One of at least three factions of the PRD that was shuttling party members to the polls in the El Bajito neighborhood of Anton’s corregimiento of Juan Diaz (the one in Cocle province, not the one with the same name in Panama City). The neighborhood is not especially a PRD stronghold but the corregimiento has an incumbent PRD representante and the mayor this time around is also PRD. Photo by Eric Jackson.
First step toward the next pecking order
by Eric Jackson
The Democratic Revolutionary Party — PRD by its Spanish initials — is the progeny of a dictatorship that disappeared 33 years ago. To gringos stuck in US political science idiocy of our times it might be easy to put a label on the Panamanian party and come up with simple caricatures. If US analogies are a must, then the closest thing might be the multi-factionalized Democratic Party.
Unlike in the United States, however, identity politics are not as strong here.
Differences in race relations between Panama and the United States — and each other’s contributions toward those on each side of the equation — would be a long story that goes back to Catholic versus Protestant attitudes when the cross-Atlantic slave trade was thriving, and through 19th and 20th century immigration from the West Indies, and later emigration from to the USA that included some influential people in cultural and political scenes. Suffice to say that black nationalism is not as strong here as its many variants are in the United States. However, if you want to follow currents of dissident black thinking that run through the PRD, read Bayano magazine online.
Women’s identity politics? Every protest about violence against women that’s not a narrowly sectarian affair will bring out PRD women. But the party’s women’s front is currently headed by a xenophobic and gay-bashing neofascist, and in the legislature the party is allied with minor party voices from the international far-right CitizenGO network that Putin’s friends finance and in which European neofascists like the Spanish Vox party congregate. It wasn’t a campaign issue explicitly shown to outsiders, but what sort of a PRD Women’s Front leadership there will be is one of the more interesting questions related to the March 27 delegate elections and coming May 15 national party convention. All of that noted, as well as the growth of feminism here in recent years, Panama’s feminist movement is weak and divided, no match for the religious fanatics on issues like abortion and sex education in the schools. The current cultural battle for local feminists is defensive, with a PRD ally having proposed a national register of miscarriages, so that for example a woman who miscarries faces a criminal investigation to determine if via use of an abortifacient or an unhealthy lifestyle she should be imprisoned for the death of a fetus. Let’s see how THAT plays out in May, and understand that feminism is much stronger among US Democrats that within Panama’s PRD.
The main fault line in Panamanian society, explicitly acknowledged by all analysts who are neither charlatans nor fools, is about class. The PRD is an affiliate of the Socialist International, and in General Torrijos’s time, while hunting down and killing underground leftist labor organizers they also offered the legalization of labor unions to those that would cooperate with the regime. Since the 1980s big business and neoliberal economic ideology have dominated the PRD and few labor activists want to be associated with that party. Yet on “free trade” and oligarchic political and economic power, none of the other forces in the National Assembly — not the parties, not the independents” — much varies from the consensus in favor of an economy that’s globalized on corporate terms. EXCEPT that in the PRD there are still some folks who trace back to “The Tendency” that aligned the party with the Socialist International way back when and don’t have much respect for “The Washington Consensus” that made the 80s and 90s stagnant, “lost” decades for most Panamanians.
This time around, it’s mainly banker and national vice president Gaby Carrizo looking to gain control the party en route to is 2024 presidential nomination and legislator and party president Benicio Robinson seeking to secure his grip on the political patronage that the PRD dispenses. With, however, other factions in the mix.
The 2024 presidential nomination is a booby prize. The party in the presidency always gets kicked out of it in the next elections and all the indications are that the rotation will continue. But a decent showing might still make a 2024 loser the presumptive nominee for the next time around.
There are wild cards. Fascism that jails leaders and critics, shuts down opposing media and most probably leads to international shunning and coup attempts is one set of possibilities. A civic revolution that shuts down the political caste and puts in a new constitution to prohibit their usual games is another. Corruption has become so flagrant and extreme that many folks now think that what we have now always was and always will be, without any thought about how it may not be sustainable.
So many of the delegates, and those who voted for delegates, are in this because their jobs or those of a family member depend on participation. However, to whom would they owe? The representante, the mayor, the diputado and the president may all be of different strains of the PRD. To whose particular patronage is the hack job — or the government contract, or the taxi or bus cupo — owed?
About half of the party’s members voted in the delegate elections, an unusually high turnout. But we really won’t see the verdict they handed down until the May convention.
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