Isthmian Update – Vol. 21#30

The strength of Panama’s workforce

José Manuel Salazar, new director of the International Labour Organization (ILO) for Latin America and the Caribbean, recently noted Panama for its economic strength while pointing out “important challenges” that still need to be addressed in terms of social inclusion and productivity. During his second official visit to the country, the ILO director reinforced his stance in support of strengthening labor syndicates, promoting sustainable business models and ensuring the preparedness of the local work force. At the meeting, Panama President Juan Carlos Varela stressed the importance of creating an “inclusive and green” economy and said the country must generate at least 230,000 new jobs by 2020.

UN releases global travel figures

According to the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), international demand for travel increased 4%, as measured by total of arrivals worldwide, between January and April 2015. Almost all regions of the globe experienced growth and the prospects for the period from May to August bode well, with 500 million international travelers expected over those four months. The 4% increase in the first four months of the year represents around 332 million international travelers who stayed at least one night at their destination, or 14 million more travelers than in the same period the year before.

Slow road to finance solar

Despite laws that provide incentives for the use of solar panels and other forms of clean energy, Panama banks are still reluctant to provide financing for builders, both commercial and residential, to install photovoltaic equipment. Marta Bernal, of the National Energy Secretariat’s electric department, claims the State does not have an agent solely devoted to promote solar energy credits available to consumers. “The Secretariat’s office processes the certification paperwork that allows the (solar panel) equipment to enter the country tax free, as contemplated by (incentive) Law 37,” she explained. The cost of a commercial solar panel system can range between $1,000 and $15,000. The Banco de Desarrollo Agropecuario (Agriculture Development Bank) is the only bank in Panama that will finance the purchase of solar panels, working almost exclusively with agriculture sector companies.

Seeking solar in La Chorrera

Two companies from La Chorerra in the province of Panamá Oeste will begin sourcing a percentage of their power supply from solar energy. The companies, a commercial and an aviculture enterprise, will be supplied with 90% of their power needs by Víveres Unidos, a solar plant operation located within the district of La Chorerra. The plant presently can generate up to 830,000 kilowatts per year, a fraction of the 1 megawatt of power required to run the two companies’ factories. Experts note the high cost of solar energy on the Isthmus, citing the $1.8 million cost of building the plant. José Quezada, a representative of the industrial park that houses the companies, explained that “These projects are more feasible for private enterprise if the government adopted an incentive law that would provide lower interest rates with the banks.”

Veraguas wrestler scores big at Pan Am Games

Wrestler, Alvis Almendra, brought home Panama’s first medal from the XVII Pan American Games, celebrated July 10 – 26 in Toronto, Canada. Almendra, originally from the province of Veraguas, won silver in the 75 kilo division of Greco-Roman wrestling against U.S. rival, Andrew Bisek. This is Panama’s first medal in 24 years and the seventh silver medal won by a Panamanian in the history of the Pan American Games.

Panama students compete in international robot battle

Four Panamanian youths are in Hefei, China to take part in the International RoboCup Competition, July 19 – 22. The four students, who make up two teams, are competing in the Junior League categories of “Youth Rescue” and “Juvenile Dance.” Raúl Cedeño and Luis Villalaz, 17 year old students from the Instituto Urracá de Veraguas, along with their robot “SRMP-IU,” will compete in the rescue category. Pedro Carreras and Roy Rodríguez, 18 year old students from the Instituto Guadalupano de Chiriquí, are competing in the dance category with three robots who will perform a dance routine to several genres of music, including merengue and reggae.

Special athlete delegation represents Isthmus in L.A.

A group of 38 Panamanian athletes are traveling to Los Angeles to take part in the Special Olympics World Games, July 20 – August 2. The athletes, who suffer from intellectual disabilities such as cerebral paralysis, Down syndrome or autism, will compete in seven disciplines. The Special Olympics, celebrated every four years since 1962, today enjoys participation from 177 countries. Gerardo Cutiérrez, sports director for Panama’s Special Olympics Committee (OEP), explained that sports play an important role in helping the athletes feel “integrated into society.”

UN draws line in sand for Colón’s historic sites

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has reiterated warnings that the World Heritage Sites of Portobelo and San Lorenzo in Colón may lose their protected status if Panama fails to take actions recommended by that body in 2012, when it placed the Spanish colonial forts on their list of “Sites in Danger.” Now Panama must present UNESCO an action plan by February 2016 that shows “a timeframe and budget” for the corrective measures to save the “exceptional universal value” of the historic structures.

The fight against HPV

The Ministry of Health is implementing a vaccination program aimed at girls aged 10 years and older who live in the province of Colón. The program aims at preventing the spread of the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV), the virus responsible for the common wart, which if left untreated, can lead to various forms of cancer. The drug, Gardasil, immunizes against four genotypes of the virus.

Figali fallout in Amador continues

Panama’s Maritime Authority (AMP) recently issued a statement claiming that the landfill built by Grupo F. Internacional in Amador was constructed without the proper permits, for which control of the location in question has fallen to the State, under the jurisdiction of the Administrative Unit of Real Estate (UABR). Grupo F. is alleged to have surpassed the amount of space originally granted for the building of a landfill whose purpose was the creation of a marina. Jorge Barakat, AMP administrator, explained that the contract Grupo F. had with the prior administration, signed in 2011, has finalized its terms, freeing the government from any obligation to that company. Currently, AMP is renting the lot to Ininco, the contractor tasked with widening the Amador causeway, for the storage of their heavy equipment. A few weeks ago, Grupo F., the company, founded by Jean Figali, was alleged to have placed a sign above the fence surrounding the filling declaring the seizure of the property by the Maritime Authority of Panama (AMP) in 2006 to be illegal.

“La marea roja” travels to the Gold Cup finals

The Panamanian soccer team, whose fans are known as the “marea roja” (red tide) because of their red jerseys, beat Trinidad and Tobago 6-5 in penalty kicks to enter into the semifinal rounds of the 2015 CONCACAF Gold Cup. The game was tied 1-1 after 120 minutes. Panama players Gabriel Torres, Abdiel Arroyo, Armando Cooper, Harold Cummings, Blas Pérez and Valentín Pimentel scored penalty kicks while goalie, Jaime Pinedo, stopped short the onslaught of Sheldon Bateau y Lester Peltier of Trinidad and Tobago. As we go to press Panama will confront the Mexican team at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta in the semifinal round of competition.

Chiriquí gets a boost

President Juan Carlos Varela gave the order to proceed on the rehabilitation of the Puerto Armuelles highway in the district of Barú in the western portion of the province of Chiriquí. The president stated his commitment to the building of schools, homes and sports facilities while investing in the tourism industry. The 36 km road will receive $25 million investment for improvements.

Protecting Volcán Barú national park

The Association for the Conservation of the Biosphere (ACB), the environmental organization headquartered in Chiriquí, recently issued a warning that nonmetallic mineral extraction operations in the region of Volcán Barú may carry deleterious consequences for the ecosystem. Presently, the company, Rocío Jaramillo Tovar, carries out rock and sand mining thanks to a concession granted by the prior government’s administration. According to Ezequiel Miranda, ACB President, the concession authorizes the mining activity in protected areas of Boqueron and Bugaba. Yamil Sánchez of the Ministry of the Environment, rejects the notion that the concession is damaging a protected zone since the extraction is taking place one kilometer from the limits of the park. Bugaba Mayor, Carlos Araúz, is conducting an investigation.

Panama’s economy cools, leads the region

In a recent report issued by the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the region’s projected economic growth for this year has been readjusted from 0.9% to 0.5%. Nevertheless, Panama’s projected growth rate of 6% places it as the economy with the highest rate of expected growth for the year in the Caribbean and Latin America. Panama’s own projections, issued by the Ministry of Economy and Finance (MEF), and those issued by the World Bank, square up with the IMF figures. Alejandro Werner, Director of the Western Hemisphere Department of the IMF, explained that Panama is currently decelerated from too high a growth rate spurred by important infrastructure projects including the widening of the Canal.

San Felipe church inspected for facelift

An inspection is being conducted of the Cathedral Basilica of Santa Maria la Antigua in San Felipe. The inspection forms part of the call for tender of the restoration of the temple of worship, whose cost of repair is estimated at $11 million. The project is the brainchild of Ricardo Gago, President of the Committee of Casco Antiguo’s Churches, working alongside the National Institute of Culture (INAC).

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