Editorials: Panama City blunder; and Fix America first

Alfred E. Neuman's grandpa
The Municipio would cave to special interest demands against Panama’s schools. This one they would leave isolated among money laundering towers for the time being. MEDUCA photo.

Bad urban planning

Again we see that in the waning months of an administration real estate speculators are demanding the ouster of public schools from an area of Panama City’s corregimiento of San Francisco that’s adjacent to Paitilla. The mayor’s office seems ready to accommodate them by rezoning the 8.3 hectares on which Colegio Jose A. Remon Cantera and Escuela Isabel Herrera Obaldia have held classes for decades. The adjacent Colegio Richard Neumann — this time — is left out of the package. In years not so far past the real estate for two Catholic schools that were in that educational zone was bought by developers and the schools moved to Clayton.

The basic argument is that the land is valuable so the private sector should get it. The subsidiary argument is that the kids who go to these public schools mostly do not live in the Paitilla and Punta Pacifica areas.

So do we need more mostly empty upscale condo towers or office buildings? In the current slow economy, that which is contemplated is not any construction that meets any particular social need. It’s just new money laundering towers that perhaps if things change over the years might find occupants. In the meantime Panama’s real estate gray marked would offer units to foreign tax cheats and gangsters so that they could make bogus reports to the authorities of their countries of origin about the fabulous rents they receive, so as to launder dirty money for repatriation and purchase of what passes for respectability. It’s a would-be Donald Trump scam writ small.

Panama really doesn’t have a system of neighborhood high schools. The Ministry of Education is neither proposing one nor putting the land for this public school complex onto the market. Or if they are, they won’t admit it.

Let us understand the true snobbery of the ‘they’re not from here and we want them out’ argument. It’s for a cleansing by social class, with a strong unstated racial component. It’s another proposed import of foreign hatreds into Panamanian society, just like English-language billboards hyping all-white gated beach communities, at which it has been known from time to time that black people arriving at the gates to visit family or friends get arrested. It’s a wink and a nod approval of a racist Costa del Este pizzeria that would not serve black people because of some profile that the owners assured an offended nation was about class, not race, so ought to be acceptable. But of course Panama’s inadequate and largely ignored constitution does prohibit discrimination according to social class as well.

Should we blame the mayor for this bad policy initiative coming out of his administration? We should. Sure, we should recognize that real estate speculators have dominated Panama City’s urban policies since the early days of the republic. They have only succeeded because of a succession of city administrations that operated on the principle that you can’t say no to speculators and developers.

The Republic of Panama finds itself at a crossroads where almost everyone recognizes that the old system does not function very well for anybody. So now we have these proposals from the Chamber of Commerce and others for election and court “reforms” that further concentrate the power of the rich while closing off possibilities for urban policy reforms.

Nor, for that matter, do the business elites’ constitutional proposals and land grab demands allow for needed education reforms. It may well be that the school complex adjacent to Paitilla should become a construction site. Panamanian public education is abominable and it pulls down the standards at private schools as well. At the top of the list of needed changes is full school days, which in turn would require both the training and hiring of more teachers and the building of more classrooms.

If we have some snobbish little minorities shouting that they won’t pay for schools or “Not In My Back Yard,” outside of any constitutional question we need public officials who stand up to these sorts of people. Defense of Panamanian education against greedy private demands is a critical front line of our nation’s security. It is the essence of defending civilization on the isthmus. It is a cutting edge question in our unfolding electoral process.


The United States does not compete with China in Panama or Latin America in general without fixing US industry, education and business practices. Photo by Sean J. Savage.

China and the USA in Panama

Will one of the plans that the Panama Canal Authority had for the expanded waterway go back to the drawing boards because of Donald Trump’s trade wars? The US president has been slapping China with ever greater tariffs and China has responded in kind. Now China has imposed a duty on US liquid natural gas exports and the canal stands to lose business because of that.

The United States, which ditched relations with Taiwan in favor of relations with China back in 1972, called the chargé d’affaires at the American Embassy here for consultations, given Panama’s recent break with Taiwan and establishment of ties with China. The Chinese Foreign Ministry has an ambassador here, while the chaotic US State Department does not.

Is the world shipping industry important for Panama? Chinese banks lead the world in financing the construction of ships, while US lenders are wary of that risk. And loans to the Panamanian government? US-aligned lenders are telling Panama that an austerity that cuts funding for schools, roads, police and fire protection and so on while selling more public assets is required, while the Chinese credit offered to Panama comes with no such ideological strings.

Are some ambitious engineering and construction projects contemplated here? Every year China graduates 20 times as many engineers as the United States does. China’s new infrastructure projects — photovoltaic highways, bullet trains, innovative seaports and so on — tend to be more advanced than what the Americans are building.

The displacement of foreign economic niches in Latin America by Chinese enterprises is not only a phenomenon in Panama. US businesses are not the only ones being replaced.

But leave it to a certain sort of American to holler about the Monroe Doctrine and the US role in Panama’s separation from Colombia, instead of insisting that the United States get its house in order. The current trend is not so much a matter of Chinese aggression as of US weakness. Fix America first if the Chinese competition is to be seriously challenged.


Bear in mind…

Preventing the conflicts of tomorrow means changing the mind-set of youth today.
Graça Machel


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’d have to sacrifice, and that 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


Cruelty to animals is one of the most significant vices of a low and ignoble people. Wherever one notices them, they constitute a sign of ignorance and brutality which cannot be painted over even by all the evidence of wealth and luxury.
Alexander von Humboldt


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