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Volume 15, Number 6
March 28, 2009

news

Also in this section:
PRD in disarray, denial about DMG scandal
While they didn't have it together to open the schools on time...
Balbina Herrera's platform
Regional drug routes
Slain INAC director gets state honors
Panama News Briefs


photo by the Balbina Herrera campaign

Balbina Herrera's platform
by Eric Jackson

Balbina Herrera, the Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD) presidential candidate who is also the nominee of her party's junior partners the Partido Popular and the Partido Liberal, has the country's largest and most disciplined political party behind her, but still that amounts to less than one-third of the electorate so she has to reach out beyond her party and its formal allies to win. On a number of issues she is distinguishing herself from the current PRD administration of Martín Torrijos. She's trying to pull the party back together after a close and bruising primary with two-term Panama City Mayor Juan Carlos Navarro, who is now her running mate.

Polls and some unfavorable publicity may give Herrera cause for concern, but those are beyond the scope of this story. Here, as we did earlier with her principal opponent Ricardo Martinelli, we consider Balbina Herrera's political platform, the things she says she'll do if elected to office.

Crime and public safety: a "Hard Hand with Justice"

The country is facing a serious crime wave that's affecting residents of most social classes. Part of it is a war among rival gangsters, mostly Mexican in their leadership, for control of drug smuggling routes. Part of it is a symptom of poverty, hopelessness and social disintegration that has promoted the growth of violent youth gangs. But the bottom line is that a lot of people are afraid, and thus Herrera has made crime the central theme of her campaign. She is calling for:
  • Military discipline among the police

  • Special new police units to deal with violent crime

  • Raising police officers' base pay to $550 per month

  • Parents using such corporal punishment against their kids as they see fit without fear of child abuse charges

  • Longer sentences for criminals, especially for violent juvenile offenders

Food prices

Panama is still a cheaper place to live than many other countries, but because incomes for working people and retirees have by and large stagnated in times of high inflation both nationally and worldwide, many Panamanians have seen a substantial decline in their standard of living. That's manifested for many whenever they go to the grocery store. Herrera's principal opponent is a supermarket chain owner, and she's blaming "speculators" in that and other walks of life for inflation. On the campaign trail she's promising:
  • Jail terms for speculators

  • Price controls

  • More financing and technical assistance for farmers, so as to increase national food production

  • The creation of a number of new farmers' markets in the capital and many of the principal towns in the Interior

Jobs

During the Torrijos administration there has been an upscale residential construction boom in Panama City. Due to US visa restriction and annoying treatment of Latin Americans at US points of entry by Homeland Security agents, we have become an important retail shopping and transportation hub for Central America and northern South America, where people who used to shop in Miami or New York now go, and Latin Americans who would fly to Europe make connections here instead of in the USA. The Panama Canal expansion has led a wave of public works projects that have also created a lot of jobs. Thus, under the current PRD administration, unemployment has sunk to its lowest levels in a generation. But the Panama City real estate speculation bubble has burst, the world economic crisis has affected the Panama Canal and its most important ancillary industries, the Colon Free Zone and our international banking center, and all those public works jobs will come to an end. Unemployment is rising just a bit and the fear of a steep increase in joblessness is in the air. To create jobs, Balbina Herrera is proposing to:
  • Subsidize businesses that provide young workers with their first jobs

  • Invest in private canal related, tourist, housing, construction and export production industries

  • Create work-study programs that would create part-time and vacation jobs for students

Education

The current administration has overseen massive embezzlement and contracting scandals in the Ministry of Education, bitter teacher strikes, deteriorating school buildings and by international measurements a general decline in public education. Balbina Herrera's promises in this field are modest, and include:
  • Free school uniforms and shoes in schools that serve the most poverty-stricken areas

  • Expanded school lunch programs

  • More scholarships for students at all levels

Health

Under the current administration public health care services have declined, and there has been the major scandal of a mass poisoning by way of the distribution by the government of cough syrup contaminated with toxic diethylene glycol. Here, too, Herrera's campaign promises are relatively modest and avoid controversial Torrijos initiatives like the unification of the Seguro Social and Ministry of Health systems. Her promises include:
  • Four new hospitals for the Panama City - San Miguelito - Arraijan - La Chorrera metro area, and hospitals for the Ngobe-Bugle Comarca and the Darien

  • An end to medicine shortages

  • Shorter waits for surgery

Transportation

Transportation is probably the biggest failure of the Torrijos administration, in terms of the number of people who feel annoyed on a daily basis, and it's the part of Balbina Herrera's platform that differs the most from that of the current administration. Herrera is promising:
  • A metro area public transportation system built around a fleet of new buses and a monorail

  • A major street widening program within the metro area

  • Making the two-lane highways between Divisa and Las Tablas and between Santiago and David into four-lane divided roads

Some other programs

Herrera has also pledged to:

  • Create a basic retirement pension of 50 percent of the Seguro Social minimum --- that would amount to $162 at the moment --- for those citizens who don't qualify for a pension

  • Extend the Red de Oportunindades program wherein needy families with kids get $50 per month for keeping their kids in school

  • Create a Sports Ministry

  • Renovate public sports stadiums and arenas in Colon

  • Extend irrigation projects in the central provinces

  • Build a new water treatment plant in the Concepcion area of Chiriqui


Also in this section:
PRD in disarray, denial about DMG scandal
While they didn't have it together to open the schools on time...
Balbina Herrera's platform
Regional drug routes
Slain INAC director gets state honors
Panama News Briefs

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