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Former US Ambassador Predicts Panama’s New President Will Significantly Impact US Border Crisis

Carlos Trujillo, renowned for his connections in Latin American politics, has faith that President-elect Jose Mulino has the potential to prevent mass illegal immigration in Panama.

A former ambassador to the region indicated that Panama’s president-elect, Jose Mulino, could play a pivotal role in addressing the U.S. border crisis if he opts to close the Darién Gap to mass migration.

Trujillo, a well-informed figure in Latin American politics, formerly served as a U.S. ambassador to the Organization of American States under ex-President Donald Trump, an organization encompassing all 35 independent states in the Americas.

In an interview with The Epoch Times, Mr. Trujillo disclosed his interactions with Mr. Mulino and members of his inner circle, highlighting Mr. Mulino’s pro-American stance.

While Mr. Mulino could potentially reduce migration to the U.S., achieving this goal might require doing so without backing from the Biden administration, Mr. Trujillo noted.

Set to assume office on July 1 for a five-year term, Mr. Mulino campaigned on a platform that involves shutting down the perilous jungle migrant route through the Darién Gap connecting Colombia to Panama and repatriating hundreds of thousands of migrants en route to the U.S.

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Elected on May 5, Mr. Mulino pledged to close the infamous jungle migrant path through the Darién Gap, linking Colombia to Panama, and repatriate migrants on their way to the U.S.

During a May 6 interview with a Colombian radio program, Mr. Mulino emphasized the importance of repatriation in deterring migrants from making the journey, underscoring the obstacles awaiting those who attempt it.

A former security minister for Panama from 2009 to 2014, Mr. Mulino, aged 64, is recognized for reclaiming a section of the Darién Gap previously controlled by Colombian narco-guerrillas.

According to Mr. Trujillo, curbing illegal immigration through Panama hinges on reinforcing security measures and implementing deterrence tactics like immediate deportation.

“The financial and human costs borne by Panama to accommodate and manage these migrants are substantial and challenging,” noted Mr. Trujillo.

Recent statements from Panama’s incoming security chief, Frank Abrego, suggest the Mulino administration is contemplating establishing additional checkpoints and turning back migrants at the Darién Gap, a 140-mile stretch along the Panama–Colombia border.

Following a press conference on May 16 where the upcoming president unveiled his cabinet members, Mr. Abrego discussed the potential of declaring a formal border closure and setting up more checkpoints to intercept illegal immigrants.

Expressing belief in the upcoming closure, Mr. Abrego alluded to the establishment of checkpoints to detain illicit migrants once border closure is enacted.

At odds with the Biden administration’s approach, Panama’s former border director, Oriel Ortega, underscored the need for non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and the United Nations to follow through on educating and assisting migrants in their home countries instead of facilitating mass migration through Panama.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken conveyed his congratulations to Mr. Mulino on his election victory and emphasized the shared commitment to managing migration with Panama.

Ambassador Carlos Trujillo was sworn in as the U.S. Permanent Representative to the Organization of American States on March 30, 2018. (Courtesy of the U.S. Department of State)
Ambassador Carlos Trujillo was sworn in as the U.S. Permanent Representative to the Organization of American States on March 30, 2018. (Courtesy of the U.S. Department of State)

Following a tumultuous campaign that saw him step in for ex-president Ricardo Martinelli, Mr. Mulino emerged as the unexpected late entry into the presidential race, eventually clinching the victory.

Originally slated as Mr. Martinelli’s running mate, Mr. Mulino took over after Mr. Martinelli’s conviction for money laundering, which also led to his disqualification from the race.

From the Nicaraguan Embassy, where he sought asylum in early February after these events, Mr. Martinelli extended his support to Mr. Mulino.

As migration surged through the Darién Gap, Mr. Trujillo lamented the lack of support from the Biden administration and highlighted the failure of Colombia to address migrants on their side of the border, despite substantial assistance from the U.S.

In Mr. Trujillo’s view, the U.S. Congress is likely to back Mr. Mulino’s proposal to close the migration route and tackle trafficking, emphasizing the dangers inherent in the treacherous journey.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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