Editorials: How much hypocrisy will the market bear?, and Cuban migrants

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piedras sagradas
As sacred to their faith as the Sistine Chapel is to the faith of others. Photo by Oscar Sogandares.

How much hypocrisy will the market bear?

These days the superstition of market worship is the de facto religion of most developed countries, one that they preach and enforce around the world. Panama has joined the ranks of countries that embrace it. So is it time that someone nails 95 theses on the door of the Presidencia, if not the White House?

Panama’s most important day-to-day headlines, particularly those that are about our laws and the institutions in charge of carrying them out, are dominated by hypocrisy at the moment. We have a dictatorship’s constitution which, as a product of General Torrijos’s Revolutionary Process, provides that there shall be no privileges or discrimination based on social class. In practice we see constant assertions of statutory immunity by the political caste and phalanxes of lawyers interposing obstacles that grant impunity to those of the social class who can afford that sort of thing. Then there are all these treaties that were sold as guarantees of property rights and “an even playing field for all.” But what consideration has been given for the property rights of the people of Kiad, who have been evicted without compensation for the Barro Blanco Dam? How even has been the field of their dealings with Honduran thugs and their array of European and Panamanian partners, backers and employees?

Barro Blanco’s promoters filed an environmental impact statement that was replete with the most egregious misrepresentations, and it was accepted by government officials without questions until much later. It set off social conflicts in which the entire Panamanian economy suffered millions of dollars of losses, blood was shed and people were dispossessed. Perhaps the worst of all in the long run, ancient petroglyphs thought to be holy by a religion that much of the Ngabe nation embraces are being destroyed. Those evicted from Kiad were held prisoner without charges in a Catholic Church facility. The seeds of religious conflict have thus been sown by the government. But the lawyer who filed that bogus environmental statement still has a license to practice law. Neither those who filed nor those who accepted the misrepresentations on the government’s behalf have been called upon to personally account for their actions. Why? Because President Varela says that he must uphold international treaties — but not the ones that protect indigenous sites. He cites conventions that protect the banks, even though those don’t actually protect institutions which invest in frauds that they should have discovered.

It’s not the rule of law, let alone of God’s law. It’s the worship of money, and a matter of how much hypocrisy the market will bear.

 

Replace the Cuban Adjustment Act

The foreign ministers of Panama and eight other Latin American countries have asked for a meeting with US Secretary of State John Kerry to discuss the annoying effects of a 1966 US law, the Cuban Adjustment Act, on much of the Western Hemisphere. It’s hard to imagine that in an election season much will change in Washington, but this policy needs to change.

The Cuban Adjustment Act provides that Cubans — and Cubans alone — who manage to set foot on US soil without proper permission can’t be summarily sent back to their country of origin like citizens of other countries. US immigration law isn’t quite that simple, for Cubans or anyone else, but the rule of thumb and the commonly held belief in Cuba is that once in the USA, a Cuban is there to stay for the rest of his or her days.

It’s an outdated bit of Cold War legislation. These days the Republican Party, in whose ranks most of the Cuban-American exile leadership has operated for many years, has turned against Cubans along with all other Latin Americans. One might think that with the thaw in US-Cuban relations this bit of legislation would be vulnerable to repeal. The case for ending the double standard gains force when one considers the problems that it creates for countries along the circuitous routes by which undocumented Cubans seek to sneak into the United States.

Other Latino groups in the United States would have reason to let the Cuban-Americans swim alone against anti-immigrant tides and the currents of history. The policy makes unfair and unreasonable distinctions. The Cuban government is not a democracy and the Cuban people are not prosperous, but Cuba does not have the death squad terror that stalks places like Mexico and Honduras and the government in Havana isn’t notably more corrupt than those of many other Latin American neighbors. Poverty is the lot of many Latin Americans, not just Cubans. Any notion that Cubans are inherently better people than other Latin Americans would be ridiculous, although the fact that Cubans tend to be better educated than their Latin American counterparts would be relevant for US immigration policy — or for Panama’s thinking on the subject, were it rational.

However, there are reasons for the United States to give would-be Cuban immigrants a special break. For starters, the Cuban-American community is the oldest US Hispanic community. St. Augustine, Florida, was a Spanish-speaking town before any English settler arrived in North America and Florida was incorporated into the United States before the annexation of Texas or the Mexican Cession brought many Mexican-Americans into the USA by conquest. The long-established Cuban-American community is willing and able to take in new arrivals and has done so with great success for a long time.

The United States needs a new immigration law anyway, and it’s reasonable to take historic relationships into account in the drafting of such legislation. Panama also has special ties with the United States that ought to be taken into consideration.

There are things short of controversial legislation that the United States can immediately do to deal with the present problem of massive uncontrolled Cuban migration. This is not the first inconvenient Cuban exodus toward the USA, and let us recall measures that were taken in the past.

Those were temporary and partial measures, though. What’s needed is a more comprehensive US immigration reform that among other things replaces the Cuban Adjustment Act.

 

Bear in mind…

 

Choose your friends carefully. Your enemies will choose you.

Yasser Arafat

 

The public does not like you to mislead or represent yourself to be something you’re not. And the other thing that the public really does like is the self-examination to say ‘You know, I’m not perfect. I’m just like you.’ They don’t ask their public officials to be perfect. They just ask them to be smart, truthful, honest, and show a modicum of good sense.
Ann Richards

 

What is man’s chief enemy? Each man is his own.
Anacharsis Cloots

 

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