Adam Isacson

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



Darién Gap Migration through May 2024

After increasing at the beginning of 2024, migration through the Darién Gap has declined somewhat, settling at about 1,000 people per day.

Last month (May), 69 percent of migrants passing through the treacherous jungle region were Venezuelan. In fact, Venezuelans now make up 50 percent of all migrants who’ve passed through the Darién Gap since 2010, when Panama started keeping and publishing records.

Between January 2022 and May 2024, 588,872 citizens of Venezuela journeyed through the Darién. Venezuela had about 30 million people in the mid-2010s when the nation’s exodus began—so fully 2 percent of Venezuela’s population has made the jungle journey since the pandemic’s end.

Colombia for the first time was the Darién Gap’s second-place nationality in May. Haiti, Ecuador, and China are dropping. India and Peru are up.

At a Migration Conference in Medellín

Here are a few things I learned from fellow panelists at today’s sessions of a migration conference at the Universidad de Antioquia in Medellín.

Me (back, 2nd from left) with some of the conferencistas.

  • The largest number of people traveling through the Darién Gap get their information about the migration route through word of mouth, followed by WhatsApp, followed by other social media, followed by more reliable sources like humanitarian groups.
  • Of all major Colombian cities, Medellín is where business owners report being least willing to hire migrants.
  • In Medellín’s north-central Moravia neighborhood, organized crime demands larger extortion payments from Venezuelan small business owners than from Colombians. Most Venezuelans in the neighborhood do not intend to stay in Colombia: they either want to return to Venezuela if things improve, or they plan to move on. So they tend to choose not to mix into community life.
Poor hillside neighborhoods in northeast Medellín’s Comuna 3.

  • Among Venezuelan migrants in Colombia, there is a strong correlation between being a woman and the likelihood of being a victim of violence, including sexual violence.
  • Many Venezuelan LGBTQ+ migrants are fleeing attacks and discrimination, especially trans people who have it very bad there. But they more often cite “sexual liberation” or the availability of medical treatments, like HIV retrovirals, as their reasons for coming to Colombia.
  • Armed and criminal groups causing a lot of displacement and cross-border migration along Colombia’s remote southeast border with Venezuela and Brazil include FARC dissidents’ 10th front, the ELN, Brazil’s Garimpeiros, Venezuelan “sindicatos,” and Venezuela’s armed forces. All are profiting from illicit precious-metals mining and other environmentally disastrous practices, principally on the Venezuelan side of the border and usually in Indigenous territories. States are either absent, or part of the problem.
An ibis crosses my path at the University of Antioquia.

Hallway graffiti at the University reminds us to “unite under Maoism” and “down with revisionism.”

A Big Drop in Venezuelan Migration This Year—But Only in the United States

Mexico just posted its February migration numbers… there must be a huge number of people from Venezuela bottled up in Mexico right now.

2024 numbers from PanamaHonduras (change the dates in search)Mexico (click on “Personas en situación migratoria irregular” then Table 3.1.1) – U.S. (CBP / my search of CBP numbers for 2024)

Rocío San Miguel, now a political prisoner, discusses politicization of Venezuela’s military in 2010

I don’t get to work on Venezuela very often, but I did get to record a conversation in 2010 with activist and civil-military relations expert Rocío San Miguel. Here’s an excerpt where we discussed the military’s politicization.

Rocío was arrested last Friday in Caracas. Authorities are accusing her of terrorism and treason, which is as horrifying as it is absurd.

Darién Gap Migration Dipped in October

Fresh numbers from Panama show a 35 percent drop, from September to October, in the number of people migrating through the Darién Gap. The main cause was a 41 percent decline in the number of citizens of Venezuela (blue in the chart) who traveled through the treacherous jungle region.

Monthly Migration Through Panama’s Darién Gap

October 2023: Venezuela 70%, Haiti (plus Brazil and Chile) 8%, China 6.0%, Ecuador 5.8%, Colombia 4%, all others <2%

Since January 2020: Venezuela 53%, Haiti (plus Brazil and Chile) 22%, Ecuador 10%, Cuba 3%, all others <3%

	Venezuela	Haiti (plus Brazil and Chile)	Ecuador	Cuba	Colombia	China	India	Afghanistan	Bangladesh	Other Countries
20-Jan	9	1332	11	48			7		16	115
20-Feb	20	1535	4	45	2		9		48	162
20-Mar	3	972	6	16	2		7		10	83
20-Apr		0								0
20-May		0								0
20-Jun	2	135	1	12			5		10	17
20-Jul		0								0
20-Aug		0			1	3				2
20-Sep	5	84			2					17
20-Oct	5	315	2		2					47
20-Nov	3	313	7	1	1				2	38
20-Dec	22	645	9	123	11		11		37	113
21-Jan	3	720	3	176	8		3		38	120
21-Feb	9	1231	2	205	7				90	313
21-Mar		2193	14	198	1	2	30		15	241
21-Apr	3	3818	12	1306			102		127	497
21-May	113	2180	5	1514			44		118	488
21-Jun	205	6527	9	2770	4		44		131	577
21-Jul	248	15488	19	2354	8		34		210	452
21-Aug	568	21285	22	2857	8		1		128	463
21-Sep	437	22473	48	1566	31	3	40		102	805
21-Oct	339	20626	88	3018	29	11	65		325	1403
21-Nov	352	3595	65	1639	18	22	158		222	1691
21-Dec	542	936	100	997	55	39	71		151	1303
22-Jan	1421	807	100	367	48	32	67	1	70	1789
22-Feb	1573	627	156	334	72	39	74	3	81	1303
22-Mar	1704	658	121	361	59	56	88	40	201	1539
22-Apr	2694	785	181	634	72	59	172	31	126	1380
22-May	9844	997	527	567	248	67	179	67	254	1144
22-Jun	11359	1025	555	416	287	66	228	82	210	1405
22-Jul	17066	1245	883	574	407	85	431	162	236	1733
22-Aug	23632	1921	1581	589	569	119	332	128	150	2083
22-Sep	38399	2642	2594	490	1306	136	350	180	189	1918
22-Oct	40593	4525	8487	663	1600	274	604	551	143	2333
22-Nov	668	5520	6350	535	208	377	813	379	176	1606
22-Dec	1374	6535	7821	431	188	695	756	596	48	1853
23-Jan	2337	12063	6352	142	333	913	562	291	127	1514
23-Feb	7097	7813	5203	36	637	1285	872	276	132	1306
23-Mar	20816	8335	2772	35	1260	1657	1109	359	87	1669
23-Apr	25395	5832	2683	59	1634	1683	446	386	77	2102
23-May	26409	3633	3059	59	1645	1497	161	192	148	2159
23-Jun	18501	1743	5052	74	894	1722	65	217	185	1269
23-Jul	38033	1548	9773	123	1884	1789	96	321	243	1577
23-Aug	62700	1992	8642	172	2989	2433	27	467	159	2365
23-Sep	58716	3176	4744	166	2570	2588	43	609	260	2396
23-Oct	34594	3958	2849	97	2051	2934	36	400	200	2137

Data table

2023 is still—by far—a record-breaking year for Darién Gap migration, though. 458,228 people migrated through the region during the first 10 months of the year, making it certain that the year-end total will surpass 500,000. 294,598 of this year’s migrants (64 percent, blue in the chart) have been Venezuelan.

Annual Migration Through Panama’s Darién Gap

2023: Venezuela 64%, Ecuador 11.2%, Haiti (plus Brazil and Chile) 10.9%, China 4%, Colombia 3%, All Others <1%

Since 2010: Venezuela 47%, Haiti (plus Brazil and Chile) 22%, Ecuador 8%, Cuba 7%, Colombia 2.24%, China 2.18%,  All Others <2%

	Venezuela	Haiti (plus Brazil and Chile)	Ecuador	Cuba	Colombia	China	India	Nepal	Bangladesh	Other Countries
2010		0		79		268	12	29	53	118
2011		1	15	18	65	9	11	9	45	110
2012		0	18	1154	24	11	48	213	89	220
2013		2	4	2010	26	1		297	398	313
2014		2	1	5026	9		1	468	377	291
2015	2	8	14	24623	32	1	1	2426	559	1623
2016	6	16742	93	7383	16		20	1619	580	3601
2017	18	40	50	736	36	6	1127	2138	506	2119
2018	65	420	51	329	13		2962	868	1525	2988
2019	78	10490	31	2691	23		1920	254	911	5704
2020	69	5331	40	245	21	3	39	56	123	538
2021	2819	101072	387	18600	169	77	592	523	1657	7830
2022	150327	27287	29356	5961	5064	2005	4094	1631	1884	20675
2023 (Oct)	294598	50093	51129	963	15897	18501	3417	2035	1618	19977

Data table

Data from the United States and Honduras also show sharp drops in migration from Venezuela. The cause appears to be U.S. and Venezuelan governments’ October 5 announcement that they would be renewing deportation flights to Caracas. Though these flights are proving to be relatively infrequent so far, the mere possibility of being sent all the way back to Venezuela seems to have led many Venezuelan citizens considering migration to “wait and see” and delay their plans.

Honduras is the country that reports in-transit migration in the most current manner. Looking at weekly migration through Honduras shows a possible recovery in Venezuelan migration (blue) during the first full week of November. However, a single week’s data don’t necessarily point to a trend. Here is migration of citizens of Venezuela during each week between September 1 and November 9.

“Irregular” Migrants from Venezuela and Haiti Registered in Honduras by Week, September-Early November 2023

	Venezuela	Haiti
Week of 9/1-9/7	10101	2475
Week of 9/8-9/14	8685	3120
Week of 9/15-9/21	11012	5138
Week of 9/22-9/28	9852	4302
Week of 9/29-10/5	10384	5632
Week of 10/6-10/12	8430	6936
Week of 10/13-10/19	8514	8199
Week of 10/20-10/26	7154	11356
Week of 10/27-11/2	4866	5141
Week of 11/3-11/9	8199	1242

The chart also shows citizens of Haiti (green), whose numbers rose then fell during the same period. The recent drop owes to the Haitian government, at strong U.S. suggestion, banning charter flights to Nicaragua at the end of October.

Migration at the U.S.-Mexico Border Dropped 11 Percent from September to October

All CBP (Border Patrol Plus Port of Entry) Migrant Encounters
by Country at the U.S.-Mexico Border

October 2023: Mexico 26%, Venezuela 17%, Guatemala 10%, Honduras 9%, Colombia 6%, Cuba 5.2%, Ecuador 5.0%, El Salvador 3%, All Others <2%

Since October 2020: Mexico 33%, Honduras 11.2%, Guatemala 11.1%, Venezuela 8%, Cuba 6%, Nicaragua 5%, Colombia 4.5%, All Others <4%

	Mexico	Honduras	Guatemala	Venezuela	Cuba	Nicaragua	Colombia	El Salvador	Ecuador	Other Countries
20-Oct	46786	7370	9292	143	1679	256	26	3014	2220	1143
20-Nov	44164	8199	10323	184	1590	387	69	3650	2765	782
20-Dec	39370	10358	12454	206	2067	640	73	3921	3676	1229
21-Jan	40793	11232	13137	295	1899	534	69	3580	3598	3277
21-Feb	44257	20180	19154	913	3848	706	76	5599	3440	2926
21-Mar	62504	42116	34060	2566	5700	1930	179	9475	5579	9168
21-Apr	65597	38205	30053	6048	3288	3074	260	11043	8079	13148
21-May	70874	32131	26452	7499	2664	4414	408	10462	11691	14002
21-Jun	64908	35033	30246	7583	3072	7435	481	11582	12803	15891
21-Jul	59959	45297	36468	6126	3559	13456	751	12719	17335	17923
21-Aug	56397	42125	37108	6301	4496	9979	1562	12692	17611	21569
21-Sep	59985	27078	24288	10814	4812	7298	2248	10953	7353	37172
21-Oct	66049	21861	19374	13416	5896	9255	3015	9801	748	15422
21-Nov	63846	20105	20469	20388	6605	13627	3368	9664	556	16217
21-Dec	51475	18141	21009	24801	7986	15297	4094	8874	673	26903
22-Jan	60341	12011	13856	22779	9721	11564	3911	5810	602	14279
22-Feb	71850	14075	18215	3073	16557	13296	9608	7146	683	11507
22-Mar	88132	16213	21392	4053	32153	16017	15373	8403	877	19961
22-Apr	82568	15734	19910	4107	34839	12565	13128	8355	1636	42943
22-May	77453	19730	21468	5088	25643	19034	19320	8980	3046	41374
22-Jun	66730	24177	24648	13199	16172	11200	12597	9123	3231	26757
22-Jul	55692	20340	20212	17647	20098	12073	13454	7952	2948	29746
22-Aug	60772	16219	15681	25361	19060	11749	13497	6675	3681	31392
22-Sep	63431	14417	15331	33804	26178	18199	13807	6247	5379	30754
22-Oct	66277	14100	14843	22060	28851	20923	17362	6069	7030	34014
22-Nov	59348	13143	14510	8013	34710	34249	15846	5532	11999	37823
22-Dec	48390	13276	14885	8187	42654	35381	17731	4860	16206	50745
23-Jan	62265	11030	11970	9102	6462	3382	9471	3779	9416	30481
23-Feb	65271	10935	14220	5565	753	636	12851	4719	7372	34308
23-Mar	81307	13355	15293	8320	1316	482	17055	5765	7143	43213
23-Apr	67091	13218	14584	34633	1608	506	17843	4677	6396	51436
23-May	55405	21035	14817	32733	2804	718	18130	5349	6474	49225
23-Jun	49262	15093	10362	20453	2681	417	4705	3182	5105	33296
23-Jul	53928	26023	22127	18958	3668	445	5951	3953	9912	38514
23-Aug	55493	35168	37937	31463	6179	736	8948	6080	13631	37328
23-Sep	53296	27310	34537	66584	10666	1621	13643	7550	15545	38983
23-Oct	63003	21819	23845	40863	12495	3306	13773	7250	12154	42480

Data table

New CBP data for the U.S.-Mexico border is out through October. Combining migrants who came to ports of entry with migrants whom Border Patrol apprehended between the ports of entry, migration fell from 269,735 people in September to 240,988 in October (-11 percent).

Nearly all of the net reduction is citizens of Venezuela, whose numbers fell -39 percent (66,584 in September to 40,863 in October). The Biden administration’s October 5 announcement of resumed deportation flights to Venezuela probably explains the reduction. News of the resumption may have led some would-be migrants to pause their plans.

This drop will probably be short-lived, unless the Biden administration pursues a massive, costly, cruel, and politically absurd blitz of frequent aerial deportation flights to Caracas. (We see no signs of that happening yet.) As I wrote a couple of days ago, it is reasonable to expect Venezuelan migration to recover, as conditions in the country remain dire and as Venezuelans considering migration realize that the probability of aerial deportation is slim.

Haiti Led Nationalities of In-Transit Migration Through Honduras in October

Honduras’s “Irregular” Migrant Encounters (Since August 2022)

October 2023: Haiti 35%, Venezuela 34%, Cuba 17%, Ecuador 4%, Guinea 2.3%, Colombia 2.0%, All Others <2%

Since August 2022: Venezuela 41%, Cuba 17%, Haiti 15%, Ecuador 11%, Colombia 2.1%, All Others <2% 

	Venezuela	Cuba	Haiti	Ecuador	Colombia	China	Senegal	Guinea	Mauritania	Other Countries
22-Aug	10769	6899	836	1583	314	42	118	19	18	2278
22-Sep	11325	5144	863	1685	379	45	135	23	14	2220
22-Oct	14027	5290	1856	5793	723	99	185	30	18	3037
22-Nov	3756	9219	2858	5130	400	186	158	34	38	3857
22-Dec	1923	7225	2518	6557	231	405	87	22	63	4034
23-Jan	1866	2079	5365	4562	296	415	202	72	31	4054
23-Feb	4462	629	4092	5010	449	688	159	97	71	4449
23-Mar	9112	776	2991	2493	624	719	191	90	88	4576
23-Apr	10883	1301	2392	1692	682	985	472	87	87	4350
23-May	11809	2397	1629	2147	654	801	831	277	427	4398
23-Jun	12698	3254	1305	2817	488	1045	390	118	1801	2870
23-Jul	25050	6721	1558	6116	954	980	1398	389	2036	3769
23-Aug	35669	11343	4051	5789	1330	654	1629	1005	1036	3020
23-Sep	42550	19288	14898	4830	2174	570	1066	1762	48	3453
23-Oct	34547	17513	35529	3581	2021	1006	1235	2304	75	4198

Data table

We’ve grown accustomed to Venezuela (blue in this chart) being the number-one nationality of migrants transiting Central America and Mexico to come to the United States. Venezuela has been the number-one country of citizenship of people transiting Honduras during every month since March, and U.S. authorities encountered more migrants from Venezuela than from any other country—including Mexico—at the U.S.-Mexico border in September.

Data from Honduras in October, however, show at least a temporary pause in that trend. Last month, Honduras registered more migrants from Haiti transiting its territory (brown in this chart) than from Venezuela. (A new “Mixed Movements Protection Monitoring” report from UNCHR also notes this trend.)

It was a record month for Honduras’s registries of in-transit migrants from around the world: 102,009 people with “irregular” migratory status registered with the government, a necessary step for a short-term legal status making it possible to board buses to get across the country. Of that number, 35,529 were Haitian and 34,547 were Venezuelan. (271 were recorded as Brazilian and 489 as Chilean; many—probably most—of them were children born to Haitian citizen parents who had been living in those countries.)

Transit of Venezuelan migrants through Honduras fell 19 percent from September to October, from 42,550 to 34,547 people.

A possible reason could be a reaction to the Biden administration’s early October agreement with Venezuela to resume deportation flights to Caracas, news of which may have led some would-be migrants to pause their plans. Aerial deportations are expensive, however, and a charter flight to Venezuela only holds about 100-150 people. It is reasonable to expect Venezuelan migration to recover, as conditions in the country remain dire and as Venezuelans considering migration realize that the probability of aerial deportation is slim.

The sharp increase in Haitian migration appears to owe to a new air route from Haiti to Nicaragua, which does not require that visiting citizens of Haiti obtain a visa in advance (though it charges them a steep fee upon arrival). For more on that, see this good November 6 analysis from the Honduras-based journalism website ContraCorriente.

Venezuela Was the Number-One Nationality of Migrants at the U.S.-Mexico Border in September

For the first month since August 2019, Mexico is not the number-one nationality of migrants encountered at the U.S.-Mexico border. Venezuela, for the first time, was number one.

Chart: All CBP (Border Patrol Plus Port of Entry) Migrant Encounters
by Country at the U.S.-Mexico Border

September 2023: Venezuela 25%, Mexico 20%, Guatemala 13%, Honduras 10%, Ecuador 6%, Colombia 5%, Cuba 4%, El Salvador 3%, All Others <3%
Since October 2020: Mexico 33%, Honduras 11.3%, Guatemala 11.1%, Venezuela 8%, Cuba 6%, Nicaragua 5%, Colombia 4.4%, All Others <4%

Data table

Just-released data show that Border Patrol apprehended 54,833 citizens of Venezuela in the areas between the U.S.-Mexico border’s ports of entry in September, a record for countries other than Mexico, and far more than its apprehensions of 39,773 Mexican citizens in September.

Chart: Border Patrol Apprehensions by Country at the U.S.-Mexico Border

September 2023: Venezuela 25%, Mexico 18%, Guatemala 15%, Honduras 11%, Ecuador 7%, Colombia 6%, El Salvador 3%, All Others <2% 
Since October 2020: Mexico 33%, Guatemala 12.2%, Honduras 11.7%, Venezuela 7%, Cuba 6%, Nicaragua 5.3%, Colombia 4.8%, El Salvador 4.1%, All Others <4%

Data table

At the ports of entry (official border crossings), Customs and Border Protection (CBP) encountered 11,751 more Venezuelan citizens, most of them asylum seekers who had made appointments using the CBP One smartphone app. (In September, of 50,972 people who made it onto U.S. soil at ports of entry, CBP reports that about 43,000—84 percent—had CBP One appointments.) Mexico, with 13,523 citizens encountered, was still the number-one nationality at the ports of entry.

Chart: CBP Port of Entry Migrant Encounters by Country at the U.S.-Mexico Border

September 2023: Mexico 27%, Venezuela 23%, Cuba 19%, Haiti 9%, Honduras 7%, Russia 3%, Colombia 2%, All Others <2% 
Since October 2020: Mexico 38%, Haiti 15%, Venezuela 10%, Honduras 8.4%, Russia 8.3%, Cuba 4%, All Others <4%

Data Table

Add together the ports of entry and the areas between them, and Venezuela was the number-one nationality in September with 66,584 migrant encounters. Mexico was the number-two nationality, with 53,296. No other nationality came close; Guatemala was in third place with 34,537.

September marked the end of the U.S. government’s 2023 fiscal year. For decades, CBP has reported its migrant encounters by fiscal year, so we now have a “year-end” comparison, at least for Border Patrol apprehensions between the ports of entry. Using this metric—which may include some double-counting, with the same migrant being apprehended two or more times—we find that 2023 was the number-two year ever for Border Patrol migrant encounters at the U.S.-Mexico border. Only 2022 was higher.

Data table

Only 28 percent of migrants apprehended at the Mexico border in fiscal 2023 were citizens of Mexico. Since 2000, 67 percent of migrants apprehended at the border have been Mexican citizens.

(Note: at GitHub, I’ve updated the tool I use to make these and many other migration charts, with data going back to October 2019. I use it all the time, feel free to run a version of your own. It does require you to know how to run a free web server on your computer; I don’t make it public because generating a table with 48 months and 20 countries makes a web server work very hard.)

What a Difference 15 Days Make

September 20, 2023

Extraordinary and temporary conditions continue to prevent Venezuelan nationals from returning in safety. …Venezuela continues to face a severe humanitarian emergency due to a political and economic crisis, as well as human rights violations and abuses and high levels of crime and violence, that impacts access to food, medicine, healthcare, water, electricity, and fuel, and has led to high levels of poverty.

October 5, 2023

The United States is announcing today that it will resume direct repatriations of Venezuelan nationals who cross our border unlawfully and do not establish a legal basis to remain. This announcement follows a decision by authorities from Venezuela to accept the return of Venezuelan nationals.

Venezuelan Citizens Set Record for Non-Mexican Migration at the U.S.-Mexico border

CBS News reported new information about Venezuelan migration at the U.S.-Mexico border in September, from preliminary U.S. government data:

Approximately 50,000 migrants from crisis-stricken Venezuela crossed the U.S.-Mexico border unlawfully last month, a record and once-unthinkable number, according to preliminary Department of Homeland Security statistics obtained by CBS News.

According to my records (U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s public monthly reporting by citizenship is spotty before the mid-2010s), 50,000 Venezuelan citizens is the greatest-ever number of migrants in a single month at the U.S.-Mexico border from any country other than Mexico. For non-Mexican migrants, the closest numbers I see in the past are 45,201 citizens of Guatemala in May 2019, and 45,297 citizens of Honduras in July 2021.

Charted out, that September number would look like this. The blue part, which more than doubled from August to September, is Venezuelan migrants who crossed the border between ports of entry, ending up in Border Patrol custody. We still don’t know the additional green part for September, which shows migrants who came to ports of entry, usually with “CBP One” appointments (9,373 Venezuelan citizens in August).

Chart: Citizens of Venezuela: CBP Encounters At and Between Ports of Entry

Using numbers in the linked data table, shows monthly Venezuelan migrants since October 2019 as columns. Venezuelan migrants are a few hundred per month at most until February and March 2021, then rise above 30,000 in 3 months between September 2022 and May 2023. They rise above 30,000 in August, then reach the estimated 50,000 in September—without including those who come to ports of entry, which hasn't been reported yet.

Data table without the September estimate added

Heavy U.S.-bound movement of Venezuelan citizens continues through the Darién Gap, Central America, and Mexico. If arrivals continue at this pace, calls to “do something” about the situation causing so many Venezuelans to migrate will proliferate. Within a few months, Venezuela could be right up there—after perhaps Ukraine and the South China Sea—among the Biden administration’s top foreign policy priorities going into an election year.

Humanitarian Parole Recipients By Nationality

Data table

While not 100 percent exact—the Department of Homeland Security isn’t sharing exact numbers—this chart gives a pretty accurate sense of which nationalities’ citizens have benefited from the two-year Humanitarian Parole program that the Biden administration has set up for citizens of Cuba, Haiti, Nicaragua, and Venezuela. To qualify for the paroled status in the United States, citizens of those countries must apply online from outside U.S. territory, have a passport, have a U.S.-based sponsor, and undergo a background check.

Haitians have taken fullest advantage of the program since the Biden administration created it for Venezuelan citizens in October 2022, and expanded it to the other three countries in January 2023. U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) reported on September 22:

Through the end of August 2023, over 211,000 Cubans, Haitians, Nicaraguans, and Venezuelans had arrived lawfully under the parole processes. This number includes more than 45,000 Cubans, more than 71,000 Haitians, more than 32,000 Nicaraguans, and more than 61,000 Venezuelans who have arrived in the U.S. More than 47,000 Cubans, more than 84,000 Haitians, more than 39,000 Nicaraguans, and more than 68,000 Venezuelans have been vetted and authorized for travel.

2 Percent of Venezuelans Now Qualify for TPS in the United States (But More Than 25 Percent Have Migrated)

Before it collapsed into authoritarianism, poverty, and criminality, Venezuela had 30 million people.

7.71 million have left since the mid-2010s: more than a quarter of the original population.

And now, as of yesterday, more than 2% of them (714,700 people) qualify for Temporary Protected Status (TPS) in the United States, as they absolutely should. From DHS:

There are currently approximately 242,700 TPS beneficiaries under Venezuela’s existing TPS designation. There are an additional approximately 472,000 nationals of Venezuela who may be eligible under the redesignation of Venezuela.

Under U.S. asylum law, as amended in 1996, applicants for asylum in the United States cannot obtain a work authorization until their application is six months old. Asylum seekers want to work, and TPS is a way to get around this unhelpful 27-year-old law to enable that.

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:


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

WOLA Podcast: Venezuela: “The Way out of This Situation Has to be Through a Democratic and Peaceful Solution”

I learned a lot about the current moment in Venezuela during this podcast conversation with one of my newest colleagues, Laura Dib, the recently arrived director of WOLA’s Venezuela Program. Here’s the overview text from WOLA’s podcast landing page.

In this podcast, Laura Cristina Dib, WOLA’s director for Venezuela, discusses the daunting political situation in Venezuela with WOLA’s Adam Isacson.

Venezuela is to hold presidential elections at some point in 2024. Whether they will be at least somewhat free and fair is unlikely but far from impossible. It is a goal that must guide the international community and Venezuelan civil society.

The episode covers the recent naming of a new National Electoral Council, a seemingly technical step with wide-ranging consequences; the need for a clear and transparent electoral timetable; and the importance of updating voter rolls and other crucial steps for the elections’ credibility.

Laura Dib notes a recent increase in repression, threats, and disqualification of candidates as the Maduro regime appears to grow uneasy. That makes the international role increasingly important—as it has been in Guatemala’s elections—starting with a stronger commitment to a humanitarian agreement, which resulted from the 2022 negotiations and has yet to be implemented. “International” includes Venezuela’s neighbors, like Brazil and Colombia.

“There’s always hope, I don’t think that everything is lost,” Dib concludes. “I think that there’s always opportunity, and I continue to work very closely with a civil society that is more knowledgeable than ever on how to advocate for their rights beyond their borders.”

Download the podcast .mp3 file here. Listen to WOLA’s Latin America Today podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, iHeartRadio, or wherever you subscribe to podcasts. The main feed is here.

Darién Gap migration dropped a bit in June

The Venezuelan publication Tal Cual, citing unreleased data from Panama’s government, states that 196,370 people migrated through eastern Panama’s once-impenetrable Darién Gap jungles during the first 6 months of 2023.

Fifty-one percent, or 100,514 of the travelers who transited through the Darien jungle between January and June 2023, were Venezuelans.

Venezuelans were followed by Haitians (33,074), Ecuadorians (25,105), citizens of 23 African countries (6,420), Chileans (4,964) and Colombians (3,579).

(The Chileans were almost entirely the children of Haitian migrants who were born in Chile.)

If the 196,370 figure is near final, it is almost exactly 30,000 more than the 166,649 people whom Panamanian authorities had measured through May.

Screenshot from Panama's Darién Gap statistics, updated through May, showing 166,649 migrants, about 30,000 less than the figure through June cited in TalCual .

March: 38,099
April: 40,297
May: 38,962

As this screenshot of Panama’s data shows, 30,000 migrants in a month—while still an unimaginably large number for such a remote and dangerous region—is about one-quarter fewer people than Panama measured in March (38,099), April (40,297), and May (38,962).

The decline is less steep than the 70 percent drop in daily migrant apprehensions that the U.S. Border Patrol chief’s regular tweets have been recording. That probably means that the population of migrants bottled up between Panama and the U.S. border—mostly in Mexico—is increasing.

Chart: Border Patrol apprehensions at the U.S.-Mexico border: 
reported per-day total, May-June 2023

Date	Border Patrol apprehensions reported per-day total
1-May	7407
6-May	7850
8-May	8794
12-May	9680
15-May	4917
19-May	4068
22-May	2917
26-May	3149
30-May	3396
5-Jun	3015
9-Jun	3163
12-Jun	3016
16-Jun	3254
21-Jun	3303
23-Jun	3518
26-Jun	3428
30-Jun	3542

The decline at the Darién is a result of uncertainty about how the Biden administration will apply its restrictive new post-Title 42 asylum access rule to migrants who turn themselves in to U.S. authorities.

It is also a result of the end (with the end of Title 42, on May 11) of a two-month period in which Mexico’s government, in the aftermath of a tragic March 27 migrant detention center fire that killed 40 people, was refusing U.S. Title 42 expulsions of Venezuelan citizens from at least a few border sectors. That eased Venezuelan asylum seekers’ releases into the U.S. interior, and word got out about that possibility in April and the first part of May, as U.S. authorities’ encounters with Venezuelan migrants increased sharply.

Chart: CBP Encounters with citizens of Venezuela

19-Oct	728
19-Nov	588
19-Dec	693
20-Jan	243
20-Feb	206
20-Mar	166
20-Apr	9
20-May	10
20-Jun	13
20-Jul	36
20-Aug	49
20-Sep	46
20-Oct	143
20-Nov	184
20-Dec	206
21-Jan	295
21-Feb	913
21-Mar	2566
21-Apr	6048
21-May	7499
21-Jun	7583
21-Jul	6126
21-Aug	6301
21-Sep	10814
21-Oct	13416
21-Nov	20388
21-Dec	24801
22-Jan	22779
22-Feb	3073
22-Mar	4053
22-Apr	4107
22-May	5088
22-Jun	13199
22-Jul	17647
22-Aug	25361
22-Sep	33804
22-Oct	22060
22-Nov	8023
22-Dec	8190
23-Jan	9101
23-Feb	5565
23-Mar	8322
23-Apr	33850
23-May	30990

As noted above, Tal Cual reports that 100,514 Venezuelan migrants crossed the Darién Gap so far this year. That would mean about 18,500 Venezuelans crossed in June (there were 82,054 through May). That is a 30 percent drop in Venezuelan migration from May—8,000 fewer migrants, accounting for nearly all of the May-June worldwide reduction in migration through the Darién.

Since May 12, protection-seeking Venezuelan migrants must either:

  • apply for a two-year humanitarian parole status (which requires them both to hold a passport and to have a willing sponsor in the United States), or
  • make their way to northern Mexico and seek an appointment at a U.S. border port of entry using the CBP One smartphone app. CBP just increased the number of daily appointments to 1,450, about double what it was during Title 42.

While those pathways are important, they accommodate only a fraction of those seeking to migrate from Venezuela. Those reduced possibilities probably explain much of the June drop in migration through the Darién Gap, where more than half of this year’s migrants have been Venezuelan.

Less migration? Or stranded migrants?

This talking point about a “95% drop in border migrant encounters from Cuba, Haiti, Nicaragua, and Venezuela” is problematic.

Why? Let’s examine encounters along the migration route, from north to south.

Here’s where the 95% comes from.

Chart: Cuba, Haiti, Nicaragua, and Venezuela Migrants Encountered Between U.S. Ports of Entry

	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
Between Ports of Entry (Border Patrol)	47270	34596	54042	55910	57280	40470	50069	56209	78256	71656	75658	84192	11909	2052	3811

US Border Patrol’s apprehensions of these 4 countries’ migrants really did drop steeply from December—after Mexico agreed to accept Title 42 expulsions of these nationalities, and once a “humanitarian parole” option opened up for some of them.

But there’s no 95% drop anywhere else along the migration route, where people fleeing those countries have become stranded.

Since December, Mexico’s encounters with these 4 countries’ migrants are only down 42%.

Chart: Cuba, Haiti, Nicaragua, and Venezuela Migrants Encountered in Mexico

	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
Total	7549	6601	10448	11221	8551	8071	11308	21545	22910	31047	23450	21124	12480	9859	12327

Since December, Honduras’s encounters with Cuban, Haitian, and Venezuelan migrants are up 10%.

(Nicaraguan citizens don’t need passports to be in Honduras, and thus don’t end up in Honduras’s count of “irregular” or “undocumented” migrants.)

Chart: Cuba, Haiti, and Venezuela Migrants Encountered in Honduras

	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
Total	1589	2253	7571	10703	10757	12726	10297	18504	17332	21173	15833	11666	9310	9183	12879

Since December, in Panama’s Darién Gap, migration from Cuba, Haiti, and Venezuela is up 250% (though down 57% from a high in October, before Mexico started accepting expulsions of Venezuelan migrants).

Chart: Cuba, Haiti, and Venezuela Migrants Encountered in Panama’s Darién Gap

	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
Total	2595	2534	2723	4113	11408	12800	18885	26142	41531	45781	6723	8340	14542	14946	29186

The upshot: migration from Cuba, Haiti, Nicaragua, Venezuela may be down sharply at the US-Mexico border, due to aggressive Title 42 expulsions.

But the expulsions have absolutely not deterred these nations’ citizens from migrating. They’re still fleeing—but they’re stranded.

A Venezuelan migrant in Tegucigalpa, Honduras

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.

WOLA Podcast: “The days of hoping for a magical solution are long gone”: Geoff Ramsey on Venezuela

Pleased to share a new WOLA Podcast episode with Geoff Ramsey, who until very recently—before making a move to the Atlantic Council—was WOLA’s director for Venezuela. I haven’t been paying close enough attention to the ongoing political negotiations between the Maduro government and the opposition, and this was an eye-opening overview.

Here’s the blurb from WOLA’s podcast landing page:

About a quarter of Venezuela’s population has fled the country after years of economic crisis, corruption, and authoritarianism. Efforts to bring a return to accountable, democratic rule continue, most notably through a negotiated process facilitated by Norway.

There is little reason to expect a short-term outcome, says Geoff Ramsey, who until recently directed WOLA’s Venezuela Program. Ramsey is now a senior fellow for Venezuela and Colombia at the Atlantic Council.

In this episode of WOLA’s Podcast, Ramsey calls for patient support for the ongoing negotiations, implementation of a 2022 humanitarian agreement, a more strategically unified opposition, more engaged neighbors, and a clearer U.S. policy at a time when Venezuela is getting “less bandwidth” in Washington.

Above all, Geoff Ramsey cautions against expecting dramatic change anytime soon, as many did during the Trump administration. Bringing Venezuela back to rights-respecting democracy is a “long game,” with 2024 elections just one milestone along the way.

Follow Geoff Ramsey on Twitter at @GRamsey_LatAm.

Download the podcast .mp3 file here. Listen to WOLA’s Latin America Today podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, iHeartRadio, or wherever you subscribe to podcasts. The main feed is here.

Venezuelans stuck in Guatemala: “We all know that this is corruption”

Here’s a good podcast transcript, from Guatemala’s Agencia Ocote, about Venezuelan migrants stranded in Guatemala after passing through the dangers of Panama’s Darién Gap. They’re stranded, usually, because Guatemalan police shook them down and took all their money.

Osmary López: I was carrying 500 dollars too, and on the way here it’s crazy, because these police make everything a bargain. If you don’t have any, then they want to throw you out… Apart from the fact that they put you in the truck, they put you in the truck, they leave you there, you pay them… They take your money and you just walk away and that’s it.

Gabriel Ferrer: They know how to do things, because we came riding the bus. There were ten Venezuelans, 15 Venezuelans. First they ask for the Venezuelan ID card, they leave us on the bus. Then they take the Guatemalan people off the bus so they can’t see what they are doing to us. And after they take everything from us, they put the Guatemalan people back on the bus, and we all know that this is corruption.

Darío Rodríguez: You come with more or less enough money to get to the route or to the destination where you want to go, but when the police catch you and take the money they charge you and all that, then it’s hard for you to get to the destination.

Mexico’s suspicious aircraft detections point to Venezuela

This is from the Mexican Presidency’s latest security report (October 20, page 61). It looks like Zulia, Venezuela has been the main jumping-off point for aircraft suspected of smuggling drugs toward Mexico.

Venezuela meanwhile claims to have destroyed 37 suspect aircraft so far this year:

Darién Gap: 1,606 migrants per day

Panama just posted data about migration through the treacherous, ungoverned Darién Gap jungles that straddle eastern Panama and northwestern Colombia. Once regarded as an impenetrable barrier, this region of old-growth jungle is becoming a superhighway.

The data are mind-boggling. 1,606 migrants per day walked through the Darién in September. 1,280 were citizens of Venezuela, who have begun migrating in large numbers to the United States.

The chart below shows migration through the Darién Gap over the past 13 years. 2021’s record number of Haitian migrants, which seemed unthinkable at the time, has been surpassed by the exodus of 107,692 Venezuelans in 9 months. (Only 219 Venezuelans walked the Darién in all 11 years from 2010 to 2020.)

6.8 million Venezuelans (out of about 30 million) have left their country since the mid-2010s. Many of those coming through the Darién have already lived for years elsewhere in South America, and they’re giving up on trying to survive there.

There is potential for this exodus of Venezuelan migrants to multiply still further in the Darién. This has quickly become the number-one displacement and migration challenge in the hemisphere.

Venezuelan migration through Panama’s Darién gap

23,000 Venezuelan migrants arriving in a month at the US-Mexico border would be big news: it only happened once before, last December.

But in August, 23,632 migrants from Venezuela (green on the below chart) walked through Panama’s dangerous, ungoverned Darién Gap jungle.

8 months into 2022, Panama has exceeded 100,000 migrants through the Darién Gap, and seems certain to break its annual record. That number (133,726) seemed unimaginable last year when tens of thousands of Haitian people (blue on the below chart) came up from South America.

737 migrants per day in the Darién Gap last month

Panama’s government published data on the number of people whom its migration authorities registered coming through the dangerous Darién Gap migration route, in the country’s far east along the Colombia border.

The 22,582 migrants who came through the Darién in July (737 per day) were the fourth-largest monthly total that Panama has ever measured. The top three were in August-October 2021, when a large number of Haitian migrants took this very dangerous route.

This year, migration of Haitian citizens is reduced, but a stunning number of Venezuelans are now passing through the Darién. Three-quarters of July’s migrants in this region (16,864, or 544 per day) came from Venezuela.

In January, at strong U.S. suggestion, Mexico established a visa requirement for Venezuelan citizens arriving in the country, which sharply reduced the number of Venezuelans arriving by air, many of whom were traveling to the U.S. border to seek asylum. U.S.-bound migration of Venezuelans fell in February, but is now recovering as migrants take the far more dangerous land route.

In the first 7 months of 2021, Panama registered 45,029 migrants in the Darién. The total for the first 7 months of 2022 is 71,012.

Big increase in Venezuelans coming through Panama’s Darién Gap

The Panamanian Migration Service’s latest data show a 145 percent increase, from April to May, in migrants coming through the dangerous, ungoverned Darién Gap jungles. 13,894 people took this several-day walk in May, risking drowning, disease, and assault, theft, and rape from criminal groups that operate with total impunity.

That’s not a record—more migrants passed through the Darién in July-October of last year, a period when Haitians who had been living in South America massively migrated toward the United States.

This year, most migrants are Venezuelan: 71 percent in May, and 51 percent in January-May. Venezuelan migration through the Darién was 43 percent greater in May than in the first four months of the year combined. Migration of Colombian and Ecuadorian citizens in May was also nearly double the January-April total.

Until recently, Venezuelans seeking to migrate toward the United States would mostly arrive by air to Mexico, which did not require visas of visiting Venezuelan tourists. That route got shut down on January 21 when Mexico, at very strong U.S. suggestion, began imposing visa requirements for visiting Venezuelans.

Venezuelans are now taking to the treacherous land route. Once they make it through Panama, most are ending up in the Mexican southern-border zone city of Tapachula, where they are stranded. Venezuelans made up most of the attempted migrant “caravan” that left Tapachula a week ago. That caravan made headlines but is now mostly dispersed, as Mexican migration authorities have been providing visas allowing migrants to leave Tapachula.

The Cheetos are one of many perplexing details about yesterday’s Venezuelan military captive release

There’s a lot we still don’t know about the eight Venezuelan soldiers who got released on May 31, after 38 days as captives of an ex-FARC dissident group. The “10th Front” dissident group captured them during combat on April 23 near the Colombian border, in Venezuela’s Apure state. There, fighting between Venezuelan forces and the 10th Front, which broke out on March 21, has displaced about 7,000 Venezuelan residents.

What we don’t know, besides whether a bag of Cheetos is really a great way to welcome someone back to freedom, is laid out in a good overview by Sofía Nederr at Venezuela’s Tal Cual.

  • Do three soldiers remain in captivity, as the director of Venezuela’s FundaRedes, Javier Tarazona, claims? (Tarazona gets a lot right, but he also claims that the ex-FARC leaders who are committed to the peace process, like Rodrigo Londoño, are aiding the dissidents, and there’s no proof of that at all.)
  • FundaRedes says that on May 30, there may have been a “truce” during which Venezuelan forces pulled out of territory in order to make possible the captives’ release, possibly to the International Committee of the Red Cross.
  • Tarazona says the dissidents—or some Colombian armed groups, anyway—maintain five “safe houses” in four Venezuelan states.
  • Tarazona claims the Venezuelan armed forces’ leadership has ordered the ex-captives not to talk about what happened or how they were freed.
  • It’s still not clear why Venezuelan forces are fighting the 10th Front dissidents, and leaving unmolested Colombia’s National Liberation Army (ELN) and “Segunda Marquetalia” dissident group, which both operate in Apure.

The FARC dissidents, whose leadership has years of experience as guerrillas (though much of the membership is probably new recruits), has hit the Venezuelan military hard, killing at least 16 of them.

ICE’s Removals of Cubans and Venezuelans Have Spiked Under Trump

This week DHS released its latest Yearbook of Immigration Statistics, offering data through 2019. It includes a table (Table 41, use the Excel version to get all years) of how many citizens ICE sent back to each country.

Look what happened to removals of Cubans and Venezuelans since Donald Trump’s anti-immigrant administration took office in 2017. Note that this doesn’t count Venezuelans whom the administration, we’ve now learned, has been stealthily sending back to Caracas via third countries.

Recall that despite this, fuzzy initial data show Trump beating Joe Biden among Cuban-American and Venezuelan-American early voters in Miami-Dade, Florida, where much of this community lives.

Why? Because in a dirty social-media-heavy campaign reminiscent of Colombia’s 2016 peace plebiscite, the Trump campaign and its surrogates have successfully implanted the idea that Joe Biden is a communist who would support the regimes that they fled. It’s amazing that they’ve gotten away with this while spiking deportations back to those same regimes.

2 videos in which I talk about U.S. troops in Colombia

Earlier today I joined Colombian Green Party Senator Antonio Sanguino on Ariel Ávila’s El Poder program, on the YouTube channel of the Colombian newsmagazine Semana. The subject was the recently announced deployment of a contingent of U.S. military trainers.

Later, I joined Daniel García Pena and Laura Gil for a discussion of the same subject hosted by the Colombian NGO Planeta Paz.

I cringe watching myself speak Spanish, but the subject matter is important. And my high-def webcam has turned out to be a good pre-quarantine investment.

WOLA Podcast on Venezuela

It’s great to have two Venezuela experts on staff to explain what’s happening there. With great nuance, rare clarity, and zero shouting.

Listen above, or download the .mp3 file here. The text from the WOLA landing page is below.

This podcast, WOLA’s first to focus on Venezuela since January, features Geoff Ramsey, WOLA’s director for Venezuela, and David Smilde, a WOLA senior fellow specializing in Venezuela. (Dr. Smilde is the Charles A. and Leo M. Favrot Professor of Human Relations at Tulane University.)

This situation report covers a lot of ground. Ramsey and Smilde explain the current humanitarian situation in Venezuela, with the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic likely to come, along with the effect of sanctions. The discussion moves on to alternatives, like what it would take to bring the country’s ever-worsening crisis to a political solution. This brings up the role of external powers like Russia, China, Iran, and the United States. Ramsey and Smilde unpack the current state of U.S. policy, which at the White House level is heavily driven by Florida electoral politics. They note that the Trump administration’s mixed messages are inadvertently dividing a Venezuelan opposition that is already in a bad moment after a botched mercenary invasion at the beginning of May.

Geoff Ramsey and David Smilde co-manage WOLA’s Venezuelan Politics and Human Rights blog. Also mentioned in the podcast is a May 2020 paper that both co-authored in the European Review of Latin American and Caribbean Studies, which explores the recent history and theory of negotiation efforts in Venezuela, as well as prospects and necessary conditions for a negotiated solution today.

Listen to WOLA’s Latin America Today podcast on Apple PodcastsSpotifyiHeartRadio, or wherever you subscribe to podcasts. The main feed is here.

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