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Several critical letters this time

Travel guide feedback

Thanks so much for taking the time to review “Moon Handbooks: Panama.” I was puzzled about a few things, though.

First, I do talk about gay culture, gay rights and gay organizations, and I include listings for gay bars. Your review seems to suggest I ignore the gay scene. I don't think that's fair or accurate.

Second, I do talk about traveling with kids. There's an entire itinerary at the front of the book for those planning a family trip, and a short section on traveling with kids at the end of the book. I also mention throughout the book whether or not places are appropriate or fun for families. Perhaps your objection was that I didn't go into enough detail, but these issues certainly weren't ignored.

Third, it seems odd you’d point out I discuss boxing in Panama and cite it as evidence of an emphasis on masculine concerns in the book. I devote precisely one paragraph to boxing, in a one-page section on important Panamanian sports. That brief summary is contained in a 100-page chapter that tries to squeeze in as much background information as possible about Panama.

Finally, you seem to imply I'm probably rather macho and a dyed-in-the-flag Zonian, but I'm neither. I'm actually quite the soft leftie and was a definite misfit in the old Zone days. Assuming otherwise seems to cater to stereotypes and prejudices about those who happened to live in the Zone, which is a bit ironic given your criticisms.

However, just because I generally find American foreign policy repugnant and have mixed feelings about the old Canal Zone doesn't mean I buy into propaganda on the other extreme. I've lived in too many places and seen too many complex political situations to go in for white hats and black hats. Shades of gray are much more common in my experience.

In any case, we'll just have to agree to disagree about some of these things. I had a sense you'd probably find bones to pick with the book, but I wanted my publisher to send it to you anyway. There aren't nearly enough muckrakers down there, especially writing in English. I wanted you to weigh in, whatever you thought of the book.

I appreciate the fact you do deem it a worthy contribution, even if you have disagreements with it.

William Friar

Editor's note: For starters, I must admit that I was wrong about Friar's encyclopedic Panama travel guide to the extent that I reported that it didn't get into the subject of traveling with kids and didn't list the gay attractions. I overlooked those things in my first reading, but then found them when they were pointed out.To have overlooked them and cited my mistakes as evidence of propositions was to greatly compound the error.

For the record, I do not and never have taken William Friar for a sexist troglodyte, an unreconstructed Zonian hardliner or any other sort of reactionary. But the brief recounting of the tale of what happened in January 1964, albeit with caveats that it's mired in controversy, is erroneous in several respects --- it was a bunch of high school kids from the Instituto Nacional rather than university students, and they didn't attempt to take down the American flag at Balboa High, for two examples. Although January 9 has become just another holiday at the beach for many Panamanians, there is a nationalist element here that still gets quite emotional about it. 

A ruthless Chinese politician and a prominent Chinese-American journalist, each in his or her own way, stated something that I believe about journalism and all works of culture: Mao Zedong and Joie Chen both argued that strictly “objective” reporting is an illusion because everyone has a point of view formed by background and personality and it will inevitably show through.

True, there was but a small mention of boxing in the Moon travel guide,  but none of the guidebooks I have seen written by women ever mention it. And true, Friar's work does not write about prostitutes in the sense of the Greek root words for pornography --- actually it dwells on some wise advice about the prevalence of AIDS here and skips the lurid promotion. Here again, it's a subject that I don'f find in the guidebooks written by women.These things, to me, are common signs of the difference between male and female writing. As a boxing fan of the male persuasion, I have no objection to male culture, but I do notice it.

And as I said in the review, I do think that Friar's is a worthy guide.


Disagrees about depiction of Colon and its ethnic culture

I have read your article and differ with you on the statement that “Every English-language guidebook advises tourists to avoid this city, which is populated mostly by descendants of the Jamaicans and Barbadians who were brought to Panama as cheap labor by the French and, later, the Americans during the construction of the canal.” I challenge you to investigate and you will find that all the derogatory things said about Colon cannot be only attributed to the descendants of the Jamaicans and Barbadians. After all, these descendants are the ones whose majority have migrated to the United States.

Many of the descendants of the cheap labor of construction days who remained in Panama were from other countries, however, whenever there is negative talk about this group of people there is always mention of Jamaicans and Barbadians.

“West Indians,” as we are also vulgarly called, are an intelligent, hard working, problem solving bunch.  In spite of the deck being stacked against us, we have risen to the highest professional levels in different disciplines.  Have been innovative in changing the way “things have been done” and most of us have saved and invested our hard earned cash wisely in this country that has reluctantly accepted us.

Every time we have figured out how to play the game, beat the system, the rules have been changed, yet we don’t make a public spectacle complaining or blocking traffic.  We just learn the “new” rules and begin playing by them.

Like the rest of the country the make-up of the city of Colon has gone through a metamorphic change over the past fifty years, thus many of the blacks who live there are not descendants of those who came to build the Railroad and/or the Canal.

Now this is not an accusation that you are overtly discriminating negatively against Jamaicans or Barbadians, however, there is a trend to covertly discriminate against “los antillanos” even by the so-called “negro colonial.”  In practice being called either an Antillean, Jamaican, or Barbadian on our streets has negative connotations, this way of thinking even goes further when you are duped, the term “congeado” is used having connotations that anyone from the Congo (African) is “black and easily fooled or stupid.”

It is not my intention to start a firestorm, however, I just hope that in the future some thought is given when you write about those of "West Indian" descent.


Silvio Sirias responds: I apologize if something in the article upset you. I never meant to  imply that the problems of Colon are due to any particular ethnic group. The article states that the culprit is poverty and lack of employment opportunities. And these, I believe, stem from the Panamanian government's lack of attention to the problems Colon faces.

Regarding my statement of Colon being mostly populated by the descendants of

Jamaicans and Barbadians, I stand corrected.  I am relatively new to  Panama and I am still being educated about the terms people of this country prefer with regard to ethnic definition. That said, I based my statement on David McCullough's "The Path Between the Seas." In this exhaustively researched book, McCullough closely examines the French and US hiring practices during the building of the canal and proves, in fact, that the overwhelming majority of workers came from Jamaica (during the French construction) and Barbados (during the US phase). In addition, he vividly describes the deplorable working and living conditions "West Indians" were subjected to.

The bottom line is that I agree with you with respect to the real cause of the problems: racism.

Again, my apologies for not making this absolutely clear.

Editor's note: Although styles do change with the times, notice that the English-language rendition of the sign on the Museo Afroantillano de Panamá and on the museum's website has at various times been "West Indian Museum of Panama." Moreover, the folks at SAMAAP and many current Colon residents have no problem calling themselves "afroantillanos," regardless of any negative connotations that certain elements of Panamanian society may assign to this. See, e.g., SAMAAP's bilingual website at


Turkey Shortage in PANAMA????? No way, San José!!!

Strange report Señor Jackson!! El Rey supermarket on calle 50 has a freezer full of butterball turkeys. Likewise Riba Smith. I do not know what your hidden agenda might be, but as far as I can tell there is no shortage of turkeys in Panama and many Panamanian families celebrated Thanksgiving with turkey even though it is not a typical Panamanian holiday. The Union Club had a special Thanksgiving menu etc etc......Funny perspective by a GRINGO pendejo, still living in Panama....JE JE

[this letter, it is now believed, was fraudulently signed in another person's name]

Editor's note: I reported what I saw. A couple of days later got my small turkey at Riba Smith, and cooked Thanksgiving dinner for myself and a group of Girl Scout leaders. (However, I couldn't find fresh cranberries this time.) Supplies were down and prices were up this year. I say this not only as someone who follows the complaints of various social sectors, but most of all as someone who does my own food shopping and has done so since I moved back nearly a dozen years ago. As for the Union Club I wouldn't know. I don't hang out in those circles, nor do I consider the club's members the collective last word in anything but the affairs and opinions of a relatively narrow social sector.

The above email, by the way, was one of at least a couple of dozen, all affecting more or less the same tone, that The Panama News has received over the past several days.


Looking for mother

I don't know if you can give me any help or not but it's worth a try.

My name is JeromeJones and I am looking for the women who gave birth to me. I know that she is from Colon, Panama and she gave me up for adoption. Her name is Blanca Sanchez-Perez or Blanca Perez-Sanchez. I dont know what order it may fall in but that is her name.

She also has a daughter named Michelle. My name in Spanish was Jonez. I dont think Ispelled it right, but if you can help me in any kind of way please let me know. She might still be in Colon.

Jerome Armone Jones


Is the editor a malpracticing spin doctor?

In the Nov. 20 - Dec. 3 edition on the front page there is a slight error in word usage, I believe.

This has to do with the word "spin" versus the word "speed". Spin is a word that uses the units of revolutions per unit of time. The front page indicated the earth spun faster at the equator than elsewhere. Thank God it doesn't. For if the world spun differently at different places it would tear the earth apart. Say the North spins at one revolution per day while the South spins at 2 revolutions per day, standing on the equator would be a very difficult achievement. Luckily the entire earth spins at approximately 1 revolutions per day. What is different is the speed of the earth at the equator compared to other locations on the globe. The earth at the equator moves at approximately 1,000 miles per hour, while the earth at Latitude 30-degrees North (or South), for example, spins at a velocity of approximately 866 miles per hour (the earths speed at any latitude is approximately 1,000 miles hour times the cos (trig function) of latitude. The additional 134 miles per hour velocity of earth at the equator means a rocket requires less energy (fuel) to reach break-away velocity to achieve an earth orbit if it takes off from the equator.

Jerry Collins

Editor's note: I stand corrected.


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