Editorials, Getting on top of this special emergency

Distributing masks and hand cleaning gel to essential workers in the city. MINSA photo.

What’s Nito to do now?

Does he wish to preside over all-out class warfare during an epidemic, or does he wish to unite the nation in the face of a serious biological threat? The people to whom he has been listening want the former. They’d let the water systems go out and send the poor to streams tainted with coronavirus-laden sewage to wash. Their profits would be sacred, but not so the lives of the working people who produce them. Every penny of interest compounded during the crisis would be collected. The last of Panama’s assets held in common, starting with the public schools, would be privatized.

And Panama would dissolve into civil warfare under the business leaders’ plan of action.

Run up the debt some more, and keep the PRD apparatchiki happy by allowing them various skims? But the nation’s line of credit is about maxed out.

From day one of the crisis, as soon as the president saw the US Centers for Disease Control’s dire range of possibilities, as the quarantine was ordered, as we watched the horrors of New York City unfold, it might have been expected that a president who was an agriculture minister would have begun an urban and rural victory garden program. As soon as the numbers of infected people sent home to shut themselves in until they recover began to rise, we might have expected a public system of deliveries to keep such people supplied so that they did not leave their homes. We might have expected provisions to be made for healthy elderly folks to be given safer shelter than multi-generational households where they had been living. We might have expected a count and some provision for the nearly half of Panama’s work force that labors informally. Did Nito intend to declare a state of siege? He didn’t make proper preparations for Panama’s ordeal.

Even with restrictions only partial and regional, some of the obvious things that were neglected need to be belatedly done.

Beyond that, there ought to be some labor-intensive public works programs that provide needy people with income and something constructive to do, and which ignore the paralyzing old dibs.

The telecom companies divided Panama into service areas and breached their contractual duties for national coverage, such that online schooling does not work in much of the Interior. Let’s not pay those companies to do what they were supposed to have done long ago, but build our own public telecommunications system, perhaps with Chinese assistance. Let’s put young people who might otherwise be troublesome to work on fulfilling the broken promise of Internet for all.

We have had shortages of protective gear, and casualties among doctors, nurses, cops, firefighters, immigration officers and so on because of it. We have also had small-scale production of such necessities at universities. That ought to be ramped up into full-scale factories that provide Panama’s front-line responders with the protection they need.

We built a spare hospital in a short period of time, just in case. We will probably need it. “Irregularities” there were, which may or may not be the same thing as corruption. There should be transparency and accountability, but not the regular bidding wars with all the usual delays and corruption. Better. In fact, if Panama has its own public sector corps of engineers for many projects, at least the duration of this emergency.

If this is, constitutionally speaking, a state of emergency akin to a state of war – one in which more than 400 have already fallen with no end in sight – Panama should go on an appropriate footing. That’s the first part of putting the country back to work.


American Embassy graphic, about a flight long gone. Some who took it still  need protection here.

For those who have left or are leaving

Yes, there is the old game. Someone who owns a home leaves during an emergency, then comes back and finds someone else living there with a note from a mayor saying that they own it. Or comes back to a bare slab, all else having been stripped.

Those who are going away and intend to return ought to be careful about choices of caretakers and execute wise powers of attorney. There should be special police, prosecutors and judges to suppress the usual games during this emergency.

The land grabbing reputation has not only already set us up for some settling of accounts that could be quite bitter, but if unchecked it would be a major impediment for foreign investment when the country needs it to rebuild. More immediately it’s a problem for those foreign property owners who take the evacuation flights. They need to protect themselves but should not be left to their own devices.


irie man

Bear in mind…

Reading stories is bad enough but writing them is worse.

L. M. Montgomery


The measure of a country’s greatness is its ability to retain compassion in times of crisis.

Thurgood Marshall


Male and female represent the two sides of the great radical dualism. But in fact they are perpetually passing into one another. Fluid hardens to solid, solid rushes to fluid. There is no wholly masculine man, no purely feminine woman.

Margaret Fuller


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