Jackson, A day trip into the city and back: a non-random take

Informal trash dumping is a long-standing problem in Panama. It has proliferated mightily of late. Businesses reopened but unable to pay their refuse collection bills? People who had been homebound doing houscleaning by littering public spaces? Private garbage collection companies cutting corners on fees at city dumps? A larger part of the economy gone informal and unable or unwilling to pay the price of waste management? In any case, especially along the roads in the Interior but also in parts of the capital, you will notice this sort of thing if you look. Even more noticeable, in several places on bus rides from rural Anton to Panama City and back, were police and other government authorities at these illegal dump sites taking photos and notes. AAUD photo.

Impressions from a day trip

by Eric Jackson

It’s the peasant part of my existence, not back to full function but prompted to get there by harvest season. With more star apples than I can use and the first of the year’s lemon crop turning yellow, I filled my fish basket part way with star apples, a few lemons and a bag of chaya leaves. My communications are spotty and I didn’t know if anyone would be home, but in that case I did know that they are in town so I’d just leave my farm delivery in front of their door. They were home, so I checked in on a friend who had been ailing. Not unaffected, but we’re both surviving these dystopic times.

HOW dystopic? From my friends’ Paitilla window I could see ships in the bay, waiting to transit. No cruisers. This line would be northbound and had no tankers — even if in these days taking gas from the Americas to Asia, going southbound through the canal — is a growing business. It was a line of box ships. The USA may be hurting, as are Brazil, northern South America and other key destinations, but they are still importing manufactured goods from Asia.

Getting to the city and back, however, caught my bureaucratic eyes in a couple of other major ways.

As mentioned in the photo and caption above, there was all of the dumping. Not only along the Pan-American Highway, but on the “back entrance” to El Valle by way of La Estancia, San Juan de Dios and Juan Diaz. Not just the uncultured throwing bottles and cans by the side of the road, but multi-bag dumping on this side road between the country’s main drag and where I live in Juan Diaz. And someone in a government pickup there looking at it.

Looking up a bit, away from the road, all along the Pan-American Highway one can see the signs of business devastation. Closed businesses. Unrented billboards. These are easy to miss because for one thing, there were a lot of those before the virus hit us. The rich and famous may be getting richer and infamous. Government figures may say that there is little or no problem, until working people want a raise. However, the Panamanian economy has been weak for a long time and it has been visible at an informed glance.

What’s noticeably different to my eyes at this point, other than the numbers of places that have gone out of business, the empty billboards, the more frequent “for sale” and “for rent” signs? It’s the number of places, both in the city and along the highway, with visible marks of having their doors or windows smashed in. The crime wave is loud and in everybody’s face — smashed in at the back is one thing but it’s something else when someone takes a sledge hammer or such to a business out front, where people driving by can see it and perhaps report that to the police.

Stalled construction projects? Those were plentiful before the bug, and now there are more of them. Money laundering towers under construction bearing the marks of people breaking in and stripping them? These I saw in prominent parts of the city.

On the way back there were people to be dropped off at Decameron in Farallon, and at the Riu in Playa Blanca. They both looked pretty deserted. Maybe it means some economical tourism deals while the condition lasts.

Hard times, my friends.

Move? Buy guns? If those are your instincts, do the former. But do join a neighborhood watch — vecinos vigilantes — group if one forms in your area. Do keep an eye out for malente activity around you. Do feed the hungry to the extent that you can, so that they don’t get desperate in these difficult days. We will get through this, even if the economic and social problems are going to outlast the epidemic. But it’s not going to be easy.


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