New Panama President Could Slow River of Illegals coming to US

President-elect Jose Mulino vows to close the infamous Darién Gap route to hundreds of thousands of migrants heading to the United States.

by Darlene McCormick Sanchez, The Epoch Times, May 8, 2024

In a surprise victory with potential implications for the Biden administration, José Mulino was elected president of Panama May 5 on a platform that included closing the Darién Gap to migrants on their way to the U.S. southern border.

During a May 6 interview with a Colombian radio program, the populist president-elect reiterated his vow to repatriate migrants coming into Panama while shutting down what has become a major route for illegal migration.

“When repatriation begins here, those who try to arrive will think twice because they will not have an easy destination because they will be transferred to their countries of origin,” Mr. Mulino said.

“At no point do I say that this will be an easy action, but it will be a firm decision, with the purpose of making it known that we are not sponsoring that [migration] here and that we are going to put a stop to it.”

Todd Bensman, senior national security fellow at the Center for Immigration Studies, believes Mr. Mulino’s promise to shut down the Darién Gap could become embarrassing for President Joe Biden, who rescinded Trump-era policies meant to curtail illegal immigration in favor of open borders.

“The thing to watch here, I think, is how the administration manages to oppose something good for America and that most Americans would love to see happen,” Mr. Bensman told The Epoch Times.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken congratulated Mr. Mulino on his victory, adding that controlling migration is one of the countries’ shared goals.

“I look forward to continuing our strategic partnership and advancing our shared goals of democratic governance and inclusive economic prosperity,” Mr. Blinken said in a May 6 statement.

“Looking ahead, the United States will continue to work with Panama on our common goals of inclusive, sustainable economic growth, bolstering citizen security, and cooperatively curbing irregular migration through the Darién.”

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Spanish media outlets reported that Mr. Mulino joked on the campaign trail about getting help with some “cement” for a wall in the Darién Gap should former President Donald Trump return to the White House.

The Trump campaign declined to comment, citing the need to first see a full transcript of Mr. Mulino’s comments.

Panama’s Cinderella Candidate

Mr. Mulino won nearly 35 percent of the votes in a four-way race with more than 92 percent of the votes counted, giving him a nine-point lead over his nearest competitor.

He takes office July 1 for a five-year term.

He faced off against Ricardo Lombana, an anti-corruption candidate who trailed in second, as well as former President Martín Torrijos and former foreign minister Rómulo Roux.

Outgoing President Laurentino Cortizo called Mr. Mulino to offer congratulations and pledged to work with him for an orderly transition. Constitutional term limits prohibited President Cortizo from serving a second consecutive term.

In an unusual turn of events, Mr. Mulino, who ran under the Achieving Goals and Alliance parties, replaced candidate and former president, Ricardo Martinelli, late in the race.

Mr. Mulino had been tapped as Mr. Martinelli’s running mate, but took his place after the latter was sentenced to a decade in prison for money laundering and barred from running.

Mr. Martinelli backed Mr. Mulino from the Nicaraguan Embassy, where he has been living since early February when he was granted asylum.

Mr. Mulino, a 64-year-old attorney, served as minister of security in President Martinelli’s 2009 to 2014 administration.

He first served as minister of the interior and justice; eventually taking the reins of the public security office.

One of his achievements during that time was to “recover” a section of the Darién Gap that “was in the hands of the narco-guerrillas” of neighboring Colombia.

Besides mass migration, Panama’s new president must deal with a lackluster economy, a drought impacting the Panama Canal, and the economic impact surrounding the shutdown of a copper mine for environmental reasons.

As president, Mr. Mulino will have the power to stop a massive flow of migrants streaming through the treacherous jungle passage.

“It’s a bottleneck, so the Panamanians actually have tremendous control over the volumes of people coming through there,” Mr. Bensman said.

Darién Gap Debacle

Last year alone, 500,000 migrants made the trek through the dangerous jungle terrain to arrive in migrant camps in Panama run by nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and the United Nations (U.N.).

Panama’s former border director, Oriel Ortega, told The Epoch Times in February that the NGOs and the U.N. should educate and help migrants in their own countries instead of facilitating mass migration.

The Epoch Times visited all four migrant camps in the Darién Gap in February, speaking with migrants from China, Somalia, Venezuela, Ecuador, Colombia, and others who hiked out of the passage leading from Colombia into Panama.

At the Lajas Blancas camp, migrants have access to a number of large maps provided by NGOs and U.N. agencies that display detailed migration routes heading to the United States.

One map from HIAS showed the migration route from Colombia to Costa Rica, including bus stops, temperatures, altitudes, and “migration kiosk” locations.

HIAS was founded as the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society but now assists all migrants.

One poster prominently displayed the U.S. and European flags, along with the U.N.’s Unicef symbol.

“Thanks to the support of the United States Government co-financed by the European Union Humanitarian aid,” the Spanish-language sign said when translated to English.

Left-wing groups see the camps and helping migrants on their route as a humanitarian venture.

Former Border Patrol chief Rodney Scott is now a senior fellow for border security at the Texas Public Policy Foundation.

He served as the chief of the U.S. Border Patrol at the end of the Trump administration through the first eight months of the Biden administration in 2021.

He told The Epoch Times that while the Biden administration and others on the left may see helping migrants on their journey to the United States as compassionate, it has proven to be just the opposite.

By making it easier to migrate, millions of people have been exposed to the ugly consequences, he said.

Death, rape, murder, human trafficking, and illicit drugs make up the dark underbelly of the illegal immigration crisis, he said.

Populist President of Panama by Tom Zawistowski is licensed under

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