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
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.
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.
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.
however, continues being Panama’s main trading partner. Forty-eight
percent of the country’s exports are shipped up north.
without a cause
From some points of view, street protests by Panamanian students are
a time-honored custom and considered a traditional privilege.
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.
however, student protests have become suspect because of political
manipulation sometimes carried out with a paucity of bona fide 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.
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.
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
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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
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
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.
tourist industry moves into a new and more prosperous era, the Casco
Viejo presents a challenge and a unique opportunity.