Editorials: Panama’s water strategy; and Arab-American Democrats

Rio Indio
Reforestation along the Rio Indio, probably well below where a dam would be built. MiAmbiente photo.

Damming the Rio Indio? It will and must happen
but not as the first step toward solving our water crisis.

Short term? The Panama Canal and the Republic of Panama are in a bad way until this El Niño effect dissipates and we get the sort of rainy season to which we have become accustomed. This year or next the drought should lift, but a longer-term set of water problems will remain.

To properly and reliably run a canal with locks run by gravity, there must be more water in the system than it now has. A long tunnel from the Rio Bayano system to canal waters might do the trick, but the pumping of water over the Continental Divide would imply a terrible expense for energy. The most practical source of water for canal operations would be the construction of a new lake to the west, by damming the Rio Indio.

Do we want to get holistic, just from the water perspective? A HIGH dam, probably more than one dam, to create a large lake that serves not only for the canal’s water needs, would be the better way to go.

Do we want to get politically, socially, economically and morally holistic? That would require the displacement of thousands of people who are living their lives on farms where there is really no real estate market of which to speak.

Does the nation act like a tawdry hustler, and try to pay some irrisory “market value” to those deemed ignorant peasants who are unable to tell the difference? The standard must be replacement value, the monetary and policy cost of letting people going living as they have been and want to be, or something actually better than that. The creation of a large new lake would actually help create conditions to do that.

However, do we need a quicker start on solving the water problem than the several years that it would take to make a new lake? The technical fix is to start on a series of water desalination plants, for the Colon area and the Panama City / San Miguelito area first, providing fresh water to urban populations and reducing their dependency on water that could otherwise be used for the canal.

To really fix things it will be necessary to notice that major parts of our government are broken in major ways, and that these problems are in part cultural issues among the public at large. The Panama Canal Authority, the IDAAN water and sewer utility, the Ministry of Agricultural Development, the ruling Democratic Revolutionary Party, the National Assembly as we know it – just putting power over national water policy to any of these troubled institutions would be a terrible mistake.

Yet we can start on the urban water problem while institutional and policy reforms are underway, while design and construction of a new lake are works in progress. Wait for the rains, but don’t wait to start on plants to extract drinking water from sea water.

Build more desalination plants, and connect them. As the new lake is under construction, tunnel through the mountains to make it a gravity source of fresh water for household and farm use on the Pacific slope, in Cocle, Panama Oeste and the Azuero Peninsula.

And create a new water authority – not the political patronage scam that IDAAN has so often been, nothing with the legislature’s partisan hooks in it, not the twisted office culture that grips the ACP. Which is not to say that the canal shouldn’t have a seat at the table, that the nation’s elected representatives should have nothing to say.

Panama has time to do this right. There is no rush to justify a lame duck set of spectacularly failed politicians to arrange everything in its own image before leaving office.



What will he say? What will he do?

The Arab World is a large and diverse place, and Arab-Americans reflect much of that. Perhaps anti-Arab and anti-immigrant prejudices and stereotypes unify Arab-Americans more than Arabs in the Middle East might be.

The Israelis used Lebanese Christian fascists in the infamous Sabra and Shatila massacres of Palestinians. The United States sent billions of dollars worth of weapons to the Saudis, the Emiraitis and hostile Yemeni tribes in a long and failed attempt to crush the Houthi rebellion.

So, might Joe Biden try to pick and choose in his planned trip to Michigan to meet with Arab-Americans and rescue his fortunes in that state, where Arabs outnumber Jews by about two-to-one? That would set off a furious Pan-Arab response, not just from the Palestinians. A lot of Jews and various other non-Arabs would also join in the protests.

Before any reconciliation mission to visit Arab-American Democrats, Joe Biden needs to say no to Bibi Netanyahu and cut off the flow of US weapons and money for the Gaza War.


Portrayed in a famous mural about when she was much younger, Bernadette Devlin (later McAliskey) went to prison for inciting and participating in a riot for leading the defense of this part of her parliamentary constituency. Photo CC by Joseph Mischyshyn.

To gain what is worth having, it may be necessary to lose everything else.

Bernadette Devlin McAliskey

Bear in mind…

One can pass on responsibility, but not the discretion that goes with it.

Benvenuto Cellini

Friends need to tell each other the hard truths, and friendships require mutual respect.

John Kerry

We don’t see things as they are, we see things as we are.

Anais Nin


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