Some of the recently added stories:
Martinelli administration snared in scandals
WikiLeaks document: Official doubts about PanCanal expansion contractors
La vaina de las licitaciones de la ampliación del canal, en ojos norteamericanos
The improbable Panatropolis project
Text of the US-Panama Tax Information Exchange Agreement (PDF)
Latin America and the Caribbean will grow by six percent in 2010
Coronado grows as a commercial center
Tabo Toral at Arteconsult --- The whole issue 13 culture section is uploaded (follow the links)
The Panama News Acrostic
The Panama Jazz Festival's educational mission
Unusually heavy rains disrupt many lives
Grupos de sociedad civil denuncian corrupción y debilitamiento democrático
Theatre Guild's 60th Annivsary Christmas Show
Cool Internet sites: special Christmas music edition
At the Interoceanic Canal Museum, 100 years of the Smithsonian in Panama
José Ponce's Panama scenes
A vacation in Guatemala
Weird hippie reptiles in the garden?
Harvard Law School report on Panamanian jail and prison conditions (in Spanish, PDF)
Sirias, Books that affected me
University of Haifa comes looking for potential Panama ties
Jackson, Bigotry and language
La Nińa effect expected to last through March
STRI symposium on advanced radio telemetry at Barro Colorado Island
Boehner's Panama Connection (link)
Preview of the next issue's editorials: Political prosecutions, Wikileaks and Bank secrecy
Mining Watch, the Canada-Panama Free Trade Agreement (PDF)
Will San Miguelito's mayor be saved by a party switch?
Lemon-Aid: The auto industry shakes out; and Beware the GM Volt
Wikileaks and Latin America
Letters to the editor
...also, look for daily updates from Panama and elsewhere on our Facebook page
The Panama News has a couple of sections in Spanish, as most of Panama's English-speaking community is bilingual or ought to be trying to learn the national language. For those who are trying to improve their Spanish, this online dictionary and multiple translation machine can be quite helpful.
A small business tribute to Panama, its people and its history.
Photo by José F. Ponce
In the public domain
We are well into the Panamanian holiday season, which by common reckoning stretches from November 3 through Carnival Tuesday. Yes, as part of the Catholic tradition and especially at the moment due to the Opus Dei religious right's influence in the government, it gets extended on each end, with the Day of the Dead on the front side and Ash Wednesday on the end, and with Carnival eliminated or at best tolerated. This reporter would extend it on the front side by starting with the Festival of the Black Christ. This is a rundown of Panama's national holidays for beginners, and some other things, in parentheses, that are part of the holiday season but which I don't think particularly qualify as "national" holidays:
Most of all, Panama is its people, the majority of whom the oligarchs who pretend to be the "real Panamanians" in one way or another exclude. It's a mix of races and cultural influences, with regional dialects of Spanish, indigenous languages, commonly spoken foreign languages, local cuisines and cultural features and few commonly accepted definitions of what it is to be Panamanian beyond "not part of Colombia" and "not part of Costa Rica."
Panama, its national symbols and its national holidays belong to all Panamanians, without regard to family ties, ethnicity, race, social class, partisan affiliation, religion, philosophy or whom a person knows. They are in the public domain and are not to be privatized or expropriated.
* * *
Rubén Blades has just won another Grammy award, this time the Latin Grammy for the year's best album by a singer/songwriter, for Cantares del Subdesarrollo (Songs of Underdevelopment). Its lyrics are his most hard-hitting musical commentary since he did Buscando America in 1984, and although he released it in 2009 and won his award for it this year, it was actually recorded in 2003. But the entertainer and activist put it in the can while he was a public servant. Would it have detracted from his performance as tourism minister, or prevented him from getting that job in the first place? It's hard to say, but Blades made a decision to, with a very few exceptions that did not interfere with his duties as tourism minister, set aside music and acting for five years.
Compare Blades with his successor, both as a musician and as a government official with a duty of loyalty to the Panamanian people. Blades served honorably in an obnoxious administration. He's one of the people legitimately able to go on his way with his head held high after the Torrijos administration. I don't think that his successor will be able to do the same at the end of the Martinelli years.
* * *
I have from time to time over the years gotten into major arguments about the subject of international adoptions, which Panamanian law generally discourages. I support those laws, mainly because I believe that a society that treats some of the children of the poor as an export commodity is a society that has cheapened the value of human life, that is throwing away its valuable human resources and that is inevitably making life worse for the kids left behind.* * *
This is not to say that I oppose adoptions, or adoptions by foreigners living in Panama. The general legal principle here is that an adopted child should grow up knowing about Panama, knowing that she or he is Panamanian and knowing something about this country's language and culture. I have known a number of Americans living here who have taken in Panamanian kids who needed homes, either on a legally formal or an informal basis, complied with the aims of the national policy, and enriched their own and the kids' lives.
Panama has no government bureaucracy anything like the foster parent programs of most US states. Maybe that's a good thing. When parents are unavailable or unable to take care of children, Panama looks first to extended families --- including godparents, who have legal responsibilities here --- and then to religious congregations, family friends and neighbors. Usually it's just the children with serious handicaps, who are traumatized by abuse or neglect, or who have chronic diseases like HIV infections, who are left for the orphanages.
That leaves up to 160 kids at a time in the care of the sisters at the Hogar San Jose de Malambo orphanage. This 120-year-old institution not only doesn't get much government support, it is recently the victim of an internationally scandalous conversion of a large bequest by a rabiblanco family, its notorious lawyers and an outrageous Supreme Court. The orphanage needs your help this holiday season. A support group, Besitos de Mariposa, is taking a collection.
Yes, they will take cash donations, but what they are really looking for is folks who will buy a few items that they need for them when they go shopping. They are looking for:
If you can't make it to those stores at those times, these businesses have volunteered to be collection points for people with items to donate to the orphanage:
Gonzalo Menéndez, a/k/a Germán Forero
Another former high-ranking government official, one who has from time to time contributed articles to The Panama News, has distinguished himself recently.
Gonzalo Menéndez served as director of the National Environmental Authority (ANAM) under the Moscoso administration, and is another person who rightfully walked away from an awful government with his integrity and reputation intact. He was one of three ANAM directors in a row who told his boss that he wouldn't approve her proposed road through the Volcan Baru National Park. In the years since he has spent a lot of time abroad going to grad school, and has done some environmental consulting work. He is one of the first, maybe the first, noteworthy Panamanian to warn that our government wasn't sufficiently taking the possibilities of climate change into account in its various plans. He is in a somewhat governmental post again, as the environmental director for the Pacific part of the Panama Canal expansion project.
Another side to Menéndez is his writing, which when it's fictional tends to be under the pen name Germán Forero. He just won the Rafael De León-Jones Prize for short story writing, for a 15-story collection entitled El síndrome y otros cuentos. Look for a spiffy new edition of this book to appear early next year.
* * *
Latin America is generally not on the minds of people in the United States. It rarely is, and when it is it's often portrayed and seen in crude caricatures of villains and the occasional hero. There are two stories in particular from this region to which people in the States ought to be paying a bit more attention, but the notice seems to be going to just part of one of them.
The first is the border dispute --- if it can be called that --- between Costa Rica and Nicaragua. The presidents of both of those countries are behaving badly to appear more nationalistic in their respective domestic political situations. The argument is about a tiny, swampy patch of ground that almost certainly belongs to Costa Rica, a river that by an old agreement belongs to Nicaragua, and a combination of natural phenomena and human activity that may have changed or may yet change the positions of one or both of these. It's a garden variety riparian claim, a perfect case to bore the World Court judges to death, but Daniel and Laura would lose opportunities for posturing if they took that sensible route.
But do you know how in hockey two players might get sent to the penalty box for fighting, but the third person who intervenes in the altercation gets thrown out of the game? So it ought to be in this overblown argument. Panama's Ricardo Martinelli and Venezuela's Hugo Chávez have seen fit to involve themselves on the sides of Costa Rica and Nicaragua respectively and it's unbecoming in each case.
Then add Venezuela and Iran making noises about helping to build a Nicaraguan canal, which for geographic and demographic reasons (a longer, higher route, not enough skilled Nicaraguans to run the thing, a limited number of routes for which such a canal might be competitive --- things like that) is not going to be built. But for people who think that a war between the United States and Iran (or one with Venezuela) is a good idea, this nonstarter idea is as good an excuse as any for hysteria.
Meanwhile, as those minimally informed but passionate about what they think they know neighbors to the north were getting upset about Ortega's, Chávez's and Ahmadinejad's dastardly plot, a far more consequential process was unfolding in Guyana.
The new South American Union (UNASUR) held a summit in Georgetown. Its members declared that military coups are unacceptable and that in the event that such a thing happens on the continent, borders with the country in question will be closed and unspecified other measures will be taken. How serious Brazil in particular is about this matters, because given the history of the region and Brazil's growing power it's in effect a warning to the United States much akin to the warning that the United States gave to European powers by way of the Monroe Doctrine --- that is, if Brazil cares to back it up.
* * *
Now let's take a little break for some Panamanian rock, with Priscila Moreno:
* * *
Panama's police have new blue uniforms, and are on a major charm offensive. The brutality in Changuinola and the president's open encouragement of police brutality are not the best things for community relations. Neither is the faulty information in their Pele Policia database --- provided by other agencies of government --- which has led to many arrests that should not have happened. Then there are the martial displays in the holiday parades, which are not universally popular. All of these things probably reflect more accurately the attitudes of politicians than of the individual members of the police forces.
I went to the beautifully restored theater at the old Fort Clayton, now the City of Knowledge's Ateneo, to catch a special showing of Luis Romero's new film El Ultimo Soldado. There were a lot of cops in the audience, in uniform, having been bussed in. This version of the film was chopped down to 52 minutes so as to fit into a format that was shown on public TV in 14 Latin American countries. (Romero tells me that early next year he will be working on a longer "director's cut" to be shown in regular movie theaters.)
It's a matter of some importance that police officers understand the history of their country. If we want police who are of the people and for the people rather than members of an extraneous and hostile caste, we need to have a force that connects with and understands all aspects of our national identity. This entertaining film, which of course is neither the equivalent of a university semester in Panamanian history nor intended to be such, is still an important document to be in the public consciousness, one that belongs in many history classes. Cops who know this history are better cops.
The essential tale is that Panama was colonized for most of a century and that this has many ramifications, not all of them simple, that affect who we are as a nation. The film and the panel discussion that followed touched on both positive and negative aspects. Some of the important Panagringo realities were well put in the movie by musician Alex Reyes and theater director Bruce Quinn. Many other things were expounded upon by other folks who were interviewed, and by way of well done montages of old historical footage, still photos and topical newspaper editorial cartoons.
Me? I was polite, and took it all in without rude questions or statements. First of all, it's a worthy documentary that I think that anyone who understands Spanish and is interested in Panama should see, so I wouldn't want to be rude to the director or anyone else involved with it.
But this was the City of Knowledge, held forth by some who were interviewed in the film and by some of the folks onstage in the Ateneo as a shining example of decolonization, and there was a not so nice question that came to the top of my mind:
This City of Knowledge --- where are the public schools?
That, my friends, would be the start of a discussion about neo-colonialism that I am sure that a lot of people who hold a lot of power in this country would not want to have.
* * *
El Ultimo Soldado paid attention to the West Indian part of the Canal Zone's history, and in the panel there was a descendant of one of the many Europeans who were also part of the discriminated-against Silver Roll. On that note, let us get into rock steady mode for a Jamaican oldie:
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."
Listen to Internet radio as you read The Panama News by clicking onto one of the buttons below. Several of these buttons will get you to places that offer multiple channels. (So, do you ask the editor's favorites among these? Those would be RAC --- even though the editor doesn't speak Catalan --- and 3wk.)
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2010 by Eric Jackson
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