I just got back to Washington at mid-day today, after two weeks in Colombia. Before I left, I replaced my four-and-a-half year-old phone with a current model, because the old one’s port wasn’t always connecting to the cable and I didn’t want to find myself there with an unpowered phone.
The new phone isn’t much different than the old one, with one huge exception: the camera, which makes me seem like a much better photographer than I actually am.
Here are some images that are less work-related but just pretty cool. Presented in no particular order. Click on any to expand in a new window. (I’ve shared other photos from the trip in two earlier posts.)
Greetings from Bogotá. I’m here until tomorrow night, with 10 meetings on the schedule today and tomorrow.
This was day 13 of a 14-day research trip. I’ve slept in 10 different hotels in 9 places:
Puerto Asís, Putumayo
La Hormiga, Putumayo
Lago Agrio, Sucumbíos, Ecuador
The purpose of this insane itinerary was to learn about the latest developments in migration through, and to, Colombia. I was able to visit the Colombia-Panama and Colombia-Ecuador border regions.
With two WOLA colleagues I was on the outskirts of the Darién Gap region straddling Colombia and Panama, through which nearly 500,000 migrants have passed so far this year. With longtime Colombian colleagues I also visited the border between Carchi, Ecuador and Nariño, Colombia, through which hundreds of Darién-bound migrants from dozens of countries pass each day.
While at the Colombia-Ecuador border I was also able to spend a few days in the department of Putumayo, which is where U.S.-backed military and police anti-drug operations began after the 2000 passage of the Clinton administration’s mammoth initial “Plan Colombia” aid package. Twenty-three years later, Putumayo remains a principal zone of coca and cocaine production, under the heavy influence of two feuding armed groups.
I need to go through my tens of thousands of words of notes just to come up with the number of meetings and conversations I’ve had since October 22. It’s more than 50. I’ve talked to people migrating, aid workers, international organizations, migrants associations, Indigenous groups, campesino groups, coca cultivators, mayors and other local officials, national government officials, U.S. diplomats, journalists, human rights defenders, police, scholars, and I’m sure I’m forgetting some sectors.
I’ve barely had time yet to process my notes, much less wrap my head around what I’ve seen and heard. But here are some photos from Putumayo, northern Ecuador, and Nariño. (I posted Darién-area photos about a week ago.)
I spent the past few days in and around Necoclí, Colombia, an area through which tens of thousands of migrants, from dozens of countries, pass. Here, they take boats across the Gulf of Urabá to the Darién region straddling Colombia and Panama, where they undergo a treacherous several-day journey through dense jungle.
Here are a few photos. I’m in another zone of Colombia now, as research continues, so there’s no time to write much yet. We had our photographer Sergio with us, who took much better photos than the ones here.
Hello from Tegucigalpa. We’re just back from a couple of days in the Honduras-Nicaragua border zone, in the department of El Paraíso. An extraordinary number of migrants are passing through this zone right now, most of them after passing through the Darién Gap and Nicaragua.
After passing through the Darién Gap, Panama, Costa Rica, and Nicaragua, some U.S.-bound migrants get stranded en route as they struggle to raise money to pay bus fares.
At the beginning of this century, Venezuela was one of Latin America’s wealthier countries. Back then, the idea of its citizens using an image of their flag to evoke pity in Honduras—the 2nd or 3rd poorest nation in the hemisphere—would’ve been ludicrous.
I’m flying first thing Wednesday morning for a research trip to Honduras, a country where I have to admit I’ve done little work in recent years. The last time I was there was 2005 or 2006. I look forward to working again in Central America, where I started my career in the 1990s.
I’m sorry, of course, that it’s necessary to do so. Honduras is one of several countries on the route between the Darién Gap and Mexico, a route being transited by something like 1,000 people per day. (Honduras measured an average of 689 “irregular” migrants transiting the country during each of the first 112 days of 2023—mostly from Venezuela, Haiti, and Ecuador—but hundreds more per day probably evaded detection.)
With a few WOLA colleagues, I’ll be in the country’s two largest cities, and in zones along the Nicaraguan and Guatemalan borders. I’ve got a long list of research questions, which will form the backbone of a report I hope to publish as quickly as possible after our return. The outline’s “Roman numerals” so far are:
Migrants transiting Honduras
Honduran migrants returned
Honduran government response
How U.S. government policy shapes what migrants experience
Response of other international actors
I will post photos and impressions (for security reasons, after I leave a region) both here and at my Mastodon account.
I’m grateful to all who have agreed to meet with us in the coming days, and to those who’ve offered me some extremely useful advice as I prepared the trip.
This is the first time in many years that I’ve organized a trip to a place where I don’t already have a lot of relationships with people. In Honduras, I only have a few. But I expect to change that over the next several days.
Addendum added 8pm on April 25: Here’s the nationalities of migrants encountered by authorities in Honduras since January 2022. You can see a notable recent drop in Cuban migrants and increase in Venezuelan migrants. Both are subject to Title 42 expulsion into Mexico, but Venezuelans have become at least somewhat adept at using the “CBP One” app to make appointments for asylum at the U.S.-Mexico border.
I’m writing on a plane to San Diego. I’ll be spending the rest of the week there and in Tijuana, meeting lots of people whom I either haven’t seen in a long time or am looking forward to meeting for the first time.