Panama


The dinner-dance was held at the posh private country club in David. All the girls involved made every effort to be the belle of the ball. Mine were no exception.

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Last night was the actual ceremony, with the presentation of diplomas.  The heat in the gymnasium was overpowering.  There were a few organizational hiccups but everyone eventually received their certificate and yearbook.

My daughter Keka (Angelica) just graduated from high school. In this part of Panama, at least, graduation is serious business. Three major social events are involved. Keka went to the first on Wednesday night – a dinner with all the students in her year and all the teachers. The parents paid for the teacher’s food and drinks as well as those of the students.

Tomorrow is the graduation ceremony itself. Keka will wear a gown and a mortar board, while the rest of the family are required to dress formally. I’ve had to resort to renting a jacket and buying trousers, shirts and shoes, as I don’t possess any clothes that would be suitable. The school warned the students that anyone who gets rowdy (i.e., throws their mortar board in the air!) will not receive their diploma.

The third event, a dinner-dance for students, parents and friends, involves evening dresses and hours spent with the hairdresser and make-up artists. It is to be held at an exclusive (usually members-only) private club.  I hope I survive to enjoy Christmas…

As this country and the rest of the Christian world gears up for the holiday period, today Panama paused to commemorate the US invasion that took place exactly 20 years ago, on December 20, 1989. This morning, one of the local channels (part-0wned by the current President of Panama) showed the Academy Award-winning documentary, The Panama Deception. The film details the cynicism of successive American governments, which used Noriega to assassinate (very popular) Panama strong man Omar Torrijos and then allowed Noriega to replace him. When the monster they had created went into business for himself (the drugs business, that is), they decided to topple him by means of a full-scale invasion. The ensuing death and destruction was covered up so well that we still don’t know exactly how many civilians were killed in the crossfire. Various estimates put the number at between 2500 and 4000.

The Panamanian people carry deep scars, and not only on account of the last invasion. They are fiercely nationalistic but it was the US that created their country and for 100 years has pulled the strings behind the scenes of its de facto colony. The currency of Panama is the American dollar, but Panamanians have no rights to US citizenship. Not surprisingly, they have mixed feelings about America; it is a real love-hate relationship.

Today my thoughts are with the families of the innocent victims who died during the invasion.

I lived in Costa Rica for 25 years and have now lived in Panama for four. During that time, I have obviously gained insights into the contrasts between the two countries. Though neighbors, the topography did much to keep them apart and their historical development – economic, social and cultural – could not have been more different.

Panama City was one of Spain’s first beachheads in the Americas. Its strategic geographic importance was immediately obvious to the conquistadores. Costa Rica, on the other hand, remained largely uninhabited because the mountainous terrain made access difficult. Around the time of independence, nearly two hundred years ago, there were still only about 30,000 people in the whole of Costa Rica and the population was slow to grow

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The new government has reinstated the 9 pm nationwide curfew for all minors not accompanied by a responsible adult. Not sure what the reaction to such a law would be in Costa Rica or the UK but most people here seem to approve of the measure.

The government does not take a dim view of all young people, however. The 21-year old daughter of a minister was appointed consul in Canada. The list of appointees to diplomatic posts has raised a lot of eyebrows. Like his predecessors, the President is using his powers of patronage to hand out these plum jobs in return for political support.

The new president of Panama was sworn in yesterday. He pledged to keep his three main campaign promises, the first of which was to get tough with criminals. He owns a chain of supermarkets called “Super 99” and one of them was attacked by an armed gang last night.  A shoot-out ensued. Not an auspicious start… but at least the gang was caught.

Non-British readers may like to read about “99s” in the UK here.

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