Editorials: Panama’s economy; and Next year’s US elections

A Christmas shopping season Saturday — slow this year, not as bad as last year. The daily death toll is down and epidemic may have peaked here, but most Panamanians seem to have less to spend and a quick economic recovery for many sectors looks unlikely. Photo of Penonome by Eric Jackson.

We won’t agree, but on some things we should

A decision on the minimum wage may be delegated to an underling, but for practical purposes it’s on Nito Cortizo’s desk. Labor says that it must go up, as what employers are paying to a large segment of the working class does not suffice to feed a family. Management says that a lot of businesses have been forced to close their doors, and many that remain just can’t afford to pay their workers more. The sad fact is that what each side is saying is largely true. Minimum wage can only go up a little, and it should go up, but that will largely be passed along to working people through higher prices. There will be a continuing need for food subsidies, promotion of household food production and other creative strategies to keep starvation at bay. Those will not be free, either. Investments of labor from those who can do it and of money from those who can afford it will be required.

What about the macro-economy? Across the political spectrum and the class divides, there is widespread agreement that Panama needs to get down to brass takes and start or resume work on some major public works projects. But then comes the question of which ones, with the possible choices carrying the burden of decades of public corruption.

It’s easy enough to reject the obvious boondoggles.

Mayor Fábrega’s artificial beach near the mouth of the filthy Matasnillo River? It would be a perpetual gift to sand miners, an international laughing stock that would chuckle down through the ages and yet another proof that to Panama’s benighted political caste a good business idea is to defraud gullible foreigners.

Spending $80 million on five kilometers worth of bus lanes on Via España? That would still be urban design for the internal combustion engine and even with electric buses it would not make much sense.

Finishing the Corredor Playera, the purpose of which is to promote gentrification that would replace fishing villages and mangrove swamps in Panama Oeste with expensive beachfront condos for which there are no obvious buyers waiting in line? Better if instead of toward the beach the road to be heads toward the hills and provides a more inland traffic artery parallel to the Pan-American Highway but miles inland.

The expansion of the copper mine, the revival of the Petaquilla gold mine swindle, the sale of concessions over public lands that would remove farmers and fishers from their long-held homes, the seizure of parts of the Ngabe-Bugle Comarca? We can reject and prevent all those associated horrors and an Atlantic Side road from Colon to Bocas del Toro would still make a lot of sense.

Extension of the Metro trains into the Interior? A good idea, but again, opening up places closer to the Continental Divide to development rather than tracks alongside the existing highway.

Some huge water projects? Those make sense but under the planning and management of a Panama Canal Authority that has still not broken with its history of climate change denial makes no sense.

A major new seaport at and around Diablo and Corozal would be a maritime traffic hazard. A big expansion of the existing port at Vacamonte would make far more sense.

Cable cars over scenic San Miguelito gang turf, or from the Mercado de Mariscos to the top of Ancon Hill, the latter to be transformed into something “just like Disney World?” That’s not tourism development. Those are dangerous, potentially deadly to the national economy, hallucinations.

Above all, there need to be metropolitan and national development plans to provide reasonable context. ‘I get five percent’ is the typical context that we have seen for many years, but the national setting for that sort of thing should be that those sorts of people spend time in prison for it.

The overarching squeeze with respect to public works is that Panama’s credit is just about maxed out, to the point that we risk turning our democracy over to international financial institutions.

The way to ease the squeeze? We start to become an economy that makes things, producing food for our own consumption and for export, manufacturing all sorts of things the we now import and some things that we can start to export. Imagine that — a Panama that produces stuff, with service sectors on the side.


Mother Nature takes her course. With all of the main Democratic congressional leaders in their 80s, figure that there will be and should be some changing of the guard. However, the big problem is old thinking, of habits born of different times that don’t suit the present times. There are some remarkably adaptable and competent senior stateswomen and statesmen, too. Photo by Eric Jackson.

Despite everything, the Democrats ought to win next year

First thing for Democratic strategists to remember is that Donald Trump’s name will not appear on the ballot. His legacy and personality will shade many things, but each race will be local or statewide. Democrats should run on what we delivered, what we wanted to deliver but were blocked and our broader notions of the way things should be. We should run against the things that Trump stands for — racism, corruption, making a weird religion out of right-wing politics, the celebration of gun violence, misogyny and so on. We should unapologetically say that black lives matter to us and that we’re against fascism. Under that big tent we should argue out our differences in the primaries, and then come together for the general election races.

How could we lose? By failing to take vote suppression seriously and working our ways around that stuff. By letting under-talented wannabe power brokers drive this or that wing of the organization, nationally or in particular states or districts, out of the Democratic Party. By thinking that old personalities or symbols or arguments will suffice for us.

Most likely, Donald Trump and various prosecutors will take care of Donald Trump. By 2024, and probably by next November, his status is likely to be that of a convicted felon, and over some tawdry non-political things. We should not react with laughter or jubilation, but with sorrow for the country and disgust for the man and those who share his values.

Will some of his goons kill some of our people? We should learn the art of the political funeral, even though none who fall on our side will be saints.

We will need to lawyer up, and be ready, if and when slapped down on voting rights cases by packed federal courts, to turn that into a movement to enlarge the Supreme Court. We shouldn’t let it drown out everything else we have to say, but if the Trump campaign strikes down Roe v. Wade next summer that would be a game changer of which Democrats should take full advantage.

In our primaries we should pick and choose well, based on ideas and accomplishments rather than identities or family ties. In many a race unpleasant things will need to be said. And then the bitterness of primary campaigns should be over, both for the winning and losing campaigns. The party needs to assign honorable and functional roles to folks from primary organizations that opposed one another. Parallel or rival clubs need to proceed in their own ways toward the common cause.

If some of our leaders don’t come back, or come back and find that they no longer have the support to remain leaders, that’s the natural cycle of things. There is a deep pool of younger Democrats who are fit to lead. There is also a deep and diverse pool of volunteers ready to pitch in, folks who should not be browbeaten by those who imagine themselve to own dibs.

History says we lose. Today’s polls suggest that possibility. But Democrats need to just go out and patiently do the work, and boldly invade GOP turf to win in places like Texas, Georgia and Florida, and in rural areas generally. Nothing is in the bag, but we should win next year.



               No refugee leaves their country without having to.

Dua Lipa               


Bear in mind…


The clearest way into the universe is through a forest wilderness.

John Muir


The vulnerability of precious things is beautiful because vulnerability is a mark of existence. The destruction of Troy. The fall of the petals from fruit trees in blossom. To know that what is most precious is not rooted in existence – that is beautiful.

Simone Weil


I am always doing that which I can not do, in order that I may learn how to do it.

Pablo Picasso



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