Aruba (The Netherlands) + 10 more

Panama Multi Country Office Monthly Operational Update - November 2021

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Although borders have continued to reopen in efforts to reactivate local economies and promote international tourism, market growth rates and recovery have been slow, amidst increasing living costs and inflation. In Trinidad and Tobago, government officials reiterated that they will not shut down the economy again although health authorities confirmed a third COVID-19 wave is underway. In Belize, the GDP grew, but remains lower than pre-pandemic levels.

In Cuba, scarcity, frequent blackouts, and high consumer prices continue, and authorities forecast a 2% growth in 2021 after an 11% decline in the country’s main sources of income registered in 2020.

In Nicaragua, 200,000 formal jobs have been reportedly lost and the cost of the basic food basket has exceeded 420 USD, while the minimum wage only covers about 60% of the main basic products.

Furthermore, around 40% of the almost 96,000 businesses that are officially registered in Panama had to close due to the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

This complex economic context presents continuous limitations in accessing basic needs, including food, housing, health, and medicines for both displaced people and members of the host communities in vulnerable situations. These include indigenous Venezuelan Warao families in some of the countries, like Guyana, where the pandemic has further exacerbated pre-existing challenges. In Aruba, at least 400 people are living with HIV/AIDS, but those with an irregular status lack access to health insurance to cover treatment costs (up to 1,000 USD) and face increased risk of labour and sexual exploitation.

In the face of protection risks, socio-political challenges, and limited access to basic needs, people continue to undertake dangerous journeys – some by sea – in search of protection, better opportunities, stability, and family reunification outside their home countries. According to media reports and official statements, 63 Nicaraguans (including one unaccompanied child) were identified in Mexico, seeking to enter the U.S. irregularly. U.S. authorities have detained over 50,000 Nicaraguans trying to cross the border irregularly in 2021, up from 2,291 in 2020. 61 Cubans were also intercepted while attempting to enter the U.S. irregularly by sea. In 2021, 1,255 Cubans have been returned, mainly from the U.S. (856), Mexico (214), and the Bahamas (184).

In Curaçao, the Coast Guard detained 33 Venezuelans attempting to enter by boat irregularly and referred them to police authorities.

Repatriation flights also took off from Aruba, Curaçao, and Trinidad and Tobago. On the other hand, Panamanian authorities reported that 380 Venezuelans have voluntarily returned to their country so far in 2021, 130 in October alone representing the highest number in 2021. Moreover, so far this year, 121,737 people in mixed movements have crossed the Colombian border through the Darien Gap and continued northward, including 26,000 children (more than half of whom are less than 5 years old). Main nationalities remain to be Haitian (including children born to Haitian parents in Chile and Brazil), Cuban, and Venezuelan.

On the other hand, elections in Nicaragua have caused contention among rights groups, global political leaders, the government in place and its opposition. The Supreme Electoral Council reported that President Ortega was re-elected with 75.87% of the votes and said voting turnout was 65%, against an abstention rate of 81.5% reported by local human rights organization Urnas Abiertas.

Following the announcement of a resolution which declared the general elections illegitimate and reiterated the request for the release of the imprisoned opponents by the OAS, the Foreign Minister announced Nicaragua’s withdrawal from the regional mechanism. In Cuba, local organizations reported more than 300 repressive actions (including home detention with police surveillance, subpoenas to police stations, threats, arbitrary arrests, and cuts to internet services) between 12 and 15 November, related to the 15N protests.

MCO Panama continues to be underfunded, with less than half of required funds to address gaps in accessing basic needs, promote inclusion and targeted assistance to address specific vulnerabilities, as well as to provide support for host communities.