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'The Darien Gap smells like death': Venezuelan woman crosses jungle with 3-year old toddler

Number of Venezuelans crossing the Darien Gap jungle is 7 times more than Haitian migrants and 10 times more than Cubans

July 19, 2022 9:54am

Updated: July 19, 2022 12:20pm

A Venezuelan engineer who crossed the Darien Gap jungle area in April with her husband and 3-year-old daughter narrated what her family went through during the 60-hour journey.

Cristina, 32 years old, only slept 3 hours and walked about 30 while the other 27 hours were spent resting and waiting. Her family decided to escape Nicolas Maduro’s dictatorship en route to the United States through one of the most dangerous border crossings in Latin America.

The Darien Gap, a 575,000-kilometer jungle located on the border between Colombia and Panama, is crossed daily by hundreds of immigrants seeking to reach the United States illegally.

"You have to pass rivers and climb hills. You get weak, you get short of breath, and your blood pressure rises. You feel you don't want to go on any longer, but you only have two options: go on or stay there to die. Everyone fights for their lives to get to their destination. No one helps anyone there," commented Cristina, a name used at her request in a telephone conversation with news site El Pitazo.

Cristina migrated to Peru in 2017 and in 2021, returned to the Venezuelan state of Maracaibo, her birthplace. "I saw that the situation was still bad, that there were no opportunities, and my husband and I decided to go to the United States," she adds.

She entered the Darien Gap jungle on April 25 with her three-year-old daughter, her 42-year-old husband, and ten other people. The journey is a test of survival with fast-flowing rivers, wild animals, steep hills, and high temperatures, as well as a constant foul smell, says the Venezuelan.

"There was a very bad stench. It smells like death because of the people who died. The local indigenous people open a hole of half a meter, and put the bodies there or cover them so that people do not see them, and continue with their business of moving people through that place", she assures.

The indigenous people are the immigrants' guides. In Cristina's case, her guides live in the village of Carreto, Panama, where her family arrived after traveling six hours by boat from Turbo, in Colombia.

"We had the option of staying in Capurganá, the beginning of the Darién, but it is the most dangerous. There they kill, rob, rape, and many tragedies happen because of the guerrillas," explained the Venezuelan woman, assuring that the route from Turbo allowed them to shorten their journey.

The trip from Turbo to the exit of Darien cost $450 per person, and she paid a total of $1,350.

In the first six months of the year, some 28,079 Venezuelans crossed the Darien jungle, according to official data published by Migration Panama. The figure is seven times more than Haitian migrants and ten times more than Cuban migrants.