March 5, 2015

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February 23, 2015


Cardinal Lacunza is not a spellbinding orator in the style of a Martin Luther King Jr. or a Malcolm X, but
he does proclaim and lend moral authority to  a growing national sentiment. Photo by the Presidencia

“Corruption, fraud and embezzlement are an unacceptable robbery of the poor”

Before a huge, predominantly female crowd at Atalaya, José Luis Lacunza celebrated his first mass in Panama as a cardinal. It could have been an awkward situation, given that in a certain sense the bishop of David outranks the archbishop of Panama, but in his homily Lacunza spoke collectively for the Panamanian Episcopal Council — all of the country’s Roman Catholic bishops — and a lot of 16-minute speech was about charity and generosity during Lent. But the part that got him interrupted by applause was his denunciation of corruption. If the cautious and conservative President Juan Carlos Varela — who was in the front row — figured that he had a church endorsement to crack down on a few miscreants but continue with the prevailing scheme of things, the cardinal’s call to replace “the globalization of indifference” with “the globalization of solidarity” sounded like something else.

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Both Varela and Lacunza were back in Panama after more than a week in Rome, but even with Carnival things did not grind to a halt in Panama in their absence. A Panamanian government application to the US Securities and Exchange Commission to float a $3 billion bond issue, a Colon Free Zone report of a 12 percent drop in its business volume and expectations of tumultuous times in the National Assembly had set a somber tone for the first Sunday of Lent.

So, what’s the national mood?

From the party founded by Omar Torrijos, whose father was an immigrant from Colombia, we have legislator Zulay Rodríguez Lu railing against foreigners. Set aside the ironic fact that once upon a time Arnulfo Arias would have had her grandfather sterilized. Set aside the genuine need for immigration reform, especially the screening out of criminals trying to enter this country, because Zulay doesn’t have any proposals to deal with that stuff.

From the Cambio Democratico caucus, there is graveyard silence. Hardly any legislators or party officers showed up to a tiny demonstration in front the Public Ministry to protest against alleged persecution of their absent leader, Ricardo Martinelli. Will CD deputies stick together in sufficient numbers to block the two-thirds majority needed to remove Alejandro Moncada Luna from the Supreme Court and send him to prison? The proofs are overwhelming. Public perceptions about the facts of the case probably won’t change because there is already a broad consensus that Moncada Luna deserves to be convicted. The presentation of the prosecution’s case will just harden or inflame those opinions that are already pretty much set.

The independent legislator, Ana Matilde Gómez, proposes fines for guys who greet women passing by on the street with catcalls. Zulay calls that a distraction from her drive against foreigners.

And what about the Panameñistas? Will they be left without the votes to do much in the legislature, but catching the blame for economic problems while they hold the presidency?

It doesn’t feel like we are on the eve of a time of howling mobs, but it does seem that the usual stuff won’t be accepted anymore. Does it appear that way to Varela, too? Is that why he’s putting off the election of delegates to a new constitutional convention? Stay tuned.

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With hardly any money but donations of labor and materials we slowly progress toward fixing this ailing website. The main production computer has spyware embedded in it that just won’t go, the backup computer is in the shop and it looks like there is a need to get a new computer built to handle primary production and especially to renovate the website without passing on any viruses. Most probably there will be a new theme, with enhanced security that will need to be paid for. Donations toward the cause would be appreciated.

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The Summit of the Americas approaches, with serious crises in Mexico, Venezuela and Argentina, Brazil beset by a huge scandal at its state-owned oil company and Latin America”s economy generally lethargic. President Varela will be the host and both President Obama and Prime Minister Castro will be there. Don’t expect major news, but if it all runs smoothly Panama and its president will be looking good.

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It’s Los Santos against Panama Metro in the finals of the national junior baseball tournament, with a bunch of major leagues scouts looking on. But is Panama now more of a soccer country than a baseball country? One theory is that it’s more soccer oriented in the metro area, but baseball is still king in the Interior.

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I just dried my first batch of cashew fruit of the year. There will be a lot more. But meanwhile I am hoping that the dessicating winds from the north die down and that we get the year’s first substantial rains out here in the foot of the foothills.

Dry season may be peak tourism season, but I like the greenery of rainy season better. I have a lot of chopping and arranging to do in the garden before the rains come. The soil is too hard and dry to be planting anything yet.

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Dawn approaches as another night shift nears its end. No rays of sunshine yet, but the neighbors’ roosters are getting rowdy.

Eric Jackson
the editor


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