Adam Isacson

Defense, security, borders, migration, and human rights in Latin America and the United States. May not reflect my employer’s consensus view.

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Darién Gap Migration Through August 2023

Panama just posted updated data, detailed by country, gender, and age, about migration through the Darién Gap in August.

Annual Migration Through Panama’s Darién Gap

2023: Venezuela 60%, Ecuador 13.0%, Haiti (plus Brazil and Chile) 12.9%, China 4%, Colombia 3%, India 1.0%, All Others <1%

Since 2010: Venezuela 43%, Haiti (plus Brazil and Chile) 25%, Ecuador 9%, Cuba 8%, Colombia 2.0%, All Others <2%

	2010	2011	2012	2013	2014	2015	2016	2017	2018	2019	2020	2021	2022	2023 (Aug)
Venezuela						2	6	18	65	78	69	2819	150327	201288
Haiti (plus Brazil and Chile)	0	1	0	2	2	8	16742	40	420	10490	5331	101072	27287	42959
Ecuador		15	18	4	1	14	93	50	51	31	40	387	29356	43536
Cuba	79	18	1154	2010	5026	24623	7383	736	329	2691	245	18600	5961	700
Colombia		65	24	26	9	32	16	36	13	23	21	169	5064	11276
China	268	9	11	1		1		6			3	77	2005	12979
India	12	11	48		1	1	20	1127	2962	1920	39	592	4094	3338
Nepal	29	9	213	297	468	2426	1619	2138	868	254	56	523	1631	1659
Bangladesh	53	45	89	398	377	559	580	506	1525	911	123	1657	1884	1158
Other Countries	118	110	220	313	291	1623	3601	2119	2988	5704	538	7830	20675	14811

Data table

It broke all records: 81,946 people passed through this treacherous jungle region in 31 days. The previous monthly record, set in October 2022, was 59,773.

In the first eight months of this year, 333,704 people have migrated through the Darién. Ten years ago, in 2013, the full-year total was 3,051 migrants. In 2011, it was just 281.

Monthly Migration Through Panama’s Darién Gap

August 2023: Venezuela 77%, Ecuador 11%, Colombia 4%, China 3%, Haiti (plus Brazil and Chile) 2%, all others <1%

January 22-Aug 23: Venezuela 60%, Ecuador 13%, Haiti (plus Brazil and Chile) 12%, Colombia 2.8%, China 2.6%, all others <2%

	Jan-22	Feb-22	Mar-22	Apr-22	May-22	Jun-22	Jul-22	Aug-22	Sep-22	Oct-22	Nov-22	Dec-22	Jan-23	Feb-23	Mar-23	Apr-23	May-23	Jun-23	Jul-23	Aug-23
Venezuela	1421	1573	1704	2694	9844	11359	17066	23632	38399	40593	668	1374	2337	7097	20816	25395	26409	18501	38033	62700
Ecuador	100	156	121	181	527	555	883	1581	2594	8487	6350	7821	6352	5203	2772	2683	3059	5052	9773	8642
Haiti (plus Brazil and Chile)	807	627	658	785	997	1025	1245	1921	2642	4525	5520	6535	12063	7813	8335	5832	3633	1743	1548	1992
Colombia	48	72	59	72	248	287	407	569	1306	1600	208	188	333	637	1260	1634	1645	894	1884	2989
China	32	39	56	59	67	66	85	119	136	274	377	695	913	1285	1657	1683	1497	1722	1789	2433
India	67	74	88	172	179	228	431	332	350	604	813	756	562	872	1109	446	161	65	96	27
Cuba	367	334	361	634	567	416	574	589	490	663	535	431	142	36	35	59	59	74	123	172
Afghanistan	1	3	40	31	67	82	162	128	180	551	379	596	291	276	359	386	192	217	321	467
Peru	17	23	18	29	88	109	136	247	365	438	34	39	39	100	261	277	394	209	376	653
Other Countries	1842	1361	1722	1477	1310	1506	1833	1986	1742	2038	1748	1862	1602	1338	1495	1902	1913	1245	1444	1871

Data table

60 percent of this year’s migrants through the Darién Gap have been citizens of Venezuela: 201,288 people. In August, the migrant population was 77 percent Venezuelan: 62,700 people.

Jaw-dropping numbers from a region that was viewed as all but impenetrable until perhaps 2021. And there’s little reason why they won’t continue to increase. Any plan to “block” migrants on this route would require a staggeringly large and complex operation that would create additional challenges, like what to do with tens of thousands of stranded migrants.

88 Percent of 2022 Environmental Defender Killings Happened in the Americas

In its latest annual report, the UK-based group Global Witness counted 177 murders of environmental defenders worldwide last year. And 156 of them happened in Latin America.

Colombia tops the global ranking with 60 murders in yet another dire year for the country. This is almost double the number of killings compared to 2021, when 33 defenders lost their lives. Once again, Indigenous peoples, Afro-descendant communities, small-scale farmers and environmental activists have been viciously targeted.

In 2022, voters in Brazil and Colombia elected leaders who lean hard into pro-environment rhetoric. That may not mean daily life is any safer for those countries’ beleaguered communities trying to defend forests and other resources. Next year’s numbers, though, absolutely must go down. This is inexcusable.

Change in the Venezuelan Migrant Population in 17 Latin American Countries

This is from a September 5 update from the Regional Inter-agency Coordination Platform for Refugees and Migrants from Venezuela (R4V). Some changes owe to governments (like Panama’s) recalculating their population estimates, rather than actual movement of Venezuelan migrants.

Eight countries (not including the United States) now have at least 100,000 Venezuelan-born people living within their borders:

Table:

COUNTRY PREVIOUS UPDATE (PUBLISHED MAY
2023)
CURRENT UPDATE (PUBLISHED
AUG 2023) DIFFERENCE
Colombia 2,477,588 (as of February 2022) 2,894,593 (as of October 2022) +417,005
Peru 1,518,102 (as of March 2022) 1,542,004 (as of June 2023) +23,902
Brazil 449,678 (as of March 2023) 477,493 (as of June 2023) +27,815
Ecuador 502,214 (as of May 2022) 474,945 (as of June 2023) -27,269
Chile 444,423 (as of December 2021)
Dominican Republic 115,283 (as of June 2021) 124,141 (as of June 2023) +8,858
Trinidad & Tobago 35,314 (as of June 2022) 36,218 (as of June 2023) +904
Guyana 19,643 (as of June 2022) 21,676 (as of June 2023) +2,033
Aruba 17,000 (as of December 2021) 17,085 (as of June 2023) +85
Curaçao 14,000 (as of June 2022)
Argentina 220,595 (as of August 2022)
Bolivia 15,673 (as of July 2022) 15,854 (as of April 2023) +181
Paraguay 5,426 (as of March 2023) 5,341 (as of June 2023) -85
Uruguay 27,487 (as of December 2022) 32,939 (as of June 2023) +5,452
Mexico 91,359 (as of December 2022) 113,108 (as of June 2023) +21,749
Panama 147,424 (as of February 2023) 58,158 (as of July 2023) -89,266
Costa Rica 30,107 (as of June 2022) 29.405 (as of July 2023) -702
Other countries 1,188,909 (as of May 2023)
TOTAL 7,320,225 7,710,887 +390,662

UNODC: 230,000 hectares of coca in Colombia last year

According to the Colombian daily El Espectador, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime detected 230,000 hectares of coca in Colombia in 2022. That amount—which extends the dark blue line in the chart below to 2022—would be the most coca that the UN agency has detected in any year since it began issuing estimates in 1999.

Chart: Coca Cultivation in Colombia

Hectares	US Estimate	UN Estimate
1994	44.7	
1995	50.9	
1996	67.2	
1997	79.5	
1998	101.8	
1999	122.5	160.1
2000	136.2	163.3
2001	169.8	144.8
2002	144.4	102
2003	113.9	86
2004	114.1	80
2005	144	86
2006	157	78
2007	167	99
2008	119	81
2009	116	73
2010	100	62
2011	83	64
2012	78	48
2013	81	48
2014	112	69
2015	159	96
2016	188	146
2017	209	171
2018	208	169
2019	212	154
2020	245	143
2021	234	204
2022		230

Colombia was governed for just over the first seven months of 2022 by Iván Duque, and for the remaining less than five months by Gustavo Petro.

Petro was still putting together his government by the time 2022 ended. His drug policy team only published their counter-drug strategy this past weekend. While that is a notably slow pace, it was not the cause for 2022’s result.

Petro has sought to de-emphasize forced eradication of small-scale coca farmers’ crops, which places the government in an adversarial relationship with poor people in historically abandoned territories. Through July, forced eradication is down 79 percent over the same period in 2022. Instead, the new strategy document promotes interdiction, targeting cocaine production and related finances, and other strategies.

Still, critics of the Petro government’s choices will use the 230,000 figure to oppose them. It’s possible, though, that the 2023 coca acreage figure could be reduced, because a historic drop in prices may be making the crop less attractive to many growers.

Border Patrol’s El Paso Sector Turns Very Deadly

Chart: Migrant Remains Recovered in Border Patrol’s El Paso Sector

	El Paso, TX/NM
1998	24
1999	15
2000	26
2001	10
2002	8
2003	10
2004	18
2005	33
2006	28
2007	25
2008	8
2009	5
2010	4
2011	6
2012	1
2013	2
2014	1
2015	6
2016	2
2017	8
2018	6
2019	20
2020	10
2021	39
2022	71
2023 (Aug)	136

“This summer’s record-melting heat has pushed migrant deaths to a 25-year record with more than 130 victims and counting in the Border Patrol’s El Paso Sector, which covers the westernmost tip of Texas and all of New Mexico,” reads a September 10 El Paso Times report on the discovery of the remains of 2 migrant women in Sunland Park, New Mexico. (Sunland Park is the first town you hit when you go west out of El Paso.)

On August 30, the El Paso Times’s Lauren Villagrán reported that, amid record summer heat, “U.S. Border Patrol reports at least 136 migrants have died in El Paso Sector” in fiscal year 2023, up from 71 in 2022.

The number of migrants who’ve died in El Paso and New Mexico since October 2022 is surely greater than 136, as many remains are never found. The chart above shows what 136 looks like in this sector, though.

The death toll has undergone a vertiginous increase in the past three years as people with no other apparent legal pathway attempt to defy the heat and enter the United States through the Chihuahuan Desert, often having to cross fast-flowing irrigation canals along the way.

Across the entire U.S.-Mexico border, Border Patrol hasn’t reported a migrant deaths total for 2022 yet, though the Biden administration’s draft asylum rule—shared in March—reported that “in FY 2022, more than 890 migrants died attempting to enter the United States between ports of entry across the SWB [southwest border].” That was up sharply from 565 in 2021 and 254 in 2020.

Asylum requests in Mexico continue on a record-breaking pace

Data table

The Mexican government’s refugee agency, COMAR, just posted data through August about the number of migrants from other countries who have applied for asylum in Mexico. Eight months into the year, COMAR is nearly at 100,000 applications, on pace to reach, or be just below, 150,000 by the end of the year. Mexico appears certain to break 2021’s record of 129,768 asylum applications.

Most applicants are from Haiti, Honduras, and Cuba. As Gretchen Kuhner of Mexico’s non-governmental Institute for Women in Migration (IMUMI) pointed out in last week’s WOLA Podcast, a lot of migrants stranded in Mexico are being channeled into the asylum system by a lack of other options for having a legal status in the country.

Entire Collection of Border Infographics is Updated

As you can tell from the last few posts here, I’ve been updating my collection of border and migration infographics (a fancy word for “charts”). I’m done now.

Those all live in a section at WOLA’s Border Oversight website. There, they’re organized by category and by when they were last updated. For nearly all of them, I’ve now added a link to a Google spreadsheet with the underlying data.

Or you can just download them as a 98-page PDF document, which also lives at the shortcut bit.ly/wola_border_infographics.

Migrant Apprehensions per Border Patrol Agent per Year at the U.S.-Mexico Border

I haven’t updated this one in a while. Here is a chart of migrants apprehended per Border Patrol agent per year between 1992 and 2022. The data table is here.

With 133 migrants per agent, 2022 saw the largest number since the year 2000. Unlike 2000, though, 35 migrants per agent were unaccompanied children or family unit members, nearly all of whom were trying to be apprehended—no pursuit needed—in order to seek asylum.

The same describes many of the 95 single adults, and of those seeking to avoid capture, many were double-counted because the Title 42 pandemic expulsions policy facilitated repeat attempts to cross. In 2000, nearly all migrants were single adult Mexican citizens who did not request asylum.

Sources:

Honduras doubled its monthly in-transit migration record in August

A chart of Honduras's in-transit migrant registrations between August 2022 and August 2023.

This number averaged 23,660 per month between August 2022 and June 2023. It rose to 48,971 in July and 63,615 in August.

Data table

Honduras registers most migrants who pass through its territory en route to the United States. Since August 2022 it has waived fees required to register (and thus be able to board a bus), so the country’s data does capture most in-transit migrants.

These are mostly people who passed through the Darién Gap or began their journey on the American mainland in Nicaragua, which has relatively loose visa requirements.

Honduras also shares its migrant registry data almost in real time. And looking at that data right now yields a startling result.

This number averaged 23,660 per month between August 2022 and June 2023. It jumped to 48,971 in July, and to 63,615 in August. More than half are Venezuelan.

We’re seeing similar increases in migrant encounters in Panama and Mexico, and now at the U.S.-Mexico border. Migration at the border is probably, once again, going to be a big issue in the U.S. political debate this fall, as the 2024 elections approach. And that’s bad, because the pre-electoral debate is very unlikely to capture the complexities of migration management and processing—a very complex set of challenges.

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