Thoughts Beyond the Novel CoCC.11–Dangerous Darien Gap, Panama, Migration

The novel, CHOIR OF CLOISTERED CANARIES (CoCC), covers a lot of territory–continental United States, Iran, Italy, and Panama. Of these, the most dangerous by far, is the Darién Gap of El Darién that borders Colombia and Panama. One of the principal characters in the novel dies tragically in El Darién. Moreover, the novel has an epidemiological focus.

Growing up in the Canal Zone until 1969, I knew El Darién was off limits because it was very dangerous and unpoliced, inhospitable to be exact. Unsavory people such as paramilitary organizations and drug cartels hid there, and life=threatening diseases lurked there. One well known paramilitary organization is the Ejercito de Liberacion Nacional (ELN). These cartel and paramilitary groups are involved in human, arms, and drug trafficking as well as other lawless activities such as kidnapping. Armed conflict can break out at any time.

It was and will remain jungle. However, through economic and political strife. desperate adults and children have migrated through El Darién, especially from Venezuela and Colombia; other migrants from elsewhere dare make the treacherous trek.

El Darién is also known as The Darién Gap. Dense and humid, it consists of multiple ecosystems that house many types of insects, plants, and venomous snakes. The venom of a coral snake and toad-like creatures and frogs can kill a person within a few hours. Also, there are many deadly species of centipedes, scorpions, spiders and insects, as well as poisonous plants, that can kill a person in a matter of a few days.

Here is a list of a few dangerous animals one can encounter: Anaconda, Bushmaster, Fer-de-lance, Green Iguana, Harpy Eagle, Jaguar, Ocelot, Puma, Tegu lizard, Timber Rattlesnake, and Yaguarundi. You get the picture.


As a World Heritage site, it consists of 1,475,000 acres of beaches, mangroves, swamps, and unhealthy humidity. Humidity peaks in April. Though there are commercial sight-seeing trips available to the adventurous, it is not a place for a non-expert to explore. At one time, hostile tribes inhabited the area.

Kapoc tree (Ceiba in the Darién jungle)

Tragically, migrants are traversing this territory without having a hint of its dangers. They seek a better life free from economic/political pain and suffering. CNN reporters have visited the location of this phenomenon, traveling for five days, that has been mounting for decades. One cannot think that it could get worse then now. Visit their article here: Darién Gap migration: On one of the world’s most dangerous migrant routes, a cartel makes millions off the American dream | CNN.

It is unconscionable what these migrants suffer. They are from Africa, South Asia, the Middle East and the Caribbean, including China. Many fly into Ecuador by taking advantage of Ecuador’s liberal visa policy. Even migrants from Ecuador are now part of the mix.

In 2021, about 19,000 children crossed on foot. Half of them were under five years of age according to UNICEF. The record total was around 130,000 migrants. About 250,000 people crossed in 2022, double what it was the previous year. Early data for 2023 shows an increase six times as many made the trek from January to March, another record high. The UN reports that, by the end of this year (2023), the migration will be about 400,000 migrants.

The Darién Gap is the rainiest region in the world. As these exhausted trekkers traverse the area, they encounter deep clay-like, sticky mud most of the way. Heartbreakingly, these migrants, whether arriving by air, boat, or land, face hunger, murder, sickness, thirst, rape, and/or robbery.

Central American Coral snake

There was once upon a time a lofty idea to engineer The Pan-American Highway. It was to connect all of North, Central, and South America. But it could not make it through the Darién Gap. It is known as “the gap of the longest road” The jungle marshland and mountains between Panama and Colombia ended the highway’s reach—at Yaviza, Panama, and Turbo, Colombia.

One cannot overlook the diseases that lurk in the region. Plasmodium infection in anophelines mosquitoes (malaria) is prevalent in the region of El Darién. Eighty-five percent of the cases in Panama come from anophelines mosquitoes with cases doubling in 2021. There has been outbreaks of the equine encephalitis virus complex–namely, Madariaga (MADV) and Venezuelan Equine Encephalitis Viral Infections (VEEV)–that are transmitted by the rodent/mosquito-borne virus. There is no medical presence to determine and evaluate how these infections may spread through this migration. All said and done, the prospect could very well be huge deaths among these huddled and desperate migrants.

According to publication Clinical Infectious Diseases, it states in summary the following:

The increasing foreign-born component in the populations of immigration-receiving regions, including the United States, Australia, Canada, and western Europe, coupled with the sustained prevalence of infectious diseases in immigration-source nations, will have a growing effect on the nature and practice of clinical infectious diseases. Global factors beyond the influence of national infectious disease control strategies will affect national disease-control programs. Migrants will become increasingly important risk groups and index cases for infections of low incidence in the immigration-receiving nations. As the demography of immigration source nations evolves, classical infectious disease concerns in migrants may become less relevant [45], and new challenges can be expected as immigrants and refugees arrive from new regions of the world with different background infectious disease epidemiology.” (Vol 38, Issue 12, 15 June 2004)

Is it possible to have an orderly, managed system of mass migration? Sadly, I think not. In our time, there is an ideological and socio-political collapse on a grand scale that is globally man-made. We must not give up trying to solve such problems.

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