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VOL. 11 #22 -- Oct. 21 - Nov. 3, 2005
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Isthmian Update

Some of the news in Panama

Free Trade Agreement
The issue of the Free Trade Agreement between Panama and the United States is heating up again, after a number of factors turned the topic cold earlier this year. The stalled negotiations are gaining momentum thanks to the upcoming visit of U.S. President George W. Bush in early November.

Although Panama has enjoyed a long commercial and historic relationship with the U.S., (due mainly to the construction of the Panama Canal) it is one of the few countries in the region that has not signed a Free Trade Agreement with the gringos. The reason: the subsidized U.S. Agricultural sector, which Panamanian farmers regard as unfair competition.

Whereas other countries in the region have shown alacrity in signing agreements with the U.S. in recent years, Panama has hung back perhaps because the country was counting on becoming the permanent headquarters of the secretariat of the Free Trade Agreement of the Americas (FTAA). During the last four years, the rest of Central America ( a region Panama often looks down on due to the our "superior" and more diversified economy) negotiated with the North Americans as a single block and signed an agreement which will enter into effect in January of next year.

With the FTAA losing momentum and with no strong trading ties with either Central or South America, Panama has had to negotiate on its own. By late 2004, 90% of the negotiations had stalemated.

The U.S., however, continues being Panama’s main trading partner. Forty-eight percent of the country’s exports are shipped up north.

Rebels without a cause
From some points of view, street protests by Panamanian students are a time-honored custom and considered a traditional privilege.

For instance, students were prominent in the strife for sovereignty over the Canal and from the early days of the Republic the Instituto Nacional on Calle Estudiante, the principal high school of the city, erupted frequently in protest against the government of the day.

Recently, however, student protests have become suspect because of political manipulation sometimes carried out with a paucity of bona fide students.

Students of the University of Panama recently, on several successive days, closed the Trans Isthmian Highway which runs alongside the campus. Their quierance? the high cost of fuel, with President Bush’s pending visit thrown in for good measure.

That the students should be allowed to throw the city’s streets, clogged at the best of times, into further disorder and congestion, for causes which range from quixotic to useless, has long been a source of complaint among the citizenry.

After the first closure of the Trans-Isthmian, the director of the National Police Force, Rolando Mirones, was reported in the daily newspaper "La Estrella" to have threatened that everyone who closes off streets "will become a prisoner". He pointed out that the law prohibits the obstruction of public highways and warned that violent demostrations affecting the rights of third parties "is not negotiable".

Despite these brave words, a small group of students thumbed their noses at Mr. Mirones and the following day closed the highway for five hours amid serious clashes with riot squads which they attacked with sticks and stones.

Its all in a day’s sport and Panamanians, always cynical of their institutions, didn’t expect anything to change. However, the following day about 60 students and seven adults from several colleges were arrested as they tried to block the highway.

To protect the Perlas Archipelago
The latest target of ecologists and conservationists is the Perlas Archipelago. A draft law will come before the National Assembly seeking to establish a zone of "special management" which will protect land and sea creatures which inhabit the islands together with all their vegetation.

Action on corruption
On the corruption front, 862 public servants found in the latest pay packet nothing more than a notice advising them that they will receive no more pay until they comply with a law which obliges them to declare their assets.......... and the head of the Technical Judicial Police, Rogelio Harris, who took over the job six months ago after a career of over 20 years as a homicide detective, was detained as charges were formulated against him of drug trafficking, corruption of public servants, and money laundering.

Old City woes
Lack of will, lack of resources, procrastination and disinterest on the part of the government is putting the restoration and rejuvenation of Casco Viejo, the Old City of Panama, in jeopardy.

The latest news, following UNESCO’s threat to withdraw National Heritage Site status from the area, is that the National Institute of Culture (INAC) has rejected plans of the Decameron hotel group to build a hotel on the site of the old Union Club just below the steps of Las Bovedas.

The Decameron project proposed maintaining the old Union Club structure on the foreshore and throwing out a platform over the seabed surmounted by a glass-walled structure to accommodate 85 rooms. INAC considers the proposal out of keeping with the colonial architecture of the area and is to ask UNESCO for a "formal opinion". The project has been in the pipeline for years. Meanwhile the old Union Club is a crumbling and insanitary eyesore.

Probably, there is insuffiscient space for an 85 room hotel on the land which the old building occupies. Matters are further complicated since the Attorney General has drawn attention to the fact that Panama’s constitution forbids construction over beach or sea, which is considered public domain

A thriving hotel in the Casco Viejo would provide the needed catalyst for the re-development of this area, which is a valuable national asset going almost completely to waste. Another source of shame is the old Hotel Central on Cathedral Plaza, at the turn of the 19th century the most famous hotel in Latin America, still open until the 1980s and now also going into ruin, presumably in the hands of a speculator.

As the tourist industry moves into a new and more prosperous era, the Casco Viejo presents a challenge and a unique opportunity.

 
 
 

A Complete Vacation for $299?
Only in Panama!

You just made a birdie putt on a famous golf course in Florida. Your wife is enjoying a full makeover in the resort spa. Your children have gone to the beach. Your parents are revitalizing in the healthy Florida sun. And best of all, you are not paying $299 per night—you are paying it for the week.

How did you receive such a great deal? You joined Travel Choice International, a worldwide comprehensive vacation provider. For an initial fee of $5,950, lifetime member benefits include: vacations at over 5,500 resorts for only $279-$299 per week (not per person), $3,000 in hotel reward dollars per year at over 8,000 hotels, inclusives and super inclusives, package deals for golf and scuba diving, cruise specials, savings on airfare and car rental, real-time reservations and personal booking capability—and your personal membership is completely transferable.


A peaceful horse back ride on a Panamanian beach.

It’s important to note that Travel Choice International is not one of those expensive time shares that you have been offered in the past. You take your vacation at a high-scale resort without experiencing the inconvenience of purchase costs, maintenance and exchange fees, or resort and or season restrictions. You only pay for what you want when you want it.

Due to Panama’s recent popularity and visibility as a prime tourism destination, Travel Choice International has chosen our country for the launch of its Latin American Division, which services vacationers in both Spanish and English.

As part of the Panama launch, Travel Choice International is offering ground-floor opportunities for tourism providers, developers, corporations and charitable organizations that desire to be part of a program that is unique to the Latin American regions.

Plans call for the opening of regional offices early next year. If you want to take your vacation or participate with Travel Choice international now, you can only do so by contacting escape@travelchoiceint.com

 
 
 

Things that make Panama special

Panama celebrates its 102nd anniversary as an independent nation throughout November. As a tribute to our country, we present some images of the things that make this country special.


The Panama canal: the world's most famous waterway and Panama's No. 1 tourist attraction.

Old Panama ruins: The first European city on the Pacific coast of Americas boasted the tallest building in the New World during the XVII century.

The Old Quarter: Exotic, vibrant, rich in history.

Portobelo: Back in the 17th and 18th century, these guns protected the world's largest free trade emporium in the New World.
A Congo dancer from the province of Colón. Panama's folklore is as diverse as its population.

The Mola: Panama's most distinctive fashion abroad.
 
 



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