Huge Rise In Child Migrants Crossing Dangerous Panama Jungle – UN

In this file photo, The United Nations flag is seen during the Climate Action Summit 2019 at the United Nations General Assembly Hall on September 23, 2019, in New York City. Ludovic MARIN / AFP.

 

The number of US-bound migrant children crossing the dangerous Darien jungle in Panama on foot has increased more than 15-fold in recent years and is likely to rise further during the pandemic, the UN children’s agency warned on Monday.

Children accounted for just two percent of these migrants in 2017 but that had risen to more than 25 percent in 2020, UNICEF said in a statement.

The Darien Gap jungle, the only land corridor between Colombia and Panama, is “one of the most dangerous routes in the world due to the mountainous terrain, wildlife and insects, as well as the presence of criminal organizations,” the agency added.

Crossing the vast, roadless Darien Gap rainforest is the only option for US-bound migrants traveling overland from South America. Most of those making the crossing are Haitians and Cubans, but there are also some Asians and Africans.

“I’ve seen women step out of the jungle carrying their babies in their arms after walking for more than seven days without water, food or any kind of protection,” said Jean Gough, UNICEF regional director for Latin America and the Caribbean.

Over the past four years, more than 46,500 migrants, including 6,240 children and adolescents, have crossed the inhospitable jungle. The number of minors increased from 109 to 1,653 between 2017 and 2020, UNICEF said.

READ ALSO: Israel Reopens Egypt Crossing For First Time Since COVID-19 Pandemic

In 2019, a peak of nearly 4,000 children made the crossing. Half of them were under five years old and many arrive injured and with serious physical and psychological problems.

Experts believe more and more migrants are choosing to travel with their families, including young children and pregnant women, to avoid being deported to the different countries they pass through.

“These families are pushing their own limits and putting their lives in danger, often without realizing how much of a risk they are taking. Those who manage to eventually cross this perilous border are physically and mentally devastated,” Gough added.

Migration across the dangerous jungle is likely to increase in the next months due to the economic crisis and unemployment generated by the Covid-19 pandemic, coupled with violence and climate change, UNICEF said.

AFP

Panama Defends Hiring Cuban Doctors To Fight Pandemic

 

Panama’s health minister on Monday defended the deployment of more than 200 Cuban doctors to help the Central American country battle the coronavirus, despite criticism of the island government’s human rights record at home.

“We are eternally grateful” to the Cuban doctors because “they came here to save the lives of Panamanians,” Luis Francisco Sucre said during an appearance before the National Assembly to answer questions about the management of the pandemic.

Several deputies criticized the Panamanian government’s decision to hire the 220 Cuban doctors, calling it “a violation of human rights.”

But Sucre defended the agreement between his ministry and its Cuban counterpart, which he said “complies with all due legal processes.”

He said his government would not hesitate to “sign it again.”

“The same people who today criticize the agreement signed with the Cuban Health Ministry would have been criticizing if there were dead in the streets, or if people were dying in the corridors of hospitals because we had no doctors to treat them,” Sucre said.

The Cubans arrived in Panama on December 24, at a time when Panama was facing a crisis that had completely overwhelmed its health system and exhausted local doctors.

The decision to bring Cuban doctors produced controversy in some sectors because in Panama, medical practice is restricted to local professionals.

The announcement also met with resistance from Washington.

“Governments that hire Cuban medical workers must ensure their fair and humane treatment — in tark contrast to the Castro regime, which traffics in, and exploits, the workers’ bravery for its own gains,” tweeted Michael Kozak, Washington’s acting assistant secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs.

“Make contracts transparent and pay workers directly,” he said.

Washington and some human rights organizations consider the sale of Cuban medical services a form of “forced labor” that “violates human rights” and only serves as propaganda for the Communist government of the island.

During his speech, Sucre said that in addition to Cuba, the Panamanian government also requested medical support from other countries, such as the United States, Costa Rica, Colombia, Venezuela, Italy, Israel, China and Russia, but had been unsuccessful.

“The criticisms are easy, the difficult thing is to be here directing a pandemic that nobody asked for,” Sucre said.

Panama, with 4.2 million inhabitants, has the highest number of Covid-19 cases in Central America, with more than 327,000 cases and 5,506 deaths.

Former Panama Presidents Charged With Money Laundering

Former Panama president Ricardo Martinelli is surrounded by reporters as he arrives at the Prosecutor’s office in Panama City, on July 2, 2020 amid the COVID-19 novel coronavirus pandemic. – Panama’s former president Ricardo Martinelli must face corruption charges just eight months after he was acquitted of spying on political foes, one of his lawyers said on Wednesday. According to local media, Martinelli has been linked to the so-called “New Business” case in which an editorial group was allegedly bought using public money during his 2009-14 term as president. (Photo by MAURICIO VALENZUELA / AFP)

 

 

Panama’s last two presidents, Ricardo Martinelli and Juan Carlos Varela, were charged Thursday with money laundering, as two separate scandals tarnished the political legacy of the former allies turned enemies.

Martinelli was charged with money laundering over the so-called “New Business” case in which a publishing group was allegedly purchased with government funds during his 2009-14 term.

Martinelli, 68, was in a combative mood as he departed the public prosecutor’s office in Panama City.

“I’m going to be frank with you, this pisses me off, this political persecution that has no end… they want to involve me (in the case) in order to do away with me,” he said, after refusing to testify.

Martinelli was held in pre-trial detention for two years after he was extradited from the United States to face trial for spying on his political foes. He was acquitted on those charges in 2019.

Varela meanwhile “was charged with money laundering in the Odebrecht case,” the public prosecutor’s office told AFP.

The 56-year-old former president is being investigated for allegedly accepting illegal donations to his political campaigns from Brazilian construction giant Odebrecht.

Varela, who left office last year, said afterward that he would “come as many times as necessary to prove my innocence, clarify any questions that the public prosecutor has and comply with the country and strengthen the rule of law.”

The appearance of the two former presidents “could mean, if there is any optimism, that… no one is above the law,” Carlos Barsallo, head of the Panamanian office of Transparency International, told AFP.

But “being realistic and prudent and based on previous experiences, we have to wait and see real and definitive results because in Panama, the perception of impunity has prevailed,” he said.

Martinelli won the 2009 election with Varela as his running mate, but their alliance broke down in 2011 when Varela was sacked as foreign minister.

Since then, the two former political allies have become enemies.

 

 

-AFP

6.2-Magnitude Earthquake Hits Costa Rica’s Border

 

A 6.2 magnitude earthquake hit the Panama-Costa Rica border around midnight on Tuesday, the US Geological Survey said, revising earlier warnings of “significant damage”, as the tremor cut power supplies near the epicentre.

The quake struck at a depth of 26 kilometres (16 miles), about two kilometres from the nearest town of Progreso in Panama, USGS said, updating a previous alert that estimated the depth at 10 kilometres.

There were no immediate reports of casualties, and USGS said “the impact should be relatively localized”, reversing an earlier advisory that “past events with this alert level have required a regional or national level response.”

“Estimated economic losses are less than 1 per cent of GDP of Panama,” the website said.

READ ALSO: Trump Appoints Stephanie Grisham As New White House Press Secretary

According to the National Seismological Network (RSN) in Costa Rica, the quake struck at 0523 GMT Wednesday (11.23 pm Tuesday) with its epicentre located 11 kilometres east of the Panamanian border town of Puerto Armuelles.

The tremor was felt in Costa Rica’s capital San Jose and in many parts of the Central American country, according to initial reports, but the national tsunami warning system said there was no risk of a tsunami.

Villagers in the south of Costa Rica fled their homes, fearing aftershocks. Two houses in the region were damaged by the quake, said Alexander Solis, president of the country’s National Emergency Commission.

Costa Rica’s President Carlos Alvarado said there were power cuts in several communities in the southwest of the country, near the epicentre.

In November 2017 a 6.5-magnitude quake on the Pacific coast of Costa Rica caused buildings to sway in San Jose and contributed to the deaths of two people who had heart attacks.

Further north, two months earlier a 7.1-magnitude earthquake killed more than 300 people in Mexico.

AFP

Spirited Panama Deny Brazil Victory In Friendly

Spirited Panama Deny Brazil Victory In Friendly
Brazil’s midfielder Filipe Anderson runs with the ball next to Panama’s Omar during an international friendly football match at the Dragao Stadium in Porto on March 23, 2019 in preparation for the Copa America to be held in Brazil in June and July 2019. MIGUEL RIOPA / AFP

 

Brazil were held to a 1-1 draw against Panama in an international friendly played at Porto’s Dragao Stadium on Saturday.

AC Milan’s Lucas Paqueta claimed his first international goal for the five-time World Cup winners before captain Adolfo Machado responded for the side in 76th place in the world rankings.

Injured Paris Saint-Germain forward Neymar watched the game from the stands as he recovers from a fractured right foot.

“The performance wasn’t brilliant but it wasn’t below par either,” coach Tite said.

“When we go to the Copa America we will make more accurate choices to be more efficient.”

The Selecao opened the scoring just after the half-hour mark.

Midfielder Paqueta was on the end of a deep Casemiro cross to volley home at the back post.

Skipper Machado brought the teams level four minutes later.

Erick Davis’ central free-kick found the centre-back near the penalty spot who lobbed his long-distance header over a stunned Ederson who appealed for offside.

Everton attacker Richarlison came close to bagging his side’s second as his effort smashed the crossbar five minutes after the break.

Real Madrid’s Casemiro had two chances to win the game for Tite’s outfit with a header and a powerful shot with quarter of an hour remaining.

Both teams made a wave of substitutions in the closing moments and Eder Militao went close with an injury-time header.

Next for Brazil is Tuesday’s friendly against the Czech Republic as they prepare to host this year’s Copa America which starts on June 14.

AFP

Pope Calls For Rejection Of ‘All Forms Of Corruption’

Pope Francis greets the faithful from the popemobile after arriving in Panama City for World Youth Day, on January 23, 2019. Marvin RECINOS / AFP

 

Pope Francis began his visit to Panama on Wednesday with a call to political leaders to reject “all forms of corruption” in a speech to the diplomatic community.

Francis, in Panama for a global gathering of young Catholics, said those in positions of authority should “lead a life that demonstrates that public service is a synonym of honesty and justice, and opposed to all forms of corruption.”

In a speech delivered to government ministers and diplomats at the foreign ministry, the pope said young people demanded a greater commitment from politicians.

“They call upon them to live in simplicity and transparency, with a clear sense of responsibility for others and for our world.”

Young people demanded a commitment to “a politics that works to build a culture of greater transparency,” he said.

Francis was speaking at the beginning of a visit in which he will celebrate two open-air masses for around 200,000 young pilgrims from around the world gathered in Panama for World Youth Day celebrations.

He was to formally open the jamboree at a prayer meeting later Thursday.

AFP

Pope Heads To Panama For Giant Youth Meeting

Pope Francis (File/AFP)

 

Pope Francis will make his first trip to Panama on Wednesday for a gathering of more than 150,000 young Catholics from across the globe at the World Youth Day festival.

The 82-year-old pope will use the major event on the Catholic calendar to address the problems of poverty, corruption and migration in his native Latin America, church officials said.

“Our youth, particularly in Central America, need opportunities,” said Panama Archbishop Jose Domingo Ulloa.

Often, their “hard reality” was a choice between emigration or “falling into the clutches of drug traffickers,” said Ulloa, in Rome for a preparatory visit.

It will be Francis’ third World Youth Day event, having presided over the gathering in Rio de Janeiro shortly after his election as pope in 2013 and again in Krakow, Poland in 2016.

In Poland, he challenged conservative governments in Central and Eastern Europe to soften their resistance to migrants seeking refuge from conflict in the Middle East.

A voice for migrants

In a similar way, he is expected in Panama to stand up for migrants from El Salvador, Nicaragua and Honduras who make up the majority of those traveling in caravans to the US border, despite the opposition of President Donald Trump and the American right.

“Many of the young people who are participating in the WYD are immigrants themselves,” Vatican spokesman Alessandro Gisotti said.

Catholics pilgrims gathering at Basilica de Los Angeles, take part in a religious ceremony before leaving to Panama to participate in the third World Youth Day with Pope Francis, in Cartago, Costa Rica on January 19, 2019. Photo: Ezequiel BECERRA / AFP

 

Hundreds of thousands of Central Americans cross the border into Mexico every year, heading north in search of a better life. Millions more have fled economic collapse and political repression in Venezuela, straining social services in neighboring countries.

“The recent image of migrant caravans from Central America, with all their suffering, will be very much in mind,” said Ulloa.

Youth ‘can change the world’

In an advance message to the event, Francis said many young people, both believers and non-believers, had “a strength that can change the world.”

On Friday, he said in a separate video message to the World Indigenous Youth gathering in Soloy, Panama, to hold on to their cultures and roots by fighting marginalization, exclusion, waste and impoverishment.

“Return to native cultures. Take care of the roots, because from the roots comes the strength that will make you grow, prosper and bear fruit,” he told hundreds of young indigenous Catholics who will join the WYD gathering next week.

Fighting poverty will be a key theme. Extreme poverty in Latin America hit its highest level for nine years in 2017, according to a report by the UN’s Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean.

It said more than 10 percent of Latin Americans — 62 million people — were living in “extreme poverty.”

The Argentine pontiff lands in Panama on Wednesday after a 13-hour flight from Rome to begin his seventh trip to his native Latin America.

“The pope wants to get closer to young people, to those who are suffering, to send a message of hope,” said Gisotti.

Last trip marred by scandal

His last visit to the region, to Peru and Chile a year ago, was overshadowed by protests over the cover-up by church authorities of pedophile priests.

“It’s a subject which is generating a lot of attention in the church,” said Gisotti, who said the pope had “no plans to meet with victims” during his visit to Panama.

The pope will break away from the celebrations on Friday to visit a juvenile detention center in Pacora, outside Panama City. It was Francis’ personal wish to do the side visit, the spokesman said.

“That’s something that came from the pope’s heart,” according to Gisotti.

He will also visit a center for young people with AIDS on the last day of his trip.

It is the first time Francis has visited Panama as pope, in what will be the 26th trip of his papacy, taking in 40 countries. John Paul II visited the tiny Central American country for a day during a regional tour in 1983.

AFP

World Cup: England Hammer Panama To Reach Last 16 With Belgium

England’s forward Harry Kane (C) celebrates a goal with teammates during the Russia 2018 World Cup Group G football match between England and Panama at the Nizhny Novgorod Stadium in Nizhny Novgorod on June 24, 2018. Dimitar DILKOFF / AFP

 

 

England recorded their biggest ever World Cup finals win by thrashing an ill-disciplined Panama 6-1 on Sunday to breeze through to the knockout stage after two games.

A hat-trick from captain Harry Kane — which means he is now the leading scorer in the tournament with five goals — two from John Stones, his first ever in an England shirt, and a beauty from Jesse Lingard completed the crushing victory.

The result also confirmed Belgium’s qualification for the knockout stage and means Panama exit the tournament alongside Tunisia.

The records tumbled for England on an easy afternoon by the River Volga.

Records tumble

The rout was the first time England have scored more than four goals at a World Cup finals since winning the tournament in 1966.

It was the first time in England’s history they have managed five goals in a first half and Kane became the first England player to score a World Cup hat-trick since Gary Lineker in 1986.

It is also the first time they have qualified for the knockout stage since 2010, and the biggest victory so far at this tournament.

Intriguingly, it also means they are level on points, goal difference and goals scored with Belgium in Group G. The two sides meet in Kaliningrad on Thursday.

Despite the result, England started slowly and it was Panama who should have scored first in the fifth minute when Anibal Godoy blasted high and wide after the Central Americans carved open England’s defence.

England took the lead in the eighth minute when John Stones powered home a header from a Kieran Trippier corner, held up by the referee because of wrestling and pushing by the Panamanians, something which was set to become a theme of the match.

England extended their lead from the penalty spot in the 22nd minute after Lingard was brought down in the box by two defenders.

That opened the floodgates.

Lingard scored the game’s best goal in the 36th minute, a 20-yard curling shot past a helpless Jaime Penedo, then Stones added his second four minutes later, another header, following an intricate England free-kick.

Following Panama complaints, the goal was referred to VAR for offside but allowed to stand.

Kane then scored his second penalty in first-half injury time after he was almost farcically wrestled over at a corner, despite further Panama complaints.

At that stage, Panama, who received five bookings in their first match and three more here, threatened to implode, so bad was their lack of discipline.

Kane’s hat-trick was completed in bizarre fashion in the 62nd minute after a Ruben Loftus-Cheek deflected off the English captain’s heel into the net.

Again, the referee checked with VAR for offside, but once more the goal stood.

The second-half was largely an anti-climax, with Jordan Henderson and Raheem Sterling going close to making it seven.

However, the biggest cheer of the day was reserved for the 78th minute when Felipe Baloy scored Panama’s first ever finals goal.

AFP

Panama Name Unchanged Line-Up For England Game

Panama’s defender Felipe Baloy takes part in a training session, on June 23, 2018 at Nizhny Novgorod stadium, on the eve of the team’s third match as part of Russia 2018 World Cup football tournament. JOHANNES EISELE / AFP

 

Panama will name an unchanged line-up for the World Cup Group G clash against England in Nizhny Novgorod, veteran coach Hernan Gomez confirmed on Saturday.

The Colombian, who previously coached his home country and Ecuador at the World Cup, said he was opting for experience in his team selection.

“The line-up will be exactly the same,” said Gomez.

He added: “We have a certain stability and an organised team.”

Ironically, England have been embroiled in a row with media about reporters revealing their starting line-up well before the game.

Potential plans to drop forward Raheem Sterling for Marcus Rashford were revealed after a photograph showing a possible line-up for Sunday was published after being photographed in the hand of assistant coach Steve Holland.

The publication of the team sheet prompted a spat between the England camp and the media.

Gomez said though it made not the slightest difference to his plans, nor “gives me any advantage”.

He praised an “organised” and “speedy” England and said they would present an even stiffer test than Belgium, the top ranked team in the group, who beat the Central Americans 3-0.

“Tomorrow is going to be a very difficult match,” he said.

“It’s going to be our hardest match by far.”

He even admitted that the result could be the same or even worse, but snapped at one reporter who accused of him of being excessively negative.

“Have you heard me talk to my players, have you?” he responded after being accused of being talking down Panama‘s chances.

Gomez said the Panamanians would try to defend stoutly and pick-off England in the “chaos” of the counter-attack.

“If we play in an organised way and play the way we can, we can give them a hard time.”

AFP

Lukaku Scores Twice As Belgium Beat Panama 3-0

Belgium’s forward Romelu Lukaku (2nd-L) celebrates his first goal, his team’s second, with teammates Dries Mertens (R) and Eden Hazard (L) against Panama at the Fisht Stadium in Sochi on June 18, 2018. Photo: Odd ANDERSEN / AFP

 

Romelu Lukaku netted a brace as a much-improved second-half performance gave Belgium an ultimately comfortable 3-0 victory over tournament debutants Panama in their World Cup opener in Sochi on Monday.

A moment of inspiration from Dries Mertens set the Belgians on their way two minutes after the break, his volley breaking the deadlock after a rather flat first period.

Lukaku then converted assists from Kevin De Bruyne and captain Eden Hazard to secure victory in this Group G clash, with the Central Americans succumbing to a defeat in their first-ever match at the finals.

Group rivals England will look to respond to Belgium’s win when they kick off their campaign against Tunisia but this was not entirely the statement of intent that Roberto Martinez’s side would have been hoping to make.

A victory will do for a team who are, on paper at least, good enough to go far in Russia, especially after heavyweights Germany, Brazil and Argentina all slipped up over the weekend.

Belgium are now unbeaten in 20 matches, although the nature of the first-half performance against weak opposition showed that Martinez’s men still have significant progress to make if they are to improve on quarter-final appearances at the last two major tournaments.

To be fair to Martinez, the Spaniard had warned on the eve of this game that his side would not have it easy.

The Central Americans lined up with a team of journeymen featuring five thirty-somethings. Jaime Penedo in goal is 36, while Blas Perez up front is 37. But while the Belgians had the younger, talented players, other factors played in Panama’s favour.

The heat and humidity on Russia’s Black Sea coast was one, as was the fact their supporters greatly outnumbered those following the Belgians.

The locals at the Fisht Stadium got behind the outsiders too, and they were given encouragement as Hernan Dario Gomez’s side competed well in the first period.

Hazard pulled the strings when he could, although the Chelsea star was denied by Penedo in the 38th minute, having earlier found the side-netting when a slack back-pass from opposing captain Roman Torres gifted him the chance.

At the other end, Panama tried to expose Belgium’s potential weaknesses at full-back. However, they struggled to score goals in qualifying and rarely looked capable of beating Thibaut Courtois.

Mertens strike

Belgium just needed a spark from somewhere, and they got it from Mertens in the 47th minute.

The Napoli man’s cross looking for Lukaku was headed out by Torres and on by Fidel Escobar. But the ball dropped perfectly back to Mertens, whose volley from the right side of the box arced into the far corner.

Panama sought to regroup and right-back Michael Murillo came surging forward to finally force a save from Courtois.

But the gulf in class began to tell as Belgium doubled their lead midway through the second half. Hazard found De Bruyne, and his sumptuous cross with the outside of the right boot was headed in by Lukaku.

With Panama forced to throw more bodies forward, they were punished on the break a quarter of an hour from the end.

This time Hazard released Lukaku, and the Manchester United man beat Penedo to complete the scoring and take him to five goals at major tournaments, as Belgium get up and running.

AFP

Boyata Starts In Defence As Hazard Leads Belgium Against Panama

A Belgium fan waits for the Russia 2018 World Cup Group G football match between Belgium and Panama at the Fisht Stadium in Sochi on June 18, 2018. Adrian DENNIS / AFP

 

Dedrick Boyata starts in Belgium’s defence as Roberto Martinez’s gifted side begin their World Cup campaign against outsiders Panama in Sochi on Monday.

Boyata, of Celtic, profits from the absences of Thomas Vermaelen and Vincent Kompany to play in a central defensive three in a Belgian team skippered by Eden Hazard for this Group G encounter.

Kevin De Bruyne lines up in midfield with Romelu Lukaku and Dries Mertens in the Red Devils’ attack.

Panama’s line-up at the Fisht Stadium is as confirmed by coach Hernan Dario Gomez on the eve of the game as they make their World Cup bow.

Roman Torres, whose goal against Costa Rica in qualifying secured Panama a place in Russia, captains the side from central defence.

Belgium (3-4-2-1)

Thibaut Courtois; Toby Alderweireld, Dedryck Boyata, Jan Vertonghen; Thomas Meunier, Axel Witsel, Kevin De Bruyne, Yannick Carrasco; Eden Hazard (capt); Dries Mertens, Romelu Lukaku

Coach: Roberto Martinez (ESP)

Panama (4-1-4-1)

Jaime Penedo; Michael Amir Murillo, Fidel Escobar, Roman Torres (capt), Eric Davis; Gabriel Gomez; Edgar Joel Barcenas, Armando Cooper, Anibal Godoy, Jose Luis Rodriguez; Blas Perez

Coach: Hernan Dario Gomez (COL)

Referee: Janny Sikazwe (ZAM)

AFP

EU Removes Panama, Seven Others From Tax Haven List

European Union, Ogbonnaya Onu, Science and technology

The European Union on Tuesday removed eight countries including Panama and South Korea from its new tax haven blacklist after they pledged to address their concerns, the bloc said.

The United Arab Emirates, Tunisia, Mongolia, Macau, Grenada and Barbados were also lifted from the list by finance ministers, in a move that comes just weeks after the bloc unveiled its original list of 17 non-EU nations.

The decision has drawn criticism from activists who say the EU’s commitment to tackle tax avoidance after the “Panama Papers” leak last year has now been watered down.

“Eight jurisdictions have been removed from the EU’s list of non-cooperative jurisdictions for tax purposes, following commitments made at a high political level to remedy EU concerns,” an EU statement said.

The eight countries will now be on a “grey list” of countries that have made unspecified commitments to the EU on reforming their tax laws.

The blacklist now covers just nine jurisdictions: American Samoa, Bahrain, Guam, Marshall Islands, Namibia, Palau, Saint Lucia, Samoa and Trinidad and Tobago.

Ministers agreed that “delisting was justified in the light of an expert assessment of the commitments made by these jurisdictions to address deficiencies identified by the EU,” the statement said.

“In each case, the commitments were backed by letters signed at a high political level.”

The lists came a year on from the leak of the “Panama Papers” — a massive amount of data from a prominent Panamanian law firm showing how the world’s wealthy stash assets.

The EU originally screened a total of 92 countries to draw up the list, which is expected to be continuously updated.

AFP