Editorials: Colon; and Guns


A Colon mother when she catches her son in a crowd of looters.

Colon and its two-day strike

The general strike, march from Sabanitas into the city center and acts vandalism and looting lend themselves to be spun in different ways. The actions and reactions of the police, many of the politicians and many of the media are perhaps even more noteworthy.

The strike leaders and the marchers were exemplary good citizens. The called on people to be peaceful and law-abiding and those who took part in their march and walked off of their jobs conducted themselves as requested.

The maleantes were — well, maleantes. One of the demands of the protesters was to take back control of parts of the city from people who live there or pass through there, and to emphasize the point maleantes set fire to the historic Casa Wilcox, burned a police mobile clinic and looted several businesses.

The politicians were also on the whole abominable. All of the main political factions have taken their turns at policies with respect to Colon and its people, which have ranged from malign neglect to brutal oppression.

Now we have an administration that’s spending $1.2 billion there — on a no-bid renovation contract with the hoodlum Odebrecht company, which notoriously pays out large kickbacks to politicians. That project aims to create a gleaming city center that’s a pleasant place to do business — and where almost none of the people who presently live there can afford to live. Have the made an even worse mess of the streets, sewers, water mains and storm drains in the course of that renovation project? Of course they have, and only time will tell whether those things will be fixed. In any case the city center, barely above sea level, has been flooding with increasing frequency of late. It’s the rising Caribbean Sea that has also led to the abandonment of several inhabited islands in Guna Yala. What we are seeing is a $1.2 billion investment premised on climate change denial, that might perhaps be rescued by further large investments dikes and pumping stations like those found in The Netherlands and a number of other places around the world. Which, of course, would keep the gravy train running for even more political cycles. On the margins, then as now, there would be some construction jobs as part of the bargain. And perhaps with an influx of Chinese businesses some of the 9,000 people who have lost jobs in the Colon Free Zone might find other employment. This administration’s efforts in Colon may be expensive and ambitious, but benefits to the ordinary Colonense are at best incidental. It’s an old-fashioned gentrification project, urban renewal of the sort that has been done for many decades in many US cities, leaving the lot of those displaced as miserable as ever. Done in the face of climate change without taking that into account it’s ludicrous even for the intended beneficiaries.

That President Varela had his ministers and elected officials of his party make the allegation that the vandalism and looting were the work of unspecified political opponents is beneath contempt. By their very nature — unless they are paid agent provocateurs — people who burn and loot are neither aligned with nor respectful of those who hold power in a government. But are Varela and his people, who no longer have the votes to get anything controversial passed by the National Assembly and are stuck with a short-handed rogue Supreme Court to which they can no longer successfully appoint people to fill the vacancies, really saying that it’s the PRD, Cambio Democratico, one of the small parties, a faction of the left, a particular labor union or perhaps some politicized religious denomination or ethnic tribe behind the violence? Why not just identify and arrest those personally responsible, and uncover any organization in the course of further investigation?

And perhaps surprisingly, that latter course seems to be what the National Police is taking. As the strike days approached, some 5,000 cops and some ostentatiously scary riot control equipment were moved into Colon. Strike organizers, knowing local history, protested and expressed their fears. But the police acted with exemplary restraint and professionalism. We didn’t see children or anyone else shot dead, nor people tortured in the streets like when Ricardo Martinelli used force to suppress protests that he blatantly provoked in 2012. When media aligned with real estate speculators who indent to make a killing off of the Colon renovation project and construction interests that are already profiting from it blamed the strike organizers for the looting and vandalism, the police put out a statement drawing the distinction between the protesters and the maleantes. And not only did the police not idly stand by for the sacking of those relatively few businesses left functioning during the renovation work, after moving in to rout the looters they proceeded to operations in which much of the stolen property was recovered. While the politicians and press were making lazy and malicious guesses about who was responsible for the looting, the police went out to find out specifically who they were.

The police as the only functional branch of the state? That’s scary, and not through any particular fault of the police.

The events in Colon were a warning shot across the bow of the ship of state. The country just can’t allow its public institutions to continue in the direction they have been heading.


no guns
In Panama we will not march, but gather quietly at 1 p.m. outside the Hospital Santo Tomas Metro station, the one at Calle 38 and Avenida Justo Arosemena.

Guns in the USA and here

Bitter old people who have been thrown away by a slightly younger “Me Generation” that has looted the world’s economy — especially those who watch reality TV or read clickbait and believe that it’s real — gave the extra impetus that brought a great nation to the great catastrophe that’s the Trump administration. But until now the gun sellers have made a fabulously lucrative profit off of the situation. As chaos real but mostly imagined has descended, their success at convincing people that having a firearm or several of them makes a home safer has resulted in booming sales. But like reality TV, what the NRA preaches is fake. A gun in the house makes that household more, not less, dangerous. For every shot fired in self-defense, well over 100 more are fired by accident or with criminal or suicidal intent.

Leave it to a younger generation to disrupt the false discourse that results in the disruption of their lives. And those older folks who know the truth of the matter — in many cases those whose own lives have been disrupted by firearms violence — need to lend the kids all possible support. It’s a necessary part of the process whereby the republic recovers from a bout of insanity.

In Panama we also have a problem with gun violence, but with different dynamics. We have no arms manufacturing to speak of and arms merchants are a weak economic force here, so we have nothing like the NRA, which is the advertising shill for such interests in the United States. But we have criminals with guns, and people who are afraid of criminals keeping guns in their homes, which in turn escalates domestic violence to deadly dimensions.

A deadly shootout at a shopping center? Gangs invading a hospital emergency room, with some trying to finish off a hit that left a rival gang member, whose organization is resisting the invaders? It tends to happen with pistols here because assault rifles are prohibited weapons of war that are hard for the average gangster to obtain.

But what about the armed invasions of Panama’s emergency rooms? Or for that matter, armed invasions of US schools?

More armed guards may be legitimate parts of the response, but mainly it’s a construction problem. The heavily fortified entrance to a place where wounded victims of violence are taken for treatment is by no means an unknown technology. The hospital lock ward and the special emergency room that is no easier to enter or leave than is any prison — guarded by people in bulletproof booths, with multiple remote controlled doors, metal detectors and video surveillance — is more expensive than hiring and arming an extra guard. The school with metal detectors that must be passed and a system automated locks and an always staffed control room that can by video monitor see and hear what’s going on everywhere in the building and lock everything in an instant to isolate a gunman — that’s expensive and perhaps oppressive, but nowhere near as problematic as armed teachers.

Yes, the gun merchants will tell you that the solution to the problem — any problem — is more guns. In many cases the better response is actually more stringent building codes.


Bear in mind…


I’m really glad that our young people missed the Depression, and missed the great big war. But I do regret that they missed the leaders that I knew. Leaders who told us when things were tough, and that we would have to sacrifice, and these difficulties might last awhile. They didn’t tell us things were hard for us because we were different, or isolated, or special interests. They brought us together and they gave us a sense of national purpose.
Ann Richards


It is our responsibilities, not ourselves, that we should take seriously.
Peter Ustinov


This leads to a question — if a great many people are for a certain project, is it necessarily right? If the vast majority is for it, is it even more certainly right? This, to be sure, is one of the tricky points of democracy. The minority often turns out to be right, and though one believes in the efficacy of the democratic process, one has also to recognize that the demand of the many for a particular project at a particular time may mean only disaster.
Frances Perkins


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