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  • Acting U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Kevin McAleenan next to Panama's Security Minister Rolando Mirones during a meeting with ministers from Central America and Colombia to discuss security and migration, Panama City, Panama August 22, 2019

    Acting U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Kevin McAleenan next to Panama's Security Minister Rolando Mirones during a meeting with ministers from Central America and Colombia to discuss security and migration, Panama City, Panama August 22, 2019 | Photo: Reuters

Published 22 August 2019

Newly-inaugurated President Laurentino Cortizo says Panama won't sign on to be a 'safe third country' for U.S. asylum seekers as Washington puts on pressure. 

The Trump administration is looking to turn all of Central America into a ‘safe third country’, but Panamanian President Laurentino Cortizo says that’s “not viable” in his nation. 

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Newly-inaugurated President Cortizo ruled out the possibility of signing an agreement with the United States to make Panama a ‘safe third country’ to asylum seekers not allowed to stay within the U.S. while they await their immigration trial.

"I do not see that as viable ... this is an issue that we are very clear on and I hope the United States is also clear," said Cortizo who took office July 1 for the next five years.

Cortizo was responding to a Washington Post article published Wednesday that reported Donald Trump Administration wanted Panama to agree to house immigrants from Africa, Asia and Central America who have applied for U.S. asylum and who crossed Panamanian territory on their way north.

The Washington news article coincided with a visit to Panama by the acting U.S. Secretary of National Security Kevin McAleenan on Wednesday who told reporters before leaving that "no specific agreement" would be negotiated during this visit south. The secretary is set to meet with Panama’s immigration and security officials Thursday to discuss the issue of irregular migration, according to the U.S. Embassy in country.

"We will talk broadly about our security cooperation relationship and building a strong base to continue our partnership and information exchange," McAleenan said about the Aug. 22 meeting.

EFE reports that the interim minister will also meet with the Northern Triangle countries of Central America - Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras, as well as with officials in Costa Rica and Colombia “to talk about security regionally," said McAleenan.

Panama has been experiencing an increase in Caribbean, South American and migrants from further abroad who have entered the country from Colombia on their way north.

The Juan Carlos Varela (2014-2019) administration had earmarked US$9 million to construct a migrant shelter in Darien along the border with Colombia, but Cortizo has other plans for the money.  

"Our country’s budgetary resources are very, very limited ... we have been using resources for those people who cross Panama that we can use against money laundering and drug trafficking," said the new head of state, recently.

President Cortizo also claimed that "the migration issue is not a Panamanian issue" but, admitted that his nation receives a large flow of migrants "who are crossing several countries in South America, through Colombia" and then entering Panamanian territory.

The United States already signed an agreement with outgoing Guatemalan president, Jimmy Morales in July to make it a safe third country. There has been a storm of criticism over the measure by those who question the nation’s ability to properly care for the refugees, considering its high indices of government corruption and the large number of Guatemalans who are themselves seeking asylum in the U.S. 

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