Editorials: Two historical research projects; and Treat them as POWs

Carvings at the San Francisco de la Montaña Church in Veraguas, said to be the work of the first generation of indigenous artists to become Christians. Was the church built atop a pre-Columbian religious site? What did the process of the sculptors’ conversion entail? Obscure questions here, but they might be answered in recently opened Vatican archives. Photo by Editorpana.

History projects to bring two nations together

In Panama we just celebrated The Day of the Martyrs, versions of which are taught to every student in the Panamanian public schools. But an academic turf battle, certain Panamanian politicians’ fawning desire to curry favor with the United States and a bizarre court decision bar any national educational policy to teach the history of Panamanian – US relations. It gets worse when one considers that with the separation from Colombia and its incessant Liberal versus Conservative civil warfare, Panama decided to just forget one of the major issues in that, whether Catholicism should be the official state religion or whether there should be a secular state. That, too, isn’t taught in the schools. Then, with this country’s history since separation from Colombia being an only occasionally interrupted tale of flagrant corruption, and with the abuses of a 21-year dictatorship that’s associated with a party that commands the loyalty of about one-third of Panamanians, any substantial teaching of civics here has been for more than a generation considered “too controversial.”

It does immense harm to Panama that most Panamanians know little of the country’s history and those who know tend to be considered subversive louts if they draw conclusions from that history.

The current order is endangered by pestilence, corruption and economic collapse. So if a constitutional convention is called, will its delegates be elected by purchased votes?

Those sorts of abuses go way back. You can read about them in the Bible, and in the surviving literature of ancient Greece and Rome. How far back on this isthmus? Probably since well before the Spanish Conquest. Did Catholic priests write down any of the ancient lore of the indigenous civilizations that they encountered here? They probably did some of that. Certainly they would have chronicled the evangelization of Panama, and all of the moral and political crises here from that time to today.

Last year Pope Francis opened the Vatican archives. As a matter of national pride, even national salvation, we ought to send scholars to Rome to see what the documents say about Panamanian

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The Canal Zone is a bitter colonial memory for a lot of old timers here, a paradise lost for some of its old white civilian minority who remember, something again for those who were part of its civilian black majority. It’s long gone, but it’s part of Panama’s history and US history.

Those who survive are old and gray, but especially in this tumultuous US political year, there is a bit of Democratic history, and Black history, and US military history that ought to be researched, written and celebrated.

In 1964 the civil rights movement was at full blast in the United States, the Canal Zone had seen the beginning of its end, and the Canal Zone Democratic Party was set to choose its leaders and its delegation to that year’s Democratic National Convention in Atlantic City. The contenders to lead the CZ Dems were two outstanding intellectuals, marine biologist Ira Rubinoff (Harvard) and writer / English professor / political analyst Dick Koster (Yale). Up until then the segregated Canal Zone had a mainstream politics much like other Southern Democrats of that time.

But in 1964, a somewhat secretive civil rights movement among African-American military personnel asserted itself. The Concerned Brothers marched in and all voted for Koster, who won. For the first time, there was a black person on the Canal Zone convention delegation. And that year, the Canal Zone surprised a lot of people when it voted to seat the Mississippi Freedom Democrats.

This would be a good year to flesh out, tell and celebrate that story. It’s time sensitive. Wait 20 years and there may be nobody left alive to directly tell it.

So again, homework needs to be done to tell the history of this place, and of a bit of Americana. It’s a time to rescue history from a racist con man’s “alternative facts,” as part of fixing one of the things that’s broken in US culture.



Arrest. Intern without court proceedings as enemy insurgents. Remove from any public post.

What were Abraham Lincoln’s orders during the Battle of Shiloh?

Were they “Arrest, take before a magistrate for a bail hearing and let Chief Justice Roger Taney review the propriety of the proceedings?”

Trump and his goons have opted for insurrection against the United States of America. They are calling for more armed attacks on state capitols and in Washington DC. There are laws and precedents for dealing with that stuff.

This is not a time for courtroom dramas. For the insurrectionists — including those who incited and financed — it’s a time for prisoner of war camps.


               When you learn that a truth is a lie, anger follows.

Grace Slick               

Bear in mind…


… somewhere about the eighteenth century, history tacitly replaced religion as the school of public morals.

C. V. Wedgwood


Absolute faith corrupts as absolutely as absolute power.

Eric Hoffer


There are a terrible lot of lies going around the world, and the worst of it is half of them are true.

Winston Churchill


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