Editorials: No exile governments here; and Ford and the USA

A decade ago, many Colombians living in Panama registered their objections to the FARC guerrillas. It was their right. Those who brought warfare spilling across our border, on the other hand, had no such right. Archive photo by José F. Ponce

We should not allow a Venezuelan exile court here

Panama has been a place to which people flee from dreadful condition in other lands all though its recorded history. Archaeology, paleoclimatology, ethnobotany, DNA and tribal lore will likely combine to show that this was also the case in the preliterate cultures before the Spanish Conquest, but certainly most of the Spaniards who came were not only looking for gold or other riches, they were fleeing a ruined Iberian Peninsula, its soil eroded and its people exhausted and treasuries depleted by generations of war. Economic collapses, persecutions and wars have brought many waves of immigrants to this isthmus, and if we care to look closely at what happened here between the end of the great Spanish trade fairs and the California Gold Rush, Panama has also seen great emigrations due to hard times.

Some people fled and then went back, some passed through, and many stayed and wove themselves into the fabric of what this country is. Panama is the better for it. But we are Panama and not a department of Colombia because we decided not to let conflicts elsewhere rule our fate. Panama gained control of the canal in large part by an understanding with the rest of the world that the conflicts of others would not play out here in political decisions about who gets to use the canal and who does not.

So much of the story of Colombia’s civil conflict remains shrouded by the secrecy of several governments. At US urging, did we lean toward the right-wing paramilitaries at one point? That did happen and some organized Colombian criminals that we have here are one of the legacies of that. But most of the Colombians who came here due to the breakdown of public order in the locales from whence they ran settled in and made positive contributions to Panama. If at key moments much of that community took to the streets to say that they didn’t like the guerrillas or the war, it was their right. So is it tolerated and a useful social safety valve when Colombians go to their consular voting stations in Panama and cast their ballots. With a few exceptions, Panama’s large Colombian community is not a problem. Of course among those who fled the violence there will be people who participated and who can’t off turn the violence, the hatreds and the racketeering lifestyles those bred. Panama has to look out for those relative few.

Now from Venezuela, with its ruined oil economy, its ultra-violent capital and its dysfunctional politics, has come another wave of immigrants. We don’t have the resources to take everybody who wants to come and we need to discard the bad apples, but the Venezuelans are not a big problem. They add more than they subtract and when things calm down in Caracas some will want to go back while others will have established new lives here.

The Venezuelans who are here nearly unanimously dislike the present government in Caracas. They have a right to say that.

What should not be allowed, however, is the establishment of an opposition Venezuelan supreme court in exile here. The Venezuelan opposition has asked Panama for permission to set up that exile body here, and unfortunately the Varela administration appears receptive.

That would drag Panama into somebody else’s conflict. It could make us the target for attacks. Do we have creditors here with claims against Venezuela? Are we annoyed that their disorders are sending people fleeing in all directions including our own? Sure, Panama has some differences to negotiate with Venezuela but not such that we should allow an opposition government in exile to operate from here.


Ford ends production of sedans

Ford Motor Company has decided to end production of Fiesta, Focus and Taurus sedans, keeping the Mustang muscle cars but shifting its focus to sport utility vehicles and trucks. It was reportedly decided after another disappointing earnings report. Let us not, however, just pass it off as a brilliant or erroneous bean counter move, although it may have been one of those things as well.

Henry Ford was in so many ways a miserable creature, but early in the 20th century he combined a few key ideas. He would incorporate existing mass production ideas into a moving assembly line, not only speeding up production but allowing it to be done by a mostly unskilled work force. His company would pay its workers enough so that they would be able to buy its cars. The first Ford cars were made easy to repair and maintain, so that anyone with a bit of mechanical reasoning and a few tools could do that.

By the time that Franklin D. Roosevelt forced the old man out of the company’s management because he was one of Hitler’s friends and the company was needed for war production, new ideas were growing in the industry he created. Wartime worked delayed the implementation, but afterward cars were intentionally made less durable, with model changes that among other things within a few years made parts hard to find and people who could fix cars less common in the labor market. As in “planned obsolescence,” something underway today in both the hardware and software sectors of the computer industry. Later came shareholders demanding profit maximization – more so in other companies that the family-controlled Ford – and competitive drives to reduce labor costs by automation, out-sourcing and assembly in cheap labor countries. The concepts of simplicity, durability and an American working class that provided a good market for things that its members produced were all abandoned in favor of short-term profits.

Now climate change and new technologies are leading toward the end of the internal combustion engine. Asian competitors having long since beaten Ford in terms of both quality and price. Inequalities in US society are now returning to what they were in the Gilded Age before Henry Ford began his social experiment. A business empire is in its decline.

Franklin D. Roosevelt knew what Ford had, and what America had, when he drafted the company and the nation into the Second World War. That industrial might was the key to the Allied victory. But where is the industrial basis for US military, economic, political and military might now?


Bear in mind…


Nobody outside of a baby carriage or a judge’s chamber believes in an unprejudiced point of view.
Lillian Hellman


It is said that power corrupts, but actually it’s more true that power attracts the corruptible. The sane are usually attracted by other things than power.
David Brin


Ignorance of certain subjects is a great part of wisdom.
Hugo De Groot


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