Rude questions and insolent answers from the editor
by Eric Jackson
What’s going on? Other than that question setting off a Marvin Gaye song in the writer’s head? Look at the mainstream media, or at the social media, and the situation becomes murky at a glance, especially for those unfamiliar with patterns and practices.
In the corporate mainstream media, we see the usual partisan crossfire of accusations and rabiblanco-sponsored economic dogma. The thing is, our economy is broken in ways that such cant won’t – and can’t – readily explain. Any explanation of inflation given by the pharmaceutical importers’ cartel, or by the telecom firms, or by any business group under their leadership or strong influence tends to be an outrageous lie.
The tabloids run their usual fare of necro-porn, and because it’s the holiday season there really is a lot more garden variety crime – the muggings, the stores getting robbed, the home invasions, the break-ins and so on. Also low-rent rape, a crime of violence and assertion of power far more than a crime of sexual perversion, at the lower end of the socio-economic scale a matter of men without power trying to assert power by force or by enticement of the young. Also the domestic violence, usually also assertions of power by relatively powerless men. If it’s gory or depraved enough, it’s the stuff of headlines. That those media who report this and note that the kids who witnessed it are “unharmed” is a professional scandal in journalism.
Because of the weak economy that has affected reporters’ numbers and travel budgets, in that field we are especially dependent on police and prosecutor press releases and photos. The Panama News was early to the trend, but more and more the better editors will just ignore the law enforcement trophy pictures of all the drugs that have been seized. The War on Drugs is a loser all the way around and any pretense that it’s being won is dishonest. People know that, and the pretense otherwise may lead to institutional access to various Panamanian or US government figures, but on the other hand detracts from the medium’s credibility.
‘Tis the season – when people are looking toward other things like Mothers Day, Christmas and New Years, and NOT paying attention to what public officials are doing. It’s much worse in Panama than in the USA, not only due to different arrays of holidays but also because there are more different sorts of observers in the bigger country.
On the public policy front, to which this writer pays the most attention, it’s nefarious but banal, the old games played against an economy that hasn’t been this bad since Noriega sanctions times, and without the simplistic “Noriega goes” exit formula of back then. There really isn’t one person or party whose removal solves the regional and global web of problems that entangle Panama.
That President Cortizo is ill, perhaps terminally, offers no ray of hope for those sick enough to look for that. The man is a moderating influence on most of the worst things in his party, among his allies and in the political caste. But the moderation is no longer so vigorous as it was at the beginning of his term. Does he make it through the year and a half or so left before the next shift comes it? I would expect that. Does he leave the reins to his vice president for a most unusual back-to-back succession of his party? I expect that Vice President Carrizo will rig the PRD to give him the 2024 nomination – and the general election voters, who have seen him as acting head of state, won’t agree to his assumption of the presidential sash in his own right. (It’s way too early, and there are too many variables, but I would not be surprised to see the 2024 race polarize between the fascist Zulay Rodríguez and the moderate Ricardo Lombana, even if the polls keep telling us that Ricky Martinelli is the heavy favorite.)
What’s going on here is a political caste intent on a hardcore looting spree before the voters get a chance to remove a lot of its members, greedy business elites in their eternal quests to corner and monopolize markets, outrageous gouging and all of the usual moderating influences weakened.
Might the National Assembly, this coming July, pick someone other than a guy who wants to lower the standards for getting a medical license in order to favor a family member? The PRD might decide that a wise thing to do, but it’s not going to alter the predatory nature of the incumbent coalition. Might Cambio Democratico oust the corporate lawyer in favor of the sticky fingered legislator and an alliance with Martinelli? Likely so, but watch them dissolve into infighting if Martinelli is sent to prison and out of the race. Is there a comeback for Arnulfismo? In alliance with whom? Watch the Partido Popular, MOLIRENA and the other small players look for a likely winner and ride with that candidate, no matter any principles that could be involved.
BUT FOR NOW, people aren’t paying attention. So a PRD deputy’s cousin gets dibs on providing fuel to cruise ships at a government port on the Atlantic Side. So a cruise ship comes into Amador and the government workers who are paid to serve it are totally unprepared, even to deploy the ramp. Likewise, those who got their sanitation jobs through the PRD don’t pick up the garbage and rats proliferate in the city. Likewise all these low-quality road repairs. San Miguelito has been deducting for Seguro Social from its city workers’ paychecks but not paying the money into the Social Security Fund? The Comptroller General sees nothing. The son of the budget director of the Colon Free Zone is nailed as an alleged drug kingpin in Dubai and accused of organizing the loading of drug cargoes in Colon? Of no concern, and HOW DARE anyone make the connection or ask any question. Martinelli, Varela and a lot of alleged accomplices looking toward trials for Odebrecht graft next year? Martinelli has the advantage of dubiously obtained media to screech about how he’s being persecuted and to threaten anyone who criticizes him. Yadda yadda yadda – Panama has been looted big-time and so many journalists are paid to report nothing, or to report just the other faction’s infractions.
HOWEVER, the debt crisis is here and very real. I could go down the litany. Better to recall what set off the June and July disturbances. It was that teachers in the public schools had not been paid.
The abuses have escalated to the point that working people can’t afford them anymore, and those special interest folks who think that they have bought the political caste and expect them to deliver are not budging.
Working people can’t stand the way they are being squeezed? That’s rather ordinary. But when cruise ship operators and international bankers get squeezed? There comes the opportunity for fascist demagoguery, but Panama can be put onto certain lists and scratched off of others, much to the detriment of folks who had nothing to do with causing these listings or de-listings.
Regardless of any and all infamy, the regional economy is just slow. Shipping is a troubled industry in flux. The South American countries for which our duty-free zones act as wholesaling and warehousing districts aren’t buying as much.
What we hear from the elites and allied media is that what we really need to do is cut taxes on the rich. BUT WAIT – they’re not paying significant taxes anyway. THEIR Plan B is to squeeze the standards of living of working people again.
Now that crypto is crashing, maybe they’ll come up with another magic bullet. Anything but adjusting Panamanian society’s glaring economic inequalities.
At least the legislature isn’t in session until January. But smash and grab season is six or eight months early this cycle. Keep an eye out, and not just for the maleantes down the street.
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