Volume 18, Number 9
December 8, 2012
A mother with her hands full. Archive photo by Eric Jackson
Happy Mothers Day!
In Panama this is celebrated on December 8, the Catholic Day of the Immaculate Conception. Much of the metro area's population has displaced to the Interior for this weekend.
Well said, Rosie. We could quibble about who is a "Latino" or "Latina" and what that means to the different sectors of the large Spanish-speaking or Spanish-surnamed US population. And of course, so many of the US voters who trace roots through Panama, even those who speak perfect Spanish, identify themselves as Zonians or West Indians instead. The Zonians may in many cases fit right in with the good old boys. These days in the USA there is an awful lot of intolerance directed against "others" but those Zonians figuring that they'd pile on are finding out that first, not all Zonians are "boys" and second, they haven't been able to shout everyone else down. And the American community here? There is a smaller group of Democrats actively working than was the case in 2008, but the Republicans are embarrassed and in hiding. It's shaping up as a close and ugly election here and in the States, not the first in the history of the republic but nevertheless an historic showdown.
Would anyone be surprised by The Panama News endorsing Barack Obama and the Democratic slate for Congress? That's the editor's recommendation, although it should be noted that there are people whose work is regularly featured in this publication or who otherwise do a lot for us and who have other views.
has been taken to include GOP viewpoints in this publication during
this election cycle. If we have been remiss it is in not covering
either the Green or Libertarian presidential candidates, both
excellent people, both possessed of some ideas that deserve to get
into the mainstream of public discourse, and both utterly irrelevant
in this year's contest. Ah, but Americans are great ones for giving
more chances, and whatever happens on Election Day, look for
"pistachios" --- a bunch of red and green nuts, as those who invented
the term self-described long ago --- to become a
bigger factor in the 2016 Democratic primaries after an era of
centrist leadership by a Chicago politician.
We can see where things are probably headed, but the voters' decision in 2012 should not be based on prophecy. It ought to be based on recent history. George W. Bush may have been one of the worst US presidents ever, but the Republicans' behavior since then has been even worse and those responsible deserve not only to be driven out of office but cast into the wilderness of fringe politics for the rest of their days.
party that sets its main objective as the prevention of a new
president's re-election before that chief executive is sworn in and
goes on to play political hostage games in a time of great national
crisis, then blame the president for the results of their own
obstruction, should never be trusted with the reins of power.
Barack Obama has not brought much in the way of new directions to US foreign relations and this is a disappointment for many Americans on all points of the political spectrum. In Latin America and the Caribbean we can only hope that in a second term he will abandon the foolish and lost cause of the "War on Drugs" as the centerpiece of US policy. However, as the man in charge of American diplomacy and the commander in chief of the US Armed Forces in a time of de facto war, he has demonstrated competence on the job that his predecessor never did.
Yes, victories like the death of Osama bin Laden have also come with tragedies like the death of Chris Stevens, but the pro-American demonstrations in Libya after the attacks on the consulate and probable CIA station "annex" in Benghazi actually show how the Obama administration has elevated America's reputation in the world. Could anyone imagine a pro-American demonstration in Libya during the Bush administration? Do Republicans gloat over the political opportunity presented by the death of an American diplomat and three American warriors in a dangerous place on a dangerous mission? The rest of us should honor the memory of what Chris Stevens did: he played a key role in organizing a ragtag collection of oppressed people into a force that toppled one of the world's nastiest and most entrenched dictators, and he died trying to make sure that jihadi fanatics didn't use a power vacuum to establish a new base.
Re-elect Barack Obama, and give him a Democratic House and Senate.
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I don't get back to Colon enough, but I was born there and raised on the Atlantic Side and my hometown, even though it scares me, has a special place in my heart. The game that has been played with Colon residents --- cutting them out of the national budget and then claiming that services that are nationally funded in other cities and provinces must be paid for from a revenue raising move directed at Colon's principal business asset, the Free Zone --- is unconscionable. The question of how much the Free Zone can afford to pay into the national coffers is another matter. Set aside the often anti-Semitic screeds against the merchants and the blanket allegations of money laundering, and what the market will bear for the region's main wholesaling and warehousing district is still a difficult calculation. Sure, many of the merchants will scream bloody murder about having to pay anything more even when they know that they and their customers will readily absorb the increase. Just as surely, shave too many points off of the Colon Free Zone and it goes into the same sort of decline that left Portobelo something close to a ghost town centuries ago as its trade fairs declined and then disappeared.
People in Colon rose up to defend their economic interests and their honor. A lot of Panamanians elsewhere supported them because they saw Martinelli's move against the Free Zone as reckless stick-up to collect money for a campaign spending binge ahead of the 2014 elections. Yes, there were some narrowly partisan calculations being made by opposition parties.
Martinelli was forced to back down, but only after unleashing terrible brutality. Now you have some who opposed the government's plan crowing about their glorious victory, police and prosecutors moving against the militants and people who are not poor and don't live in the affected areas spinning various theories about "those people."
There was bound to be resistance, and because the Martinelistas were so crude and brazen they were likely to lose. Don't buy any of this stuff about what happened being heroic, glorious, sensational or proof of some pseudo-Darwinist theory. It was something imposed on desperate people. The outcome can't be measured only in political and economic terms --- overshadowing all that, there is a terrible and incurable sadness:
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The US elections will have a special echo here, apart from within the American community and apart from the usual ways that political and economic winds blowing from the north are usually felt here. Ricardo Martinelli has bet on Obama being a one-termer, bringing Republican operatives into high posts in his administration, hiring Republican lobbyists on Capitol Hill even when Democrats controlled both houses, sucking up to Fox News and the Miami Cuban exile leadership and so on. Already named by foreign prosecutors as the recipient of several bribes from Italian companies and long under suspicion by US authorities for having taken drug cartel money for his 2009 campaign, the Panamanian president has lately been going around the world saying exceptionally foolish things. His Italian mentor and benefactor Silvio Berlusconi has been sentenced to prison. Martinelli needs Mitt Romney in the White House. Otherwise he'll hardly have any other foreign leaders with whom he can talk.
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Over the past few weeks the precariousness of this website's operation has been manifested by disruptions caused by a lightning strike that destroyed a Cable & Wireless ADSL box and had us waiting for repairs, and a massive power surge that destroyed a bunch of household appliances, including the one fully functional computer on which The Panama News was produced. Thanks to a donated computer and other help from friends we got back into business soon enough, but we were operating with very little Internet connection at the height of the Colon crisis. Although the website was not updated for a few days, the Facebook page that is a vast extension of The Panama News was updated, albeit less than usual. Quite frankly, resilience during accidental outages or intentional attacks is one reason for the decision to shift so much of The Panama News to Facebook.
But another reason why The Panama News has been operating at the edge is economic. Barack Obama raised a billion dollars for his campaign and it was important that he do so, but all of the wholly or partially reader-supported alternative media in the USA and those outside the USA that inform largely American readerships have taken terrible fundraising hits as a consequence.
This the annual fall fundraising drive is prolonged. Donate generously if you can:
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The late Lord Cobra popularized this English-language calypso, which in its Spanish version was popularized as "El Buhonero" by Pedro Altamiranda:
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However, it's not my job to promote a fake image of a Panama without problems to attract people down here for a big surprise. On the other hand, this is the first and I hope for a very long time the last front page of The Panama News with a photo of a dead person on it. This is not one of those "if it bleeds it leads" sensationalist tabloids.
People do ask my advice. They ask if it is safe to visit here. They ask if it is safe to retire here. They ask if they can bring an arsenal of weapons here.
Do you intend to go walking around slum neighborhoods with an expensive camera slung around your neck, flashing expensive jewelry and carrying a lot of money on your person? Would you do that in New York City or Washington DC? There's not much that can be done to help a true fool with more money than brains.
Do you think that moving to Panama is like moving to Nebraska, and that just for you Panama's laws are going to change because you happen to be an American citizen? Has some slick website shown you an image of paradise with no taxes or social problems, and most likely with no black people either, such that you are thinking about Panama as the next step of a white flight that took you to suburbia? Have you heard that there are hustlers angling to separate you from your money in Panama, so you figure that you will avoid that problem by dealing exclusively with Americans? Don't be silly.
But let us take stock of the recent days of chaos. Americans who suffered inconveniences from protests blocking the roads? There were a lot of us. Americans who without looking to be in the middle of things found that they were in the wrong place at the wrong time and got a whiff of tear gas? There were a few of those. Americans set upon by hateful anti-American mobs? Zero. Americans killed or injured in the fighting? Also zero.
Panama has its troubles, its inconveniences and its hazards. Can you find some place that doesn't? If you do I would imagine that it's a pretty boring place.
This country is a great place to visit, but do so with your eyes wide open and take sensible precautions. It's also a great place to retire, but if you want to live in an air-conditioned English-only physical and social bubble it will be an expensive and limiting existence. Come down here and visit, getting to know the country and some of its people before deciding to move to Panama to live. Keep your common sense turned on. Be who you are, and see if you can be comfortable fitting into a different place and culture that you won't be able to change except maybe to a limited extent in your immediate surroundings. Do drop in. This is not a message from the tourism authority.
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Panama has surfing, and Panama has rock and roll. There are many surfing spots on both coasts, but the prime surfing beaches are in Los Santos province, where the people talk funny and which is in many ways the heartland of our folk traditions. Throw all of that into the mix and you get:
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