Editorials: Embracing foreign residents; and US citizen? VOTE, don’t just watch

state-sponsored idiocy
The infamous Aqua Tower on Playa Blanca, when they were still working on it and trying to sell the units to foreigners. With government financing the developers built on the sand without bothering to install proper foundations and it got to the point where further construction would have caused the 13-story structure to collapse under its own weight. Perhaps the still-standing shell might be retrofitted with pilings or other foundation enhancements, and buyers who never read that part of the Bible that tells the tale of the foolish man who built on the sand might be found. It would be better if Panama just stopped encouraging businesses that take foreigners to be suckers. Archive photo by Eric Jackson.

Integrating foreign residents into Panama

There is an English-speaking community, with two main branches from the West Indies and the USA, that has been here for more than 170 years. British, Canadian and other English-speakers are, in lesser numbers, also part of Panama’s English-speaking mix. Then there are a lot of assimilated Panamanians descended from immigrants from the English-speaking world who don’t speak English, or don’t speak it well. Plus, English is taught in the schools here, not always very well, so there are many Panamanians who speak at least some English as a second language.

However, Panama is officially and as a practical matter a Spanish-speaking country. There was an attempt some years back to make English an official language, but that did not pass. The Panama News opposed the idea at the time, and still would. There are tiny little moves to make our indigenous languages official, but there are practical obstacles. It would still be nice to watch the occasional National Assembly video with a legislator speaking Ngabere, his or her colleagues wearing their headphones and a Spanish translation track.

There are demagogues in the legislature and out and about in the general public who would kick all the foreigners out, and the more extreme of them would strip Panamanians born to foreign parents of their citizenship as well. On the other hand, there are folks in the real estate, financial and legal representation industries who depend on foreign clients to make their livings. For a variety of reasons, The Panama News finds flaws on both sides of this coin. We should get off the money laundering economy. We should be building to affordably house Panamanians, not to attract mostly imaginary foreign millionaires to expatriate ghettos. All the racism and xenophobia are ugly enough, but we should also understand that a lot of the ranting of that sort that comes from public officials is intended as a distraction from those politicians’ own peculations.

This country of immigrants, though, has a history. Some things worked to weave people of other nationalities into the fabric of Panamanian society, and other things were ignominious failures. Colonialism, and the notion that people are just passing through here so whatever they do doesn’t count to anyone who matters, are the proven historical monstrosities to avoid. Foreigners who are unwilling to respect Panama and Panamanians should be invited to take their attitudes out on someone else, somewhere else.

But what about MOST foreigners? A few policies should be considered:

1. Those who seek to live here should learn at least some Spanish.

To get foreign residency, there should be an introductory course in Spanish – depending on the applicant’s knowledge of the language, but for those who know little or none at least a bit of “survival Spanish.” It’s a danger to self and community if someone doesn’t know how to report a fire, or a crime. Those who know just a bit of Spanish will do better if they learn a bit more. Let’s not talk about a business, or an opportunity for some functionary to shake some residency applicant down for a bribe in order to get a “passing grade.” Forget the tests, but do offer the instruction, and require it if a newcomer non-citizen who speaks little or no Spanish is to become a resident.

2. We should encourage foreigners willing to lend a hand.

Many of Panama’s firefighters are Panamanian part-time volunteers. Why not create volunteer components into other national institutions, in part using the talents that foreigners may bring to these shores along with the abilities of local people? As an international transportation hub, we need more people who can take emergency calls in many other languages, not just English. Also, hospital translators. Also, as teachers’ assistants who help with second languages instruction in the public schools. A lot of foreign retirees have a lot of time on their hands and are willing and eager to lend a hand. We saw the foreigners who took the repatriation flights, and heard those who railed against the Panamanian government’s mask and vaccination policies, but with that chaff separated out we had a solid majority of Panamanians who endured and cooperated during the epidemic. A few who sought out and performed helpful roles during the epidemic, though churches or civic organizations or just as individuals or couples. Whether or not they ever intend to become Panamanian citizens, foreigners disposed to give their volunteer service to Panama should be invited to do so.

3. We should be searching for and welcoming foreign talent.

When you look at which foreigners Panama officially welcomes and which it at best tolerates, the monopolistic avoidance of competition in almost every sector beats out the attraction of talent that would raise Panama. If we want to have world-class universities, or internationally renowned hospitals, or cutting-edge development technologies, we should welcome more talented foreigners to come here and work. The current preference for the idle rich doesn’t do much for our economy, and attracts too many rich criminals who only pretend to be idle. A rational immigration policy presupposes a national development plan, but the latter has for years been prevented by a “What’s in it for me?” attitudes in high places. Panamanians badly need to adopt a political culture where the first and main question is “What’s in it for Panama?” That sort of attitude shift is needed on the immigration issue as well as with respect to many other matters.

Well, of course. Every country that has a decent hospital has a laboratory with biological specimens. Every country with a competent public health system makes or stores vaccines against things like measles and polio. But here the Republicans are parroting a Putin insinuation that Ukraine has biological weapons facilities. But Ukraine actually doesn’t have facilities to make such weapons of mass death and destruction. Many Republicans seeking election or re-election are distancing themselves from such support for the Russian invasion of Ukraine, but they, in turn, are under attack from the QAnon / Trump factions of their party. Even with all of the state vote suppression laws and gerrymandered new districts, the triumph of authoritarian weirdos is not a foregone conclusion in next year’s US elections. Screenshot of Tucker Carlson’s Twitter feed.

Despite it all

Two and a half years before the next presidential election, Fox News proclaims with glee the fall of the House of Biden.

Will the GOP take both houses of Congress this November and give us two years of stalled federal government while their goons run amok with their assault rifles? Only if the American people let them do it.

The Republican compulsions to beat up queers, ban all abortions, keep lynching legal and support aggressive right-wing dictators around the world are not actually all that popular with Americans. Confederate Heritage Month may be quite popular among white voters in Mississippi. Qanon conspiracy theories may impress up to one-third of the US electorate. Maybe a quarter of the voters in the United States believe in a version of End Times Religion that would encourage a Battle of Armageddon.

But all of that can and should be defeated at the polls. First in the primaries, when Democrats can and should retire some of the corporate shills who want to “reach across the aisle” and compromise with white supremacy, nominating real Democrats instead. Then in November, with an unprecedented swarming of polls by Putin’s non-friends.

American citizens living in Panama can and should vote. Go to https://www.votefromabroad.org to learn more, register and order your ballot. Voting rules vary from state to state but the rights of American voters living outside of the USA are federally protected.


Leonardo da Vinci. Photograph by E. Desmaisons of a print. Wikimedia graphic, cropped.

                  Learning never exhausts the mind.

Leonardo da Vinci                  

Bear in mind…

Servility always curdles into rage in the end.

Tina Brown

I said “Somebody should do something about that.” Then I realized I am somebody.

Lily Tomlin

Hope has two beautiful daughters. Their names are Anger and Courage; anger at the way things are, and courage to see that they do not remain the way they are.

St. Augustine



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