The Tropigas interruption – the government COULD just pay the bill

In Panama, there is no “free market” cooking gas industry. It’s a subsidized and regulate duopoly, which the two companies limit free switching by the simple expedient of the valves — cabezotes — that connect the tops of the tanks to the hoses that go to the stoves. A Tropigas valve won’t fit onto and work for a Panagas tank, and vice versa. There are always a few wise guys who keep one of each valve for occasions like the present one. Tropigas photo, swiped from Twitter.

What we DO know is bad enough — then there are presumptions based on a few facts

by Eric Jackson

Panama has these corporate secrecy laws. Also ruling elites which on both the economic and political sides are replete with family networks featuring familiar surnames that may be in cahoots or bitter rivals, and which shift over time.

Tropigas was founded in 1950 by Antonio de Roux and Camilo Quelquejeu under the name Rockgas. They bet on liquid propane gas at a time when society was mostly rural and not much electrified, as the cooking alternative to cutting down all the trees for firewood. Over the years they took on and bought out various partners, family members came and went and generational torches were passed.

One of the company’s big moves was taking on a US supplier as a partner, then a few years later buying out these gringos — Tropical Gas Company. They took on the company name with the foreign investment in 1966, then in the mid-90s spun off the importer side to create the fully Panamanian subsidiary Petroport.

These days? Who knows? We have corporate secrecy laws here.

However, as of 2020 Tropigas was one of these companies that registered its officers and dignitaries by names and surnames, rather than just lawyers and legal secretaries as front people. And there, from the record, you find various well known surnames. De Roux. Vallarino. Chiari. Navarro. Quelquejeu. Barleta. Stanziola. And so on.

At one point, between running the National Association for the Conservation of Nature (ANCON), which he founded as a dictatorship-tolerable environmentalist organization in 1985 and becoming mayor of Panama City, one Juan Carlos Navarro Quelquejeu played a senior management role in Tropigas.

The family business? No doubt. Along with…? What percentage stake? Panamanian laws and corporate records leave these things in doubt.

Nicky Barleta was the PRD candidate in 1984 and was fraudulently installed as president until Tony Noriega got annoyed with him. Juan Carlos Navarro was the PRD presidential standard bearer in 2014 and came in third. Neither THAT Barleta nor THAT Navarro appear in the most recent company records.

And is Rómulo Roux, the current Cambio Democratico leader, related? Apparently not.

We also don’t know what changes have been made in the lineup of stakeholders since last we heard.

For people who want to draw lines of power and causality among the few dozen inbred elite families, it’s easy for those with paranoiac ideation to allege this vast rabiblanco conspiracy, and to tie in a corporate decision to take the subsidized 25-pound liquid propane gas tanks off of the market.

Maybe something to do with Hunter Bilden’s laptop?  Or the Federalist Society? Or the Illuminati? Believe it if you want. You might even get Q to back up the conspiracy tale.

What really happened is that by choice or for the sake of immediate survival, Tropigas insisted on being paid forthwith. The PRD administration of Nito Cortizo owed them more than $65 million in the subsidies that allow them to sell the small cooking gas tanks to customers at low government-controlled prices. The company, through its Petroport subsidiary, just announced on short notice that the little gas tanks were coming off the market unless and until they got paid.

Was it that Tropigas COULDN’T do it, or DIDN’T WANT TO do it? Panamanian business culture generally never discloses such things. In any case, on October 6 they ceased to supply the little tanks to retail outlets, mostly supermarkets and gas stations.

So, no real free market, “the families” involved in one way or another, does that mean an overarching conspiracy with some guy at a joystick in control? Actually, the competing company, Panagas, may not be able to charge a better price, but they have seen and taken an opportunity:


Ephemeral, it will apparently be. Ignore the official spokespeople’s whiny excuses about how thing were in the works but paperwork got in the way. When National Energy Secretary Jorge Rivera Staff say that the money will come through by Monday or Tuesday at the latest, he’s either telling the truth or making the cardinal error of setting up his boss for a new wave of public indignation.

Once paid, figure that the company will not have supplied the retailers at the snap of two fingers but by this time next week it ought to be business as usual or something close to that.

Will grand conclusions be drawn? No doubt. About the severity of the public debt and how it affects the national government’s cash flow. About the priorities of the politicians currently in power. About the vulnerabilities of many a household economy.

And Juan Carlos Navarro? Out of office and apparently not running for anything, the fossil fuel history still doesn’t look good on an environmentalist’s resume in light of worsening climate change. Even if he’s not looking to be the next president. The energy industry venture that’s he’s publicizing these days is in the solar power sector.

But you can still go to Twitter to read about what a horrible, devious, greedy guy he is and how he fits into The Grand Conspiracy.

The empiricists and agnostics in the house will just conclude that the government ought to more promptly pay its bills.


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