I don’t have a decent camera after the break-ins, home invasion, beating and robbery, but I AM getting out and back to more actively covering the beat. Penonome protested yesterday. Photo by Eric Jackson, using a camera on a laptop.
The Morning After
by Eric Jackson
A campaign can be therapeutic when afflicted by depression, but then if the affected one is the candidate it can be an oozing, slow-moving hell. An election day defeat can make it worse, or, seemingly paradoxically, be like a burden being lifted.
As a Panagringo and engaged citizen in each sense, yesterday was a big political day and in neither sense a defeat. I’m not a candidate, nor planning any personal run for any public or party office. I am who I am and have been what I’ve been. Chronicler, outcast, elder organizer, I have my roles and having gone the distance against a major crime wave (for me) this past summer, I may be set back several paces but the health recovers and the energy recharges. And yesterday in Panama and California was a large slug of double jolt cola for me. And, in each country, for the cause of democracy and for recovery from delusions.
California recall election results the morning after, with 70% of precincts reporting.
I don’t know exactly how the vote went within the family. Got at least one disappointed Larry Elder fan in the mix.
Defeat tends to be an orphan, so you have Republicans running away and assigning blame to others. They ran against science, against any shared sense of community, for cruel rejection and expulsion of those who have little or nothing. It was 80s “Me Generation” stuff on steroids and amphetamines and in California, except for a few pockets here and there, this stuff just doesn’t sell very well.
When the AP called the election for the No campaign early on, there were reservations and projections that when late-arriving or late-counted votes came in the margin will be closer. It seems, however, that these were forlorn and exaggerated expectations. Californians abroad who cast their ballots by mail or fax, like Americans living abroad generally, trend more Democratic.
All this distorted self-congratulation for heavily redacted versions of what previous generations of Americans were or did becomes a hallmark of the unpleasantly delusional among foreigners. Especially so in places which the United States has colonized, occupied or attacked, but in general. You will find expat communities where people revel in such stuff, but Americans who talk and act this way are increasingly isolated among other expatriates.
There are weird Panamanians, usually those suffering the delusion that they can buy their way out of anything at all times, who have embraced the anti-vaxxer, anti-masker propaganda that right-wing elements in the USA have tried to propagate here. MOST Panamanians look at the more than 7,000 deaths as shocking and horrible, and wear their masks and get vaccinated as soon as possible. Going unmasked into a bar to drink, smoke cigarettes and play pickup games isn’t taken as chic and rebellious here, it’s taken as deviant anti-social behavior, punishable by law. It’s not a good way for Americans to act in this country while the state of emergency is still on.
The way that the US election system works, we don’t get totals on a country-by-country basis about how the vote divided. How did the California recall Yes and No campaigns fare in Panama? I would expect that it did not clearly reflect the numbers of nominal or registered Democrats and Republicans here – you find some nominal Coronado Democrats who stood up for Florida Republicans trying to spread COVID denial stuff in Facebook groups here – but I would expect that the Yes side got crushed among California voters who cast their ballots from Panama. I would expect that Democrats of the left who don’t particularly like either Newsom nor corporate Dems in general, and Republicans of the old “don’t do anything too bold or costly or too novel and above all be prudent with the purse strings” conservative “good government” voted No. But I really can’t show numbers to back up this belief.
In any case, both in and out crowd Democrats in Panama plugged the No campaign and there was remarkable Democratic unity within California. We beat the GOP by nearly 30 points and still counting at the margins. We even shut down their fraud conspiracy theorists for a moment. It’s something to celebrate, uplifting news for this Democrat in the morning.
ALSO, it’s a sure path to defeat in 2022 if Democrats take this result as a sign that we can let things slide toward our “inevitable” victory. This was CALIFORNIA, and with Republicans acting very weirdly during an epidemic. It doesn’t translate into a prediction for a national midterm election in a little more than a year’s time.
The PRD and some factions of the left are alleging that the protests – the crowd in front of the legislative palace being truly huge – were not “popular.” There were many sorts of people at Penonome’s small sampling. Health care workers and artists were well represented. Ask us why and beyond defending democracy and opposing corruption we’d all probably have a different answer. To me its not especially a matter of today or this month, but this attempt to rig the 2024 election is a threat to breach the peace. The protesters got a thumbs up sign from a Transito cop on a motorcycles. Police are not supposed to make political statements, but I took it not as politics but as this “Right on! You’re NOT moving onto the street to block traffic!” gesture.
The COVID politics of it here, among Panamanians? The death toll is still frightening, but the epidemic appears to be at ebb tide in the face of waves of mass vaccination, so people are less afraid to put on their masks and gather in crowds for causes.
The cause of the day? Perhaps best illustrated by the condition of the soccer field at Rommel Fernandez Stadium, where a politically connected in the legislature contractor did a horrible job of putting in a new playing turf and it was bad enough to for the whole world to see and talk about. Not just shoddy work, but shoddy work at several times the going price.
What a coalition of PRD, CD and MOLIRENA legislators want to do is, among other things, make the above paragraph a crime under the Electoral Code.
They especially want to rig the campaign finance laws and the petitioning to get on the ballot laws so that the possibilities of them getting knocked off by independents are greatly diminished. They want to make it possible for legislators who have disgraced and alienated the rank-and-file of their own political parties to get renominated without the possibility of primary challenges. They want to beat back gender parity rules, so that no influx of women busts up their boys’ club. They want to increase the amounts of money that they and their parties can raise, one thinks mainly just in case they do lose they can convert these funds into their own funds and live luxuriously after their stop to disembark from The Gravy Train.
It’s a more complicated question, and can be a much longer answer, but a friend on Facebook and otherwise asked it simply:
“What did they protest?”
My long-winded yet necessarily incomplete answer?
The legislature was amending the election laws to favor the incumbents, essentially. And it’s THIS batch of incumbents, who are very unpopular. If the face of massive public criticism, THAT crowd is pointing fingers at their demonized villains du jour, pressing some very ugly buttons.
Various media were there, the first of which — after The Panama News — was TVN. That channel’s main shareholder is reputedly Panama’s richest man, Stanley Motta, who also controls COPA airlines, ASSA insurance, a large minority stake in Banco General, a share of the Manzanillo International Terminal port in Colon, a stake that they just sold to AES in an electric generation company, a share of the original Motta family business empire that was in the Colon Free Zone import / export business and so on.
Not sure of Stanley’s confessed religion. The founders of the Motta business dynasty were Sephardic Jews, but Stanley and the late Pancho were sons of an American Catholic mother, who married their dad in an Episcopalian church. Pancho was an Anglican, or at least when he died the funeral was at St. Luke’s in Ancon. In the extended Motta family there are those who variously self-identify as Christians or Jews, but we have this mostly whispered undercurrent of anti-Semites here who will point to the Mottas as “The Jews” whom they blame for everything wrong with Panama.
Thing is, as a democratic socialist I can and do say nasty things about the system by which Stanley Motta has thrived, but as a micro-business informal economy guy I do have to concur with him that the games played by the politicians on the current shift are not only ugly and way out of line, but they are bad for the Panamanian economy.
So the PRD / MOLIRENA / CD caucuses in the National Assembly and their acolytes are Motta baiting the protesters. They want to paint us all as the pawns of this evil conspiracy run by the Mottas.
Unfortunately as far as I am concerned, the FRENADESO / FAD / MLN-29 strain of the left has jumped onto the Motta bashing. What SUNTRACS says about the Mottas lately is muted, as that union may have MLN-29 members as leaders but has a rank-and-file that likes hardcore commies dealing with the boss for them but are mostly not devotees of the party line. (And get into the old rule of thumb that anyone with a surname that ends in “ez” descends from the quarter of the population of Arab Spain that was Jewish and what might THAT say about labor leaders Genaro López and Saúl Méndez?)
Both as a gringo and as a panameño, my attitude is that we on the left should self-identify as that, move openly and democratically and make common causes issue by issue and more general alliances more cautiously than that, but never submerging ourselves. Democrats but a specific kind of Democrats; independents but a specific kind of independents, in neither case trying conceal who and what we are.
By those lights, we might be at the same protest as those who fancy themselves as Civilistas 2.0 but we recognize the death, destruction and misery caused by the 1989 invasion and the increased inequalities of the neoliberal post-invasion political economy. We all agree that massive looting of the public trust and rigged elections to keep the looters in power are abominations. When the folks at the same protest call for a merely cosmetic restyling of the constitution, though, we don’t jump on that bandwagon.
One of the things that was in the legislators’ changes was a redefinition of the campaign finance laws to say that anything that someone says about a party or candidate via news corporations or in the social media, paid or unpaid, solicited or unsolicited, part of a concerted hue and cry or an individual’s expression, is regulated and potentially criminalized campaign speech. So playwrights, rappers, artists, actors, journalists and so on are alarmed by and against that. As are gay rights, feminist and other sorts of campaigners who get baited from the National Assembly chamber by the guttersnipes promoting such censorship on a regular basis.
We didn’t block traffic, throw stones or bombs or post raunchy videos supposedly of Panamanian elected officials. However, enough people coming from enough different directions protested. So starting with Nito, wiser heads in the PRD camp told their legislative caucus to back down. Very much like in 2019, when the same suspects tried to amend the constitution to, for example, enshrine religious right principles and strip those born in Panama to foreign parents of our Panamanian citizenship.
The legislature put this matter on hold. It may return.
Some of the feminist component of the protest in front of the legislature yesterday.
The Electoral Tribunal had proposed to require half of a party’s slate of candidates be women. The existing requirement was lower. The legislature proposed to eliminate gender parity.
Moreover, the legislators proposed to regulate all expressions for or against any political figure as campaign propaganda, whether paid or unpaid, solicited or unsolicited, via news corporation either as news coverage or opinion, via social media by what people post.
SO, if some guy stands up in the National Assembly chamber and says something particularly creepy and some woman posts on Facebook about it and calls him a sexist, she could be charged with illegal, unauthorized campaign propaganda. Which, of course, is one of the aims of the religious right component of the legislators trying to jam their things into the Electoral Code.
Photo from the Plataforma Feminista Twitter feed.
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