In the almost complete darkness before midnight in the Caribbean Sea, a scream suddenly pierces the crash of the waves and wind.
“This is the Coast Guard. Stop your engines!”, an officer screams. Powerful flashlights reveal a 32-foot, single-engine boat, crowded with immigrants — some of them small children — lying on the floor of the vessel. They are Venezuelan nationals, the Coast Guard later establishes. The footage was provided to CNN by the Colombian government.
This scene has been repeating itself with regularity around the Colombian San Andres Archipelago, located 775 kilometers (482 miles) northwest of mainland Colombia where the Colombian Coast Guard routinely intercepts boats loaded with migrants who pay smugglers to take them across the Caribbean.
Arriving in Central American countries like Nicaragua, the trip allows the migrants to avoid the perilous Darien Gap, a jungle region in Panama at the Colombian border that is also used by migrants trekking north with the hope of eventually reaching the United States.
Colombian Marine Corps Captain Octavio Gutiérrez, who serves in the San Andrés Archipelago, says migrants fly into the islands where they spend a night or two as they try to get in touch with smugglers.
“Originally, [the smugglers] were charging between 1,000 and 1,500 dollars. Now we’re getting testimonies of people who have paid the smugglers as much as 4,000 dollars per person to be transported from San Andrés to Central America,” the captain said.
Gutiérrez says that, during the month of September, the Coast Guard confiscated 35 boats while conducting 29 operations targeting smugglers in the zone.
From the beginning of the year through the end of September, the Coast Guard has detained 14 smugglers transporting 526 migrants, including children. And the number of migrants trying to reach Central America has been steadily increasing.
From South America to the United States, trying to stop yet another wave of migrants seems to be a losing battle. As CNN reported last month, US Customs and Border Protection encounters along the US-Mexico border have already topped 2 million so far this fiscal year, according to newly released agency data, with migration from authoritarian nations Venezuela, Nicaragua and Cuba driving numbers up.