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Volume 18, Number 3
May 15, 2012

Panama Spanish Schools in Bocas del Toro and in Boquete, by the beach and in the mountains

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Click the Facebook symbol to the left for breaking news about Panama and a bilingual mix of eclectic content on our constantly updated blog
Some of the recently added stories:
~ Marijuana affects different types of memory differently The new nature section is uploaded
~ Martinelli demands Varela's resignation, doesn't get it The next issue's news section is uploaded
~ Governor orders developer to remove San Carlos beach fence
~ European elections: People have lost confidence in the confidence fairy
~ Wendy Reaman's scenes from the Azuero Fair The new lifestyle section is uploaded
~ Eric's oatmeal mango cookies
~ Mariano Rivera's batting practice injury may end his playing days
~ Video scenes from the Portobelo Triathlon
~ Panama hosts the regional Special Olympics
~ Anselmo Moreno vs David De La Mora, the whole bout on video
~ Children's books: Patricia M. Markun 1925-2012 The new culture section is uploaded
~ May Day 2012 and the state of the Panamanian labor movement The new economy section is uploaded
~ Juan of the Dead defends Cuba from zombie infestation
~ Bernal, the Lavitola affair The entire opinion section, except for the letters, is uploaded
~ MPU, We demand Martinelli's removal from office
~ Jackson, This year's US elections and Panama's American community
~ Mexican elections: a veteran, a smile and an image
~ Yippie Girl: an interview with Judy Gumbo
~ World Health Organization global report on drinking water quality (large PDF file)
~ Editorials: Martinelli, Méndez, Suarez, Roy and that mystery high court magistrate should resign; and Pat Summitt
~ Camacho, Las autoridades italianas buscan desviar la atención
~ Dismantling the monoculture mentality

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:
  • Also on Easter Sunday, he sent out a pseudo-religious Twitter tweet implying that only those who never make mistakes should be able to criticize him.

  • He fired a notary in Colon while she was on pregnancy leave. Whether or not one wants to believe claims about political motivations, corruption and whether the stresses that Martinelli imposed on the woman caused the loss of one of her twins, it was illegal of him to fire somebody while on pregnancy leave and the president has just presumed that the country's labor laws don't apply to him and proceeded to vilify those who correctly maintain that they do.

  • After IDAAN told people in Colon who have been without running water since January that the money was in place to do the necessary repairs, Martinelli announced that these would only happen if he got to sell the land in the Colon Free Zone --- not to the businesses that are there, but to a new landlord --- in a ludicrously bad deal that has both rich and poor out in the streets of Colon protesting.

  • The traffic and public transportation messes in the metro area are worse and worse, and Martinelli is unable or unwilling to impose any sort of order. In one of the more recent chapters of this saga, it was announced that the SACA bus drivers' cooperative that has for many years served the Pacific side of the former Canal Zone will be replaced by the new quasi-national Metro Bus system. This announcement was made without the SACA drivers/owners having been bought out and without the replacement service having been put in place. So now SACA drivers are looking for and taking other jobs, nobody is joining a doomed cooperative, and the government is complaining about how the remaining SACA drivers are not working hard enough to fill in for those who have taken other jobs.

  • Martinelli's attack on La Prensa is about his desire to stifle unfavorable news reporting, but he bases his argument on some new interpretations of old tax laws. He's claiming that the golf course at the Coronado Resort and the nearby Coronado Equestrian Club have improperly received the tourism development tax credit, and that the reason La Prensa publishes ugly stuff about his administration is that its former publisher is co-owner of those properties. Set aside the fact that these tax exemptions have been allowed for many years. Set aside Martinelli's failure to press this claim against similar facilities receiving the tourism tax credit. Set aside the fact that the tax law specifically exempts the golf courses at hotels. Set aside the circumstance that Martinelli is sending out an ex post facto bill for alleged back taxes instead of changing the tax laws. Look at the changes that Martinelli just made to the tax laws: he has created a new telecommunications tax, and at the same time he reduced taxes on slot machines. It actually is true that the tax laws have long favored the wealthiest families, but picking an argument with Bobby Eisenmann instead of just revising the tax laws does not address that situation. Nor does creating a new tax break for casino owners. The phone and pay TV tax, which is bound to be unpopular, is just gravy.

  • So is the president REALLY concerned about the nation's finances? You can't tell it by his spending binges. You particularly won't notice it when he promises a totally nonsensical Cinta Costera project for the City of Colon.

  • And then there was the president's bizarre and incoherent partial veto of the animal cruelty law. Doesn't he have anyone in his inner circle willing to tell him that it's not very smart to veto criminal penalties for bestiality?
Now things have become serious indeed, as the police have defied civilian authority and Martinelli has seen fit to go along with it. It puts us in a situation like Panama had from October of 1941 until October of 1968, when the police and army allowed civilian politicians to maintain certain window dressings of authority, but were a power unto themselves about "security affairs" and the penultimate arbiters of most other things. In those decades the final say usually belonged to Washington. In 1968 the military stepped in and ruled directly, sometimes with figurehead civilian presidents, until the 1989 US invasion. Now the post-invasion pretense of civilian authority over the police is over, and we can argue about whether Martinelli's erratic behavior was a cause or an excuse.

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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:
  1. Freedom of expression is a valuable but two-edged sword: it also includes the right to make an ass of yourself; and

  2. After all of the other games are played the important one --- the voting --- happens in November. If you are a US citizen living abroad you need to get your act together before then to re-register and order your ballot. The laws are different this time, so you may want to go online to the non-partisan Overseas Vote Foundation for answers to your questions, or you may want to contact the US consulate here, which is also helping people to vote.

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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:

  • In Washington the preferred narrative about the host country, Colombia, has been about this heroic democratic ally that's a bastion of anti-communism and something of a platform for the projection of US power and influence against leftist "dictatorships" in the region. But its elected President Juan Manuel Santos has eased relations with his elected counterparts in Venezuela and Ecuador, Hugo Chávez and Rafael Correa. This has both helped him on the domestic front by increasing the FARC rebels' isolation and raising Santos's profile in South America, where his country is now participating in the joint defense plans of the UNASUR group that's specifically averse to South America being a platform for outsiders of any description and is rather clearly an alternative to the role traditionally played by the US Southern Command.

  • Ecuador's president is not attending because Cuba is not represented, and Santos has announced that this will be the last such summit without the Cubans. On his way to Cartagena Barack Obama played to Florida's Cuban-American vote with tough words about the Castro brothers, but meanwhile even long-time champions of "free trade" and "the Washington Consensus" are saying that Washington's approach to Cuba has degenerated from the merely ineffective into an obstacle to good US relations with the rest of Latin America and the Caribbean.

  • Guatemala's right-wing president, one of those quaint conservatives who doesn't believe in spending a lot of money on things that don't work, is calling for an end to the "War on Drugs." Presidents Obama and Martinelli are among the hemispheric leaders expressing shock, dismay and hardcore opposition to any such departure and have kept serious discussion of drug policy off of the summit agenda. But politicians from across the ideological spectrum are no longer afraid to criticize a "war" that all serious analysts have known was lost years ago. This failed effort may have the momentum to keep it going for years to come, but it no longer serves as a centerpiece for US policy toward the region.

  • Was Rafael Correa's protest a failed attempt at boycott by the leftist governments? He says that he didn't intend to organize a boycott over Cuba's exclusion, and in any case, the other leftist governments each had their reasons to attend. For Hugo Chávez, whose cancer now appears to be far more serious than the world had been led to believe, every opportunity to be seen on the regional or world stage may be his last. But to the extent that Chávez's most strident critics gloat about his poor health, they boost him in the polls for next October's Venezuelan elections and come across as terrible ghouls, and not only to people who like Chávez.

The 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.

Do 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.

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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 AAA.

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.

However, 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 principle.

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:


Eric Jackson
editor & publisher


PS: a few more things:
  • I spend more than full time on The Panama News, and José Ponce spends a lot of his time working for it --- and would spend more if we could get him some new cameras and regular cellular Internet access to report from the remote boonies. And then there is this much larger crew of people who send articles they write or photos they take; do corrections, editing or translating; provide computer services and so on. This is a community news medium rather than a media corporation or a translation of corporate mainstream stuff , and your participation strengthens us.

  • Send me an email to get on The Panama News email list to receive new articles more or less as they are posted, notices about various things to do around Panama City, advisories in emergency situations --- like when there are major road blockages ongoing or expected --- and the music selections of the Wappin Radio Show, which was once on the air on a small radio station and now lives on The Panama News Facebook page.

  • Most new articles are also uploaded to The Panama News Facebook page. Every day clippings from the Spanish-language Panama dailies, interesting news from the USA and elsewhere, probably the most systematic postings of cultural events in Panama, readers' and the editor's comments about all of that are found there. Quite simply, the Facebook page is a vast extension of The Panama News.

  • Fundraising? That's no fun. But The Panama News does need your financial support to survive and thrive. A lot of the stuff we ought to cover we don't cover simply because we don't have the money for transportation, or to be able to quickly email photos and stories from remote parts of Panama by way of cellular communications. We have photographic and computer equipment that's in constant need of replacement. And those few of us who put a lot of time into this project do need to cover living expenses. Donate generously. Send your contributions by PayPal. Of course, without a bank account in North America we are limited there, too, but fortunately we have an alliance with Henry and Nora Smith's Paradise Services that allows The Panama News to piggyback on their PayPal account.

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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)

© 2012 by Eric Jackson
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