December 20, 2014

front page

(To read the constantly updated content of The Panama News — far more frequently updated that this front page — see the listing at the top of the left-hand column for the most recent stories that have been uploaded, click on the section links above to see the latest things posted by subject, or go to the bottom of the right-hand column to see the story listings by month. For those of you using mobile devices, the left-hand column might not appear without your prompting but the section and monthly listings will get you to the same stories. Visit our TPN Blog page for constantly updating videos, graphics, links to other people’s stories about Panama and the world, music listings and more. You can also join a much expanded discussion on our Facebook page or get all of the new stories sent to you on our Twitter feed. We also have an email list, with all of the stories from The Panama News plus a lot of cultural events information and commentary on breaking news that doesn’t get onto the website or posted on Twitter or Facebook. To get on the email list, send a request to be included to

December 12, 2014

The beach at El Arenal de Pedasi. Photo by Dino Bozen

The beach at El Arenal de Pedasi. Photo by the late Dino Bozen

As The Panama News approaches its 20th birthday…

Cycles and continuity

The photo above is the beach at El Arenal, near the mouth of the Pedasi River in Los Santos. Dino Bozen posted it on his Facebook page on December 6. The next day he was found drowned there.

The ordinary seasonal warning is in order. This is the height of the rainy season when rivers, creeks and drainage ditches suddenly swell and where the empty into the sea often create dangerous currents and undertows. Think you are pretty strong? These are elemental forces that are stronger than you or any other person. If you get caught in a riptide, fighting it can get you killed. Go with the flow, and swim perpendicular to it to get out of it.

Dino was not a newcomer to the area or to that beach, and we do not yet know all of the particulars of his drowning. I knew him online only. The man loved body art, four-wheeling, photography and small town and rural Panama. When I put the call for readers who were taking pictures of November’s patriotic parades to submit the good ones to The Panama News, he sent in some very good photos of the festivities in Los Santos province. He was one of the many contributors, in his case in kind, who keep The Panama News going.

This publication is a failure by business measures but a thriving cause that has been defying pronouncements and predictions of our demise for two decades now. I will get into it below, but everyone dies while many an institution survives its founders. Amidst life’s cycles that took Dino and will take us all, arranging for some continuity for The Panama News in particular and for independent alternative journalism in Panama in general is one of my priorities at the moment.

* * *

Diplomats usually speak without pointing at others in terms of general principles, with the unstated “if the shoe fits, wear it” presumption taking the place of the index finger. That approach can have catastrophic breakdowns when there is too much hypocrisy in the situation. US Secretary of State John Kerry has written a Miami Herald op-ed about the Organization of American States and the Summits of the Americas, talking in glowing generalities while skirting the specific hot-button issue of Cuba’s participation at the next summit, coming up in March in Panama, on President Varela’s invitation.

The OAS is first and foremost about keeping the peace in the Western Hemisphere. Preventing and responding to disasters and plagues, establishing a regional international order based on law and regulating cross-border migration and commerce in agreed ways so that countries, institutions and people can go about their business are all parts of the OAS mission. A critical component of each of these purposes is the protection of human rights. There is no commerce or migration when robbery and murder along the way become the norm. There is no rule of law when tyrants clothed in impunity use brutal methods to suppress belief systems, ethnic groups and social classes. When flagrant and systematic injustices cause armed conflicts, institutions get distracted and microbes and elemental forces get that extra leeway to ravage human and animal populations. We can get into a philosophical argument about whether food is a fundamental human right, but meanwhile widespread hunger almost invariably has the widespread denial of human rights among its root causes.

So how valid is the argument that since Cuba doesn’t allow a legal political opposition and holds many political prisoners, it should be kept out of the OAS? Do we want to hear that from a US government that ran a torture operation on an occupied corner of the island of Cuba, at Guantanamo Bay? Do we want to hear it from Latin American countries where people who ran death squads are considered pillars of society and the political establishment? Do we want to hear it from vile kleptocrats who enrich themselves from public treasuries while many in their countries endure grinding poverty? Do we want to hear it from countries with rigged political systems which may have what they pass off as elections but where power is actually reserved for tiny privileged cliques, or maybe for just one such clique? And if every hypocritical government in the region from whom we would not want to hear for such reasons is excluded, who would be left around the OAS table?

I think that Cuba should be at the summit and in the OAS, and that they should be treated with due diplomatic courtesy. However, I also believe that people should have no illusions about that country’s freedom and democracy deficits. Maybe at the height of the Cold War dictatorship was the only thing that could survive Washington’s onslaught, but elsewhere in the Americas other leftist governments have shown that this is no longer the case. Other intelligent and well meaning people will come to different conclusions than mine, and between now and the summit I’d like to see that debate unfold in The Panama News.

Just before writing this front page I was editing a long opinion piece by a Cuban educator who lives in Panama, the sort of person whose existence the corporate mainstream media hardly ever acknowledge, a leftist Cuban dissident. It includes a lot of hyperlinks to other interesting material (mostly in Spanish) and I hope that it arouses more thought than emotion.

* * *

December 29 is my 62nd birthday and the 20th birthday of The Panama News

* * *

No sooner was the holiday weekend over than this website website down for more than two days. It took a while to connect with our also micro-enterprise web server and we’re still not entirely sure what it was but we did have a backup. Nobody ever likes these outages but if I had found the high-stress “time is money” mindset agreeable I might be practicing law in the frozen north instead of immersing myself into Panama and maintaining a chronicle of life here — including its different pace of life.

I am thinking of some format changes in the website, one of which is to replace this sort of front page with something with less content as such and more prominent links to the most recently posted stories.

Getting comments features that work (but not for spammers) and useful translation features into Spanish for English pages and English for Spanish pages are also the objects of some tinkering that has yet to give me a breakthrough. On the spam front, an unexpected bit of tinkering has unfrozen an email address that I had not used in years, since it was shut down by bundles, sometimes hundreds at a time, of spam emails, many of them in the Cyrillic alphabet. I don’t intend to start using that email again.

Recall that this time last year, when the website had just switched from html to WordPress format, I was put into a situation without electricity or an Internet connection for a month and a half. Those who thought that it would shut down The Panama News were disappointed but on this end it did get in the way of some of that transition process from one platform to the other. And when the Internet reception slows down to uselessness or the website is down? These words were typed while offline, in a zone which, for all of its appreciated advantages, is on the fringes of the Internet’s wireless reach.

* * *

These changes are happening, and these crises are being ridden out, and this website keeps coming to you, from the context a labor-intensive but money-impoverished environment. These words are written on a donated computer and posted on a website that is maintained by donated labor. Most of the photos in The Panama News are taken with donated cameras and most of what you see and read is from writers and photographers to donate their labor to the cause. We have fewer errors than we used to because we have volunteers who do corrections.

If you want to join this ragtag band of volunteers who runs this community news and cultural website called The Panama News, send me an email. I describe above some of the things that volunteers do but of course there are large gaps in our operation, things that don’t get done that should be done, for which volunteers are also welcome. (Notice as well that not all of our volunteers are in Panama in the physical sense. Such are the wonders of the online world.)

We also need donations of money to survive. Forget about being rich — nobody does that here, and if the resources for the affluent lifestyle came this way they would be invested into the publication and facilities to keep its operation going for a long time. It would make the need for volunteers to do management sorts of things a much higher priority, even if the corporate management and labor paradigm — or one of its corporate NGO versions — is one of the things that we who produce The Panama News specifically want to avoid.

Please donate generously, if you can:

* * *

It’s not that it wasn’t out there for all to see, or that nobody said anything.

The heavily censored public version of the US Senate’s CIA torture report is now public and the architects of the torture policy are either crying foul or holding their tongues. Argentina dealt with this sort of thing, as did Germany in an earlier generation. It may take Americans that long.

Meanwhile, more than 100 people died under US torture and what went around has come around. We need to understand, which is something very different than to excuse. The Islamic State’s hip hop executioner and his bosses need to be brought to justice but the United States charging like a bull into a china shop into a third Iraq War with Syria thrown in to boot is precisely what those people are trying to provoke. We surely should reject out of hand whatever the pro-torture politicians advise about the current difficult situation.

The Panama News said something back then and both it and I have paid a price. This publication is against torture, against death squads and for bringing the principals in those sorts of things to justice. We support the movements to drive the torturers, those who gave the orders and those who drafted the pseudo-legal enabling memos from the learned professions, academia and government.

And “the media?” One medium, several media. There is a sharp divide between those journalists who told the story as best as was known and with strict adherence to the truth and those who, as a matter of what they saw as a patriotic duty or who made a sleazy business calculation, suppressed the truth. One medium, several media.

* * *

Those of you who are music fans living in northerly latitudes and seeking respite from the winter cold may do well to set aside January 12  through 17 on your calendars — that’s when the Panama Jazz Festival is happening. This year there will be a a tribute by Phil Ranelin and friends to one of the sons of the Panamanian diaspora who distinguished himself in jazz, Eric Dolphy. I met Phil when he was down here a few years ago, but first saw him years ago in the Detroit area when he was playing trombone with the great trumpeter and flugelhornist Marcus Belgrave. Eric Dolphy was one of the stars of the West Coast jazz scene of his day, which is why the City of Los Angeles honors his memory. Take a listen:


Eric Jackson
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