Migrants Crossing the Darién Gap Find Success on Social Media

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Much of the content about the Darién and the rest of the journey is aspirational, featuring everyday people overcoming great odds, sometimes accompanied by religious music. One TikTok video of a disabled person making his way through the jungle on the back of another man has more than 10,000 comments.

Even a Darién parody subgenre has emerged, built on a long tradition of using humor to confront tragedy. A video featuring a fake Hugo Chávez, the father of Venezuela’s socialist revolution, migrating through the Darién has been shared more than 23,000 times.

In it, Fake Chávez curses his successor, President Nicolás Maduro, who has held onto power for the last decade. The bit carries the hashtag #hunger #corruption and #fear.

Facebook and TikTok are also flooded with the faces of people who have disappeared or died in the Darién, often accompanied by desperate pleas from family members asking for any information about their loved ones.

“It’s been 34 days without any news from them,” says one post on Facebook, above the photographs of two boys from Ecuador.

Another, with an image of a diapered toddler, includes a plea for the child’s name and relatives because her mother “drowned in a swamp.”

Sasha Arteaga, 33, a Venezuelan immigrant in Colombia, has built a TikTok following by posting these cases, then scrolling the internet for hours looking for signs of the missing person in the videos of other migrants. She has sometimes located people in the jungle this way, and then begged the Panamanian police to perform a rescue.

Her channel, which she started in August, has soared in popularity, though she says she makes no money from it. “As soon as I opened it, I had 10,000 followers,” she said.

Another series of TikTok videos speaks to the journey’s deep toll. Staring at the camera, Yorthin Alexander Valera and Jessica Hernández begged for help finding their son Ignacio, 6, who they lost in the forest. They feared he had drowned or been kidnapped.

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