April 24, 2014

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This is, after all, Panama

Moreover, these words are typed out three weeks to about the hour, before we should be hearing the first election results, from rustic digs in the Interior. So let us start with some music from the cumbia tradition, whose heartland is in the central provinces. I am about to move to digs that are slightly more spacious, still rustic in a few ways, and a bit father out into the boonies of the Interior. I will not be living among expatriates, except maybe remotely via the Internet.

In many parts of the Interior we are getting water shortages from a long El Niño dry season, and low reservoirs behind the hydroelectric dams are starting to affect the electricity supply.

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Crime runs second only to the price of food on most voters’ lists of concerns, and US-style hard line politics are being tested here as a response. A careful in-depth look at the politics of longer prison terms under more brutal conditions as the answer to social problems in the USA will reveal that this is an expensive and not terribly effective response. The cruelty of it and the corruption of the increasingly privatized US prison system are just gravy. But what do you do when the maleantes are coming around your house?

That point was driven home at the residence of Ladys Palacios, prosecutor for Chiriqui’s Sixth Judicial Circuit. A gang of hooded young men broke into her home, put a gun to her head, bound and gagged her (along with three others in the home) and confined them to one room as they systematically looted the place.

The other day, as the president was cutting the ribbon on a new soccer field in El Chorrillo, Colon was still in mourning in the wake of an incident a few days earlier, in which somebody opened fire on a group of people leaving a soccer game, killing two and wounding five others.

That same week I ran across a Facebook friend who was actually about to have a very good week, but her foot was in a cast and afterwards I found out that this was because she had been shot in it with a large-caliber pistol. Like those who were shot and did not die in Colon, and those who were shot at but not hit, she also took a psychological blow.

This crime wave is awful, it threatens everybody, and maybe some people who speak bluntly about it will be elected to public offices because they talk about the problem in ways that people want to hear.

Meanwhile, I have survived some violent crimes and after talking to a few friends who also have, I am slowly working on a story about how violence changes the lives of those victims who don’t die. For this story I am not particularly interested in various armed or social solutions, or especially concerned with the root causes of crime. Nor do I care to assign blame. These are important matters, but I just want to hear and write, in a non-sensational and non-maudlin way, people’s stories of the violent crimes that touched their lives and and how it affected them afterward. Life is rarely like Hollywood fiction or gun manufacturers’ advertisements.

If you want to join in this conversation, send me an email or a Facebook message.

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If you get into more classical or stylized forms of violence, Panamanian entertainer Monalisa Arias teaches the theatrical art of sword fighting, generally in the United States. But here, let’s just listen to some of her music:

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This election campaign is going down to the wire and because the polls are all over the place, it’s harder than usual to be very precise about where things stand. And of course, they never stand still but tend to be fluid. However, at a certain point the flows become trends and soon enough it’s Election Day. If who is ahead by how much and which ways the trends are pointing are uncertain as these words are written, more polls will be coming. That may help to clarify things. Or maybe it won’t.

What the candidates are trying to do as the finish line approaches is easier to say:


The José Domingo Arias - Marta de Martinelli ticket is really about the functional re-election of Ricardo Martinelli, who is going around the country dedicating public works project while at the same time concealing the costs of these things. Photo by the Presidencia

The José Domingo Arias – Marta Linares de Martinelli ticket is about the de facto re-election of Ricardo Martinelli, who is going around dedicating public works projects while concealing their true costs. Photo by the Presidencia


The final rounds of polls very much matter to Juan Carlos Navarro, who assembled a huge crowd to hear him in David. He has messages about a "hard hand" against crime and support for farmers to lower the price of food, but now the nuts and bolts of election mechanics come into play, wherein he must convince people not only is Martinell's proxy re-election not inevitable, but that supporters of other opposition candidates must switch their votes to him in order to beat Martinelli. Photo by the Navarro campaign

The final rounds of polls do matter to Juan Carlos Navarro, who assembled this crowd to hear him in David. He talks about a “hard hand” against crime and support for farmers, but now election math comes into play, wherein he must convince people that not only is Martinell’s proxy re-election not inevitable, but that supporters of other opposition candidates should switch their votes to him in order to beat Martinelli. Photo by the Navarro campaign


Juan Carlos Varela presses the flesh in Pacora. The displacements of people in rural Panama have swollen the populations of places like this, on the outskirts of the Panama City - San Miguelito metro area and the voting trends in such neighborhoods are uncertain. Projections that former President Mireya Moscoso's defection to the Martinelli camp would torpedo his presidential bid were erroneous -- his campaign, although still in third place, has gained strength since then and he put in a better debate performance than did Juan Carlos Navarro and José Domingo Arias. Photo by the Varela campaign

Juan Carlos Varela presses the flesh in Pacora. The displacements of people in rural Panama have swollen the populations on the outskirts of the Panama City – San Miguelito metro area and the voting trends in these peripheral neighborhoods are uncertain. Former President Mireya Moscoso’s defection to the Martinelli camp did not end Varela’s presidential bid — his campaign has gained strength, he outperformed his major rivals in the April 7 debate and his call for emergency food price controls appears to have broad popular appeal. Photo by the Varela campaign


Juan Jované won the April 7 debate but his campaign lacks money and organization. He is not a contender for the presidency, but some of his supporters may be elected to other offices.

By many estimates Juan Jované won the televised April 7 debate but his campaign lacks money and organization. He is not a serious contender in the presidential race but some of his supporters may be elected to other offices.



Genaro López with his supporters before going inside to debate. He won’t be elected as president but he is organizing a labor-based party that he hopes will be an enduring part of Panama’s political landscape. Photo by FAD


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Chava won the juvenile male category in the 61st Ocean-to-Ocean Cayuco Race, ahead of Perception and Injusto. In the juvenile female category Rio Teta finished first, followed by Jungle Crew and Legacy. The mixed juvenile category was won by Almost, followed by Expreso Cadete and Command Performance. Among the adults, JRock won the men’s trophy, Nossa Victoria was the fastest women’s boat and Saga led the mixed category.

According to the Panama Canal Authority’s edict, this 61st race is the last one through the Panama Canal. That’s a horrible decision and maybe we will get a new president who will prevail on the semi-autonomous authority to change that verdict. But cayuco racing also ought to be transformed from primarily a rich kids’ sport to something involving the public schools, wherein shop classes make the boats and student athletes paddle them. Does Panama want to be a modern industrial power? Get the expensive equipment and teach a bunch of bright youngsters how to make racing cayucos with 3D printers and we will make a significant stride in toward our economic modernization.

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Washington and the US corporate mainstream media seem to be taking a dim view of Ricardo Martinelli these days. He can blow off the multiple criminal cases in Italy wherein people are on trial for having bribed him, but consider what that means to corporate America. The United States has the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act and if Martinelli has done away with bidding competitions for public contracts in favor of rigged processes in which he gets to skim kickbacks from overpriced purchases of goods or services, US companies that care about US laws that can affect them are effectively excluded from competing in the Panamanian market. A supermarket baron who screams and yells about Venezuela but shakes down anyone who wants to do business in his country gets precious little capitalist solidarity from the likes of The Wall Street Journal.

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Earlier this month Panama lost one of its talented young people, singer/guitarist/composer Luis Felipe Barboza of the rock (etc.) band Llevarte a Marte. He died at the age of 28 of a sudden cardiac arrest. This is some of the better stuff that he and the band did just before he died:

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Facebook, YouTube and Twitter are flooded these days with “anonymous” Martinelista stuff whose bottom line message is “Navarro’s queer, you know.” And then Ricardo Martinelli’s stand-in has the temerity to whine about “dirty politics” whenever anyone criticizes him. Will this work? Navarro, his wife and three kids would likely be quite offended by the smear campaign, but they are not mentioning it. The thing is, Panama has some conflicting values. We are a very homophobic society on certain levels. But we are also a country that prizes the right to privacy. So are the allegations true? That would be a terrible violation of Juan Carlos Navarro’s privacy. Are they false? That would be one of the most despicable forms of character assassination. That these latest slurs are, like all of the vicious attack videos and commentaries after newspaper articles spun out by Ricardo Martinelli’s vile “Gladiators of Truth” these past several years, published under pseudonyms, is a measure of just what a coward Ricardo Martinelli is.

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We have been having these electricity blackouts and brownouts due to the drought, and sometimes where I sit in front of my computer the power is just fine but at one of the installations through which I connect to the Internet it isn’t, so we also get Internet problems due to our El Niño environmental phenomenon. But the city takes priority, so the other day when I couldn’t get a connection out here in the Interior I made a planned trip into Panama City a bit earlier so as to catch up on things at an Internet cafe. There I noticed that the computers were set so that the column down the left-hand side of this front page did not appear. That’s annoying to me because those are RSS feeds not only to the more recent stories in The Panama News and the postings on our companion Facebook page, but also linking to some of the worthier English-language publications in Panama or about Latin America in general. This country has a number of ragtag little English-language online newspapers, none of us with the resources to fully cover Panama. The feeds I post in the left column of every page may be the competition, but they are in another sense complementary. I do exercise some editorial discretion about which publications get a spot there, or on our TPN Blog page’s links. It’s not about people having to share my politics or like me personally, but mainly a process of excluding the scam artists and the pure advertising junk mail.

In any case, the RSS feeds are an important part of this front page and if you computer is set to eliminate them — usually it’s some sort of ad control feature on your machine — you are missing something. You may want to adjust your settings accordingly.

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We have one of the usual suspects in the gringo community urging foreign business owners to protect their interests and place their bets on Ricardo Martinelli by donating to the Cambio Democratico campaign. Consider the risks involved. Weighed against the dubious value of Ricardo Martinelli’s gratitude there is the fact that it’s illegal for foreigners to contribute to Panamanian election campaigns. If Martinelli loses, that law might get enforced.

If you live here, you are affected and you have a right to an opinion. But if you are not a citizen, you can be thrown out of the country for expressing an opinion. That’s not right, but ask Spanish Journalists Paco Gómez Nadal and Pilar Chato, and Canadian journalist Rosie Simms, whether it’s reality. Martinelli threw them out of Panama to control the narrative about what he is doing. Foreigners in Martinelli’s cheering section may run the risk of being expelled from Panama if an opposition candidate wins, and vocal foreign supporters of the opposition are even more likely to be kicked out if Martinelli is re-elected. Make your choices about these things with your eyes wide open if you are a non-citizen resident.

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Finally, if you are a Panamanian citizen, or if you aspire to become one, or if you are an outsider looking in who is trying to find out who and what Panamanians are, know well that there are young people out there who urge other Panamanians not to sell their country for a bag of groceries or zinc for their roof:


Eric Jackson

the editor