Migration flows have accompanied Panama since long before the colonial period and have been fundamental in the current sociocultural and economic construction of the country.
Despite this weight in society, the Panamanian State has not had –and does not have– a coherent integration policy for migrants arriving in the country, underlines sociologist Alonso Ramos.
“Since its geological and social origins, Panama has been a natural bridge for the passage of people (…) xenophobia feeds a bit on this, that we have lost the notion of what the Isthmus of Panama is,” says the professor at the Department of Sociology of the University of Panama.
Ramos explains that since the arrival of the Europeans with the conquest, then the slaves brought by force and later the migrations linked to the construction of the trans-isthmian railway and the Canal, there is a historical continuity and therefore the migrations of Colombians in the 90s and now Venezuelans, Dominicans and Nicaraguans are circumscribed in that framework. “Migration is a multidimensional phenomenon of a global structural nature, it is not only Panama”, he points out.
The sociologist points out that the cases of xenophobia that have occurred in recent years in the country respond in part to a question of social class, that is, that the rejection is not exclusively due to the fact that they are foreigners, but is accompanied because they are poor foreigners who are passing through and want to stay in Panama.
“That shocking number for our reality, of people who have passed through Darién in transit, 151,482 according to the Directorate of Migration (…) the vast majority, three-quarters, 170,692 are Venezuelans but there are also Haitian, Ecuadorian, Cuban migrants, Colombians, from India, Senegal”, Ramos points out. He claims that the cases of xenophobia: “are not a rejection against Venezuelans, but against poor migrant Venezuelans; it is a rejection against the poor migrant Africans”.
In this context, it stands out that the State lacks a migratory policy for integration, remaining on the margins of flow management over those who are passing through. In some cases it became a “business”, as in the case of the melting pot program.
“Part of the entanglement we have in Panama is that our immigration policy is reactive, according to the interests of the governments in power (…) there is a utilitarianism for an economic issue. With (Ricardo) Martinelli and the melting pot (…) naturalization was onerous, ”he points out.
Regarding the use of anti-immigrant discourse for political reasons, Ramos points out that there is an ideological component that is expressed in discourses that want to use migrants as “scapegoats” to avoid dealing with major national problems, such as the deep inequalities that Panama faces. and Latin America. “It is a resource that certain political sectors are using, especially on the right, to gain followers,” says the sociologist.