TURBO, Colombia – Overcrowded in makeshift shelters in the Colombian town of Turbo, some 2,000 Cubans, men and women, spend their days waiting for news about whether they may continue their journey to the United States, or if they will be deported back to their own country.
In Turbo, a Caribbean port in the Uraba region bordering on Panama, tension is in the air in the Obrero neighborhood where most of the Cubans are staying, along with some Haitians and Africans who have been waiting there for over two months in hopes of being allowed to cross the inhospitable jungle of Darien and head northwards.
Cubans who have crossed the border and have got as far as Mexico, from where they were deported, only to try again, say it took them seven days slogging through the forest and swampland of the so-called Darien Gap, walking along bridle paths more than eight hours a day, not infrequently sighting the bodies of people who have died along the way.
“It’s almost impossible to make that crossing and the whole time you’re gambling with your life... so if my friends are thinking about making the trip, I tell them about the dead bodies I’ve seen,” Alier Artile, a young man who has tried that journey twice, told EFE.
The Panamanian government closed the border to illegal immigrants, so the Cubans who keep coming to Turbo every day hoping to live the American dream can only wait in the sweltering heat of that port city.
The border was closed last May 9 by Panamanian President Juan Carlos Varela as part of Operation Shield, aimed at shielding the country against drug trafficking and undocumented migrants.
Most of the Cubans since then have camped out in a warehouse where they wait in poor sanitary conditions for their situation to be resolved, but which for local authorities represents a public health hazard.
“We have provided permanent healthcare and that guarantees nothing serious will happen, but the threat persists and the municipality has taken the decision to organize a plan of action to mitigate the risks,” the government secretary of Turbo, Emelides Muñoz Meza, told EFE.
Here and in other makeshift dwellings, the flags of Colombia and Cuba and the white flag of peace seem to welcome visitors, though newcomers tend to be looked upon with suspicion.