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.
- 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.