Perilous, Roadless Jungle Becomes a Path of Desperate Hope

NECOCLÍ, Colombia — For decades, the Darién Gap, a roadless, lawless stretch of jungle linking South America to the north, was considered so dangerous that only a few thousand people a year were daring, or desperate, enough to try to cross it.

But the economic devastation wrought by the pandemic in South America was such that in the first nine months of this year, Panamanian officials say, an estimated 95,000 migrants, most of whom are Haitian, attempted the passage on their way to the United States.

They made the journey in shorts and flip-flops, their possessions stuffed in plastic bags, their babies in arms and their children by the hand. It’s uncertain how many made it — and how many didn’t. And yet tens of thousands more are gathered in Colombia, eager for their turn to try.

Del Rio and thrusting the Biden administration into a crisis, were just the leading edge of a much larger movement of migrants heading for the jungle and then the United States. People who had fled their troubled Caribbean nation for places as far south as Chile and Brazil began moving north months ago, hoping they would be welcomed by President Biden.

“We very well could be on the precipice of a historic displacement of people in the Americas toward the United States,” said Dan Restrepo, the former national security adviser for Latin America under President Barack Obama. “When one of the most impenetrable stretches of jungle in the world is no longer stopping people, it underscores that political borders, however enforced, won’t either.”

The Darién, also known as the Isthmus of Panama, is a narrow swath of land dividing the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea. Parts are so inaccessible that when engineers built the Pan-American Highway in the 1930s, linking Alaska to Argentina, only one section was left unfinished. That piece — 66 roadless miles of turbulent rivers, rugged mountains and venomous snakes — became known as the Darién Gap. Today, the journey through the gap is made more perilous by a criminal group and human traffickers who control the region, often extorting and sometimes sexually assaulting migrants.

a growing number of migrants had begun to brave the corridor, a journey that can take a week or more on foot. But after the pandemic, which hit South America particularly hard, that surge has become a flood of desperate families. At least one in five of those who crossed this year were children, Panamanian officials said.

As the number of migrants arriving at the U.S. border grew, the Biden administration retreated from a more open approach to migration embraced in the president’s first days in office to a tougher stance with a singular goal: deterring people from even attempting to enter the United States.

said in September. “Your journey will not succeed, and you will be endangering your life and your family’s lives.”

But the warning is unlikely to turn back the tens of thousands of Haitians who are already on the road.

On a recent day, there were about 20,000 migrants in Necoclí, in Colombia. And there are up to 30,000 Haitian migrants already in Mexico, according to a senior official in the Mexican foreign ministry who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

“They’ve already started the journey, they’ve already started to think about the U.S.,” said Andrew Selee, president of the Migration Policy Institute. “It’s not that easy to turn that off.”

On a recent morning, Ms. Alix and Mr. Damier woke their children before dawn in the small home they’d been sharing with a dozen other migrants. Their turn had come to board the boat that would take them to the edge of the jungle.

In the darkness, Ms. Alix threw her backpack over her shoulders and strapped Vladensky to her chest. In one hand she carried a pot of spaghetti, meant to sustain them while it lasted. Her other hand reached out to her toddler, Farline.

On the beach the family joined a crowd of others. A dockworker handed a large life vest to Ms. Alix. She draped it over Farline’s small body and climbed into the boat. Aboard: 47 adults, 13 children, seven infants, all migrants.

“Goodbye!” yelled a man from the boat company. “Have a good trip!”

Government officials are largely absent from the Darién. The area is controlled by a criminal group known as the Clan del Golfo, whose members view migrants much as they view drugs: goods they can tax and control.

Once the migrants step off the boats, they are met by smugglers — typically poor men in the area who offer to take them into the jungle, starting at $250 a person. For an extra $10 they will carry a backpack. For another $30, a child.

Farline and her family spent the night in a tent at the edge of the jungle. In the morning, they set out before sunrise, alongside hundreds of others.

“I carry bags,” smugglers shouted. “I carry children!”

Soon, a vast plain became a towering forest. Farline clambered between trees, following her parents. Vladensky slept on his mother’s chest. Other children cried, the first to show signs of exhaustion.

As the group crossed river after river, tired adults began to abandon their bags. They clambered up and then down a steep, muddy slope, only to stare up at the next one. Faces that were hopeful, even excited, that morning went slack with exhaustion.

A woman in a leopard-print dress fainted. A crowd formed. A man gave her water. Then they all rose, picked up their bags and began to walk.

Today, after all, was just day one in the Darién, and they had a long journey ahead.

Julie Turkewitz reported from Necoclí, Colombia; Natalie Kitroeff from Mexico City; and Sofía Villamil from Necoclí and Bajo Chiquito, Panama. Oscar Lopez contributed reporting from Mexico City, and Mary Triny Zea from Panama City.

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1921: An Adopted Son of the Creator of ‘Peter Pan’ Drowns in a Bathing Pool

(By Special Leased Wire.) LONDON, Friday. — There is something of the wistful pathos of his own imaginings in the tragedy which has darkened the home of Sir James Barrie.

Michael Llewellyn Davies and Rupert Buxton, the younger son of the late Sir Thomas V. Buxton, were drowned near the Sanford bathing pool at Oxford yesterday. The two undergraduates were almost inseparable. Davies was twenty years of age, Buxton twenty-two.

It has been related how Sir James Barrie, seeing the Davies children in Kensington Gardens many years ago, stopped to play with them. When both their father and mother (who was the sister of Gerald du Maurier) died still young, Sir James adopted the children.

From his association with them sprang some of his most beautiful fantasies. Typically, however, of his shyness and reserved nature was the fact that not even his friends were able to say to-day how many of the children Sir James adopted.

“He is so retiring that he hardly ever spoke about it,” said one of his friends to-day. “I always had understood that he adopted two children, not four. The elder, who, of course, is believed to be the original Peter Pan, was killed in the war. Now comes the death of the other. It is terrible.”

Birth of Peter Pan

Sir James has told how Peter Pan was created as the result of the fairy tales he told those children and how it was built up as they clamored for more. The “original” Peter Pan’s name was George, a lieutenant in the Rifle Brigade, who was killed in action in March, 1915. He was, perhaps, the only boy for whom a special performance of a London production has been given in his own home.

When “Peter Pan” was produced in London, the “original” was sick in bed at home. “If the boy cannot come to the play, we will take the play to the boy,” said the late Charles Frohman, in observing Sir James’ distress. And they did.

Now both boys, who are most closely associated with the fashioning of Peter Pan, are dead. One of Sir James’ friends to-day recalled the words of Peter himself. “To die would be an awfully big adventure.”

“Nobody can say what it will mean for Sir James,” declared an actress who is closely associated with the dramatist and his plays. “I knew all the adopted family — five altogether — all boys. The lad who just met such a tragic death was very brilliant. I do not know if it will interfere with the play we are now rehearsing under Sir James’ supervision.”

— The New York Herald Tribune, European Edition, May 21, 1921.

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