The past 10 days or so have seen Panama in turmoil. The largest indigenous tribe in the country, the Ngabe-Buglé (there seem to be a dozen different ways of writing the name of the tribe) have been protesting against the selling of mineral rights to a Canadian company and calling for halt to hydroelectric damming of the on their Comarca lands. It’s all quite complicated, but a local blogger, Richard Detrich, who I read faithfully, has done a great job of explaining the background of what’s been going on and I’ll let him sort it out for you. One note, though, at the end of his post he quotes a guy named Don Winner who hosts a blog called Panama-Guide. Winner fancies himself to be a “Journalist” but in my opinion Winner is to journalism what McDonald’s is to haute-cuisine: http://richarddetrich.com/2012/02/07/panama-update/
What started out here in Chiriqui Province, about an hour’s drive from my home in Boquerón, has spread throughout the entire country. There have been demonstrations the last couple of days in the Capitol. The Embera Wounaan Indians of the Darien, at the opposite end of the country from Chiriqui have declared themselves “In A State Of ‘Civil Disobedience'” in solidarity with the Ngabe and the Kuna, the native tribe most commonly associated with Panama through their “molas” have done the same.
A couple of days ago one young Indian was shot and killed and last night in the town of Volcan, about a half hour drive from my home, the Indians blocked the road
and others set fire to the police station there and the offices of the Justice of the Peace.The following photos were taken off of the Boquete.ning site and I don’t know who to attribute them to.
The president of Panama, Ricardo Martinelli is the owner of the biggest chain of supermarkets in the country…Super 99, and riot police have been dispatched to guard the stores after the door of the Super 99 supermarket in Calidonia (Panama City) was battered by indigenous protesters.
(I downloaded this photo from Don Winner’s Panama-guide but there’s no telling where he stole it from. He’s a photo thief. When my late friend, Frank Hilson, gave a huge donation to the VFW here in Panama City Winner stole my photo of Frank that I’d posted on my blog. Winner always says on his stories, “Copyright 2012 by Don Winner for Panama-Guide.com. Go ahead and use whatever you like as long as you credit the source.” But somehow he doesn’t feel the same need to credit things. I had some correspondence with Winner and he finally did credit me with Frank’s photo.)
A poll a couple of days ago showed that 83% of the Panamanian population support the Indian protest despite the inconvenience.
Quite naturally the expat community has been following all of this quite closely and the opinions are a bit mixed. When the roads were blocked gas was running low and many stations were closed because they’d run out of gas and diesel. Some of the expats in the Gringo ghetto of Boquete were furious because they were running low on beer. These, I have to say, are the people who left the States because it was being turned into a “socialist” country. They are also the people I had hoped never to run into down here but, unfortunately they also have access to passports like I do. If you’re interested in seeing what the expat community down here thinks you can find out here: http://boquete.ning.com/
Tomorrow, Wednesday, February 8th, is supposed to be a day of “mass escalation” throughout the country as the various groups coalesce to support the indigenous cause. Naturally that makes a lot of people very nervous. Me, too, a little bit. So today I took the bus into town (no problems) to do some grocery shopping.
Here’s where the title of the post comes into play.
In February of 1989 I landed in Nice,m, France, to take over command of the Jolie Aire, an 85′ ketch and to supervise the replacement of the boat’s keel for reasons I won’t get into here. France has a huge Arabic population, and a lot of them live on the Riviera where the boat was located. You would see the Arabs everywhere. They were a part of the passing scene.
In January of 1991 Tom Luther, who I called the bosses “Real Captain” because Tom worked for the old man for over 25 years and was running the boss’s 96′ ketch in the States (why he had two large sailboats is also something we won’t get into here), the Chief Engineer (whose name escapes me after 21 years) for Sparkman and Stevens, a highly respected yacht company, and I were sitting around the table in Jolie Aire’s saloon. (Technically it’s a “saloon” and not a “salon”) waiting for my French girlfriend, Florence, to bring up the breakfast coffee from the galley.
It was Wednesday, February 13th. I turned on the television and tuned into Canal+ which rebroadcast the CBS Evening News every morning the day after it aired. The first thing we saw were bombs and rockets dropping on Baghdad. Operation Desert Storm had started while we had been sleeping! Let me tell you, it’s a VERY odd feeling to be in a foreign country when your country goes to war. Especially when you’re in a country with a large Arabic population all around you. The boat had recently been painted and there was no name and hailing port on the transom, but the American flag was prominently displayed at the taffrail. Just as Florence was coming up from the galley with the coffee I went outside and took the flag down as a precaution.
The odd thing, though, was that when we went in to town later, and for the next few days afterwards, there wasn’t an Arab to be seen. They just disappeared. Like they’d never been there in the first place. Of course the Frogs went nuts and stripped the grocery store shelves of sugar, coffee and pasta in a panic mode fearing the worst because France was also a part of the coalition in the battle. It was a couple of weeks before any of those staples were available again.
Those of you who are familiar with this blog know one of my favorite spots in the City of David is the bus terminal. Daily it’s literally teeming with Ngabe-Buglé women and their colorful dresses. Like the Arabs on the Riviera they were everywhere. Except today. I bet I didn’t see a dozen Indians there. They were just gone.
P.S. IMMEDIATELY AFTER hitting the “Publish” button I went back to the Boquete ning site and found this update:
Telemetro (television station) is reporting that the govt has agreed to take up the debate in the assembly tomorrow to make sure that the rights of the Ngobe are respected with regard to BOTH mining and Hidroelectricos.