Dec 19, 2014

Interesting Interview on TVN with Giacomo Tamburelli

Cable and Wireless is yet again experiencing technical difficulties in Chiriqui, and I'm using my cell phone modem to get the latest news.  Giacomo Tamburelli, the ex-director of PAN prior to Adolfo Obarrio's assumption of the position, spoke with a news reporter regarding his willingness to cooperate with investigations into the suspected theft of multiple millions of dollars from the national public assistance fund (PAN).  Both Obarrio and Tamburelli are under house arrest at this time. 

While the interview and Mr. Tamburelli's responses made great viewing material, I was left with the impression that something continues to be amiss.  Mr. Tamburelli admitted no wrongdoing on his part,  but expressed  willingness to openly disclose any information investigators might require.  He also made overt allegations that the ex-president threatened his wife and family. When the reporter questioned the mechanisms of those threats to his family, he said it had to do with voice recordings. He requested public support and protection for his family.  

The interview was too extensive to translate or summarize in a casual post such as this, but it did seem he was promising to reveal a lot of information that would implicate the past presidential administration in signficant corruption.   He frankly stated that he was at all times under direct orders from Adolfo Obarrio, the ex-president's designee, and that Ricardo Martinelli was now trying to buy his silence. .  The interview was intriguing, but something about this man's aspect and demeanor left me unsympathetic toward him, and doubting the veracity of his accusations. It will be interesting to observe what transpires over time.   

Dec 18, 2014

Another Ugly American Story

The following photos were uploaded from facebook pages and are covered with extensive commentary on  I am pasting and posting here for extended coverage of an event that bears ongoing circulation.  The story related below is taken from statements posted by some of the people involved in the incident. 

The man in the photo walked over to a neighbor's home in Santa Lucia, Volcancito on Dec. 16th and shot through their fence to injure the neighbor's two pet dogs who were inside the yard.  He claims to have done so in retaliation for one of the dogs having bitten his child earlier. The child is reported to have only superficial wounds and was observed teasing the dog while it was out on its daily run. The poor animal was shot in the jugular area and is currently in critical condition.  The second dog received a superficial gunshot wound. The man used an air rifle, which apparently is silent. When the animals cried out from being shot, the owners became aware of the action. The owners spoke with the shooter, Justin Whitney Reinholz, following the incident and asked the obvious questions.   Mr. Reinholz warned them he had killed lots of dogs in the US and that he also had "real" guns and wouldn't hesitate to return to deal with the owners if necessary.  He is seen resting on his gun muzzle and smiling at the Panamanian neighbors through their fence after the incident.

Needless to say there is a lot of outrage in our area---not only from an expat community that has two full time charities plus numerous satellite organizations dedicated to the humane treatment and rescue of animals, but also from an increasingly agitated Panamanian population that has just about "had it" with the growing influx of foreigners and the problems they are introducing.  And to top it all off, December 20th is the anniversary of operation Just Cause, which always seems to pour salt into the unhealed wounds of many nationals.

Animal groups in the expat community have reached out to the owners of the wounded dogs and are offering assistance to get the appropriate denuncias filed for legal action to be taken against the shooter.  Apparently, he also has filed a complaint against the dog owners. He is either married to a Panamanian or is the custodial parent of two Panamanian children, so there are multiple issues related to how his actions are handled by authorities.

As is generally the case with the Boquete.ning forum, opinions and sentiments abound.  Some expats are angry at being "profiled" because of nationality. Others are over the top in demanding a meeting with the mayor for the purpose of getting their sentiments of regret publically expressed.   In my opinion, we need to learn restraint and to stop trying to take over.  We should allow the Panamanian legal, regulatory, and social instititions to do what they are meant to do.  I feel demanding a meeting with the mayor is akin to making still another demand for "special"  attention. Why should our concerns be addressed differently or more expediently than that of any other citizen or resident who has a  regret to express?  

I'm amazed at the sudden concern from expats about how we might be perceived. Perceptions are built over time from ordinary, everyday encounters and interactions.  An incident such as this one can certainly add fuel to the fire, but it alone isn't going to make a generalized negative  impression.  If there is a backlash now, it's not because of this single, albeit horrific, event.  It's because of our behavior patterns in everyday matters. It's about the way we continue to conduct ourselves. 

The governmental and social systems currently in place haven't been given the opportunity to function yet.  The ink is barely dry on the denuncias, and we are already demonstrating what pains  in the  #$%&#   we  expats can truly be.  Will we never learn a little humility, deference, respect and patience?  Have a little trust that things will work out as they should.  It happens here more often than any of us are willing to imagine. I am continuously amazed at how efficient things are here as compared to back home.  

Please, people, just chill.  If you need to do something, express your heartfelt apologies to the dog owners.  That might truly help. 

Dec 16, 2014

Another Successful Concert at the Biblioteca

Director Elsa Castillo deserves kudos for organizing another great musical event at the Boquete Biblioteca---this time a youth symphony orchestra from David.  It's the first of it's kind in Panama, and the musicians, ranging in age from 8 to 21, were incredibly accomplished for their short tenures as part of the ensemble.  According to information provided, some students had as little as 6 months of music lessons and the "senior" participants may have had as much as 2 years. They played 6-7 classical pieces, including selections from the Nutcracker Suite and Dvorak's New World Symphony, then ended the afternoon with traditional Christmas music and one latin calypso rhythm.  They received standing ovations from a pleased audience of both Panamanian and expat attendees.  The orchestra is named after it's founder,  Manuel Obaldía Alvarado, and is better known as M.O. A. for short. 

Dec 7, 2014

Mother's Day Program in Caldera

December 8th is Mother's Day in Panama, and it's a big deal here.  Unlike in the states where Mother's Day is always on a Sunday, in Panama Mother's Day is a National Holiday.   Businesses are closed and entire communities get involved in creating a tribute to all mothers in the country.  There are public programs in local parks and town centers where town officials, local politicians, and community groups give speeches, presentations, and donated gifts to  mothers in the community. Cultural groups and students from local schools often provide either oratory, musical or dance performances, and sometimes food or flowers are distributed to the mothers in the assembled crowds. It's a nice way to make women who are also mothers feel special and appreciated. 

Last night I had to opportunity to attend a Mother's Day Celebration in the little town of Caldera.  It was a humble but uplifting event.  It was impressive to see how the school aged boys of the town were utilized as greeters, ushers and servers. Following the program they were thanked for their assistance. One of the youths responded by saying how pleased he and the others were at being able to be of service.  He expressed their ongoing willingness to contribute to the community.   

It never ceases to amaze me how Panamanians of all ages can spontaneously provide gracious, positive, and constructive commentary regarding any topic or content, if asked. I see it over and over again in television "man on the street" interviews and in public gatherings.  I think it must be something inculcated in their education and upbringing. From the humblest of citizens to the most prestigious, it's something they seem to do instinctively.  

The Mother's Day celebration in Boquete is yet to occur.  It will be a larger and more expensive program with bigger and better gifts for some fortunate mothers.  Usually stoves, refrigerators, and many smaller household items are donated by local merchants. I've never understood how the gifting is organized, but somehow the community is aware of who the local mothers are and they are provided with tickets which later are used for drawings after the performances.  I am hoping to see some of my neighbors win  valuable prices this year.  

Nov 30, 2014

President Varela Visits Boquete

The holiday festivities were still going strong at noon when I drove downtown to explore.   Panama's new President,  Juan Carlos Varela, was in the grandstand watching the marching bands and waving to people.  Additional bands and other participants are traveling in from surrounding areas, and I expect the parade will continue into the early night hours.    It's really an emotional experience to see Panama's school children express their patriotism,  and a major reason I never tire of attending the parades.

For great photos taken by Mark Heyer, go to this URL.  You won't be sorry !

Nov 29, 2014

Boquete Rainbow---A Sign of Summer

I've said all along that summer was going to be here early this year...We've had an incredibly mild rainy season, and the winds, bajareques, and rainbows are already here!  This will probably mean water shortages toward the end of the summer, and a few dry mountainsides, but we can deal with all that if/when it becomes an issue.  For now, the summer is a welcome thought.

Yesterday was the date of Panama's Independence from Spain, and we are in the midst of a 4-day weekend.  There were school bands that marched in a several hour-long parade yesterday.  But the pueblo is officially celebrating the event tomorrow, Sunday.  There will be marching bands and polleras and horses and music and longs lines of people along the downtown streets from about 9 am until around 6 pm.  The preparations are underway at this time.  A quick trip to the grocery store revealed the following images of a sleepy mountain town gearing up to throw a party...

Nov 5, 2014

A Small Donation for a Worthy Cause

The lovely gringa in this photo is Lindsey Parry,  who runs a non-profit here in Boquete called Sewing Seeds of Love (SSOL). She employs and supports Ngobe Bugle women to sew clothing designs Lindsey creates for sale in the US under the label 4 Love Clothing. She has been in the US for several months now, working extra jobs to earn enough money to continue the non-profit and promote the fledgling 4 Love clothing line in the US. Below is a letter she sent out to friends. A copy of it was forwarded to me. I am posting here in case anyone feels inclined to contribute a small gift to a worthwhile cause at Christmas. I'm sure even the smallest donation would be gratefully accepted. See letter below.  Here are two website addresses to become more informed about her organizations:

I can’t believe it is almost November and there are already Christmas decorations everywhere I look. I’m in shock over how fast this year has flown by, but in the midst of life and daily responsibility it is quite empowering to take a step back and reflect…
This year has brought about a number of trials and tribulations for me personally as I continue to face the unknowns in my journey to walk God’s path for me. Fortunately, each time I’ve felt fear and worry over the future stir in me, I’ve been led to rely on this particular bible verse:

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7).
Each time I recite these words, I’m filled with peace and encouragement as the truth they hold resonates with my spirit. In times of doubt they restore my faith and give me the strength to continue to run the race with perseverance.
If you’re in the midst of a struggle or anything, I encourage you to read (and perhaps memorize) this verse. When you feel fear creeping in, whisper these words and allow the peace they bring to fill you.
The adventure of life is one heck of a ride. On one hand it’s filled with trials and tribulations and on the other, it’s filled with SO many reasons to celebrate…like Christmas, which is just around the corner!
As many of you know, I’m a huge advocate for giving the women and children that SSOL serves “life experiences”. I want to expose them to things they’ve never done before. And with Christmas, I want to make it as special as possible…
While it’s common around the holidays for the children (at the orphanage only) to receive gifts, few people take time to truly do something special for these people. To help amp up their Christmas experience, I’ve come up with the following “Christmas experiences”, one for the children at the orphanage and one for the children at our on-site project and the 4Love women: 
Christmas at the Orphanage:
Surprise the children with an afternoon and evening of Bounce Houses, Slip n’ Slide, music, grilling out for dinner and ice cream sundaes for 60+ children and all the workers.
Estimated cost: $700
Christmas for the women and children of SSOL and 4Love:
A day at the beach where transportation and lunch is provided for the women, children and their families.
Estimated cost: $500
For the past three years, SSOL has partnered with the local orphanage to help provide gifts for all 60 children on Christmas day. This year we would like to do the same for the 20 children who attend our SSOL on-site project…
In the past, gifts have ranged from colored pencils and coloring books to some sort of game or soccer ball, depending on the child’s interest. Since I know each of these kids extremely well, I’ll personally be shopping for their gifts to ensure they receive something they’ll truly love.
An average of $20 is spent to give each child a really nice gift. Total cost for the children at our on-site project is $400.
I’m currently in the states and will be heading back to Panama on November 17th
Since there are better deals (and the quality is much better) stateside, I’d like to buy the majority of these gifts while I’m here.
If you feel moved to help with any of these proposed “Christmas experiences”, donations can be made through our website here or if you prefer to send a check, they can be made out to Sowing Seeds of Love and sent to Kim Register: 209 Waterbury Ln. IHB, FL 32937
A warm hug and a big thank you to each of you who help make Christmas a little brighter for these children year after year. Without your support, none of this is possible.

Copyright © 2014 Sowing Seeds of Love, All rights reserved. 
Thanks for signing up for our newsletter at church or via email.

Our mailing address is: 
Sowing Seeds of Love
209 Waterbury Lane
IHB, FL 32937

Oct 26, 2014

A Panamanian Quinceañera

When a girl turns fifteen years of age in most Latin American countries, her family holds a BIG party to celebrate her becoming a woman.  I've been to such events held by Mexican families and by Costa Rican families, but tonight's party was the first Panamanian celebration I've attended.   Photos will help to illustrate just how big of a deal this is for Latin American families.  The young lady being celebrated tonight is from a socio-economically humble family matrix.  The costs parents incur to hold these events for their daughters will never cease to impress me.  

Birthday Girl's Place of Honor

Father presenting his daughter with the traditional ring.
Mother presenting daughter with traditional high-heeled sandals.
A few of the partygoers

Proud, if not stressed, parents

Sandal-bearer, Ring-bearer, and Flower Girl
Singer / Entertainer

Brother-Sister Waltz

Chief Carrera Isn't Stepping Down

Apparently the actions taken by Edilberto Sanchez and other associated individuals involved with the Ngäbe Buglé general congress were illegal and unsupported by the required majority of the comarca, according to local news sources.  Ms. Carrera insists she will remain in her elected position until 2017.   An indigenous group known as the April 10th Movement has communicated information that the Board of Directors of the General Congress do not have the authority to dismiss the chieftess, and that due process requires an interregional meeting in active session comprised of 280 delegates.  At which point, if a serious offense could be substantiated,  the session could proceed to a decision regarding whether a temporary or permanent separation from duty for Ms. Carrera were indicated.  This action cannot be taken by a small number of men who, motivated by personal and economic interests, carried it out in absence of a consensus and by violating due process, emphasizes their communique.  Formal notification of Ms. Carrera's dismissal still has not reached  government ministries. 

Ms. Carrera has stated,  "The people elected me, not these few men.  They are simply a body of delegates that comprise the general congress.   I was elected by popular vote.  I can't be dismissed without proof of wrongdoing."  The April 10th Movement has reiterated its backing of Ms. Carrera as the maximum authority for the pueblo determined by popular vote. 

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,

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.