It’s not OK
by Eric Jackson
Panama has been down this road before. Back in the 1920s a group called Accion Comunal — a splinter group from the Liberal Party of Colombian roots — used to dress up in Ku Klux Klan robes and agitate for the deportation of all residents of Panama of ancestry from the non-Hispanic Caribbean lands, all Asians, all Arabs and all Sephardic Jews. This movement came to power in the 1930s under the leadership of the Arias Madrid brothers. The younger of them, Dr. Arnulfo Arias, served just long enough as public health director to recommend, for Panama’s purported racial “health,” the sterilization of members of these racial groups. After having served as Panama’s ambassador to Mussolini’s Italy and Hitler’s Germany, Arnulfo came back to succeed his brother Harmodio as president and to sponsor the constitution of 1941, which stripped all Panamanians of the races he hated — it didn’t matter if they, their parents and their grandparents were all born here — of their citizenship. That racial experiment lasted but a few months, because the United States was edging toward entry into World War II by sending Lend-Lease aid to the British. This was often carried on ships coming through the Panama Canal from the US West Coast, to then run a gauntlet of Nazi u-boats lurking right off of the Colon breakwall. Franklin D. Roosevelt decided that he couldn’t tolerate one of Hitler’s friends as president of Panama and so organized an October 1941 coup to overthrow Arnulfo Arias.
Now we have a member of the legislature — whose maternal grandparents Arnulfo wanted to sterilize — railing against foreigners. Oh, is it just the criminals? Actually, she smears whole nations with her broad brush. Never mind that Zulay Rodríguez Lu was kicked off of the bench at the behest of the US Drug Enforcement Administration when she was a judge, for letting some suspected Colombian drug runners walk after they got nabbed in a DEA-assisted operation. Now that she’s a politician, she calls all Colombians “scum.”
Ah, what a nationalist. She copies Donald Trump. Like pitches of neofascists all across Europe, it gets couched in oh so reasonable arguments for immigration “reform.” But it’s all demagoguery, an appeal to base tribal hatreds of “the other” for political gain.
Now she, and an even more strident little xenophobe group, may show up at protests against the wholesale corruption of our government by Odebrecht. A foreign company bribing the president, so it is alleged, and those who want to ignore the falling out between President Varela and MOVIN can and do also blame it on “the Jews,” or at least the Mottas, Panama’s wealthiest family of Jewish extraction.
So when a xenophobe shows up with a few supporters carrying hate banners and waving a hangman’s noose in front of the door to the El Carmen Church, why did the overwhelmingly decent organizers of the anti-corruption protest hand the guy the microphone? They say it was to allow young people a “catharsis.” And Jim Crow laws and lynching were a catharsis for white people in the former Confederate states of the US South. Hitler was Germany’s catharsis. South African apartheid was an Afrikaner catharsis. The brutal occupation of the Palestinian lands is an Israeli catharsis. The Islamic State is the catharsis of a certain segment of Sunni Muslims.
Nobody should stand idly by when a hate monger waves a hangman’s noose in front of the door of a Catholic church, let along clap for the guy. Xenophobes should be obliged to organize their own events rather than glom onto those of other people who are pursuing honorable causes.
Enough of this. Enough of them. Hate groups are indeed gaining traction in Panama, including in some of our news media. But those people are them, not us.
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