Dec 29, 2012

The Spector of Indigenous Protest Lurks Nearby

Just taken from Panama's TVN-2 website:  Various indigenous groups met on Saturday and decided to demand of the Panamanian government that it order the stoppage of activities related to the Barro Blanco hydroelectric plant while an independent international survey is  carried out regarding the environmental effects of the hydroelectric plant on the indigenous communities near the plant.

Manolo Mirando, of the April 10 Movement, described the government's position of  non-work stoppage as a mockery of the indigenous people and communities particularly affected by the Barro Blanco project.  He warned,  "That attitude could provoke discontent of the [political] bases that are again losing patience and might  return to the streets."
The various indigenous groups met in the Muna district of the comarca to address one singular point---acceptance or rejection of the survey being conducted while work on the project was ongoing.  The majority voted for work stoppage based on the demonstrated impact on their communities.  The General Chief of the Nägbe Bugle, Silvia Carrera, stated that the concerns presented by the members of the April 10 Movement and other indigenous bases will be presented to members of the Technical Committee.  
Carrera asked of President Ricado Martinelli that in the New Year he seek peace and tranquility in the country, and that he stop giving concessions to foreign companies, only seeking to get richer by destroying the environment and culture of Panama's people.

Dec 28, 2012

Important Link

Just finished reading a post by Don Ray Williams on his blog, Chiriqui Chatter, and felt it was important enough to share here [and anywhere else, as well].  It has to do with expats who might find themselves arrested and/or incarcerated in Panama---with or without cause.   The link is pasted below for posting date 12/28/12.

Update on Christmas parade...The event didn't start until about 9 pm, when it was quite dark.  My camera behaved poorly and most of the photos didn't turn out.   Lee Zeltzer has some good ones on Boquete Guide.

In general things have been quite tame in Panama and I haven't anything of substance to write about.
Looking forward to New Year's Eve celebrations. 

Wishing everyone a prosperous and productive 2013, and hoping against hope for a change in the violent craziness that is becoming commonplace in the suburban USA these days.  Perhaps 2013 will be the year we turn things around and start corrective action both individually and collectively to support, instead of isolate,  those who differ from the mainstream.  Acceptance and tolerance for a person's differences goes a long way in preventing the build up of rage and alienation that produces acts of madness and annihilation.  Let's all do what we can. 


Dec 24, 2012

Navidad en Panama

Sharing a you tube link to a song and video about Christmas in Panama.   Some of the photos are repetitive, but if you hang in until the end you'll see some additional ones that are well-worth the wait.  Hope you enjoy it!

Dec 23, 2012

It's Feeling a lot like Christmas

After several days of absolutely perfect weather, we're beginning to experience what's typical for the to colder temperatures and fierce winds, as previously mentioned.  Yesterday was a stay-at-home day, but today things have mellowed out a bit and the winds have turned intermittent. 
Yesterday morning, a friend was awakened at 5 o'clock to the sound of a falling plantain tree.  Being her take-charge self, she immediately "rescued" it with a shovel and machete while still in her nightgown accessorized with a pair of flowered  'gumboots'.  How do I know this?  I saw her Facebook page, of course.   It came to mind because I just perused the yard and found a banana tree that is threatening to do the same.  Tried propping it up with some posts, and will hail the gardener next time he returns.

The garden check also yielded a thrilled discovery of the blossom below.  They've been few and far between, making cultivation of the plants a big disappointment.  Not ready to give up just yet, though.  But next year I will plan things much differently and fertilize a lot.  I now know they need a lot of nitrogen and cross-pollination.   Out of 3 sites with humongous vines, I think I've reaped 4 fruits total.   Sigh.....At least it wasn't a total failure.


Planning to spend the 24th and 25th with friends in private gatherings.  There's usually a Christmas parade in downtown Boquete on the evening of the 24th.  Will try to snap some photos to post, although it usually doesn't get started until after dark and the photos don't always turn out well.  Should the attempt be unsuccessful, I would still like to extend warm wishes and holiday joy to everyone.  We've survived the end of the world predictions, so perhaps we can make this a benchmark year and see a turn around in the human spirit, pointing us all in a more compassionate and enlightened direction for centuries to come.   Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to everyone.

Dec 10, 2012

Single-Handedly Felling an Oak Tree

As much as I hated it, I watched a 20 foot oak tree in my yard be cut down today.  This is the second time the unfortunate tree has been mutilated, but it probably won't bounce back again.   Six years ago we cut the trunk and removed all the branches, but it sprouted new ones and just kept heading toward the sky.    It's a problem because the tree is growing only about four feet from my neighbor's house, and she's afraid it will topple over onto her roof.  Every January,  Boquete gets fierce winds.  It's not uncommon for trees to be uprooted and tossed about.   In fact, when I bought the house in 2006,  I had to hire someone to remove a huge, horizontal eucalyptus that had suffered this fate.
It's not easy getting a tree cut down in Boquete.  It requires a permit from the municipality.  The permit took 8 weeks to obtain.  In 2006, I didn't know a permit was required, and just paid someone  $ 20 to do the work.   Three men came out and handled it.  (The tree grew back, but that was fine with me.)  This time, I went the official route.   It took a total of 3 months to accomplish and cost $ 125.    One man came out to do the task, and he brought his teenage son and a friend to pick up the leaves and branches.    I admit I was swimming in doubts, but the photos below show how he did it.
I gave the wood to my neighbor, who is having it made into a rocking chair.  She has a new granddaughter she wants to be able to rock to sleep at night.


For me, it was fascinating to watch the process, from start to finish.  And seeing the tree trunk turn into 4 x 4's was more than I expected.    Seemed to be pretty nice wood, when it was all said and done.   A far cry from my Home Depot lumber shopping days.

Dec 1, 2012

Boquete's First Annual Juried Art Show

Last night's opening for Boquete Artwork's first paneled art exhibition and sale was well attended. Probably 100-200 people showed.  Wine and finger food was served and people seemed to enjoy mingling.  My friend, Marjorie (Freiburghaus) Goic's painting,  'Momentos Ocre'  took 3rd place in the Amateur Division.  Her sister, Cynthia, shared a 1st place award in the Professional Division for the painting 'Septimo Cielo'.  Her co-winner was Alan Fuentes, for his nude scuplture, 'Le Espere de Un Amor'.   Second place professional division went to Howard Hill for his photograph, 'Antelope Canyon Jewel, AZ'.  Third place was a direct carving on wood by Octavio Alvarez Bejar, titled 'Cuando un Alma Llega a la Tierra'.  
Second place Amateur Division went to Christina Ladesma for her painting 'Daybreak on the Nile', and Robyn Cole, president of Boquete Art Works, took first place for her encaustic and mixed media depiction, 'Authentic Lives'. 
The exhibition remains in the library until Dec. 27th.

  Professional Division, First Place winners 
 First Place, Amateur Division

 Second Place, Amateur Division

Third Place, Amateur Division
Honorable mentions, Professional Divison


   People's Choice Award, by Mary Beth White





Nov 27, 2012

Floods, Nosocomial Infections, an Earthquake, and Sunny Days

Certain areas of Panama remain isolated and without communication due to Sunday's flooding.  This includes the agricultural areas of Palmas Bellas, Rio Indio, Guasimo, Santa Rosa and El Chilar.   In Panama City several streets have been closed off due to flooding.  Some 200 homes were destroyed in La Chorrera and recently built homes in Nuevo Arco Iris were also destroyed due to mudslides. 

Banco National de Panama has donated $50,000 to the relief effort and these funds are being handled and distributed through the office of the First Lady of Panama.  A collection center for donations of food and emergency goods has been set up in the central park in Santiago for those wishing to donate.
President Martinelli  visited many of the flooded areas, and was also seen distributing goods to people affected in La Chorrera.  Other than the two initial deaths reported, no further mention has been made of deaths due to the flooding.  Apparently two members of the Red Cross were traveling in a vehicle when the Transisthmica Highway collapsed, and they haven't yet been found.  Metal detectors were donated and are now being used to try to locate the vehicle under the rubble.

In Chiriqui, there was an earthquake this morning that registered 4.6 on the Richter scale.  It was centered in Punta Burica.  No reports of damage.  It was felt in the areas around Bugaba and David. 

The Chiriqui Social Security hospital is afflicted with an outbreak of Clostridium Dificile that has resulted in 6 deaths and 49 reported cases attributed to nosocomial infection.

Otherwise, it's been sunny and warm all day in Boquete.  Sunday's heavy, wind-driven rains were atypical for the season this year.  It's a shame they had to occur during the Independence Day Parade organized on Nov. 25th, when schools from all the other provinces came to march.

Tomorrow, Boquete's local schools will march in another Boquete Independence Day parade.   Nov. 28th is the traditional day for the Independence Day Parade.   This year,  President Martinelli declared the holiday would be celebrated on Nov. 26th,  to allow for a 3-day weekend.   It appears Boquete's mayor is complying with administrative directives, but also planning his own local traditional celebration.   Should be interesting. 

Meanwhile, I continue to enjoy the temperate weather, flor and fauna of my favorite region.

Nov 25, 2012

Flooding in Colon and western Panama

Thousands of people have reportedly been displaced from flash flooding in the western part of Panama, including the areas Arraijan, La Chorrera, and parts of Capira.  Reports of flooding in Colon as well....Information just coming in, not much yet to report, although pleas are being sent out via television for assistance with dry goods and food for those people affected.  Many homes have been completely destroyed and people have lost everything.   President Martinelli has visited the areas and declared a state of emergency, however authorities are awaiting for flood waters to recede to determine the full extent of damages.  Two known deaths have occurred, but all information is not yet in.

Just in at 7 pm.  People are advised to avoid the transisthmus highway from Colon into Panama City due to mudslides and an apparent collapse of part of the roadway.  Reports on TVN2 indicate part of the road "dropped 25 feet" and crews are out attempting to deal with the problems.

Panama Independence Day

November 28th is independence Day in Panama.  It commemorates Panama's independence from Spain.  This year, however, November 28th fell midweek, on a Wednesday.  So President Martinelli declared the holiday to be celebrated November 26th, in order to provide Panamanians with a 3 day weekend.
Boquete is one of the most frequented sites for this celebration, with municipal, governmental, special interest, and school bands from all parts of Panama bussing it up to our small pueblo for a full day's long parade.  This of course, is always preceeded and followed lots of loud music and dancing at night... This morning, the boom, boom, boom of the band bases could be heard all the way into Alto Boquete until about 3 am.  (No complaints, I admire Panamanians for knowing how to party...just reporting the way things are.)
Although the holiday is to be observed on November 26th, the parade was scheduled for November 25th.  This allowed time for the bands to travel up to Boquete on Saturday, party Saturday night, parade all day Sunday, return late Sunday evening, and rest up on Monday, the holiday. 
The weather hasn't been very cooperative, unfortunately.  I headed into town around noon to observe the parade and returned around 4 pm.  It rained the entire time, and the rain has only picked up in intensity and wind power since my leaving.  Even now I can hear the drums from my dry, warm, snug house five minutes up the hill from town center.  The thermometer shows it's 68 degrees outside.  Couldn't help but feel compassion for all those school children marching in thin, rainsoaked uniforms, without sweaters or umbrellas, wearing high heels or carrying heavy musical instruments in the downpours.  If any spirits were dashed, they certainly didn't show it.  They just kept on keeping on.  So proud of them!
No report would be complete without comment on the presence of SUNTRACS members who marched as well, carrying a banner of protest against the current president.



Boquete Thanksgiving 2012

(This photo taken by Chuck Lofthouse)
Time to catch up on the month's events in Boquete.  November is always jam packed due to the Panamanian holidays followed by the commercial push for the Christmas season.  Sometimes it gets too busy to write... Spent a delightful Thanksgiving with good friends, and a met a few new people as well.    The weather was cool but fortunately not too wet, and we were able to enjoy a traditional meal out on the terrace with spectacular views of Jaramillo in the foreground.

Guy, our host, cooked a memorable, mouthwatering roast turkey and stuffing with all the trimmings.  The wine, conversation, and commraderie flowed into the evening.   We're all planning an encore feast for the upcoming festivities.

Nov 4, 2012

Fiestas Patrias weekend

November  3rd, 4th, and 5th are Panamanian holidays wherein the country demonstrates its patriotism and independence, primarily by way of parades in all parts of the country.  Government buildings are draped in banners of red, white, and blue and school children everywhere participate in parades.  November 3rd is the day of independence or separation from Colombia, November 4th is Patriotic Symbols Day and November 5th is the day of withdrawal of Colombian troops from the city of Colon.  (Note:  Nov. 4th used to be called Flag Day, but Law 2 of Jan. 3, 2012 changed the name from Flag Day to Patriotic Symbols Day---no idea why.)
November 2nd is also observed as a national day of mourning and remembrance of loved ones who've passed away.

Oct 31, 2012

Final Comments on Law 72

Well,  the weekend was quiet as protests ceased while government legislators worked to repeal the controversial and unpopular Law 72 regarding Colon's Free Trade Zone real estate properties.
Monday went off without a snag after the National Assembly approved repeal of Law 72. 
President Martinelli returned from his business trip to Japan and Vietnam.   The President continues to postulate that Law 72 was good for Colon and good for the country, while  opponents continue to blame him for the death of 4 people who were casualties of public demonstrations against the law.
At this point talks are planned between government leaders and Colon Free Trade Zone business and civil leaders to negotiate new plans aimed at reviving Colon and bringing more revenue and investment to the area. 
Because next week is the start of the Fiestas Patrias in most towns of the republic, the talks are tentatively scheduled for November 7th.   Representing the country will be 8 government ministers,  3 government deputies and the mayor of Colon.   Two of the deputies for Colon will  also wear hats as parlimentary representatives.
Also present at the negotiations will be members of the Frente Amplio de Colon, the Associacion de Usuarios de la Zoona Libre,  and the Chamber of Commerce, as well as representatives of the Catholic and Evangelist churches.
Investigations continue regarding the manner and cause of death of the 4 civilian casualties.

Oct 26, 2012

Law 72 On Its Way to Repeal

Today was the 6th day of demonstrations and protests since the sanction of Law 72 on 10/19/12.   It was also the day the Minister of the Presidency, Roberto Henriquez announced that the government was initiating the necessary legislation to repeal the controversial law.  The national assembly voted for approval of repealing Law 72 in the first round of debates today.  This information was widely publicized, resulting in an anticipated end to work stoppages and a cool down of violence and vandalism in Panama City and Colon.  The National Assembly will be meeting again tonight at 12:01 am for the second debate, also expected to result in approval of the repeal.  The third session is scheduled for 12:01 am Sunday morning, and barring any unforeseen circumstances, things should be back to their pre- Law 72 status by the start of the work day on Monday.  President Martinelli has indicated via his Twitter account that he will sancion the repeal once approved and processed by the National Assembly.

Finally---Some Enlightenment

After plowing through numerous videos of interviews with diverse VIPs in Panama’s sociopolitical scene, I finally happened upon one televised interview that actually gave information instead of slanted political rhetoric aimed solely at discrediting President Martinelli and his cabinet.  Listening to political opportunists take advantage of the current crisis in order to further their own image and agenda sits poorly with me.

The interview I’m referring to is one with Roberto Troncoso, the president of the Panamanian Association of Business Executives.  He, too, has his own spin on things, but it was one that provided some answers.  

The existing law regarding the Colon Free Zone was enacted in the 1940’s and Colon's leaders were aware that it was up for revision.  According to Mr. Troncoso, the announcement that there was a leadership consensus regarding Law 72 is misleading.  He said there was a consensus regarding revising the law, but the topic of the sale of public lands in the free zone was a surprise that rose at the very last moment.  (???????)

The interviewer interrupted to mention that the sale of the public lands in the free zone was the topic of public interest and protest regarding Law 72.  Mr. Troncoso reported that the purchase of these lands was a minimal issue to business leaders, and no one actually was motivated to make purchases at this time. [no surprise there…] But apparently, Law 72 has many other articles and provisions that they object to.   He explained there were provisions  giving “super powers” to the manager.  These included authority to unilaterally impose fines of up to $ 250,000 on business owners.  Requests for appeals or reconsideration then had to go through this same manager.   He called the provisions “divisive and a violation of the right to due process, bordering on unconstitutionality”.

Mr. Troncoso advised that the Colon Free Trade Zone was perhaps the only one in the world that wasn’t privatized. The interviewer asked if it wouldn’t be good for a businessman to buy his own land, which could later be mortgaged to purchase inventory, build structures, or provide financial liquidity.   Mr. Troncoso replied that land never devaluates.  The dollar could, but land doesn’t.  The sale of the government land, in his view, amounted to  “Bread for today, hunger for tomorrow”.  

The current Colon Free Zone operation provides 170 million dollars, or 8% to Panama’s GNP.  Not all of this income is from rents, however.   Of this total amount, the city of Colon receives $ 320,000 annually.   The Cambio Democratico party’s plan, that includes sale of the public lands, is proposed to raise $1000 million dollars, generating an annual income to Panama of  $ 100 million.  $33 million of that annual income is what is proposed annually for Colon.  (Mr. Troncoso referred to that amount as “crumbs”.) Following the public outcry, however, President Martinelli tweeted from Japan that he was willing to increase payment to 100% of rents for Colon, and repeal the sale of lands if the populace was against selling.

Mr. Troncoso expressed that reforms are needed, and that the right plan could be good for Colon.   But, he said, the President’s acquiescences came eight days after the onset of the protests and 4 deaths later.   Presently people are upset, angry, and extremely distrustful of President Martinelli and his administration.   As with all other public and business figures, Mr. Troncoso also supports repeal of the law.   [no surprise there, either].

This was also expressed in another interview I watched with Balbina Herrera, ex-presidential candidate for the PRD party, who stated it thusly.  “The country is like a woman who’s faced with a request for   divorce.  Her husband is telling her he’ll give her the car, the house, and other possessions, but she just wants him to get out and go away.” 

Mr. Troncoso also raised the question as to why Law 72 and the promise of planned improvements for Colon are two separate entities.  Why, he asked, couldn’t the plan for Colon’s improvements be written into the law?   He stated that, to the best of his knowledge, there was no master plan regarding improvements for Colon and that there has been a long-standing issue of neglect for Colon involving prior administrations for many years past.   The population of Colon, he stated, is decreasing and not increasing, and there is a dire need to rescue the city. He alluded to the restructuring of the rental arrangements and percentages.

Just as I thought----it’s all going to boil down to negotiation.  Repeal the law as it now stands, draft another, drop the unpopular articles and provisions here,  increase payments there,  grease a few palms,  and deceive the populace into thinking they won their social struggle.  I’m okay with that, provided the violence, vandalism, road closures and deaths stop. 

Oct 24, 2012

Road Closures and Business Cessations Anticipated

I can't believe what I'm seeing.  I keep thinking I must be missing something.  Why else would the entire country be upset over the passing of a law that is good for it?  According to newscasts, the Ngobe Bugle nation is planning to close streets in Chiriqui tomorrow if Law 72 isn't repealed.  High school students are committing acts of vanalism and violence in the capital without really even knowing why they are protesting.  Their parents are being held responsible for damage to property and businesses.  There is a nurses strike in the ministry of health---not due to the law, but implemented in a timely manner to give it more kick.   Everywhere, everyone, is demanding the law be repealed.  They don't seem to understand the law is to the benefit of the pueblo and repeal is to the benefit of the businessman who have been robbing the country blind for the last 12 years.  It all seems so useless.  I keep wondering if everyone is this uninformed,  or if I am missing an elephant in the room.   Looks as though there are going to be more demonstrations, more closure of business operations, and more highway closures for the rest of this week. 

President Martinelli is in Japan, trying to attract more Asian business investments to Panama.  I think this is fueling anti-administration and anti-law 72 sentiment as well.  His political opponents are taking advantage of the situation to take pot shots at him, and they are probably justified in doing so.  He must have realized the backlash the passing of the law would create.  He is reportedly due back on Saturday.

When people on the street were asked why they are protesting, there is a complete range of vague answers.  Some people are angry at the price of food and staples in the supermarket.  Some are protesting police brutality.  Some are simply "supporting the people of Colon", and others are objecting to what they perceive as selling the country to individuals.    It appears as though negotiations have broken down, since the trade zone business leaders are refusing to come to the table with cabinet members until the law is repealed.  Mediation attempts by the Catholic church have failed.  It's been difficult to get up-to-the minute information because coverage on TVN 2, the national television station, has been off line due to "domain restrictions". 

As a last resort I turned to RPC's "Open Debate" which is a discussion forum of current topics.  This evening the participants included journalists, a political analyst, and the ex-attorney general, who is an open critic of President Martinelli.   According to the political analyst, this President has created a crisis situation that now can only be resolved one way--- by repeal of Law 72.  The crux of the public rejection of Law 72 probably lies with the manner in which this president and his administration have governed since his election.   Indeed, Ana Matilde Gomez, the ex-attorney general, once more emphasized the administration's disregard for dialogue and the democratic process.  The prevalent sentiment is that this President and his administration don't feel a need to include the public in their plans, they pass laws to allow what they think is best for the country without consulting anyone outside their realm, and then, only if there is a backlash, do they retreat. The country in general feels excluded from the decision making process, feels there is something amiss due to the quick and preceived "sneaky" manner in which things are getting done, and resents the increased cost of living brought about by the numerous  improvements implemented since the last election---especially when many of these improvements weren't requested or supported by the public.   The wound has been festering for some time now.  This new law, regardless of the benefits it might bring, is just more salt in that festering wound.   In both this situation and to a lesser extent during the indigenous protests 7-8 months ago, the utilization of the police force to quell the public's need to express outrage and disagreement only fuels the flames higher. 

There's nothing really unique to this political situation.  We see scenarios like it repeated all over the world and throughout history.   Unless perhaps we count the fact that Panamanians lived for several years under a repressive dictatorship with Noriega and the memories are still very fresh.  Everyone is adamant it will never be tolerated  again.  The wounds are scarred over, but they're still right on the surface.  And this president is in tight control and behaves like a benevolent dictator.    He's accomplished much more than many of his predecessors, but he's probably faced stronger opposition as well.   I believe him when he states he has no interest in extending his term of governance.

ADDENDUM:  President Martinelli tweeted the following message yesterday, 10/23/12.  

Si el pueblo Colonense no quiere que se vendan las tierras de ZLC,se derogará la venta.los aumentos de alquileres 100% para Colón.

If the people of Colon don't want the lands of the Colon Free Zone sold, the sale will be repealed.  Rent increases 100% for Colon.

Quick Update

The protests in Colon are still happening, but less reports of injuries.  One TV station showed footage of protestors tossing rocks at tranquil policemen in attempt to provoke them to action.  The police weren't responding.  At 10:30 am discussion was to have gotten underway with government representatives and trade zone business leaders regarding implementation of the new law.  A concession was made yesterday by the government that no actions would be taken regarding land sales until the crisis had been resolved.  Today business leaders are saying they won't enter discussions until Law 72 is repealed in it's entirety.  This was announced today at noon.  It wasn't made clear if the sides  had reached an impasse or simply were drawing lines in the sand.  Lunch seemed to be the priority at the time.   Alternate solutions to the issue are being raised by unspecified sources, according to the TV announcer.   These suggestions would seem obvious to anyone---instead of selling the public lands at great outrage, why not raise the rents on the contracts?  Also, the people of Colon are demanding 100% of the revenue to be raised, instead of only 35%.  Given the lands belong to the entire country and not just to the province of Colon, this seems unreasonable in my mind, but it will be interesting to see what happens.  Perhaps they will negotiate it out at 50%.    I'm speculating the government may acquiesce to not selling the lands if they can raise the rents to around 10%, and the Colon leaders may acquiesce if they get 50% of the revenue.  I'm curious if my thoughts even come close to what eventually transpires.  
On the local front, Boquete is a big, grey soupy mess of rain, fog, wind, and eternal dampness.  No one is out on the streets if they can help it.  Those who are able to,  spend their time indoors napping under blankets.  We're in the full throes of the rainy season.  The sun hasn't been out in 3 days.  Northern California is probably sunny and undergoing an Indian Summer.   I remember times when it was too hot to even take down the air conditioners in October...But soon I will be thrilled to be in Boquete as the temps in the bay area drop.   It's all good.

Oct 23, 2012

Perhaps I was Too Optimistic

When I wrote that the unrest over Law 72  would blow over quickly, because everyone could see its implementation would benefit Colon and the country,  I think I was being naïve.   I’ve never had a business head, and this matter requires thinking like a business person.
It initially seemed obvious to me that selling inhabited and developed public lands to those businesses already occupying the land, for the purpose of improving infrastructure while generating additional income and higher revenue for the country, the province, and the municipality, would be something everyone could get on board with.
What never occurred to me was that certain business people, presumably those with the most money, would get their noses bent out of shape and have the means to sabotage the efforts.   Colon riots and vandalism have gone on for longer than anticipated, and it now appears those funding the unrest have deep pockets.
Although the law doesn’t obligate anyone to purchase the occupied land in question, in retrospect it probably does pressure the wealthiest to go that route.
The government essentially wants to sell these lands because they are being leased out at ridiculously low prices to individuals or corporations with long term contracts. Apparently these entities haven’t been paying the lowly taxes assigned with the contracts, either (something like 1%).  Prior governments have either been unsuccessful or unaggressive in collecting this revenue.   According to reports, payments have been pending for 12 years.  Those entities that hold these long term contracts with the government are able to sublet the properties at significantly higher rates (up to 20x higher) to 3rd parties who are doing business in the free zone.   The contract holders are the ones making all the money. 
Along comes Law 72 which allows for the purchase of these public lands.  I am probably missing some things here, but my understanding is that purchase of these lands is not obligatory and is not necessarily an open market.  Maybe that will change, however.   At the current time, the ability to purchase the properties in question is being extended only to those who hold the contracts.  The hope is they WILL purchase the properties, invest in improvements, and pay the government its due share.  According to Frank de Lima, the Minister of Economy and Finance, there are three mechanisms for acquiring title to the public properties. 
1.      Outright purchase
2.      Option to Purchase, putting 10% down and paying the remainder over 5 years.
3.     Continuing to rent, and understanding that at the end of 5 years the property values and applied taxes will be re-evaluated and adjusted.
I’m not clear on whether the lands for sale will be up for grabs by others if the concession holders decline to purchase by the end of the indicated 5 year period.
It's imaginable that businessmen who already have a sweet deal with these government contracts may not want to avail themselves of the above mechanisms at extra expense.  Perhaps, even if they were to choose option 3,  they would face income and expense changes they didn't like in the next five years.
Unfortunately, few businesses / corporations are praised for their social conscience.  And people with no business acumen can easily get deceived by false rhetoric and the scapegoating of an unpopular president.  I wouldn't rule out the existence of false government promises, either.  I suspect a lot of the student protests and criticism from other social groups may be due to this.
But I'm beginning to realize I'm watching corporate-style warfare between those on top who like things as they are versus the have nots  who either want a piece of the pie, or at least want to make those who have the pie,  share a little more of it.
This may get nastier than it is, or it might get negotiated out at the 'conference' level.  The sad part is that the country could be held hostage during the negotiations.  It’s probably going to depend on who can fund their position the longest.   Meanwhile, police as well as citizens are getting shot in the streets, and children are being killed.  This is greed at its ugliest level, and it’s sickening.   I have to give Don Winner credit for his following comment which I think I now comprehend:
It makes sense that the businessmen should be meeting with the government delegation, because the protesters are being paid for and funded by the businessmen of the Colon Free Trade Zone, who don't want Law 72 to stand. They are willing to fund a whole lot of unrest in order to make it go away.

Was Wondering About This--But No Enlightenment

Gilma Camargo, attorney for Walyd Sayed, spoke on Panama's national television channel yesterday regarding the status of her client.  Mr. Sayed is the naturalized Panamanian attorney of Palestinian descent who President Martinelli openly and publically accused of being a narcotrafficker, a terrorist, and an instigator and  financier of the manifestations in Colon following the sancion of Law 72.
Ms. Camargo stated her client woke up in the morning to calls from friends and family informing him of the accusations, and warning him that the President announced he would be revoking the man's citizenship and deporting him.   Ms. Camargo added this was a direct political attack against her client for his origin, and allegedly for his ideology  which the President failed to elaborate upon.    She accused President Martinelli of committing various international offenses against a naturalized citizen, and said he was acting on behalf of the State when doing so because he made the accusations publically while taking part in a television interview in the role of president of the republic.   They will be filing complaints with the Human Rights Commission of the OEA.
The interviewer added that President Martinelli made the accusations based upon intelligence received.   Ms. Camargo's measured response was,   "It would be irresponsible for a Panamanian intelligence system to permit a person to commit so many offenses and say nothing until the moment when the land upon which [that person] has his business is up for sale."
The interviewer asked the obvious and compelling questions,  Who is your client, Why the accusations, What has he done?  Again, the attorney's very measured responses can be summarized as Mr. Sayed is a naturalized citizen within his rights to do business and practice law in the country, and is appropriately fearful for his life and security because the city where he lives is under political unrest and police occupation.   After further prompting from the interviewer,  Ms. Camacho added that Mr. Sayed is a Palestinian from a respectable Catholic family,  and lived some decades in Columbia before relocating to Panama.  He apparently obtained his citizenship in the 1980's.  The interviewer mentioned Mr. Sayed has a business in the free zone and also exercises his profession as a human and civil rights attorney.  She said he is well respected and has good relationships with the community in Colon.  In response to questions from the interviewer regarding why President Martinelli was targeting him, and whether there was prior history, Ms. Camargo responded  that there had been prior incidences, but she didn't know why the president chose this moment to do what he did.  She speculated that the president  might be sending a message to all businessmen in the free zone (clarifying there are many businessmen in the same situation; ie.  Mr. Sayed isn't the only foreigner).  She then shifted the conversation back to the actions being taken by her client regarding the issues at hand.   She specified there is nothing negative about being Palestinian and there currently are no charges against her client that she is aware of.   They are requesting the Interamerican Commission on Human Rights for the OEA take measures to cautiously investigate what prompted this situation, what information they have against Mr. Sayed, and whether there is any 'judicial security'.  When asked if her client would  file a complaint with the Ministerio Publico (public ministry), Ms. Camacho indicated they first would go through the international organizations and assure that it be known "that justice doesn't exist for anyone in the republic [of Panama] ".   She also stated there were other "civil rights violations" that could result in the President being taken to the International Criminal Court.   Ms. Camacho ended the interview saying that in Colon there was an arbitrary and disproportionate attack against the civil population, which was protesting peacefully.
Being liberal in the majority of my political beliefs, I can't believe I'm going to say this.  But this woman seemed anything but credible.   Her demeanor and responses seemed contrived.   I was surprised to hear the President make the comments he made on television regarding Mr. Sayed.  I thought they were very unusual and somewhat unprofessional.   At the time I had sympathy for this unknown individual under attack.  But unfortunately,  Ms. Camacho neither said nor did anything  to create sympathy in me for her client.   I was left with more suspicions and doubts than I had before watching the interview.
Out of curiosity (and because there's nothing better to do during the  incessant rains)   I'll keep monitoring matters.

Oct 21, 2012

More on the Colon Situation

After 3 continuous days of civil unrest in Colon, accompanied by demonstrations and strategy reunions in other parts of the country, most local business owners made the decision to cease operations for 48 hours.  Many of these same businesses were hit by vandalism and complained of insufficient police presence to protect their interests and property.  Then today it was announced that the Minister of the Presidency, Roberto Henriquez, will open dialogues tomorrow with the leaders of Colon to indicate and clarify the benefits to be derived from approval and sancioning of Law 72 of 10/19/12.  This in response to petitions from various sectors to repeal the new law.  The Minister indicated they will not cede to the objectives of the petitions.
In a television interview on 10/19/12,  just prior to approval of Bill 529, President Martinelli spoke on the subject of the sale of lands in the free zone.  He was asked specifically by the interviewer if Panama had incurred a large deficit hole that the sale of said lands was designed to address.  President Martinelli denied this to be the case and stated that the sale of the lands was not being implemented to address any deficit in the country.  He also commented that any sale from the designated lands would not materialize over a short term.   He stated that the current administration did have a very aggressive program to attract investment to the country, and this program involved a strategy to return to the province of Colon benefits equal to 35 cents on each dollar earned from the sales.
The President mentioned that the lands in question are currently held [presumably through rights of possession] by real estate developers that rent from the state at one balboa ($1.00) per sq meter.  They then lease out these same properties to businesses or individuals at $ 20 per sq meter.  Over the course of 5 years, there are slight increases in state rental rates, but these are increases are essentially "nothing".    By offering the owners of the rights of possession an opportunity to purchase and title them,  the expectation is that improvements will be made in infrastructure and construction.  He added that no one will be obligated to purchase the properties, but this new law removes some of the bureaucratic restrictions to the purchase of properties for  "the pueblo"  who are already occupying them.   He reiterated that the sale of the properties will generate income for the state and 35% of that income will be invested in social and infrastructure improvements for Colon.  According to the president, never before has Colon ever received the type of investment that will be dedicated to the province as a result of the property sales.
He stated that it was unfortunate that "two individuals" have taken it upon themselves to deceive the Colon community and finance the current unrest for their own ideological or political interests.  He accused "a Palestinian attorney" whom he named a narcotrafficker and a terrorist,  and an "ex-deputy" as the instigators of the current situation.   As previously stated, action is allegedly being taken to follow proper channels in getting the attorney deported and his naturalization revoked. 
Another question posed to President Martinelli involved the extent of debt his administration will be leaving for the next elected leader and political party to deal with after the election.  President Martinelli insisted that he was not leaving an excessive debt.  He emphasized the percentage of national debt has actually decreased during his administration and they have created the capacity for the next administration to realize a 50% increase in investment over prior ones.  He said he will be leaving the next administration with "19 thousand million" dollars available income for investment.  He explained that his political party intends to monitor those investments to assure they are applied for the good of the country.   He cited as example the prior administration, which he claimed took nearly 192 million from airport earnings and applied it to "political" activities that cannot be justified or identified.  He added that there is a cancelled check available to corroborate of this action.
Politics being what they are, it's difficult to get at the truth of matters.   When the TV announcer asked about accusations levied by economists regarding the large debt incurred by President Martinelli's administration, the President vehemently defended his position.   When asked about his interest or intent to remain in office for another term---something Panamanian law does not allow at this point---President Martinelli reaffirmed he has no interest in pursuing another term.  He demonstrated frustration with the question, and responded "I've said in as many ways as I can that I'm not interested.  Do you know how to say it in Chinese?  I haven't stated it in Chinese.   Could that possibly help?"
The interview was an hour long and covered multiple additional topics not to be addressed in this post.  All four parts of the interview are available on line for those who understand Spanish.   It appears, however, that the sale of the lands in Colon's free zone will not be reversed or stopped, as were the mining rights in the Ngobe comarcas.   From my limited vantage point, this may be okay.   It appears that although the lands may be purchased by foreign business concerns, these same businesses are currently in possession of the properties and are earning twenty times more for for their use than the Panamanian state is earning in rental income for them.  Perhaps the sale of the lands will encourage businesses to invest more in improvements to maintain a competitive edge, and the state income from property taxes will supersede what is being earned in rents.   Time will tell.

Oct 20, 2012

Putting Things in Perspective

Thanks to a contribution from my son, I have this  'attitude adjusting'  video to share as commentary on my last post.

New Political Unrest in Panama---This Time in Colon

In record time today, the Panamanian National Assembly approved Bill 529 and sanctioned Law 72 of  October 19, 2012, allowing for the sale of public lands in the Colon Free Zone.  The controversial project also contemplates the sale of some adjacent land, outside the free zone, under certain restrictions.  Apparently in the third and final National Assembly debate, there were 41 votes in favor and only 4 opposed.  President Ricardo Martinelli has been in favor of the measure since its introduction.  He expressed his opinion that opponents of the measure are posturing for purely political reasons and are unpatriotic; ie people who "do not love their country".   He argues that currently the lands are generating little rental income and the sale of them to business enterprises to allow for improvements will actually bring better revenue.  It is estimated the income from the sale of the lands will  provide around $ 100 million annually and the current plan is for  $ 35 million of that income to be invested to solve social problems specifically for Colon,  thus making the initiative "good for Colon".   
President Martinelli is also citing a particular "foreigner" as the impetus behind the current protests against the law, and reports that it is only a small group protesting.  The administration is vowing to start an investigation process against that person, alleging him  to have serious legal problems regarding his nationalization. The President is saying that the sale of the lands in the Colon Free Zone is supported by all the people of the business class of the province.
Today, two Panamanian attorneys appealed to the Human Rights Commission of the Organization of American States (OEA) to assure the life, physical integrity, personal security, and human and procedural rights of attorney Walid Saied, who is accused by President Martinelli of financing the opposition efforts of the Colon community against the sale of the free zone lands.   President Martinelli reportedly told journalists for the local newstation TVN 2 that attorney Saied is of Palenstinian nationality and entered the country under fraudulent means. The President is pushing for expedient deportation and revocation of nationalization for this individual.
The oppositional activities carried out in the region last night and today were sufficient to result in road barricades and closures, destruction of businesses and properties, burning tires and vandalism, and injuries to 16 people, six of whom suffered gunshot wounds. One death occurred, of a nine-year old child, from three gunshot wounds. Tear gas and pepper spray were also used for riot control.
Law students of the University of Panama also vocalized protests and demonstrated, but stressed peaceful opposition. 
The US embassy has issued warnings to US citizens to avoid travel into the city of Colon, as well as the province for the coming days.
It will be interesting to follow the accusations against attorney Saied as well and observe the outcome of the protests against Law 72.

Oct 17, 2012

Boquete Public Library

Finally got around to visiting the new library, which actually opened months ago.  Parking in the area is kind of a hassle and I always seemed to have somewhere else to go when driving by it.  But today I was on foot when passing by, and decided to stop in.  The building is pretty from the outside, but even more impressive from the inside looking out.  Funded completely by private donations  and supported by the Lion's Club, it really is an example of a community making something happen...