Migration in the Americas: From Puerto Toro to Deadhorse

by Kadir van Lohuizen

In Via PanAm, Kadir van Lohuizen investigates the roots of migration in the Americas. By seeking answers to questions such as Why do people migrate? Where to and for what reasons? What is the fate of the different indigenous populations in the Americas? Van Lohuizen taps into a phenomenon which is as old as humanity but is increasingly portrayed as a new threat to the Western world.

Via PanAm follows Van Lohuizen’s footsteps from the very south of Chile to the very north of Alaska. Covering 13 countries along the Pan-American Highway, he will visualise the stories of the communities, regions and societies he encounters. 

The stories gathered during the approximately 40-week trip will be shared through a combination of blogs, weekly radio broadcasts and magazine articles, on-line still and video images and written interviews. The website, as well as the iApp that will be developed, will connect the reader/viewer directly with Van Lohuizen and the progress of the trip. Via PanAm will take the tablet PC, or iPad, as its primary platform, making full use of its functionalities to combine on- and offline content, moving and still images, text-based reporting as well as audio and video.


“For this project, I wanted to experience the distances that many migrants travel.

So I started my overland journey in Puerto Torro, the most southern settlement in Chile, and reached my endpoint almost a year later in Deadhorse, Alaska.

I crossed 15 countries and documented the lives of the many migrants I met. It struck me how vulnerable they are and how much they are exploited. At the same time, many economies are dependent on migrants, the UnitedStates in particular.

I realised that migrating is never an easy decision to make. And yet, despite the difficulties, people leave their homes and start from scratch, somewhere far away, in the pursuit of happiness.” 

- Kadir van Lohuizen, 2013



Ushuaia — Tierra del Fuego

Between 2006 and 2012, Ushuaia has almost doubled in population, from 50,000 to 100,000.
Bolivians, Ecuadorians, Brazilians and many others came to the booming city. They live up the mountains overlooking Ushaia.


The mountains above Ushuaia carry hundreds of houses. They are the homes of tens of thousands of immigrants working in this Argentine city, a city booming; anchor place for many cruise ships and a tax free zone. Ushuaia advertises to be the most southern city, which is not true; Puerto Williams and Puerto Toro in Chile are more south.


The island Navarino or Tierra del Fuego also attracts labor migrants. Its wind-swept grasslands are perfect for sheep and cattle ranching. Nowadays most inhabitants in this region are people from the north. They work as gold diggers or as seasonal labourers in the wool industry, which has become a vital part of the Chilean economy. During the shearing season they travel from one estancia to another to shear sheep.

The arrival of immigrants had dramatic consequences for the native population in this region, like the Yaman, the Ona and the Alacaluts, who inhabited these areas for thousands of years.

Most of them were killed by the settlers, starved to death or expelled from land which now belongs to multinational companies like Benetton. Only a few communities survived. The presence of mainly male labourers led to the existence of brothels. Women come from Colombia and the Dominican Republic, resisting the harsh climate to make some money.



PUERTO TORO —TEMULCO — Santiago de Chile

The Mapuche are the oldest and most important ethnic minority, representing less than 5 percent of the population. During the 12th century they migrated as nomads and fishermen from Patagonia to the Chilean west coast and settled in the fertile valleys. The Mapuche are legendary because of their fierce resistance, first against Inca, and later against Spanish efforts to take their land. At the end of the 19th century they were forced to hand over their territories to the central government.

Since the loss of their traditional lands many Mapuche have been living in poverty. The majority of them have now migrated to the cities in search of better economic opportunities. Some 3,000 communities remain in the south of Chile, living from agriculture, maintaining their traditions, their own Mapudungu language – and still fighting for their rights. Homelands are increasingly threatened by logging companies and the forestry industry. Land disputes and violent confrontations continue, particularly in the northern sections of the Aracuania region between and around Traiguén and Lumaco.


Chile has historically denied its ethnic and cultural diversity. Efforts by the Chilean government to redress some of the inequities of the past had little success. The Mapuche are still far from having the same opportunities as the mestizo population. In the past years increasingly violent Mapuche activism is being prosecuted under counter-terrorism legislation originally introduced by the military dictatorship of  Augusto Pinochet. In 2010 this led to hunger strikes by Mapuche activists in an effort to change anti-terrorism laws.

Puerto Torro is the most southern settlement in the hemisphere located on Isla Navarino, just north of Cape Horn.
The tpwn has a population of 16 families. Once a month a ferry serves the town.

Via Panam, migration in the America's

Chuquicamata is one of the largest copper mines in the world. Mining started 96 years ago and the open mine has reached a depth nowadays of nearly one kilometer. Huge machinery extract 650,000 tons a day out of the mine, this includes all the waste as well.



Salar de Uyuni — chapare — La Paz

Salar de Uyuni, an enormous salt lake in south-west Bolivia, is a potential gold mine. Sitting under its thick layers of salt is the world's largest reserve of lithium, the lightest metal known to man. The amounts being extracted are still modest, but demand is growing explosively. In the future there could be work here for hundreds of migrants. Traditionally Salar de Uyuni has seen only salt extraction, about 25,000 metric tons per year.

The town of Cochani owes its existence to that. Many of those involved in the salt extraction originally came from other parts of the country. They have not gotten rich from their work. Salar de Uyuni is the second largest salt lake in the world, with an area over double that of the Great Salt Lake in Utah. Its layer of salt is certainly 120 meters thick.


Chapare lies in the heart of Bolivia, where the western highlands shade off into the eastern, low-lying rain forests. The region is famed for the production of coca. Traditionally the leaves were chewed, but they are also the most important ingredient in the production of cocaine. The latter fact means that growing coca is controversial, but also financially attractive. For decades poverty-stricken farmers and their families, generally from the highlands, have been migrating to Chapare to benefit from the high price of coca.

Its damp, tropical climate makes Chapare ideally suited for growing coca. For years the Bolivian army, in cooperation with the Americans, used heavy-handed methods to try to suppress its production, but times have changed. In 2006 President Evo Morales, himself once the leader of the coca farmers, made coca the national symbol. He called a halt to the repression and permitted families to cultivate small fields for personal uses, such as chewing, tea and medicines. He is lobbying for the legalization of the leaves, which for centuries have been used for traditional purposes, but are forbidden outside Bolivia. 

Via Panam, migration in the America's

The mines in Siglo XX opened in 1900, attracting thousands of workers from all over. But the market went slowly down and in 1986 the government (the mine was nationalized in 1952), to close down the mine all together. The miners didn't except this decision and formed coorperatives to be able to continue working. Nowadays about 5000 miners work again in the mine attracted by the high tin price.

At an altitude of 4000 metres, in a mine with temperatures up to 50 degrees, no elevators, no electricity and all manual labour; the work is dangerous and life expentancy is not higher then 45 years.

Copy of Copy of Copy of Via Panam, migration in the America's



In 1986 the first Shipiba indigenous from the upper Amazon in Peru came to Lima, fleeing for the `Sendero Luminoso' (Shining Path, the Maoist guerilla group). In 1986 they founded the shantytown of Cantagallo (singing rooster) in the north of Lima along the Pan-American Highway. The community nowadays counts about a 1000 people. Where people fled in the 80's for the violence, nowadays they stay in Lima for economic reasons. Although being in a very different environment, the Shibipa try to keep their culture and language. Women sell their self-made textiles and handicraft in the streets of Lima.

Indigenous Urban Life

Peru is worlds fifth producer of gold and the Peruvian Amazon houses most of it. It lead to a real gold rush, where nowadays an estimated 40,000 miners are looking for luck, most of them from Cusco. Unfortunately at a high cost, protected forest is being turned upside down and huge amounts of mercury are polluting the land, the rivers and endangers people's health.
Although almost all mining is illegal the Peruvian authorities do very little, partly because local authorities are involved in mining operations.

Smaller or bigger mining towns grow like mushrooms, they cater for miners not only in terms of food and equipment, but especially with prostitutes. Many of them are trafficked to the area, just like many children.

Via Panam, migration in the America's
Via Panam, migration in the America's



Many Peruvians migrate to Ecuador to work, whether it is on banana or rice plantations. They either work for the owner of the plantation and some have managed to rent their own piece of land. Ecuador is attractive because the currency is the dollar.

Via Panam, migration in the America's, Ecuador

In the north of the Ecuadorian Andes deep hidden in the Chota valley are some African communities, descendants of slaves. Its dry and relatively warm. Ulises de La Cruz is from the Piquiucho and one of Ecuador's star soccer players. The valley has actually produced many good players. Ulises lives nowadays in Quito, but decided with the fortune he made to give something back to the community, so he created 'FundeCruz', a foundation that builds houses, build a clinic and a school. He also provides micro credit. He comes often to the village to see family and friends.

Via Panam, migration in the America's, Ecuador
Via Panam, migration in the America's, Ecuador

Every month around 120 Colombians ask for asylum in the border area with Ecuador according to UNHCR, the actual number is likely to be higher. Many are fleeing the southern provinces of Colombia due to threats of armed gangs, Para-militaries or guerilla activities.
The number of people fleeing inside Colombia or to neighboring states is still increasing. Just in Colombia itself an estimated 3,5 - 5 million are displaced.



Neiva — Soacha — Bogota

Soacha, is a suburb of Bogota and has the highest number of refugees in the whole country. On the hill is Altos de Florida, where many new arrivals live, about 5000 inhabitants of which 40-60% are refugees. People don't pay rent, but there is no police so crime is on the rise. The community has build roads and installed power and is well organized.

Via Panam, migration in the America's
Via Panam, migration in the America's
Via Panam, migration in the America's

Bajo Tenerife is a small community in Neiva and houses 250 people, all refugees. In 2002 eight people were killed by the FARC and in June 2011 there was a new attack where two people were wounded. The FARC wants the people to leave because they want a corridor and the villagers are accused of supporting the para military. In 2011, Neiva received most refugees due to the conflict of the whole country: about 400 per month. In 2009 there were 11.000 refugees registered, in 2011 this number went up to 38.000.



Kuna Yala — Panama City

Kuna Yala (San Blas) consists of a long narrow strip of land and an archipelago of 365 islands, of which 36 are inhabited. Due to the rising of the sea level the Kuna's have to evacuate to the mainland; the islands become to dangerous to live on. August 2012 the first four islands will be evacuated. Its the teritorium of the Kuna indigenous who have an autonomy they fought for in 1925.


It was already in 1854 that the first Chinese came to Panama to work on the Panamanian railway, many of them came down from the US after the gold rush. By now its the largest number of Chinese in central America: 200,000. In the 80's when the China was opening up their was a second big wave of Chinese arriving. Panamanian Chinese have a stung influence on the Panamanian economy.

Via Panam, migration in the America's, Panama
Via Panam, migration in the America's, Panama


San José


In 2011, Costa Rica had one of the highest number of immigrants per capita in the world; in which about 10% of the population is an immigrant. Many of them are from Nicaragua, they work in construction, domestic work etc. La Carpio and Tejarcillos are areas in San José where many Nicaraguans live. Pour areas, but people are able to save some money and send back to Nicaragua to family.

Via Panam, migration in the America's, Costa Rica
Via Panam, migration in the America's, Costa Rica



In 2011, Nicaragua was supposed to be the second poorest nation in the western hemisphere, but also one of the safest. Although Nicaragua hasn't had good relationships with the US over the last three decades, it did become a very popular destination for US citizens to migrate to. US News and World Report declared it one of the most favorable in the world even in the same year.



TEGucigalpA – San Pedro Sula

It was as early as the late 1800’s that the first Palestinians arrived in Honduras. It was the time of the Ottoman empire and many Christian Palestinians felt the pressure that they had to convert to Islam and enlist in the Turkish army. Many took the boat with destination ‘the Americas’ and honduras turned out to be the final destination. When the state of Israel was created in 1948 many followed. With many more in 1967 (six day war, occupation of Gaza, Westbank and the Golan heights) and during and after the two Intifadah’s.

Via Panam, migration in the America's, Honduras
Via Panam, migration in the America's, Honduras

Nowadays its estimated that there are around 200,000 people of Palestinian decent in Honduras, making it probably the biggest Palestinian community in the Western hemisphere. They have been very successful on both an economic and a political level. Almost all are Christians and from the Bethlehem area.



San Salvador

El Salvador is often mentioned as the most Americanized country in the Americas. In fact, one third of its population lives in the USA. El Salvador has also the highest number of murders per capita in the world. Violence stems from the brutal civil war and the gangs, which were started in the US.

Via Panam, migration in the America's, El Salvador
Via Panam, migration in the America's, El Salvador

In fact, when peace accords were signed in 1992 the US deported many Salvadorians back to El Salvador: this was the start of the gangs 'Mara Salvatrucha' and '18'. Salvador's economy is heavily dependant on remesas: money that Salvadorians in the US send to their families in El Salvador.rred up a new gold fever there. Primaeval forests are being decimated, the landscape pockmarked with craters and poisoned with mercury. Villages grow into cities, which in turn attract new migrants: gold dealers, shopkeepers, prostitutes, and yet more gold seekers.


The Tabernaculo Biblico Bautista, Amigos de Israel is one of the new evangelist churches in San Salvador. The church is hugely popular: it has four services every Sunday which each seats 10,000 people. The parking garage has eight floors. All services are broadcasted 24 hours a day on the private channel of the church.

Via Panam, migration in the America's, El Salvador


TecúN UmÁn

The migrant detention center in Florence, where migrants await deportation. The center is run by ICE (Immigration and Custom Enforcement), most other facilities are operated by private entities.


Family members great a relative who has been deported by the US. A special section of Guatemala airport has been set up as a reception center for Guatemalans who get deported from the USA, every day 1-2 flights arrive from the US. The people who arrive get a sandwich, a drink, a phone call back home, there record is being checked and they can get legal advise if needed.

Via Panam, migration in the Americas, Guatemala


Arriaga – Mexico City – Nogales


Rafts are used to transport local people, migrants and goods across the Suchiate river between Guatemala and Mexico.

For Central American migrants Mexico is the first real obstacle. Mexico nowadays rehire visas for most and under pressure, has stepped up their border control.


The border between Mexico and the USA seen from Nogales in Mexico. In 2011, the wall has been replaced by a new one, which is 7-8 metres high. Before it was a closed wall now you can look through it. This was requested by the US border patrol in order to see what was happening on the other side.


La Arrocera is a dangerous part in Southern Mexico where migrants often get assaulted. The train has been disrupted due to Hurricane 2005, the hurricane destroyed part of the line. Trains start now in Arriaga to the north. In the months to come the Mexico is re-opening the southern part. The train is used by many migrants to get to the US border.

For Central American migrants Mexico is the first real obstacle. Mexico nowadays rehire visas for most and under pressure, has stepped up their border control.

Via Panam, migration in the America's, Mexico
Via Panam, migration in the America's, Mexico
Via Panam, migration in the America's, Mexico
Via Panam, migration in the America's, Mexico


Phoenix – El Cajon – Granger

Khattab Aljubori (37), his wife Suhad (31), their children Ibrahim (4), Awos (3) and Mustafa and Fatima (twins 6 months) and his mother Nhanaa (61) came in November 2010 from Babylon, Iraq to San Diego. Khattab worked for the US in Iraq as a computer / info system administrator and was often threatened for being a US agent. In the end it became so dangerous for him and his family that the US granted them a visa. It was a hard decision because they were doing quite well in Iraq. In the US its much harder and they feel they have lost their dignity. Khattab likes the US, but his wife wants to go back to Iraq, she feels locked up and misses her family. Money is an issue, the family gets some support, but the rent is high. Khattab earns some money by fixing computers for people.

Just in San Diego area there are an estimated 60,000 Iraqi's. El Cajon a town outside San Diego has the highest number and is often referred to as 'little Baghdad'. The first Iraqi's who came here were the Kurds during the first Gulf war in 1991. Over the years Iraqi's have arrived in search for safety. The term 'little Baghdad' is also used because Sunni's, Shia's, Kurds and Christians live peacefully together just like in the 'old' days.

Via Panam, migration in the America's, USA

Cruz Avila (49) came in 1979 to the US. He was the first Mexican in the area of Trout Lake. He has five children of which four are born in the US. Since seven years he is working at Mountain Meadow Dairy farm. One day he is planning to go back to Mexico and start his own farm.
Mountain Meadow Dairy is owned by Robert and Lesli Schmid and is an organic dairy farm. They have about 500 cows and they have eight workers all from Mexico

Via Panam, migration in the America's, USA
Via Panam, migration in the America's, USA

Christian Serratos lives with his wife Brenda and their two children in Trout Lake. Christian is since 2007 in the US, he came to Trout Lake with his wife Brenda, his friend lived here and advised him to come. He paid $2500 per person to a smuggler to get to the US. He works at Mountain Meadow Dairy, five days a week, 8-10 hours a day. Brenda went back in 2010 and came back a year later. They have two children forn in the US and therefor US citizen.Mountain Meadow Dairy is owned by Robert and Lesli Schmid and is an organic dairy farm. They have about 500 cows and they have eight workers all from Mexico



Vancouver – chilliwack – Kispiox

East Vancouver is a poor neighborhood where many (First nations) aboriginals live.

In Canada there are currently 630 recognized First Nations governments, the total population is about 700,000 of which half lives in British Colombia and Ontario. life in the reserves is difficult where unemployment is high, specially since the 2008 crisis. Many young First Nations move to Vancouver in the hope for a better life. They try to maintain their culture and identity in the big city and many make a livings as artists.

Ronnie Dean Harris alias Ostwelve (32) in the center of Vancauver. He is a hiphop artist. Ostwelve was born in Chilliwack, British Colombia and belongs to the Stó:lō nation. The place he was from was 'colonized' so his first real contact with natives was when he came to Vancouver.

Via Panam, migration in the America's, Canada
Via Panam, migration in the America's, Canada

But his grandparents made him aware, at an early age, of his identity and roots.For Ostwelve a reserve is like putting somebody in school and tell him he can't leave.

Via Panam, migration in the America's, Canada



Around 250 so called iceraod truckers a day travel the Dalton highway between Fairbanks and Deadhorse. They supply the oil companies in Prudhoe Bay.
Deadhorse is the end of the Panamerican highway at 70°N 148°W on the coast of the Arctic ocean. Deadhorse never really existed until oil was found in Prudhoe Bay and the Trans-Alaska pipeline system was build. The residents of Deadhorse are almost all migrant workers from the US and Latin America who work in the oil. The population is around 5000. The Trans-Alaska pipeline was constructed between 1974 and 1977 after the 1973 oil crisis. Currently the pipeline transports around 700,000 barrels a day. The oilfields are being leased and are mostly based on native land, nevertheless the companies deny access to any outsiders.

Cameron Milroy (25) was born in Kotzebue on the west coast of Alaska. His mother is native, his father Scottish - Irish. He grew up with his father in Oregon. When Cameron was 20 years he came back to Alaska and got a job with Nanan (a native oil company) in Deadhorse. 'I started as a cleaner, but now I am a 'level 1' truck driver. I enjoy the climate here.

Via Panam, migration in the America's, Alaska
Via Panam, migration in the America's, Alaska