his daughters. Daniel said no. Their mother was deathly sick trying to carry her babies through Darien. She could not go more. Daniel said he took her girls. Their mother is very sick in the clinic in Bajo Chiquito. Doctors without Borders would know more.

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By now, I have seen hundreds of children like this just in Panama. Not all without parents, but even younger coming through Darien. Some die. Others? Who knows? And they still have far to go through banditry in other countries and finally Mexico. The cartels. And finally into America.

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