Editorials, Bona fide citizens; and Unintended consequences

An election day at a school in San Carlos. Notice the values that they teach. Archive photo by Eric Jackson.

Why naturalized Panamanians
might want to recall the mayor

In the April 19 online edition of La Estrella there was a straightforward article about the leader of a group of naturalized Panamanians, many of them of Venezuelan origin, endorsing the petition drive to recall Panama City’s Mayor “Tank of Gas” Fábrega. However, the headline was false and inflammatory, about foreigners involved in the recall campaign. The article itself mentioned the family members of non-citizens becoming involved.

All very disgraceful. Naturalized Panamanians are Panamanian citizens with full rights of citizenship. The people born in Panama to foreign parents are Panamanian citizens with full rights of citizenship. Panamanians who marry foreigners are still Panamanian citizens with full rights of citizenship.

Plus, a foreigner with Panamanian family or friends who is mistreated by the government may have recourse only to a defective legal system here, but beyond that the politician or party seen as responsible for what is considered an outrage risks the wrath of sympathetic citizens at election time. The wrath of voters whom La Estrella’s editors seem ready to dismiss as citizens counts. Such annoyance may include several of the most prominent journalists in this country, including of their own newspaper staff, who are naturalized citizens or the Panama-born children of foreigners.

So many of us who were born as dual citizens, or who came to Panama and naturalized, have horror stories about discrimination and general obnoxious treatment by the government and its functionaries. Very likely Juan Carlos Navarro’s upset victory over Mayín Correa’s abuses of power with respect those citizens whom she and her crew decided unworthy because of their ethnic origins. The editor of The Panama News, for example, was harassed by a young coke freak who used to play with the Viper alarm on his car just below the editor’s apartment window in the wee hours of the morning. The guy went to the corregidora that Mayín appointed, argued that “If he doesn’t like it he can move to some other country” – and the corregidora accepted that. And Mayín backed her up!

It wasn’t an isolated abuse. On election day many citizens whom she did not treat as such voted against her, and those votes counted.

Fast forward to the present and look at Mayor Fábrega’s signature pet project, the artificial beach on that part of Panama Bay between the mouth of the Matasnillo River and the Casco Viejo. It’s sold as a real estate boost – for the sale of overpriced apartments to clueless foreigners who don’t know how toxic and malodorous that part of the city’s waterfront is. How many city residents with the right to vote, regardless of whether they are naturalized citizens or were born in Panama, get treated as foreigners with no rights by a regime that treats the defrauding of foreigners as a patriotic sport?

Zulay shrieks in the National Assembly about how people born in Panama to foreign parents should be stripped of our citizenship. La Estrella can in similar fashion publish inflammatory headlines about those misidentified as foreigners opposing a PRD mayor and perhaps in that way gain a following of bigots. The reality of Panama at the moment, however, is that the politics of hating neighbors who are different pales in importance beside concern about the economy.

Those who are running one of Latin America’s oldest newspapers – which started out in English, by the way – should know better.


The small turnout at Monday’s protest against US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken. We might attribute it to divisions within the Panamanian left, or to these protesters’ big stretch of calling Blinken a nazi. There are very real current Panamanian demands upon and grievances with the United States. There is a long history of problems. But there’s also a long history of Americans living in Panama, and of Panamanians in the United States. The relationship started in the middle of the 19th century and there are many family ties from all the intermarriage over all those years. The bottom line is that hating the gringos is not a popular social cause here. SUNTRACS photo.

Our media and Washington’s rolodex

It would be kind of ridiculous to blame the Americans for a reprehensible headline in La Estrella, but it really ought to be taken as a humbling lesson in the USA.

Without producing any evidence of a money laundering conspiracy that they alleged, the US government destroyed the business empire of Abdul Waked, whose one proven crime was to be related to somebody who took out a loan from a US bank and used it for a purpose other than for which it was requested. Even though the loan was repaid, this was the crime of one man what was attributed to the entire Waked family. And in his swathe of economic destruction, Uncle Sam forced Abdul Waked to sell control of La Estrella and El Siglo to buyers vetted by Washington. A group led by Samuel Lewis Nararro, a wealthy businessman who served as vice president in the PRD administration of Martín Torrijos, acquired the newspapers.

These newspapers didn’t turn out to be crude party-line propaganda in the fashion that Ricardo Martinelli remade the EPASA newspapers, but that headline had all the appearance of red meat fed to the followers of the xenophobic demagogue Zulay Rodríguez, who was elected to the National Assembly on the PRD ticket but hangs out with Ricky Martinelli an awful lot these days.

Xenophobia in Panama with an assist from US intervention? Did anyone at Foggy Bottom ever consider that some of the bile might spatter onto US citizens? It has and it does, even though nobody in Washington intended such a thing.

But isn’t that sort of unintended consequence the inherent weakness of every sort of imperialism? If the Russians take over all of Ukraine, it will never be governable by them. The Nazis overran Norway but had nothing but trouble in that country. The British threw Gandhi in jail – repeatedly – but they still had to quit India because it was ludicrous to think that even with all of their orientalist scholars the London authorities knew enough to rule that subcontinent.

Likewise with Uncle Sam trying to vet a change of ownership for Panamanian media. The US State Department and intelligence agencies know who “the good families” are. They know which side of Panamanian society gets its bread buttered. And it often seems that they know little else.

The lesson is not that the United States should have insisted on a different purchaser for La Estrella and El Siglo. It’s that any US attempt to vet Panamanian media ownership is futile in the long run.


Louis Pasteur in his laboratory. Painting by Albert Gustaf Aristides Edelfelt.

               Chance favors only the prepared mind.

Louis Pasteur                


Bear in mind…


Never put your faith in a Prince. When you require a miracle, trust in a witch.

Catherynne M. Valente


Perhaps one day men will no longer be interested in the unknown, no longer tantalized by mystery. This is possible, but when Man loses his curiosity, one feels he will have lost most of the other things that make him human.

Arthur C. Clarke


We resolutely defend the country’s sovereignty, but advocate the settlement of territorial disputes by peaceful means.

Nguyễn Thị Bình



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