Isthmian Update – Vol. 21#29

Veraguas’ new university extension

The district of Mariato in Veraguas will soon offer university education.   Around 80 prospective students have enrolled in a recently created extension of the University of Panama, the Mariato Regional University Center. The extension is expected to begin classes this August, with degree courses in education, tourism, agriculture, English, IT and accounting.   Those interested in enrolling should report to Colegio Daniel Alvarez, the school that will initially house the new university extension.

Illegal dumping on the Mamoní

Representatives from the Ministries of Health and Environment recently discovered containers of toxic agrochemicals illegally dumped in a creek in the area of Chepo.   The containers were found in the village of Las Margaritas in the sector of El Tecal. They were traced to local rice farmers who disposed of the potentially dangerous items in a tributary of the Mamoní River, which serves as the source of water for thousands. Authorities are still investigating.

Tour de Panama cycling tournament

The first annual Tour de Panama cycling race, scheduled for August 3 – 9, will award a $50,000 purse. The 310 km race seeks to position Panama as a noteworthy stop on the international cycling circuit, in the tradition of the Tour de France. The Panama version will feature four stages, the most difficult of which will be the El Valle leg, and will have a picture perfect ending at the Cinta Costera in Panama City.

Spy net with presidential links

The administration of ex Panama President Ricardo Martinelli, in complicity with local businesses, has been linked to the purchase of spy equipment, used to infiltrate private cell phone and computer based communications. The equipment, purchased through ghost companies established in Belize under the names Leyte Ltd. and Theola Ltd., went missing after the May 2014 presidential elections. This was confirmed after documents came to light resulting from a cyber attack on the company that sold the spy equipment to Panama, the Italianbased Hacking Team.

San José galleon under study

A UNESCO mission is in the country to help determine the future of the wreck of the San Jose, a XVII century Spanish galleon that sunk off the Las Perlas archipelago.   Though Panama’s National Institute of Culture (INAC) requested the presence of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization last April, the shipwreck is currently managed by a private company.   According to the concession awarded to Investigaciones Marinas del Istmo in 2003, 35% of the recovered pieces go to the State. The UNESCO team is expected to propose an alternative plan for managing the site.

Lack of rains in La Yeguada

The reservoir at the La Yeguada Forest Reserve in the province of Veraguas has been affected by a lack of rain.   The 97-hectare lagoon feeds a hydroelectric plant that has been inactive for the past three months due to the low water levels. The drought conditions are also impacting fishing, said Fidenzio Aizprua, head of the La Yeguada Reserve, who explained that the lake is 12 feet below minimum levels.

Seeking bids for the New Children’s Hospital

The Ministry of Health has issued a bid for tender for the new Hospital del Niño (Children´s Hospital) and the new maternity ward of the Santo Tomás Hospital. The project’s reference cost is set at $8.5 million and the company that wins the contract must deliver an initial study, design and cost analysis within nine months of signing on. Saving the National Theater

The restoration of the National

Theater begins this week at the hands of the Technological University of Panama (UTP), whose personnel are conducting an initial study of the structure.   The study alone is expected to reach completion in four months and carry a cost of $50,000. A recent study conducted by the National Institute of Culture’s architectural wing revealed that the theater, which dates to 1908, has several corroded steel elements and fissures in some of the walls. The new study will reveal the extent of the problems and begin to give an idea of the restoration’s cost.

Rice producers backed up

Members of the Panamanian Association of Chiriquí Rice Producers (APACH), say the lack of rains has meant that, so far this year, 4,638 less hectares of rice has been planted than the year before in the province.   While climate change and a lack of rain due to the El Niño weather pattern have each had their effect, APACH also claims “uncertainty in the market” as an added factor, citing a “lack of profitability” related to government guarantees of wholesale prices and access to financing.

Bocas will see improved water supply

The National Institute of Aqueducts and Sewers (IDAAN) issued a bid for tenders for the “improvement of Big Creek Lagoon,” the main water supply of Isla Colón in Bocas del Toro. The project is expected to cost over $6 million and will increase the supply to Isla Colón’s water treatment plant by 25%. The plant was built in 2009 to produce 700 gallons per minute, though currently it is processing 350 gallons, or 50% capacity. Big Creek was the victim of contamination last April when pesticides caused the suspension of water service on Isla Colón for several days.

At what price power?

UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) warns that proposed hydroelectric plants to be located in the international forest reserve of La Amistad, sharing borders between Panama and Costa Rica, could jeopardize the park’s classification with that body as a World Heritage Site, designation that was granted in 1983. At a recent meeting in Bonn, Germany, UNESCO committee members requested Panama provide substantiation by February that the “outstanding universal value” of the park will not be damaged by the new power plants.   Failure to demonstrate this would mean Panama risks placing the park on the UNESCO Heritage list of “sites in danger.”

Cleaning up the Bay

The State has earmarked $900 million to help reclaim the Bay of Panama, where the City’s sewage that finds its way to the area’s rivers has traditionally flowed.   Experts familiar with the work claim that the project’s true costs are higher, and that to be effective, a 15 year master plan must be implemented that includes a $1.321 billion investment in the districts of Panama and San Miguelito for a treatment plant and a new network of sewers. Preliminary studies of the clean-up project of the bay show that it will take 10 – 15 years after waste removal for the area to return to its original state.

The Punta Coco debate continues

Government authorities do not agree about whether or not to transfer prisoners to the island of Punta Coco, the former U.S. Naval Air Service base located on the southern tip of Isla del Rey in Las Perlas. On June 24, three prisoners were the first to be transferred.   According to Milton Henriquez, Minister of Government, the prisoners requested the transfer themselves claiming they “feared for their lives.” Lilia Herrera, the People’s Defense Attorney, during her recent visit to the “transitory prison” island said, “The only human right we deprive the prisoners of is their freedom. We cannot deny them the right to be visited by family members or to mount a legal defense.”

Foreign investment holding steady

Everything indicates that Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in Panama has been maintained steadily. In the first quarter, the country has achieved $1.706 billion, up 32.2% from the same period in 2014. According to the latest report released by the National Statistics and Census Institute (INEC) of the Comptroller’s Office, this investment is mainly oriented towards the hotel, banking, real estate, electricity and manufacturing sectors.

Mayor’s Office to promote tourism

Panama City’s Mayor’s Office is studying the possibility of creating a “tourism body” in order to manage several structures that require restoration. Raisa Banfield, Deputy Mayor, explained that the body’s main objective would be to “rescue and maintain” tourist sites and to promote tourism in general. Among the body’s first duties would be improvements to the “Mercado de Marisco” seafood market, the rehabilitation of the “Mi Pueblito” tourist center and the construction of parks to the north and east of the City.

Helping out Colón

In Colón, measures are being taken to halt the steady decline in revenue which the free zone’s merchants have been experiencing. The Colón Free Zone (CFZ) Users’ Association has commissioned a “study to determine the current state” of the zone while the Panama government is considering extending free zone status to include portions of Colón City with the aim of stimulating the local economy.   Severo Sousa, president of the Logistics Business Council, says the government is moving in the right direction, but warns that the positive impact will not make up for current “lost” markets. Should the National Assembly approve the proposed “special free port system,” Panama residents will be allowed to purchase up to $1000 worth of goods, duty free, per semester.

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