METETI, Panama – Led by smugglers armed with knives and machetes, Mayra Reyes and 14 other Cubans sloshed through swamps and rivers and suffered hordes of mosquitoes as they struggled across the notorious Darien Gap between Panama and Colombia, the only north-south stretch of the Americas to defy road-builders.
After walking for three days, the group reached the foot of a steep, scrubby mountain. There, the smugglers peeled away and told the Cubans they would have to press ahead alone.
“I thought I was going to have a heart attack,” the 32-year-old hairdresser from Havana told The Associated Press. “What the guides did was get us to the mountain, where we had to wait for nightfall while these green and black poisonous frogs got on top of us.”
Hundreds of Cubans like Reyes are taking that arduous new route toward the United States, trekking across the 85 miles (135 kilometers) of steamy tropical jungle that divides Colombia and Panama, through mountains, ravines, and muddy ground teeming with poisonous reptiles, jaguars, wild boars, guerrillas and drug traffickers,
And after that, they still face a journey across 1,700 miles (2,700 kilometers) and six countries to reach the United States.
Panamanian immigration authorities detained 800 Cubans near the border with Colombia from January through the first week in July, compared to 400 in all of 2011.
“We have detained up to 90 people in one week,” said Frank Abrego, director of Panama’s National Borders Service.
Thousands of islanders over the decades have used rudimentary rafts to travel the 90 miles (150 kilometers) that separate Cuba from the United States, but that journey can be deadly, and the U.S. Coast Guard has been patrolling the Florida Straits more aggressively, halting many before they can reach Florida. Most Cubans who reach U.S. soil can stay, but those intercepted at sea are usually returned to their homeland, and U.S. figures indicate that more than 1,000 have been stopped at sea so far this year.
So Cubans have turned to land routes. Nearly 90 percent of all undocumented Cubans who make it to America now come overland, usually through Mexico
Read more: Fox News Latino