Jul 31, 2015

Paradise or Paradox: Crime Wave in Boquete

Violent armed robberies have increased exponentially in Boquete,  and the customary strategical armor employed by tourism-related businesses to quell such information has finally cracked. Hopefully it will continue to do so.  The public needs to be prepared and pressure needs to be continually applied to rectify the problem. 

It's hard to get the exact details, because news agencies and the police do not routinely release this information.  Word of mouth in small towns tends to function fairly well, however, and I'm not ashamed to admit my following recount was obtained in this manner.  I haven't been able to verify the details, but no one is denying the events occurred.  

In the last two days there have been at least 5 robberies in this sleepy mountain town. Four of them involved use of firearms.  The least frightening incident involved a single woman whose home was broken into while she was sleeping.  The thieves came in through the bathroom window, and stole a 42 inch television, leaving out the front door.  She awoke to find her front door wide open and the TV gone.  Allegedly a downtown gas station was robbed the same night. 

Last night, four more armed robberies were reported via the grapevine. Three youths attacked a couple in Santa Lucia as they were returning home around 4:40 pm.  The woman was hit in the head and the couple was robbed at gun point of credit cards, money, and a white Lexus automobile.  (The nationality of the couple hasn't been disclosed, but the husband reportedly speaks perfect Spanish.)

Subsequently the Terpel gas station in Bajo Boquete was robbed.  Next,  a woman returning home with her children was robbed in Jaramillo Arriba.  Thieves put a bullet hole in her car and stole cash and other items.  (She and her husband own a restaurant in town.  The restaurant has previously been robbed, but this wasn't general knowledge before.)  

Later, there was an attempted home invasion in Palmira Abajo.  The Palmira Abajo residence, gated and equipped with surveillance cameras, was broken into, however the thieves couldn't get past an iron security door and were discovered on camera by domestic employees who called the police. Before the police arrived, however, the property owner, an elderly female with her own firearm, discharged the weapon into her yard and the robbers fled. (She is being hailed a hero by much of the expat community, and that in and of itself, is another concerning matter.)

Finally, whether related or not, a home invasion and robbery occured at 6 am the following morning (today) on the outskirts of David in a community known as La Garita de las Lomas.  Again a firearm was used and violence occurred.  

Compared to US or Canadian statistics five incidents may not seem like much.  However, for this small community it is huge and  cause for significant concern.  It signals the extension and reach-distance of criminal gangs,  and it highlights the inability of police agencies to do anything about them. 

It is a harbinger of problems to come and it marks the shift in status of this retirement haven. There is talk of vigilantism and illegal firearm acquisition.  The talk is sometimes quite frightening.  The property owner who fired into her yard wrote the following on a widely read expat forum, and received nothing but congratulatory comments:

"I was fortunate that I found out about the gun not firing until the third time I pulled the trigger.  I will fire it routinely now to make sure that I am really ready for the next time.  I am a little disappointed though that I did not get to kill a robber and perhaps a murderer. But  at least now I am really ready."

Along with the increased frustration Panamanians are expressing toward gang activities is an abiding concern about such expat enthusiasm for owning or acquiring guns, and for taking matters into one's own hands.  Some facebook comments shared with me read as follows:

  •  Que pena que el área se esté dañando con estos extranjeros irresponsables que al traer estas armas están es despertando un gigante. Si son habladurías o no, el.gobierno debe de investigar que nada bien le hace a el pueblo.
  • Así espero. No quiero que Boquete se vuelva la Abastecedora de Armas, legal o ilegalmente importadas, de esos crímenes y tráfico del cual desconocemos hasta hoy el origen y la razón.
  • El viejo y violento oeste.

  • What a shame that the area is being damaged by these irresponsible foreigners who, upon bringing in these arms are awakening a giant.  If it's just talk or not, the government should investigate for it's not doing anything good for the town.  
  • Such is my hope.  I don't want Boquete to become an arms warehouse, legally or illegally imported, [as a result of ] these crimes and traffic of which up until now we know nothing of their reason or origin.  
  • The old and violent West.

The times they are a  changin', and the attitude of Manifest Destiny is alive and well here in Boquete.   

Jul 27, 2015

Children's Choral Recital at the Library

This Sunday I attended the choral recital by the Niños Cantores de las Tierras Altas at the Boquete Library.  The group is newly formed and has only been practicing for about 6 months under the direction of Carmen Alvarado. They meet and practice each Saturday from 9 am to 12 noon.  

Some of the children are also instrumentalists,  and the young lady above has done extensive self-study in Japanese dance and provided a demonstration for the audience of primarily Panamanians and a few expats.  

It was an enjoyable hour at the library on a Sunday afternoon.  Hopefully there will be more events as the group grows in experience and number.    

Jul 19, 2015

The Other Side of the Coin

I realize it's been awhile since my last post and there are no excuses other than the heart hasn't been in it.   Life had been moving at an ordinary, uneventful pace until a few weeks ago when another home invasion was reported in the Brisas Boqueteñas area.   

This week the news was even more dramatic.   According to posts on Boquete Ning and elsewhere, it's disconcerting.   The community is still reeling. 
  • On July 11th a single man from the US, in his mid-sixties,  was beaten, stabbed, and robbed in his home at 3:00 am in Potrerillos.  Reports indicate one of the perpetrators had a gun and  pulled the trigger in the victim's face three times.  The gun was old and dirty, and didn't fire.  Four young males were involved.
  • On July 14th, Irene Haines, better known as the Tuesday market "book lady" died from a sudden illness in the hospital in David.  
  • On July 17th / 18th, during the night,  Lee Zeltzer of  Boquete Panama Guide, passed away in his home about 24 hrs after being released from the hospital for what he had blogged was "some kind of a bug".   
  • On July 18 at night, there was a home invasion into the residence of Joe and Betsy Potrebenko in River Ranch Farms near Gualaca.  Joe Petrobenko was shot and killed, and the thieves made away with a few old laptops, around  $50 cash, and an old pick up truck.  The victim's wife and mother-in-law survive him, but were tied up next to the bleeding man and forced to witness his slow death. 
Panama is appearing less and less the paradise it once seemed to be.  Despite my continued infatuation with the weather and more laid back  lifestyle, I'm finding it increasingly difficult to make regular upbeat postings as tales of robberies and home invasions become more frequent and generalized gang activity increases. The invasions aren't limited to wealthy expat homes and the motives are less about robbery than about the opportunity for youth and probable gang members to inflict violence and terror on incapacitated and older humans. Panama's liberal treatment of youth offenders doesn't seem to be helping address matters much.  

I have to say that were I to be retiring at this point instead of several years ago, I would think long and hard about proceeding to Panama.  Panama City has become much more violent and congested, and the provinces aren't as safe as they once were.   The cost of living has skyrocketed, and it's no longer easy to survive on even a US pension and social security.  Medical care isn't readily affordable any more,---if you are hospitalized in a private facility you must be able to upfront the costs or leave.   And the social security hospitals are lacking in pharmaceuticals and other necessities to treat patients.  

It's been a rough few weeks and please accept my apologies for the less than optimistic post.  I continue to be more enthusiastic than not about living here.  But I haven't a lot of options, and I was fortunate enough to buy before things got as expensive as they currently are.   

For those contemplating an international relocation to Panama at this time, I strongly encourage you to do your due diligence. Homes for sale many places in the US are now less expensive than lesser quality places here.  And although crime stats may be higher in the US, I've never previously been acquainted with, nor lived as close to home invasion victims (Panamanian as well as expat) as I currently do...   

ADDENDUM:  Today someone posted this link on the Boquete Ning forum regarding a 60% prosecutory failure rate in Panama for homicides.  The article is in English.