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Volume 16, Number 10
September 25, 2010

front page

Some of the recently added stories:
All sides back down a bit over Law 30
Sección en español: Panamá cae en la calificación mundial de libertad de prensa
More arrests, trials and convictions of journalists
Cabinet sends package of economic measures to the legislature
Storm of protest over double assault on freedom of the press
Police, Embera community give last farewell to a fallen officer
The God of Carnage (and Hydra) at the Ancon Theater
Featured Panama Jazz Festival 2011 musicians announced
Las columnas de opiniones en español ya listas: Martinelli frente la ONU
Obama frente la ONU (español)
Lemon-Aid: Phil Edmonston's automotive consumer page
Rainy season over Punta Pacifica
Bernal, Five years as a persona non grata
Sirias, The kindly demon that fuels me
Special edition of the Wappin Radio Show: a jazz wake for Bernie Walters
Corals: spawning, bleaching and one reason why they matter
Some of the fauna on Ancon Hill (the whole nature section of the next issue is uploaded)
A preview of the next issue's editorial page
Dining at Bucanero's
Creative Change in Coco Solo
Bosco says he has an atom bomb
Panamanian justice leads to civil liability in the USA
Bocas water taxi shutdown affecting tourism
Panama's true economic strength
New phase, continuity for the Balboa Union Church
The fury of Boquete's recent flood
also, look for daily updates from Panama and elsewhere on our Facebook page

Being taken for a ride

I can and do criticize the Martinelli administration for many things, and I could play critic with respect to the Spanish-language video above. However, I can't and won't argue that the coming Metro rail system is not a welcome development. Whatever shortcomings the project may have, and whatever problems it may develop, it's something that Panama City needs.

And when my kind of people take over the government, we'll send in the country's top bus artists to make the trains not only utilitarian, but a celebration of Panama's unique culture.

But leave that for then. Right now, this project is one of the positive things to report about Panama.

*     *     *

This is one of the times when The Panama News asks readers for donations. It comes when there are hard times for many people in both the United States and in Panama so I know that asking for anything is asking a lot. The wish list includes backup computers, shelves or bookcases for the ongoing slow-motion office makeover, photographic equipment, and the funds to do a bit more traveling and be a bit more timely paying our bills --- the usual things.

If you care to contribute toward the cause, you can do so financially by sending a check made out to "Eric Jackson" --- there is no bank account in the name of The Panama News, so checks made out in that name are not negotiable, and with very few exceptions money orders are non-negotiable in Panama as well --- with a notation that it's for The Panama News, and mail it to:

The Panama News
Apartado 55-0927 Estafeta Paitilla
Panama, Republic of Panama

The Panama News can accept donations by credit card via PayPal. If you want to help us out in that way, go to and select the "send money" function --- if you don't have a PayPal account you will have to sign up --- send your contribution to, et voila.

(PayPal will say you are sending money to Henry Smith. Henry and Nora Smith's business, provides a great array of services to people who are thinking about moving here. We have an alliance with them that lets us piggyback on their PayPal account, as PayPal wants you to have a US account, which we do not have. The money will get to The Panama News.)

You can also take checks, cash or in-kind donations to our office in Perejil. The Panama News office is in the Edificio Muchachas Guias --- Panama's Girl Scout headquarters --- the second to the last building on the right on Calle 3ra in Perejil, which is the street that runs behind the old Colegio Javier that's about to become the Jesuit museum. You may want to call to arrange a time to meet --- especially if you have an in-kind donation to make --- but if you stop by the place during ordinary business hours, find us absent, and leave an envelope with the Girl Scout leaders, they will make sure that it gets to us.

And I thank those of you who have helped out, and will help out, from the bottom of my heart.

*     *     *

Kali Bambas

Alas, I find myself in front of a computer in Panama province, while a very fun afternoon is underway in Portobelo.

Do you think Detroit is in decline? Portobelo has gone way, way down since the demise of the Spanish trade fairs that resulted from the mid-18th century War of Jenkins's Ear, but like Detroiters, the people of that town on Colon's Costa Arriba have clung tenaciously to life in their own special way.

Cayuco racing, which started out as a Boy Scouts of America project in the old Canal Zone, has lived on mostly as an upscale private school and middle and upper class sport, but now the hardscrabble towns along the Costa Arriba have been bitten by the bug and have their own season. And to go along with the cayuco racing in Portobelo this afternoon, there's music from the town's Esculita del Ritmo, one of whose teachers is Senegalese musician Kali Bambas. West African culture survived in the jungles around Portobelo and into the Darien when the Cimarrones, escaped slaves, set up remote villages on the West African model. Their legacy comes down to us in the dances, music and costumes of the congo culture, of which Portobelo is the capital.

Portobelo is ramping up its activities for both itself and visitors, but as always the year's main event is the Festival of the Black Christ on October 21. If you are thinking about attending, you need to consider travel plans. I am told of improvements in traffic and parking arrangements, but there's only so much that can be done in that area. Some people come and go by sea and avoid the traffic jam.

We have a strong culture section in this issue, but our main Portobelo item, about the Sandra Eleta photographic restrospective, is best seen by a trip to the Museo de Arte Contemporaneo before the show closes on October 3.

Han Cheung, a grad student who spent a few weeks doing an internship with us, has another photography-related story that may, for different reasons, be of interest to Zonians who lived on the Atlantic Side. Coco Solo is not what it used to be, but even in its severely depressed state, the spark of creativity has not gone out.

*     *     *

Let a man who came from the slums of Trenchtown to become the first Third World musician to become a really big and enduring international figure put hard times in their perspective:

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The US election campaign is getting down to the final few weeks and, according to the polls, is not looking like the GOP blowout that the August numbers suggested.  I'm one of those Democrats who is disappointed with various things but determined to cast my vote against letting the Republicans take over Congress. I know that all of you readers do not see this the way that I do. Our local chapters of Democrats Abroad and Republicans Abroad are working hard to turn out the vote, and none are working harder than the non-partisan Overseas Vote Foundation to mobilize the millions of Americans living abroad to cast their ballots.

Look at it this way. If you are a Republican and you don't vote, you will let me decide for you. On the other hand, if you are a Democrat and don't vote, you will be letting Christine O'Donnell decide for you.

The Panama News has Spanish sections and a fair number of readers in the state of Florida. Woe to the party that tells Latino voters one thing in Spanish, and tells the Anglo voters something very different in English.

*     *     *

Under President Ricardo Martinelli and his obedient judges and prosecutors, Panama is moving ever further away from the rule of law. A tiny group of families and companies benefits from this and the most obsequious and obnoxious members of the political class are flocking to the Cambio Democratico party. On the day this is written, word has come that a jury of eight government employees has acquitted a police sergeant of murder even though more than three dozen witnesses saw him shoot a labor activist at point-blank range, when the union man was unarmed, nonviolent and carrying a piece of paper --- a municipal stop-work order --- to the office of the thuggish Colombian developer for whom the police were serving as a goon squad. It is not just the labor militants who are concerned.

We have a new US ambassador here and she has been making the usual visits, one of which was to the leaders of the opposition PRD. Some expressed surprise that she would do this. Understand, though, that while she is supposed to be diplomatically neutral and it's an ordinary thing for an ambassador to meet with opposition leaders, some people want to read things into the event because Martinelli is trying to criminalize all of his opponents and has predicted the death of the PRD. It thus appears that he does not have Washington's cooperation in this effort.

It would be unfortunate, however, if Panamanians pay undue attention to what the US government is thinking or doing. Martinelli's increasingly undemocratic regime is Panama's problem to solve. Even when they have the best of intentions, the people in Washington just don't know enough about us to run our country.

*     *     *

Uncle Sam did, however, know enough to give talented Panamanian musician, composer and arranger Dino Nugent a Fulbright scholarship. This is one of Dino's compositions:

*     *     *

There are all sorts of claims being made about the Panamanian economy, and I hesitate to treat the government's growth projections for the Gross Domestic Product as either reliable or newsworthy. Due to the canal expansion and other public works spending, our economy did not go into a tailspin in 2008 and 2009 like those of many of our neighbors. Unemployment is relatively low and tax revenues are up. But our national debt is way up, nearly half of the work force is in the informal sector which faces increased government harassment, our public health and education sectors were already bad and are getting much worse, the environment upon which much of our tourism sector is predicated is being trashed with impunity, crime is pretty bad, corruption is in our faces and such prosperity as shows on the books is not being seen by most Panamanians.

The worst part of the economic picture is in the indigenous comarcas. Poverty is universal among Panama's first nations. The Martinelli government does not recognize the collective land holdings of indigenous communities outside of the comarcas, nor indigenous sovereignty over the water or mineral rights within the comarcas, and Panama has been seeing a low-intensity Indian uprising because of these things. Now the Martinelli administration has moved to take over the elections in the largest of the comarcas, the Ngäbe-Buglé Comarca. In October we will see a process that will result in an indigenous government whose legitimacy will be legitimately be questioned.

Give the government its due, but look askance at its claims of a prosperous and stable Panama.

*     *     *

The God of Carnage cast

I remember when the last US military bases in Panama were shutting down and there was a lot of speculation about whether the English-language theater scene and its community institution, the Theatre Guild of Ancon, would survive. It not only survives, it thrives, to the point that offers by serious people to do serious productions can get rejected because the theater is being used for rehearsals for other events.

Coming up we have Kimberly Hall directing our local version of a recent Broadway hit, The God of Carnage.  It's on October 7-9 and 14-16, and it promises to be a memorable play.

*     *     *

It's a La Niña season, which means heavier than usual rains for most of Panama. Bocas is sunnier than usual and the US National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration is predicting a die-off  of many of our Caribbean coral formations. In the Boquete area we had some terrible floods, which have altered river courses and led to predictable property disputes. We are going to have a wetter than usual dry season, which is mixed news for the agricultural sector and terrible news for the salt dryers in Aguadulce. My granadilla vine is loving it.

So it's a less than unanimous opinion, but the wettest part of the rainy season is not yet here and many are thinking along the lines of "enough already" with the rain. As in, �basta ya! --- like in the Olga Tañón hit, even if the Puerto Rican diva wasn't singing about the weather:


Eric Jackson
editor & publisher

PS: People who are on The Panama News email list are notified as new articles are uploaded onto this website, as the production cycle bears an ever more tenuous relationship to the stated dates of any particular issue. People on this list started getting links to articles in this issue more than a week before this front page was uploaded. Send me an email asking to subscribe if you want to get on the email list.

Most new articles are also uploaded to my Facebook page, on which I post news items about Panama and the world that are derived from other sources on a more or less daily basis. Also on that Facebook page I upload the Wappin Radio Show several times per week. Facebook keep changing their policies and functions around, but at the moment I hope that I have the page set up so that one may have access to its "wall" without registering as my Facebook "friend."

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The Panama News Editors

Editor & Publisher - Eric Jackson
Contributing Editor - Silvio Sirias
Contributing Editor - José F. Ponce
Copy Editor - Sue Hindman (1944-2010)

© 2010 by Eric Jackson
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Eric Jackson
att'n The Panama News
Apartado 0831-00927 Estafeta Paitilla
Panamá, República de Panamá