The Darién Gap
Darién is the last province in Panamá and its boundary connects Panamá to Colombia. The Gap refers to the
gap in the road between the town of Yaviza, in Panamá and the department of Chocó, Colombia. The nearest
road that could connect Yaviza and Colombia is route 62 which starts at Turbo, on the Gulf of Urabá and
goes to Medellín.
The FARC was born in the 1970s as a Marxist group that buddied up with existing "Guerrilla" groups that
were fighting against the recently,and questionably, elected government called the National Front Alliance
of Liberals and Conservatives. As these left-wing Guerrilla groups waged their own wars against the new
government with varying degrees of success, ideological motivations were soon cloaked by the lucrative
business of drugs and kidnapping. The sale of cocaine started out as funding for their campaign.
Nevertheless, the political agenda quickly turned into a money making business and drug cartels increased
exponentially in the 1980s. Within a short time, the FARC was controlling large sums of money and therefore
On the other end of things are the right-wing paramilitary groups, who are sometimes in the pay of drug
cartels, and backed by parts of the army and the police. The paramilitaries have sprung up everywhere,
in particular in the northwestern regions near the border with Panamá, and target human rights workers
and peasants who might be backing left-wing guerrillas.
This evolved into a complex and twisted relationship between the government, drug traffickers, right-wing
paramilitaries, and left-wing guerrillas. FARC was strong and growing in the late 1990s and took a
percentage of money from the Coca farmers in return for protecting them from government forces and
pressure from other countries who not only wanted the drugs stopped, but FARC terminated. As well,
the right-wing paramilitaries were working against the FARC except when the money amounts were right.
According to one of the Peace Corps Volunteers living in Darién province, the national police recently
boosted their numbers in the area between Yaviza and the border of Colombia. The idea was to try and decrease
the numbers of right-wingers as well as the left-wingers. Panamanian President Martín Torrijos is of the
same opinion as Colombia's president, Álvaro Uribe regarding these radical groups and both have pursued a
tough war against both the right and left. In Colombia, major offensives have been launched against the
guerrillas. Anti-terrorism laws have expanded the military power to make arrests and detain suspects.
I wanted so bad to go to the end of that road. They say it just ends. Just like that. At the end of this
road you are greeted with a wall of trees that hides river systems, indigenous tribes, Colombian refugee
populations(1), and quite a bit of drug traffic. The Colombian government is pushing the Panamá government
to build the road to make the connection to Chocó, but even the corrupt politicians know that doing that
is not worth the money they could get into their pockets. For them, that one road could lead to more drugs,
more murders, more violence, and more poverty. For me, that one road could lead to more development, more
tree felling, more river contamination, more human impact in one of the few virgin ecosystems left.
(1) In 1998 the control exercised by the FARC in the Uraba region of Colombia adjacent to Panama virtually
collapsed in the face of an offensive by some 1,800 right-wing paramilitary forces led by Carlos Castano.
The FARC guerrillas were forced to seek refuge across the border in Panama's Darien region. Castano and
his paramilitaries had declared they will attack any civilians or Panamanian National Guardsmen they
suspect of "collaboration" with the FARC. As of mid-1999, an estimated 7,000 Colombian peasants had fled
into Panama to escape guerrilla and paramilitary violence.