Editorials, Bad time for politicians; and About Democrats Abroad

Nor are many outside of the chamber paying much attention anymore. Photo by the Presidencia.

Ever worse

These words are written in the course of a series of power outages, one of which lasted for more than eight hours in this part of Cocle province, and after the lights came back the Claro wireless Internet connection towers were out of whack. Meanwhile in Arraijan, no water, in some neighborhoods for days, and protests about that. Plus a “dialogue” about cutting social security benefits one way or another that’s so patently a set-up that the government can’t talk to either labor or retirees, so Nito does his photo op consultation with a group of children.

The economic news is almost uniformly bad. Fitch just lowered Panama’s bond rating again. The Riu and Ramada hotels here have declared bankruptcy. Dozens of people die of COVID-19 every day, but we are told that restrictions are being lifted and tourism will suddenly and magically snap back.

Will the “influencers” come to the rescue? A list of them, and what they are being paid, leaked out. Except that the government says that the list is secret and won’t talk about it. The powers that be won’t deny what was published either. Mostly it’s a bunch of young adults of dubious talents and credentials. It looks like some are getting paid more than PanCanal pilots, at first glance… BUT WAIT! People who were listed as being paid by the government to influence public opinion are saying that they are not now, never were and wouldn’t be. As in, the apparent hallmarks of a “botella” scheme, wherein payrolls are padded with fictional employees and those parts of the planilla get drained off by corrupt public officials.

Yes, there is the odd opposition figure speaking out about the abuses. No, there is no obvious alternative waiting in the wings. It’s a given that at the next opportunity – the 2024 elections or some sort of an earlier referendum – people are going to vote against Nito Cortizo and his PRD. But that really isn’t a plan.

Will we ever get over claiming our respective dibs, acknowledge that across the board there have been terrible losses that are not going to be made up anytime soon? Can we ever agree to scrap the old arrangements and start on some new ones? It’s hard to expect that when the privileged jump the vaccine line and nobody gets held to account for it.

Let’s wise up, Panama.


February being Black History Month in the USA – Panama has a different one in May – local Democrats ought to recognize some of the black history that the party made here. In its 21st century iteration, Democrats Abroad Panama was reorganized after the 2000 election defeat more than by anyone else by a black man, the late Bill Speed. Well before that, for most of the 20th century Democrats were organized here under the aegis of the Canal Zone Democrats. The organization arose from a segregated white-minority colony that was formally abolished in 1979. The Canal Zone Democrats were mostly like Southern white Democrats of that time. The two-thirds black majority of the Zone’s civilian population was not a factor – hardly any of them were US citizens. But in 1964, a civil rights movement among the African-American troops, the Concerned Brothers, signed up as Democrats, marched into the meeting where party leaders and convention delegates were chosen, and elected a racially integrated slate. That summer the Canal Zone delegation voted to seat the Mississippi Freedom Democrats rather than Mississippi’s whites-only official delegation. As shown above, the Freedom Democrats got their hearing and an odd compromise was made.

Democrats Abroad: A US political
party among sovereign nations

It’s a conceptual problem among US political activists and operatives in general, but it takes on special force in Democrats Abroad (DA). Are we a “brand” that appeals to various “markets,” or are we a “political party” that tries to represent various “constituencies?”

Some countries do much more to promote the political participation of their citizens living abroad than does the United States. The use of the US diplomatic missions and the diplomatic pouch to send ballots is a tenuous and ill-defined gain for American citizens living outside the USA, but many countries open polling stations in their diplomatic missions for their expatriate citizens to vote. SOME countries have legislators specifically elected to represent citizens living in foreign lands. But under US federalism citizens vote in states and locales – generally in the last place where they resided – according to the election laws of those states but with a thin veneer of federal voting rights protection.

Republicans afford fewer intra-party rights to overseas citizens – no global GOP presidential primary, no expatriate Republicans representation as such at their national conventions, nor on the Republican National Committee. Democrats have these things.

But is Democrats Abroad selling a brand, much as if a multinational hawking potato chips from Australia to Belgium to Chile, or representing a political party’s movements and constituencies in such places? And to the extent that we do the latter, how well do we do this, and what are the practical limits to doing this? Given our diverse membership and all manner of particularities, can Democrats Abroad represent a constituency like, for example, the Georgia Democrats do?

A basic issue of customary international law is that countries are sovereign and foreigners are supposed to respect this. It’s a rule embedded in DA statutes that country chapters shall not comment about or become involved with the politics of the countries where they are established. You don’t find Democrats Abroad Panama making pronouncements about how wonderful or horrible President Cortizo or his party are. But are we allowed to say things to the Panamanian government about things that affect us? Or to petition the US government to in turn make representations to its Panamanian counterpart about things that affect, say, our ability to vote from abroad in US elections, or say, the immigration status of significant parts of the gringo community?

It got even dicier recently when in the social media of a DA country chapter something critical was said about the government of a different country and there was a palpable fear that the criticized third nation would take it out on members of the DA chapter there. It may be that DA needs to adjust its rules so that its global officers may reside in the USA, such that some benighted regime may not expel one of the global officers and in this way force the organization to change its leadership.

When Hillary Clinton, recently having been US Secretary of State, ran for the presidency, word from her partisans in the DNC and from some DA operatives was that there would be no comment about US foreign policy. Period. No discussion about Clinton’s record in office. No discussion about international human rights issues. Antiwar Democrats had to sit down and shut up. No criticism of a system of economic globalization on corporate terms. It’s one of the reasons why she got crushed in the 2016 DA global primary.

Come 2017 and we had a GOP administration and reports of Russian interventions in the 2016 campaign, largely through pseudonymous characters in the universes of Facebook and Twitter. So did Russia-bashing become de rigueur? Did, by default, DA become in effect a neoconservative organization. And on the other hand, was it still necessary to shut up about the prime minister of Israel openly siding with Donald Trump in US elections? Or for that matter Trump making endorsements in British elections? Somehow DA muddled its way through these thing, despite no consensuses of the membership about such questions.

Other matters run to Washington’s policies with respect to US citizens living abroad. DA does take a position in favor of residency based taxation – US citizens living overseas don’t pay income tax on money earned abroad being the basic desire. That affects the wealthiest US expats but as to taxes paid mostly does not affect most DA members. Things like the decline of consular services for American citizens – and rising prices of those available – inexplicably get little attention.

Then there are issues within expatriate communities of relevance. Do we allow anti-maskers who also holler against Panama’s gun laws to define the American community here? Do we encourage our members and the community in general to learn Spanish, or just fall into all the banal discussions about ‘Where can I find and English-speaking ____ who will work for bottom dollar?’ Do we address the US citizens here for whom English is a second language in English only?

If it’s a brand, you might just make reference to marketing surveys. If it’s a political party, there is a need to inquire as to who we are. THEN, on top of the latter, the US two-party system makes each major party a coalition of forces that would be separate parties in a place like Italy or Israel.

Some weighty questions here, which can be politically existential. But passing a resolution would be no magic wand. We deal with far more nuanced and complicated issues.


US National Endowment for the Humanities photo.

Anyone who wants to talk of the stupidity of 1914 has only to remember the Bay of Pigs in 1961.

Barbara Tuchman

Bear in mind….

A bully is not reasonable – he is persuaded only by threats.

Marie de France

When a resolute young fellow steps up to the great bully, the world, and takes him boldly by the beard, he is often surprised to find it comes off in his hand, and that it was only tied on to scare away the timid adventurers.

Ralph Waldo Emerson

It is harder to release a nation from servitude than to enslave a free nation.

Simón Bolívar


Contact us by email at fund4thepanamanews@gmail.com


To fend off hackers, organized trolls and other online vandalism, our website comments feature is switched off. Instead, come to our Facebook page to join in the discussion.


These links are interactive — click on the boxes