El Presidente Cortizo / President Cortizo. Foto de su cuenta de Twitter / Photo from his Twitter feed.
If you’re not on the gravy train, it won’t apply to you
by Eric Jackson
Most Panamanian presidents have published the texts of their speeches at the start of National Assembly sessions rather promptly after delivering them. Often the discourses have been posted in real time video on their web pages. The Cortizo administration, however, has preferred advertising and influencers over readily available public information through public channels. For one thing, on their website and social media where there are opportunities for comment, they have to delay in order to arrange the canned applause from their call center activists.
It’s because there is so much pretense, especially about the economy. In the morning papers before the ceremonies and speeches, there were these tales of Panamanian tourism on the comeback trail. The International Promotion Fund (Promtur) plans to spend $31 million promoting Panama as a tourist destination to people in the United States, Canada, Spain, France, Germany, Argentina, Brazil, Colombia and Costa Rica. We are given the concerning but optimistic figure that at the end of 2021 hotel occupancy was at 37%, about three-quarters what it was in 2019. But first of all, in comparison to previous years, 2019 was horrible for Panamanian tourism. Moreover, that’s 37% of presently available rooms, but more than 40% of the hotels — skewed a bit toward the smaller ones — are closed. As in 37% of 23,000 rooms, as compared to 32,000 rooms before the epidemic hit. As in 8,510 occupied hotel rooms last week, which would have been equal to some 27% occupancy of the rooms we had two years ago.
Such an air of unreality blows all through the Cortizo administration’s economic pronouncements, which are presented something like a power point display on the president’s Twitter feed.
Nito claims an extraordinary 14.9% increase in Gross Domestic Product for the first three quarters of 2021 — as compared to a 2020 in economic free-fall and a bad economy when Nito took over in the middle of 2019. And as if in Panama increases in overall economic activity get distributed more or less to the whole population. The reality is that for most of us last year was a time of lower income and higher prices.
Nito speaks of “17,406 Panamanians” who received property titles for real estate that had been held by rights of possession in 2021. Well, if you believe that companies and so on are people — the number includes local government councils, churches, cooperatives and schools as well as the dwellings of real people. And who believes that the distribution of titles had nothing to do with party affiliation? Or that it was a matter of just small homeowners and not developers getting title to places where they don’t actually live?
The important truths about which the president spoke were related to the country’s battle with the COVID-19 virus. He may have left out a few embarrassments and false starts, but in generally he has done the reasonable things and gives reasonable advice: “Please go to get vaccinated at any of the 105 vaccination centers; for your family, your friends and the country.”
There were the usual lists of projects — the salient one the building of a new school of medicine and nursing at the University of Panama — and the promises of an all-out war on crime.
When it came time for National Assembly president Dr. Crispiano Adames to speak, it would have been difficult for many Panamanians to keep a straight face had he played up the crime issue amidst so many thuggish legislators.
Instead Adames said that there is an “open door” for the labor movement to come in and talk, and perhaps come to a “national accord” for “harmonious cooperation.” But look for a strike wave this year instead.
Si no estás uno de los privilegiados, no se aplicará a ti
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