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Volume 19, Number 6
updated
September 9, 2013

Panama Spanish Schools in Bocas del Toro and in Boquete, by the beach and in the mountains

front page

What the world is facing today

The British Labour Party is refusing a blank check for the Conservative / Liberal Democrat coalition government to take military action in Syria. There is a reason for this. The UN Security Council never was a possibility for backing any sort of intervention, and NATO might not be, either. The only NATO powers eager for war are France and Turkey.

There is no question that Assad is a tyrant, but also no question that the rebels are genocidal Sunni bigots. Both sides in this conflict have chemical weapons and the best evidence is that both sides have used them. Obama drew his line in the sand and must maintain credibility, but we should think very carefully about what the fall of Damascus to a Sunni army that includes al Qaeda and is financed by the Gulf oil sheikhs would really mean. We need to dispense with all this silly talk about the Egyptian military coup being "democracy" and the Saudi royal family being part of "the free world."

This Syrian conflict is already a regional war that has spilled over into greater Kurdistan, Iraq and Lebanon. More than 100,000 people have been killed, many of them innocent non-combatant civilians. The rebels are big into ethnic cleansing. Break up Syria and all of a sudden:

  • There would likely be generalized Sunni vs Shia warfare across the Muslim world including in the Gulf states such as Shia-majority Bahrain and the eastern part of Saudi Arabia

  • Jordan may break up along ethnic lines

  • Turkey may be immersed in ethnic war against the Kurds that goes into Iran and Iraq and Syria

  • There may be a move for a Druze state that would be taken as a threat to Lebanon and Israel as well as what's left of Syria

  • The region's Christian minorities -- many of whom are refugees in Syria after having been expendable afterthoughts in the US invasion of Iraq -- would be under threat from Saudi, Qatari and US-backed religious fanatics

  • The international boundaries so cavalierly drawn by the British and French at the end of World War I would dissolve in a number of places, displacing millions of people and leading to further conflicts that could last for generations

...and so on. And while none of these things may happen, a lot of unpleasant things would surely happen in an expanded and escalated Syria War. The way that history often unfolds is that the worst of it was what none of the experts even considered. This would be a good time for those who have not read them to read the Pulitzer Prize winning The Guns of August and the less acclaimed but as important The March of Folly by the late Barbara Tuchman.

By population Syria is a bit smaller but more diverse than Iraq. If you include the already affected or potentially affected neighboring areas, particularly Lebanon, a general conflagration makes the situation far more difficult to control that Iraq, where the outcome of the US adventure has been a generally unhappy one. It's colonial hubris to think that any Western power or coalition of Western powers is going to affect the outcome of such a conflict in any positive way.


Which is why Labour, which was railroaded into the Iraq War by Tony Blair placing his confidence in George W. Bush and the backing neocon chorus, is skittish. And notice that all but the most brain-dead neocons are also skeptical, as are Israeli military and intelligence leaders.

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Some of the recently added stories:

The Panama News Acrostic
Colon's mayor ousted in CD primary
Cambio Democratico chooses its legislative and local candidates
Informe del PNUD sobre la Represa Barro Blanco (PDF)
Strange helicopter ceremony in Tocumen
It's a girl! (Which is what you want your papaya tree to be)
Panama City's broken water mains
An uncomfortable delay coming back to Panama on the cheap airline
José Ponce's antiwar vigil, and another to come
CanadaPLUS and its dinner theater
Lilia Herrera the new Defensora del Pueblo
Egyptians protest against the coup at their embassy here
Scenes and sounds from the Second Central American Percussion Festival
Cumberbatch tests Panama's separation of church and state
The Casco Viejos's crumbling Catholic churches
Smithsonian seminar especially for teachers: Thinking about frogs and biodiversity
Ethanol: Martinelli's snap decision
Riba Smith goes to the beach
Ethanol: Fuel economy fantasies
When galaxies collide
Building Back Better: WHO report on mental health care after disasters (PDF)
Bad feedback: Ocean acidification and climate change
Barro Colorado Island research: Red, white and blue leaves
Newborn deaths: Martinelli appointees try to duck negligent homicide charges
Teachers win their strike
Casita de Mausi bake sale
Pineo & Birns, Latin America's backyard
The best part of the Central American Percussion Festival: the workshops
Egypt's foreign relations on a tightrope
Manning, We have forgotten our humanity
"Final" Trans-Pacific Partnership talks are not final
A gruesome discovery in Bocas
The Montevideo Consensus on regional population and development (PDF)
On the campaign trail
A learning experience all the way around with New Earth Panama
Panama's campus radicals don't like Egypt's coup
Caught in a lie
A prolonged education rumble
A Guna cultural event in the capital
Swine feeding time in the Martinelli administration
Top Jazz Fest billing for new things by Osvaldo Ayala, Danilo Pérez
Theater, scenes and impressions of Deep Fried Comedy
Changes in how some US federal benefits are processed
Sindicatos canaleros: Lo que la ACP no qiere que sepas (PDF)
Chemito rules! Anselmo Moreno retains his WBA bantamweight title (video)
How the new Latin American pope is reshaping the Catholic Church
At the National Artisans Fair (video)
OXFAM discussion paper: The future of agriculture (PDF)
Amnesty International remembers Pinochet (video)
Manifiesto CNTP: La crisis de la educación nacional (PDF)
Texas Senator Wendy Davis at the National Press Club
Weird weather: Funnel clouds over the Panama Canal
Patria Portugal removed from office
Editorials: Martinelli's overspending, and Al Qaeda's surge
Cuba building a new mega-port and free zone
Martinelistas approve the sale of mixed company shares that they say they won't sell
Sea turtles face new challenges in Bocas del Toro
INTERPOL warns of carbon bond crimes
CEPAL: Three percent growth in the region this year
Some bus art survives
Videos: A cultural appreciation of US immigration
Flying eye hospital lands here
Bocas: its history and that of the Smithsonian's presence there
Life in Panama: Hazards of the morning commute
Nicaragua's canal project taking shape
How big is Juan Carlos Navarro's lead?
Teachers strike for two days with mixed results
Assange, The Bradley Manning verdict
STRI archaeology lecture: Early complex societies in Central Pacific Panama (WMV)
Panama falls to the USA in soccer's Gold Cup final
Public sector strikes looming
Congressional OAS-bashing
David high school seniors strike against academic fraud
The Silver Roll Clubhouse
Stiglitz, La farsa de libre comercio
Declaración del Relator Especial Sobre los Derechos de los Pueblos Indígenas en Panamá
Patria Portugal removed from office
Patria Portugal faces criminal investigation over no-bid contracts
Pollera Day in Las Tablas
Latin America's tragic encounter with microcredit
Mismeasuring the economy: why GDP is not useful
Gush Shalom, Peace negotiations and the 1967 borders
Nasser, The bonds between Gaza and Egypt
ONU contempla el uso de mercenarios
Harrington-Shelton, Una caja de Pandora
Dates set for major Panama cultural events in 2014
A rainy Ratha Yatra parade
Jackson: Verdicts, vigilantes and various laws, wise and otherwise
Candanedo, CONAPE censures Sergio Gálvez
Thurston, Snowden
Montes Gómez, Mimito
Morse, EEUU condena violencia contra periodistas
MPU, Por un frente electoral sindical, popular y de izquierdas
Lullo & Rueckert, Obama's sugar-free diplomacy
Lipton, TAFTA: Corporations afraid of democracy
Various scholars, Calling out the media on Snowden and Latin America (PDF)
What controls the timing of flowering events?
Why bioluminescent fungi glow in the dark
Las nuevas regulaciones para los cascos y chalecos de motociclistas (PDF)
Testing the drunken monkey hypothesis


The Cuban government's statement about the arms on the Chong Chon Gang.
Cuban-American US Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen's statement about it.


The left-wing government in Havana shows signs of senility, as does the right-wing exile movement in Miami
Cuba's big gaffe

Buried under 10,000 metric tons of sugar in the holds of a squalid North Korean freighter, Cuba says, were some anti-aircraft systems and warplanes from the middle of the 20th century en route to North Korea to be repaired and returned to Cuba. At first glance it was a violation of the United Nations embargo against North Korea, tightened last March after a third nuclear explosion by the Pyongyang government. On second and third glances, the legal situation becomes a bit more complicated. However, many things that are legal are also scandalous. As a matter of law and politics, the seizure of the Chong Chon Gang in Panamanian waters is a huge embarrassment to the Cuban government under Raúl Castro.

These are some of the legal complexities:
  • The first UN embargo resolution in 2006 was not a complete arms transaction ban. Its key provision banned all other countries from supplying major conventional weapons as defined by the UN Register of Conventional Weapons. That register, which is supposed to guide much of the international arms traffic in general, excludes certain weapons that are considered entirely defensive, including those surface-to-air missile systems that cannot be carried and fired by a human being. On the other hand, it includes all warplanes and components of warplanes.

  • The most recent UN embargo resolution tightens economic measures against Pyongyang and its authority figures, and with a few exceptions purports to ban traffic to or from North Korea in "all arms." Specifically excluded are deliveries of "small arms" to the North Koreans. But are large anti-aircraft missile systems "arms?" They are not listed as such in the Register of Conventional Weapons.

  • And if you send malfunctioning weapons, either those specified in the embargo resolution or those arguably excluded, to North Korea for repair, is that something other than embargoed commerce? If you can say that they went to Korea as useless for war so were not weapons, when they come back in working order isn't that importing weapons from North Korea?

Regardless, it looks like hell for the Castro government. What could they have been thinking? Or has an aged leader, whose party has been without a strong and legal opposition to keep it on its toes for more than half a century, begun to lose it?

However, Mr. Castro and his party don't appear ready to lose their grip on Cuba to anyone else anytime soon. One reason why this is so is that the far-right Miami Cuban exile leadership lost its grip on reality long ago. Most younger Cuban-Americans want to be Americans, part of a free and prosperous Cuban strain in the mix of US Hispanic cultures rather than restored oligarchs in a repressive Cuba. The battle for the cultural mainstream and voting majority in Miami is also a microcosm of something else that's going on in the rest of the USA. An aging and shrinking minority that's anti-intellectual in virtually every field of inquiry is not only trying to censor and shout down everybody else, they also take "reality-based" to be an epithet and the notion that extraordinary claims require extraordinary proofs to be subversive.

Thus Representative Ros-Lehtinen, speaking for her faction in South Florida, suggests that what's really happening is that the North Koreans smuggled weapons from Korea through the Panama Canal to Cuba, loaded sacks of sugar on top of those weapons in Cuba, and were shipping them to Venezuela by way of Panama. Of course, the Venes can afford to buy far more modern weaponry and they have spent a lot of their oil money that way, giving the rightist opposition an issue on which to differ with the Chavistas. Basic geography also puts the congresswoman's claim in doubt. And where are the facts to support this theory? What is being preached starts with a conspiratorial world view of certain manipulative bad guys, which construct gets filled in with random facts and useful fictions to support the predetermined conclusion. Here it's about the nature of Cuba in particular and Latin America in general, but that same style of thinking is employed by the climate change denial crowd, those who tell American working men and women that trickle-down economics are in their interest, people who say that evolution never happened and should not be taught in schools, the Birthers who claim that Barack Obama is not a US citizen and so on.

Lucky Raúl and Fidel, to have enemies like that!

Meanwhile, if a long-running diplomatic, political and cultural effort by Cuba to break out of the isolation imposed by the United States has been set back by this scandal, it's not a scandal in Pyongyang. Kim Jong-un, The Boy Tyrant, seems much like the ephemeral Roman emperor Caligula in his regard for what people think.

The weirdness that passes for politics in North Korea may explain the Chong Chon Gang crew's resistance to their arrests. North Korea is the only country that officially reveres the memory of Josef Stalin. And what happened to Soviet soldiers or civilians who were captured by the Germans during World War II? They were treated as deserters or traitors and were never liberated but just transferred from Nazi camps to Soviet ones, except for those who were shot. Then take a look at the fate of Kim Chol, the vice minister of defense who was purged in most gruesome fashion. In that sort of an environment one would expect that the young crew members would fear the consequences back home for themselves and their families for having been taken prisoner, and especially for having been taken without a fight.

Finally, consider what loose lips Panama's strutting Security Minister José Raúl Mulino has. He tells the world that this arrest was the product of a week-long investigation. We know how long it takes to sail from Cuba to here, so that means that the investigation began as the Chong Chon Gang was being loaded in Cuba. Most probably it means that unusual activity of containers being loaded into a hold and then covered with sacks of sugar not on pallets but in individual bags was picked up on a US satellite and this information was passed on to the Panamanian government. Mulino tells us that Panama knows that earlier the North Korean freighter crossed the Pacific mostly with its transponder turned off, which says something about the Panama Canal's global monitoring capabilities and practices.

We are not being told the whole truth by any side, and for the most part all have good reasons to conceal certain things. What United Nations inspectors say that they find will probably be the key pieces to understanding an incomplete puzzle. What is emerging so far looks not so much like a major threat to world peace but a really stupid move by Cuba, which lends urgency to that island's process of change.

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Alas, it rained on the Hindu community's Ratha Yatra parade --- but Kermit Nourse was still there to take pictures:



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Will we get a somewhat unusual August spike in tourism?

On the Pacific beaches, August is peak surfing season, with the biggest waves to be expected on the weekend of the 23rd to 25th. Just in time for one last summer fling for those who have to be in school in September in more northerly climes.

For boxing fans, on August 10 we have three world class bouts on the card at the Hard Rock Hotel. Panama's Anselmo Moreno will defend his WBA bantamweight title against Colombia's Willian Urina, and local resident but Venezuelan native Nehomar Cermeño will take on Colombia's undefeated and highly touted Óscar Escandón for the WBA super bantamweight interim title. Plus there will be a rematch for the WBA women's featherweight championship between Venezuela's defending champ Ogleidis Suárez and Colombia's Liliana Palmera. There are sure to be a lot of Colombians and Venezuelans coming in for the occasion to join folks from the substantial local expatriate communities of those nationalities, and usually there are at least a few people coming in from points all across the planet for such events.

On August 15 at the Ateneo in Clayton (or Ciudad de Saber, if you prefer), there will be the second annual Central American Percussion Festival. The headline act will be Puerto Rico's Egguie Castrillo, with percussionists from North, South and Central America as well as Panama. This is a Danilo Perez Foundation event, which means that the concert is only one part of the program, which includes a day of seminars and jam sessions on all levels but particularly for younger musicians. For more information about the classes, call the foundation at (507) 211-0272.

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Can you believe the racial polarization that led to so many insulting screeds against native New Yorker Marc Anthony, who sang America The Beautiful at baseball's All-Star Game at Shea Stadium? The following is arguably his biggest hit, a video informed by Christian values, a sinner's lament and an unglamorous and astute commentary on the futile reality of violence in society:



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Sigh. A new wave of right-wing militia people, wannabe Jack Olivers, has washed up on Panamanian shores. Already we are getting appeals to the gringo community in Bocas to acquire arms as the answer to Panama's problems, advice to use torture against local people and innuendos and veiled threats against me. Hail Il Duce and all of that. This country has laws providing for the deportation of foreign paramilitaries and they ought to be used.

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The Panama News has been publishing for nearly 19 years and we don't plan to quit. However, our financial situation has always been precarious and the more support we get, the better job we can afford to do.

Donate generously.


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This is the last front page of this style. The Panama News is about to look much different. But we will still have good music, like this local thing by Javier Medina Bernal, with Graciela Núñez and Félix Robles. It's worth the bother to dream:



Enjoy.

Eric Jackson
editor & publisher



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The Panama News Editors
Editor & Publisher - Eric Jackson
Contributing Editor - Silvio Sirias
Contributing Editor - José F. Ponce
Copy Editor - Sue Hindman (1944-2010)

© 2013 by Eric Jackson
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