Plague days diary 2


Plague days diary 2

April 8

This morning I learned the limits of The Decree as interpreted by Carlos Slim. NO, the ban in Internet shutoffs does not apply if the way you get on la carretera informática is by a Huawei wireless modem with a Claro SIM chip that must be recharged. Ordinarily that would entail a disconnect of a couple of hours. OR, were I on poverty rations at that moment, I might lug my laptop to one of the places with free WiFi and at least tell the Facebook following that there would be a bit of mostly down time.

However, these are Plague Days. Men are not supposed to go out of their houses on Wednesdays. I have the money to recharge the chip. Tomorrow I will have a two-hour window time – two of them if allowed to play by the book and cheat – to to that chore. There are tight movement restrictions in place and as a citizen and a journalist I support them. Pain in the ass as they might be.

How much of a pain in the ass? My preference would ordinarily be to take a bit more time and go to Coronado to do this. But I get around by bus and buses are generally not running across provincial lines. (I live in Cocle province and Coronado is in Panama Oeste.) Ever were the unheralded restrictions on buses between these provinces not in place, it would be difficult to get to Coronado, recharge my chip and be back home – four bus rides – in the two hours reserved for the old and buzzardly, between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. Still three to four bus rides, but to Penonome.

So, an outage of more than 24 hours, but with word by phone to give a head’s up about my absence from the Facebook controls. I’m sure if some alt-right jerk decides to play patent medicine shill or Trump publicist there will be suitably derisive comments.

Time to catch up on my offline writing, and my science fiction reading.

~ ~

An Internet outage is also an apt time for some garden chores.

I’m old and fat and my bones creak, but carrying water to critical plants that need it for survival in this prolonged dry season is easy enough for me and surely I need the exercise. But the chopping away at some palms that I’m doing to alter the sun conditions for part of my front gardens is limited by the softness of my hands. I try to stop the machete work just before any blistering starts. Put a new pair of work gloves on the shopping list.

~ ~

The stay home order doesn’t entirely remove me from shopping on the days when men are obliged to stay home – Sundays, Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays – and the hours when THIS man is not supposed to go out. Trucks come by selling various things. Got fish yesterday – this humongous sierra, which I cooked for the animals, the white flesh and gray skin for their dinner, the rest of the fish into the pressure cooker for soup. El Campeón, the big dog who is shared with the neighbors, is ailing and was not eating much. HOPE I am giving him the right medicine, but fish soup he likes and the warm liquid with chunks of stuff surely has is medicinal as well as nutritional value.

I could have bought fish today. The bread truck passed by while I was cleaning the bathroom – if I could have flagged the bakery guys down in time I would have looked for some pan mpña de queso, but settled for something lesser if they didn’t have any of the cheese bread I love. One of the two fish trucks was selling sundry other stuff and for $2.50 I got a bag of 10 mangos and a small bottle of honey.

~ ~

Animal feeding time, as five o’clock approaches. Meals are prepared for the usual dogs and cats – and here comes a very welcome fourth dog, Fulita. She’s usually with her other family – a loving young woman and an inseparable friend, this beautiful little gray and brown brindle dog with the wonderfully expressive perra criolla ears and a frisky little puppy with even more exaggerated ears.

Across Panama a lot of people are going hungry and a lot of them are abandoning their dogs and cats, or at least putting them on short rations. Leave it to gringos who never miss a meal to make a criminal issue of it, but leave it to the Environmental Police unit to rescue dogs that are being left unfed. PROBABLY it would be better in most circumstances for that part of the force to deliver bags of dog food that to remove dogs.

Fulita has over the years sometimes been mistreated at her other home – driven off after her last litter of puppies was taken away, some years afterward tied up in cruel and scarring fashion. These days she bears no recent physical or behavioral marks of maltreatment. However, she’s kind of skinny, like she was in her last dinnertime visit a week ago. A fourth bowl of dog food and balogna slices is prepared. She digs out the meat, eats about half of the dried dog food, and is ready to eat and run. But I detain her for a bit. I’m frying some chicken legs, and if she wants to get back to her other family before they are completely done, some skin was ready and she bolted that down before she left.

The Mama Dog, largely indoor old lady that she is, stuck around and got a better deal. Bones, a little bit of meat and fat, dibs on licking the skillet. The two outdoor dogs, El Campeón and The Little Dog, came running from the neighbors’ yard for their shares of the bones.

~ ~

April 9

So what about this solitude by presidential decree?

On a certain level, it’s familiar enough. I am used to the absence of human company. It’s who I have always been.

But then, some of the guys whom I see violating the curfew – they are the same ones I suspect of several break-ins where cameras and computers were stolen. Probably in these curfew times people like that have no fences to turn any stolen things around. Was one of those I have in mind the person who vandalized my front garden trellis? Perhaps. Can’t prove a thing.

If I got a cheap video camera I think I’d know for sure – and then it would be a matter of politics whether I’d have any recourse. Perhaps better luck popularizing any such image in the neighborhood than taking it to the authorities.

The arrests for curfew violations are now in the thousands across Panama, but they haven’t gotten out to Juan Diaz de Anton yet. Our local jerks have a different set of calculations here. By my estimate, remove about five guys from the streets of El Bajito and the neighborhood can breathe easier in its isolation.

When I say “remove” I mean neither gringo mass incarceration nor Latin American death squad notions The grasped concept of certain and unpleasant consequences for being caught out on the streets would suffice. Fines? Incarceration? Meh. Perhaps most effective of all would be public shame.

I find myself thinking and writing this, but where might it lead? Where, in fact, HAS it led? This pandemic has given us something of a police state. Like wars generally tend to do to societies.

With reporters mostly shut in our homes, information about Panama tends to come directly or indirectly from the police. The politicians? Mainly they are a pathetic lot. A few are very busy trying to associate themselves with populist-sounding measures that don’t address the needs of many people and don’t much offend the dominant elites. Some want to get their pictures taken distributing goodies, but have a hard time getting anyone to take or distribute such images.

Then there’s Nito, the president, who with his line item veto might approve or reject anything silly that the legislators might do, who with his powers to issue emergency decree can and does make the National Assembly’s games look pointless.

He came to office with a little more than one-third of the vote, riding in on a multiple split vote with an annoying political patronage machine. His first months were a fiasco of trying to push a cosmetic constitutional reform package rooted in a discredited oligarchy and get it past a collection of demagogues and thugs in the legislature. It provoked protests that were popular enough for him to take the process of the legislature’s hands and punt. Then, against the backdrop of a severe drouht that hampered both Panama Canal operations and agricultural production, came an ominous stream of news about the national debt. And in our peripheral vision there was this disease outbreak in Wuhan.

Nito’s administration stumbled in the first days of the crisis, but then hit its stride quickly enough. Blame assignments, boasts and self-promotion are not his things. The constitution won’t let him run for re-election and Panamanian political habits would have his party thrown into the opposition the next time the voters have the chance to do that. This crisis is “the legacy thing.” No doubt there will be a Panama afterward, but the shapes our social relations are sure to be altered.

Notwithstanding our grim situation, Laurentino Cortizo Cohen looks pretty good so far. Not perfect, but he’s willing to hear about and correct errors. He has been working from day one without the equipment that was needed, asking the men and women on the front lines to take risks to do their duty, and exuding calm resolve. We shall see how it turns out, but looking through all the inevitable spins to come, most people will probably conclude that his strict measures saved a lot of lives, even as they ruined the economy and infringed upon liberties people took for granted.

Nito Cortizo is an old man and we don’t know how long this pandemic will have Panama locked down. It’s a reasonable projection that whatever happens to him, going into the next elections the main bone of contention will be about the country’s recovery from this crisis. We won’t be able to go back to what was before even if that were desirable. Conflicting voices will be screaming dibs on the same things. It will be a time of bankruptcies and bailout demands, and a crushing national debt.

~ ~

I’m a US and Panamanian dual citizen by birth in Panama to American parents. There are Panamanians out to strip me and people like me our our Panamanian citizenship, and Americans out to strip me and people like me of our US citizenship.

The American Embassy here is short-staffed and has been without an ambassador since the one we had – married to a Puerto Rican woman, also a diplomat – resigned over Donald Trump’s racism. Our second chargé d’affaires since then, provided with few resources, sort of urges Americans to leave. However, the resources to do that are hardly there and in any case there would be the prospect of a return to chaotic plague scenes worse that the ones were are holding out against in Panama. Some Americans got out, others will flee forever at next opportunity, but this place has a gringo community that was first established here during the California Gold Rush. With us came the Chinese and the West Indians. The demographics have waxed and waned and will continue to do so. In Panamanian Spanish we aren’t hyphenated but we are long-standing parts of this place, each ethnic community with its particular diversities.

As an American I am appalled by the reigning nonsense in Washington. Also by some of the gringo community here, and by some of the more vociferous elements of the various Panamanian and Zonian diasporas in the USA.

But you know what? Despite the hustlers and religious fanatics and sovereign citizens and preening millionaires whose main purpose in life is conspicuous consumption, I’m actually proud of our gringo community here. The creepy ones are subdued, because there is great social pressure from everyone else to keep their nonsense to themselves. There’s not much we can actually do, but this country’s Americans are crossing partisan, religious, racial, generational and economic lines in our will to help. It’s part of American culture to draw together and volunteer in the face of an emergency – even if it’s just expressed online via “Quit your complaining about the bars being closed and obey the quarantine decrees” responses to the unenlightened among us. So many of those on the upper end continue to pay maids and gardeners who are not allowed to come to work. Acts of generosity among Americans who can’t meet face-to-face somehow continue. From expressions emanating from the gated-off enclaves it seems that a real interest in how this society operates almost entirely eclipses the dread of dark-skinned and unintelligible “others.”

Uncle Sam has not come to Panama’s rescue. He hasn’t even come to the rescue of the gringo community here. To tell the truth, Donald Trump has let down the defenses of Americans in the USA, with deadly results. There will be reckonings for that. But in Panama it’s different now. Different from when I was a kid, when there was this generally if not entirely hostile US colonial enclave called the Canal Zone and a lot of people on both sides of the street acted accordingly. Different from the devastation of the 1989 invasion, when this gringo saw no justice at all in what was done to ordinary Panamanians who were just caught in the way. As annoying as the present US government is to me, I feel good about being an American in Panama in these trying times. Is that the Panamanian side of my perceptions? Hard to say.

~ ~

No longer dry season winds blowing steady out of the north, a few clouds in the partly cloudy skies look like they hold a bit of moisture, but NO RAIN. It’s a devastating to Panama Canal operations and national agriculture drought, overshadowed by this virus.

It could be worse. I have a half a tank of water, but with some particles of whatever in suspension. Many a dry season there would be no water at this point.

~ ~

Oh no! Went to get my Claro Internet stick chip recharged and all the Claro offices are closed. Can and did buy some Claro cards and recharge the chip in a phone, but that way the things don’t last a month for $15 plus taxes. FAR more expensive.

So much for this government promise of no Internet cutoffs or rate increases. But I am sure that at Carlos Slim’s company they will allege that it’s just that I am  the doofus.



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