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Haitian Refugees and the Darién Gap


It is hard, if not impossible for anyone who has not ventured into the

southern border area between Panamá and Colombia to fully appreciate

the audacity, fortitude and resourcefulness of the Haitian refugees using

Panama’s Darién Gap as a route to flee their politically and physically

ravaged nation.

I have been there, but under very different circumstances. In 1962, three

undergraduate friends and I hitchhiked to Panamá from New York City.

Our 20-year-old brains inflamed by having read the original Spanish

language diaries of explorer Andrés de Valderrábano contemporaneously

chronicling Vasco Núnez de Balboa’s 1513 journey into the Darién .

We managed to reach Chepo, the then terminus of the Pan American

Highway. From there, we set out, heading in the opposite direction of

today’s Haitian refugees, to enter the Darién Gap. Within half an hour, bug

bitten, skin and hands irritated and swollen, and in awe of those

16th century adventurers, we abandoned the impenetrable jungle.

Four fit, well-fed 20 year olds could not manage what those Spanish conquistadores

succeeded in doing, or what today’s indomitable Haitian refugees continue

to pursue and overcome in order to be free.

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