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photo by Eric Jackson

Rainy season flowers

The height of rainy season, which we are now experiencing, is not when Panama gets most of its tourists. There are, however, growing numbers of visitors who come here at this time specifically to see a rain forest during the rainy season. Then there are people like me, who actually enjoy tropical cloudbursts, and everything that blooms in their aftermath. (Well, almost everything --- it's hard to have a great appreciation for a foreign invader, the elephant grass, when it's growing a couple of blocks from where I live and spewing out pollen that makes my sinuses stuffy.)

This is also an appropriate time to offer flowers. Although it's a micro-enterprise that I own, I consider The Panama News to also be one of the cultural institutions of Panama's English-speaking community, and thus a sister to a number of other entities. And one of our key sister insitutions, the Theatre Guild of Ancon, has suffered a grievous loss, the sort for which flowers are traditionally offered. Vernon Skitt, a computer whiz with long experience in the theatrical arts, had stepped in to help the guild through difficult times a couple of years back. He lent the organization a bit of a British flavor, built its website and was part of period of growth. But the other day he lost his battle with cancer. The show that he was co-directing, Treasure Island, will go on as scheduled. Our condolences to his family and friends.

Panama's holiday season continues. This month's national events that bring us the most tourists, the Independence Day and Flag Day parades, have come and gone. November 28, however, is the anniversary of Panama's independence from Spain, which was quickly followed by our adherence to Simón Bolívar's ill-fated Gran Colombia. It's also the anniversary of the 1885 foundation of the Cuerpo de Bomberos, and thus the occasion for the annual firefighters' torchlight parade.

And although there's no particular season for it, we just had another world championship boxing match in Panama City, wherein Roberto "La Araña" Vásquez successfully defended his WBA junior flyweight title and then announced his plans to move up a weight classification and seek a flyweight champion's belt.

Thanksgiving will have come and gone by the time that the next issue appears. It will not be the first time we've seen it, but it's one of the worst times for non-tariff protectionist measures by which the Panamanian government drives up the prices of holiday turkeys and hams. They have been especially creative in the way that they excluded Peruvian turkeys from the Panamanian market during the holidays.

The other night I talked about protectionism, international relations, the south's scientific advancement and other interesting subjects with India's ambassador to Panama, Primrose Sharma. Mrs. Sharma invited me and a number of other guests for a reception, a dinner and a Bollywood movie at her official residence in El Dorado. A few days later Panama's vice president and foreign minister, Samuel Lewis Navarro, was in New Delhi as part of an Asian trip to attend the Asia-Pacific summit and there were sketchy reports of progress in negotiations about one of the main irritants in Panama's relations with India, this country's racist anti-Asian visa restrictions that hinder the development of economic and cultural ties.

India is, of course, the world's most populous democracy and also one of the countries that uses English as an official language. As it gets harder for Panamanians to go to the United States to study English or anything else, India, which was a world intellectual power before the Anglo-Saxons invaded Great Britain in their little boats, is offering scholarships to Panamanians who want to go to India to study English, computer science, police investigative techniques and a number of other subjects. The occasion for the reception was a partial changing of the guard in India's aid program, not only for Panama but also for our Central American neighbors.

It may not be well known here, but India is a crucial champion of a couple of causes that are and ought to be of great importance to Panama. On the agricultural front, along with Brazil, South Africa and several other countries, the Indians have stood up to the hypocritical policies of many of the northern industrial countries. The North Americans and Europeans would like to continue their restrictions on the sale of southern countries' agricultural products on their markets, but on the other hand demand free access for their subsidized goods to the southern countries' markets. Push has come to shove about this within the World Trade Organization. (Those of you who are bilingual can get a Caribbean take on these WTO negotiations in our Spanish opinion section.) India has also successfully challenged a number of attempts by multinational corporations to claim US patent rights on the traditional medicinal plant substances that healers have long used in the countries of the south. In Panama this sort of bio-piracy is a hot-button issue among Kuna and Embera herbal practitioners in particular.

India also plays a part in a special one-theme edition of the review section's regular Cool Internet Sites feature. We just saw the first sea launch of a telecommunications satellite from the international waters of the equatorial Pacific. Earlier this year, we saw the first private manned space flight. And note that Brazil and India now have space programs. Do all of these things add up to anything of significance for Panama? I think they might. Because the earth spins faster at equatorial latitudes, it takes less fuel to put a satellite into orbit there. And if companies are going to choose the high seas west of the Galapagos to launch with fewer regulations and taxes, might Panama be a good place to set up a maritime support base for such an industry? I think it's a subject that should be considered before, not after, the specifications are written for the contemplated new mega-seaport to be built on landfill adjacent to the old Howard Air Force Base.

This issue of The Panama News seems to be more "cultural" than most. In the opinion section, Raúl Leis takes on a particularly vicious turn in our popular culture, one that's hard to escape if you ride the public buses in this country as I do. Writer Silvio Sirias appears in both our arts and opinion pages, in the former considering the Cervantes legacy and the latter the slums of Brazil and Colon. And that's only indirectly the Electric Light Orchestra whom I quote in my column.

The reviews in this issue, besides the aforementioned space-oriented websites, get into new tourist guidebooks and Bruce Quinn's wonderful holiday musical comedy, a Spanish-language adaptation of "Nun-Crackers." The science pages get into the archaeology of Panama this time. We even have philately in the outdoors section.

Not everything cultural is beautiful. In this issue the conservative Paris-based Reporters Without Borders considers another blow to Panamanian journalism, the firings of El Siglo reporter Rafael Antonio Ruiz and deputy editor César Iván Castillo, who broke a story about drug trafficking activities at top levels of the Panamanian government. Abdul Waked, a politically connected businessman who's the major shareholder at El Siglo, demanded that these journalists reveal their source. Knowing how the current management of that daily has a disgraceful record of selling out confidential sources, they refused. The Torrijos administration, for its part, denies all involvement in the firings.

Meanwhile the turmoil continues at what ought to be Panama's principal cultural institution, its national university. The University General Council has now picked a fight with the nation's bar association, the Colegio de Abogados, in its pursuit of Miguel Antonio Bernal, whose columns appear regularly herein. Recall that earlier this year a university secretary general resigned from that administrative post --- but not the faculty, as she should have been obliged to do --- for her role in the concoction of a fraudulent diploma. Her successor went to a meeting of the university's Faculty Council to rail against Bernal, and the professors voted by a reported 150-5 margin to forbid this administrative trash talk at their meeting.

And then there's the latest mariachi sensation --- Hugo Chávez? Go figure.


Eric Jackson
the editor


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