Editorials: Fruitless talks; and A global migrant relief system is needed

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The Electoral Tribunal, which under Panama’s dictatorship-era constitution that’s in effect represents the political parties, sits down for a “dialogue” with representatives of the National Assembly, to negotiate over how much of our democracy will be ceded or sold. National Assembly photo.

Pretending to talk

Rocked by protests that at the moment indicate broad rejection rather than deep rage, the Cortizo administration, its caucus in the legislature, narrow economic interests that depend on it and pliable pseudo-autonomous public institutions talk on.

In talks without labor representatives or environmentalists at the table, a strip mining concession declared unconstitutional is in the process of being cured by the company promising to obey environmental laws – without posting a bond to ensure clean-up – and to obey labor laws, which it has previously flouted.

In talks with the Electoral Tribunal composed of their members, the established political parties agreed to take further steps to curb the electoral hopes of independents and give more money to themselves. For now, the new press and social media gag laws will be put on hold. The attack on such gender parity as there has been in the election laws and more details about subsidies to parties are left pending, but upon resumption of the legislative committee’s work on the subject it appears that the National Assembly will insist. The committee also insists on retaining candidates’ immunity from being prosecuted for crimes.

Labor turned out in large numbers and united before the legislature in the rain but the “dialogue” about the Social Security Fund is between business interests and political forces that depend on business support and the subject matter is how much more will be taken from working people’s savings.

The government promises that workers whose labor contracts had been suspended will be back to work by November 1. It’s a promise made to be broken, a one-month delay before before the fury of unemployed people whose suffering has been aggravated by an insult. It’s the realization by many a business owner without the right political ties that it’s time to close their shops.

The Panama Canal Authority has announced record cash transfers to the government, but that’s all spoken for and more by the predatory political caste and its retainers.

A massacre of incumbents’ political careers at the next election? Street protests and strikes? The riot squad opening fire? That’s where the country is heading unless the tones, participants and subject matters of “talks” are dramatically changed.


Haitian migration has been a fact for a long time. This scene was from the fall of 1991, when the US Coast Guard was intercepting Haitians at sea, and at that time keeping them in Guantanamo before mostly being returned to Haiti. US National Archives photo.

It wasn’t for lack of a warning

Haiti is not the only source of mass migration in the world, nor will it be the last. It did not start yesterday. Panama’s Foreign Minister Erika Mouynes correctly pointed out in Washington that this country had sounded the alarm, but surely the US government knew the gist of the situation.

The problem is that Washington’s thinking is set in times long past, and in the habit of trying things that didn’t work back then. To compound it, the world has changed since those times.

Haiti has been living a nightmare of varying intensity for longer than any living person can fully remember. It started when the United States and the European powers determined that they would not allow a republic born of a slave revolt to thrive. That was more than 200 years ago. It continues with the notion that some of these same foreign interests, if they can only find the right puppet to elevate to power, can alternatively do what’s best for Haiti or do what’s best for some investors they represent.

In the latest crisis it is alleged that Haitian-Americans, Venezuelans and Colombians conspired in the United States to assassinate the closest thing to a national leader that an unstable Haiti had. You would think that the Biden Justice Department would have either debunked the allegations or brought criminal charges by now. Instead the same old consortia of foreign interests pretend that they can impose order on a Haiti where gangs rule the streets.

Should the Americas – not just the USA, but the whole hemisphere – live in terror of the stream of Haitians who have fled from this or are about to? These migrants do, by many lights, seem to be the most sensible Haitians of all.

Haiti, however, is not the only country generating migrants.

Climate change is making old pastures too dry to graze herds, making inhabited islands disappear under the waves, making once prosperous farmlands no longer arable, changing the precipitation patterns and the species of insects that come to eat the crops, depriving communities of drinking water, leading desperate people to make war with one another for what resources remain, leading many others to flee. Gangsters in uniforms become tyrants. Gangsters without uniforms make cities and countries ungovernable. People flee from the gangsters, too, with well-founded fears that may not fit into the old definitions of who is a refugee.

We have a long-term human migration crisis that demands a long-term international response. Washington is wrong to think that it can make migrants stay in this or that third country – Panama, Guatemala, Mexico or wherever – for US convenience. Panama, and the rest of Latin America and the Caribbean lands, can’t make too many more foolish mistakes than to think that the Americans will solve this.

We all have a helping hand to lend, for the Rohingya refugees from ethnic cleansing, for islanders driven out by rising seas, for those fleeing the compound disasters that are Africa’s Sahel region, for people displaced by warfare and oppression in the Near East, for the Haitians. For many to come. Food, clean water, clothing, shelter, the rule of law – those are basics, but the world needs to build a string of cities to house those who flee without an assured place to go. It has been done before, often in wrong and punitive ways. But the world also has the expertise to do these things right.

There are plenty of jobs that an ailing planet needs to have done. There are plenty of migrants looking for such jobs, or any dignified job. These things take time, but such things can be and generally are sorted out.

We could let fear, hatred or force of bad habits get in the way. Certainly those things are being urged upon both Joe Biden and Nito Cortizo. But the world community, and each of its members, can and should do much better than that, for the benefit of all humanity.


Library of Congress photo of Upton Sinclair, by Bain News Service in 1900.

It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his job depends on not understanding it.

Upton Sinclair


Bear in mind…


If one sticks too rigidly to one’s principles, one would hardly see anybody.

Agatha Christie


If I am not for myself, who will be for me?
If I am not for others, what am I?
And if not now, when?

Rabbi Hillel


A culture is not an abstract thing. It is a living, evolving process. The aim is to push beyond standard-setting and asserting human rights to make those standards a living reality for people everywhere.

Mary Robinson



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