Volume 18, Number 3
May 15, 2012
El Pixvae in the Las Palmas district of Veraguas.
Photo by Almanaque Azul
A disorderly mind and odd behavior in paradise
Ricardo Martinelli is feuding with La Prensa, so take that daily's versions with a little grain of salt if you must. But they are not the only ones reporting stories that cast the president in an unflattering light, even if they have broken some of them.
Over Easter weekend the president made a surprise visit to the communities of El Pixvae and Bahia Honda in Veraguas, and although there are different versions of what exactly was said, he did tell long-time residents who are disputing ownership of land with French-Italian billionaire Jean Pigozzi that he would have them thrown in prison if they did certain things in their land dispute. By one account Martinelli said he would have them sent to La Joya if they touched Pigozzi's fence. By another account he said he'd have them jailed if they did not desist in their property claims.
Pigozzi is the son Henri Pigozzi, who founded the French auto company Simca, and he's a noteworthy art collector, conservationist and booster of environmental research. He has bought a vast tract of land, and nearby islands, in southern Veraguas province. The terms by which he has acquired or sought to acquire much of this property are controversial, some as a matter of public policy about selling islands and large parts of the mainland to foreigners, some as a matter of law about the rights of people who owned the land by constant occupation for decades (squatters' rights, to use the popular term for its approximate Common Law equivalent) or by rights of possession that are registered or are implied by law. There are some folks whom Pigozzi claims that he bought out and who say that this is not so.
So is this a matter of a president just using thuggish threats to strip people of modest means of what little property they do own? Or is it just a matter of a president warning people that the law will be strictly enforced?
Whichever it is, it's about a president usurping the role of the courts, which are the proper places to decide such land disputes. Martinelli has no business threatening people with prison. If there is a criminal trespass or vandalism of a fence, whether those who do that are jailed, fined or made to perform community service is a matter for prosecutors and judges. Arguments about land titles, squatters' rights and rights of possession are civil matters, not criminal ones, and issues for civil courts, not presidents, to judge.
Martinelli's unpleasant visit to Veraguas over Easter weekend was but one instance of his increasingly erratic behavior:
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Let's take a break with Panamanian rocker Cienfue, in a video with scenes from the Casco Viejo:
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International Jazz Day! This is something that came from UNESCO in Geneva, but I think it's a good idea and I wonder how Panama's jazz scene will respond to it on relatively short notice.
I post a lot of things about upcoming cultural events in the pages of The Panama News, but many things come on just a few days' notice and these I tend to post on The Panama News Facebook Page. I think that it is now the most complete guide to cultural events here but it's nowhere near "complete." You folks in the music, theater, art gallery and other cultural scenes can get the word out for free by dropping me a line by email or Facebook.
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The rains have come and I am harvesting and processing the fruit that's coming early from the mango trees, and transplanting coffee bushes that I have raised from seeds in pots. I am about to try my luck growing cacao. But alas, my potted vegetable garden is doing badly and I was wondering what kind of insect damage it is. Then I saw the juvenile iguana casually munching on my baby green bean plants. I need to find a good pollo de palo recipe.
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In the Gringo community here in Panama as well as in the USA, we are into a presidential election year and all sorts of games are being played. Wannabe fuhrers coming from their heavily guarded online Fourth Reichs to other people's email groups to demand that people who don't share their ideas be expelled, Tea Partiers and queer-baiters complaining that Democrats have politics, the constant recycling of usually false and often racially inflammatory email chain letters, organized trolling --- yep, we have all of those games here, too.
Remember two things:
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President Martinelli, right, taking advantage of his opportunities in Colombia.
Photo by the Presidencia
We shall see, but the things of importance that come out of the Cartagena Summit of the Americas will mostly not be any official things that are done or jointly said. But times are changing in the Americas, Washington has long been behind the times with respect to the region and at the summit many of the old clichés are showing to be simply untenable. Note these things:
rules of the game are clearly changing, and whoever wins the US
presidential election in November will necessarily have to make
adjustments. But those adjustments could vary widely, from falling in
line with the neighborhood consensus to going to war with the rest of
the hemisphere. It will probably be somewhere in between those
things, but changes will come.
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Get back! Back to the heyday of the Combos Nacionales! Back to when Francisco Greaves was "little!"
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In Arizona now, life begins not at conception but on the first day of the woman's menstrual period before conception. Used to be, such religious fervor could get someone committed to a psychiatric ward. Now it can make someone the Republican governor of Arizona.
not suffer under the misconception that life is highly valued in
Arizona. On Easter Sunday, people in paramilitary camouflage uniforms
opened fire on a pickup truck full of illegal immigrants, killing two
of them. There are concerns
that it was the work of one of Arizona's vicious right-wing militia
groups, but along the border there are also violent criminals with
other sorts of motives. Were it two white Americans who were
killed along the border, you can bet that legendarily demagogic
Governor Jan Brewer would
be stirring up lynch mob passions about it. So far the lives of two
border crossers, one known to be Mexican and the other believed to be
Guatemalan, have not moved the governor to say very much about the
crime. But she is apparently concerned that somebody might kick one
of the militia men in the nuts and murder an unconceived fetus.
We're going to have a bit of baseball reporting from New York this season. This
year's Panamanian contingent in Major League Baseball includes Yankees
closer Mariano Rivera, Houston outfielder Carlos Lee, Philadelphia
catcher Carlos Ruiz, Kansas City starter Bruce Chen, Mets shortstop
Ruben Tejada and reliever Manuel Acosta, and the (for the time
being) Atlanta fifth starter Randall Delgado. Delgado would have
started in the minors but Braves starter Tim Hudson had a back injury.
When Hudson is healthy the 22-year-old Delgado will probably go back to
There are a
number of Panamanians in the minors who stand a reasonable chance of
being brought up to the big leagues during the season. Maybe the top
prospect for that is Manny Corpas, a relief pitcher currently in the
Cubs organization. It is expected that sometime toward the middle of
this season there will be an announcement from Mariano Rivera, now 42,
about whether he will retire at the end of this baseball year.
One of the
unfortunate things about American politics, which is hardly unique to
the United States, is the political compulsion to vilify and suppress
news media that report inconvenient facts or in which opinions that are
considered politically incorrect are expressed. In the United States
this comes in the context of a relentless downsizing and dumbing down
of the corporate mainstream media, and with the rise (once again, if
you know the history of US journalism) of the most scurrilous
propaganda masquerading as news. I am not talking about media with biases, because every individual has his or her personal point of view
and inevitable bias, and every communication medium comes out of a
cultural context and that, too, imparts a bias. I certainly don't
pretend that I'm some sort of recently arrived space alien with no
opinion about inter-human dealings. You can read this page and pretty
much know where I'm coming from.
while taking it as given that everything has a bias, truth still is the
first principle of journalism. Publish according to the "if it bleeds
it leads" editorial policy and I will think that you have a warped
sense of the human condition, and you may say that I'm soft on
crime for my different take. Treat crimes against Americans as
particularly newsworthy and those against Panamanians as generally not
news and I will consider that a form of racism and you might consider
my attitude a form of anti-Americanism. But start reporting deaths that
never happened, start accusing people of crimes that they did not
commit, start inventing or repeating elaborate fictions to excuse the
acts of people whom you support and then it becomes not a matter of
different points of view but a violation of journalism's first
Al Jazeera, an Arab news organization founded by veterans of the BBC, has been terribly vilified in the United States and was treated as a military target by the Bush administration and certain foreign governments following its lead. Bush led Americans to a ruinous war in Iraq on the basis of lies, and Al Jazeera reported the truth of the matter all along. US-based corporate mainstream media feed the public such news of Afghanistan as reporters embedded in the US forces are allowed to report, while Al-Jazeera has consistently broadcast a more complete story. As American news corporations closed foreign bureau after foreign bureau, Al Jazeera expanded its scope of reporting and its English-language operations. These days in Panama we see Al Jazeera people far more often than folks from US-based networks. And anti-Arab stereotypes, bigoted religious slurs or faux patriotism do not provide an acceptable response to their excellent coverage of a story that the US networks missed:
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Finally, what should you do when the major TV networks and the corporate newspapers are either oblivious or unwilling to give sensible coverage of a place that matters to you, when Google News skews their algorithms to screen out news about Panama in favor of stories from Panama City --- Florida --- and when the half-dozen or so conglomerates who dominate the radio feed you the narrowest of commercial music formats rather than things that interest you?
You head for an oasis of truth and good taste, of course:
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