Special Features

Alternative to a bank account

High returns in a safe structure at credit unions

By: Staff at Panama Offshore Legal Services / E-Mail: info@pos-inc.com || Phone (507) 227 – 6645

Panamanian credit unions are an appealing alternative for foreigners experiencing extensive and exhaustive documentation requirements and long delays when attempting to open accounts in Panama banks. Credit unions are especially attractive to retirees who are seeking a safe, fixed income investment, since credit unions offer more competitive interest rates for savings, CD’s, and retirement accounts.

Credit Unions have existed in Panama for the past 70 years and just like in the U.S., they operate as cooperatives of savings and credit for employees of various industries and government agencies. In other words, a “Cooperativa” is a Panamanian credit union, which is a licensed and government-registered. These cooperative financial institutions are regulated by Law 17 of May 1997, which gives them tax free status, among various other benefits.

Panamanian credit unions are regulated by the “Instituto Panameño Autonomo Cooperativo” (IPACOOP), whose website is www.ipacoop.gob.pa.

There are over 150 credit unions in Panama, some of them over 50 years old. The larger credit unions have as many as 100,000 members, and each member pays a monthly minimum deposit towards the credit union capital, generally from $5 to $10.

Since credit unions are tax free, non-profit organizations allowing all profits to be paid back in the form of interest to depositors, they are able to pay higher interest rates to their depositors than banks can.

A secure structure

According to some professionals in the industry, credit unions are considered to be more secure and less risky than banks for several reasons. One reason is that credit unions are limited to borrowing up to a maximum of four times the amount of their capital while banks can borrow up to ten times their capital. This means credit unions have less exposure to lower economic cycles or high debt obligations.

A second reason is that credit unions are regulated in the type of loans they can offer, so they are limited to loans within the parameters of their intended purposes, with the majority of loans under $10,000, and they usually require direct debit payments from the member borrowers’ salary, with collateral guarantees and multiple loan co-signers.

Banks are generally more exposed to economic cycles due to large high-risk commercial loans, international currency movements and global interest rate changes (LIBOR, etc.), many variables of which have bankrupted many banks around the globe in the recent global economic crisis. There has never been a credit union which failed in Panama; while few Panamanian banks have failed, although not in recent years.

How much

Currently, many credit unions are paying as much as 4% interest on basic savings accounts, up to 6% interest on educational savings accounts, up to 8% interest on time deposits (CD’s), and as much as 9% interest on retirement savings accounts. They can afford to pay higher interest rates to their depositors because they earn higher interest on their loans, and most credit unions have a very low loan default rate since they make small loans, require co-signers, and require direct debits from borrowers’ salaries for payments.

Although most Panama credit unions restrict membership to Panamanian residents that work in specific industries, such as educational professionals, medical professionals, or shipping professionals, there are some credit unions that do accept outsiders, and foreigners are often permitted to open accounts with those credit unions.

Required documentation

The due diligence requirements are generally a valid passport, a second ID (like a drivers license), proof of address (utility bill), personal or professional references, financial references, documented proof of origin of funds, and a minimum deposit. Unlike banks that usually takes weeks to process new accounts, credit union accounts are usually opened the same day all documents are received and reviewed by the credit union compliance officer.

Corporate accounts

Many credit unions will also open accounts for Panama Corporations or Private Interest Foundations. The corporate documentation requirements are generally a copy of the articles of incorporation (or foundation charter), certificate of incorporation, resolution of the board of directors authorizing the opening of the account and naming the authorized signatory(s), and photocopy of the directors and officers ID’s.

Similar to Panama banks, credit unions abide by the strict banking secrecy laws of Panama. The earned interest in credit union accounts and CD's are tax free in Panama, with no necessity of reporting of interest income to the Panamanian government.

The only disadvantages of credit unions as compared to services provided by Panama banks are that most credit unions generally do not offer checking accounts, merchant accounts, credit cards, or online banking, so they are not setup for commercial business activity. Credit unions are generally intended and designed for personal savings and making personal loans to members, so they are generally limited to various types of savings accounts, time deposits (CD’s), and personal loans.

National symbols

By Niel McColl

In the beginning of November are the days of patriotism - marching bands, sounds of trumpets, sounds of bugles the beat of drums calling a note of National pride - the Flag, the Coat of Arms and the National Anthem - the symbols of sovereignty!

Panama's coat of arms
Panama's coat of arms.

Panama’s National Flag was designed during the revolutionary break-away from Colombia on November 1, 1903 by Manuel E. Amador, son of the first President, Manuel Amador Guerrero of the newly formed clandestine government. Amador’s wife and her cousins sewed Panama’ s colors behind closed doors and windows.

It is interesting to note that the design was changed from the original by moving the quarters - the blue vertically down and the red vertically up – whilst those panels are replaced by the stars.

White represents peace, the stars blue for the then Conservative party and the red for the Liberals. This National symbol was first paraded through Panama City on Tuesday, November 3 in 1903 by Alejandro de la Guardia, demonstrating independence from Colombia.

The original design was changed in 1904 to that we see today which was again ratified by the General Assembly in 1925 and again in 1941.

Panama’s National Flag

The National Anthem was written by Jeronimo de la Ossa with the accompanying music by Santos Jorge Amatrhin. It has an interesting history going back to 1889, some 14 years before Panama’s Declaration of Independence, when Amatrian arrived from Spain to orchestrate the Cathedral’s music of the Church; Eight years later an anthem entitled “The Patriotic Hymn of the Isthmus” (Himno Patriotico del Istmo) was written. Intended originally as a school hymn, it was picked up by the entire population - children and adults alike.

In 1903 when the first US Ambassador to Panama, William I. Buchanan, presented his credentials there was no formal anthem, as protocol requieres. So by request of de la Ossa, the Patriotic Anthem was used and thus became the National Anthem with a chorus giving us:

"Victory at last
The country is happy with the union
With a burning radiance of glory
The new nation is illuminated"

The Coat of Arms :

Nine stars represent the country’s nine provinces, a saber and rifle represent defense, and a pick and shovel represent labor. In the center is the Isthmus with its two seas, its skies and its moon with the sun behind the hills representing the evening time (6:00 p.m.) when Panama separated from Colombia. Below cornucopia represents wealth. Beside it is the wheel of progress.

Panama’s national bird, the eagle, surmounts the shield, a cloth in its beak bearing the words “Pro mundi beneficio” - “For the benefit of the world”.

Faces of history

Panama's statues and monuments

By Howard V. Walker

Plaza Simon Bolivar
Plaza Simon Bolivar in Casco Viejo.

This month of November in Panama will again be bringing thirty days in which to celebrate memorable events in this nation’s history.

Time passes and many important figures will not be in the parades, but they do have a presence elsewhere, albeit mostly frozen in cast bronze, such as in city parks and other public places. In the capital, some are not hard to find – Balboa for instance – in imperial stance, is hard to miss towering over one of the most visited tourist spots in the city (the monument is scheduled to be moved to accommodate the Cinta Costera expansion and is currently behind a construction wall).

Monuments and statues around the city
Panama’s history is preserved
in monuments and statues
around the city.

Moving into Casco Antiguo, the plaza in front of the metropolitan cathedral is a veritable Valhalla. Here, mounted on granite pedestals, in the leafy shade of fenced grass plots, are busts of the ‘fondadores’ (founders) of Panama. Manuel Amador Guerrero, the first president of the Republic, has his own special place of honour centred on the square. Born in Colombia, he served four years from 1904 to 1908. His head and shoulders, like several of the others, were sculpted by Auguste Maillon in 1925.

In flanking bordered lots are the busts of Federico Boyd and Tomas Arias, both born in Panama City and active members of the Patriotic Revolutionary Junta that struggled fearlessly to secure Panama’s independence. Together with fellow countryman, and chairman, Jose Agustin Arango, they formed the governing junta until the first presidency in 1904. Arias died in 1931, and so perhaps was present to witness the unveiling of his tribute. In the square, atop his pedestal, Arango is standing in line with lesser known General Nicanor A.de Obarrio and Carlos Arosemena.

This pictorial frieze in Plaza Bolivar
This pictorial frieze in Plaza Bolivar in Casco Viejo depicts
the agony of the 1756 fire which destroyed many homes.

Colombian born Manuel Espinosa Batista, almost hidden in his planted ‘garden’, was one of the conspirators working from the ‘inside’ in Colombia in support of Panama’s separatist ambitions. Ricardo Arias, 29th president of Panama (1955-1956) is in a corresponding position on the opposite side of the symmetrically planned square.

Two other plazas to visit within convenient walking distance of the cathedral are the eponymously named plazas Herrera and Bolivar. The former has a fine heroic equestrian monument dedicated to General Tomas Herrera, born 1804 in Panama City, a military man and politician. Among his many accomplishments, he was the first head of state of the Free State of the Isthmus (now Panama, but initial independence was short lived from 1840-1841). He was the the founder of Herrera province in 1848 and president of the Republic of the New Granada in 1854 during the rebellion against Colombian president Jose Maria Melo. At the early age of fifty, he was killed in battle and succeeded by Jose de Obaldia.

General Nicanor A. de Obarrio
Manuel Amador Guerrero
Federico Boyd
The busts of the founders of the nation in Cathedral Plaza in Casco Viejo. From left to right: General Nicanor A. de Obarrio, Manuel Amador Guerrero (first president of Panama), and Federico Boyd.

The plaza housing Bolivar’s grand, impressive monument goes back to the fire of 1756 which destroyed the houses originally in this location. Named Bolivar Plaza in 1883, its commemorative centre-piece was erected in 1926 to mark the 100th anniversary of Bolivar’s Amphytionic Congress. One of the narrative friezes on its granite base depicts this historic event, which took place just across the street in Salon Bolivar, next to the present Iglesia San Francisco. Of note, is the display there of Congress documents lent by the Brazilian government.

General Tomas Herrera
General Tomas Herrera on horseback in Plaza Herrera in Casco Viejo.

Descriptive pictorial friezes, also, are integrated components in the memorial dedicated to Anulfo Arias Madrid, situated across the city in Balboa. The striking design of the major piece (there are architectural elements also) is some distance removed in concept, as well as geography, from the classical compositions of Herrera and Bolivar. The elevated, many-peopled cantilevered construction arrests the eye as one makes the turn to the bridge opposite the old YMCA, now the mercado de artesanias.

Monument to Dr. Arnulfo Arias Madrid
This Monument to Dr. Arnulfo Arias Madrid is in Balboa.

Arnulfo Arias Madrid had a record of presidential tenure surely unique by any standard, having served as president of Panama on three occasions but never for a full term, being deposed each time by military coups after gaining office (1940-1941, 1949-1951 and for two weeks in October of 1968). Born in Penonome, he was not related to the Arias family that participated in the independence movement, mentioned earlier.

The monument was built by his second wife, Mireya Moscoso, Panama’s first female president and predecessor of the current incumbent.

‘Destination Truth’

SyFy Channel films popular adventure show in Panama

By Lada Winter

'Destination Truth' in Panama
The Destination Truth team poses in front of a Diablo Rojo bus that they rented for shooting and traveling on one of their trips in Panama.

Panama is already a popular destination for tourists, business people and bankers. It is also becoming a popular filming location for its pristine beaches, dense jungle, spectacular marine life and the contrast between the wilderness and the ultra-modern, booming capital city with fast Internet, great hotels and fine restaurants.

Adventure travel programs and reality shows enjoy great popularity around the world and the film and television industry is always looking for new locations to shoot. Television benefits the destination country, promoting the chosen location as an exciting place to visit to the millions of viewers around the globe. Asian countries are a good example of this phenomena, destinations like Bali and Thailand gained new popularity through appearing on TV.

Last week Panama became a destination for “Destination Truth” - a popular weekly television reality series on the SyFy Channel. The show combines a travel-adventure show, investigation of paranormal activities and the search for extinct or mythical animals. The investigative team, led by the program presenter Josh Gates, travels around the world to investigate claims of supernatural, mainly in the field of “cryptozoology” (the search for animals considered legendary or non-existent by mainstream biology).

Josh Gates and his team have filmed in nearly a hundred different countries but it was their first time in Panama.

The Destination Truth filmed two episodes here. The filming locations were Santa Catalina, Coiba Island, Cerro Azul, the Bayano Caves and Río Piedra. They were on the tail of two different stories.

Josh Gates is the star and presenter of Destination Truth
Josh Gates is the star and presenter of Destination Truth, which just wrapped up filming in Panama last week.

Panama’s Alcatraz

Coiba was chosen because of its dark history connected with the prison that was built on the island in 1919, active during dictatorships, and closed down in 2004. Some claim that as many as 300 prisoners have died horrible deaths in terrible conditions there. Locals avoid it as it is commonly believed that Coiba’s dead inmates – or their ghosts – are still on the island, and that of course made it a perfect location for Destination Truth.

The Cerro Azul Monster

'Destination Truth' in Panama
The team used snake guards while filming in the jungle.

The other episode looked into the mythical urban legend about a story of a creature found in Cerro Azul a bit over a year ago. The story had been covered by the local TV channel Telemetro and even aired on CNN. A group of teenagers claimed that they had killed a strange-looking and totally hairless creature that came out of the river, even providing photos of the “creature” taken with their cellular phones.

Bat Caves

The Bayano Caves were an obvious choice for the Destination Truth team, being a perfect “hiding” environment for rare creatures. Bayano Lake, with its green islands and dead tree trunks reflecting in its waters created a magnificently spooky environment with the stalactite rock formations covering and bat-ridden caves. With rushing waters and cascades falling from high above, the team filmed in the dark, so the caves were a perfect sight for the “search”.

Adventure tourism

'Destination Truth' in Panama
Filming at night at the Bayano Caves.

Part of the same episode was filmed on Rio Piedra on the Caribbean side of the country. Josh Haarbrink of Panama Outdoor Adventures hosted the team at a camp in the middle of the jungle, almost entirely surrounded by Rio Piedra. He also helped organize the interview with the chief of Errebache Embera indigenous tribe, who told Josh Gates about the ancient believes and legends of his people for the TV show.

Compliments for the location country

With just one day left in the country, after wrapping up all filming, I interviewed Josh and his crew to ask how theyed like Panama and what impressed them most about the country. Each had his or her favorite location: for Rider – the co-executive producer – it was the jungle and the Bayano Caves, for Gabe – the camera man – it was Santa Catalina, but they were unanimous to express that Panama is absolutely awesome. “Very preserved”, “clean” and “developed” were among the words used by the team to describe Panama, “most likely the best destination in Central America” as Tony – the production’s technician put it.

Josh Gates, who apart from being a TV personality is an explorer and photographer with a degree in archeology and drama, put it well. When asked what he liked best in Panama, Josh said: “It is really hard to choose. Every place that we visited had its particular beauty and special charm. It is my first time in Panama but I will surely come again, hopefully next time for vacation to be able to enjoy this amazingly beautiful country.”

The Visitor will provide the air dates when the episodes will be be aired back-to-back on the Sy-Fy channel. It surely will be very exciting to watch Josh and his team explore and investigate the mysteries of Panama and to learn more about the ancient beliefs and urban stories that are abundant among its colorful and diverse people.

The filming was made possible thanks to the joint support of the Panama National Environmental Authority (ANAM), the Panama Tourism Authority (ATP) and the Panama Film Commission under the coordination of Nigel Cosans of the Panamanian company Twenty First Century Television Corp

To find out more about Destination Truth and watch different episodes of the program visit their website at www.syfy.com/destinationtruth.

On Jack (The dog)

Ol’Jack has a new favorite dog. Please don’t mention this to Fluffy if you see us strolling among the construction sites around Casco Viejo. Yes my sweet little Pomeranian/Yorkie/Schitzu mixed breed (‘mil leches’ is what they call mutts in Spanish – figure it out) is sensitive and probably wouldn’t understand why I consider a dog named Jack a hero. And it is not simply because this fiercely loyal Doberman is named Jack, though that did help get my attention.

Most of us who live in Panama have been following the strange and horrific saga of Wild Bill, the monster who acquired real estate by committing serial killings. Well one of his victims, a lovely woman by the name of Cheryl Hughes had a pet Doberman who she named Jack. While some of the citizens of Bocas del Toro worried when Ms. Hughes disappeared. They wondered about, among other things, how she could just up and leave her dog behind. Jack, in a single-minded demonstration of loyalty kept swimming across a mile and a half stretch of water where he had lived happily to one of Wild Bill’s other ill-gotten properties in search of his mistress.

When, with the help of independent ,investigative blogger/ journalist Don Winner, the authorities started closing in, it was Jack, sleek and dark copper colored, who kept running back and forth, enticing the police to follow him. He led them directly to the grave of his tragic mistress. As Winner mentioned recently, “it was like Lassie.” The good loyal dog was intent on helping the humans solve an awful crime.

I have to admit that I was seldom able to suspend my disbelief while watching a movie or TV show where the main canine character was able to persuade his master or anyone to follow him anywhere. (Interesting film fact: The first dog movie, Rescued by Rover, a silent film made in 1905, was based on the premise that the dog was able to locate the whereabouts of a kidnapped baby and lead the father to the rescue.) Even though I was a Rin Tin Tin fan as a child, I never could buy into the proposition that the dog knew enough about what was going on to take it upon him or herself to find what was lost. Can you imagine what my lovely wife would think if I decided to follow Fluffy anywhere? “I think she wants me to follow her,” I would say. My lovely wife would immediately assume that my intention was to follow Fluffy directly to a sidewalk café for a cervaza and a cigar.

Jack (the dog), however, with a determined look on his angular face, behaved just like a movie dog, with courage based on loyalty. That’s why many of us love our dogs. You don’t have to be lonely, to appreciate a companion who is affectionate and loyal based on something that looks a lot like unconditional love. My lovely wife and I are often entertained as Fluffy does something funny like chase a bug or get her leash hopelessly wrapped around a table leg. Some dogs even provide protection. While few bad guys want to mess with a Rottweiler, even our tiny fluff ball will bark when somebody lurks by a window or enters our courtyard uninvited.

It is a shame I even ever found out that a dog with my name lived on a beautiful island in Bocas Del Toro. However now that I have, I’m more aware than ever why these animals are called man’s best friend. Jack is a good dog.

Music, beer and prizes

Oktoberfest finale at Rincón Alemán

Oktoberfest at Rincón Alemán
A happy Oktoberfest crowd.
Oktoberfest at Rincón Alemán
Proprietor Fritz Schmutte says
he’s spotted the Panamanian
Alps at Rincón Alemán.

The world celebrates Oktoberfest and Panama is no exception. The German restaurant and bar Rincón Alemán in Bella Vista is wrapping up another successful Oktoberfest celebration. This Friday, October 29 is the finale bash of this German tradition in Panama City.

The official closing day of Oktoberfest in Rincón Alemán that will be celebrated with the “Banda de Bomberos de Chepo” (Firemen band of Chepo) and a raffle of a round trip non-stop ticket Panama-Frankfurt-Panama with the new Germany flight (every Friday beginning on Nov. 5) aboard Condor Airlines. Besides a chance to win the golden ticket, there is good beer, great food and lots of fun on hand.

Rincon Aleman is located at 51 Street, between Las Tinajas restaurant and the Bristol Hotel. For more information call 264-0590.