As of October, Venes will need a visa before coming here
by Eric Jackson
For several years there has been some strident agitation against foreigners, especially by PRD legislator Zulay Rodríguez and a faction of the PRD, an affiliate party of the Socialist International. That party, still Panama’s largest, has fallen upon hard times and Zulay would remake it into an immigrant-bashing formation like France’s National Front. Colombians, with whom Zulay had some controversial dealings as a judge, she dismisses as “scum.” Nicaraguans coming to take low-paying jobs and American permanent tourists have also taken some of the wrath. But because of Venezuela’s crisis, a mostly ruined middle class and some folks who still have money have been fleeing here in droves for years. A few of these immigrants have done or said obnoxious things, which have then been used by some to characterize the great majority of Venezuelans here — who are not like that. It’s the Venes who have been the targets of most of the complaints about immigration into Panama.
In their historical roots, Varela’s Panameñista Party was founded by the Nazi sympathizer Arnulfo Ariasand the PRD traces back to José A. Remón, the military officer who played an important role in the coup that ousted Arias on the eve of the US entry into World War II and went on to be elected president in the 50s. One might expect the immigrant bashers and those whom they accuse of being too soft to be aligned the other way around. Times change.
On August 22 Varela went on national television and announced that as of October 1, Venezuelans would need to get a Panamanian visa stamped in their passports before coming to Panama. He said that this measure would last as long as the crisis in Venezuela does. He reiterated Panama’s position that Venezuelans should negotiate a peaceful settlement of their problems among themselves. The president avoids the xenophobic posturing, while saying that he’s protecting Panama’s national interests and sending a tacit message to his Venezuelan counterpart that the collapse of another country’s oil economy will not be Panama’s burden to bear.
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On August 12, Charlottesville Daily Progress photographerRyan M. Kelly captured the exact momentthat Nazi sympathizer James Alex Fields, Jr. drove his Dodge Challenger into a crowd of counterprotesters, injuring 19 and killing 32-year-old Heather Heyer. It’s probably the most enduring image to emerge from the weekend of “Unite the Right” rallies in Charlottesville, Virginia.
At first glance, Kelly’s photograph is nearly impossible to make sense of visually or politically. Cars are not supposed to drive into pedestrians; fellow citizens are not supposed to kill each other over political differences. And there’s so much in the frame of the image –- so many figures and forms crowded together, most only partially visible –- that you can’t take it in all at once.
Pablo Picasso’s 1937 iconic mural “Guernica” might teach us how to interpret this image more closely, and why it is important to do so. Like Kelly’s photograph, “Guernica” conveys a moment of terror through a jumble of forms and fragments that seem to make no sense.
In April 1937, a different sort of “Unite the Right” moment took place in fascist Europe during the destruction of Guernica. At the request of General Franco, the leader of nationalist insurgents in the Spanish Civil War, German and Italian warplanes bombarded the Basque town in northern Spain. Terror rained from the sky: Hundreds of civilians were killed, while military targets were left unscathed.
Days later, as May Day protesters filled the streets of Paris, Pablo Picasso began what would become an anti-war masterpiece.
There are uncanny echoes of Picasso’s “Guernica” in Kelly’s photograph. Picasso used the Cubist techniques of fragmentation and collage to create a visual cry of anguish at the destruction wrought by men at the controls of war machines.
To make sense of the painting, you must do the work of reassembling what has been rendered apart. Yet you will never make sense of such destruction. You cannot merely glance at this massive painting or take it in all at once; you must stand and look and witness. There is nothing beautiful about it. It refuses to console. However, in the painting’s abstraction — its matte shades of gray, its distorted figures that stand in for the wounded and the dead — there is a kind of mercy toward its viewers and these victims.
If there is any mercy of abstraction in Kelly’s photograph, it is that of time. The image captures the moment in medias res — when the bodies of the men near its center still evoke the beauty of the human form in its wholeness.
Yet we know the victims are not whole; that is why it hurts to look. The contorted positions of the man in red and white sneakers and the man somersaulting above him make sense only in the realm of sports photography. But this is not a game.
Elsewhere the photograph captures only fragments: arms and hands, legs and feet, heads and faces. Empty shoes on the ground. Sunglasses. A cellphone in midair.
You will never make sense of this image because it makes no sense. (Or, rather, it makes as much sense as racism itself.) Yet to look away risks turning away from the truths it tells. A heavy aspect of our national tragedy is that we seem to lack a president — such as Abraham Lincoln — whose heart might break to see such carnage.
As he kept reworking“Guernica,” Picasso painted over a raised fist he had initially drawn near the center of the canvas. Then — as now — the raised fist is a symbol of solidarity against fascism. It makes an eerie reappearance on two posters in the top third of Kelly’s photograph.
“Guernica” includes small lines resembling newsprint. The Charlottesville photojournalist’s image is also crowded with text; some of it implicates the driver, while other words are a call to action.
Clear as day, there’s the incriminating license plate. No one can deny that this car drove into this crowd, as the colluding European fascists did when theyclaimedthat Guernica had been bombed by Spanish Republican forces.
Then there’s the collage of protest signs and street signs that the neo-Nazi at the wheel didn’t heed: Peace/Black Lives Matter. Solidarity. STOP. LOVE. BLACK LIVES. STOP.
Kelly’s photograph redirects these injunctions to the viewer, who’s left to wonder whether this is what our democracy — or the state of our union — looks like.
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Now we have had the first major Odebrecht-related arrest related to the last PRD administration, a money laundering case against Martín Torrijos’s main man in charge of fighting money laundering. We can expect all sorts of foot dragging and obstructions to continue through the upcoming election cycle.
Unresolved questions would likely hound Panama’s largest political party, notwithstanding all denials. The overarching national scandal is likely to affect the chances of not only that party but also of the independents who served in that administration or who were appointees of that administration. The two leading names put forward as possible PRD presidential nominees will be touched, perhaps only obliquely. People will want to know more about Zulay Rodríguez’s role in the courts during legendarily thuggish days. People will want to know what Nito Cortizo knew when he was Torrijos’s agriculture minister and what he did about it. The same would apply to former tourism minister Rubén Blades if he runs as an independent. Another set of corruption-related questions — what she knew and what she did about not only Odebrecht but also about David Murcia Guzmán’s activities and influence and about the mass poisoning case, to name a few salient matters — ought to haunt the independent candidacy of Ana Matilde Gómez.
Perhaps questions will be answered to the voters’ satisfaction. Perhaps all political factions in all branches of government, plus all of the rival rabiblanco media, will come to an agreement to suppress any and all such questions. But in these days of social media and the emergence of many small media from the rubble of the broken old advertising-supported news business paradigm, the fax and bochinche networks of late Noriega times that were the backbone of the 1989 Endara landslide will seem crude and ineffective indeed. A tacit agreement to squelch the uncomfortable questions is more likely to damage already malfunctioning institutions than to preserve them.
All of which leaves Panama without any obvious easy answers. Can a poorly educated nation do its homework and solve a problem? If not we will be falling into a dangerous place.
Trump and his bedrock base
He got 46.1 percent of the vote, and a poll in the wake of the neofascist disturbances in Virginia say that 64 percent of those who voted for Trump are standing by him. That’s less than 30 percent of the electorate, but other polls give Trump an approval rating that’s a few points higher. Such Republican leaders as both former presidents Bush and the leaders of both houses of Congress are distancing themselves from the president. His presidency may or may not survive and the nation and world have good reason to fear that he might start a war to distract attention and rally more support.
The core of Trump’s supporters, however, would likely follow him through all that. About one in seven American voters believes in “end times religion,” that the apocalypse draws nigh. These people tend to be hard right voters. Catastrophic war, environmental destruction, social breakdown, schools that don’t teach, crumbling infrastructures, malfunctioning institutions — none of these things faze them because they think it’s all going to end anyway. And they are something like about one-third to one-half of Trump’s diehard base.
Are these religious fanatics outnumbered in the ranks of core Trump supporters by racial fanatics? Trump comes from a white racist family and got to the presidency by waging a years-long racist campaign, including his championing of the Birther hoax and a call to execute black and Hispanic youths who were wrongly accused of an infamous crime in New York City’s Central Park. For Trump to abandon and condemn Ku Klux Klan politics would be for him to turn his back on the faith in which he was raised.
Subsets of the racial and religious fanatics in the Trump base, but also including a few folks who are neither racists nor bigots, are people who are very concerned about immigration. In this field Trump has accomplished more than in any other. However, the negative effects are beginning to be felt, the old well paid industrial jobs that left the Rust Belt have not come back and likely won’t and America’s isolation in the world is just beginning to unfold. Perhaps some spectacular crime by an immigrant will energize or dissipate this part of the Trump base.
Because most of Trump’s hardcore base lives in alternative social and media universes of their own, whatever setbacks come their way those scenes will be with us for years to come. But they will only be able to maintain political power by the cancellation or rigging of democracy, or by alliances with those whom they presently insult. The gerrymandering is already with us and the battle over vote suppression is already joined and will become far more intense.
Trump the man is going to fall, and his core political base is headed toward marginalization and widespread ridicule. But what comes next for Americans depends on who can inspire enough of a fragmented society by which positive message. That’s the big question mark of our times.
Bear in mind…
Neither millions nor alms — we want justice.
José A. Remón Cantera
I was born a Greek and I will die a Greek. Mr. Pattakos was born a fascist and he will die a fascist.
Melina Mercouri of the man who voided her citizenship
The moment of victory is much too short to live for that and nothing else.
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Some acts that Danilo and Patricia will bring to Panama Algunos actos que Danilo y Patricia traerán a Panamá
On Thursday morning, while US Vice President Mike Pence was elsewhere in town getting the dog and pony show, the real news was happening at the Danilo Pérez Foundation. There we heard details of two, or arguably three, events to come. First in time will be the Central American Percussion Festival on Saturday, August 26 in the Casco Viejo, with workshops all day and a concert at night, which ten bucks gets you admitted to all. Then, come next January 15 to 18, there will be the 15th Panama Jazz Festival, to be sure a bunch of concerts but more importantly a high level educational event at which some will be getting university credits, some will be auditioning to get into elite music education programs and a lot of youngsters will be getting insight and inspiration that will inform them wherever they go in life. Alongside the jazz festival is another educational event, the now annual Latin American gathering of music therapists. Actually, it’s expanding this time into dance and other arts and being dubbed a “performance therapy” event. Patricia Zarate Pérez is the director of the whole show and we may not get to hear her play the saxophone in January. After the press conference, however, she was happy to report progress on the Latin American front, with music therapy education now happening in Panama and a relationship with the Hospital del Niño as a part of it. There is a long way to go, but it represents a region becoming self-reliant about saving its own people, rather than importing all of its expertise in the field from other latitudes.
Discurso de Juan Carlos Varela durante visita de Michael Pence
Quiero empezar mis palabras condenando enérgicamente el atentado terrorista ocurrido el día de hoy en Barcelona, compartimos el dolor del pueblo y el gobierno español y elevamos nuestras oraciones por las víctimas y sus familiares.
En nombre del pueblo y del gobierno de la República de Panamá, quiero darle la más cordial bienvenida a nuestro país al Vicepresidente de los Estados Unidos de América Michael Pence y a su esposa Karen.
Estamos contentos de que hayan visitado nuestro Canal, una obra que es el reflejo de más 100 años de amistad y cooperación entre Panamá y Estados Unidos y que contribuye al fortalecimiento del comercio internacional.
Este encuentro nos ha permitido compartir nuestra visión sobre las oportunidades y desafíos que podemos aprovechar y enfrentar juntos sobre la base de nuestras excelentes relaciones diplomáticas, que hoy se consolidan.
Usted es un hombre de Fe y los hombres de Fe en vida pública siempre luchan por el bien común, por eso estoy seguro que este intercambio que hemos realizado impactará la calidad de vida de muchos seres humanos en la Región.
Aprovecho la oportunidad para agradecer al Vicepresidente Pence las atenciones que tuvo el Gobierno de los Estados Unidos con mi esposa y conmigo durante la visita que realizamos al Presidente Donald Trump en junio de este año.
Durante nuestras conversaciones dejamos claro que Panamá es un aliado y socio estratégico de Estados Unidos, tenemos una democracia estable, con fuertes indicadores de crecimiento y estabilidad económica, un país que avanza en la rendición de cuentas y la transparencia, tanto en la administración del Estado como en su sistema financiero.
Le he manifestado al Vicepresidente Pence que tenemos un enorme interés de que más empresas norteamericanas inviertan en nuestro país y participen de los proyectos de infraestructura que estamos desarrollando.
Panamá se ha convertido en la Gran Conexión para el comercio, con nuestro sistema logístico, el Canal de Panamá ampliado, el desarrollo de puertos, la ampliación del Aeropuerto de Tocumen, la puesta en marcha del Plan Maestro de la Zona Interoceánica, que convertirá nuestro Hub Logístico en uno de clase mundial.
La participación de los Estados Unidos en el desarrollo del sector logístico y marítimo, sería de beneficio mutuo, puesto que, además de agregar valor a la ruta interoceánica, permitirá que las empresas norteamericanas que utilizan el Canal de Panamá obtengan un mejor rendimiento a esta ruta.
Agradecemos a los Estados Unidos por la cooperación en el intercambio de información y mejores prácticas que nos permite proteger el sistema financiero y logístico de nuestro país.
Es nuestro deber proteger el centro financiero y la plataforma logística de panameña para que no sea utilizada en actividades ilegales o fines que no representan el bien común. Esta ha sido una prioridad para mí desde que entré a la vida pública.
El compromiso de nuestro país con la transparencia financiera y la seguridad de la plataforma logística y de servicio de Panamá se hace más fuerte cada día. El camino que hemos elegido no será revertido.
La seguridad es uno de los temas fundamentales que afecta a nuestra Región, hemos identificado los desafíos que enfrentamos como el aumento de la producción y tráfico de drogas, la migración irregular, la situación del triángulo norte y Venezuela.
Estuvimos de acuerdo sobre el riesgo que representa para la Región el aumento de la producción de drogas en los países vecinos, que estamos determinados a derrotarlos con el apoyo de aliados como los Estados Unidos.
Agradecemos al Gobierno de los Estados Unidos de América, por la cooperación para mejorar las capacidades instaladas de nuestros estamentos de seguridad. Panamá está entre los países de la Región que mayor cantidad de droga incauta anualmente.
Estamos realizando un gran esfuerzo para garantizar la seguridad en la frontera con Colombia, aumentando la presencia del gobierno en la provincia de Darién; pero es necesario fortalecer la coordinación de inteligencia y compartir las bases de datos de personas que representan una amenaza.
Es alarmante como el crimen organizado, vinculado al tráfico de drogas agrava la situación de inseguridad en la Región, causando muertes y generando mayor pobreza.
En mi reunión con Presidente Donald Trump a mediados de junio de este año, destaqué mi preocupación por el incremento de la producción de drogas, tema que usted también ha abordado ampliamente en esta visita a la región.
Nuestro país está jugando un papel importante en el control de los flujos migratorios irregulares, por lo que estamos protegiendo nuestras fronteras para mantenerlas seguras, detectando migrantes irregulares que representan un peligro para EEUU, América y Panamá.
Es importante mantener la colaboración entre los gobiernos, tal como lo hicimos para enfrentar la crisis migratoria de haitianos y cubanos el año pasado, a raíz del cual creamos un modelo de Sistema Integrado de Seguridad fronteriza.
Analizamos de manera muy puntual el conflicto político en Venezuela, estamos preocupados por la inestabilidad en ese país y la ruptura del orden democrático y las consecuencias que provoca.
En los próximos días Panamá tomará medidas que respaldan el retorno al orden democrático a Venezuela y fortalecen nuestra seguridad interna, acompañado de medidas migratorias; siempre en el marco del respeto a los derechos humanos de los migrantes.
El Gobierno panameño reitera su posición de que el Gobierno del Presidente Nicolás Maduro, debe respetar la separación de poderes, los derechos humanos, las libertades y la urgencia de negociar una salida política en el marco de la constitución vigente en Venezuela, para el bienestar de su población.
Compartimos la preocupación por la disrupción del orden democrático, y la violencia que se ha suscitado hacia la población y las autoridades en Venezuela.
Panamá es un país que tiende puentes, por tanto, mantenemos nuestra posición de impulsar una solución pacífica, derivada de un esfuerzo mancomunado del hemisferio, que contribuya a una solución a la crisis política y humanitaria que vive ese hermano país.
Por ello nos hemos sumado al Consenso de Lima que mantiene como prioridad la defensa de la democracia en el continente americano. Intentando el retorno al orden democrático y disminuir la violencia en el pueblo venezolano.
Debemos fortalecer el diálogo político entre las naciones para mantener nuestro continente en paz, ante los desafíos que se presentan en el mundo y situaciones como las que se dan con Corea del Norte, en países como Afganistán, Irak, entre otros.
Ante la situación que se presenta en los países del Triángulo Norte, estamos de acuerdo en que el fortalecimiento de la institucionalidad, la democracia y la honestidad de los hombres en la vida pública está la paz social.
Panamá es un aliado regional dispuesto a unir capacidades para contribuir a la paz y a la prosperidad de la Región, en base a los valores democráticos y transparencia que compartimos.
Le deseo al vicepresidente Pence un buen viaje de retorno a los Estados Unidos, y le pido transmitir al Presidente Trump y todo el pueblo estadounidense que Panamá valora de forma especial los lazos con los Estados Unidos, que por nuestra larga historia esta relación está basada en la confianza, el mutuo respecto, y guiada por el principal interés de generar bienestar para nuestros pueblos.
Como lo pone nuestro escudo, Pro Mundi Beneficio es nuestro lema y lo que guía nuestra política exterior y nuestra relación con todos los pueblos del mundo. Panamá es un país al servicio del mundo.
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Pence’s visit to Panama in the eyes of local Democrats
by Eric Jackson, Phil Edmonston and José Bonilla
It is reported that US Vice President Mike Pence will be in Panama on August 17, and that the subject matter of his talks with Panamanian President Juan Carlos Varela will be “security.” As Democrats, speaking for ourselves and not necessarily for our party at any level, we would like to say these things about the subject:
1. The United States and Panama have a canal security relationship embedded in the 1977 Treaty Concerning the Permanent Neutrality and Operation of the Panama Canal. This treaty was signed by a Democratic president, but on the US side it was the product of bipartisan efforts stretching back many years, arguably to the Eisenhower administration. At this point there seems to be no enemy on the horizon making existential threats against Panama or the Panama Canal. Vigilance and preparedness are and have been constant and we expect that they will continue, even if we do not read about it in the newspapers.
2. US governments have sometimes used the word “security” as a cover for military adventures in Latin America. Donald Trump, in political trouble after revelations about the disloyal conduct of himself, his campaign staff and members of his family, who at the very least solicited and heard proposals of foreign assistance for his presidential campaign, is now engaged in belligerent talk of US military intervention against Venezuela. Such a “regime change” war would promote the security of neither the United States nor Panama.
3. Venezuela has in the past few years seen a profound economic collapse, due its total dependence on oil revenues and the sharp drop in oil prices. The average Venezuelan has seen his or her personal real income drop by more than half. Many Venezuelans are desperately seeking to leave their country however they can. The countries of the Americas should lend a helping hand to the Venezuelans, but other countries can’t solve Venezuela’s problem. In the long term, the end of the fossil fuel age and the decline of oil economies are processes that the United States should not try to reverse. Donald Trump’s attempt to do this by abandoning international efforts to slow and reverse climate change is foolhardy. The “solution” that Mr. Trump would offer Venezuela is neither environmentally nor fiscally viable.
4. Venezuela has an unpopular and clumsy president. Sufficient valid signatures for a recall election were submitted last year but instead of giving Venezuelans the election that they are owed Nicolás Maduro has embarked on a process of replacing the constitution that the voters of his country adopted. In an already violent society, and in an already politically polarized country, this has inflamed deadly passions. Does he confuse his personal political career with the fate of his nation’s people? That’s a common enough delusion in all sorts of politics everywhere, but in today’s Venezuela it’s especially tragic.
5. As Donald Trump asked for Russian assistance on the 2016 campaign trail, so the Venezuelan opposition has sought US and other foreign assistance for years. The sort of disloyalty that Americans rightfully find sleazy in our own politics is also unbecoming in other countries. While collective international efforts to calm Venezuela, feed Venezuelans and help that country back onto a democratic path would be a good idea, US-led military intervention is a very bad idea. One reason why it’s a bad idea is that there are no obvious “good guys” in Venezuela. Foreign military intervention there would likely lead to years of more chaos and violence that might not be directly felt in the United States but would be destabilizing in our region of the world.
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Democrats Abroad rallies thousands around
the world in wake of white racist terror in the USA
by Democrats Abroad
Thousands of Americans have joined a worldwide “virtual vigil,” showing solidarity with peaceful demonstrators in Charlottesville, Virginia, and outrage at the President’s unwillingness to offer immediate, unequivocal condemnation of the biggest rally of the extreme right the US as seen in decades.
The activity was led by Democrats Abroad, the largest organization of Americans overseas. Members posted photos and messages against hate, supporting those wounded or killed by domestic terrorists and those made to feel unsafe by the horrific events that unfolded.
“Americans around the world are outraged by the Charlottesville rally and infuriated that the President refused to condemn white supremacy immediately and unequivocally,” said Julia Bryan, International Chair of Democrats Abroad. “We, like Americans at home, needed to make our voices heard.”
Alex Montgomery, Democrats Abroad International Vice-Chair, noted that “the challenge for Americans abroad is dispersion — we live all over the globe, from major cities to rural towns — and in the height of summer it can be difficult to organize events on the ground. An online vigil unites all of us in a common virtual space.”
In Panama Democrats conducted lively online debates, on the two Democrats Abroad Panama Facebook sites, people’s personal pages and in The Panama News. This attracted a few racist trolls, who tended to be used as foils and as examples in a debate that Democrats should have about propaganda techniques, about the use of bots to make messages seem more popular than they are, about mob violence and about mob hysteria. Senator Kamala Harris pointed out the ease with which one can determine that those bearing swastikas and torches are the bad guys. The vile sexism of the nazi justification for killing protester Heather Heyer was duly noted. But while the nature of what Democrats oppose was held up for all to see, the less spectacular job of developing alternatives of principle and behavior is always a work in progress. For example, on the global level Democrats Abroad is debating an initiative to put voting rights front and center in US political discourse. Democrats are united against vote suppression, which is usually racially motivated, but within the party at its various levels there are many ideas about how best to resist it.
Americans in over 45 countries were represented — including Germany, Israel, Canada, Chile, Guatemala, Kenya, China and Indonesia. Most held signs like “This American in Seoul stands against hate,” with the organization’s #DAResists hashtag. Many added further commentary. One read “My grandfather didn’t die fighting Nazis in WWII so that Nazis could have a foothold in the United States in 2017.” Another simply stated, “If anyone still doubts who Trump’s base is, #Charlottesville is your answer.”
The urgent action coincided with Resistance Summer, a sustained movement which has already mobilized thousands through Democrats Abroad to activate volunteers and contact members of congress in defense of health care and opposing legislation that eliminates protections for the environment and for women and minorities.
Panama Democrats were present and counted!
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Jesus, who certainly was a Doer, not a Diva, had this simple rule for church-building: follow the Gospel:
The Wise and Foolish Builders
“Cualquiera pues que me oye estas palabras, y las hace, le compararé á un hombre prudente, que edificó su casa sobre la peña:
Y descendió lluvia, y vinieron rios, y soplaron vientos, y combatieron aquella casa: y no cayó; porque estaba fundada sobre la peña.
Y cualquiera que me oye estas palabras, y no las hace, le compararé á un hombre insensato, que edificó su casa sobre la arena;
Y descendió lluvia, y vinieron rios, y soplaron vientos, é hicieron ímpetu en aquella casa; y cayó, y fué grande su ruina. (Mateo 7: 24).
Jesus taught us that a church is more than bricks and mortar.
It’s people who are faith-inspired Doers: Humble souls who work for free, give, rather than take, and think of others first.
Divas are quite the opposite. Jesus calls them self-absorbed, hypocrites:
How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye (Matthew 7: 4).
Divas seek prestige, without earning it, want power, but won’t share it with others. They promise results, but only produce excuses, and worst of all, they only see the church as a cow to be milked for money or other benefits.
Balboa Union Church is 103 years old. Created by an Act of Congress thanks to President Theodore Roosevelt, the church is built on a rock that is solid enough to have withstood revolution, invasion, several recessions, Ricardo Martinelli, and its share of Divas.
Fortunately, Divas don’t stay around long. After creating disunity, they usually run out when their benefits run out. Then, the faithful Doers, the Lord’s true servants, return to pick up the pieces and rebuild the congregation. Call it: “Evangelical Evolution.”
Our church’s congregation has had a rocky conservative past.
When I walked through these doors in 1961, I was a young Army Medic from the streets of Washington DC. That Sunday, I saw a beautiful building filled with hundreds of white faces and in a large part of the back section were Panamanian, Afro-Antilleans, and African-American worshipers. They had been told where to sit. Not out of love, but out of what the ante-bellum South called our “unique institution.” Remember, the Canal Zone was filled with American soldiers and engineers, many who were brought up in the South and embraced that military legacy and social values.
I walked out.
In the late ’60s the church, through Reverend Payne and others, ditched the ‘reserved’ seating for minorities and withstood tons of criticism for it. More black-and brown-skinned members came on board. But, soon after the Canal Zone reverted back to Panama, the church became a ghost.
Yet, black and brown and some white Zonians remained. One Zonian woman bequeathed over $120,000 to the church, which purchased a decade ago, the land we are praying on. By the way, our church rarely mentions her name. Sad.
Times changed, people of any race sat where they wanted, elected to Council whomever they wanted and softened the Protestant doxology to be more ecumenical. It was money from this new multi-racial Baptist, Methodist, and Protestant minority that also saved the church.
It was a time of optimism. Panama’s new American ambassador, Jack Vaughn arrived three months after the January 9th 1961 protests for Panama sovereignty. Vaughn was an ambassador’s ambassador. An ex-boxer, Peace Corps director, and president of Planned Parenthood, Vaughn and the BUC congregation were inspired by President Kennedy’s 1961 injunction:
“My fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.”
BUC’s ecumenical destiny was recast.
With only a couple of hundred members, BUC became a church of Doers. They organized weekly English language classes, periodic visits to local prisons, and assistance to medical missions in visits (giras) to the Interior. The church founded five outreach missions serving seniors, children and the hungry, from Panama City, to Chilibri, to Santiago.
Most of the Divas disappeared, either by going back to the States, staying away from church, or joining evangelical groups.
The Doers have returned and I promise to, again, work hard with them. Here: are some changes we should consider:
Abandon the entitlement mentality. Your church is not a country club where you pay dues to get your perks and privileges. It is a gospel outpost where you are to put yourself last. Don’t seek to get your way with the music, temperature and length of sermons (Source: Thom Rainier).
No one receiving pecuniary benefits from the church can hold an elected church position. The church must never be an ATM machine from which a charismatic pastor, or unaccountable administration can siphon members’ offerings.
Stop wasting time in unproductive meetings, committees and business sessions. Wouldn’t it be nice if every church member could only ask one question or make one comment in a meeting for every time he or she has shared his or her faith the past week?
Stop focusing on incidentals. Satan must delight when a church spends six months wrangling over a bylaw change. That’s six months of gospel negligence.
Stop shooting our own. This tragedy is related to the entitlement mentality. If we don’t get our way, we go after the pastor, the staff member or the church member who has a different perspective than our own. Don’t let bullies and perpetual critics control the church. Don’t shoot our own. It’s not friendly fire.
Are all the above changes an “Impossible Dream?” No, we have taken this voyage before, we will do it again, and we shall win again. It’s a trip that sharpens our skills and enhances our Christianity.
“Soñar lo imposible soñar. Vencer al invicto rival, Sufrir el dolor insufrible, Morir por un noble ideal. Saber enmendar el error, Amar con pureza y bondad. Querer, en un sueño imposible, Con fe, una estrella alcanzar. Ése es mi afán Y lo he de lograr, No importa el esfuerzo, No importa el lugar. Saldré a combatir y mi lema será Defender la virtud aunque deba El infierno pisar. Porque sé que si logro ser fiel A tan noble ideal, Dormirá mi alma en paz al llegar El instante final. Y será este, mundo mejor, Porque yo, sin rendirme jamás, Busqué, en mi sueño imposible, Poder una estrella alcanzar.”
“Soñar lo imposible significa llevar la contraria al mundo, mantener un idealismo en su estado más extremo, pero puro a su vez. Don Quijote decide luchar por su ideal. Don Quijote tiene fe en lo que hace, cree en ello con fuerza, por eso no nos cabe duda en ningún momento de que vaya a ser capaz de alcanzar cualquier estrella que se le antoje.”
Former United States President Barack Obama summarized Quijote’s soliloquy with two simple words: “Si, podemos.”
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