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November 22, 2014
We are all Ayotzinapa
The recent death of a fisherman in Bique, and years earlier of three others in incidents related to SENAN, raise even more fears [fishing cooperative president Gabriel] Caballero said.
Meanwhile Commissioner Gustavo Pérez, in charge of SENAN for the region, explained that these inconveniences are because drug traffickers have stopped using speedboats in favor of using small motors like coastal fishermen use.
“Pescadores, temerosos de actuación del Senan”
What? You don’t think that the abductions and murders of 43 students that have at long last moved Mexicans to rise up and say “Enough!” have anything to do with The Merida Initiative and other made-in-Washington policies? You think that police and government at the service of vicious drug cartels is just a Mexican problem? You think that the “War on Drugs” has nothing to do with US police departments essentially robbing people — many of them entirely innocent — using civil forfeiture laws? You think that it has nothing to do with the rampant official violence and other abuses of power with impunity in the United States? Or do you think that Panama’s police forces have not been infiltrated by the drug cartels at the highest levels, that the existence of Ricky Traad the corrupted coast guard chief or the poisoning of Inspector Franklin Brewster apparently by other cops (and the subsequent sabotage of the investigation) were just random incidents? Do you think, as Commissioner Pérez apparently does, that the War on Drugs justified the police not only opening fire on a fishing boat whose young crew were legally going about their business of making a living from the sea, but then planting “evidence” on the boat to make the dead and wounded fishermen look like criminals?
Get real. Get morally proper. An injury to one is an injury to all. We are all Ayotzinapa and Panama needs to end this War on Drugs madness just as much as Mexico does.
The regular legislative session ended with a whimper in October, with PRD interim party boss Benicio Robinson and Ricardo Martinelli unable to deliver the votes to slam dunk the selection of a new comptroller general committed to not investigating the previous administration’s vast financial crimes. So far November has been a month of patriotic parades, Electoral Tribunal findings of Martinelista legislative campaigns financed by massive use of stolen government funds and daily revelations of peculations running into the hundreds of millions of dollars. Nearly one-third of Panamanians think this sort of thing is wonderful so long as they get a few crumbs, but among the rest of the population jaded exasperation is giving way to indignation. How this all turns out, we shall see. The vote counting in places like the National Assembly and the Supreme Court points to impunity as usual, but there does seem to be a sea change in public opinion. The failure to appoint a comptroller general in the regular legislative session than ended with October is an indication of how old ways of counting don’t necessarily apply this time.
We have pretty much known for some time what happened to Yvonne Baldelli. The accused has his right to a day in court with a presumption of innocence but the confirmations have been coming in. Justice is coming largely because Ms. Baldelli’s family and friends tenaciously insisted and found some damning circumstances, then brought these to the attention of authorities. Her apparent killer, an American ex-boyfriend, is facing US justice rather than trial for murder here — which says terrible things about Panama from the perspectives of national sovereignty and the abilities of our police, prosecutors and courts. But let’s not point fingers at “them” without acknowledging that there is a problem with the gringo community here, a criminal element among “us.”
Vile, small-minded politicians are beating the anti-foreigner drum, mostly because their rabiblanco paymasters are afraid of being displaced by Venezuelan emigre money and talent but also because elected officials without the courage or creativity to address Panama’s fundamental problems find xenophobia a useful distraction. There is a process of reviewing Panama’s immigration laws underway, which will affect those American residents who are not Panamanian citizens. Next year there will be the start of a constitutional review process, which may end up changing who is and who is not considered a Panamanian citizen.
For our own protection and for the sake of those like Ms. Baldelli who can no longer speak for themselves, we need to address the issue of the criminal element among us. Whether the “permanent tourist” routine of effectively immigrating on a succession of tourist visas continues — and I think it should be replaced by a more realistic set of policies — the entry of people into this country as tourists or in any other capacity without any sort of criminal background check needs to end. Those “sovereign citizens” who claimed that US laws were invalid when they were in the States and now preach theories of how Panamanian laws do not apply to themselves here need to be politely asked to leave. Those who have been doing the permanent tourist routine and have family ties here, or who have obtained houses or legitimate businesses, ought to have their right to stay here as residents without any pretenses officially recognized.
Those things are not on the politicians’ agenda. We need to put them onto it.
Ah, country living! I have been doing battle with aphids that have a taste for my long Chinese green beans, preparing for some monster pickling sessions with the huge Chinese cucumbers that will soon be ready to pick, getting a few summer squash and some collard greens and drying seeds for the next plantings, wherever they might be. I have also been caring for ailing animals. Did the end of one cat’s winning streak against dogs cause him to be ill, or did he lose because he was under the weather and that fraction of a step slower? At least he survived. The dog that inhabited the local bus stop did not. Baroncito, my own personal wonder dog, seems to have come through bouts with Ehrlichiosis and various internal parasites reasonably well even if he did spit out most of the liquid vitamins I tried to give him in addition to the worming and antibiotic pills. For the moment the fleas and ticks seem to be held at bay in this household.
I’m also distracted from The Panama News a bit for this massive photo editing and writing job for a book about Panama as seen through its dogs and cats. The above photo is on the “maybe” list.
The fall fundraiser, which had to compete with fundraising for an obscenely expensive US election campaign, has kept The Panama News on a lifeline, and some ad sales have also helped. I am tardy in my personal thank you notes but those of you who have donated are appreciated — I thank you from the bottom of my heart. One unavoidable reality is that even for the big news corporations, the advertising-financed model of journalism is broken. Too many of the attempts to fix it are about ethical compromises that blur the line between honest reporting and commercial hype. To do what I and the others whose work appears on this website are trying to do requires contributions from the readers. To give us a stable place from which to work, and with that an increased possibility of continuity into another generation, takes even more. Please donate.
We start to get into the holiday season’s transition from the nationalistic to the religious. November 28 ends this cycle of Panamanian nationalist observances, marking both independence from Spain in 1821 and the foundation of the Cuerpo de Bomberos in 1885. The coolest of all of the patriotic parades, to this reporter’s eyes, is the bomberos’ torchlight procession. This year’s parade is on the evening of November 27, but at this late date they still haven’t disclosed such particulars as the hour and the route. Traditionally it has been down Via España and Avenida Central to Plaza Cinco de Mayo, but in the Martinelli years they moved it to the Cinta Costera. The bomberos’ website should have details shortly and The Panama News will pass them on.
The transition to religious holidays begins on December 8, Panamanian Mothers Day, which is the Catholic Day of the Immaculate Conception. It’s more important here than Mothers Day is in the United States, and one of those days that a government does not dare shift to a Monday. (That was tried a few years back and notwithstanding what the president decreed, nobody except the usual emergency personnel showed up for work on December 8.)
Way back when Francisco Greaves was “Little,” there was this Combos Nacionales musical scene in Panama that was an interesting mix of many influences, from the cultures established on the isthmus, music from around Latin America and the Caribbean and things that were playing on US Armed Forces radio. We could argue about how original or derivative the mix was, but just listen:
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