Editorials: A slow smash & grab season? and Chinese take out?

The cepo — here, the Embera version of the stocks — an indigenous form of justice that was in place long before the current elites and their recent ancestors invented impunity for themselves. Photo by Eric Jackson.

A slow smash and grab season?

In April, the Varela administration and legislature jammed through a law loosening the telecommunications concessions contracts to allow wireless telephone and Internet companies to buy one another. We were told that our neighbors have fewer companies, so we should join the trend. Thus, following the lead of Honduras to have less competition and more monopolistic practices sailed right through.

In May, we were told that a new electric rate structure would go into effect, so as to essentially ban home and business solar electric generation. Just because. However, there was a brief outcry and the president and his utilities authority backed down.

About the same time, construction starts for the fourth bridge over the canal and other big projects were postponed. Could it be that between the Odebrecht and Blue Apple scandals, all the would-be bidders are skittish about getting caught again playing the same old games at the same time that they are negotiating their plea bargains?

Normally the last year of a presidency is peak corruption season, as people at all levels of the government grab what they can before losing their public jobs. But maybe this time it’s different.

Is the public corruption sector of our economy slowing down along with construction and a sluggishly recovering import/export sector? Time will tell.


South China Sea
China’s claim, which overlaps several countries’ exclusive economic zones as codified in the UN Law of the Sea Convention.

Chinese take out?

China’s assertion of maritime territorial claims in the South China Sea is problematic because it is a vague assertion of the way things supposedly were back in the days of ancient dynasties. China claimed Vietnam and the Straits of Malacca at various points, too. But subsequent dynasties turned inward, going so far as to order the destruction of all documents about the world outside of a lesser China. Then foreign powers carved concessions out of that China, which occupations lasted until the middle of the 20th century.

So should Italy get to claim the old Roman Empire, too, notwithstanding the existence of later legitimate states? Mussolini was into that sort of thinking but even his fellow fascists never bought it. 

The construction and militarization of artificial islands is also a problem, but this is of far more recent vintage and a more complicated set of questions. With climate change and rising sea levels the construction or enhancement of islands in the sea may be the only hope for survival of some small Pacific states. It’s an area of international law that cries out for the negotiation and adoption of an amendment to the Law of the Sea Convention.

Panama is a maritime nation and should also look askance at China’s actions in the South China Sea, even if we are now economically dependent on Beijing.

But neither Panama, the American people nor anybody else should accept the Trump administration’s rhetoric about China’s fortified islands in the South China Sea. From the Pentagon’s Joint Staff director Lieutenant General Kenneth McKenzie we hear that the United States can “take down” China’s fortified islands.

Well, yes. And China can take out Washington, and the United States can take out Beijing, and at least seven or eight countries could take out the Panama Canal. But the threat of radioactive death is unacceptable in the world.

Bear in mind…

Refusal to believe until proof is given is a rational position; denial of all outside of our own limited experience is absurd.
Annie Besant


A state too expensive in itself, or by virtue of its dependencies, ultimately falls into decay; its free government is transformed into a tyranny; it disregards the principles which it should preserve, and finally degenerates into despotism.
Simón Bolívar


All judgment is relative. It may be right today and wrong tomorrow. The only thing that makes it truly right is the desire to have it constantly moving in the right direction.
Frances Perkins
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