Editorials: Declining tourism; and The politics of “removing undesirables”

A Panama Tourism Authority photo — a rare one that promotes tourism rather than the authority’s director.

Tourism is down — of course

This past month of January, Panama had 14 percent fewer tourists, nearly 100,000 fewer, than the same month in 2019. Are they blaming a flu epidemic that broke out in China that was first mentioned in the international press during that month, and had not been detected outside of China until the last week of January? It’s a baby step from there to just blaming it on anyone of Chinese ancestry, an easy baby step given the history of anti-Chinese racism in this country.

In the middle of December a ferocious falling out in Panama’s biggest criminal gang moved from the streets to a massacre in La Joyita Penitentiary, then back out onto the streets. The net result of all of this was a more than doubling of the homicide count for December and January as compared to those months a year earlier. For those thinking about drug tourism to Panama, gangsters killing one another might pose a mortal risk. For those who take gun sellers’ propaganda seriously then the ordinary person going about his or her business MUST acquire a gun because a criminal with murderous intentions is SURELY laying in wait in the shrubbery. Ever thought of the carnage that results from the latter way of thinking? Take a hint — few criminal attackers get shot, but a lot of household members do. 

But your editor? He was waiting at a bus stop in Anton to ride into Coronado, asked the pavo if the mostly empty Penonome bus would take a passenger that far, and was quoted a fare greater than the legal one prescribed by the transit authority. The guy took it as an insult to Panama when that gringo surcharge to a Colon-born Panamanian citizen was rejected.

The day before, your editor was talking with an American citizen in the beaches area who had been swindled on a real estate sale, as in a prominent and connected rich guy selling land to which he didn’t hold title, represented as if the seller did.

On the bus ride back, the editor took an Anton bus, which made a detour into Playa Blanca, where there stands the useless shell of a 13-story money laundering tower that can’t be finished because with the foundations of sand it would collapse. A developer’s folly? That, too, but a state-owned bank accepted this as collateral for a loan and neither the developer nor anybody at the bank went to prison for it.

Service, value, protection — basic things that a country should offer to guests — have fallen by the wayside. Any notice of the visitors we actually get as a base upon which to build — such as the many black folks with historic ties to Panama who come back every year — is tossed aside for dreams of blonde millionaires who are willing to be cheated. Worse yet, the predatory culture of the people who run Panama’s government and economy has seeped down into the lowest social and economic strata of our society.

Plus, we have venomous xenophobic demagogues shouting abuse in the chambers of the National Assembly, and the rudest and stupidest Panamanians all too ready to repeat that stuff.

Panama needs a moral revival, an economic reckoning and a better educated work force to start on a sustainable renovation of our tourism sector. Things to do, ways to publicize them and appeals to likely visitors are important, but those things — while they are and need to be ongoing —  are in the grand scheme of things lower priorities. We need to change negative attitudes and educate people not only in needed skills but in the positive things about our culture that win us friends all around the world.


In 2011, at the height of New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s “broken windows policing,” the Big Apple’s cops stopped and frisked nearly 700,000 New Yorkers, some 90 percent of them African-American or Latino, the overwhelming majority of these young males. There was no appreciable effect on serious crime. The city spent a lot of money defending against — and losing — lawsuits against the flagrant racial profiling embedded in Bloomberg’s urban policy. Photo of a protest against “stop and frisk” by Marcela McGreal.

Removal and exclusion will become
a key issue in Democratic primaries

The NIMBY — “Not In My Back Yard” — phenomenon in US politics is so very often about race. White racists don’t like people of other races in their neighborhoods so they call the police, either with vague complaints, actual tales of petty crimes, or outright lies to have them removed. Quite often it works. People with a bit of money say that the existence of a poor side of town hurts their property values and gives the city a bad image, so propose to “spruce up” the community by tearing down the neighborhood where poor people live.

When those affected, or those not directly affected but with a sense of justice, condemn these attitudes and maneuvers, they are called disruptive, sexist, racist, homophobic, worthless bums, deranged lunatics, deplorables or so on. Their complaints are styled as threats or intimidation. Any medium or reporter who picks up on the dispute other than as an acolyte applauding the bullies runs a high risk of being maligned and blacklisted.

And so a Pete Buttigieg staffer assaulted a videographer from a small news medium that had press credentials, tearing the press badge off of his coat. The videographer wasn’t doing anything improper or unusual, but he was black and Buttigieg hasn’t had the decency to say that things would be corrected or to apologize to the man that his campaign assaulted.

In another incident, the Buttigieg campaign threatened writer Norman Solomon with arrest, for passing out leaflets in favor of Medicare for All OUTSIDE of a place where Buttigieg would be speaking. The police played along.

And what WAS Buttigieg’s big issue in his campaign for re-election as South Bend’s mayor? That he tore down a house a day on the black side of town.

That record, that attitude, that ongoing practice is going to be an issue now that the campaign turns from mostly white Indiana and even whiter New Hampshire to places with demographics that look a lot closer to the nearly half nonwhite US population as a whole. And certainly New York’s former mayor, Michael Bloomberg, is going to face just as difficult a time because of his urban policy of treating African-American and Latino youth as criminal suspects per se.

The white supremacy of the Trump crowd is extreme and nauseating, but is neither the beginning nor the end of America’s serious race relations problems. After the ugly spectacles to which the nation has been subjected, Democrats will be looking for a clean break with racism. Look for this to be a trend in the weeks to come.


Bobby Sands MP

                 I’ll wear no convicts uniform
                 nor meekly serve my time
                That Britons might
                brand Ireland’s fight
                800 years of crime

Bobby Sands MP                              

Bear in mind…

They sicken of the calm who know the storm.

Dorothy Parker

I’m a Christian woman, but I believe in human rights. I do not go into people’s bedrooms. I appoint people based on their capabilities, not their sexual orientation.

Portia Simpson-Miller

Reading maketh a full man; conference a ready man; and writing an exact man.

Francis Bacon


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