Apr 12, 2014

Mucha Actividad Esta Tarde

This has not been a typical Saturday in Boquete.  Truth be told, I have doubts if the typical days are ever going to be the same.   Too many events have brought notoriety to the pueblo, and I don't think you can turn back time. 

The morning started out with really loud helicopter noise. When it woke me, I looked out the window and saw the bottom of a military helicopter about 50 feet above my roof. The cats ran under the bed, and I thought of doing the same.  Instead,  I threw on some clothes and ran outside to investigate.  Seems the entire neighborhood joined me as we all tracked the ruckus down the street.   Not one, but TWO helicopters had landed in a vacant field two blocks away. Lots or speculations circulated, but nothing alarming surfaced, and I decided to return home to a morning brew.  Given the stepped up search efforts for the missing women, I surmised rescuers  were either being dropped off or picked up.  

As I write this at the end of the day, once again I hear helicopters, but further away this time. There are also a lot of popping, explosion kind of noises happening.  This sort of thing occurs from time to time when there are events happening downtown, and it's fun to run outside and watch the fireworks displays.  But the sun hasn't set yet, and I'm thinking it could be some kind of call to arms for the rescue forces, so I'm not leaving the house.  No stray bullets/blanks/flares, etc. for me... Seriously, though,  I have to say, it's reassuring to see the amount of effort that has gone into trying to locate these woman.  If it were my family I would want the same.  It's been reported 18 detectives from the various security forces in Panama, some with over 25 years of experience in this type of situation, are engaged in the search and rescue effort.  And a lot of individuals are providing resources and volunteer effort and skills as well.  It would be wonderful if a successful conclusion were reached. 

Late this afternoon, there was an art exhibition at the library displaying works from local artists in David.  The exhibit will stay until April 30th, but this was the opening reception  I liked some pieces much more than others, but in general enjoyed the cultural themes of most works.   I noted five English speakers and the rest of the crowd all spoke Spanish,  which gave me plenty of conversational experience. Below are some highlights. 

And then last, but not least, a quick trip into town to buy fertilizer found me right smack in the middle of a cabalgata.  Had my trusty camera handy and was able to snap these.  

 Waiting to see what tomorrow has in store!

Apr 11, 2014

Search for Missing Women to Continue Until Sunday night

The above link is to an article published today indicating the terrain search for Lisanne Froon and Kris Kremers would continue at it's present level for 3 more days.  Authorities are stating they have no indication that the disappearance is related to a kidnapping, and choose not to speculate where there are no clues.  The only concrete evidence they have is sworn statements from people who declared they saw the women enter the Pianista trail.  They continue to treat the matter as one of search and rescue based upon evidence the women did enter the Pianista trail.  
The article also makes mention of a directive from President Martinelli that the search continue this additional time, and that the agencies not skimp on resources.  Apparently 150 people have been involved in rescue efforts to date.  The article indicates all the trails of the Volcan Baru National Park have been trekked.  At this point the plan is to to cover with air and ground forces the route from Bocas del Toro to Boquete to rule out any other point.
After this ongoing effort the decison will be made to pass the case on to the Public Ministry, and it will continue to be monitored, given that all possible hiking spots have been covered and investigated. They don't hesitate to mention that many of the volunteers who have participated in the search efforts also work as trail guides and will be continuing to walk the trails on a frequent basis and remain cognizant of the fact the women are still missing.   
Lisanne Froon and Kris Kremers arrived in Boquete on March 29th and went missing on April 1, 2014.

Apr 9, 2014

Ongoing Search Efforts and an Unrelated Murder

Today seems to be the peak of search activities regarding Lisanne Froon and Kris Kremers, the two Dutch co-eds who disappeared here on April 1st.   The neighborhood locals have finally heard the news, and three helicopters have been overflying the town all day.  If I didn't know what was going on, I'd fear some kind of militarization effort.  Never realized what I was missing until I heard helicopters again after a 7 year respite from air traffic noise.  I fear Boquete is changing for the worst, and my guess is these outside influences on the town's rural atmosphere will be more frequent and intrusive in times to come.  

As it is today, though, I am reassured by the intense efforts that are going into trying to find these unfortunate women.  It's been published the parents are in town and a dog team is being dispatched on all the local trails in hopes of catching some clue regarding their whereabouts. The news yesterday on the local expat forum was that the Dutch canine SAR unit was available and just awaiting invitation from Panamanian authorities to come to Boquete and provide services.  Perhaps that's what's happening now, as my neighbors are telling me that the local news channel mentioned numerous dogs being released to search for the women.  

On an even sadder note, it's been reported a 22 year old man who worked odd jobs for an expat woman was found dead here 5 days ago along the riverbank.  He was nude, and had been beaten to death with rocks, as well as tortured.  His funeral was yesterday.  Four gang members are in police custody, but for how long is anyone's guess.  (No one seems to stay in prison for long here no matter how horrible the crime.) Boquete used to be free from much of this activity.

I guess it really is impossible to find paradise.  Hoping at least the families of the missing women are able to get some answers--- or better still, locate their children.  The entire community feels their anxiety and concern. 

Apr 7, 2014

Search for Missing Dutch Women Continues

According to most recent reports, mountain search efforts yesterday were unsuccessful. Spokesmen for SINAPROC, Panama's agency for civil protection report international search and rescue standards are being applied, and they are asking for anyone with information to come forward.  Two helicopters and 35 police units had been dispatched in search efforts.  Apparently the police have upgraded the search to a criminal investigation at this time.  Rumor has it the women were seen returning from a short hike on April 1st around 3:00-3:30 pm, and were waiting for a bus or taxi back into the downtown area.  Other information suggests they may have been hitchhiking.  A $2500 reward is being offered by the Spanish language school where the women were enrolled for information leading to their whereabouts. Six days have now passed since their disappearance. Independent search efforts reportedly continue. 

First Central American Light Rail System Opened in Panama City April 5th.


Panama City's light rail system was officially opened on April 5th, and President Martinelli took a ride on Line 1 yesterday, Sunday April 6th at noon. (Above photos courtesy of Telemetro and TVN-2).  Since then, thousands have boarded the trains and report great satisfaction with the speed and convenience over the typical traffic gridlocks that have plagued Panama City for nearly a decade.  The current line will operate from 5 am until 10 pm each day, and today was the first business day the line has been in use. 

According to the Metro publicity releases, there will be 19 trains in all, with three wagons each, that will move some 15,000 people during peak hours beginning on April 18th when the full operation is scheduled to be in effect.  There is still some public confusion regarding the procurement and use of fare tickets, etc. but it's announced there are people assigned to the various stations to assist with these issues.   Currently there are no fees for the use of the Metro, but reports keep mentioning that fares will run less than $1.00 per person.  At the present time no charges have been levied to ride the Metro, and this allegedly will remain in effect until the end of President Martinelli's term in office, which is June 30th.  

Current polls show the President's party, Cambio Democratico, is the leading party with Jose Domingo Arias as it's Presidential candidate.  Martha Linares de Martinelli, the current First Lady, is his running mate. 

Apr 5, 2014

Two Dutch Women Visiting Boquete Missing x 4 days.

See link below for descriptions of the missing women.


Rescue efforts continue, but the latest information reveals the two women, ages 21 and 22,  were last seen around 1:30 pm on April 1st at the trail head in the Il Pianista area .  There is extensive coverage of their disappearance on the usual blogs and websites, so won't go into detail here.  Just want to assist in disseminating the information.  Jungle search and rescue experts are departing around 7:30 am tomorrow (Sunday, 4/6/1) on another search effort.

Mar 29, 2014

Peligro Jazz Festival Exceeds Expectations

As the blurred photos will attest, last night's first annual Peligro Jazz Fest was fun and definitely a success. Good turnout, great music, pleasant venue and jovial, friendly crowd. One of the highlights of  this year's social scene in Chiriqui.  The organizers can most certainly depend upon my support for next year's event. But it's not over yet. 

Tonight there is wine tasting, tapas, and more music with Zuwira Jazz Trio at Restaurant Cuatro, and   tomorrow a free concert in Bolivar Park, Barrio El Peligro, from 11 am to 4 pm. Try to get there if you can.  All the bands are playing,  and you will thoroughly enjoy yourselves!

Mar 22, 2014

Peligro Jazz Festival

Next week and weekend, from  March 27th through March 30, the city of David will hold it's first annual Jazz Festival,  called the Peligro Jazz Festival in honor of the oldest and most historic barrio of David.  The area is undergoing renovation and being developed to be a cultural and historic focus for the city.  The principal intent behind organization of the event is to recognize, celebrate, and provide a music platform for exceptional national and local jazz musicians from Chiriqui. 

Unlike the Boquete Jazz and Blues Festival, which draws international jazz bands and spectators to serve the tastes of the town's expat community, the David festival is dedicated to developing and showcasing local Panamanian talent,  raising funds for music education programs in underserved rural schools, and promoting interest and awareness of this music genre among the general Panamanian public.  

The festival starts off with a free photographic exhibit titled "Music" on Thursday at Restaurant Cuatro.  On Friday the main concert will take place at Club David with Sin Esemble Jazz Quartet, who are being accompanied by Maestro Carlos Garnett.  I've listened to them on prior occasions and am anxious to enjoy them again.   They are very good.   Also appearing is a Swedish group, called Nacka Forum, which features Jonas Kullhammar, one of Sweden's best saxophonists and winner of various European music awards.  Following the concert there is an after-party with Element Jazz Trio in the pool area of the Club.  

On Saturday there is Wine tasting, tapas,  and music by Zuwira Jazz Trio at Restaurant Cuatro followed by more Latin Jazz and jamming at the Pool House from 10:00 pm onward.  The event winds down with a free concert on Sunday, March 30th,  from 11 am to 4 pm at the Bolivar Park in the El Peligro Barrio.  

Tickets are on sale at Casa Cultural La Guaricha (Tel: 730-7480) and Culturama (Tel: 730-4010), located in David’s Old Quarter.   In Boquete, they can be purchased at Mailboxes, etc.  or from Kevin Reilley at the BCP.  

For more information, write peligrojazzfestival@gmail.com or visit their facebook page at  facebook.com/PeligroJazzFestival.

The above photo was downloaded from The Visitor/El Visitante, a local tourism newspaper in Panama.  Link pasted below:      https://www.thevisitorpanama.com/2014/03/peligro-jazz-festival-comes-to-chiriqui/

Mar 6, 2014

Venezuela breaks ties with Panama

Of all the Latin American countries, Panama is the only one to speak out against the present day politics of Venezuela's Bolivarian Revolutionist movement.   Panama's ambassador requested a meeting with the leader and the Organization of American States to dialogue over the political unrest there, hoping to dialogue and reach recommendations for resolution to the social and political unrest that started on Feb. 12th in Venezuela.   Because of Panama's actions, Nicholas Maduro has announced a break in "political, business, and social" relations with Panama.  Four members of the Panamanian embassy have been declared "persona non grata" and given 48 hours to leave the country. According to info sent me, Venezuela has a financial debt with Panama of 1.2 billion dollars.

Feb 28, 2014

Agreement Reached on Panama Canal Extension

After weeks of discussions, arguments,  and threatened work cessation, it appears the construction of the third set of locks for the canal will resume according to contract.  Apparently the contract price has been maintained and additional claims payments won't be carried out.  Each member of the GUPC consortium will inject $100 million to create a $400 million performance bond which will be maintained in Zurich, and amounts released only to allow financing of work progression.  A payment moratorium may be extended until 2018, if needed, subject to the completion of performance benchmarks and contractual conditions. 

The administrator of the Panama Canal Authority,  Jorge Luis Quijano, reiterated that the third set of locks will be completed within the terms of the original contract, as demanded from day one.  Notification of this same info is reported in as soon as it occurs, according to the ACP's committment to transparency in Panama.  It appears there have been no modifications to the original contract price and additional claims for payments must be addressed according to contractual resolution mechanisms.
The current 12 canal gates that are in Italy must be delived to Panama by December 2014, and will be delivered in staggered shipments.  Completion deadline for the canal expansion is December 2015.

Feb 18, 2014

What's Going On in Venezuela?

There's plenty of information in both English and Spanish regarding the recent protests and current demonstration by opposition to Nicolas Maduro, the highly contested successor to Hugo Chavez,  who has been ruling Venezuela for a little under a year.  On Feb 12th three deaths and 25 injuries were attributed to clashes with govenment national guardsmen and police in Caracas.  According to internet videos, the three deceased students received bullet wounds to the head.   The protests are being spearheaded by Leopoldo Lopez, a former mayor of a section of Caracas and an allegedly US educated politician.  Today, another demonstration which was emphasized to be peaceful, received massive public support.  Following the demonstration Lopez, who has been sought out by police and was in hiding for four days, turned himself over to authorities stating he committed no crime and had nothing to fear.  He was immediately arrested by the Venezuelan national guard and taken to an undisclosed location expected to be the headquarters of the SEBIN, Venezuela's national intelligence agency.  Hopefully he will be handled in a manner that respects human rights.  Nicolas Maduro, Venezuela's current president, has stated Lopez will be persecuted to the full extent of the law.  President Maduro has also accused the US of interference in the politics of Venezuela and called for the removal of three US consular officials working in the universities there whose official functions have to do with the issuance of US visas.   They are reported to be supporting the student opposition, and allegedly have been seen meeting with its leaders. It will be interesting to see how things play out, and what eventually happens to Mr. Lopez.  His arrest was very public and very well documented, so hopefully international attention will remain focused upon Venezuela's treatment of  free speech rights and governmental opposition.

The Venezuelan national television channel,  NVN 24 in Caracas, has been taken off the air, as well as has Twitter services, so Venezuelan's are hampered from communicating with each other and with the outside world.

The government supporters and President Maduro are stating that the opposition leaders and supporters are "fascist" and will not be tolerated.  Apparently there was another demonstration today as well, in support of the government.  It was lead by "chavistas" and their participants, reportedly, received much more favorable treatment from the national guard and the police.

There are several student videos circulating on the internet which declare that the student and opposition demonstrations were peaceful.  Other videos, however, showed students throwing rocks at police in riot gear, showed cars being shaken and vandalized with people inside them, and the governor's home was reportedly attacked by persons throwing rocks and other objects into it.   There are videos of the police and national guard kicking and brutalizing protesters who aren't fighting back, as well.

Venezuela's economy, with a 56% inflation rate, and scarcity of everyday household staples have contributed to the social unrest and opposition to the current government's economic policies.  

Photos from this post were taken from photos circulated on facebook.  I don't have sources to credit.  The one below was just posted on facebook by a supporter of the Panameñista Party.  It makes an impactful political statement.  (In 1989, the Cambio Democratico party didn't exist, and the PRD party was credited with supporting Manuel Noriega.) 

Feb 11, 2014

Arias will announce Marta Linares de Martinelli as his VP running mate

Per a television interview Feb 10th on TVN-2, Panama's nation TV station,  Jose Domingo Arias stated that this Friday  at 11 am,  he will formalize his candidacy for president with  incumbent President Ricardo Martinelli's wife, Marta Linares de Martinelli as his vice presidential running mate.  He applauded her involvement in national affairs during her service as Panama's first lady, and made several comments intended to promote his image as a staunch supporter of women in politics and national affairs.

Can't say I didn't see that coming....I'd like to see her interviewed on national television to get a better feel for who she is and what she believes.  Hopefully that will happen soon.

Feb 9, 2014

All of Panama Declared a Dengue Epidemic Zone

The following was cut and pasted from an announcement that went out to US Expats in Boquete News...In general, Dengue Fever is more prevalent in urban environments, but it doesn't hurt to be informed and take all necessary precautions.  Especially given the entire country is now included in the declaration.  

February 8, 2014

By: David Arias
It’s official, all of Panama has been declared a dengue epidemic zone. On February 5, 2014, the Panamanian Ministry of Health made the following declaration, “the Ministry of Health considers it urgent and imperative to declare the country as an Epidemic area”. This after the prevelance of dengue in the country, which has killed 13 people over the past 2 months.  According to the Ministry of Health there were 1,703 dengue cases in Panama, as of Monday February 3, 2014, 6 of which resulted in deaths.

The Ministry of Health has ordered the population, including public institutions and private companies of the country, to “implement strict compliance of the Contingency Plan against dengue”, which requires the general population, to “immediately remove all mosquito breeding sites which exist, or may exist in the interior of their homes/properties or establishments, and their land.”

In addition, to counter the recent backlog in garbage collection in Panama, the Ministry has ordered the Autoridad de Aseo, the government institution responsible for waste management in the country, other companies in charge of collecting waste, and all municipalities, “to take all additional measures necessary to eliminate any accumulation of trash, and maintain the areas in communities and commercial sectors free of such waste.” According to the Ministry of Health, waste sites provide ideal conditions for mosquito breeding.

The Ministry has also ordered all news media, and social media outlets in the country to “join in the fight against dengue” by communicating “all preventive measures to minimize the risk of transmission”, at no cost to the state.
The decree was put into force on February 5, 2014.

Per medicine net, the following information is provided:

Dengue infection is a leading cause of death and sickness in tropical and subtropical parts of the world. Dengue is caused by one of four viruses that are transmitted by the bite of an infected mosquito. Dengue hemorrhagic fever is a more serious form of dengue infection.
Primary symptoms of dengue appear three to 15 days after the mosquito bite and include high fever and severe headache, with severe pain behind the eyes that is apparent when trying to move the eyes. Other associated symptoms are joint pain, muscle and bone pain, rash, and mild bleeding. Many affected people complain of low back pain. The lymph nodes of the neck and groin may be swollen. Young children and people infected for the first time typically have milder symptoms than older children and adults.
Dengue hemorrhagic fever starts with the typical signs and symptoms of dengue as described above. The fever lasts from two to seven days. After the fever begins to abate, symptoms occur that are related to increased permeability of the capillary blood vessels. These symptoms can include severe abdominal pain, prolongedvomiting, and breathing problems. Bleeding tendencies, including easy bruising,nosebleedsbleeding gums, skin hemorrhages, and even internal bleeding may occur. The disease may progress to failure of the circulatory system, leading to shock and death.

Feb 8, 2014

Update on Wandering Spiders

Recently spoke with a friend and learned that she, like other "experienced" expats, believe that spiders such as the one I found & photographed about 6 weeks ago are harmless.  They believe them to be wolf spiders or huntsman spiders.

I hate to be an alarmist, but phoneutria boliviensis and phoneutria fera spiders are common in Panama. These spiders aren't harmless.  Perhaps they aren't as dangerous as portrayed on some you tube videos, but they aren't innocuous either.  Another expert has just confirmed that my Christmas nighttime visitor was indeed a phoneutria.  Phoneutria spider bites are extremely painful, and the venom causes systemic symptoms ranging from initial nausea and vomiting to sweating, agitation, hypertension, tachycardia, pulmonary edema, muscle paralysis and possibly even death.  Online experts are quick to point out that death is an extreme consequence, encountered mainly in children and the elderly, and not all that common.  Moderate symptoms, however, are prevalent,  and use of antivenom is frequently indicated.  Phoneutria venom is reported to be about 18 times stronger than that of a black widow spider.  Hospitalization is often required.  The encouraging news is that phoneutria sometimes deliver "dry bites" chosing not to waste their venom on something too big to eat.  Nevertheless, this species of spider is considered the world's # 1 most venomous spider and is not to be reckoned with.

Below is a photo taken from Spiderzrule, a website dedicated to all types of spiders.  It's a photo of a confirmed phoneutria nigriventer female.  My own specimen, below it,  has been added to the website as well.  Note the black line down the middle of the thorax and six spots on the abdomen. These are characteristic of the phoneutria. 

 phoneutria nigriventer

Phoneutria photo from website below

my own unclassified phoneutria 

phoneutria fera photo result from internet search

Wolf spiders and hunstman spiders (heteropoda venatoria)  also exist in Panama, and they do resemble the phoneutria from a distance.  But they have distinguishing features which anyone with an interest can investigate online.  Their differences are easily recognized.  Below is a photo I copied from the internet.  It's a huntsman spider, taken from information provided by R. Vetter at UC Riverside in an online article.  The legs of huntsman spiders are splayed laterally, in a crab-like fashion.  The thorax and abdomens are different as well. 

I have no idea how a spider 6 inches in diameter made it into my home sight unseen.  Had it not been for my cats, though, it might still be a stowaway.   

Around 3 years ago, another spider that suspiciously resembled this recent one, fell out of the sleeve of a bathrobe that I keep hanging on my bathroom door.   Luckily it was dead when I slipped into the bathrobe following my shower.  I never got up close and personal with it, so I have no knowledge of that one's classification.  

The point to be taken away from all this is that precaution is indicated when handling bananas and fresh fruit---be it from your garden or from vegetable vendors.  And just use precaution in general. Don't be afraid to act decisively if you see one.  These spiders don't spin webs.  They wander the "jungle" floor at night hunting prey.   I try to be cautious getting up at night, or when putting on clothes hanging in the closet.  My neighbor was recently stung in the hip by a scorpion as he slipped on a pair of clean pants from his closet. And a girlfriend was stung on the arm when she put on a comfortable sweater previously draped over her chair.  The dry weather and fierce winds draw insects indoors at this time of year.  Be on the lookout and exercise caution, folks.

Feb 7, 2014

No resolution to the Panama Canal Expansion issue

A family tragedy interrupted all motivation to write for several weeks, but I'm finally getting back into the swing of things.   Will make an effort to be more consistent re:  future posts.  To date, the canal expansion issues are still in limbo.  Negotiations broke down, but both sides are anticipating further dialogue in the near future.  For more details in English, the following link leads to a helpful article from Reuters.

More on Panama politics to follow, hopefully.

Jan 3, 2014

More on the Threatened Canal Work Stoppage

Shares of the Spanish company Sacyr plummeted 10% on the Madrid stock exchange today after the company announced its plans to cease work on the Panama Canal expansion unless the Canal Authority resolved a cost overage of 625 million dollars, which supposedly is 50% of the cost of their total job,  and which allegedly didn't figure into the original contract.   According to an article in La Prensa Panama, Sacyr (as part of the GUPC) gave the Panama Canal Authority 21 days to resolve the matter. 

The Panama Canal Authority rejected the pressure applied by the GUPC and responded that if the GUPC didn't complete the work it would put into place foreseen contractual mechanisms to assure completion of the project. 

The expansion is about 70% complete, but the construction of the third set of locks ajudicated to the GUPC for 3.2 billion dollars, is the most important aspect of the canal expansion project.   Work began in 2007 and was originally scheduled for completion in October 2014.   It is approximately a year behind schedule, anticipated to be completed by June of 2015 at a cost of 5.25  billion dollars. 

President Martinelli has indicated he would go to Spain and Italy and demand their governments take moral responsibility for the work completion, because no business should be allowed to impose such irresponsible cost overruns on Panama. The GUPC blames the cost overruns on delays in delivery of equipment and supplies.

Jan 2, 2014

The Sky is Falling!

There's been a lot of puffery, posturing and speculation regarding Law 120 of the financial code, passed Dec. 30th by the National Assembly under questionable tactics.  President Martinelli has somewhat quelled the outrage by reassuring everyone that he will repeal the unpopular articles numbered 2 and 3 declaring that worldwide taxation on national and foreign interests would be implemented by Panama effective 12/31/13.

Then today the Minister of Public Security, Jose Raul Molino, announced that a special cabinet meeting will be held to deal with the inclusion of these articles in the law. Molino said that following the cabinet discussion, the articles would be taken to the National Assembly to be repealed.

"You don't mess with things that from one day to the next transform Panama into whatever country except one of economy and service which has been our distinction for more than 100 years, " he added.   "The person who invented this created an atrocity.  I say this as an attorney independent of my government responsibilities, and I know for a fact that the national government, presided upon by Martinelli, will repeal such norms."

Okayyyyyyyyy, then what?  I can't help but feel that things won't just end there. Perhaps until after the elections, but somewhere down the road, someone is going to figure out a way to get some tax money out of international income.  Just sayin'.

On another note, it looks as if President Martinelli will be traveling to Spain and Italy to lean on their governments to deal with the GUPC (Grupo Unidos Por el Canal).  The GUPC has threatened to stop construction on the third pair of locks because they are projecting a 1.6 billion dollar budget overage which they want Panama to accept and pay.   The GUPC is a consortium lead by Spain's Sacyr, Italy's Impreglio, Belgium's Jan de Nul, and Panama's CUSA.  These organizations are citing the Canal Authority's supposed contract incompletions.  President Martinelli said that in his first year of office he was guaranteed moral support and solidarity by the governments of these nations, and he expects them to stand by their word.
Haven't been following the election campaign news so recently, given everything else, but it appears that thought given to uniting the PRD and Panamenista parties under one opposition force hasn't panned out.  Something to do with Varela needing to be the President that Navarro wasn't onboard with.  Apparently Varela's stint as Vice President in the first years of the Martinelli administration prevents him from holding that office again in a successive term.
Wow.  A lot going on in these first two days of the new year!

Dec 27, 2013

Political Alliances are beginning

The Cambio Democratico party and the Molirena party announced an alliance in support of candidate Jose Domingo Arias on 12/26/13.  Talk is circulating of a pending alliance between the Panamenista party and the Populist party, which would support Juan Carlos Varela's candidacy.  This hasn't yet been officially announced, however.  More as things unfold...

12/27/13   7:00pm   Alliance between Panamenistas and Partido Popular is confirmed supporting Juan Carlos Varela.  On a local TV channel members of Molirena party spoke out against the alliance with Cambio Democratico and indicated despite the official party alliance, they would vote for candidate Varela.  Much mention is also being given re: the possibility of President Martinelli's wife, Marta Linares de Martinelli, running with Jose Domingo Arias as the Vice Presidential candidate for Cambio Democratico.

Dec 26, 2013

Visit from a Wandering Spider

Cessation of the heavy rains and the start of the drying, summer winds in Boquete drives insects indoors at the time of year.  I've been visited by multiple spiders, large ants, and the occasional scorpion from time to time, despite screening all doors and windows. I initially reacted to these encounters by aggressively fumigating the yard. Experience has slowly taught me, however, that fumigating only ups the ante on snake, worm, and insect entrances, albeit it weak and dying ones. I prefer now to keep the grounds weeded and the grass very short.  This practice has served me well.   It's been more than a year since the last scorpion and I did battle.  

So, I guess it was about time to find this large spider in my living room. More precisely, my cats found it at 3 am and created such a ruckus chasing it that they woke me up.   Feeling sorry for the poor creature, I considered just letting it be.  But it was really large---about 6 inches in diameter.  That worried me.  So I removed the cats and got out the insect spray.  
The little glowing dot seen in the center of this photo is the camera flash reflection from one of it's eyes.  It's body was about two inches long, and the leg span another 4 inches or so.  I really hated to disturb it, as it seemed pretty mellow up there.  I briefly though of encouraging him/her outside with a broom.  But to be truthful, that idea scared me. So in the end I called upon my inner assassin to push the button on the spray can.  Then I ran into the bedroom, closed the door with the cats inside, and crawled into bed leaving the lights on.

The next morning I found the unfortunate carcass between the sofa cushions and became clinical.  Spent a long time on the computer trying to identify the creature so that, in the unlikely event I should run into another one, I'd know if I needed to kill it or not.  I narrowed the spider's genus to either Cupiennius or Phoneutria.  I was particularly impressed with an article from the University of California, Riverside's website which defended the unjust fate of  harmless Cupiennius spiders, which are often mistaken for Phoneutria spiders.  

Brazilian Wandering Spiders, whose bites are potentially lethal, belong to the genus Phoneutria. These are also known as banana spiders, armed spiders, or "armadeira" spiders (Portuguese). Although the UC Riverside article mentions that Phoneutria spiders are endemic to Brazil, in actuality there are species,---Phoneutria boliviensis and Phoneutria fera, which are prevalent in Costa Rica, Panama and other parts of Central America. And sources apart from the UC Riverside author indicate that some [but not all] species of Cupiennius spiders are also dangerously venomous.  Most of the research regarding these two genera is recent,---- 2005 or later.  

Even with the internet, information that would empower a totally clueless person such as myself to make a confident identification is sparse.  I decided to rely on the experts and snapped more photos of the deceased. These I emailed on for expert conclusion.  To my consternation, the consensus came back that my visitor was a Phoneutria spider. 

Phoneutria bites contain a potent neurotoxin that is significantly more potent than that of a black widow spider. These bites are intensely and incessantly painful due to their excitatory effects on the serotonin receptors of sensory nerves. Per wikipedia,  "At deadly concentrations, this neurotoxin causes loss of muscle control and breathing problems, resulting in paralysis and eventual asphyxiation."  In Brazil human deaths are intermittently reported, and there even is case documentation where two children were killed by the same spider.  Anti-venom exists for Phoneutria spider bites, and should to be employed if a human is bitten.  Hospital treatment is indicated for Phoneutria bites. 

It's quite concerning to me that my early morning visitor was a dangerous one. It's not the first time I've seen such a spider.  Granted, this one was larger than most, but I see smaller versions quite frequently. They are especially appreciated by my cats, because besides running fast, they sometimes hop and jump when threatened.  I've been quite cavalier about dealing with them when found inside, choosing to let them come and go at will, not realizing their potential danger to the cats as well as myself.  My attitude will change. I wanted to post this as a heads up to other expat residents of Panama, who like me, might not realize they are a concern.  A quick glance might lead one to regard them as Wolf Spiders, which are harmless.   Wolf spiders, however, have a differently shaped thorax and abdomen.  

I was informed that the distinquishing characteristics of my Phoneutria spider were the dorsal line down the thorax and spots on the abdomen. The arrangement of the eyes is also unique, however my photographs don't illustrate this clearly.  There are actually three rows of eyes, the first row having 2, the second row having 4, and the third row having another 2.  

Dec 22, 2013

Sorting out Panama's Political Parties

In January, political activities in Panama are expected to ramp up as President Martinelli's presidential term is coming to an end.  Panamanian law allows for an elected president to serve only one political term of 5 years.   Ex-pats obviously aren't allowed to vote, and many Spanish-illiterate, ethnocentric gringos in Boquete expound their views that ex-pats should remain completely unengaged in local politics.  I assert that being unable to vote doesn't mean we should remain uneducated, uninformed, and uninterested in what will be occurring around us regarding the presidential elections.  It is not my intention to go out and campaign for any particular political candidate, but I feel understanding the individual platforms and leanings of each candidate is reasonable,  given I've chosen to make my home here.   That said, I'm finding it isn't all that easy to do.  Nevertheless, I've decided to undertake the task of informing myself on these matters and will try to share my ongoing discoveries here.   To date there isn't a lot of information available, but as the party candidacies and running mates are solidified, I expect more material to be presented.  

What I've learned so far is that Panama has a multi-party system with extensive, involved smaller-party histories that I wouldn't endeavor to explore or describe at this time. Suffice it to say the following is an overview of the currently recognized political parties in Panama. 

The Partido Revolucionario Democrático (PRD) is the largest party, reporting 519,000 members as of September 2013.  It was founded by general Omar Torrijos in 1979.  It is social democrat in ideology.

Closely behind is the Partido Cambio Democrático, (CD) with 507,000 members.  It was founded in 1998 by the current Panamanian President, Ricardo Martinelli.  Its ideology is liberal conservative. 

The Partido Panameñista (PP) has 246,000 members.  It was founded in 1991 by Arnulfo Arias Madrid, and was the initial party of President Martinelli.  Its ideology is conservative nationalist. 

The Partido Molirena (MOLIRENA) has 117,000 members and a liberal nationalist ideology. It was founded around 1980 by leaders of several abolished smaller political parties that existed prior to 1968.  

The Partido Popular (PP) boasts 24,000 members and is christian democrat in ideology. It was established in 2001 as a new denomination of the  previously known Partido Demócrata Christiano.

The Frente Amplio por la Democracia (FAD) is a socialist progressive party that doesn't have parliamentary representation but is recognized by the Electoral Tribunal as a result of having 63,000 members.  

Traditionally there have existed two major political forces that control parliamentary majority in Panama.  The major political parties have found it necessary to establish alliances and coalitions in order to support their goals, get their representatives elected, and govern the country.  These alliances are in the process of being formed now and are expected to be solidified by January 2nd,  2014.  The alliances and their significance will be my next topic of investigation for future posts.  Stay tuned!

Dec 21, 2013

Strained relations between Panama and Ecuador

I’ve recently started following the diplomatic crisis arising between Ecuador and Panama over Ecuador’s  seizure of the vessel “Doria” captured in international waters on October 13th.  The vessel, which allegedly is under Panamanian flag, was found to be carrying 700 kilos of refined cocaine and was being crewed by 5 people of varied nationalities. Panama has requested return of the vessel, but Ecuador continues to detain it, claiming the origin of the vessel has not yet been confirmed. 

Last week, Panama’s Chancellor, Fernando Fabrega,  pressured for the vessel’s return, claiming the ship and its crew were being detained “in violation of the United Nations convention regarding sea rights”.   Panama also accuses Ecuador of retaliation, because of President Martinelli's grant of political asylum to Galo Lara, an Ecuadoran ex-legislator sentenced to 10 years in prison in that country for his complicity in a triple crime in the Los Rios province.

Ecuadoran officials deny a connection between the two incidents, stating Ecuador doesn’t participate in the exchange of delinquents.  They’ve also posed questions as to why Panama would send its Vice Chancellor, Mayra Arosema, to their country to defend the rights of narcotraffickers.  They maintain they will release the vessel to Panama once Panama’s authority is established.  To date, they cite doubts of Panama's claim to the vessel based upon recovered evidence that the boat carries flags from Panama, Columbia, and Venezuela, and that the provided Panamanian navigation patent doesn’t correspond to the characteristics of the Doria, but rather to a fishing ship.  Sonia Barcia, the Ecuadoran Fiscal de Manabi, also indicated there were discrepancies regarding the Doria’s motor, which doesn't contain the identification numbers indicated on the Panamanian documentation.  They postulate that Panama’s jurisdiction over the vehicle hasn’t been legally justified. Ecuador has solicited information from four other countries regarding the vessel's jurisdiction.  They also requested additional information from Panama, which the latter hasn’t provided.  Ms. Barcia indicates they've requested international penal law assistance regarding the matter, given that legal jurisdiction can't be established.  

Panama claims everything required to document its juridiction has been submitted. Panama’s Chancellor, Fernando Fabrega, stated that interviews in Ecuador gave Vice Chancellor Arosemena the strong impression that cooperation would be related to an upcoming new petition for reevaluation of the political asylum granted Mr. Lara.

Ecuador insists the issue of Galo Lara’s expedition request is a separate matter which they will continue to pursue separately.  

Controversial Day of Mourning

December 20th is the anniversary of the 1989 US invasion of Panama and ouster of Manuel Noriega as dictator. Many Panamanians continue to feel this day should be recognized as an official day of mourning, despite the refusal of political leaders to grant the designation.

Panamanian sensitivity centers on the [still undetermined] total number of civilian deaths and property and business destruction that resulted from the military actions.  As one interviewee mentioned in a TV broadcast this evening, "It wasn't just military personnel that were killed. There were pregnant woman and unborn babies that died from that military action. "  Estimates of civilian casualties are anywhere from 300 to 1000+ Panamanians.  US military casualties were listed at 23.  

Whereas many Panamanians feel the events of that day should be forgotten, others retain painful memories or experience ongoing sadness at the loss of loved ones.  Prior students from a  particular military academy, between the ages of 14 and 17 at the time of the invasion, remembered being called upon to fight against the invasion only to subsequently be abandoned and never later acknowledged by the government for their service and sacrifice.  

When one looks at the outcome 24 years later, one can celebrate the strong democracy, peace and prosperity Panama now enjoys.  But those whose lives were touched in very personal ways, those who suffered familial losses, personal harm and/or financial hardships, also present a convincing case for acknowledgement and recognition.  Perhaps they will be someday be heard. 

Dec 9, 2013

Summer has arrived!

Don't mean to rub it in for those of you freezing your behinds off,  whether it be in Texas, southern California, Idaho or wickedly cold Wisconsin, ----I feel your pain.  But I am soooooo grateful to be back in Boquete !   It's a balmy 75 and sunny,  with flowers and ripe fruit everywhere.   Pura vida!

I'm dreaming of a warm Christmas.... 

Nov 28, 2013

This is NOT Panama


Back in the US for a short respite from Boquete's rainy season.  Didn't seem to hit things right, though... First I experienced a cold front that hit San Antonio causing temperatures to drop from 77 degrees to 41 degrees in only 18 hours.  Temperatures continued to plummet over the subsequent three days of my visit.  I never got acclimated to their hovering at 30 degrees.  Temps were predicted to climb to 55 degrees, however, following my departure.

From there it was on to Wisconsin, where I expected 40 degrees and encountered 20 degrees with snow.  There was additional snowfall the day after arrival, which I captured on camera to show my Panamanian neighbors.   Today was the coldest Thanksgiving on record here in the last decade.  

I'm finding myself eager to return to the Boquete rains.  Have enjoyed the brief visit, and the additional 10 lbs of body mass I acquired, which MUST be exercised off. Couldn't resist all the great Tex-Mex food, nor the Brats & Beer (Leinenkugels).  Don't intend to repeat any of this for a few years now.

I am so grateful to have been able to spend time with my son, who just graduated with honors from basic military training, and then with my sister and her family here in the great lakes region.  Hoping everyone out there enjoyed a bountiful and blessed Thanksgiving in the company of loved ones and friends.  

Below are some highlights from San Antonio, TX.  Can't help but think about Boquete's Rio Caldera and how it has the potential to someday resemble the River Walk....I can remember discussions regarding the creation of a river walkway in Boquete as far back as 6-7 years ago.  Sigh....

And remember the Alamo...