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Volume 17, Number 5
May 1, 2011
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news

Also in this section:
Final farewell to Raúl Leis
Poisoned cough syrup case doesn't go away
Panama's freedom of religion not based on separation of church and state
Billboards coming down
Conservatives' win paves the way for Panama-Canada free trade pact
Legislative session ends with major items pending
El Panama America manipulates WikiLeaks, La Prensa gets database
New Guantanamo papers: egg on the face of the United States
Who's a sapo?
Raúl Leis, 1947-2011
Video: Martinelli and Obama at the White House
Harry Díaz named to replace Almengor
The Raw Notes: US embassy cables on Martinelli and his security policies
Making sense of the embassy cables about Martinelli's security notions


Raúl Leis, on the right. Photo by SERTV

A towering giant in Panamanian letters and social research has passed away
Raúl Leis dead at 63
by Eric Jackson

Raúl Leis has died. He takes his place alongside Rogelio Sinán and Ricardo Miró as one of the towering giants in the history of Panamanian letters. Some of his newspaper columns were published in The Panama News over the years, in English translation.

Death came unexpectedly at about 10 p.m. on April 30, at the Policlinica JJ Vallarino in Juan Dias. It was the result of an allergic reaction to a medication Leis had taken along with eye surgery to remove cataracts earlier that day.

The standard obituaries say that Leis was a sociologist, and that he was. He taught it at the University of Panama and USMA, and founded the Colegio Nacional de Sociologos. He was also the founder of the Panamanian Center for Social Studies and Action (CEASPA), a multidisciplinary think tank. But he was so much more than "just" a sociologist.

He was a playwright, five-time winner of the Miró prize for his works. Today people marching in the Mayday parade made many a refrence to "The Martyrs of Chicago," those blamed and executed for an act of violence at a Haymarket Square protest against police violence at the original Mayday parade. This case and what it stood for was brought to life in the Panamanian mind through Raúl's play "Primero de Mayo." Leis's writings also won awards in Mexico, Spain, Venezuela, Guatemala and Cuba.

In the course of his work on urban sociology, Leis became top expert on the history of Panama City and its development. He treated history not as a list of illustrious men and noteworthy dates, but as the people and the economic, political, cultural, technological and generational forces that shaped their lives.

Leis brought the Kuna traditions in particular, but indigenous traditions in general, to the mainstream Panamanian newspaper readers. He was a steadfast advocate of indigenous sovereignty and for the land, water and mineral rights of Panama's first nations.

As a professor and social activist, Leis was for a general advance in education and he put a lot of time into promoting literacy in rural areas and adult education. He was the president of the Latin American Adult Education Council (CEAAL). Another aspect of this work was his advocacy of bilingual education for Panama's indigenous peoples, both to preserve native languages and to reduce the high dropout rate among indigenous primary and secondary students.

Other people spoke at the rallies and were sought out for sound bites, but Raúl Leis was a principal architect of both today's constellation of "civil society" groups and of the Panamanian environmentalist movement. In his civic activism Leis, a Catholic, managed to bridge many divides, including that between the church hierarchy and liberation theology advocates.

Leis advocated a more democratic constitution for Panama and a heightened sense of civics to combat corruption, and was the chief organizer of the church-backed Panama 2020 forums --- which the politicians mostly praised and then entirely ignored. More recently he was a key instigator of the Asamblea Ciudadana, which unites 89 civic, community, professional and labor groups and is highly critical of many of the things that the Martinelli administration does. Leis's one foray into partisan politics was in 1994, when he ran for the legislature on the ticket of Rubén Blades's now defunct Papa Egoro party. After an extended and much criticized vote count, Leis was declared to have narrowly lost his race for a seat in a multi-member circuit. Leis was highly critical of Blades's political skills as a presidential candidate as a party leader. After that run for office, Leis maintained his political independence.

Leis wrote newspaper columns for many years in El Panama America, but after that paper was bought by President Martinelli's supporters this past December he moved his columns to La Prensa. With his blessing, The Panama News published many of his columns in English translation. Leis was also editor of Dialogo Social magazine.

Leis, who was born in Colon, was 63. He is survived by his wife, human rights activist Mariela Arce, and his son, attorney Jair Leis.







Also in this section:
Final farewell to Raúl Leis
Poisoned cough syrup case doesn't go away
Panama's freedom of religion not based on separation of church and state
Billboards coming down
Conservatives' win paves the way for Panama-Canada free trade pact
Legislative session ends with major items pending
El Panama America manipulates WikiLeaks, La Prensa gets database
New Guantanamo papers: egg on the face of the United States
Who's a sapo?
Raúl Leis, 1947-2011
Video: Martinelli and Obama at the White House
Harry Díaz named to replace Almengor
The Raw Notes: US embassy cables on Martinelli and his security policies
Making sense of the embassy cables about Martinelli's security notions



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© 2011 by Eric Jackson
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email: editor@thepanamanews.com or

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phone: (507) 6-632-6343

Mailing address:
Eric Jackson
att'n The Panama News
Apartado 0831-00927 Estafeta Paitilla
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