December's public disturbances over the bus fare hike were milder than expected. Yet when the broad masses of workers, peasants and revolutionary intellectuals --- all eight of them --- blocked the street in front of the university, they did make city life unpleasant.
However, the young militants were outdone that week, by someone who owns a white Honda.
The vehicle, which was too old to attract the attention of any professional car thief, was parked in front of Casa Esperanza, not far from the American Embassy. It was adjusted so that every time another automobile drove past it, its alarm would go off. Occasionally the piercing electronic screech would cease for a minute or two, but for the most part it continued all day long.
Frequent readers may know something about my relationship with car alarms. I become belligerent when they awaken me in the wee hours of the morning. I consider them a human rights violation. I am sure that if the infernal devices had existed when Beccaria was leading his campaign against torture, or later when the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was drafted, the prohibition of car alarms would now be among the most sacred provisions of international law.
Sadly, it isn't so. In fact, many insurance companies demand that the motor vehicles they insure against theft be equipped with the noisemakers.
There are much better anti-theft devices on the Panamanian market. Kill switches are available in a wide range of prices and sophistication. At a somewhat higher but still reasonable price, car owners can now buy electronic trackers that silently lead police to their cars if they are stolen. There's no excuse for car alarms anymore.
For the sake of peace, quiet and public order, it's time for the government to end the electronic assault. The importation of new noisemaking car alarms should be banned. Insurance companies should neither be allowed to discount rates for cars equipped with them nor permitted to require the devices as a condition of coverage. And if the police can stop buses and strip them of their illegal noisemakers, they also ought to be able to confiscate alarms like the one that disturbed the peace in front of Casa Esperanza.