The Biden administration vowed to “end the illicit movement” of people through the Darién jungle. But the number of migrants moving through the forest has never been greater — and the profits are too big to pass up.
Julie Turkewitz and Federico Rios have spent months in the Darién Gap reporting on migration.
Every step through the jungle, there is money to be made.
The boat ride to reach the rainforest: $40. A guide on the treacherous route once you start walking: $170. A porter to carry your backpack over the muddy mountains: $100. A plate of chicken and rice after arduous climbing: $10. Special, all-inclusive packages to make the perilous slog faster and more bearable, with tents, boots and other necessities: $500, or more.
Hundreds of thousands of migrants are now pouring through a sliver of jungle known as the Darién Gap, the only land route to the United States from South America, in a record tide that the Biden administration and the Colombian government have vowed to stop.
But the windfall here at the edge of the continent is simply too big to pass up, and the entrepreneurs behind the migrant gold rush are not underground smugglers hiding from the authorities.
They are politicians, prominent businessmen and elected leaders, now sending thousands of migrants toward the United States in plain sight each day — and charging millions of dollars a month for the privilege.
“We have organized everything: the boatmen, the guides, the bag carriers,” said Darwin García, an elected community board member and former town councilman in Acandí, a Colombian municipality at the entrance to the jungle.
The crush of migrants willing to risk everything to make it to the United States is “the best thing that could have happened” to a poor town like his, he said.
Now, Mr. García’s younger brother, Luis Fernando Martínez, the head of a local tourism association, is a leading candidate for mayor of Acandí — defending the migration business as the only profitable industry in a place that “didn’t have a defined economy before.”
The Darién Gap has quickly morphed into one the Western Hemisphere’s most pressing political and humanitarian crises…