Editorials: Expanding institutional roles; and Generational change in the USA

The National Aeronaval Service (SENAN), the branch of Panama’s police forces that includes our de facto coast guard and air patrol, taking public school teachers to their posts in out-of-the-way parts of Panama. Year after year, teachers have died on treacherous mountain paths through jungles, fording streams and crossing rickety bridges to get to remote schools. Safely taking these educators to their jobs is not a law enforcement task, but it’s work that ought to be done and SENAN is that part of the government best equipped to do it. There would be objections from companies that want contracts to do this, and from people concerned that an expansion of the repressive forces might lead to a dictatorship. SENAN photo.

Institutions that would expand into other fields

We heard a few days ago about how the Ministry of Security is making plans to take a major role in responding to the coronavirus epidemic if and when it gets here.  Certainly if a good vaccine is quickly developed, the SENAFRONT border patrol and the SENAN air and sea patrols would be logical agencies to mobilize to vaccinate people in parts of Panama where there is little government presence. One might expect that if a lot of people have to be quarantined there would be police roles in that process, from enforcing quarantine orders, to protecting places where people with the virus are sent from hysterical elements, to delivering supplies to people quarantined in their homes.

Meanwhile, the Panama Canal Authority (ACP) makes noises about taking over the ports from the National Maritime Authority and taking charge of the nation’s water supply from IDAAN and the local aqueducts. They might make good arguments for roles in decisions about those matters, but it looks suspiciously like the constellation of powerful economic interests — the construction companies, the banks, the corporate law firms — that dominate the ACP board making self-interested and not particularly justified power grabs.

The police role is changing. It needs to change to meet the demands of our times. Old problems with corruption, which are to a great extent fed by a US-imposed “War on Drugs” that is not in Panama’s interest, need to be resolved before people trust the police to expand into new areas as they really should. The K-9 units training guide dogs for the blind, expanded SENAN air ambulance services, perhaps a corps of engineers to end our dependence on a thuggish clique of construction companies and the politicians they buy — these things would make sense. Balanced against such expansions would be memories of totalitarian overreaches during Noriega times.

Bad memories should not paralyze us.  They should guide our caution as new institutional tasks are assigned, expanded or limited.


Once upon a time Fidel Castro was a Cuban legislator-elect. His brother-in-law Rafael Díaz-Balart was a mover and shaker aligned with dictator Fulgencio Batista. Fidel got divorced and the family feud worsened, along with the social situation, into the Cuban Revolution. Díaz-Balart went into exile, founded the right-wing exile movement and later two of his sons became GOP congressmen from Florida. When Rafael was a top official and Fidel was a proscribed rebel, Antonio Prohias was a leading Cuban editorial cartoonist. Fidel liked his satire about Batista. Then Castro came to power, and he disliked Prohias’s satire about the new regime. Prohias went into exile in the USA and through his cartoons projected a dark view of the Cold War. The two sides were mirror image ruthless bastards, but also incredible bumblers. Now the US electorate is passing to generations that were not informed by the Cold War. Cartoon by the late Antonio Prohias.

An old generation of new US leaders?

The next president of the United States is going to be a septuagenarian. The big issue is how he or she looks at the lessons of the past, what sorts of economic dogmas will constrain the ambitions of younger generations, and whether the torch of leadership will be passed on to talented younger people with new ideas or to dull conformists dedicated to the thinking that dominated the last half-century. Chronological age has little to do with it.

If you are a Democratic primary voter, don’t be shallow and get fooled by identities. Vote mainly about ideas for the future, informed by sober reckoning about records in public offices. Broadly speaking, your choices will be between continuation of what we have or bold strides in new directions.


Admiral Howard

Bear in mind…

One of the few good things about modern times: If you die horribly on television, you will not have died in vain. You will have entertained us.

Kurt Vonnegut               

When armies are mobilized and issues are joined,
The man who is sorry over the fact will win.


Everybody knows if you are too careful you are so occupied in being careful that you are sure to stumble over something.

Gertrude Stein               


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