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
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.