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Volume 16, Number 12
November 1, 2010


lifestyle

Also in this section:
Panamanian turkey stuffing
MarViva toy collection
American Society Thanksgiving
Veterans Day in Panama
The Thousand Polleras Parade
Flag Day in Penonome
Independence Day in the Casco Viejo
Independence Day in Juan Diaz
Independence Day in San Carlos
Scenes from the Handicrafts Fair
Phil Edmonston's Lemon-Aid: Beware of luxury lemons
José Ponce's Panama scenes
American football lives at Balboa Stadium
A night out with the Zombies
A bitter anniversary

A lot of articles from other publications and general commentary by various people about different aspects of life in Panama --- and freewheeling discussions about them --- can be found on our constantly updated Facebook page



A bitter anniversary
photos by Kermit Nourse, story by Eric Jackson

On October 23, 2006, bus 8B-06 of the Mano de Piedra / Corredor route caught fire just short of the bus stop that's below the Hosanna Temple. The fire killed 18 people and left several others seriously injured. Coming the day after Martín Torrijos's carefully orchestrated low-turnout win in the canal expansion referendum, the tragedy was the symbol and start of a political slide that culminated in the PRD's smashing 2009 election defeat.

Yes, the bus driver and his brother and co-owner were blamed and imprisoned, even though the evidence indicated that the government's theory of how their supposed wrongdoing caused the fire was wrong. This fire was the result of an act of public corruption during the Moscoso administration, wherein the National Bank of Panama insisted as a condition of its financing that the brothers buy a Carrier bus from a certain Guatemalan company. These vehicles were made with Caterpillar engines and were assembled in Mexico and Guatemala. They were designed with no emergency exits. The air conditioning systems installed in Guatemala included compressors that used explosive chemicals. On this bus the air conditioning compressor exploded and people were trapped inside the bus. These vehicles should never have been on the road and would not have been but for the insistence of officials at the state-owned bank, for reasons that can not be explained in terms of any legitimate reason. Successive governments have dragged their feet about prosecuting the bankers, despite judges' orders that criminal investigations against bank officials commence.

Torrijos took the accident as an opportunity to attack the bus syndicates and threaten to replace them. His administration took about 600 of the 1,500 metro area buses off the road, causing hellish overcrowding on the remaining buses and the end of most nighttime bus service. He figured that his moves would make the public blame the bus drivers, but he had no coherent replacement plan and if bus riders were induced to blame someone, it was the PRD.

The Mireyistas are part of the Martinelli coalition, so her people who used to work at the bank are probably safe from legal accountability. But the tragedy took place on the PRD's watch, and the current president does have a plan --- to replace the owner-operated urban bus system with a private big business-managed monopoly, to abolish the distinctive Panamanian bus art in favor of a generic corporate look, and to seriously reduce the incomes of those bus drivers who get jobs with the new bus company, down to $480 per month rather than the $750 to $800 that the drivers were promised to induce them to part with their bus permits.

Every year since the tragedy, the families of the dead, surviving victims and members of the community have commemorated the event on its anniversary. This year the Martinelli administration and the Catholic Church took over the observance and turned it into a sales pitch for the new buses.


Minister of the Presidency and Karl Rove disciple Jimmy Papadimitriu


David Ramírez of the 23rd of October Movement lost his son in the fire


Families of the victims gather in front of the Don Bosco Basilica


Grieving families at the scene of the accident


The government set up a tent for the families


The accident scene, from the nearby pedestrian bridge


Drawing hearts on the pavement to remember the dead


Showing off the new buses



Also in this section:
Panamanian turkey stuffing
MarViva toy collection
American Society Thanksgiving
Veterans Day in Panama
The Thousand Polleras Parade
Flag Day in Penonome
Independence Day in the Casco Viejo
Independence Day in Juan Diaz
Independence Day in San Carlos
Scenes from the Handicrafts Fair
Phil Edmonston's Lemon-Aid: Beware of luxury lemons
José Ponce's Panama scenes
American football lives at Balboa Stadium
A night out with the Zombies
A bitter anniversary



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© 2010 by Eric Jackson

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