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composite satellite photo of the Arctic Ocean, with

illustrative lines by the European Space Agency


But we were assured by the best experts money can buy


Last year the proponents of the Torrijos - Alemán Zubieta Plan to expand the Panama Canal wouldn't themselves debate their proposal, nor did they publish the studies that they said supported it in Spanish. Most Panamanians sensed that they were being taken for suckers and just didn't vote, but the highly disciplined PRD did, and that block of somewhat less than one-third of the electorate gave them a landslide victory in a low-turnout vote.


What about the "experts" who were sent in for the few debates, who so mockingly dismissed the likes of former deputy canal administrator Fernando Manfredo and former National Environmental Authority director Gonzalo Menendez, who argued that the proposal was flawed because it didn't take adequate account of global warming? Well, there was this reorganization at the Panama Canal Authority and most of the hatchet men don't work there anymore, so like any corporation engaged in banal consumer fraud the ACP can now pretend that the reassurances that were given never happened.


(The public-financed "yes" campaign position papers dismissing the prediction that the planet's warming would open up the Northwest Passage and thus the competition would make the ACP's canal usage predictions unrealistically optimistic still do exist, however.)


Less than one year after that vote, much sooner than anyone expected, the Northwest Passage has thawed to the point that it's navigable. See the yellow line in the photo above. Commercial use of that route won't start this year but it's clearly coming in the next few years. It's the main business story in Panama at the moment even if the ACP has nothing to say about it. And even if we get no comment from official circles, there are folks out there who are determined that the false assurances we were given by the "yes" people --- using public funds to do so --- will not be forgotten anytime soon.


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Mainly for other reasons polls are suggesting that there has been a substantial drop in popularity for President Torrijos. Still, he's a lot more popular than the last several presidents were at this point in their administrations, and even if the aura of inevitability surrounding the PRD's chances of keeping control of the government in 2009  has dissipated, it's by no means assured the opposition will win. The campaign is off to an early start and it's getting interesting.


The latest major scandal may be the talk of the town, but as it implicates both the Torrijos and Moscoso administrations and this country's banking establishment it's likely that it will never be properly investigated.


For many in this country, citizens and foreigners alike, the temptation will be to enjoy the birds and the mountain scenery and to spend more time tending gardens than public affairs. What with exotic crab invasions, speculators with more money than brains turning their attentions elsewhere and our English-language cultural scene reinforced by infusions of both experienced and youthful talent, Panama is ever more fun for the person whose thoughts and interests go beyond "buy low and sell high."


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This being the second issue of September, we are in one of the two fundraising months of the year and the contributions are trickling in very slowly. So far there have been a few strange things, but nothing like the usual massive electronic attacks to which we had become accustomed for during or just preceding our fundraising appeals over the past few years. Maybe it's because some further precautions have been taken, maybe it's because conditions have changed, maybe another shoe is about to drop.


Just because The Panama News is not in acute crisis at the moment does not mean that we have all the resources we ought to have. Donate generously, folks, and it will be reflected in the quality of what you see on this website, and now can hear on our audio features.


Again, I put in my plea for people to contribute articles and photos, and to consider volunteering some time with production and corrections. One problem we have, for example, is that a lot of the links buttons at the bottom of our many of our pages are outdated. When you click some of them, nothing comes up. Others bring you sets of links that may or may not work and probably need to be improved with new additions. Just clicking on some of the links and sending me emails when you find broken ones or have suggestions for new ones would be a tremendous help if enough people pitched in with a little help or a few people put in some serious effort.


I would also like to talk to some of you folks who have some working knowledge of RSS, both for the purpose of getting articles from The Panama News more widely distributed over the Internet and to develop a constantly updating page of links to other people's stories and features about Latin America and the Caribbean. Learning things like this while trying to catch up with production that's always behind is a pain, but a necessary one to keep this publication relevant.


You see, generic fun in the sun is a distinct possibility here in Panama, but after awhile you'll get tired of that. Then you may well look around and discover that this is a place with a lot of interesting things for people with a lot of different interests, and The Panama News is the place to share so much of this by way of your contributions.



Eric Jackson

the editor

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