14, Number 13
No tax hike for the Cinta Costera
The government has mostly stonewalled, but has to date given four different stories about the financing of the Cinta Costera boondoggle.
A functionary of the Ministry of Public Works told La Prensa that the Hotel Miramar and the Club de Yates y Pesca will not have to pay any of the project's cost, as they exist as concessions on public property rather than on private land. (As to the Hotel Miramar, for the hotel itself that's inaccurate, but that was the government's erroneous statement, not anybody else's.) La Prensa published this and shortly thereafter President Torrijos was complaining about inaccurate journalism, arguing that the hotel and the club would pay higher taxes just like the neighbors.
MOP first told La Prensa that property owners between Avenida Justo Arosemena and the beach would pay 70 percent of the project's costs, and then later told the same paper that property owners between Via España and the beach, plus those in Paitilla and Punta Pacifica, will pay nearly all of the cost.
Would this be by a special charge, or by higher property tax assessments? Either way it would be unacceptable, but if it's a matter of higher tax assessments, that means that owners of buildings less than 20 years old don't pay, while everyone else pays extra. That would force virtually every owner of an older building to sell in order to avoid insanely higher property taxes, even as Panama City's inflated real estate bubble is bursting. It would destroy many existing businesses and demolish what is left of the historic architecture between Via España and the beach.
No way. The Cinta Costera is not a solution to Panama's traffic problems, it's a basket of political patronage plums for distribution by the PRD. Its builder, the local subsidiary of the corrupt Brazilian company Odebrecht, did not win the bidding but was awarded the contract for political reasons. The acceptance of Odebrecht's environmental impact statement by the National Environmental Authority is a symbol of the Torrijos administration's sneering disregard for such protective legislation as we have. No way should the neighbors have to pay for this obnoxious scam.
The way to a lasting peace in ColombiaFARC must abandon its war and Colombia must abandon paramilitarized politics
Although there are questions about who played which roles in the ruse that freed 15 of the hundreds of hostages held by Colombia's FARC rebels --- including the most politically important one of all --- there is no question that the guerrillas have suffered a string of bitter defeats from which they can not recover anytime soon.
However, there are still thousands of armed rebels in the field, and the notion that they will just go away or can readily be mopped up by military force is a delusion. Also delusionary is the idea that the paramilitary thugs with whom Colombian President Álvaro Uribe and his party have been aligned are not a continuing problem for the country, or for that matter, for Panama and other surrounding countries.
They remain a problem because lands and other properties stolen in the course of paramilitary offensives remain in the hands of supposedly demobilized paramilitary members. They remain a problem because among the paramilitary veterans, and also among those who fought for FARC or the Colombian armed forces, there are many individuals who know murder, abduction and intimidation very well but don't have the skills or disposition to fit back into a normal society as peaceful and productive members. Our neighbors' combatants and former combatants are a problem for Panama and all other countries next to Colombia to the extent that they take their crime waves abroad.
FARC should release its remaining hostages and lay down their arms. Because its members would be physically threatened in Colombia, they should do so in camps in Venezuela, with financial assistance from the Venezuelan government to learn new skills, calm down and take up dignified civilian lives.
Colombia, for its part, should strip the paramilitarized politicians of their power and the paramilitary members of their ill-gotten gains. It should embark on a true peace process that allows the internal and external refugees --- millions of Colombians --- to return to their homes if they wish and to be compensated for homes and farms that were taken from them if they wish to carry on their lives away from the places and occupations from which they were driven. Here Panama and other neighboring countries can do many things to help the refugees to return to Colombia with appropriate safeguards and good prospects for better lives.
Easier said than done, and the more likely prospect is Álvaro Uribe beating his chest and, counting on US support, setting himself up to be president for life or at least to get an unconstitutional third term in office. But there is no lasting protection against endemic violence so long as Colombian politics remain paramilitarized.
How is it, Lord, that we are cowards in everything save in opposing Thee?
St. Teresa of Avila
The ordinary man is passive. Within a narrow circle, home life, and perhaps the trade unions or local politics, he feels himself master of his fate. But otherwise he simply lies down and lets things happen to him.
Man invented language to satisfy his deep need to complain.
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