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Book chapter, The Streetwalkers of Panama: City Cats

rat's end
Here we see the economic basis for humanity’s alliance with the cats. Genetecists estimate that domestic cats parted ways with their Near Eastern wildcat relatives perhaps 70,000 to 100,000 years ago, based on how long it would have taken for so many varieties of domestic cats to have evolved. It was much later, at the dawn of agricultural civilization, that cats walked into human society. They were and largely still are feral independents living on the fringes, but eventually aspects of cats’ personalities make them welcome as members of human households.

City cats

Feral cats are an exotic species in the United States. With numbers in the millions, these animals are recognized as one of the most widespread and serious threats to the health and integrity of native wildlife populations and natural ecosystems. Feral cats present special challenges for wildlife managers because their negative impacts are poorly understood by the public. Feral cats and other exotic species have become accepted as part of the environment and considered “natural” by many people. Advocacy groups promote their continued presence and few policies and laws deal directly with their control.
California Department of Fish and Wildlife


The cats just sort of domesticated themselves. People today know that you can’t keep a cat inside, and 10,000 years ago in the Fertile Crescent you couldn’t just shut the window.
Carlos Driscoll
US National Cancer Institute geneticist


Over time, plants and animals that once thrived on our continent have been pushed to the brink. We need to step in, for their sake and for ours. That means humane culling of one of our wildlife’s worst enemies — feral cats.
Greg Hunt
Australia’s Federal Minister for the Environment


Feral cats live very closely with humans, and depend on humans for food. A small number of feral cats are a useful addition to any human dwelling area. Cats provide a very effective means of vermin control. Rats and mice are not problems when there is a feral cat community. Many people grow fond of the “regular” feral cats in an area. They do not need much food — often leaving out household scraps is enough to sustain them. Feral cats rarely carry any disease, which might put human health at risk. Most people would see a small, controlled population of feral cats as a positive, beneficial aspect of a housing estate.
The Cat & Dog Protection Society of Ireland


Particularly among those of us who have been raised in the faith of great world powers that are now in decline or at least in serious trouble, there are nihilistic ways of thinking out and about in the world. Every religion that is fervently embraced is rejected by more unbelievers than it has adherents and is increasingly subject to strident attacks. So do we reject faith in favor of reason? Do we pay attention only to “objective journalism?” Do we only believe in “scientific truth?” Do we, while straying from the grammatically correct distinction between one medium and several media, reject all journalism because “the media” — this singular phenomenon as popularly perceived — “is” controlled by a cabal of oligarchic manipulators whose intention is to deceive? Do we reject science because, “as everybody knows,” climate change is a hoax promoted by one-worlders like George Soros and Al Gore and endorsed by the great majority of scientists, who have been bribed or intimidated by an establishment that has let it be known that they won’t get grants to study anything if they don’t go along? You can find left and right variations on such conspiratorial themes, and certain proofs that much of the world actually works that way.

Need we go to Oriental philosophy to get our proper perspective on objective journalism? Take if from the late Chinese revolutionary and despot Mao Zedong, or from Chinese-American reporter and anchorwoman Joie Chen, in the different frameworks in which they respectively put it: “completely objective journalism” is myth. Yes, there is such a thing as truth, or “objective reality” if you want to couch the concept in Marxist jargon. But which facts are important — or to put it into the liberal capitalist formulation of The New York Times, are what constitute “news that’s fit to print” — is a matter of opinion. The Times, Fox News, Russia Today, Al Arabiya, TeleSur, Ha’aretz and Der Spiegel may all be populated by journalists who want to tell the truth, but they are looking at the world from different perspectives and will not all be reporting the same stories in the same way on any given day.

And can’t similar things be said about science? Set aside the insulting stereotypes that are at war with the open but skeptical minds of most worthy scientists. Set aside the scandalous existence of “experts for hire” who will testify to just about anything if the price is right. Discount all that, but can’t we still find something subjective in the particular questions that pique the interest of an individual scientist? Without getting into conspiracy theories, can’t we still recognize that there are institutional biases — plural — in the determination of which scientific inquiries get financial backing? Then when you get to the intersections of science and public policy, you are likely to find that no single scientifically verifiable or refutable assertion of fact answers a broader policy question. Public policy matters are typically multidisciplinary, often involving series of inquiries in separate fields of science, plus historical and cultural factors. The assertion of single scientific fact as determinative of a policy question, no matter how well proven it might be, is usually an exercise in lazy and dogmatic thinking. Even lazier and more dogmatic is the denial of well founded science based not on any reason to doubt but because it conflicts with one’s political position or perceived economic interests.

Panama City and most of the provincial towns are full of cats that nobody “owns. Some are strays, cats that were once socialized into a human household and were then abandoned or otherwise “lost.” Most are feral cats that may have lived all of their lives around people and probably in one way or another depend on human civilization for their sustenance, but they have never been pets and unless they are very young kittens will resist being socialized as such.

Cats are an exotic invasive species in Panama. So are dogs. So are mango trees. So are a lot of the pigeons and parrots found in the trees of our city parks. So are human beings. Does the definition resolve any public policy debate about what should be done about the urban feral cat populations that we find in Panama? Probably not, but it at least ought to be one of the facts that informs such a discussion.

We now know from genetic research that domestic cats diverged from Near Eastern wildcats, a species found in the Fertile Crescent around the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers. The oldest archaeological evidence of domestic cats living with people is from Cyprus and dates back some 9,500 years. It is presumed that with the rise of agricultural civilization about 10,000 years ago in the ancient Midldle East, domestic cats found it advantageous to move in with people and farmers found it useful to keep cats around.

The alliance between people and dogs is much older, most probably going back to cooperative relationships between pre-human hominid hunters and gatherers and wild dogs, most particularly certain species of wolves. People and dogs are both social animals, hunt well together and tend to become socialized to protect one another. But the relationship between people and cats is younger, arose in a different economic context and was shaped by distinct features of the feline personality.

The partnership between people and dogs was in large part an aggressive alliance, a joint assault on wild animals that both people and dogs wanted to eat. The defensive part of this partnership probably soon followed in form of protecting campgrounds or shelters from other wild animals, the defense of habitats that people were able to more effectively conquer or hold with canine assistance.

Cats walked into human society at a different point when other creatures were also coming around to visit people, and most particularly their granaries. Rats and mice will eat an awful lot of grain is they are allowed to do so, and can contaminate what they leave behind — via droppings, urine or arthropods — with microbes that can be quite harmful to people. Back when agriculture started in that part of the Middle East people didn’t know about microbes, but surely they noticed that the cats that came visiting liked to hunt the rodents that came to eat their food. That these strange, independent hunters could also become quite affectionate with the people whose homes they shared cemented the bonds of a great alliance. The cohabitation of cats and people spread and it wasn’t all that long before the neighbors in Egypt considered cats to be a divine species.

People and dogs invaded the Americas together, coming across an Ice Age land bridge where there is now the Bering Strait and from what the archaeological and paleontological records suggest, together hunting mammoths and other large animals to extinction. The human and canine exotic species invasion spread down through the Americas but precisely when and under what sorts of circumstances it first came through Panama may only be inferred. Sea levels were much lower then and it is believed that early migrants made their way down coastal areas that are now underwater. The oldest human habitations encountered in South America are substantially older than the oldest human finds in Panama. The earliest human traces that archaeologists have found on the isthmus are of people living with dogs and doing a bit of hunting, a bit of gathering, a bit of agriculture and a bit of fishing.

Cats came to Panama with another, later exotic species invasion, on ships with largely Spanish crews. Yes, a famous Italian explorer came by these shores early in that invasion, and had a bad time of it here. Records suggest that North Africans were also among the early Spanish crews. That would make sense if one knows the history of Spain, large parts of which were occupied by Arabs for more than 700 years and which still occupies a small part of North Africa.

The Spanish Inquisition was largely about getting everyone in the Spanish Empire to suppress and deny any Muslim or Jewish influences. Some of these proved rather impossible to hide. Earlier, when Islam broke out of the Arabian Peninsula and spread all the way to Spain on one side and eventually to the Philippines on the other, a lot of prior cultures were overrun and in part incorporated into Muslim ways but then, too, it was religiously correct to deny or minimize pre-Islamic cultural phenomena. But on its way to Spain the rapid expansion of Islam incorporated Egypt, with its cultural affinity for cats. Argue what you will about who borrowed what from whom, but the norm in Arab culture became that cats are Allah’s wonderful creatures and proper members of a Muslim household, while dogs are disgusting, dirty things, nearly as disreputable as pigs. And when a Spain that had been steeped in Arab influence that it desperately wanted to deny invaded Panama, the Spaniards came with vicious military dogs, on ships where cats were kept as pets and to keep rodents out of the ships’ food supplies. The Spanish war dogs couldn’t take Panamanian conditions and failed to leave much of a mark on the existing canine population, but domestic cats thrived on the isthmus.

Cats were far from the only exotic species that invaded Panama as part of the European Conquest. Many plants and animals came here from many places. Two of the more noteworthy exotic mammal species that came were horses and cattle. Ecologists will often talk about the destructive impact of cattle grazing, but far less frequent is a discussion about cattle as an invasive species that must be extirpated. In parts of the western United States, however, control of feral horses on federal lands is a public policy issue, with those who love the “wild” mustangs and those who don’t.

Then there were other mammals, raised as neither pets nor servants nor sources of meat, who came to Panama with the European invaders. These were the rats, two species in particular.

One of these, the Norway rat or brown rat — Rattus norvegicus — is believe to have originally come from northern China. This a relatively large rat as far as the muroids go, and it likes to burrow into the ground, or into structures made by people. It is the dominant rat species in Europe and much of North America and is present on all continents except for Antarctica. If you see rats scurrying down a Panama City alley, they are probably Norway rats.

Also present in Panama, and far more prolific here, is the black rat, Rattus rattus. These creatures, with smaller bodies but longer tails than the Norway rats, have been an especially terrible scourge of humanity. Thought to have originated in Southeast Asia, they spread through India to the Middle East and then into the Roman Empire. They were the reservoirs of the Pasteurella pestis microbes that were transmitted to humans via the bites of fleas which live on the rats to cause bubonic plague. In the middle of the 14th century Europe’s economic, social, political and religious orders were disrupted by the Black Death, a series of bubonic plague outbreaks that killed at least one-quarter of the European population.

In Panama the black rat is the most widespread rodent species. In urban settings it’s a climber found on rooftops and scurrying around on false ceilings. In rural settings it’s arboreal and a major agricultural pest for those who grow orchard crops.

The black rat is, however, not the most numerous of Panama’s 54 known rodent species. That distinction goes to the short-tailed cane mouse, Zygodontomys brevicauda, a species indigenous to the region, also an agricultural pest and also at times a disease vector.

Thus if domestic cats are an invasive exotic species, they are not the only ones on the scene. After they have become established parts of many environmental niches, the removal of feral cats will have a number of environmental effects, one of which is likely to be a spike in local rodent populations. There will also, however, be less predation of birds, lizards, snakes and other animals. Domestic cats, like certain people and unlike their distant wild cousins who are indigenous to Panama, will hunt for the fun of it. How serious a toll taken on wildlife by feral cats — and by pet cats who are fully domesticated members of human households who go out to hunt or who terrorize the geckos that populate most Panamanian homes — is a matter worthy of serious scientific debate.

But how ferocious, unscientific and even anti-scientific the debates can get!

Three ornithologists from the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center and Towson State University studied the survival rate of gray catbird fledglings in three locales of the Maryland suburbs of Washington DC. There were 69 birds counted, of which 42 did not survive to adulthood. The scientists observed six of the birds being killed by cats, and inferred from circumstances that anther three had fallen victim to feline predation. Other known predators killed 10 of the juvenile birds, while 14 succumbed to unknown predators. Predation was not much of a problem in one of the three venues.

So a press release by the Smithsonian National Zoo spun it in this way: “Sadly, predators were responsible for 79 percent of the mortalities of the juvenile catbirds in the study. Of those deaths, nearly half were attributed to cats….” But Alley Cat Allies, a grouip that is for spaying and protecting feral cat populations, replied with its “Breaking Down the Bogus Smithsonian Catbird Study” online post: “The number of deaths attributable to cats is 9 birds out of 69 — or 13% — not 47%.” The pro-cat group argued that the scientists’ work “is a limited study that cannot be extrapolated to represent the complex cat-bird dynamic nationwide” and that “much more disturbing, however, is how this data has been manipulated to malign cats and used widely to dredge up a false and counterproductive debate.”

Cats are predators with respect to many species of birds? How can anyone who knows cats deny it? How serious the predation problem would be surely depends on the species, the characteristics of the locale and the size and concentration of the cat population in that place. The study is what it is and would seem to call for more research in more places, with respect to more species of birds and making more measurements of the environmental contexts. To dismiss it out of hand or to exaggerate its findings both seem to be the sorts of dogmatic responses that characterize so much public discourse about so many different subjects in the United States these days.

But consider how intellectually lazy the “pro-science” argument that the study indicates that feral cat populations ought to be removed can be. Set aside all of the beside-the-point counter-arguments about how loss of habitat due to human activities takes a worse toll on the birds. Look at the other variables of the public policy problem, first of all the realities about cats.

This issue was presented to another branch of the Smithsonian Institution, in Panama. The Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute — STRI — maintains its headquarters in Ancon on the site of the old Tivoli Hotel, within eyesight of Panama’s legislative palace. Part of its grounds is a tiny forest fragment with both native and exotic species of trees, a relatively serene spot in a loud and chaotic city that attracts birds and is home to ñequis — indigenous forest rodents whose English name is agoutis but in most Panamanian English conversations will referred to by their local Spanish name, often with an anglicized pronunciation. On the other side of a busy roadway that’s hazardous to cats, people and other living things, there are the grounds of the legislative palace and an adjacent little urban park which together are home to a feral cat population, plus the hardscrabble and densely populated urban neighborhoods of San Miguel and Hollywood that also have feral cats. (There is nothing glamorous about the latter place.) “Safely” on STRI’s side of the road and down a hill from the little forest fragment there is a partially residential area that includes the National Police’s Directorate of Judicial Investigations complex. There are people who live or work in the area who feed the feral cats. Go another direction, uphill, from STRI and there are churches, government offices, courts, a cancer hospital and residences before one gets to Ancon Hill National Park, a magnificent tropical forest fragment that’s home to many wild species and one of the crown jewels of Panama’s capital city.

STRI’s Ancon headquarters had feral cats and went to Spay Panama, asking for the group’s assistance to remove the felines.

Understand about STRI: set in a country with one of the world’s very worst educational systems, it’s world-class research and educational institution, heavily weighted toward biological investigations but also home to geologists, anthropologists and scientists in other fields.

Spay Panama’s founder and director, Patricia Chan, is a retired financial planner. Not just an ordinary one. Under the US administration of the Panama Canal that ended on the last day of 1999, she was director of financial planning for the canal. The woman knows mathematics and she knows and loves cats, but she’s not a scientist in the sense that most of the people who work at STRI are.

However, it fell to Pat Chan to explain some things about the nature of feral cat populations to the scientists at STRI. Take all of the feral cats away from STRI’s little forest fragment in Ancon — “put them to sleep” to use the polite American term for a practice to which most Panamanians object, find them another home or whatever, but just get rid of them — and what will you accomplish? Sooner rather than later other feral cats from surrounding areas will move in and claim the niche as their own and the same problem will arise.

It’s much better, Chan argued, to capture the feral cats, neuter them and put them back to from whence they came. They will hold the territory against other cats, but won’t be adding to the population problem. STRI, whose staff includes cat lovers and those who would prefer a world without domestic cats, took her advice.

The capture, neuter and release strategy for dealing with feral cat populations is gaining adherents in many places around the world. In many places it faces bitter opposition.

Set aside traditional Humane Society operations that have vested contractual interests in the capture and kill if not adopted approach — with respect to feral cats it’s almost always a death sentence because these animals don’t want to be held by people or kept indoors. Set aside those who for whatever emotional reason just don’t like cats. Set aside the uninformed or misinformed. There can be reasons for opposing the maintenance of a feral cat population in a given area, spayed or not.

In some places there are wildlife species that have had no natural predators and are incapable of withstanding the ravages of hunting by feral cats. This is probably more true in Australia than on any other continent, and is certainly true on some small islands.

Feral cats carry diseases, it is argued. The one most often cited is toxoplasmosis, infestation by the internal parasite Toxoplasma gondii. Cats, dogs and other animals can carry it and humans can catch it too. Most human infections are just a nuisance that can be easily treated, but undetected and untreated for long enough in a child it can cause some serious damage, including blindness. But how are most human infections contracted? Not from exposure cats but by the improper handling of food.

It’s not a healthy thing for children to be playing in a sandbox that cats — pets or feral — may use as a litterbox. But forget about trying to train, eliminate or repel cats. Every proper children’s sandbox has a cat-proof cover for when it’s not in use.

So is there a middle path between denial and extreme measures that don’t actually work? Chan thinks that there is. “Overpopulation of cats is definitely a threat to public health. Cats in dumpsters are more prone to internal and external parasites and yet they help humans by keeping the rodent population under control, especially around dumpsters.” Through the capture, neuter and release approach she seeks to gradually reduce feral cat populations and the problems that they can cause. Meanwhile, any cat that comes through Spay Panama is treated for parasites and vaccinated against a number of diseases.

Perhaps the best showcase for what Spay Panama has been doing is at Plaza Francia, in the capital’s historic Casco Viejo. It’s adjacent to the French Embassy, not far from the presidential palace. Not too many years ago it was home to a large population of underfed and unhealthy cats who would compete for the food that kindly tourists and regular cat feeders had to offer. A lot of the males bore marks from fights with other cats. There are still feral cats prowling Plaza Francia, but after years of Spay Panama’s attention there are fewer of them and those who remain on the whole look a lot healthier.

The visible results of the capture, neuter and release strategy in Plaza Francia and other areas of Panama City seem to have won the public policy debate, at least on the municipal level. One of the first things that the current mayor of Panama City, José Isabel Blandón Figueroa, did upon assuming office was to set up a city Office of Animal Welfare that works closely with Spay Panama. Blandón’s policy is rooted both in a realization that too many feral cats and homeless dogs roaming the streets are a problem, but that the notion of rounding up and killing as many of them as possible is unacceptable to most Panamanians. The movement fits the national attitude, and has caught on in much of the rest of the country, with similar and allied groups doing the same sorts of things that Spay Panama does.


This and the following photo were taken on an early evening walk down a stree in Ancon that begins near the back entrance to STRI and ends at the DIJ. These are two of the many feral cats that aroused the concern of Panama's outpost of the Smithsonian.
This and the following photo were taken on an early evening walk down a street in Ancon that begins near the back entrance to STRI and ends at the DIJ. These are two of the many feral cats who aroused the concern of Panama’s outpost of the Smithsonian.


 DIJ cat


Casco bench
OF COURSE the Casco Viejo’s benches were installed for the cats. Ask any feline. Photo by José F. Ponce.


hurt male
Male cats who are not neutered and live on the streets get into fights and they get hurt. Neutering makes them less aggressive, but they will still defend their habitat and food supply.


hangig in the Casco
Hanging out in the Casco Viejo. Notice the ginger kitty’s clipped ear. When Spay Panama spays or neuters a cat, they mark the animal in this way. Photo by José F. Ponce.


furtive feral
Cats who have been socialized in a human household but come to find themselves living on the street may come up to greet a stranger. Rarely is that so with a cat who has never been “owned.” Feral cats may eventually develop a trusting relationship with a regular feeder, but they generally do not want to play, be petted, be picked up or be taken away to live indoors with people. They tend to hide when people are about — under cars, in drain pipes, in the many cracks and crevices of the urban landscape.


A lazy afternoon under a car on an Amador parking lot.


Amador kitten
This kitten was almost certainly not born feral, but was abandoned by people on the Amador Causeway.


is she?
Is she somebody’s cat, or her own? Photo by José F. Ponce.


night watch
Night watch in the Casco Viejo — it’s a tough job, but somebody has to do it. Photo by José F. Ponce


minisuper cat
This cat has a mini-super job.


UP cats
People who feed feral cats are part of who Panamanians are. These University of Panama cats depend on this woman and others like her. In jurisdictions where “animal control” takes a capture and kill approach to feral cats, cat feeding is often a crime. There are Panamanians who denigrate cat feeders. One of the insults of Panamanian political culture is to compare politicians and their entourages with cat feeders and a crowd of feral cats. But any attempt to suppress cat feeding would meet with widespread public disapproval. Photo by José F. Ponce.


Casco feed
Cat feeding time in the Casco Viejo. Photo by José F. Ponce.


Amador lunch
Leftover chicken and rice for lunch on Amador…


Juan Diaz
… and in Panama City’s sprawling corregimiento of Juan Diaz…


Anton cats
… and in the town of Anton.


feeding time?
Is it time to eat? Photo by José F. Ponce.


little donor button

Turner, El acoso a la Defensoría Universitaria


¡Vaya Magnífico!La necesidad de garantizar la independencia e institucionalidad de la Defensoría Universitaria

El acoso a la Defensoría Universitaria

por Anayansi Turner — MOVADUP

El 22 de marzo de 2012 fui escogida como primera Defensora de los Derechos de los Universitarios, por el Consejo General Universitario (CGU) de la Universidad de Panamá, para el período 2012-2017, en cumplimiento de la Ley No 24 de 2005, Orgánica de dicha institución.

Esta Ley, haciéndose eco de experiencias exitosas de otros países del continente americano y europeo, creó la figura del Defensor, a través de su artículo 79, y enfatizó en su carácter independiente y su función de “velar por los derechos de los estudiantes, profesores y administrativos”. Sus otras funciones estarían consignadas en el Estatuto Universitario y los reglamentos correspondientes. En el 2009 entró a regir el nuevo Estatuto, el cual señala (artículo 367) que las actuaciones del Defensor “no estarán sometidas a mandato imperativo de ninguna autoridad u órgano de gobierno de la Universidad de Panamá, por lo que tiene un carácter independiente”.

Un año y tres meses después de encontrarme en el ejercicio de mis funciones, específicamente, el 17 de julio de 2013, fui “suspendida provisionalmente” de mi cargo y sometida a “proceso disciplinario”, en abierta violación a ese mismo Estatuto que no contempla la medida de suspensión, sino de remoción por hechos debidamente comprobados; luego de una cadena de actos de hostigamiento a mi labor, por parte de las autoridades universitarias, que impedían de hecho, el funcionamiento de la Defensoría Universitaria.

El 12 de agosto de 2013, el Magistrado Sustanciador del Amparo de Garantías Constitucionales presentado por mi persona ante la Corte Suprema de Justicia, José Ayú Prado, acoge dicho Recurso y ordena el reintegro a mi posición en virtud del artículo 2621 del Código Judicial, cuestión que no se efectuó, por lo que nos vimos en la necesidad de SOLICITAR DESACATO, ante lo cual el CGU, mediante Acuerdo No 2-15, de 26 de mayo de 2015 (casi dos años después), decide reincorporarme al cargo de Defensora de los Derechos de los Universitarios, sin goce de salarios caídos.

Una vez reintegrada a mi posición se repite la historia: se dan una serie de hechos dirigidos a impedir el normal funcionamiento de esta Oficina, que pasamos a enumerar como sigue:

1. NO REINTEGRO A MI CÁTEDRA COMO DOCENTE UNIVERSITARIA. Tanto la Ley como el Estatuto universitarios contemplan como prerrequisito para ser Defensor, el ostentar el cargo de profesor titular tiempo completo. Sin embargo, desde el 12 de diciembre de 2013 fui suspendida inconstitucional e ilegalmente de mi posición de profesora y se me abre otro proceso disciplinario, esta vez, por parte del Consejo de Facultades de las Ciencias Sociales y Humanísticas, frente a lo cual presento amparo de garantías constitucionales, mismo que es decidido a mi favor a través de Fallo No 10 de 7 de marzo de 2014, emitido por el Juzgado Sexto de Circuito de lo Civil. Sin embargo, hasta la fecha no se da cumplimiento a dicho Fallo, pese a haber sido declaradas en desacato las autoridades miembros de dicho Consejo.

2. NULO PRESUPUESTO. A nuestro retorno a la Defensoría Universitaria nos encontramos con que las partidas presupuestarias del Despacho fueron centralizadas en la Rectoría a partir de mayo de 2015, pudiendo sólo disponer de un total de B/ 352.56 para el resto del año, sin considerar absolutamente rubros como: personal técnico y administrativo, mobiliario, útiles y materiales de oficina, transporte y viáticos. Hemos cursado Nota al Vicerrector Administrativo, del 22 de junio de los corrientes, sin que hasta la fecha se nos dé respuesta a nuestras necesidades más inmediatas.

3. CARENCIA DE ESTRUCTURA ORGÁNICA. Desde el 25 de abril de 2012 hicimos entrega al Director General de Planificación Universitaria, propuesta de Estructura Administrativa del Despacho, sin que hasta la fecha haya habido aprobación de la misma.

4. NO NOMBRAMIENTO DE DEFENSOR ADJUNTO. No obstante, nuestra petición de nombramiento de Defensor Adjunto, al señor Rector, desde el 2013 y a través de nota reiterativa del 30 de julio de este año, aún no se nos nombra al mismo, a pesar de que es una potestad del Defensor principal, su nominación.

5. TRASLADO DE PERSONAL DE LA DEFENSORÍA A OTRAS OFICINAS Y NO NOMBRAMIENTO DE NUEVAS UNIDADES. Una vez el CGU aprueba mi reintegro a la Defensoría se produce el traslado de 3 unidades (2 abogadas y una administradora), por lo que acudimos a solicitar al señor Rector el nombramiento de tres personas que las sustituyeran, lo cual nos fue negado por la Directora de Recursos Humanos, alegando no existencia de fondos disponibles.

6. NO APROBACIÓN DE REGLAMENTO DE LA DEFENSORÍA. El 30 de octubre de 2012 presentamos a consideración del CGU, por vía del Secretario General y de la Rectoría, propuesta de Reglamento, en virtud de nuestra facultad que nos otorga el artículo 369, literal d, del Estatuto universitario. Sin embargo, dicha propuesta fue enviada al Consejo Académico el 5 de junio de 2013 y sometida a revisión de Comisión de este Consejo, reenvío que NO corresponde a las funciones de este último órgano de gobierno, sino al CGU. Se ha dilatado injustificadamente la aprobación, lo cual dificulta el funcionamiento de la Defensoría, la cual tiene que utilizar, para la tramitación de quejas y denuncias, la Ley 38 de 2000, que se refiere al procedimiento general en la administración pública.

7. DESALOJO DE NUESTRAS OFICINAS. El jueves 13 de agosto recibimos la visita de representante de la empresa Arco, para notificarnos que a partir del 17 de este mes iniciaría trabajos para la habilitación del espacio que hoy ocupamos para su conversión en “Sala de Audiencias”, a petición del señor Decano de Derecho y Ciencias Políticas, sin que exista garantías de existencia de otras oficinas donde podamos funcionar adecuadamente.

8. INCOMUNICACIÓN CON ÓRGANOS DE GOBIERNO Y AUTORIDADES UNIVERSITARIAS. Los funcionarios de Secretaría General de la Universidad de Panamá han recibido instrucciones de no citarnos para las reuniones de los órganos de cogobierno universitarios, cuando el artículo 369 del Estatuto dice que parte de nuestras funciones es asistir a dichas reuniones. Por otro lado, existe una actitud generalizada de las diversas autoridades universitarias de no darnos respuesta a nuestros Oficios, donde les solicitamos un Informe acerca de los hechos planteados por los quejosos, cuando el derecho de petición establecido en la Constitución Política significa recibir respuesta en un plazo no mayor de 30 días.

La Defensoría de los Universitarios de la Universidad de Panamá forma parte de los mecanismos de protección de sus derechos humanos con que cuentan las personas, en este caso, los universitarios. No respetar su independencia, no dotar de los recursos humanos y materiales necesarios para su funcionamiento y no cooperar para garantizar su institucionalidad como ente de fiscalización y garantía de la legalidad, es afectar el acceso a la justicia a que tiene derecho un conglomerado importante de individuos como lo son más de 50,000 universitarios de esta institución.

Denunciamos a la faz de la entidad y del país, el atentado a la independencia e institucionalidad de la Defensoría de los Universitarios que se ha venido gestando desde el momento mismo en que fuimos escogidos, hasta la fecha, y manifestamos que seguiremos luchando en contra de su desnaturalización y manipulación, pues tal como lo reconoce la Comisión Interamericana de Derechos Humanos (CIDH) de la Organización de Estados Americanos, en su 2º Informe sobre la Situación de las Defensoras y los Defensores de Derechos Humanos en las Américas, las instituciones nacionales de defensa de los derechos humanos bajo la figura de “ombudsman o defensores del pueblo” juegan un importante rol “en el avance en la consolidación de las instituciones democráticas”.


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Corruption scandals are taking a toll on Panama’s banking system


banking district This time the problem isn’t the direct threat of official sanctions, but major US and European banks that increasingly cut their risks by limiting their dealings with Panamanian banks in the wake of multiple major scandals

Hot money causes quiet boycott

by Eric Jackson

There are problems that nobody cares to explain. It’s not that the ATM machine isn’t working — other people are taking money out — but THIS foreign credit card won’t work. That international funds transfer is taking longer than the usual forever, with nobody offering a coherent explanation. Are there published statistics about how often this is happening and where, now and by comparison with the past? Of course not — this is Panama.

But early in August, someone at the Banking Superintendency who wished not to be identified let something slip to La Estrella. About 25 major banks, mostly in the United States and Europe, have cut off their corresponding bank relationships with banks in Panama.

Why does that matter? Let’s say that you want to move money from your account in the Boondocks Main Street Bank in a small US state, using your debit card at the ATM machine at Banco Narcotrafico SA. For these two small institutions to effect an international money transfer would take a long time if they were the only ones involved. For speed and convenience a third bank becomes involved as the corresponding bank, which covers the transaction while it is percolating through the two smaller institutions, allowing for much quicker service. Without a corresponding bank Boondocks Main Street Bank and Banco Narcotrafico could still handle the transaction between themselves, but it just takes much longer.

By reputation and according to their occasional statements, the consensus in Panama’s banking center ever since the aftermath of the 1989 US invasion has been to get out of the money laundering business. But exactly what that business is and how it is defined and regulated are all evolving. Back in 1990 it meant transactions involving the proceeds of organized crime, usually drug trafficking or peculation by Third World dictators. Later the financing of terrorism — itself a changing concept — came into play. There arose the notion of Politically Exposed Persons (PEPs), those in government posts amenable to vast peculation or massive bribery, and then members of their families through whose accounts ill-gotten gains might flow. The parking of the profits of tax evasion in places like Panama became a big concern to the United States and a number of other jurisdictions.

As the scrutiny increased, PEPs increasingly took advantage of anonymous shell corporations in jurisdictions like Panama that have corporate secrecy. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), largely reflecting the concerns of the more industrialized countries, spun off a Financial Action Task Force (FATF) to pressure countries like Panama to reform their financial systems’ practices so as to be less corruption-friendly. Panama has chronically lived under threat of blacklisting and sanctions by the OECD and FATF. Many changes in Panamanian banking and corporate laws have been adopted to avoid sanctions, perhaps the most noteworthy being that Panama will now share tax information with the governments of the richer countries.

Still, evasion games that had been played for a long time took on grandiose proportions during the Martinelli administration, and most of the biggest recent financial scandals seem to have had Panama connections. One might say that Panama has become a convenient scapegoat, but it’s not as if we are an innocent country being framed.

Financial scandals in Spain’s royal family prompted the king to abdicate, and where did the ex-monarch’s corrupt son-in-law and daughter launder the money? Actually, in a number of places, with Panama as a link along a money laundering chain that was allegedly organized by a Panamanian law firm. Spain’s ruling but discredited Partido Popular allegedly used the same sort of organization and some of the same people to send bribe money on a circuitous route to politicians’ Swiss bank accounts.

Switzerland is not innocent, but its banking industry claims to be cleaning up its act and taking an unfair share of blame. “Switzerland has a fundamental interest in ensuring that no illicit assets of politically exposed persons (PEPs) –- so-called potentate funds –- enter its financial center,” a notice by Swiss bank regulators said. “PEPs are persons who exercise prominent public functions abroad, specifically heads of state and government, senior politicians at national level, and senior officials in the government, judiciary, military and parties at national level, as well as in the highest bodies in state-owned companies of national importance.” All well and good — but what happens when the dealings are with front people, or with anonymously held corporations?

Switzerland, of all jurisdictions, also ought to know about games that get played in international organizations that are powerful and wealthy, but not strictly governmental. For example, the soccer world’s ruling body, FIFA. On May 27 six of the organization’s top figures were arrested on US warrants at a hotel in Zurich, where they had come for a meeting at FIFA world headquarters in that Swiss city. The US indictment was far more extensive, aimed bribery and kickbacks in the awarding of media, marketing and sponsorship rights for soccer tournaments in the United States and Latin America and at the choice of Russia to host the 2018 World Cup and of Qatar as the host country in 2022. Arrests and extradition battles are still ongoing.

One of the allegations in the US indictment is about a kickback made to the Trinidadian principal defendant Jeffery Webb to steer a soccer uniform contract to a company in the Colon Free Zone, with the illicit payoff made through Capital Bank in Panama City. The indictment describes a:

wire transfer of $1,100,000 from Traffic International’s account at Delta National Bank & Trust Co. in Miami, Florida, to a Wells Fargo correspondent account in New York, New York, for credit to an account in the name of Soccer Uniform Company A at Capital Bank in Panama City, Panama.

None of the banks or people who work at them were charged. Perhaps some people in those institutions were key informants for US investigators. But on the face of it, Wells Fargo would not have known that it was acting as correspondent bank for a transaction involving a top FIFA official. And look at the other banks also mentioned, but not charged, in the FIFA indictment:

  • Citi Private Bank
  • Delta National Bank & Trust Co. (Miami)
  • Banco do Brasil
  • First Citizens Bank (Trinidad & Tobago)
  • Barclays Bank (Cayman Islands)
  • Bank Itau (New York)
  • Bank of America
  • Republic Bank (Trinidad & Tobago)
  • First Caribbean International Bank (Bahamas)
  • Delta Bank (Qatar)
  • Intercommercial Bank (Trinidad & Tobago)
  • HSBC Bank (Hong Kong)
  • Standard Chartered Bank (New York)
  • Fidelity Bank (Cayman Islands)
  • SunTrust Bank (Georgia)
  • JP Morgan Chase Bank (New York and Miami)
  • Espirito Santo Bank (Miami)
  • Bank Hapoalim (Zurich)
  • Bank Julius Baer (Zurich)

We know from other financial scandals that some of the biggest banks mentioned — and the ones most likely to play the correspondent banking role — are also quite dirty. But in the FIFA case will the plea nevertheless be that respectable and innocent companies were had by hustlers from the sporting world hiding behind front people and shell companies?

US justice is not the only system looking at FIFA. A relatively newer part of the mega-scandal that’s rocking Brazil and has landed construction giant Odebrecht’s CEO, Marcelo Odebrecht, behind bars is a probe into contracts for the building of soccer stadiums in Brazil for the 2014 World Cup. Most of the Brazilian scandal, though, is about bid rigging with respect to the state-owned Petrobras oil company, for the construction of offshore oil drilling platforms and other projects. These alleged crimes mostly would have taken place when Lula da Silva was president and the current president, Dilma Rousseff, was the minister in charge of Petrobras. A complicated, mostly three-stage, money laundering process allegedly moved the kickbacks from Odebrecht to three Petrobras executives. These involve money movements through shell companies in Panama, Switzerland, Austria, the British Virgin Islands, Antigua & Barbuda, Belize, Monaco and Uruguay. A Panamanian company called Constructora Internacional del Sur and controlled by Ricardo Martinelli’s cousin Frankie Martinelli, was signed up as a mysterious subcontractor for the Odebrecht-FCC consortium that built Line One of the Panama City Metro. Constructora Internacional del Sur did not appear to actually do any construction work on the project, but some $3 million did pass through its accounts at Credicorp Bank in Panama City to three Petrobras executives. The company was dissolved shortly after Ricardo Martinelli left office.

The relationship between Odebrecht and the Panamanian government is something of a taboo subject here. If the company has been dirty all along and the slime has rubbed off on every administration with which it dealt, all major Panamanian political parties would be implicated. Consider, though, one curious fact: that viaduct that Odebrecht built around the Casco Viejo cost some $300 million per kilometer to build, making it one of world history’s most expensive stretches of road. It’s a perhaps relevant starting point for questions because in all at least $47 million passed through the accounts of Constructora Internacional del Sur.

But would a corresponding bank have known enough to smell something funny? First of all, a president’s cousin would not be considered a PEP under many working definitions at the time. Moreover, Frankie Martinelli’s name did not appear anywhere on the Constructora Internacional del Sur papers on file at the Registro Publico. It was in the name of his chauffeur, who says he had nothing to do with running the operation and does not appear to have been a beneficiary.

The corresponding banks, which are at least theoretically subject to law enforcement and regulatory pressures in their own countries, are supposed to pay special attention to accounts linked to PEPs. But the Odebrecht / Petrobras / Constructora Internacional del Sur / Frankie Martinelli connection, by the design of Panamanian law, is supposed to fly under foreign corresponding banks’ radar. And in the Odebrecht and Petrobras scandal, Martinelli’s company was only one of six Panamanian companies through which money flowed to the three Petrobras execs.

Odebrecht is huge and notorious, and might be taken by the financial world as a singularity, whose operations are not indicative of Panamanian practices. However, there are more than 160 separate criminal investigations of various allegedly corrupt situations during the Martinelli administration. In just one of these, former National Assistance Program (PAN) director Rafael Guardia Jaén has identified these banks as having taken deposits of funds corruptly obtained from that governmental entity:

  • Global Bank
  • Banco General
  • Unibank
  • Banesco
  • St. Georges Bank
  • Banistmo

The government took control of Banco Universal, which served as a clearinghouse for much of the Martinelli administration’s corruption and has thus proven to be a rich source of information that has led to other banks and companies involved in the laundering of money obtained by public officials and their confederates through bribery, kickbacks or theft. The organized crime prosecutor is looking into a complaint about 13 bankers for allegedly laundering the proceeds of Martinelli administration corruption. Their banks include:

  • Banco General
  • Global Bank
  • La Hipotecaria
  • Credicorp Bank
  • St. Georges Bank
  • Banco Universal
  • Balboa Bank & Trust
  • Banistmo
  • Banesco
  • Towerbank International
  • Unibank
  • Banco Ficohsa
  • Banco Panama

Meanwhile, Panama’s Banking Superintendent has announced that 16 Panama City banks are being investigated over money laundering offenses. Few further details, however, have been provided about this.

The complaint from abroad is that many of these accounts were then used to send money out of Panama, but the corresponding banks dealing with those transactions were given no heads-up from this country that they were dealing with Politically Exposed Persons. And thus it seems that many of the important corresponding banks have cut those ties with the Panamanian banking system. It is bound to be inconvenient for ordinary bank customers who have nothing at all to do with Panamanian politics or the money laundering underworld, and if it gets bad enough that ATM machines won’t work for foreign visitors it would be a huge blow to Panamanian tourism.


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The Panama News blog links, August 18, 2015


Percusson 1

Percussion 2
For the schedule of Central American Percussion Festival events, click here

The Panama News blog links, August 18, 2015

Video, Transistmico Project – Anhelos

Video: Sequía, calado de buques y ampliación, temas abordados por Quijano

The Maritime Executive, Maersk’s new ships too big for the expanded canal

Video, How the expanded Panama Canal will work

Rodríguez Gelfenstein: El canal de Nicaragua, una ruta para la paz y el encuentro

EFE, Justine Pasek rechaza ser jurado en Miss USA por declaraciones de Trump

El País, José Andrés no está solo contra Trump

Prensa Latina, Panamanian documentary gets three nominations in Milan

Washington Post, DC United begins CONCACAF Champions League play in Panama

Mella & Gorriti, Pagos panameños

Blades & La Prensa, Coima

AFP, Víctimas de espionaje telefónico en Panamá acusan a Martinelli

R. Baker, China’s crisis

D. Baker, China’s currency devaluation and the Fed

Varoufakis, A new approach to Eurozone sovereign debt

Emmott, The great emerging market bubble

Cole, Poll: only 1 in 4 American want more US involvement abroad

TeleSur, Key evidence missing in Ayotzinapa case

AFP, Marchas en 101 ciudades de Brasil contra Dilma Rousseff

WOLA, Bolivia’s innovative coca policy

STRI, El Niño sets record in Panama Canal Watershed

Video, The tiny pygmy sloth of Panama

Mongabay, Hunted orcas spotlight Caribbean whaling

Wise, The GM labeling law to end all labeling laws

Baerga, La comunicación que nos hace ‘más latinoamericanos’

Marichal, Puerto Rico after the default

Fresh Plaza, Bocas banana strike settled

Book Fair


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The Democratic presidential candidates at the Iowa State Fair


The Democrats at the Iowa State Fair

Hillary Clinton

Bernie Sanders

Jim Webb

Martin O’Malley

Lincoln Chafee


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The Panama News blog links, August 13, 2015

Ocean water temperatures. by NOAA. For full size click here.
Ocean water temperatures. by NOAA. For full size click here.

Video, I-Nesta — ¿De qué sirve una bala?

The FCPA Blog, SAP exec in USA pleads guilty to bribing Martinelli administration

Pan-Am Post, Panama to investigate Martinelli in Hacking Team spy scandal

Gandásegui, El ‘círculo cero’ de la corrupción y de los negocios

Blouin News, Panamax 2015 maneuvers

JOC, Suez expansion and Panama restrictions won’t impact trade — for now

Footwear News, Will PanCanal draft restrictions affect shoe companies?

O’Grady, China wants to dig the Nicaragua canal

MarineLink.com, China to dig the Nicaragua canal with a change in layout

Gulf News, Emirates to fly world’s longest route to Panama

Goal.com, Seattle Sounders sign Roman Torres

The Guardian, Costa Rica coach Paulo Wanchope quits after Panama fisticuffs

Video, Surf With Amigas goes to Panama

IPS, Papa Francisco se une a la batalla contra los transgénicos

Ehrlich & Ehrlich, How humans cause mass extinctions

The Guardian, Stores in Europe take glyphosate off their shelves

AP, Panama’s weird octopus species

Mongabay, Drones against wildlife poaching

Hsu, China’s clean energy plans

STRATFOR, Russia is destroying its food

Carlsen, Hunted down in Mexico for speaking out

Nation of Change, Reporters face charges in Ferguson

Greenwald, Democrats delude themselves about Gitmo

Consortium News, Gauging the violent “Fox Effect”

Abu-Jamal, Trump and the politics of resentment

Rolling Stone: Bern, baby, Bern!

Castro, Puerto Rico: Estado poco libre, asociado y… en bancarrota

El País, Latinoamérica teme por la devaluación de China

EFE, Panamá reduce déficit de sector público no financiero

SouthNews, UN committee adopts principles for sovereign debt restructuring

History Channel, Six disastrous economic bubbles

Prensa Latina, Panamá elabora su inventario de patrimonio cultural inmaterial

BankTrack, The dodgy banks of Barro Colorado

Jazz Corner, Berklee brings music therapy and jazz workshops to Panama


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Water emergency: meanwhile on the Amador Causeway…

Maybe 50 meters south of the Balboa Yacht Club, a chronically broken water main has burst again.

Yes, we do have a drought and it is an emergency — but badly maintained water systems don’t help matters

water main


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Rescate Torrijista, Un nuevo pacto político


Treinta-anos-de-la-muerte-de-general-Torrijos-artifice-de-tratados-del-CanalFundamentos para un nuevo pacto político

por la Coordinadora Nacional Pro del PRD

Los resultados de las elecciones de mayo de 2014, colocaron al PRD ante una derrota sin precedentes lo que obligó de forma responsable a algunos grupos, dirigentes históricos y corrientes vigentes dentro del colectivo, a iniciar procesos de debate, construcción de acuerdos y acciones, que coincidiesen en el propósito de viabilizar la regeneración revolucionaria y democrática del Partido, el realineamiento con los principios, doctrina y prácticas que le dieron origen y sustento, de cara a generar una propuesta renovada y conducente a la reconquista de la confianza de las mayorías nacionales, en un contexto diferente.

Surge así hace más de un año, la Coordinadora Nacional Pro Rescate Torrijista del PRD, como plataforma colaborativa y mesa de debate horizontal y propositiva, facilitadora de convergencias de diversas agrupaciones de copartidarios, que bajo el criterio de respeto a la autonomía, independencia e identidad de cada corriente, promoviera la dimensión ética de la acción política, la reestructuración de la dirección del Partido, la recuperación de un discurso político coherente y la reivindicación e innovación de nuestra visión ideológico-programática (Torrijista y Socialdemócrata).

En el marco de este esfuerzo de coincidencias y motivados por la realidad que vive el PRD y sus perspectivas, luego de la reunión del Directorio Nacional el pasado 12 de julio, hemos convenido lo siguiente:

  • Propiciar acuerdos amplios que permitan organizar el X Congreso Nacional Ordinario del PRD, de forma diferente, revestido de contenidos cualitativos, reivindicando los valores, métodos y principios fundamentales del Torrijismo.
  • Esto no se logrará si prevalecen los mismos intereses, manipulaciones, métodos y ambiciones de parte, que dieron como resultado la derrota en las elecciones generales para la Presidencia de la República de mayo de 2014.
  • El actual CEN no debe ser obstáculo y dar paso a una nueva expresión directiva que propicie la concertación de ideas, la unidad basada en nuestra doctrina y el debate creativo en la construcción de una nueva visión de país de todos, reconectados con las aspiraciones sociales.
  • Apelamos a la conciencia de aquellos que ocupan cargos de elección popular y/o aspiren a ser candidatos en las elecciones generales, a que depongan su interés de ocupar cargos de dirección ejecutiva en las estructuras orgánicas del Partido (se entiende por cargos de dirección ejecutiva del Partido: CEN; Presidentes y Directivos de Área de Organización; Presidentes y Directivos de Distrito; Presidentes y Directivos de Corregimiento), para no repetir errores que nos condujeron a situaciones de crisis y estancamiento político, como las experimentadas en el quinquenio pasado.
  • Promover a lo interno de la militancia del Partido, la conveniencia de construirle viabilidad política a un acuerdo para un CEN de unidad, de consenso, representativo, que nos libre de las situaciones desgastantes y el clientelismo que dieron al traste con las opciones del Partido ante la sociedad.
  • Recuperar la formación política, ideológica y en capacidad de gobierno a lo interno del Partido, re-estructurando el sistema permanente de formación, e institucionalizando la obligación de todos y cada uno de los miembros del Partido, a cursar sus módulos, ya sean presenciales o virtuales.

Desde esta puntualización, debemos impulsar hacia el X Congreso:

  • Una Dirección Superior transparente y accesible: que las acciones de los responsables sean conocidas y explicadas oportunamente, con acceso a información comprensible; obtener de ellos indicaciones que faciliten la militancia y el trabajo de las diversas instancias partidarias hasta la base.
  • Una Dirección Superior responsable y que rinda cuentas por sus acciones y omisiones en forma sistemática y pública.
  • Una Dirección Superior sensible y receptiva a las posibilidades de consulta, participación e interacción permanente con las estructuras sectoriales y territoriales, con los miembros y sus expectativas políticas.
  • Un CEN con visión estratégica amplia, capacidad de organización, experiencia; analítico, orientador, docente, con claridad ideológica y programática, con capacidad de recuperar una precisa identidad partidaria, imbuido de valores de representación, participación, delegación, inclusión y conciliación.

Su esfuerzo en equipo, debe promover:

  • Mayor legitimidad democrática, con una más amplia interacción funcional horizontal entre las estructuras de Dirección e intermedias y las bases partidarias.
  • Fortalecimiento de un nuevo Pacto Político interno, utilizando el debate respetuoso como método propio del Torrijismo, favoreciendo el consenso, que las decisiones puedan consultarse sistemáticamente con todas las instancias orgánicas (organizadamente), con delegación descentralizada hacia las Áreas de Organización; mejorarse en su proyecto y compartirse en su ejecución, con claros beneficios para su efectividad y la convivencia interna.
  • Desarrollo de la institucionalidad.
  • Fortalecimiento de la democracia interna y de la representatividad.
  • Impulsar políticas de transparencia y fiscalización.
  • Reposicionar nuestra ideología y visión programática como eje articulador de propósitos comunes.

Para dar continuidad a este proceso, la Coordinación iniciará los contactos que sean necesarios para lograr la adhesión a esta propuesta amplia e integradora, convocará una gran “asamblea de corrientes Torrijistas” para validar los contenidos del nuevo pacto político interno y designará por consenso una comisión de garantes.


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Editorials: Dry times, and Bernie and The Donald

The Azuero thee days. Photo by the Ministry of Agricultural Development.
The Azuero these days. Photo by the Ministry of Agricultural Development.

Prudent steps in dry times

Panama has people in academia and in the Ministry of Environment who chart, study and predict the weather and climate, but the most systematic monitoring and projections come from two semi-autonomous public entities with vital interests in rainfall, the Panama Canal Authority and the ETESA power line company. Both of these predict the present El Niño condition continuing into next year, with ETESA projecting that the drought will not let up until the middle of 2016. That’s another year of drought.

In light of that the 60-day state of emergency contains a reasonable set of steps, but why are we not imposing electricity saving measures, as we know that the reservoirs behind the hydroelectric dams are bound to be affected? And the new wells and mini-reservoirs in the Azuero — for how long would they solve many problems there?

The climate is changing, but this drought will end. Sooner or later we will get another one. Meanwhile sea levels will rise — we don’t know how far or how fast, but this has been happening for a number of years now. We need to adapt, and to be ready to adapt even more. This painful but temporary emergency is a good occasion for the nation to discuss what’s happening and likely to happen, and to make some decisions.

We start without a genuine public energy policy. What we have is a corporate energy policy ratified by the government — and let’s not call it a “free market” policy because it has major anti-competitive features like high taxes for imported solar panels and windmills, and a ban on marketing household-generated electricity on the grid. One of the salient features of the Barro Blanco dispute is the insistence of a thuggish Honduran family enterprise on the private appropriation of the Tabasara River without compensation to those who would be driven away by the loss of the water resources upon which they have depended for ages. Whether the question is interconnections with other countries’ power grids or the modernization of our own, private interests always seem to trump public ones, and the private interests of the wealthiest companies always seem to get priority over the private interests of smaller enterprises.

Panama also doesn’t have a water policy to speak of. Ricardo Martinelli and his band of thieves wanted a water privatization scheme and it drew so much opposition that it was withdrawn. But in times of climate change the rejection of a policy we didn’t want does not equal a policy that we do need. Especially so, now that Juan Carlos Varela was elected largely on a promise to provide running water and indoor plumbing for every household. To do that requires expansion and interconnection of aqueduct systems, new water sources and new water conservation policies all designed to be flexible if conditions change.

Zoning, drainage and public infrastructures for low-lying areas — above all for Panama City — need to be rethought now as sea levels slowly rise. Responding to the demands of the richest people to save their waterfront investments would be no proper way to set policy. Neither would a search to house people of more modest means who were living in safe areas that turned into flood plains. Failure to think ahead, followed by a scramble to replace wells into which saltwater has seeped, should not be an option.

Yes, it’s boring and many of those who would volunteer for the job would also have ulterior economic motives that conflict with Panama’s national interests. But Panama needs to think past this drought to the next one and the one after that.

Bernie and The Donald

Who leads in latest polling for the New Hampshire primary? On the Democratic side it’s Bernie Sanders, with Republicans it’s Donald Trump. It’s early yet.

Trump carries an awful lot of baggage and it seems that every other time he opens his mouth he creates more. Does a large GOP constituency just love his sexist insults of Fox News’s Megyn Kelly? Maybe that’s a primary bonus among Republicans, but surely it’s a problem with the female majority of general election voters. He is similarly alienating African-American voters — few of whom will vote Republican — and the various Hispanic groups, of which anyone who wants to be president of the United States needs the votes of at least a substantial minority. If he survives the piranha attacks of his primary rivals and gets the nomination, look for a weakened Republican ticket losing more than just the White House. If he loses the nomination and runs as an independent, look for a terrible rout for both Trump and the GOP.

But WAIT! Bernie Sanders is a socialist! Won’t the 1956 Cold War majority re-emerge and send him to political oblivion? That zombie forecast is not particularly the math of Republicans who think that Joe McCarthy was really cool, but of Hillary Clinton and the corporate Democrats. They have a ton of money to make the case and it looks like the neo-conservatives may switch back to the Democratic side this time to support Hillary. As the neo-cons recently argued in the National Review, Bernie Sanders — whose extended family was largely massacred in the Holocaust — is a “national-socialist,” that is, a Nazi, because he is for certain aspects of economic nationalism like investing in the USA and controlling immigration so as not to allow an influx of cheap labor and at the same time a democratic socialist who believes in quality public education, free university tuition, socialized medicine and economic safety nets like those that prevail across Northern Europe. Plus, say some neo-cons, Sanders is a self-hating Jew because he’s unimpressed with Mr. Netanyahu and opposed to a war with Iran.

The American electorate is weary with old dynasties, “free trade” dogma that extols economic globalization on terms dictated by corporations, ruinously expensive US wars all over the world and contrived racial, ethnic and religious strife. The moderates chasing after the extremes may have found the winning primary formula. Those coming from what used to be called the fringes who say modest things but uphold certain bedrock principles are the ones whom you find in the biggest campaign season crowds.

Bear in mind

Love doesn’t just sit there, like a stone; it has to be made, like bread, remade all the time, made new.
Ursula K. LeGuin


There are seven sins in the world: wealth without work, pleasure without conscience, knowledge without character, commerce without morality, science without humanity, worship without sacrifice and politics without principle.
Mohandas K. Gandhi


Let us never negotiate out of fear but let us never fear to negotiate.
John F. Kennedy


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