Oct 22, 2014

Political Discord Among the Ngäbe Buglé...?

According to the national news channel, TVN-2,  the General Congress of the Ngäbe Buglé made the decision this morning to remove from office Silvia Carrera as General Chief of their comarca.  Rationale cited was she didn't fulfill her obligations as established in Article 27 of Law 10 instituted by the comarca. Edilberto Sanchez, president of the Ngäbe Buglé General Congress, said the governing board made the decision for her dismissal via Resolution No. 8 on October 19th this year. According to Sanchez, despite the fact Carrera was elected by popular vote, the General Congress has the ultimate authority of the populace and is autonomous regarding such decisions.  He emphasized that official notification of the dismissal would be sent forthwith to the magistrates of the Electoral Tribunal of Panama.

Crescencia Prado, a legislative representative of the Tribunal, postulated the dismissal of Carrera was an illegal action given that she was appointed via popular vote in an official election overseen by the Electoral Tribunal.  

Subsequent telephonic follow up by the news channel with Ms. Carrera determined that Ms. Carrera denies having been notified of any separation from her duties as General Chief of the comarca.  She did admit to receiving threats from a few elements of the governing board, but classified these as not exceeding five people. 

This September, Ms. Carrera traveled to New York, along with President Varela and other Panamanian authorities to participate in a United Nations general assembly dealing with measures adopted to mitigate the effects of climatic change and an external policy focused on the search for consensus and integration.   Her son, Bernardo Jimenez Carrera was recently appointed as Panama's ambassador to Bolivia.  

Oct 17, 2014

Back in Boquete---Barely!

After a longer than anticipated stateside stay, I finally made it back to an intensely missed Panama. Enjoyed the visits with family, and am grateful to have been there when concerning health matters with loved ones cropped up.   Thankfully, I was able to leave confident all is well and back to normal..  Walking into the house and out in the Boquete back yard was instant anti-stress therapy. I physically sensed the layers of tension slide off and soak into the ground.  The words of that old John Denver song kept cycling in my head---"gee, it's good to be back home again..."

This return trip experience was more traumatic than any experienced in over 8 years of traveling back and forth.  It certainly isn't as easy to leave the US as it used to be. There are subtle changes that are quite concerning. Reports from fellow expats indicate I'm not the only one noticing adjustments in attitude, nor encountering resistance to our liberating lifestyle.  I almost hugged the Panamanian immigration agent this time around, and have finally decided to legitimize my residency. It's taken me awhile to realize it, but I belong here not there.  I no longer harbor doubts.  

It's going to take a few days to catch up on political events in Panama and discern what may be of interest to the English speaking community.  Hoping to have some worthwhile and informative posts up in the next week or so.  

Oct 1, 2014

Afternoon of Art in Pewaukee

It's been awhile since my last post, as I've been away from Panama for the last two months. Heading back shortly, though, and not a day too soon. The Wisconsin climate is quickly changing and cold temps have never inspired me. 

Decided to stop by the Lake Country Art Gallery on Capital Drive to see what they offered, and was very pleasantly surprised.  What I anticipated to be a half-hour visit turned into a couple of hours, and I'm returning soon to finish seeing what I didn't have time to examine the first time.  

If you would enjoy a superb collection of high quality water colors by Jean Crane and students, or a more limited selection of acrylics and oils by other familar Wisconsin artists,  this just might be your venue.

In addition to great paintings, there is a large selection of custom jewelry, pottery, glassware, woodworking, needlecrafts, and some very funky furniture. Definitely worth the visit. And right now there is a huge sale with discounts ranging from 30 to 75 percent off, for all bargain hunters.  

Below, some of my favorites...

And a few postcard pics of Jean Crane collections:


Aug 14, 2014

Happy 100th Anniversary to the Panama Canal

Photo from internet, wikipedia.es

Tomorrow Panama celebrates the 100th anniversity of the Panama Canal.  I just finished watching a documentary about the canal on the national television channel and have to sincerely admire Panama and its people for what they went through during 96 years of US foreign occupation of the canal zone.  I get my hackles up whenever some arrogant, conservative expat mouths off that “Carter should have never given away the canal.”  But this documentary, through no overt intention of its own, intensified the sentiment.  I’ve always believed Carter did the right thing.  The canal wasn't really ours to keep or give away.  Panama has always been the landlord.  We may have improved the property value and negotiated some unfair advantages, but that didn’t mean we owned it.  We leached plenty of profit from the canal over the time we rigidly controlled it. 

My recent research revealed that the US paid Panama 10 million dollars for permission to construct the canal in 1903, plus it paid Panama $250,000 annually in rent from then on.  How magnaminous!  The average toll for ONE cargo ship to pass through the canal is that amount.

While the US occupied the canal zone, it brought along segregationist, imperialist, colonialist attitudes to a host country and civilization that never differentiated people according to skin color or origin.   Having lived in the deep south as a child, I still remember the segregationist signs on water fountains and bathroom doors that delineated “colored” and “white”.   I think this has stuck so vividly in my mind because in my childish innocence, I chose to drink out of a “colored” fountain once, expecting the water to come out red, or blue, or purple.  I was sorely disappointed when it was just regular water, and even more dismayed and puzzled when my mother explained to me that white people drank out of one, and colored people out of the other.  Even at that tender age it seemed wrong to me.

Tonight’s documentary on TVN 2 showed photos of life in the early canal zone, and these exact same water fountains were seen in some of the shots. An elderly Panamanian man who grew up in the canal zone recounted how, as a child, there were separate housing tracts for “colored people” and for “whites”.  He said the houses for the white people had nicer yards and landscaping.  One time he ran across the street to pick a mango from a tree along the side of a public road in the common area.  He was acosted by a military policeman and told to get back to his own neighborhood.  He could never understand why, as a Panamanian in his own country, he couldn’t pick a mango off a tree on the side of the road. The documentary also talked of how, by order of US President Taft, over 20,000 Panamanians in numerous aldeas and villages along the route of the canal were summarily stripped of their lands and left to their own devices to find new living arrangements.  They were simply told to move.  Numerous villages were then flooded and submerged to create Lago Gatun, a 33 kilometer man-made lake that is considered the world’s largest.  Gatun Lake provides the water required to fill the canal locks and move the huge ocean liners through the canal.

The 1964 riots and subsequent bloodshed caused when Panamanian university students insisted a Panamanian flag be flown alongside a US one in the canal zone, as stated in one of the canal treaties,  was briefly mentioned in tonight's documentary.  The resultant deaths that occurred at the hands of US troops brought about significant strains in foreign relations between the two countries and was the impetus for the 1977 Neutrality Treaty signing by then-presidents Torrijos and Carter.  

Panama has done well since assuming control of the canal 14 years ago.  By the end of 2015, there will be an additional set of locks as part of the canal expansion.   Government education programs have been implemented to teach the population regarding conservation of the river basins and watershed areas feeding the three lakes that supply water to the canal.  As one environmental scientist expressed,  ‘It’s no longer just about running a canal zone.  It’s about incorporating a nation and caring for the Chagres River and the tributaries that fill the lakes. It’s about involving everyone for the good of the country and its people.'

I just have to say I’m exceptionally proud to be living here in Panama and sharing the joy this country feels at celebrating the 100-year anniversary of one of the world’s seven wonders, the Panama Canal.

Aug 13, 2014

Still Impressed with President Varela

I continue to watch the local news every night anticipating some kind of announcement that will raise red flags and destroy my infatuation  for the new president and his cabinet.  It hasn't yet happened.  I remain favorably impressed. 

Beginning with the most trivial observations...He, his wife, his support staff, and his new cabinet know how to dress commensurate with their professional stations. It's nice to see Panama's commander in chief dressed to convey that he respects his position and demands the same deference in return.  Golf shirts, guayaberas and rumpled sports jerseys are passe.  Suits and crisply starched white shirts are in.  

The President's calm, reserved, straightforward, and compassionate demeanor with the press is reassuring.  Educated, intelligent, well-thought responses to impromptu questions from reporters are much appreciated.  Recent TV interviews with both Vice President, Isabel St. Malo, and Minister of Economy and Finances, Dulcido de la Guardia, also reveal a professional quality that is very encouraging.  

But appearance isn't everything, one would be apt to say, and I don't disagree. What I especially like about what I'm observing is the openness and honesty displayed by all members of this administration regarding issues the public should know about.  No flippant responses saying nothing.  No empty promises or thinly veiled threats.  Widespread public education regarding issues that are both concerning and commendable about Panama's social, cultural, and financial matrix.  And a seemingly genuine devotion to improving the quality of life for the average Panamanian.  Social reforms, affordable housing, cleaning up the ghettos, focus on converting gang members to productive citizens through occupational rehabilitation and amnesty for surrendered firearms, increased subsidies for retirees with no social security benefits, increases in general scholarship funding for all school children, etc.  A democrat's dream! 

This evening I listened to discussions regarding concerns over the looming budget deficicits and anticipated electric rate increases due to decreased governmental subsidies.  As was brought to the public's attention last month, Panama's proposed electricity budget was 165 million, when the actual needs are around 500 million.   People have been told their bills would go up and there's been an aggressive campaign to educate the public regarding energy conservation, as well. An announcement of the changes and how they will impact the average household is anxiously awaited, but tonight the populace was advised it would be another 2-3 months before announcement, as the administration continues to study the issue in depth to arrive at the most reasonable and tolerable solution for everyone.   

Even more concerning, however, was the declaration by the Minister of Economy and Finances, Sr. De la Guardia, that the legal budget for the country for the entire year of 2014 was 1330 million balboas, and in the first trimester, ending on June 30, the country had already exhausted funds totaling 1500 million balboas.  This was due, he elaborated, to the prior administration's inflated reporting that overestimated state income and omitted significant recurrent expenses, among other things. When asked by the reporter how this was going to be dealt with, and how increased social subsidies and reforms were going to be financed in light of the apparent crisis, he responded that plans were being drawn up regarding the sale of certain government real estate holdings and suspension of credit as first line actions, followed by a taking the matter to the national assembly for consideration of a change in the law, if need be, to address the issues and outstanding debt. Not being even-moderately well versed on economic themes, I can't delve further into that matter, but merely wanted to compliment the current administration for informing the populace of the matters at hand. 

In contrast to this attitude of openness, Frank de Lima, the former Minister of Economy and Finances under President Martinelli, quickly spoke out against Sr. De la Guardia, calling him irresponsible for making the matter public. He emphasized that the Ministry of Economy and Finances is a technical entity whose function is to guarantee compliance with Panama's law of Social Fiscal Responsibility, and that the Martinelli administration, in it's five years of governance did comply with the limits of the law, despite the budget deficits. He made a point of saying that Sr. De la Guardia, as vice-minister in 2012, entered into that year's budget proposal, a 400 million balboa income estimate that wasn't reached, and yet they still complied with the limits of the law.  He went on to say that Sr. De la Guardia should concern himself more with generating and increasing employment, something he claims the Martinelli administration addressed and which is now showing a decline. My understanding of this issue, however, is that Panama has a very good employment rate, and in fact, has to import workers from other countries for the canal expansion and other projects due to the lack of local workers. 

There has been much criticism of the prior administration's practices regarding financial matters. One high-profile example entails the distribution and utilization of government funds in excess of an authorized 110 thousand balboas to leaders of small rural provinces. The amounts distributed to 150 of these "directivas" amounted to millions of dollars per province, and the application of these government funds toward community improvements aren't readily apparent. Sr. De la Guardia mentioned a through audit of these cases will be implemented and the outcome of that audit made public.  

Aug 2, 2014

30 Days in Office

Today marks the one-month point for President Juan Carlos Varela's time in office.  He is facing a lot of challenges, but continues to push his agenda of transparency in government and responsiveness to social issues.  

His administration swiftly responded to a temporary water crisis caused by contamination of the Rio Villa in Herrera province.  An ethanol processing plant established during Ricardo Martinelli's administration has been charged for the contamination.  Forty times the acceptable concentration of Atrazina, a pesticide, as well as  by-products related to the ethanol production process were found in the river. An environmental spill had been reported, and apparently the Atrazina contamination was an incidental finding when water sampling was employed to address the spill.  

The Varela administration has also announced it will be closely monitoring incomes generated outside Panama by the foreign consuls and will be implementing financial measures to close legal loopholes allowing millions of dollars to go unreported by the consuls and uncollected by the Panamanian state.

Reportedly hundreds of millions of dollars in funding issued by the prior administration to indigent rural communities is also slated for investigation. Financial records show distribution of funds to the localities, yet no community improvements nor justification for distributed funds are evident.  

On the day Juan Carlos Varela was inaugurated as President, exactly a month ago,  former President Ricardo Martinelli was in Guatemala being sworn in as a delegate to Parlacen, the Central American Parliament he called a den of thieves while campaigning for election 5 years ago. In August of 2009, President Martinelli withdrew Panama from the organization. His July 1, 2014 swearing in as a delegate was done surrepticiously during a time when the organization is normally in recess.  A special session without agenda was announced to members two days prior to the event, without press release, and the required quorum of 7 of 12 board members wasn't established. Parliamentary delegates from Panama who are members of the PRD and Panamenista parties are trying to have the ex-president's membership status and accompanying diplomatic immunity reviewed and possibly revoked.  Following their initial protests regarding the July first swearing in, however, little more has been heard regarding the matter. 

Even prior to assuming office, President-elect Varela requested the resignation of several existing cabinet members he felt "hadn't adequately defended the country's interests" during their terms in office.   He hasn't been successful in relieving them all of their posts.  The comptroller, for example, closely aligned with ex-president Martinelli, has refused to leave until her official term ends on December 31st of this year. 

President Varela's administration continues to face public transportation nightmares that have been omnipresent since dispelling the Diablos Rojos and implementing a municipal bus system in Panama City five years ago.  Another social headache has been the horrendous garbage situation in the Panama City barrios.  Varela's administration has aggressively tackled that problem by resuming control of garbage collection from private enterprise and assigning public officials to oversee the management.   There has also been a lot of press coverage regarding sorely needed renovations of public school buildings, that for a long time have been deteriorating and creating significant health and allergy problems for  young students. 

I see many positives.  It should be interesting to watch as time progresses and situations continue to unfold...

Jul 1, 2014

A Very Busy First Day for President Varela

Today is a government holiday and all offices as well as the majority of business establishments and retail stores are closed to celebrate the inauguration of the new President and assumption of power by the new administration.  

I've been watching the special news coverage of President Varela's activities for his first day in office.  He was scheduled to sign a proclamation freezing food prices for Panama's Canasta Basica at 4:00 pm.  It finally happened at around 6:00 pm, when he listed the 22 items involved and the prices at which each item was frozen.  This was positive, as many supermarkets have been raising prices for a few weeks in what may have been the mistaken belief that the prices would be frozen at the price they were on the day the new President took office.  Instead,prices have been set and frozen. The prices won't go into effect until July 7, however, because additional time is needed to implement monitoring procedures.  President Varela did announce, that all supermarkets, small stores, corner markets and open air vendors are expected to maintain the established prices.  Below is the listing of prices. 

Rice, first quality: 40 cents
Medium eggs: 16 cents each, $1.87 dozen
White bread loaves: 92 cents
Yellow cheese: 10 cents a slice
Beef---Babilla: $2.87 lb
Beef---Jarrete: $2.30 lb
Potatoes, nationally grown: 60 cents lb
Beef sausage: $1.19 lb
Beef---Bistec de cinta: $2.45 lb
Powdered Milk: $3.76 can, 360g
Chicken breast: 65 cents lb
Pear tomatoes, nationally grown: $1.08 lb
Ground Beef: $2.00 lb
Lentils: 56 cents lb
Whole chickens, Panama: $1.18 por libra
Tuna: $1.02 can, 170 grams
Yellow onion: 60 cents lb
Macarroni: 59 cents lb
Red Beans: 96 cents lb
Yuca: 28 cents lb
Pork chops: $1.90 lb
Ñame: 35 cents lb

These prices are acclaimed to save the normal Panamanian household about $58 per month. 
Following the signing of the emergency food pricing decree, the new President flew to Colon.  Upon arrival he was transported by car to the town center where local leaders, government officials, and a large crowd awaited him.   It was actually quite frightening to watch, because the crowd engulfed the vehicle and people pushed, and shoved and insulted security forces in attempts to approach Mr. Varela.  I couldn't help but feel concern over security matters, because people were reaching inside the vehicle and the body guards on the outside were unable to fend them off.  The vehicle couldn't proceed more than a few inches at a time because of the surrounding populace, and my thoughts kept turning to how easy it would be for someone to pull out a gun and shoot, if they were so inclined.  I kept wondering why the route hadn't been cordoned off with police, as would have happened in the USA.  The television announcer also seemed somewhat concerned, as one could hear the nervousness in her voice.  She mentioned that additional security forces had been called up, but they weren't there at the time of the filming, when the car was still some ways from the podium.    If this weren't enough, President Varela  opened the car door when the vehicle was about 6 feet away,  and walked to the podium.  

Given the fact that Colon is a city known for violence and gangs, this struck me as less than safe.  I caught my breath and kept reminding myself we were in Panama, not the USA.  And effectively, everything was just fine. 

President Varela did take the opportunity to plead with the city's youth to give up their gang affiliations and turn over a new leaf in their lifestyles.  He pledged to give financial support to the city, to establish new employment opportunities, and to renovate some of the housing ruins, such as the Wilcox building which houses some 100 underprivileged families.  He promised to visit often and vowed not to   fall back on any promises.  He mentioned that in a city consisting of 16 streets and 30 youth gangs, he hoped to convert Colon into a city of 30 integrated families and 16 beautiful streets with renovated architecture reminiscent of New Orleans in the USA.  He expressed his desire to be different than all the other newly elected Presidents who promised to come to Colon's aide and somehow failed to do so. His speech seemed sincere, if not somewhat idealistic.  He hinted at the responsibility of the free zone to do more for the city, and perhaps he will levy some taxes on very wealthy merchants in the free zone to help with some of the renovation.  I personally would see no harm in this tactic.  The city of Colon, which houses the Canal free zone, receives a pittance from the lowly rents collected by the national government from the wealthy foreign merchants. 

After Colon, President Varela was headed back to Panama City, to the Cinta Costera, for additional festivities scheduled there.  His first day in office must have felt a lot like a busy day of campaigning...He has pledged transparency in all government activities and his first day has certainly been an inspiring one.  

Jun 28, 2014

Pretzels at Mort's Bakery

Stopped in for bagels at Mort's Bakery in San Francisco Plaza today.  Was pleasantly surprised to learn he's started baking pretzels, primarily at the behest of the German expats in Boquete.  Had to try one, so I had him pack a single pretzel in my bagel bag and headed home.  On the way, I reached in and bit into the pretzel.  That was the end of me.  I've eaten plenty of pretzels in my day, but this one, was bar none, the best ever!  I turned around and headed back for more.

They are a little on the small side for soft pretzels, but bursting with flavor and definitely addictive. They cost $1.50, which in my opinon is a little high for this area.  Mort explained to me that the cost is determined by the market. The current low demand plus freshness restraints prevent his producing them in quantity. Also, they require lime, which involves additional clothing and safety measures, augmenting the manpower hours for preparation.  He claims that increased demand will bring down the price, because it costs him the same to produce 20 as to produce 100 and the higher sales would make up for a decreased price.  I'd like to see the price drop to $1.00 per pretzel because I think that is a fairer purchase and I'd buy a lot more at that rate.   I also encouraged him to consider making more and freezing what didn't sell after day one.  I would have no problem eating a thawed pretzel that had been frozen the day of baking.  In fact, I'd even buy a frozen dozen and bring them out one at a time for personal use at home.  

Mort mulled that over and expressed that a few additional customers with my attitude could perhaps do the trick.   If you are out there, please stop in and try Mort's pretzels.   Then, if so inclined, tell him the same thing I did.

Jun 25, 2014

Noriega's Family requesting House Arrest for Ex-Dictator

Photo courtesy of TVN 2 News Channel

Family and physicians for Manuel Noriega are requesting a reprieve from incarceration and a change to house arrest for the ex-strong man and military despot, citing failing health and mental depression.  Apparently Panamanian penal law allows a prisoner over the age of 70 to be detained under house arrest once health status is confirmed by a forensic physician.

The ex-dictator has served 2.5 years of a 20 year sentence in Panama for political crimes.  His family says 20 years incarceration for him  (aged 80 years) is the equivalent of a life sentence.  

Upon learning of this news, I experienced the strongest visceral reaction regarding any political issue since coming to Panama.  I still remember clearly the reports of the horrors done to Dr. Spadafora for speaking out against Noriega.  And to this day the disappearance of many Panamanians of that era remains a mystery. Their families never got closure.  Surely there are a lot of Panamanians who have more reason than I to want this monster to remain in jail. 

I possess a compassionate side which tries to reason that he is a depressed, old, feeble, wheelchair-bound man in declining health and incapable of doing harm to anyone.  News reports indicate he has already served 25 in prison abroad and suffered two cerebral vascular accidents (strokes).  Since coming to Panama he has been hospitalized various times.  But I immediately ask myself where Noriega's compassion was when he held the fates of his country and countrymen in his hands?  Where was his sense of democracy, dignity, and respect for human life?

Apparently the appeal for house arrest has been made before and denied. According to the current Director of the Prison System, no new supporting information has been provided.  There is speculation (and reports) that an appeal for Presidential pardon is in the works.  I hope the penal system and the exiting President strongly evaluate the message Noriega's release would send to those families and loved ones of his victims.  Some have spoken out publicly and professed a lack of rancor.  They still beg for answers to the whereabouts of their relatives, however.   They are better souls than I am. Without any personal ties to that period of history, I still haven't the capacity to forgive, and hope he remains in jail. 

Jun 24, 2014

Boquete Library Hosts Classical Guitar Virtuosos

Residents of Chiriqui had the good fortune of listening to two very accomplished classical guitarists visiting Panama for an International Concert two weeks ago.

John Marcel Williams, from the United States, and Oscar Somersalo, from Finland made a side tip to Boquete and gave spellbinding performances to a full house at the new library.

Acoustics were lacking, but the occasional sounds of buses passing on the road below or the one-time crowing of a wayward rooster didn't dampen spirits or lessen anyone's enjoyment.  The performers took it all in stride.    Following the performance Price Peterson took the microphone to thank the musicians for their visit and the audience for their participation.  As he commented,  "this certainly isn't New York".  Nevertheless we were all grateful for the opportunity to hear such marvelous talent.  Kudos to the library director, Elsa Castillo, who was able to coordinate the event on short notice and without any assurances the event would be well-attended. (Father's Day, the soccer World Cup, and a musical concert at the BCP were competing events.) 

It was definitely a success and a very inspiring one at that.

Jun 23, 2014

Update on Forensic Findings

According to the most recent announcement by the Ministerio Publico, the remains found in Alto Romero are confirmed as belonging to Lisanne Froon.   The investigation regarding Lisanne Froon has changed from one of possible kidnapping to one of possible homicide according to Betzaida Pitti.  She emphasized, however, that any attempt to determine the cause of death ---whether natural or traumatic---would be premature and needs to be left up to forensic experts.  She as well as others have reiterated that the trail from Boquete to Bocas del Toro, upon which the two women traveled, obligates the traveler to cross the Culubré river three separate times.  From videos provided by the national news service, these crossing are extremely treacherous. 

Ms. Pitti has assured that the process they've followed has been appropriate all along and that calm needs to prevail in order to carry out the best investigation into the circumstances that lead to Lisanne Froon's demise. 

The spokesperson for the Froon and Kremers families indicated the parents of both women will issue a joint communication from Holland.  

Jun 20, 2014

Probable Remains of Dutch Women Found

Shoes, human bones and other remains were found along the Rio Culubré near Bocas del Toro providence yesterday.  Forensic specialists were flown today to the site to extract DNA samples and run confirmatory tests.  Tennis shoes located at the scene are a brand sold exclusively in Holland.  Confirmation the remains belong to Lisanne Froon and Kris Kremers is pending.  Local residents of the area where the remains were found surmise that the two women may have fallen into the river and been carried downstream by the forceful currents.  Large rocks in the riverbed, as well as snakes and poisonous spiders are some of the hazards they could have encountered.

Below is a link to the latest TV video regarding the missing women and the recent discovery. It also has relevant footage of Boquete, and introduces the recommendation for trail maintenance and international signage to accommodate increased ecotourism in the area.


The families of the women have not yet made statements.

Jun 2, 2014

A Better Paso Canoas Experience

Everyone has been talking about Hostal La Morenita, the newest lodging option in Paso Canoas, so I decided to explore for myself this weekend.  I was more than pleasantly surprised.  Prices are in keeping with other options in town,  yet you get so much more for those same prices. 

The facility is clean, has comfortable, common outside space and social areas, modern, efficient air conditioning, comfortable beds, wi-fi, and even a small internet cafe with late model hardware and monitors.  Meals are prepared by the owners, Ricardo and Nilka, and I thoroughly enjoyed my favorite typical Panamanian plate---Corvina al ajillo, patacones, mixed green salad, and an ice cold cerveza Atlas. Although it's being called a hostal, La Morenita is much nicer than hostals I've visited in Panama City.  The rooms are in line with those of Cabinas Romy, in the center of Paso Canoas, however La Morenita's fixtures are much nicer and there is no comparison regarding atmosphere and service. La Morenita is heads above in that aspect as well.

Located about 3 km outside the downtown area, in a town called Canoas Arriba, La Morenita is located on the Panama side of a road that divides it from Costa Rica.  This proved a great advantage for me, because I was able to drive my car all the way to the hostal.  When staying previously in Costa Rican facilities, I couldn't take my car across.  I had to park somewhere on the Panama side and either hail a taxi or shoulder my heavy bags back and forth. In addition to less than pleasant downtown accommodations, I always worried about how safe my car was. This time it wasn't a concern.

Others have remarked on how pleasant and service-oriented the owner Ricardo and his wife are.  I can only agree with everything that has been said about them. Last night Ricardo introduced me to some locals who had stopped in. We all enjoyed good conversation and a pleasant visit outside on the terrace. Jokingly, I told Ricardo I wanted Corvina al ajillo and patacones for breakfast. After having two cups of delicious cafe con leche, this morning. I was served the following breakfast, which I inhaled almost as quickly as last night's dish.  

The only less than pleasant aspect of the entire visit was discovering I had a flat front tire in the morning.  I had noticed a slight vibration when I was driving into David, but after stopping at a gas station and putting air in all tires, the guy there assured me all was well.  Apparently I had ran over something, though.  Even this was easily handled by Ricardo, who possessed an air compressor and inflated the tire so I could drive to a tire store.

I am thrilled to have "found" this place,  recommended by expats who've been here before me.  I selfishly hesitated a bit regarding publishing this post, because I know that the quality of the accommodations coupled with the pleasant atmosphere and excellent cooking will make La Morenita highly sought by those who frequent Paso Canoas for shopping or visa runs.  I discussed with Ricardo my fears that his creation, open for business for only six months, will become so popular that demand will raise prices and bring about other changes.  He responded that he is hoping to be able to keep prices fair and maintain the service quality with full occupancy.  One can certainly hope that remains the case.  

If you are planning a trip to Paso Canoas in the near future, this would be my first recommendation, bar none.   Where in the past I absolutely dreaded going to Paso Canoas, this time I sort of wished I had more time to spend there. 

May 7, 2014

Proclamation of Juan Carlos Varela as President of Panama

Photo from Telemetro Noticias website

Just finished watching the official acknowledgement of Juan Carlos Varela as President and Isabel Saint Malo as Vice President of the republic of Panama.  It was an interesting event.  The procedure requires official documents from both individuals be submitted to the Tribunal Electoral. These documents are then approved and authenticated publicly, and the winning candidates are presented with certificates acknowledging their designation as President and Vice President elect of Panama.  

Prior to the official handing over of the certifications, the president of the Electoral Tribunal, Erasmo Pinilla, gave a lengthy speech in which he was scathingly subjective about the significance of the Varela win and his personal  impressions of the current administration.  I enjoyed it for its shock value as much as anything else.  

President Ricardo Martinelli chose not to be present for the event, and after hearing the speech delivered by Mr. Pinilla, I found myself feeling sympathetic toward him and happy he didn't attend what would have been a humiliating experience. The contrast between how this type of event would transpire in the US was eye-opening.  What most struck me from the onset was how no one acknowledged any of President Martinelli's accomplishments, and how he was publicly vilified.   I admit I have not been staunchly in favor of the current president or what has been publicized about his administration, however the man did accomplish a good deal in his five year term and, in my humble opinion, should be given credit for the positive things he accomplished for the country.  Not a positive word was uttered for him or his service to Panama.  Perhaps this will happen later, at the inauguration on July 1st.  I certainly hope so, because President Martinelli worked five years for Panama without taking any salary, and all the while bearing a good deal of criticism and bad press. In only five years the country has a light rail system, new hospitals and dialysis centers, improved roads, a four lane highway from David to Boquete, a public bus transportation system, an official taxi service system,  the Cinta Costera in it's three phases, an additional international airport in Rio Hato, and multiple other improvements. Perhaps he ran roughshod over governmental institutions to accomplish his goals, and perhaps he lacked political correctness in his dealings with government functionaries, but nevertheless his accomplishments stand for themselves and he deserves some credit and acknowledgment for them, in my humble opinion.  

Despite Mr. Varela's  declarations of commitment to public service and overt manifestations of humility, this President Elect shows little compassion for the man who chose him as a running mate five years ago and who handled  vice-presidential responsibilities as well when Mr. Varela dropped out 26 months into the term due to a falling out between the two men.  Mr. Varela continued to receive his salary as Vice President for the rest of the five-year term despite his absence from the position.  (In his defense, he dedicated the salary to an underprivileged school.) Details to what and why it happened are sparse, but each side has made allusions open to diverse speculation.  

As I've previously said, I'm glad I couldn't vote in the election.  I'm glad I am just an observer, and have the luxury of questioning everything.  I would have voted for Varela had I been able to do so, but as things begin to unfold, I'm seeing subtleties I previously didn't and am wondering what they mean and just how significant they could be.

Tonight Mr. Varela gave a great speech in which he promised governmental integrity, dedication to social inequality, a focus on improving the quality of life for all Panamanians, commitment to financial transparency and the strengthening of democracy in this country.  What was there not to like?   

He ended his speech with a not-so-subtle jab at President Martinelli's absence, remarking that in 2019 he, Juan Carlos Varela,  expected to be at the proclamation of the next President Elect, proud of his accomplishments, proud to show his face, and contentedly turning over a better, stronger democracy to his successor.  

Panama Has a New President


The above photos were copied from BBC News and TVN-2 Panama websites to show candiate Juan Carlos Varela, who won Panama's presidential election on May 4, 2014 with 39% of the popular vote.  He won over candidates Jose Domingo Arias (Cambio Democratico) and Juan Carlos Navarro  (PRD).  

Since the announcement of his victory, Mr. Varela has been quite strong in his comments on how the government he leads will differ from that of the current administration.  I liked what he said during his campaign, and still find most of his remarks palatable.  I was secretly hoping he would win the election.
However, I spent the evening watching the election results at the home of Panamanian friends who either supported Jose Domingo Arias outright, or who voted for him as the least of of three evils. All were very outspoken about Mr. Varela.   Several in the group of 14 individuals said they didn't trust him and considered him the worst choice of the three major candidates.  They believe they know something I don't.

I watched current President Ricardo Martinelli when he appeared at the Cambio Democratico headquarters following announcement of a Varela victory, and was reminded of a comment he once made about a year ago on the national TV channel that "Varela isn't what he appears to be."  I simply don't know enough to venture any guesses.  Had I been able to vote, Juan Carlos Varela would have received my vote.  I suppose the old adage,  time will tell,  works here.   

So far, the President Elect has stated that he will work for Panama, and that he is interested in putting party preferences aside and improving the quality of life for all Panamanians. He has said no one should fear a loss of their employment or business as a result of  political party affiliations, and he makes no demands that people consider changing their allegiances. He has promised that the first thing he will do, the same afternoon he takes office, is sign a document freezing the prices of 22 Panamanian food staples  (known as the Canasta Basica).  These price freezes will affect meat, dairy, vegetables, rice, legumes, and other staples. The freeze will allegedly save each family a cost of $58 per month for basic food items. It may not seem like much, but to many families who subsist on around $500 monthly income or less, this is a big deal. Economists and business leaders all say this is a dangerous move to make, and caution the public to consider the measure temporary---a short range plan while implementing more realistic long term measures to improve internal agricultural production.  They also maintain the prices will not decrease, but instead will simply stabilize for the time being. The President Elect has stated that his government will immediately change from a business-centered approach to a public service one and it's focus will be to serve the people of Panama and improve their lives.  He promised during his campaign to bring water to all homes and to implement bilingual education in all schools.  After securing the election one day ago, he called for the resignations of the current government comptroller, the attorney general, and  the public prosecutor, whose administrations have been questioned by diverse sectors. He went as far as to say "they shouldn't be in office on July 1st" when he assumes power.  He suggests opening a re-investigation of alleged corruption charges against the incumbent President.  

All of this sets fine with me, but then suddenly, I feel a bit  unsettled with Mr. Varela's position regarding Venezuela.  President Nicholas Maduro, apparently an old friend, was one of the first international leaders to congratulate Mr. Varela on his win, and the President Elect has invited the Venezuelan dictator to attend his inauguration in Panama on July 1st.  Apparently their friendly relationship developed while both served as Chancellors for their respective countries during prior administrations.  Mr. Varela claims he is able to speak directly and truthfully with President Maduro and will send an emissary to that country shortly to evaluate what is going on there.  He says he will maintain Panama's position regarding social peace, human rights and liberty of expression, but Mr. Varela does seek to restore diplomatic relationships with this country, following Maduro's severence of ties due to Panama's condemnation of human rights abuses that came to light in February of this year. Varela also expressed agreement earlier this year that Cuba possibly be allowed to participate in some continental forums, such as the Cumbre de las Americas.  

And so things are getting interesting.  The Cambio Democratico's candidate did not win office this term [in my opinion] due to popular concern that President Ricardo Martinelli was overstepping his boundaries and trying to maintain control over the country in direct defiance of Constitutional policies regarding successive presidential terms.  The fear was he could turn himself into a benevolent dictator and run the country through a puppet candidate and his wife in a Vice Presidential role.  People feared allowing the Cambio Democratico party to remain in power an additional term was dangerous to their democracy.  

Candidate Varela maintained a healthy silence regarding the political unrest in Venezuela. President Martinelli was the only Latin American president to condemn Maduro's actions regarding the political demonstrations in Venezuela.   It cost Panama diplomatic relations with Venezuela, but showed a strong stand in favor of human rights, which is quite admirable.    So now, in the course of three months, Venezuela's president may be coming to Panama to celebrate the inauguration of this country's newest president.  

Ricardo Martinelli is reported to have said in response to hearing the news of Varela's victory,  " I know the candidate, and really, may God help us!"   I was watching on TV when he said, that in light of Varela's success in the election, he would change his plans about enjoying life and instead dedicate himself to opposition work.  

As crazy as it sounds, I find this somewhat comforting. Perhaps it will provide a good set of checks and balances, as long as projects can be completed and things can still get done. I'm becoming intrigued.

May 2, 2014

Election Fever---2 days and Counting

Following the Panama Presidential election activities has been interesting and enlightening. Can't wait to find out who will be elected.  According to all polls and publications, the three major candidates are running neck and neck,  and this is promised to be the closest election in Panama's history.  

As an expat, I am not allowed to vote, and I'm also cautioned against campaigning for, or openly expressing support for any particular party or candidate.  Does this mean I can't have an opinion? Hardly!  But in my own self-interest, I've chosen not to elaborate further.  Truth be told, I'm actually relieved that I can't vote in the election, because choosing a candidate would be a stressful decision for me.  

The campaign, like most US campaigns, has been fraught with mud-slinging. Panamanians I've spoken with have expressed revulsion at the tone of this campaign, stating it has been the dirtiest in their history.  I wouldn't know, but it doesn't seem any worse than what we see in the good old USA each election term. 

Today was the closure of the CD (Cambio Democratico) campaign, and I watched candidate Jose Domingo Arias' speech.  I have to say he made me like him.  He has charisma.  I found myself sold on the causes and projects he touted, despite deep concerns about the way the CD party has conducted business these past 5 years.  I also have worries regarding the veracity of his promises, as I would with any politician's pre-election promises.   Despite the likeability factor, and the fact that Mr. Arias is an economist with a stateside college education,  I worry a good deal about what will develop with Panamanian democracy should he win the election. As I see it, things could go either way depending upon this candidate's personal character and the amount of influence he actually will have within his own democratic party.  

Given that, I also have concerns regarding the other two leading candidates---one for the alleged financial scandals that shadow him and fears about his integrity being any greater than those of prior candidates (its hard to discern fact from negative propaganda) and the other for his party's clouded political history.    I'm glad to say voting in this election is one decision I won't have to make.  

For those who can read and understand Spanish, I offer the following two links which I think provide interesting and introspective information on two current topics about Panama.  The first is a post made by Ruben Blades, Panamanian ex-presidential candidate, Panamanian ex-Minister of Tourism, and world-renown musician and songwriter.  He writes about the upcoming elections and discusses his concerns about politicians and politics in Panama.  


The second is a video documentary about the controversial Cinta Costera III, and is designed to focus the viewer's attention on the ecological, emotional, social, and historical fallout to the areas affected by its construction.  I found myself sympathetic to the lament, but swayed as well by what could be seen as a clean -up and improvement to the way things have been.  The film created a lot of ambivalence for me.  


I started this post two days prior to election, but now it's less than 48 hours away. It will be intriguing to see what the outcome is, and how Panama's history and democracy will be affected in the not-so-distant future. Will it revert to a benevolent dictatorship?  Will it become a democracy for the rich with an incapacity to handle the enormous debt that has been generated in the last 5 years?  Will it revert back to a third world state and mentality with renewed social programs but little progress? Or will there be an outcome unlike any of the above?    I could be completely off base in all my lay theories and thoughts, but the winning candidate in this election could be significantly more important than in some prior elections, and I could be making some personal decisions about my permanency in Panama based on the outcome.  

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.