September 1, 2014

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August 24, 2014

Number Nine

Not at the book fair, but on

In 2000 I put out a book of articles, photos and caricatures about Panama from the first several years of The Panama News. The process of putting it into kindle form has been less successful than I would have liked, as scanning a printed graphic detracts from its visual quality. This version does, however, cover much of what was going on here during the final years of US military bases and US management of the Panama Canal.

I have two newer book projects in the works, one about Panama as seen through the lives of its dogs and cats and the other about the Martinelli administration. Stay tuned for those. If you want to get you kindle copy of 9°N — the latitude that more or less skewers Panama like a misshapen shrimp — click here.

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The suspicion that President Varela may have been genetically modified with the insertion of some snail chromosomes seems to have been refuted by his quick reaction to Campos de Pese taking ethanol off of the market because they don’t like the reduction in their government-set price and they don’t like being bound by Panamanian environmental laws. The government quickly turned back on its decision to keep the ethanol requirement for gasoline, but let us see how long the emergency decree allowing the sale of gasoline without the renewable additive lasts. I suspect it may not last much longer than it takes for the first big shipment of Brazilian ethanol to get here. We shall see

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During Ricardo Martinelli’s 2009 presidential campaign, some of his campaign literature advocated the abolition of the National Environmental Authority (ANAM). That platform point went by the wayside when it became apparent that members of Congress might have used it as a reason to oppose the US-Panama Trade Promotion Agreement, which was accompanied by Martinelli’s gross misrepresentations about how Panama would respect our own and international environmental and labor norms. What happened was that instead of abolishing ANAM the authority was stuffed with political appointees with no commitment to environmental protection, some of them total crooks. Over the past five years ANAM systematically took dives when its duty was to fight for the environment.

It turns out, however, that reviewing and issuing applications for permits was not the only ANAM task that went neglected, and that in any case when Martinelli took over the presidency there were some important undone tasks facing ANAM related to our national parks. The deaths of two young Dutch visitors — from causes that we do not yet know — and the recent flood on the Chiriqui Viejo River due to conditions that arose upstream in a national park raise questions of park safety. ANAM director Mirei Endara has ordered the Panamanian side of the binational Parque Internacional La Amistad (PILA) closed because of safety concerns. It was an unfortunate necessity, and let’s all hope a short-lived one.

Our national parks are a key development asset, among the crown jewels of our tourist attractions. Now that we have major parks at both ends of the country closed to visitors — PILA because of flooding and other safety concerns and Parque Nacional Darien because it’s part of a Colombian war zone — it’s a good time to look at a variety safety issues for all of our parks, including among other things cell phone coverage for 911 calls, police protection, signs and trail markers in several languages, weather and water monitoring and enough properly trained park employees. The great outdoors will never be hazard-free, but ANAM can manage our parks so that they are safer. Let’s hope that the folks in control of our national budgets for the next few years understand how important this is to Panama’s economy.

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Arnulfo Franco is one of the superstar photojournalists in Panama, but you don’t tend to see his stuff in The Panama News because he works for AP and I’m not a copyright pirate. The video photo montage above, however, he posted on Vimeo with the ability to embed elsewhere, and it’s one of the worthier Panama Canal centennial graphics.

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Do I want to show that awful photo of a colleague being murdered by the Islamic State? Not really, but I do agree with Glenn Greenwald that it should not be banned by corporate executives, much less the government.

There are several hot-button issues in the world news these days, maybe not inflammatory everywhere but certainly so among Americans. On these matters I do express opinions and publish news and the opinions of others. That tends to offend a lot of folks in the bitterly divided United States and in the just as divided American community here, and especially as my views tend to be closer to Latin America’s mainstream than to what the US corporate media conclude. So be it. Wimp journalism may be what advertisers want, but it’s toxic for a free society. Anyway, this is how I see those things:

1. Hamas leaders have confirmed that it was Hamas people who killed those three Israeli boys on the occupied West Bank. I had believed accounts in various world media about the specific individuals involved in that crime and wrongly concluded that they were of a splinter group with a history of sabotaging Hamas political initiatives. But now Hamas leaders say that it was Hamas people, acting without their knowledge. Previously they said that they did not know. Notwithstanding people who have long criticized me for supporting the Palestinian cause, I have never been a Hamas supporter. My direct involvement with the cause, which was decades ago, was always in conjunction with people of secular factions, not the religious right that is Hamas.

I do believe in Palestinian democracy and that to have the new elections for president and legislators that they really need, Hamas must participate. The Palestinians must decide that one but it seems to me that both President Abbas and the Hamas legislative majority, whose terms expired long ago, have failed and should be replaced by a new generation of leaders. Polls indicate that most Palestinians reach similar conclusions, and also that the most popular man who might be elected to lead the Palestinians is Marwan Barghouti, a prisoner of the Israelis whom Mr. Netanyahu would certainly not like. But then, Netanyahu is himself a failed leader whom the Israelis would do well to replace.

What is now disclosed adds to my knowledge of the nature of Hamas but doesn’t much alter my opinion of the general situation, let alone lead me to believe that the 500 or so kids whom the Israeli forces have killed over the past several months deserved their fate or that anyone other than the Israeli government that ordered them killed is responsible. The basic problem is and always has been the dispossession of the Palestinian people, which is a continuing and accelerating process. The story may be hidden by news blackouts in much of the world, distorted by ugly racial theories or by just as ugly religious dogmas, or all explained away by reprehensible arguments about political expediency. But the problem will not go away and Israel becomes every day more of an internationally boycotted pariah as its theft from and brutality against the Palestinians continue.

2. The killing of an unarmed young black man by a white cop in Ferguson, Missouri has brought out the demagogues. On the face of it, when an unarmed man is shot six times and killed it appears unjustified. The local authorities’ information control games and attempt to promote an alleged shoplifting incident miles away into a reason to kill the guy looks awfully irresponsible to me. The display of military weaponry by the Ferguson police — including an armored mine sweeping vehicle — has rightly set off a US debate about the militarization of police — and that’s a national debate that we should be having in Panama as well.

But let us watch and wait for all the evidence to come in, and not play KKK in reverse and become a howling lynch mob demanding that police officer’s scalp. I don’t call on people to trust in the courts, prosecutors or police, but being slow to judge is not the same thing as naive acceptance.

3. How can any journalist not call the Islamic State the enemy? But does that mean that the United States should send in the troops for Iraq War III, or send forces into Syria? If there is to be international intervention in Iraq, let it be at the direction of the UN Security Council with an international combat force that is not just the United States and a few allies. In Syria the best thing to do is to stay out of it and urge all US allies to also stop supporting the jihadis. We may have our reasons not to like the people who are fighting the Islamic State in Syria and there may be no military way to put that fractured country back together again, but there is also no US solution to that mess.

Washington can do many helpful things in that part of of the world, but running those countries either directly or through proxies is not one of them. The traditional US approach to troubled regions of the world from before the days of superpower pretensions — taking in many of those who are oppressed and turning them into Americans — is still about the best thing that the United States can do.

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Before and after scenes, and something awful that they tell us:

A 2008 flood on the Chiriqui Viejo River, in which the road was washed out near Nueva Suiza

A 2008 flood on the Chiriqui Viejo River, in which the road was washed out near Nueva Suiza. Photo by Che Oakes

And then:

Flooding on the Chiriqui Viejo River in 2014, with the same stretch of road near Nueva Suiza washed away, this time along with a bus with people aboard

Flooding along the Chiriqui Viejo River in 2014, with the same stretch of road near Nueva Suiza washed away
once again, this time with the torrent carrying away a bus with people aboard. Photo by James David Audlin

Do we need to assign blame, shout expletives or call for somebody to pay? Not to rule out any of those things, but what this, along with so many other experiences like it over so many years, suggests to me is that there ought to be a thorough inventory of our nation’s roads that includes when and where major repairs were done and a reinspection and evaluation of those places. (Thanks to James David Audlin for pointing this out and supplying the photos.)

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The upcoming September fundraiser, which may be extended, will be our most ambitious yet because after a year of having to move twice and months of production under the most difficult conditions, there will be a brief window of time when we can get a long-term solution to that problem for about $15,000 plus some closing costs. That’s not much in the scheme of many things but it’s quite a bit for The Panama News. We also have ongoing expenses. To contribute to the cause by PayPal, click here.

Notice as well that this is not a one-person production, even though I am the one full-time person. The Panama News is a community effort and your photos, articles and news tips are an important part of our existence. So are the many other in-kind donations. The photos that José Ponce and I took for this issue were with donated cameras and these words and this page you are reading were produced on a donated computer. I have been fielding calls of late on a cell phone using minutes from a donated Movistar prepaid phone card. There have been times that I have worked late into the night drinking donated coffee. Thanks to everyone who has pitched in over the years, and those who will in the future. We get by with a little help from our friends.

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Finally, the Central American Percussion Festival is coming up at the City of Knowledge on the 30th and one of the musicians who will be teaching and performing there is the Cuban master Román Diaz:


Eric Jackson
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