Dec 27, 2013

Political Alliances are beginning

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

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

Dec 26, 2013

Visit from a Wandering Spider

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dec 22, 2013

Sorting out Panama's Political Parties

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dec 21, 2013

Strained relations between Panama and Ecuador

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

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

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

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

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

Controversial Day of Mourning

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

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

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

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

Dec 9, 2013

Summer has arrived!

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

I'm dreaming of a warm Christmas....