Feb 28, 2014

Agreement Reached on Panama Canal Extension

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

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

Feb 18, 2014

What's Going On in Venezuela?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Feb 11, 2014

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

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

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

Feb 9, 2014

All of Panama Declared a Dengue Epidemic Zone

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

February 8, 2014

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

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

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

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

Per medicine net, the following information is provided:

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

Feb 8, 2014

Update on Wandering Spiders

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

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

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

 phoneutria nigriventer

Phoneutria photo from website below

my own unclassified phoneutria
Link:        http://www.spiderzrule.com/wander.htm

phoneutria fera photo result from internet search

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

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

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

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

Feb 7, 2014

No resolution to the Panama Canal Expansion issue

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

More on Panama politics to follow, hopefully.