The world neither forgot nor trembled in silence
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On March 22 President Juan Carlos Varela nominated Óscar Ramírez and Ricardo Arango to serve eight-year terms as members of the Panama Canal Authority board of directors. The nominations must be ratified by the National Assembly and it appears that there will not be any problem with that.
Ramírez, the rector of the Tecnologico (Technological University of Panama, the Universidad Tecnológico de Panamá or the UTP), is a UTP and SUNY-Buffalo educated engineer whose research and teaching has specialized in structural engineering for earthquake resistance. His doctorate from the State University of New York at Buffalo — for which he was assisted by a Fulbright scholarship — is in structural and seismic engineering.
The UTP has its origins in the engineering department of the University of Panama seceding over campus politics and low academic standards. Led by Dr. Víctor Levy Sasso, the engineering department gained a measure of autonomy in 1973 and an independent charter in 1981. Although it was a US military target in the 1989 invasion — American soldiers arrested Levy and although he was never accused of any wrongdoing he was stripped of his job and the car and other possessions that were seized by the US Army were never returned — the university continued on its independent way, growing to its present seven campuses and gaining a reputation as Panama’s academically best institution of higher learning. After the brief invasion interregnum Héctor Montemayor was elected rector and served in that post from 1991 to 2003. Salvador Rodríguez succeeded him and in 2009 Marcela Paredes de Vásquez became the first female rector of any Panamanian university worthy of the name. Ramírez, a native of Gualaca in Chiriqui province, was elected rector for the 2013-2018 term.
During the canal expansion work, the previously known Pedro Miguel Fault, which crosses the canal, was found to be a bigger and more active threat than was thought. There has been some thought about measures to strengthen the canal’s earthquake resistance, with one worrisome scenario being an event that breaches the Pedro Miguel Locks. Were that to happen Gatun Lake could empty out through Culebra Cut and the broken locks. It would take years for the lake to refill. One possible emergency response system would be strategically placed explosives along Culebra Cut that would cause landslides that dam up the cut to keep the water in. It’s an engineering problem fitting Ramírez’s specialty, expertise about which is otherwise missing on the ACP board.
Ricardo Arango, son of one of the prominent Creole families, has his undergraduate degree in law from the University of Panama and master’s degrees (LLMs) from Harvard and Yale in corporate law and financial law respectively. Part of his US studies were also on a Fulbright. A partner in the law firm of Arias, Fabrega & Fabrega, he is on the boards of directors of Panama’s scandal-plagued Bolsa de Valores stock and bond market, Banco General, the Latin American Export Bank (BLADEX) and the La Prensa newspaper.
Arango represents continuity on a scandal-plagued ACP board dominated by construction people (including Alejandro Moncada Luna’s alleged money laundering and bid fixing partner Nicolás Corcione), people in the maritime services sectors other than shipping itself, bankers and corporate lawyers. No PanCanal retiree or employee has ever served on the board since Panama assumed full control of the canal. A number of political appointees have, mostly people who had been involved in the negotiations over the waterway’s transfer from US to Panamanian administration.
The problem with continuity is that while La Prensa and the banks were deeply involved in the largely state-funded 2006 “yes” campaign based on many questionable premises, the financial plan for the canal expansion that was sold to those voters who showed up has been a failure from the start. This has never been acknowledged, and indeed you will find few in the ACPO or at La Prensa who will now admit that their projection was an increase in US imports from Asia to increase geometrically by the rate of increase in those between 2000 and 2005, through 2025. That would have meant that by now all US industrial production would have been exported to Asia but US wealth and purchases of Asian goods would still be climbing on a nearly vertical path. That didn’t happen so the ACP borrowed money for an expansion that had been billed as “self-financing” and ship tolls were raised high enough to prompt some shippers to move to other routes. If the new locks work — if not they will be adapted at whatever cost so that they do work — PanCanal finances will still be a mess and toll revenues won’t cover it. Thus we have the ACP seeking to get into the ports, oil pipeline, fossil fuel electric generation and other business because the institution needs new revenues to stay afloat. But this has set off rumbles among various interested parties, and has not gone down well with governmental institutions like the Panama Maritime Authority that would have the ACP grabbing some of their turf.
So does Banco General get a new interlocking directorate with the Panama Canal Authority? That would tend to indicate that if a new port is created under ACP auspices at Corozal and Diablo, the concession will go to the Mottas.
Due to the El Niño drought, the Panama Canal Authority has issued draft restricions. In a statement, the ACP said:
The maximum allowable draft of 11.89 meters will (39.0 feet) in freshwater tropical, effective from April 18, 2016. The maximum authorized draft is defined by the deepest point of immersion specific to each ship in Gatun lake. These measures are applied to ensure the continued safe operation of the waterway.
Vessels with a greater draft to 11.89 meters (39.0 feet) before or on March 21, will not have to follow the draft restriction, subject to security considerations. Ships loaded after March 21 must comply with the measure.
Draft restrictions will be implemented decreasingly 15 centimeters (six inches) with each restriction announced at least four weeks in advance.
It was all carefully choreographed symbolism, and some of it very real. However, one has to look at several long-developing contexts to make full sense of the Obama visit to Cuba.
Most of all, the context of US relations with the rest of the Western Hemisphere set the stage. Over decades, starting with countries like Mexico that never went along with the US policy of isolating Cuba and by the 70s including places like Argentina and Panama that refused to restrict their trade with Cuba according to US orders, the political opposition to US Cuba policy solidified in the Caribbean countries and by the end of the 20th century gained an overwhelming majority in Latin America. As so much of the region went left with the “Pink Tide” that washed over the region in the first decade of the 21st century, the US habit of giving right-wing Cuban exiles in South Florida a veto power over US policies toward all of Latin America was taken as a special annoyance even by countries that had not suffered the Cuban American National Foundation’s wrath. US policy was an anachronism and it was left up to Panama’s moderately conservative President Juan Carlos Varela to inform the Obama administration that Cuba was invited to the 2015 Summit of the Americas in Panama City and the United States could deal with that fact as it pleased.
A bad economy — a sluggish recovery from a stagnant status quo for all but the richest Americans, China in a steep downturn and Latin American countries devastated by low prices of the commodities that they sell — shaped Cuba’s motives. Whether or not the left can hang on in Venezuela, the oil wealth is gone and will probably never come back. There is a chance of an ultra-right government in Caracas that delights in baiting leftist Cuba, but that would be ephemeral. Venezuela had strong economic and cultural ties with the Caribbean, particularly its Spanish-speaking lands, well before the rise of Hugo Chávez and those will continue. But the high volume of trade on favorable terms and the aid are features of the Cuban-Venezuelan relationship that are over and won’t be back anytime soon. The alternative ALBA economic bloc never did prosper and was taken as a mortal threat by Washington, as if US trade hegemony is likely to be restored through political domination anytime soon. The days of Latin America consuming mostly US-made products are over, but on the other hand — much to the chagrin of many Americans on both the left and the right — there is a multinational integration of the world’s oligarchs, with London bankers, Saudi oil sheikhs, Latin American death squad politicians, German manufacturers, Asian absentee sweatshop lords, sports mafia thugs and the corporate-backed US political glitterati rubbing elbows at many a private gathering. The Chinese have been the partners and competitors who were never entirely part of the club. China’s economic power has displaced that of the United States across most of Latin America and the Caribbean. Cuba was one of the early Chinese beachheads in the region. But now the Chinese economy is in a bad way and aid from or trade with China is not going to fill the hole that the Venezuelan oil collapse has left in Cuba. Yes, Cuba survived the “Special Period” following the Soviet Union’s fall but Cubans would rather not go through that again. Adding some US business tie cards to its weak economic hand became a political imperative for Cuba.
And what of the Cuban Counter-Revolution? There are two parts to that. Those Miami exiles — as well as a substantial Cuban community in Puerto Rico and smaller ones throughout Latin America — who dreamed of returning to the island and restoring their power and glory days of the 50s? The Castro brothers outlived them. The younger generations of Cuban-Americans aren’t like that. Maybe US elections are the best indicator. The Florida “Hispanic vote” is not nearly so Cuban as it once was. Now there are a lot of Puerto Ricans and Mexican-Americans in the state, and people from all over Latin America in Miami. Among the Cuban-Americans there is a generation gap. The young Great Cuban-American Hope, Marco Rubio? He got stomped in the Florida primary and after he leaves the US Senate at the end of this year we probably won’t hear much from him again. Ted Cruz? As far as most Cuban-Americans are concerned he’s a foreigner, a weird religious fanatic from another place. The one US presidential candidate who offers any hope at all to the remnants of the Miami Cuban exile leadership, Hillary Clinton, would face a resurgent left within her own party if she makes it to the White House and that would stand in the way of restoring the influence that the old exile leaders used to have. Barack Obama went to Cuba because he could, because the old opponents to such a move are gone or too feeble to resist.
When Obama visited Cuba he met with a few carefully designated and not particularly powerful Cuban dissidents. The rowdier, more capable and more dangerous to the Castro brothers dissidents were rounded up and sent out of town to avoid any demonstrations for the TV cameras. The world media got to interview men and women on the street who were wary of the minders present. But time dictates a generational change in Cuba. Even if there are some quite capable replacements waiting in the Communist Party wings it’s hard to see how there can be a generational change without a procedural makeover and a reaching out beyond the party’s narrowed base. The communists have the Soviet, Eastern European, Chinese, Vietnamese and North Korean examples to instruct them, mostly about what not to do. But it’s Cuba, which among other things has always had cultural component in Florida, from even before there were English-speaking people in North America. The Castros gave Cuba the only period of stability that the island ever had as an independent republic and that legacy will serve future leaders well if they have to stave off the long-existing but generally minor current in Cuban thinking that favors some sort of annexation by the United State. But a measure of change, a bit of economic prosperity and more options in personal lives are likely to be the prices demanded and paid for any post-Castro political mandate in Cuba. The Communist Party may have to go into opposition. The Cuban Revolution is a fact that won’t be changed, but for most Cubans on and off the island it’s also history that is somewhat beside the point of where to go next.
The banter between Obama and Castro about human rights? Both governments have dirty laundry. From a press freedom point of view, Cuba has freed almost all of its jailed journalists and bloggers while the United States has seen a crackdown, such that there are more imprisoned journalists in the USA than in Cuba these days. The government-restricted Cuban press gets better all the time, as the corporate-dominated US press sinks to ever new lows. Cuban police round up peaceful dissidents. American cops use stinging chemical sprays on such protesters. Violate Cuban airspace on an anti-government mission and Castro’s people may well shoot you down. Show insufficient obeisance to the cops on a US street and you may well be shot dead, particularly if black. Cuban prisons are not fun places. Neither are US prisons, and the United States incarcerates a much larger percentage of its population than does Cuba. Obama and Castro complained about the human rights records of each others’ countries and they were both right. The exchange was a political requirement for both men, but neither government is going to change the other in this field. In each case, world and domestic opinion might.
Aisha – Raise Your Voice
The Rolling Stones – Hang Fire
Cage9 – Everything You Love Will Someday Die
Café Tacvba – Aprovéchate
Zoé – Sombras
The Supremes – My World Is Empty Without You
Adele – When We Were Young
Berita, w/ Oliver Mtukudzi & Hugh Masekela – Mwana Wa Mai
Across fhe Crystal Sea – Danilo Pérez
Melissa Aldana – Pasos
Rahsaan Roland Kirk – We Free Kings
Javiera Mena – Yo No Te Pido La Luna
Enya – Only Time
Ziggy Marley & The Melody Makers – Naah Leggo
Sly & Robbie, Taxi Gang & Bunny Rugs in Shrewsbury
Barring any challenges — and as in 2008 the Dominican Republic totals are large and anomalous, so that the Sanders campaign may yet challenge them — Bernie Sanders has won the Democrats Abroad Global Presidential Primary with 68.79 percent of the vote as against Hillary Clinton’s 30.92. According to official figures, Sanders beat Clinton everywhere except for Singapore, Nigeria and the Dominican Republic. It was a record turnout for a DA primary, both worldwide and in Panama. In Panama, turnout was about one-third of Democrats Abroad members, the uncertainty being that people die or move away without local Democrats being notified so there are always a few names on the membership list that need to be removed at any given time. In December DA Panama submitted a “cleaned up” list of jmust under 300 members, and as of the March 1-8 voting that membership roll had been increased to about 440.
By federal law US citizens living abroad have a right to vote in the states where they are from, or in the case of young Americans who have not lived in the USA, generally in the state where their parents are from. Democrats Abroad holds a primary according to Democratic Party rules, and sends a delegation to the Democratic Convention whose pledged delegates are determined by the global primary results. But US voters living abroad can also opt to vote in their home states’ primaries instead of the DA primary. It should be expected that there will be some votes cast in the April 19 New York Primary out of Panama given the historic relationship between the Afro-Panamanian community and Brooklyn.
While Democrats ran the DA primary, in November the voting is by absentee ballot to the states and there is no count by country about how Americans living abroad voted. To vote absentee in the USA from abroad, US federal law requires people to re-register every year. IF one only votes for federal offices — President of the United States, US Senator and US Representative — by federal law that does not make a person a citizen of the state in which she or he votes for tax purposes. However, voting for state and local offices or ballot issues may be taken by a state as evidence of state citizenship for tax purposes.
To US citizens to get registered to vote from abroad, there are three major websites through which one might seek assistance: Vote from Abroad, the Federal Voting Assistance Program and the Overseas Vote Foundation.
Late on a Saturday morming — the most activity and best deals are early — this reporter went through a market that was slated to be shut down a few years ago. This venerable locale in Curundu was to be replaced by another market in Juan Diaz, or so the Martinelli administration announced. The new venue would have been inconvenient for farmers driving in from the Interior and for residents in and near the city center, but it seems that intra-Cambio Democratico politics — Martinelli wanted to replace the mayor of his party with a gunslinging drunk driver TV star, so didn’t want to let her get the funding for any accomplishments to show for her time in office. Part of the old market was torn down to make way for the Tribunal Electoral headquarters but the old market stayed open, now more cramped and crowded with driving and parking nightmares. But it’s still a cool place, and a necessary place for the proprietors of so many mini-supers, fondas and restaurants. The parking and congestion problems are all easily soluble if the municpal and national governments seek to restore and improve upon the market’s old glory. This is, of course, the dry season (and a very dry one at that), so that limits the market offerings that you see here.