Editorials: Discontent; Depravity; and Deficient defenses

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Aguadulce
Protesters block the highway near Aguadulce. A graphic circulated on Twitter.

The dilemma

Today, it was people who have been cut off of food assistance blocking the Pan-American Highway near Aguadulce. Yesterday, it was onion farmers left out of the crop buyout program blocking the Pan-American Highway near Nata. Tomorrow, most of the Panama Canal unions will be marching to the Presidencia over their grievances.

On Monday, the headline in La Prensa was a nearly $1 billion government deficit for the first three months of this year, with the government payroll up and public investments down. That same day, Fitch updated its ratings for private banks in Panama and all of their prospects were rated negative. On Tuesday, the president of ARAP, the nation’s restaurateurs’ association, told Metro Libre that the sector would not be profitable again until sometime next year. That same day, Telemetro reported a 50% drop in car sales here. Today (Wednesday, May 12), the Colon Free Zone merchants pleaded that many will not stay in business if the rents they pay are not slashed, and President Cortizo told us to stand by for an announcement about “important adjustments.”

Panama has a broken economy that will not mend soon. With only a relatively few exceptions, everybody is hurting. Our government is close to $40 billion in debt

We can all sneer at each other’s grievances while championing our own. That’s what’s in effect urged upon us by all the worst people.

Or, we can pull together as a society to confront an economic crisis that will be with us for some years to come. There is no miracle cure, but enough solidarity to keep Panama and those who live here from falling over the edge will require some sharing of the sacrifices. Easier said than done, but that’s the only way out short of social breakdown.

 

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‘But a sovereign citizen told me it’s legal…’

43-year-old Óscar Martínez Artunduaga, a Panamanian citizen from Potrerillos Abajo in Chiriqui, is being held without bail. He is accused of having, in 2019, purported to buy a 14-year-old girl from her parents, and having kept her as a concubine for nearly two years, until she escaped and told her story to police and prosecutors.

Now it is reported that says that she has recanted, at least in part – her parents didn’t sell her, she went willingly because she loved him, the new version goes. Perhaps it might get the parents off the hook. Regardless, the guy’s facing some very serious time in prison, because no matter how it’s spun, in Panama a 14-year-old can’t legally consent to sex with someone in their 40s.

Let’s give the man the chance to present his defense in court. The intention is not to whip up lynch mob passions. Innocent unless proven guilty is often enough a dodge to shield injustices but it’s still a very good principle for a society to maintain.

The important thing is that word ought to be out and about among expatriates here, and around the world, that Panama, on top of being a jurisdiction where prostitution is legal, tolerates this sort of thing. Panama’s age of consent is misrepresented online, as is our culture. Word is out that not only is this a place to come for cheap labor, but also for the cheap sexual exploitation of kids. It happens often enough.

Prosecutions of those who indulge in such exploitation, citizens or foreigners, happen from time to time but probably only touch a tiny minority of the cases. The rich, the powerful, those with the “right” surnames or political ties, notoriously never see the inside of a prison cell about such crimes. It’s safer to be an Eleta than a Martínez.

Let the word go out, and let reality match the word. Panama is not a place to come buy minors for sexual gratification. You can end up in a very unpleasant prison if you come here and do that. If you are here and you are doing that, leave now while your luck holds out. The chicken hawk, endemic or invasive, is a species that may well be hunted to extinction here with few people getting upset about that.

 

3

THAT lame defense again

It’s the old “I was robbing this convenience store and the guy behind the counter pulled out a gun so I had to shoot him in self-defense” plea.

There are many sorts of arguments that should not be heard and the ones Israel is now making are among them. They are in a long-running ethnic cleansing campaign, red meat for Netanyahu’s base but leaving Israel ever more the pariah on the world stage. The trend is for ever more American Jews, once Israel’s strongest base of support, to repudiate Israeli human rights abuses – many of them on the basis of ethics found in the Torah.

More and more, fervent US support for Israel comes from far-right Zionist Christians. Some of these believe in and want a Battle of Armageddon which is fought until the very last Jew is annihilated.

Condemnation of Israeli ethnic cleansing and over-the-top violence when they meet resistance does NOT, however, excuse the dictatorial and ineffective Abbas, nor Hamas, which uses illegal and ineffective rocket attacks. Young Palestinians are rising up on the streets of Jerusalem and around the world in part because they have been abandoned by Palestinian leaders who have long since worn out their welcome and refuse to hold elections because they would be crushed in any fair contest.

If the Holy Land is sliding in to a Third Intifada, there will be abuses but widespread support for the young Palestinians who are rising up. There has been a long train of very egregious abuses, and something has to give.

What’s the path to peace? New Israeli and new Palestinian leaders, hard-line defenders of their respective nations’ interests, realizing that this cycle can’t go on and negotiating a peace consonant with the traditions of international law found in both Judaism and Islam. To feed the stranger. To know and respect the other tribe and live alongside them in peace. To let God decide religious disputes and let law backed by the international community decide property disputes.

 

4
Petra Kelly, born to an American father and a German mother, was a co-founder, leader and legislator of the German Green Party. Shall we call her end an American sort of story? She died of a gunshot wound to the head, probably inflicted while she was sleeping, by her older male partner, who then shot himself to death. Photo from her days in the Bundestag by Sven Simon.

 

Peace is not just the absence of mass destruction, but a positive internal and external condition in which people are free so that they can grow to their full potential.

Petra Kelly

 

Bear in mind…

 

Success is liking yourself, liking what you do, and liking how you do it.

Maya Angelou

 

Animals have these advantages over man: they never hear the clock strike, they die without any idea of death, they have no theologians to instruct them, their last moments are not disturbed by unwelcome and unpleasant ceremonies, their funerals cost them nothing, and no one starts lawsuits over their wills.

Voltaire

 

One glance at a book and you hear the voice of another person, perhaps someone dead for 1,000 years. To read is to voyage through time.

Carl Sagan

 

 

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