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Book chapter: City cats (The Streetwalkers of Panama)

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City cats

by Eric Jackson, some photos by José F. Ponce as noted

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 religously 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, not all that much higher in the order of things than 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 muriods 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 problen 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 actvities 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.

 

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The chicken stand in Panama City’s Juan Diaz neighborhood, next to the car under which this kitty is taking shelter from the morning sun, has yet to open.

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A night stalker, she hunts near the Judicial Investigations Directorate in the capital’s Ancon neighborhood. Rats and mice are not the only rodents there, but an adult ñeque – or agouti – would be nearly as big as she is.

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Cats take over a corner of a Casco Viejo park. The mayor and city council DID put in the benches for the cats, didn’t they? Photo by José F. Ponce.

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A nocturnal specter lurks against the backdrop of bright lights and traffic noise near the Justo Arosemena Legislative Palace. It is most unlikely that the deputies there would notice. The cat may actually be grateful for that.

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¿Wappin? Those times and these / Esos tiempos y estos

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Natalia Lafourcade in Spain, about a week and a half ago. Photo by Martinbayo.

Those times and these
Esos tiempos y estos

Ulpiano Vergara – Ya Es Muy Tarde
https://youtu.be/MTBvZG2YkgM

Lana Del Rey – Shades of Cool
https://youtu.be/KuX_xwghhsw

Fito Paez – Al lado del camino
https://youtu.be/xFTvBkcXKEg

k.d. lang – Hallelujah
http://youtu.be/P_NpxTWbovE

Otis Taylor – Resurrection Blues
https://youtu.be/8OG8Fjv42nM

Sippie Wallace – Murder Gonna Be My Crime
https://youtu.be/6Xzyg5V4Ks8

Shakira – Ciega, Sordamuda
http://youtu.be/B3gbisdtJnA

Javiera Mena – Otra Era
https://youtu.be/NUCZG09ehLM

Natalia Lafourcade – Antes de Huir
https://youtu.be/vmbETH0X4j8

Rolling Stones – Dandelion
http://youtu.be/SjOpH_6Aolw

Rubén Blades – Ojos de Perro Azul
http://youtu.be/J8hrWP8i21o

Dweezil Zappa & Ella Ferguson – Peaches En Regalia
https://youtu.be/TOywUUqDuBE

Peter Tosh – Mystic Man
http://youtu.be/yunyeSI7bvo

Adele – Set Fire to the Rain
http://youtu.be/F5Pbe2-ko_g

Roger Waters – Us and Them Tour
https://youtu.be/HKleo9Bit2k

 

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Estos anuncios son interactivos. Toque en ellos para seguir a las páginas de web.

 

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Editorial, The way to a new constitution: first, the procedure

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                                    It’s about convincing people that a better Panama is possible and
                                    getting them to the polls to vote for it in great numbers.

Toward a new constitution: first, the procedure

On May 5, one year before the 2019 elections, President Varela called for consultations with the political parties and “civil society,” likely to be followed by a proposal to convene a constitutional convention to be submitted to the voters on May 5, 2019.

Varela campaigned on the convening of a constitutional convention, but then backed off, pleading uncertainty about how it could be controlled. Now he’s caught in a huge scandal about taking millions of dollars from Odebrecht. Even if impunity is to be the rule for politicians, that coating of slime only greases the Panameñista Party for a quick exit from the presidency and years in the wilderness. The post-invasion alternating cycle of Panamanian politics already made the repetition in power of Varela’s party unlikely. In any case, with the third-largest caucus in the National Assembly Varela’s power has always been limited. It’s even more constrained now that old legislative arrangements have broken down.

As ugly as the Odebrecht stain that mars Varela and the Panameñistas may be, it’s minor compared to the hideous disfigurement of Ricky Martinelli’s Cambio Democratico party. CD can claim that it has turned a corner, and the Rómulo Roux’s party is not the Martinelista mafia. They may have a ton of money to promote that image but it seems unlikely to work. As the Electoral Tribunal has banned the publication of opinion polls we don’t know how improbable a CD comeback might be, but were it likely there would surely be some outward signs of that sort of shift.

That leaves the next presidency to the PRD by default, right? The Electoral Tribunal may be moving in ways that promote that result. The tribunal’s moves to oppress and eliminate independents are specifically designed to marginalize them. Although they may have the money to break out of that trap, the Motta family’s MOVIN seems bent on self-destruction by scandal like the political parties. Still, there are other independents who are energetically fighting long odds. A year away from the voting they should not be counted out.

Even if a year can be a long time in politics, look at the timing. Varela is in effect saying that a constitutional revision process may disrupt the next presidency but it won’t disrupt his. To the extent that the argument takes center stage over the coming months — at a time when he can hardly get anything passed by the legislature anyway — it may serve Varela and his party well.

Meanwhile, to put the convening of a constituent assembly on the ballot takes a two-thirds vote of the National Assembly. Varela is not going to muster that without some sort of compromise.

The PRD’s Pedro Miguel González is calling for a speedy reform process to run its course by next year’s elections. As in ‘You don’t disrupt OUR presidency. We disrupt YOUR presidency.’

But the PRD, a child of the dictatorship, is the party associated with the current exhausted constitution. There may be a residue of the thinking that has that party a member of the Socialist International, but the bankers have more influence than the workers. These days the party’s salient ideas about governance are Zulay Rodríguez’s neofascist xenophobia, the political patronage scams that got Benicio Robinson booed at the national baseball tournament and Nito Cortizo’s continuing objection to what “free trade” has done to Panamanian agriculture. The notion that the presidency and the power to write the next constitution will fall into the PRD’s lap because everyone else is in worse shape is a risky bet.

The present constitution provides a mostly imprecise method of holding a constitutional convention. Only 41 delegates, divided according to population among the provinces and comarcas. A parallel convention rather than an originating one, that is, a convention that does not assume the powers of the existing branches of government as it goes about its business.

The timing and political realities make an originating convention most unlikely. But a parallel convention that finishes its work in a year or less and proposes a draft constitution that calls for prompt new elections and the rapid replacement or renewal of the existing institutions is possible and likely.

The burning procedural issues are the ones that have been left out of the law. The blanks should not be left to the party-controlled Electoral Tribunal to fill in. Nor should the party-controlled executive or legislative branches be able to boost the discredited parties without a public outcry. 

Neither the current horrible mishmash of single-member and multi-member legislative circuits, nor the unequal-populated corregimientos or municipalities, should form the basis for apportioning a constituent assembly. The problem with at-large elections is that to run province-wide generally takes a lot of money. Many small constituencies of roughly equal population would be the ideal way to go, which would best be served by a lot more than 41 delegates. That sort of boundary drawing, however, is not going to happen in any positive fashion. At-large election of party slates by province seems to be the way to go, for all of its faults.

Better, however, to call for a convention with more delegates – say 101 – elected at-large in partisan elections that treat all independents as if they were a single party. The top vote getters for each party would form the line for who gets the spots won by the aggregate of that party’s share of the vote, and if 35 percent of the electors in a province go for independents, the independents who ran line up in order of how many votes they individually got to claim that slightly more than one-third of the delegates – even if the top finisher is a leftist and the next spot goes to a religious conservative and the spot after that goes to an athlete or entertainer whose political views are largely unknown.

One major procedural issue won’t be addressed by the criminal who currently occupies the post as Electoral Prosecutor. In 2014 people went around distributing building materials, groceries, domestic appliances and cash all paid for with cash skimmed from overpriced government contracts – and Eduardo Peñaloza supported that. Let The Panama News not be the one to suggest acts of violence, or unpleasant confrontations among neighbors, when the eternal thugs come around to buy votes. But those who buy, and those who sell, are traitors to their country and no cosmetic euphemism or understanding attitude can mask that hard reality. How to deal with the traitors in our midst may be the most important procedural question en route to the new constitution that Panama needs.

For those who are entirely fed up with what has happened to the Panamanian government and want to knock away its structural supports for corruption, the main procedural concern is organizing to fight an election under rules designed to protect incumbents and the status quo. Welcome to the real world. It will take hard work under harsh conditions to replace an entrenched and self-perpetuating predatory caste and its arcane ways of doing things. Even as we argue about unfair rules, now is the time to organize a campaign to win despite those obstacles.

Bear in mind…

 

I believe in the perishability of men and in the eternity of principles.
Ricardo J. Alfaro

 

Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage.
Anais Nin

 

Government is the entertainment division of the military-industrial complex.
Frank Zappa

 

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Conciertos Showcase de TRAMA: 16, 17 y 18 de mayo

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TRAMA anuncia las 12 bandas y artistas seleccionados para sus Showcases

TRAMA: Industria de la Músicapresentará en el Ateneo de Ciudad del Saber una selección de 12 artistas y grupos musicales, de diversos géneros, seleccionados mediante una convocatoria pública a la que se presentaron 85 propuestas.

Las bandas y artistas fueron seleccionados por un jurado conformado por reconocidas figuras del sector de las industrias creativas, en especial de la industria de la música:

Roberto Delgado. Director de orquesta, arreglista, ingeniero de sonido y bajista, ganador de cinco premios Grammy junto a Rubén Blades.

Paola Vacca Castaño. Líder del Cluster de Música en la Cámara de Comercio de Bogotá, organizadores del Bogotá Music Market (BOmm).

Galileo Solís. Especialista de la División de Competitividad e Innovación del Banco
Interamericano de Desarrollo (BID).

Horacio Valdés. Cantautor, exvocalista de Son Miserables, miembro de Latin Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences. Ganador de tres premios Grammy junto a Rubén Blades.

Walo Araújo. Gestor cultural y Vicepresidente de Comunicaciones de la Fundación Ciudad del Saber.

En línea con los objetivos de TRAMA, los 12 artistas y bandas fueron seleccionados teniendo en cuenta criterios de calidad artística y potencial para el mercado de la música. La selección también incluye propuestas que destacaron por ser modelos exitosos de experimentación o de documentación de nuestro patrimonio musical. El jurado ha dado importancia, asimismo, a presentar diversidad de géneros musicales en su selección.

LISTADO DE ARTISTAS / GRUPOS SELECCIONADOS:

Iván Barrios
Carlos Méndez
Señor Loop
Luci & The Soul Brokers
Entre Nos
Afrodisíaco
The Beachers
MecániK InformaL
Kenny y Kiara
Pepe Bahía
Séptima Raíz
Joshue Ashby & C3 Project

Los Showcases de TRAMA presentarán 4 propuestas musicales por noche (20 minutos cada una), los días 16, 17 y 18 de mayo en el Ateneo de Ciudad del Saber.

TRAMA hará posible la presencia de un público amante de la música y la confluencia de gente clave de la industria nacional e internacional, favoreciendo con ello la visibilidad y la promoción de las bandas y artistas.

El precio de entrada a los Showcases de TRAMA será de B/.10 (diez Balboas) por noche. Las entradas estarán disponibles a partir del 26 de abril en http://www.showourshow.com

Sobre TRAMA: Industria de la Música

TRAMA será un punto de conexión para los actores de la industria de la música en Panamá, generando nuevas alianzas creativas, profesionales y de negocios. El evento pretende favorecer condiciones para una mayor profesionalización del sector, ofreciendo una ventana de posibilidades de ganarse la vida, capacitarse e innovar, a través de la música.

TRAMA es una iniciativa de la Fundación Ciudad del Saber, que cuenta con el Banco Interamericano de Desarrollo (BID) como aliado estratégico. Es organizado en colaboración con Fundación Tocando Madera, Folk Lab Studio, Fundación Afrodisíaco, Contraxeñas Production y Show Our Show, y cuenta con la colaboración del Festival Internacional de Cine de Panamá (IFF), la Fundación Danilo Pérez y el Centro Cultural del España.

En este sitio web puedes encontrar el programa completo de conferencias, clases magistrales y conversatorios de TRAMA: http://trama.ciudaddelsaber.org

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FUNDAGÉNERO, La paridad política para la mujer

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May Day in David

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May Day in David

photos by José F. Ponce

May Day is Labor Day in Panama and Chiriqui’s labor movement gathered to show the flag in David that day. The construction workers, the brewery and soft drink workers, the teachers and others were all out. In Chiriqui it is perhaps more visible than elsewhere, but one does not understand the grim determination and fierce passions of so much of Panamanian labor if one does not recognize that it is largely a movement of dispossessed rural people – folks who were forced off of farms by economic forces, people whose fishing villages were razed by developers, villagers who depended on a river for drinking water and fish during hard times who had their river privatized and made inadequate or useless for their needs by dam concessionaires, ancient nations displaced by a continuing conquest that began some five centuries ago. They had to go out and get jobs in someone else’s economy but they took their cultures, their memories and their attitudes with them. Those who don’t understand what has happened to rural Panama will have a hard time understanding Panamanian workers.

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[Editor’s note: Apologies to José for the delay in publishing this, part of which had to do with a prolonged Claro wireless Internet outage.]

 

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Book chapter: The Panama Papers (The Streetwalkers of Panama)

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The Panama Papers

a book chapter by Eric Jackson

Click here to read it in PDF format

 

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Burning season in Coronado

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A neighbor is clearing away the vegetation in a traditional and illegal way, by burning. The smoke and ashes are the minor part of the problem. Photo by John July.

Another burning season

photos and video by John July, note by Eric Jackson

It’s burning season, a tradition that goes back thousands of year here. Go chopping through the red clay in many a place that has been inhabited off and on for a very long time and you may encounter one or more thin black layers in the soil. Those are the marks of burning seasons long ago.

Why? Swidden agriculture worked well in a Panama that was not heavily populated. Slash away a part of the jungle, set it on fire and the ash provides fertilizer that allows a season or two of crops in the not so nutrient-rich red clay (or sandy white) land. After a couple of seasons the paractice was to abandon that place to the jungle and cut down a new patch to farm. It worked reasonably well in its time.

Had the heyday of slash-and-burn come and gone before the Spanish Conquest? The isthmus supported a much larger population shortly before the Europeans arrived, with their guns and horses and attack dogs and deadliest of all, their diseases. From studies of forestation, deforestation and archaeology as well as the Spanish church and governmental records we know that there was a great reduction in the population following the conquerors’ arrival. The details are emerging and such lines of inquiry as DMA research, folklore in indigenous languages, explorations of old sites with ground penetrating radar, the analysis of old garbage dumps and so on are giving us ever more detail on what happened. When the Spaniards arrived there were little warring territories and that may have been about competition among groups that had exhausted their lands by too frequent slashing and burning. After the conquest forests grew back in many parts of Panama where they had been cut down.

Those who would build fertile soil by adding compost to infertile fields should not burn anything. The fire not only depletes the carbon that enriches the soil but also kills the worms and microbes that help make the soil fertile.

In any  case, in the 1950s the old Panama Canal Company sealed the fate of swidden agriculture and the natural regeneration of forests with a monumental environmental blunder. To shore up the banks of the Panama Canal’s Culebra Cut, they imported Vietnamese elephant grass — paja canalera or Saccharum spontaneum — and it became the most prolific of invasive weeds. Slash and burn a patch of forest and what grows now is this stuff, grass that cows and horses won’t eat. The grass must be aggressively eliminated before there can be a new generation of trees.

So why, other than an ignorance beyond traditionalism, would someone burn their land in a place like Coronado? So many of the people there, Panamanians and newcomers alike, put a high premium on cutting labor costs. The law requires that people periodically clear their fence lines of vegetation. It is cheaper to burn it than to hire somebody to cut it.

Such burning is also illegal. Breathing in the smoke is unhealthy. Sweeping away the soot and ash that falls on the neighborhood is another household chore imposed from without. And then, as happened here, the fire can spread beyond the property of the one doing the burning. As it turned out, spreading to burn a neighbor’s casita and down a utility line. The bomberos who were called to the scene were surely not amused by the time, labor, expense and risk involved to them.

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Stronger penalties for animal cruelty go into effect

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Why would off-duty members of the National Police’s ecological unit have joined a protest in Parque Urraca to press for the new penalties that just went into effect? Some of these men and women also have beloved animals in their lives, but mainly it’s because part of their job is protecting the national parks, in which a common crime is the abandonment of unwanted pets — monkeys, birds, snakes, dogs and cats. The animal so abandoned rarely knows how to hunt for a living and more likely starves or ends up as prey. Those that do successfully make the transition become exotic invasive pest species that disrupt ecological balances in the parks. Archive photo by Eric Jackson.

Animal cruelty can now lead to jail time

by Eric Jackson

As of May 2, Law 70 of 2017 went into effect. This was an amendment to the 2012 animal cruelty law, which provided fines of up to $1,000 for mistreatment of animals. Back in 2012 that law was controversial in various ways, and was in its first version vetoed in its entirety by then President Ricardo Martinelli. (Including the part that made bestiality a crime.) The ex-president wanted Spanish-style bullfighting in which the bull gets killed, which is not part of the Panamanian culture. (Our sort of bullfighting is a drunken Interiorano tradition in which the bull is far more likely to win — the poor beast is put in a small corral with wooden rails, on which people sit and occasionally jump into the ring to slap or otherwise harass the bull. The pain of getting trampled or gored generally sets in gradually as the effect of the seco wears off.)

In any case, a slightly tweaked law was passed in 2012 notwithstanding the president’s initial objections. It did not legalize Spanish bullfighting but to the chagrin of some it also did not ban the cruel blood sport of cockfighting. However, not long after the original animal cruelty law went into effect dog lovers led a protest joined by cat fanciers, television personalities and members of the National Police to demand the possibility of jail time for serious offenses and a clearer statement of jurisdiction so that the corregidores (now justices of the peace) and judges would not hold that it’s not within their powers to do anything about maltreatment of animals.

The amendment they demanded passed last year and just went into effect. If you abandon or mistreat a dog or a cat you may end up behind bars for it, up to thee years if the animal dies from what you did to it.

 

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May Day, labor’s 132-year tradition

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          It started in Chicago in 1886, with working men and women demanding an eight-hour work day.

May Day: labor’s 132-year international tradition

On May 1, 1886, working people in Chicago — folks of various trades, ideologies and national origins, not all of whom spoke English — gathered peacefully to demand an eight-hour work day. The rally was attacked by police. Three days later anarchists gathered to protest the police brutality, and as the police moved in to break up that protest someone set off a bomb that killed several of the officers. Men identified as anarchist leaders, none of them ever shown to have anything to do with the bomb, were charged with murder and several were hanged, the rest sent away to prison.

The movement was suppressed in the USA, although organized labor did come back and win the eight-hour day many years later. Meanwhile the tradition caught on across the rest of the world, and now May 1 is celebrated as Labor Day in most of the world, including in Panama.

 

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