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Volume 15, Number 19
December 20, 2009

opinion

Also in this section:

Editorials: What not to do about bad court decisions; and The disposable Hamid Karzai
Guevara Mann, Stanley Heckadon's new book
Jackson, Panama's looted archives
Leis, 20 years after the horror
Bernal, Public safety and human rights
Alianza Ciudadana Pro Justicia, The Supreme Court nomination process
Greenpeace, Copenhagen a cop-out
WWF, Copenhagen Accord: half-baked text and unclear substance
Obama, Remarks in Copenhagen
Amnesty International, Allegations of police killings in Guatemala must be investigated
Reporters Without Borders, Activist gunned down in Tegucigalpa
Weisbrot, The US government and the Honduran coup
Blanco, The gay marriage debate in Argentina
Benjamin, Uruguay's former guerrilla president-elect
Sirias, Uplifted at a president's funeral
Beach, US energy policy and Canada's tar sands
Picolotti and Taillant, World Bank energy policy and human rights
Avnery, Oybama
Nasser, United States creating its antithesis in Iraq
Letters to the editor

Stanley Heckadon's new book
by Carlos Guevara Mann

A speech at the presentation of De selvas a potreros: la colonización santeña en Panamá, 1850-1980 (From Forests to Pastures: Santeño Colonization in Panama, 1850-1980) by Dr. Stanley Heckadon Moreno at the annual event commemorating the birth of President Belisario Porras organized by the Francisco Céspedes Educational Association, Las Tablas, 27 November 2009

Inspired by the humanistic and professional career of Professor Francisco Céspedes, a distinguished son of Las Tablas, the Francisco Céspedes Educational Association was formed by a group of citizens motivated by a desire to contribute to the educational development of Los Santos Province, in particular, and Panama, in general. Tonight, the Association is proud to recognize one of the country's most prestigious researchers and environmentalists, Dr. Stanley Heckadon Moreno.

Exedra Books has just published his latest volume, De selvas a potreros: la colonización santeña en Panamá, 1850-1980 (From Forests to Pastures: Santeño Colonization in Panama, 1850-1980), presented this evening in commemoration of the 153rd anniversary of the birth of the unforgettable statesman, Dr. Belisario Porras, as a contribution from the Francisco Céspedes Educational Association to education and culture in Los Santos.

Our guest lecturer is a prominent Panamanian with roots in the Interior, who has distinguished himself as one of our principal environmental scholars. Less known --- though no less valuable --- is his anthropological and historical research, which enhances the cultural heritage of our Isthmus by providing thought-provoking perspectives on various national episodes.

Dr. Heckadon was born in the Province of Chiriqui into a family deeply rooted in the Panamanian countryside, characterized by an attachment to traditional values and a harmonious coexistence with the natural environment. He obtained a bachelor's degree in Anthropology at the University of Los Andes, Colombia and a master's and Ph.D. in Sociology at the University of Essex, England. In fulfilling the requirements for the doctorate, in 1983 he submitted a dissertation on the colonization of the forests. This text served as the basis for the book presented tonight.

Our speaker held public office in the extinct Ministry of Planning and Economic Policy and in the Institute of Renewable Natural Resources --- today the National Environmental Authority (ANAM) --- where he served as Director-General. For many years he has been a researcher in the world-renowned Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI), headquartered in Panama. At STRI he is Director of Communications and Public Programs and Coordinator of the Punta Galeta Marine Laboratory, in Colon.

Dr. Heckadon has been the motor behind the creation and conservation of the protected Punta Galeta area. For many years he has done a commendable job. He succeeded in transforming that portion of our Caribbean coastline into a heritage site of great relevance, a national educational hub, and an international research center.

He is a constant and permanent defender of our marine ecosystems. Recently, we have seen him in the media, denouncing the devastation of Colon's mangroves. Unless it is stopped, this devastation will have grave repercussions for the area's quality of life.

Punta Galeta, one of his stellar projects, is a place worth a visit by tonight's audience as well as students from Los Santos Province. All would benefit from the acquisition of knowledge about Panama's ecological assets, the conservation of our environment, and the natural history of our isthmus.

Among his multiple accomplishments, Dr. Heckadon is the author of various books, articles, and monographs. Our guest speaker is a tireless writer who regularly delivers research of great quality on issues of much interest to the citizens of Panama. Standing out among those texts is the work now being presented, De selvas a potreros: la colonización santeña en Panamá, 1850-1980, as well as Cuando se acaban los montes: los campesinos santeños y la colonización de Tonosí (When the Mountains Run Out: The Santeño Campesinos and the Colonization of Tonosí), to which the author will also allude in his address.

De selvas a potreros is a captivating book for various reasons, some of which are intimately linked to the commemoration of the achievements of the people of Los Santos, including those of the province's most prominent citizen, Dr. Belisario Porras. We find in the text a very useful geographic description and natural history of the Azuero Peninsula.

The author's detailed rendition of traditional Santeño society is of great interest for the avid reader. That society's essential traits were the communal possession of land, low population, a subsistence economy, and the absence of permanent links with the rest of the isthmus. In the first decades of the twentieth century, however, those characteristics gave way to more modern features.

Beginning with the founding of the Republic in 1903 and the construction of the inter-oceanic canal (which concluded in 1914) Santeño society underwent broad transformations, inspired by liberalism and implemented through public policies adopted by the incipient Panamanian state. Some of these policies were adopted and carried out during the administrations of Dr. Belisario Porras, the great liberal modernizer, whom we commemorate this evening.

These include, notably, significant sanitary improvements, the most evident result of which was a large drop in infant mortality, to the benefit of the province's families; the foundation of a national educational system, which in a short period produced an impressive reduction in illiteracy and extended the intellectual horizons of Panama's men and women; and the creation of a national communication network based on the construction of roads and the establishment of telegraph, telephone, and regular domestic navigation services throughout the country.

In Las Tablas, we have concrete symbols of all of these transformations. A concern for public health that predominated in the first decades of the Republic is represented by the old Geradino de León Hospital, an ornate building deserving renovation and dedication to some valuable public use, such as a cultural center, as proposed by the Francisco Céspedes Educational Association.

The unprecedented emphasis on national education that characterized our early liberal administrations inspired the construction of the President Porras Model School, an elegant facility included in our National Heritage List. The emphasis on communications shows itself in the history of the National Highway, one of whose first stretches began precisely in Las Tablas because Dr. Porras wanted his native city to be one of the main points in the road system that would contribute to a better integration of the country.

Another aspect of the book --- less tangible but no less significant --- that is worth mentioning in this context is the fair consideration of the qualities of the people of Los Santos that we find in De selvas a potreros. Based on carefully recorded and analyzed interviews and observations, the author offers us a revealing perspective of the rigor of the Santeño peasant, his arduous work to procure sustenance for his family, and the strenuous tasks he undertakes to guarantee his survival.

In the pages of his book, Dr. Heckadon offers a human portrait of the colonist. Far from denigrating, denouncing, or attributing to the migrant Santeño all of the country's ecological ills --- as some do flippantly --- he presents the colonist as a hard-working, sacrificing individual, who --- in order to assure his family's means of survival --- wields the hoe, the axe, the machete and the pike with great energy.

The work of the Santeño colonist is based on important values, such as social cooperation through informal institutions like the junta (“gathering”) and the peonada (“gathering of laborers”); the observance of a moral code with strong Christian foundations; and equality, an essential attribute of the liberal doctrine proclaimed by Dr. Belisario Porras, three-time President of the Republic.

Undoubtedly, those interested in the development of the City of Las Tablas and the Province of Los Santos will find the pages of De selvas a potreros an extremely valuable resource, easily accessible and comprehensible. My hearty congratulations go to the author for the great quality of the research he conducted with much success. The presentation of his book is, indeed, a fine way of celebrating the essence of Las Tablas emblemized in the personality, career and thinking of Dr. Belisario Porras.


Translated with the assistance of Adam Footlik


Also in this section:
Editorials: What not to do about bad court decisions; and The disposable Hamid Karzai
Guevara Mann, Stanley Heckadon's new book
Jackson, Panama's looted archives
Leis, 20 years after the horror
Bernal, Public safety and human rights
Alianza Ciudadana Pro Justicia, The Supreme Court nomination process
Greenpeace, Copenhagen a cop-out
WWF, Copenhagen Accord: half-baked text and unclear substance
Obama, Remarks in Copenhagen
Amnesty International, Allegations of police killings in Guatemala must be investigated
Reporters Without Borders, Activist gunned down in Tegucigalpa
Weisbrot, The US government and the Honduran coup
Blanco, The gay marriage debate in Argentina
Benjamin, Uruguay's former guerrilla president-elect
Sirias, Uplifted at a president's funeral
Beach, US energy policy and Canada's tar sands
Picolotti and Taillant, World Bank energy policy and human rights
Avnery, Oybama
Nasser, United States creating its antithesis in Iraq
Letters to the editor
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