Deep in the Colombian jungle, in an area known as the Darien Gap, the village of Acandi has become a waystation for people seeking a better life in the United States. Over half a million have trekked through the jungle in 2023, and 2,000 people pass through Acandi daily. A local who goes by the alias “Maradona” claims that the town’s “number one economic activity is the migrant.”
The majority of these migrants are Venezuelan, Ecuadorian and Haitian, but some hail from as far away as China, Cameroon and Afghanistan. In exchange for payment, self-proclaimed “humanitarian guides”—dubbed “coyotes” by authorities—help them cross into Panama. Many die along the way: The jungle’s terrain is extremely rough, with steep cliffs and raging rivers. Sexual assault, theft and extortion are common on the Panamanian side. Still, hundreds of thousands continue to make the trek every year.
There is no silver bullet for solving this humanitarian challenge, but any solution must involve investment in border communities like Acandi. The United States, Panama and Colombia should create sustainable economic opportunities for residents of these border towns, so they are not drawn into the lucrative business of human smuggling.