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Scenes from the Democratic Candidates’ Forum in South Carolina

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Dems
Hillary Clinton, Martin O’Malley and Bernie Sanders in South Carolina.

The Democrats in South Carolina

There are three candidates left in the race and we can get into arguments aboout whether “really” there are only two or there is only one, but the first votes won’t be cast for months and then other dynamics will set in. In South Carolina a little more than half of the Democrats are African-American and one poll taken a week before the forum showed Hillary Clinton with about a four to one advantage over Bernie Sanders in that sector. If Sanders can break off at least a quarter of Clinton’s black support and have those voters cross over to him, or if he can be the beneficiary of an extraordinary turnout by younger black voters, he will have a chance to win the South Carolina primary. If Clinton can maintain her lead, she will be hard to beat.

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The Panama News blog links, November 6, 2015

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The Panama News blog links, November 6, 2015

Splash 24/7, Delays of up to 10 days at the Panama Canal

Fortune, The new Panama Canal is leaking water — and money

El Espectador, Ampliación del Canal de Panamá podría retrasarse aún más

SeaTrade Maritime News, First LNG-powered vessel transits the Panama Canal

Al Jazeera, Nicaragua commission gives go-ahead for canal project

IPS, Nicaragua’s canal a nightmare for environmentalists

Nunatsiaq News, Finnish icebreakers arrive after late-season NW Passage transit

CBC, Chinese company plans Arctic shipping route through Russia

Mi Diario, Oro para Panamá en Juegos Mundiales Indígenas

CubaDebate, Urquiola dirigirá equipo de béisbol de Chiriquí

AP: Fired by Panama condo owners, Trump demands $75 million

ANP, Plantean cable de luz submarino entre Panamá y Colombia

Des Moines Register, Iowa coffee shop has a farm in Panama

Video, Empresas interesadas en la exploración de petróleo en el caribe panameño

Jamaica Gleaner, Investors win billion-dollar judgment against Panamanian company

OK Diario, Los Pujol escondían en Panamá más de €2.400 millones

LaInformacion, Pujol Jr. cerró su sociedad después de la confesión de su padre

Finanzas, El clan Pujol ha dispersado en 10 paraísos fiscales su fortuna

EFE, Panamá extradita a España a rusos acusados de lavando dinero para Obiang

El País, The long hunt for the Kokorevs

EFE: Blanqueo de capitales por redes sociales, nueva alerta para el Istmo

KTVA, Alaska surgeon who hid money here convicted of tax evasion and fraud

AFP, Panamá condiciona intercambio de información fiscal con OCDE

EFE, Panama money launderers said to link Chapo and FARC busted

Gambling Insider, US racketeering conviction for gambling via Panama

Senator Bernie Sanders, The complete text of the proposed TPP agreement

AFP/CNN, Martinelli compara a Varela con Maduro y dice que volverá a Panamá

Greenwald: Pro-Clinton group censored on Israel, into warped militarism

Nation of Change, Koch brothers’ foundation network explained

The Guardian, College apologizes to leftist professor fired in 1962

STRI, Bat man IDs bats by smell alone

Video, Howler monkeys chase off a lone male visitor

Mongabay, Galapagos “gold rush” for shark fins and sea cucumbers

Jones, Chile’s new marine reserve

Caribbean News Now!, Caribbean called on to adopt climate resilient food systems

Gandásegui, Protesta social o terrorismo

Beluche, ¿Presos políticos en Panamá?

Casullo, Argentina’s Cambiemos

Wallerstein, The important Canadian elections

Karszenbaum, Bibi y la nueva historia de la Shoá

Weisman, Rethinking the neo-con threat

Vatican Radio, Pope: Church is called to serve, not to be served

Boff, La religión puede hacer el bien mejor y también el mal peor

Huffington Post, Court ruling could pave way for marijuana legalization in Mexico

WOLA, Increased incarceration for drug offenses in the Americas

Video, Colombian court approves gay and lesbian adoptions

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Flag Day in Panama, 2015

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San Carlos. Photo © Michael Nixon.

Flag Day in Panama

BA PC
Balboa Academy marching in Panama City. Photo by Billy Foster.

 

The principal. Photo by Billy Foster.
The principal. Photo by Billy Foster.

 

Boquete. Photo by the Alcaldia.
Boquete. Photo by the Alcaldia.

 

Boquete. Photo by the Junta Comunal of Alto Boquete.
Boquete. Photo by the Junta Comunal of Alto Boquete.

 

Panama City. Photo by Allan Hawkins V.
Panama City. Photo by Allan Hawkins V.

 

PC AH1
Panama City. Photo by Allan HAwkins V.

 

PC AH 3
Panama City. Photo by Allan Hawknis V.

 

PC AH 4
Panama City. Photo by Allan Hawkins V.

 

SC 2
San Carlos. Photo © by Michael Nixon.

 

At the Presidencia.

 

In La Cabima.

 

In San Miguelito.

 

In Condado del Rey.

 

The Bomberos in Panama City.
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Jackson, So what about this flag?

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bandera
The flag, on a day when many in the city have taken off for the beach. Photo by Chris Taylor

So what about this flag?

by Eric Jackson

If there is anything to the legend that on Mount Sinai God inscribed on a tablet instructions that his people should not worship idols or take graven images as substitutes, we can still argue about what that meant and why, and even argue about whether it is permissible to pose such questions. I take it as an assertion that there is but one god — call that supernatural person Eloim as the ancient Hebrews once did or Allah as the Arabic name recognized by Muslims, or Jah or Yaweh or Jehovah or so on — but the important thing is not to let some human being who deals in symbols substitute his or her imagery and beliefs for a divinely ordered nature of things. Believe it or don’t believe it, but it seems to this writer that the swap of shallow and manipulable symbolism for more profound truths was the gist of what was forbidden.

Isn’t it also like that with a nation’s symbols?

I’m a Panagringo, a US-Panamanian dual citizen. I know how so many Americans (in the narrow sense of the word) get about the US national symbols. For so many it’s about how not supporting corporate economic interests or foreign wars or torture or assassination is taken to be something like spitting on the flag. For folks like that freedom and democracy, rather than being real values that sometimes oppose one another, become a unitary and vacuous partisan slogan. You hardly ever convince people like that in an election campaign. Generally the best you can do is to defeat them.

But what about the Panamanian tricolor, the same colors as Old Glory, but the symbol of an entirely different nation with a different culture, history and set of commonly held values? Did people die for the Panamanian flag on the Day of the Martyrs? Did Panama become truly sovereign, an adult member of the family of nations, when they took down the American flag at the Panama Canal Administration Building for the last time, leaving Panama’s flag as the only one flying?

People died during the events of January 1964 for various reasons, some just because they were unlucky enough to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. But notwithstanding a scuffle in front of a high school flagpole in which a flag was torn, it really wasn’t about that. It was about Panama being divided in two by a foreign enclave that included a lot of people who didn’t like Panamanians and who would sometimes go out of their way to be abusive. It was about a set of rules often enforced by people who harbored no ill will whatsoever, but rules that said that Panamanians were not particularly welcome on part of the isthmus. The flags were just symbols. The national grievances and popular aspirations were the real issues.

Does the Panamanian flag flying alone at the Admin Building put a lump in the throat of every patriotic Panamanian? Don’t let that lump grow so large that it impairs your vision. The Panama Canal Authority plays all sorts of corny information control games, but neither those nor any sense of pride ought to obscure the reality that the canal — the nation’s principal public asset — is not well managed.

Should Panamanians be terribly upset that the Ministry of Education published a graphic that had the Panamanian flag flying backwards? Probably no more upset than Zonians were about the Canal Zone stamp boasting of the new bridge over the canal, but with the bridge missing from the picture. Stuff happens, but if our public schools can’t get flag etiquette right, that’s the least of their troubles. We have a terrible school system, one of the worst in the world, and only some major wise investments and determined policy decisions will change that.

Pay your respects to the flag when in Panama on this day, if you are a Panamanian as shorthand — but not a substitute for — respect for the country and people for which it stands. If you are a foreigner, show deference to the people among whom you live, including their symbols. Let’s keep it all real. Flag Day is about Panama and Panamanians, not an abstract three-color design on a piece of cloth.

Independence Day in Panama, 2015

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video of the national anthem in Juan Diaz by Allan Hawkins V.

Independence Day in Panama

Raising the flag in Colon. Photo by the Alcaldia de Colon.
Raising the flag in Colon. Photo by the Alcaldia.
Dianas at the Presdencia. Photo by the Presidencia.
Dianas at the Presdencia. Photo by the Presidencia.
santeños
Marching in Los Santos. Photo by the Bomberos.
Boquete
City workers parade through Boquete. Photo by the Alcaldia.
by the statue
Gathering in the Casco Viejo. Photo by Chris Taylor.
The parade begins in the Casco Viejo. Photo by the Bomberos.
The parade begins in the Casco Viejo. Photo by the Bomberos.
Polleras sí, Instagram no. Photo by Chris Taylor.
Polleras sí, Instagram no. Photo by Chris Taylor.
note the bushy red tails
Assuming the position. Photo by the Presidencia.
Anglican kids
Colegio Episcopal kids. Photo by Chris Taylor.
El Hogar band
Banda El Hogar, one of Panama’s independent bands, a tradition that the previous administration tried mightily to suppress. Photo by the Presidencia.
the masses
The crowd along the Cinta Costera. Photo by Chris Taylor.
mi gente
Drummer in Juan Diaz. Photo by Allan Hawkns V.
Genaro y Saúl
Labor leaders Genaro López and Saúl Méndez. Photo by FRENADESO.
the heat
Cops in Juan Diaz. Photo by Allan Hawkins V.
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Harrington, The three monkeys

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JCV and cops in Chiriqui
President Varela meets Security Minister Aguilera and police commanders in Chiriqui. Photo by the Ministerio de Seguridad.

Hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil!

by Kevin Harrington-Shelton
There is no reason to think there will be less corruption in this government, than in any previous government.
Barbara Stephenson (via WikiLeaks)

President Juan Carlos Varela spent the better part of this week grandstanding against crime in Chiriqui. Violence there is nothing new, but this episode does show up how the president shirks from taking any stance on a problem as a matter of course — thus making matters worse.

In the event, the heart of this particular problem has been previously documented. The 31 March 2011 issue of El Panama America carried an interview with a former National Police Director, focusing on a major cause of disorder in Chiriqui. Questioned as to a then revealed cable, don Gustavo Pérez de la Ossa states “there are no evidence” substantiating what an August17, 2009 US embassy cable stated had been garnered “from official Panamanian sources.” With her brush then-ambassador Barbara Stephenson painted a word picture of having “credible information that a network of corrupt National Police line officers, as well as politicians, who smuggle drugs and weapons crossborder with Costa Rica, in vehicles with government plates” (as El Panama America summed it up, with a duty of care regarding a presumption of innocence omitted in the official in-house embassy cable, which identifies one lieutenant colonel by name.) Yet shortly thereafter, said officer received a scholarship for continuing military education in the USA plus a desk job on his promotion to Panama City headquarters upon his return. This volte-face suggests Uncle Sam has sundry “Tailors of Panama” within local military ranks — village gossips who regularly deliver stories about competing peers which are rather economical with the truth. Or worse.

Little would appear to have changed since in the frontier no-man’s land — even with Washington´s darling SENAFRONT border police — where police code “Sierra 97” for absolute radio silence and “Eyes left!” is the norm for staff on routine border patrols: “Hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil.” Even if Robert Lady is not about.

And dereliction of duty is not limited to border police. As commander in chief, Mr. Varela should be better advised: it reflects poorly on his credibility to keep kicking the can. In order to lead effectively, he needs face up to his duty to impose discipline among his civil and military subordinates — and not simply hope that problems go away by themselves. He is perceived as increasing police pay and perks just as levels of violence surge throughout Panama. Lest, in the tattler role he cultivated as vice president — wherein he rendered to US Embassy alarming reports on the canal expansion which he still refuses to share with his people — a less tactful diplomat might now remind him of Caesar’s divorce plea: “My wife ought not even to be under suspicion.”

Those of us who eat three square meals a day bear an obligation to those who do not, as well as to discharge it by bearing witness to the rule of law as it should be carried out — with probity.

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Cantus benefit for Spay Panama, December 13

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will the do The Birdor will the do The Dog

 

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CEPAL, Nuevo estudio sobre la economía regional indica desaceleración

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América Latina, región de contrastes. Foto de Caracas de WikiCommons.
América Latina, región de contrastes. Foto de Caracas de WikiCommons.

CEPAL llama a redoblar esfuerzos contra la pobreza y desigualdad en escenario de desaceleración

Un nuevo estudio sobre la economía regional

por CEPAL

La Comisión Económica para América Latina y el Caribe (CEPAL) llama a redoblar esfuerzos para abatir la pobreza y reducir la desigualdad en el actual contexto de desaceleración económica que vive la región en su último estudio titulado Desarrollo social inclusivo: una nueva generación de políticas para superar la pobreza y reducir la desigualdad en América Latina y el Caribe.

Este nuevo documento del organismo regional de las Naciones Unidas será presentado oficialmente, y analizado por autoridades y especialistas de la región, durante la Conferencia Regional sobre Desarrollo Social de América Latina y el Caribe, que se llevará a cabo entre el lunes 2 y el miércoles 4 de noviembre en Lima, Perú.

Según la CEPAL, América Latina y el Caribe logró en el último decenio avances notables en diversas áreas del desarrollo social, entre ellos, una significativa reducción de la pobreza y una moderada caída de la desigualdad como resultado de políticas sociales y de mercado de trabajo implementadas en un escenario económico favorable, que permitió que los objetivos relacionados con la inclusión social ganaran un espacio inédito en la agenda pública y en las estrategias de desarrollo.

Pero aún queda mucho camino por recorrer, enfatiza la Comisión, sobre todo considerando la actual coyuntura económica que augura dificultades para recuperar las tasas de crecimiento registradas en años anteriores y mantener el nivel del gasto público en algunos países.

La reducción de la pobreza se ha estancado desde 2012 y la indigencia muestra una leve tendencia al alza. Además, América Latina y el Caribe sigue siendo la región más desigual del mundo en términos de distribución del ingreso. Según las últimas estimaciones del organismo regional para 19 países de América Latina, en 2014 existían 167 millones de personas en situación de pobreza (28% del total de la población), de los cuales 71 millones (12% del total de la población) se encontraban en la indigencia.

Además, datos de 2013 indican que solo la mitad de la población de América Latina y el Caribe (49,1%) se encuentra fuera de las situaciones de indigencia, pobreza o vulnerabilidad a la pobreza. Los niños y niñas, las mujeres, los jóvenes, los adultos mayores, las personas con discapacidad, los pueblos indígenas y las poblaciones afrodescendientes son quienes más sufren situaciones de discriminación, carencia, privación de derechos o vulnerabilidad en la región, señala la CEPAL.

Según información recogida en encuestas de hogares de ocho países de América Latina en 2011, 7% de la población no indígena ni afrodescendiente es indigente o altamente vulnerable a la indigencia, porcentaje que se eleva a 11% en el caso de la población afrodescendiente y a 18% de los pueblos indígenas. De igual forma, mientras el 62% de la población no indígena ni afrodescendiente era considerada no vulnerable, esa cifra baja a 56% en el caso de la población afrodescendiente y a solo 33% en el de los pueblos indígenas.

En la misma línea, en la región las mujeres constituyen aproximadamente el 51% de la población total, pero solo acceden al 38% de la masa de ingresos monetarios que generan y perciben las personas, correspondiendo el otro 62% a los hombres.

“Entre los ámbitos de la sociedad que producen, exacerban o mitigan desigualdades, el más decisivo es el mundo del trabajo. Ahí se genera la mayor parte del ingreso de los hogares en América Latina y el Caribe, así como las desigualdades inherentes a su distribución”, explica el organismo en el documento.

Según cálculos realizados por la CEPAL con datos de 17 países de América Latina alrededor de 2013, los ingresos laborales representan en promedio 80% del ingreso total de los hogares; 74% del ingreso total de los hogares en situación de pobreza; y 64% en los hogares en situación de indigencia. La Comisión también estima que 18,9% del total de personas ocupadas recibe ingresos por debajo de la línea de pobreza en América Latina y el Caribe.

De acuerdo con el estudio, estas cifras demuestran que un alto porcentaje de personas en situación de pobreza e indigencia en la región está inserto en el mercado de trabajo; no obstante, los ingresos que obtienen de esta fuente son insuficientes para satisfacer sus necesidades. De ahí la importancia del acceso a un empleo productivo y de calidad y al trabajo decente.

En este marco, resulta crucial redoblar los esfuerzos para fortalecer y mejorar las políticas sociales, en particular, las estrategias de reducción de la pobreza y la extrema pobreza, asegurando su sostenibilidad financiera y dotándolas de herramientas que garanticen su eficacia y efectividad, indica la CEPAL.

De esta forma, el organismo llamó trabajar en las tres dimensiones del desarrollo sostenible: la económica, social y ambiental.

“Reducir sustantivamente la desigualdad es condición indispensable para reducir la pobreza. Lo social no se juega solo en lo social, sino que también en la economía, en la política y en el medioambiente. Tampoco la diversificación productiva y el cambio estructural se deciden solo en el campo económico: el desarrollo social inclusivo y la mejora de las condiciones de vida de la población son un requisito necesario para asegurar la prosperidad económica”, señala la Secretaria Ejecutiva de la CEPAL, Alicia Bárcena, en el prólogo del documento.

Aunque la región cumplió la meta establecida en el primero de los ocho Objetivos de Desarrollo del Milenio (ODM) de reducir a la mitad la indigencia en 2015 (comparado con los niveles de 1990), la CEPAL insiste en que es indispensable realizar esfuerzos significativos para cumplir los recién adoptados Objetivos de Desarrollo Sostenible (ODS), especialmente el primero que plantea erradicar la extrema pobreza en todas sus formas en 2030.

Además de ofrecer un diagnóstico de los avances recientes y los desafíos que persisten en materia de pobreza y desigualdad, el nuevo informe de la CEPAL analiza la institucionalidad a cargo de las políticas sociales y plantea orientaciones de política en diversos ámbitos clave para el desarrollo inclusivo.

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Many Novembers ago…

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Yes, the parades and uniforms and flags are easily enough understood. But how good can the patriotic oratory be, when Panamanian schools have suppressed or distorted so much of our history? And how can so many Americans, who went to public schools in which intelligent discussion about religion was (and is) taboo and where history is looked at as lists of battles and great men, in countries look at in isolation from the rest of the world? Archive photo by Eric Jackson.
Yes, the parades and uniforms and flags are easily enough understood. But how good can the patriotic oratory be, when Panamanian schools have suppressed or distorted so much of our history? And how can so many Americans, who went to public schools in which intelligent discussion about religion was (and is) taboo and where history is looked at as lists of battles and great men and in which countries are looked at in isolation from the rest of the world, fully understand? Archive photo by Eric Jackson.

Many Novembers ago…

by Eric Jackson

So what are these “Fiestas Patrias” really all about? Yes, parades, flags, meat on a stick, marching bands, speeches that aim to be inspiring, anniversaries of a separation from Colombia and of an earlier one from Spain, and of the foundation of perhaps Panama’s most beloved public institutions, the fire department (Cuerpo de Bomberos). But you have to go across the sea and back to the Crusades to begin to understand.

Crusaders, inquisitors and heretics

In an isolated Spanish context, the Crusades were a great success. They went on for longer and culminated in 1492, with the fall of Granada and the expulsion of the Arabs who had ruled parts of the Iberian Peninsula for more than 700 years and of the Jewish community that had prospered under generally tolerant Moorish rule. Along the way many a Muslim and many a Jew had converted to Catholicism. For those who only pretended — the clandestine Crypto-Jews and the secretly Muslim Moriscos — Spain’s Catholic monarchy and The Vatican collaborated to create the Spanish Inquisition, the scourge of unbelievers and heretics.

In a few years the heresies would multiply with the Reformation. From the start the Inquisition was interested in stamping out one group of heretics, the underground successors of the Knights Templar. This group, led at their formal end in 1307 by the French knight Jacques de Molay, served as the bankers for those other Crusades, in the Holy Land of the Levant. That part of the Crusades did not go so well for the Catholic zealots. It did get Christians living in Jerusalem for a long time. The Knights Templar, as shrewd bankers operating in a city with large numbers of Jews, Muslims and Christians, came to the conclusion that whatever concept of God a man might have was not so important as his character, such that a devout and reputable Muslim or Jew was a better risk for loans than a disreputable Catholic. De Molay got burned at the stake for that, but some of his followers persisted in their beliefs and carried on an underground movement that was later to emerge as freemasonry.

So, with Spain increasingly intolerant starting in the same year when Christopher Columbus bumped into the West Indies and didn’t know where he was but claimed it for Spain and Catholicism anyway, where was a Spaniard who would rather not have an appointment with the Inquisition to go? Many Muslims and Jews fled to North Africa, Turkey or the Holy Land, and some Jews found refuge in Portugal for a time. And in numbers about which no records were kept, a lot of Crypto-Jews and probably a lesser number of Moriscos made their way to Spain’s new possessions in the Americas. The now US city of Albuquerque is famous for the underground Jews among its founders. There are legends about hidden Jews among the founders of Chiriqui’s provincial capital of David, and later on among those refugees who fled Henry Morgan’s raid to found Las Tablas.

For sincere Catholics in those parts of Spain from which the Moors had been ousted, these were still conquered lands where lisping aristocrats from the north had all of the advantages. That made a life at sea or in the army a better set of options for the young men. Do you wonder why Latin Americans don’t lisp their “s” and “z” sounds as in Castilian Spanish? It’s because our dialects trace much more of their ancestry to Andalusia than to Castile.

Did freemasons and other heretics also flee from Spain to the Americas? It might be supposed that they did, but if so they didn’t leave records of it for the authorities. For most of the Spanish colonial period in Panama, non-Catholic religious beliefs could get someone sent to the Inquisition court in Cartagena — whose work was not so much about Jews, Muslims, Protestants or Masons as it was with slaves who persisted in practicing African religions. After the early scandals of clerical cruelty were exposed by Bartolomé de las Casas, the Vatican stripped the Inquisition of its jurisdiction over the indigenous peoples of the Americas.

The Spanish conquest of Panama got underway at about the same time that Martin Luther’s annoyance with the Vatican’s decadence was growing, and surely the Reformation and the many decades of religious wars that followed upon it grew the numbers of free-thinking Masons all across Europe and into most European colonies. Was it so in the Spanish Empire? Probably less so, and on a time lag. If you care to look at the beliefs and actions of the protagonists, the attacks of Francis Drake and Henry Morgan on Panama belong to the story of the Wars of the Reformation, even if Morgan’s rampage through here came 22 years after the Peace of Westphalia ended the religious warfare on the European continent.

It was not entirely unreasonable to attack the Catholic Church in the process of assaulting the Spanish Crown here or anywhere else in the Americas at that time. The Vatican ceded much to the temporal authorities in Spanish America, in exchange for a cut of the action. Under the patronato system, Spanish authorities built and financed the churches, paid for their activities and appointed both the parish priests and the colonial hierarchy. The clergy of Spanish America was forbidden to take up any matters directly with the Vatican. Especially in the early decades of the colonial era the church got a lot of gold, silver and precious stones out of the arrangement. As time went by any line of distinction between church and state became broken and blurred in Spanish America. The bishops tended identify with and be just as conservative as the viceroys sent from Spain to rule the American colonies.

Heresy and independence gain the upper hand

The American Revolution, which was led by freemasons, and the French Revolution, which had a major anti-clerical component, certainly boosted masonic membership, activity and thinking throughout Latin America. In Spain itself, freemasonry was first recorded in 1728 and in Mexico a few years later. South America’s great liberators — Simón Bolívar, José de San Martín, Bernardo O’Higgins and a number of their associates and followers — were masons under the influence of the Venezuelan freemason and independence activist Francisco de Miranda.

The liberators’ independence movements got their openings from Spain’s catastrophes. In 1808 Napoleon forced out the Bourbon king of Spain, replacing him with his drunken and incompetent older brother Joseph. That Bonaparte has gone down in Spanish history politely as José I but popularly as Pepe la Botella. French rule was brutal, Spanish resistance became generalized and many of Spain’s francophiles fled into exile either in France or the Americas. The restoration of the Bourbon King Fernando VII — “El Rey Felón” — brought waves of bloody repression to Spain and professions of loyalty from Creole elites in the Americas. However, the damage had been done. During the Napoleonic interregnum Latin Americans had become used to making do without directions from Madrid, and the Catholic Church went on in the Americas without so much state sponsorship or direction.

After repeated unsuccessful pro-independence uprisings in Venezuela, in early 1819 forces loyal to Spain once again defeated forces that Simón Bolívar had mustered. Bolívar’s army, which was bolstered by a “British Legion” that was actually mostly Irish, was driven into a wilderness where it was presumed that its members would scatter and die. Instead they slogged across swamps, hacked their way through the jungle, scaled the snow-capped Andes, took the Spanish Army by surprise at Boyaca and marched unopposed into Bogota. The Viceroy of New Granada, Spain’s governor for what are now Colombia, Ecuador, Venezuela and Panama, fled to Panama. Bolivar headed back to Venezuela and ran the Spanish forces out of there before turning his attention to Ecuador.

Did a businesswoman lead Panama away from Spain?

So, with Spanish forces being routed all over South America, was Panama going to be the rump capital of a much reduced Viceroyalty of New Granada and the springboard for Spain’s reconquest of the Americas? Set aside the contagion of free thinking on the isthmus, the civil servants who had found that they didn’t much need Spain, the priests who found the mother church and the opinions of their own congregants more compelling than a mother country ruled by a heavy handed crook, and a demoralized Spanish Army — doing what Spain wanted Panama to do would be bad for business. We didn’t yet have a railroad or a canal but we were still the hub of a number of trade routes and the Felon King would have had us at war with our best customers.

Onto the scene came a foxy young businesswoman, or so the legend goes. There is no documentary evidence that Rufina Alfaro existed — but back in those days, there would not necessarily have been. As the story goes, the 22-year-old Señorita Alfaro made her living selling eggs and vegetables, including to the soldiers of the garrison in La Villa de Los Santos. That outpost had been reinforced and given draconian orders by the Spanish commander on the isthmus, the dreaded Colonel José Pedro Antonio de Fábrega y de las Cuevas. The charming young lady is said to have subverted the troops into giving up their posts in the face of a crowd she led on a march to their fort.

In any event La Villa de Los Santos and a number of other towns in the Interior held town meetings — cabildos abiertos — in mid-November of 1821. The resolution coming out of the November 10 one in Los Santos is generally credited as the first call for Panamanian independence from Spain. Thus El Grito de La Villa de Los Santos, one of the holidays we celebrate this month.

That both soldiers and parish priests went along with the rebellion in the Interior was noticed in Panama City. So was the restlessness of some of the troops, and of some of the jailers of political prisoners, in the city. With much of Panama City’s garrison off to fight Bolívar’s armies in Quito and many doubts about whether the remaining troops would fight for Spain and whether the people of Panama City would support them if they did, Colonel Fábrega had some serious rethinking to do. Instead of embarking on a civil war against the rebellious Interior, he went over to the independence camp. He consulted with the Catholic hierarchy and the richest families in town, bribed those troops still loyal to Spain into remaining passive, and called a cabildo abierto to which all of the pro-independence factions were invited. This November 28 gathering declared Panama’s independence from Spain and adhesion to Bolívar’s Gran Colombia. That’s the first reason for November 28 being a Panamanian holiday.

Note: the “other” November 28

Although that’s not part of the stated reason for November 28 being a national holiday, also on that day in 1885 a group of concerned Panama City citizens formed a volunteer fire department, the Cuerpo de Bomberos. It’s a beloved national institution that today has a core of professional firefighters and a larger group of part-time volunteers, plus the nation’s best marching bands. The anniversary is the occasion for November’s best if not biggest November parade, the Bomberos’ Torchlight Procession through Panama City. Usually the parade is on the last weekend of November, down Via España. This year there will be a November 2 procession, with firefighters gathering late in the afternoon at Parque Urraca and marching from there down to the Presidencia.

A tragic and comedic end to a troubled relationship

The more than 80-year marriage with Colombia was an unhappy one, with ephemeral federal systems, brief separations and bloody revolts along the way. Centrifugal forces were at work from day one in Gran Colombia, as they are in Colombia to this day. Venezuela and Ecuador spun away in 1830, and one does not well understand 21st century Colombian guerrillas and paramilitaries without recognizing the aspect of local and regional expressions of warlord power plays against the central authorities that is part of them. Panama is different from Colombia, and as time has marched on we have become ever more different. Our dialects of Spanish are different. We have different economies. If many Panamanians do strange things like putting ketchup on fried rice, Colombians putting mayonnaise in ceviche is even weirder to us. Different waves of immigration have given us different ethnic mixtures. It may be impossible to convince those wannabe geopolitical strategists who would manipulate the world from inside the Washington Beltway, but Panamanians are not Colombians.

When Panamanians were Colombians the isthmus was caught up in endless wars between Liberals and Conservatives, as often as not about whether the Catholic Church would be Colombia’s official religion. It was generally also about whether the wealthy rural landowners or wealthy urban commercial and industrial barons would be the dominant elite. Generally it started in an argument over who rigged or stole which election. The last Colombian war that was fought in Panama, the 1899-1902 Thousand Days’ War, left Panama City starving under a Conservative dictatorship and Cocle province devastated by a ferocious civil war which the Liberal guerrillas won.

The final break-up came over deals that Bogota made or could not make with foreign interests with respect to Panama. In the middle of the 19th century Bogota granted extraordinary powers, including police functions and permission to try and execute people, to a New York corporation, the Panama Railroad. Then it gave a concession to build a Panama Canal to French interests that failed, with the railroad company and some other New York investors left holding much of the stock in the moribund concession. Teddy Roosevelt was very interested in the United States picking up the project and doing it right, but the very special interest of the railroad and other shareholders in the French canal company was that a US canal effort get underway before the end of 1903, when the French canal concession would expire and they would have little to sell to the Americans. In the small world of isthmian politics the Conservatives had grabbed control of Panama City at the outset of the war in 1899 due to Liberal divisions and had exercised power brutally and incompetently, clinging onto and abusing their prerogatives in the city after the war had ended. The separation from Colombia was a coup organized by the railroad company with the collaboration of the local Conservative Party and a few turncoat Liberals, backed by the naval power of the United States. It came just in time for the New York investors to sell the French canal concession to the US government. That the United States then came to Panama on terms that few Panamanians found acceptable was of little consequence to the speculators who had acquired shares of an insolvent French company at bargain basement prices and were paid well above their true value out of the US Treasury.

The November 3 coup itself was carried out with large doses of bribery, treachery and comedy. There were but two deaths.

General Esteban Huertas, the 27-year-old one-armed commander of Colombian forces on the isthmus, tended to work out of Panama City, while the main Colombian garrison was housed in Colon. Huertas was part of the separation conspiracy, but the junior officers were not. Huertas ordered his subordinates to get on the train and come to Panama City for an urgent meeting. Somewhere near the middle of the isthmus, the engine decoupled from the junior officers’ car and sped away, leaving them stranded in the bush for the revolution.

Back in Colon it was a national holiday, with banks closed, but the Star & Herald — the English-language precursor of today’s La Estrella — went into its safe for the cash to buy much of the liquor in town, which was bestowed as a gift to the bored and now leaderless enlisted troops. With Huertas in the city making the transition from Colombian garrison commander to head of the Panamanian Army and the junior officers getting an unexpected rainforest wildlife experience, the troops got drunk. During their revelry the USS Nashville slipped into port and debarked its US Marine Corps detachment. It wasn’t until the morning of November 5 that the Colombian soldiers awoke from their alcoholic haze, noticed that people were celebrating and discovered that US forces controlled Colon’s streets. They were graciously offered the opportunity to get on a ship and go back to Colombia, which they took.

In Panama City’s Casco Viejo a crowd was gathered in the plaza in front of the cathedral, where the new junta declared Panamanian independence. Teddy Roosevelt immediately recognized the new US ally. The next day the new country’s flag was unfurled, which is why November 4 is a holiday too.

The Nashville was but one of 10 ships that Roosevelt sent to the isthmus. What was a Colombian naval commander who was duty-bound to resist the dismemberment of his country to do in such an impossible situation? At the very least, there was an obligation to avoid being accused of giving up without firing a shot. Thus a single cannon shot was fired. It hit a vegetable cart, killing the Chinese vendor and his loyal donkey. Duty thus discharged, the warship fled back to its Colombian home port.

The Conservatives rigged things to hold onto power in a Liberal-majority Panama for a few years, for example by declaring that the Liberal leader in Panama, Belisario Porras, wasn’t a citizen and couldn’t run for office. Panama was sick of war, and particularly of Colombia’s never-ending wars, so Liberal Panamanians went along with independence under Conservative auspices, and with a disagreeable American enclave cutting the country in two. Within seven years the Conservatives began a terminal election losing streak, and within a generation they were extinct in Panama.

This is Panama!

So isn’t all of that a good excuse for a month of parades, days at the beach, seasonal tropical cloudbursts and little actual work getting done? Does anyone need an excuse? This is Panama and it’s holiday season from now through Carnival.

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Bernal, The selection of magistrates

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JC and the Supremes
“Sherman, set the Wayback Machine to 2011, and….” Archive photo by the Suprme Court.

The selection of magistrates

by Miguel Antonio Bernal

Amidst the gravest of crises for our country’s judiciary — with the growing lack of independence and transparency a given — more than 170 legal professionals have presented their resumes to vie for posts as magistrates of the Supreme Court of Justice.

The figure is revealing, as it appears that the president has already made his selection. Moreover, the methodology followed departs from real and genuine citizen participation, since three people from the Presidencia will reject — according to unknown criteria — almost all of the “candidates” for just 10 to be scrutinized by the Pacto de Estado por la Justicia, which in its great majority is composed of government functionaries.

I am of the opinion that the “public scrutiny” should be more extensively promoted and organized without the things that are hidden and the secrecy about the candidates. This is a public office and the public business should be in the public domain.

What are the criteria that the executive trio and their aides will use? What will be the references that the aspirants have — just their resumes? What will we know about their states of health? Will there be a psychological examination?

Will they tell us their records in the profession, works, writings, presentations at conferences or civic participation? Will they tell us their public records in defense of the rule of law? Will we know in detail their experience in the field of law for bench to which they hope to be nominated?

Will they answer in public 25 questions that a citizens’ jury asks? Will they reveal their family trees and show us their ties, if they have any, with legislators or their suplentes, ministers or vice ministers — or with current magistrates?

Will they show us their tax returns for the last 10 years, and at least 10 people to vouch for their qualifications to be magistrates? Will they tell us if they own shares in banks or media companies? Will they shut down their law offices?

We ask these and many other things. It’s our right as citizens in the process of choosing magistrates!

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