This post is also available in: Spanish
By Jacob Ehrler
Tipping is customary in Panama. But now the notion must be re-thought – at least regarding ‘bien cuidados,’ the individuals who act as independent and informal guards of parked cars. At 4:00 a.m. on Saturday, August 11 in Casco Antiguo, Aurelio Pérez was allegedly shot by a young man, who pulled a gun after he had denied the shooter a $5 tip for watching his car.
“In an alley off Plaza Herrera, five or six kids arrived to help me, my brother and a friend enter our car at 4:00 a.m. and requested $5 for the ‘bien cuidado’ service,” relates Aurelio Pérez. His brother informed the kids that he had already paid $5 to the person who had received the car upon parking it at the beginning of their night. He did not want to tip again and all the three boarded their vehicle.
Then there was a gun to Marco Aurelio Pérez head, “Give me your cellular phone and your wallet and get out of the car,” said the youth. The driver accelerated and the passenger was allegedly shot in the hip. But he was lucky. After two days in the hospital, he was on the way to a full recovery.
Recent historical perspective
Barely a decade ago, many people were afraid of visiting Casco Antiguo because of its reputation as a bad neighborhood. Since then, and in line with the pattern of restoration, the Unesco barrio became one of the safest in all of Panama. There being “a policeman on every corner” became common knowledge. Before, passing off fifty cents or even a generous dollar was acceptable….. and still optional, although advisable to avoid a confrontation with the ‘bien cuidado’ or having the risk of one’s vehicle vandalized.
Today Casco Antiguo is popular with visitors from Panama and abroad many of whom enjoy the most expensive cocktails in town while someone (supposedly) watches over their vehicle. The chance of finding a ‘bien cuidado’ still guarding at one’s car upon returning has dropped significantly today. Lately it has become an excuse to demand money.
What must be done
This sad new precedent presents the authorities with a situation that must be handled briskly and with determination even in the face of election season, when the use of a strong hand can be unpopular.
Carrying the bullet
The victim will retain a lifelong memory of this experience and will also retain the bullet. According to his surgical team, the slug must remain in his body, as it is lodged in the cartilage between his sacrum and coccyx.