The United States on Tuesday announced rewards of $8 million for information leading to the capture of those involved in the smuggling of migrants from the Gulf Clan in the Darien jungle, “one of the most dangerous crossings on the planet” on the border between Colombia and Panama.

The move is part of the goals set by Joint Task Force Alpha (JTFA), which was established in June 2021 by U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland to improve law enforcement against the most prolific and dangerous smuggling and human trafficking groups operating in Colombia, Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras.

To date, the JTFA has made more than 300 domestic and international arrests, with more than 240 convictions, seizures of millions of dollars in cash, real estate and vehicles, Ian Hannah, a JTFA director, said in a conference call.

Hannah noted that more than 170 defendants and convicts in the United States “received significant sentences outside of those normally seen in human trafficking cases,” and “multiple successful indictments and extraditions” were achieved against human traffickers located in Guatemala, Mexico and Honduras.

Despite the success and significant impact this initiative has achieved so far, Hannah acknowledged that there is a need to be realistic: “Much important work remains to address the dozens of human trafficking cases in South and Central America, which can often be a matter of life and death,” she said.

As part of the effort, President Joe Biden’s Administration announced rewards totaling eight million, focusing on human trafficking in the Darien operated by the Clan del Golfo, Colombia’s leading criminal group, which “controls most of this territory and all activities and movements within organized crime.”

This group is also responsible for “systematically attacking migrants, adults and children,” and committing “violent crimes, including murder, rape, robbery and extortion,” officials denounced.

Up to $2 million is being offered for information leading to the arrest and/or conviction of any key Clan leaders operating in this sector. Another $1 million reward seeks to disrupt the criminal group’s financing of its operations in this border area.

Up to $5 million is also being offered for information leading to the arrest of any key Clan del Golfo leaders involved in human trafficking in the Darien that encouraged foreigners to enter the U.S. with deadly results.

In that life-and-death context, Hannah recalled “two horrific events” with numerous casualties involving tractor-trailer trucks full of migrants, as in the December 2021 event in Chiapas, Mexico, in which 56 migrants were killed and more than 100 seriously injured.

Or the June 2022 event in San Antonio, Texas, in which 53 migrants died and another 16 were injured.

Officials defined the Darien Pass as “a 100-kilometer stretch of untamed jungle that serves as a treacherous pathway for illicit migratory flows.”

The Darien forms, they added, the only land bridge between Central and South America and is “one of the most dangerous migratory crossings on the planet,” a place where migrants literally put their lives on the line.

It is a path impossible to walk without a local guide where “cartels operate freely”.

For all these reasons, the JTFA is pursuing all avenues to bring human smugglers to justice and to optimize the deterrent impact.

To that end, the Department of Justice submitted to Congress “a new legislative proposal” that seeks to increase penalties for the most dangerous human traffickers.

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