Easter is the “big” Christian celebration because it is what the Christian faith is all about . . . being born again and lifted up to new life! It was my favorite day as a pastor . . . a day of celebration, of hope, of new life . . . and, of course, parking problems.

When I was pastoring a church in Milwaukee . . . New Life Community Church . . . we started doing an Easter sunrise service a a local drive-in theater. It was a wonderful idea and got a lot of press coverage . . . particularly when it snowed in Wisconsin on Easter morning. But we always persevered . . . snow and all. I had long underwear and fleece jackets under my robe and wore gloves . . . but we did it, even in the snow.

So today as I travel across Panama with the Panama Relocation Tour I thought I’d share with you one of my favorite arrangements of two traditional Easter hymns. Enjoy! Happy Easter . . . “The Lord is risen!”

“He is risen indeed!”

About these ads

Jerusalem

It’s about an hour bus ride from Haifa to Jerusalem across the Holy Land. Once in a while you get vistas which if you use a little imagination still look a bit like those of Biblical times. Israel is of course a growing, modern country, filled with history, but not “stuck” in Biblical times. There are car dealerships, shopping malls and of course what guides the world over jokingly refer to as “the American Embassy” a/k/a Mc Donald’s. It may be a tired line, but the tour passengers faithfully laugh each time they hear it. So rather than “walking” to Jerusalem, we whisk down the super highway to Jerusalem.

The first glimpse of the “Holy City” as I mentioned earlier, is from the Mount of Olives and it is just like it looks in all the tour books and posters.

There are five possible options for the “traditional” site of the Garden of Gethsemane. The tour operators pick the one that is the most convenient, the site of The Church of All Nations. Miraculously we get forty people from the bus across a busy road and into the line up of groups crowding our way through several dozen old olive trees and into a modern church commemorating Jesus’ prayer in the garden while his disciples slept of the wine of the “Last Supper” Passover celebration. A hustler on the street is selling twigs of olive branches for 1 Euro. Incredibly people are buying them! It is easy to forget all about why you are here. An elderly monk, or a character actor – one can never be sure here – wanders amidst the old olive trees providing a photo op. Then it’s back on the bus and off to the Old City.

Security is tight here. Lots of police and army vehicles. Scanners. Young, plain clothes Israeli security agents making eye contact. It is Friday afternoon. Muslims are heading to the mosques, Jews are preparing for Shabbat, and tourists are flocking in by the busloads.

Tourism in the Holy Land strikes me as . . . well, for want of a better term, “Mc Holyland”. Neatly packaged, zillions sold, all identical, another day another zillion burger . . . I mean tourists. Mass produced pilgrimage. Making a buck or shequel off the faith of others. I guess it is really no different than televangelism, but something about the whole thing sets my teeth on edge. I told you previously about the Yardinet baptismal operation which to me comes off the same as if I packaged food, called it Kosher, even although it wasn’t, and passed it off to the Jewish faithful justifying the deception by saying, “Well, they’re buying it, not complaining. I’m making a buck. So it’s not kosher; do you see anyone complaining? Who knows? Who cares?”

So we’re here at the Wailing Wall . . . which I already told you about and which, despite the best efforts of Israeli tourism, was for me a meaningful spiritual moment.

Now we’re walking the Via Dolorosa, the “way of sorrows” where Jesus carried his cross to Calvary . . . through the Jewish Quarter and Muslim Quarter [LOTS of Israeli soldiers here with machine guns] and the Christian Quarter. Lots of temptations: shops selling every kind of souvenir and religious trinkets. Me like a good sheepdog herding our group along. In any group there are a few folks who never should have booked a group tour in the first place; a few people you’d like to lose, but can’t. And there is no question that the Old City is fascinating, and would even if it didn’t have any religious significance, but it’s still fun to try and find some religious significance . . .

We make a few stops along the way. Our guide explains that there have been a couple of dozen suggested routes that Jesus took over the years. Finally the church, the city, the shops, the tourist board and the tour operators decided that this was the route that Jesus took and so it is sold as such. Who knows?

One of the most fascinating things I learned in four years of seminary came from Dr. John Piet a no-nonsense, brilliant theologian, and good teacher who was able to cut through a lot of the bull that was being served up and make sense. ‘History as a living fact consists not so much in what actually happened, as in what people believe to have happened.” That’s more essential to touring the Holy Land than bottled water!

So we’ve pushed through most of the Stations of the Cross with most of the group still intact and we reach the Church of The Holy Sepulcher. The Church of the Holy Sepulcher, also called the Church of the Resurrection by Eastern Christians, is within the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem. It is probably the most likely site of Golgotha or the Hill of Calvary, since this has been the tradition since around 300 AD, and it is said to also be the place where Jesus was buried and from which he arose from the dead. Today it also serves as the headquarters of the Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem while control of the building is shared between several Christian churches and secular entities in complicated arrangements essentially unchanged for centuries. Thank you Jesus! Who controls what is very important in the Holy Land. Finally these folks have agreed on something! Well at least the Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox and Roman Catholic. Anglican and Protestant Christians are left out in the cold with no permanent presence in the church. Really, what difference does it make? If we are all Christians who cares who has the keys to what: but apparently in Jerusalem it is a big deal. Gonna be interesting when we all get to heaven!

Rent-A-Cross – Conveniently pilgrims who wish to carry the cross along the path of sorrows of Christ can rent crosses at either end.

And this church is the place of the final stations of the cross . . . Covering the place where most traditions accept as the hill of Calvary, and the place where the borrowed tomb was in which Jesus was buried which is of course what everyone wants to see. Except that that your guide will tell you there is a “2 hour wait” to get into the actual traditional burial tomb, so a visit to the sepulcher is not included. On the “Mc Holyland” tour things are neatly packaged and timed. This disappointing announcement is delivered just before the guide announces we are heading back to the bus to go to a kibbutz for lunch. Ah, food! We’ve all be starving on the ship so the promise of food, wine, and rest rooms trumps not seeing the traditional spot of the Resurrection.

Old bomb disposal bin outside Church of The Holy Sepluchre. It was so much easier before people decided to blow themselves up.

Forget the images you had of a kibbutz back in college. This is a highly evolved giant wedding and bar mitzvah palace! Hundreds of tour bus passengers. “Mc Holyland” efficient and tasty as well.

Now it’s back on the bus and off to another country . . . The fallout of what you get when God gives away real estate to one group of people without telling the people who are living there that it’s no longer theirs. Kinda like with the American Indians . . . And not to get political, but when you get to the giant wall Israel built along the border with the West Bank you realize that the Palestinians and Israelis may be cousins, but they are certainly not kissing cousins. Through the ugly wall (one thinks of the Berlin wall, and the US wall with Mexico) and into Bethlehem, the City of David, the birthplace of Jesus, the Christ.

We shift guides. Israeli guides are not permitted to talk about Bethlehem, only Palestinian guides allowed, which is OK, because both guides have professional spiels. So we arrive at the famous Manger Square of Bethlehem.

Traditionally on Christmas Eve Manger Square in Bethlehem comes alive with security forces and tourists from all over the world who want to be here to celebrate what probably wasn’t exactly the actual night of Jesus’ birth. We know that December on the hills outside of Bethlehem can be cold and windy and it is unlikely that “shepherds would be in the fields keeping watch over their sheep by night” in the midst of winter. More likely they would be hunkered down in a cave or barn in town to keep warm. Because the Romans celebrated their pagan festival of Saturnalia on December 25th, the early church, burdened by persecution, decided that when the Romans were all drunk and whooping and hollering, it would be a good time to hold their celebration of the Savior’s birth, and nobody would notice. And so it came about that the western Christian church celebrates the birth of Christ on December 25th.

Again two churches, one Orthodox and one Roman Catholic. Different worlds. And yet again there is a “2 hour wait” to see the supposed cave where Jesus was born. By this time everyone has a glazed-over look and accept that we will not see what it is we thought we came to see. Time is of the essence here since we have an obligatory 45 minute shopping stop at an overpriced tourist shop that has a marketing agreement with the “Mc Holyland” tour operator. This shop has an ideal location: there isn’t a competitor in sight so they have a captive audience.

Almost everyone is back on the bus long before the allotted time, but the tour guide holds out hoping that someone will spring for the $25,000 olive wood, hand-carved crèche. Alas and alack, no sale. Just a few post cards, an olive-wood-look-alike plastic Rosary, and a few candles scented with the authentic smell of the West Bank.

Red Moon Rising

OK, it seemed like a good title for something. A little research and I find it’s been used on everything from predictive apocalyptic theology books to gay romance novels. But, anyway, I saw a spectacular view the other night of the lunar eclipse and the red moon. A lot of times I wake up in the middle of the night, go online and work. It’s quiet. There are no interruptions. And then, maybe around 4:30 a.m. I go back to bed for a few hours. Wacky, I know, but it works. I knew there was to be a lunar eclipse the other night, and around 2 a.m. I checked to find out what time it would occur. 2:07 a.m. Perfect. Went outside the sky was crystal clear and there was the red moon! If I had a telescope with a good camera I could have gotten the shot. But the one on Wikipedia works fine.

It was such a clear view I woke Nikki up to take a look.  Nights in Boquete are wonderful for star gazing when the sky is clear and it was one of those nights.  The palm trees with the stars in the background … wish I knew how to capture that image.

Although lunar eclipses aren’t that rare, this particular sequence of lunar eclipses won’t   happen again for another fifteen or so years.  But a reference in the Bible gets the creative imaginations of some who have an apocalyptic, predictive view of Scripture running wild. A verse in acts, echoing a passage in the book of Joel, says, “And I will show wonders in Heaven above and signs in the Earth beneath, the sun shall be turned into darkness and the moon into blood before the coming of the great and awesome day of the Lord.”

There’s an interesting article [What's up with the blood-moon prophecies?] by Kenneth L. Waters, a professor at Azusa Pacific University, about Christians who see these natural phenomena as predicting the “End Times”.  He concludes,

The Bible often speaks of astronomical signs indicating the End Times, but they are ambiguous and non-specific. And Jesus discouraged Christians from setting timetables and questing after signs.

“No one knows the day or hour when these things will happen, not even the angels in heaven or the Son himself. Only the Father knows,” Jesus says in the Gospel of Matthew.

The Apostle Paul also talked about signs of the End Times – not to establish a calendar, but rather to comfort members of the church who thought death would deprive them of the opportunity to see Jesus’ Second Coming.

In times of widespread fear, insecurity and uncertainty, religious leaders and secular theorists, some well-meaning and some who are not, will exploit the need for hope and assurance by declaring exclusive discovery of some secret plan hidden in the disorder.

We have seen this before: the fear of Y2K in 2000; Harold Camping’s predictions of the apocalypse in 2011; the “Mayan” Apocalypse on December 21, 2012; and now the blood moons.

But instead of looking to the heavens for signs of the future, Christians should focus on the hope and promise of the gospel message and seek to reflect Christ in word and deed.

And especially as we enter Holy Week and anticipate Easter, may each of us look within our own hearts for those shadows that keep us from enjoying the fullness of relationship with the Creator of the sun, the stars, and yes, the blood moons.

And that’s a good thought for Holy Week.

Santa Semana

Panama is officially a Christian country, although there is absolute religious freedom and Jews, Muslims and persons of other faiths, and no faith, live happily together.  But there is no official separation between church and state.  The Catholic hierarchy advise politicians in the current hot presidential race to “play nice” and the politicians give lip service to the plea, and then go off and do their own thing.  Voting is coming up on May 4th which means one party will have a blow out celebration on “Cinco de Mayo” and the other two main parties can drown their sorrows.

But Santa Semana, while deeply religious for some, for most is another opportunity not to work for much or all of the week.  Good Friday is an official holiday, but a lot of companies just throw up their hands and close up shop, or have limited hours of operation.  It is a time for family get togethers and vacations.  Santa Semana is the final event in the “limited work” cycle that began with the patriotic holidays in November, continued with Mother’s Day (a BIG deal in Panama!), Christmas in December, New Year’s and the Boquete Fair in January, then Carnival, now Holy Week, and then we get back to work.  Well, after election day since everyone is busy getting the last bit of campaigning in before the election.

“Where’s the dumpster?”

Depending on which party wins we may all be playing 52 Pickup after May 5th.  Panama does not have an entrenched civil service.  If the current government remains in power it will be business as usual.  If a new government is elected all of the bureaucrats, except maybe the janitor, will be looking for jobs as the party hacks of the new government take over.  If you have business with the government, sitting on someone’s desk awaiting approval, and the government changes, chances are that your paperwork will end up in the dumpster,  you go back to “GO!” and do not collect $200.  After all, who wants to leave a messy desk stacked with paperwork when they leave office.

Mea culpa!

I know that I’ve been a very erratic blogger for the past few months.  I’ve been busy getting my two new books into print and available on Kindle, as well as working on a third book due out in May or June, reorganizing this blog, and going to Seattle to get my brother into an assisted living home. Busy, busy, busy … whatever happened to “retirement”?

You can be as busy as you choose in Panama, or just sit back and watch the coffee grow, or play golf. I guess I just happen to be a guy who “makes work” wherever I go.

This week I’m heading off to Panama to join a Panama Relocation Tour and I will post blogs as we go along, so be sure to watch.

 

The Wall

I’ve been all over much of the world, but I’ve never been to Washington, D.C. Why? I just never had reason to go, and, deep inside I felt that I would be very disappointed. I would like to see the Wall, but only if I could go at night when there aren’t many people there, and the Wall is open 24 hours a day.

I’ve never been to Viet Nam. Not as a soldier nor as a tourist. My daughter, Rebecca, spent time in Viet Nam last year and loved it. Almost the entire Vietnamese population alive now was born after the Viet Nam War. For me “Viet Nam” has always represented horrible foreign policy, misguided and politically motivated decisions by old men in positions of power, and the total loss of an estimated 1,102,000–3,886,026 people on both sides. For many of my generation it is still an open wound. The Wall memorializes young Americans who did what they were called upon to do, served their country, and died in the process. It is also a tribute to those who served and were physically and or emotionally wounded. Hopefully as a country we will never forget and learn from their sacrifice.

Thankfully the names of my friends who served are not on the wall. One of those friends, who still bears the wounds of war, forwarded this valuable post.

The Wall

A little history most people will never know.

Interesting Veterans Statistics off the Viet Nam Memorial Wall.

There are 58,267 names now listed on that polished black wall, including those added in 2010.

The names are arranged in the order in which they were taken from us by date and within each date the names are alphabetized. It is hard to believe it is 36 years since the last casualties.

The first known casualty was Richard B. Fitzgibbon, of North Weymouth, Mass. Listed by the U.S. Department of Defense as having been killed on June 8, 1956. His name is listed on the Wall with that of his son, Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Richard B. Fitzgibbon III, who was killed on Sept. 7, 1965.

There are three sets of fathers and sons on the Wall.

39,996 on the Wall were just 22 or younger.

8,283 were just 19 years old.

The largest age group, 33,103 were 18 years old.

12 soldiers on the Wall were 17 years old.

5 soldiers on the Wall were 16 years old.

One soldier, PFC Dan Bullock was 15 years old.

997 soldiers were killed on their first day in Viet Nam.

1,448 soldiers were killed on their last day in Viet Nam.

31 sets of brothers are on the Wall.

Thirty one sets of parents lost two of their sons.

54 soldiers attended Thomas Edison High School in Philadelphia.
I wonder why so many from one school. 8 Women are on the Wall, nursing the wounded.
244 soldiers were awarded the Medal of Honor during the Viet Nam War; 153 of them are on the Wall.

Beallsville, Ohio with a population of 475 lost 6 of her sons.

West Virginia had the highest casualty rate per capita in the nation. There are 711 West Virginians on the Wall.

The Marines of Morenci – they led some of the scrappiest high school football and basketball teams that the little Arizona copper town of Morenci (pop. 5,058) had ever known and cheered. They enjoyed roaring beer busts. In quieter moments, they rode horses along the Coronado Trail, stalked deer in the Apache National Forest. And in the patriotic camaraderie typical of Morenci’s mining families, the nine graduates of Morenci High enlisted as a group in the Marine Corps. Their service began on Independence Day, 1966. Only 3 returned home.

The Buddies of Midvale – Leroy Tafoya, Jimmy Martinez, Tom Gonzales were all boyhood friends and lived on three consecutive streets in Midvale, Utah on Fifth, Sixth and Seventh avenues. They lived only a few yards apart. They played ball at the adjacent sandlot ball field. And they all went to Viet Nam. In a span of 16 dark days in late 1967, all three would be killed. Leroy was killed on Wednesday, Nov. 22, the fourth anniversary of John F. Kennedy’s
assassination. Jimmy died less than 24 hours later on Thanksgiving Day. Tom was shot dead assaulting the enemy on Dec. 7, Pearl Harbor Day.

The most casualty deaths for a single day was on January 31, 1968 ~ 245 deaths.

The most casualty deaths for one month was May 1968 – 2,415 casualties were incurred.

For most Americans who read this they will only see the numbers that the Vietnam War created. To those of us who survived the war, and to the families of those who did not, we see the faces, we feel the pain that these numbers created. We are, until we too pass away, haunted with these numbers, because they were our friends, fathers, husbands, wives, sons and daughters. There are no noble wars, just noble warriors.

PANAMA CANAL DAY

IT’S ALL HERE … Everything You Need to Know

It’s 4:30 a.m. – When I am on the bridge giving commentary as we make a passage through the Canal this is when and how the day begins. You’ll get inside information on what’s happening on the bridge of a ship passing through the Canal and pictures on the bridge showing perspectives that guests never get to see.

The Bridge of Life – Millions of years ago there was no Panama! The waters of the oceans flowed freely between the continents before the “bridge of life” liking the continents was created.

New Granada – Eventually the Spanish arrived and conquered, and then as the Spanish Empire dissolved, Panama struggled to find it’s place in the New Word.

The Dream – Columbus, King Charles V of Spain, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and Simon Bolivar all shared the same dream.

At work: bridge commentary during Canal passage.

At work: bridge commentary during Canal passage.

A Century of Expansion – Voyages and expeditions of discovery opened up new areas of the world, and the fledgling United States of America began expanding to the west.

The Panama Railroad – Although many cruise passengers will take the excursion on today’s Panama Railroad, few realize how important the original Panama Railroad was not only to Panama but also to the United States. This was the “little railroad that could” and carried billions of dollars of gold across the Isthmus.

The French Effort – Riding high on the success of the Suez Canal, Ferdinand de Lesseps came declaring that a canal across Panama would be easier than building the Suez Canal.

Banana Republic – The term “Banana Republic” was coined to describe the Republic of Panama created with the assistance of the United States, who in return got a path cross the Isthmus dividing the new country in two.

Let The Dirt Fly – Theodore Roosevelt, like Caesar, came, saw and conquered. The United States undertook the greatest project the modern world had ever seen and finished the Panama Canal ahead of schedule and under budget.

Dr Richard DetrichaHow It Works – In theory quite simple: up, over, and down, but achieving that was and is quite a marvel! Here’s what you need to know about how and why the Canal functions.

A Complicated Marriage – Panama’s relationship with the United States was complicated from the start. Many people read David Mc Cullough’s wonderful history, The Path Between The Seas: The Creation of the Panama Canal 1870-1914, failing to realize that it covers only PART of the history. A lot has happened since 1914, in the world, in Panama, with the Canal, and with Panama’s relationship with the United States.

Moving Forward – Time moves on, and so has the Canal and Panama. What about the future role of the Canal? Nicaragua? The Northwest Passage? The Canal expansion project?

Panama 101 – What is in Panama and why are people so excited about visiting the country itself?

Booking Passage – The questions everyone ask … What is the best time? How to find the best price? Which side of the ship is best? What about shots, passports, etc.?

I do change my shirts!  This is just my traditional Panama Canal day shirt!  It's more fun if there is another ship in the locks next to you.

I do change my shirts! This is just my traditional Panama Canal day shirt! It’s more fun if there is another ship in the locks next to you.

Seeing Panama – If you are lucky enough to actually stop in Panama and not just barrel through the Canal, what are the shore excursion options? Which one is best? How do you choose? Should you book through the cruise line or go independently? What are the independent options? Included are actual photos from most of the tours.

Your Voyage – Mile by mile guide of your cruise through the Panama Canal. What to expect and what to look for? Facts that you should know along the way.

Questions & Answers – Probably half of these are the same questions that you’ve been asking?

Our Ship & Our Bill – Everybody’s question: how much? A hypothetical ship and how the toll and fees are charged.

Key Dates in Panama History

U. S. Military Installations in Panama 1904 to 1999

Back Home in Panama

We made it!  And with a surprisingly smooth and comfortable trip.  Only one flaw, Delta managed to break my favorite, supposedly unbreakable, Samsonite luggage.  I had thought, hoped, the winds would be over, but we are having gale force winds.  Yuk!  But, as I told my wife, if we were in Colorado, we’d be due for one of those April snowstorms that break off blooming tree branches and create general havoc.

001But, at least it is warm and sunny.  With all the winds the power went out last night.  Score one for Kindle: my wife continued reading while I had nothing to do but go to be early.

After three Cuisinart coffee grinders have failed, with an average life span of 3 months, second of which was returned (with much hassle, I might add), we have opted for a “real” grinder … which we brought back from Seattle.  The coffee DOES taste better!  And as for the piece of … well, you know! … Cuisinart coffee grinders … my daughter in Seattle bought two, and here’s quit as well.  Cuisinart seems to think they can crank out cheap products and people will buy them due to the Cuisinart brand name, and they would be right, but when 5 out of 5 … that we know of! … turn out to be “Made in China” crap.  Do you think we will ever buy another Cuisinart product?

I’ve never met Kent Davis, but I follow his blog, and I know he must occasionally read mine as well.  He frequently offers great analysis of economic and real estate trends in Panama.

What Are The Biggest Threats To Panama In 2014?
Written by Kent Davis,  Panama Equity Real Estate
Panama has been enjoying a seven year economic heyday: consistent GDP growth, low unemployment, and a voracious national commitment to expand infrastructure.

On the surface all signs point in the direction of continued growth. But political rumblings, an unexpected slowdown of two of the country’s major sources of revenue, and other new issues may end up rocking the boat in 2014.

Political Turmoil In Our Sights?

April’s elections bring three candidates who are for the most part committed to maintaining current economic policy.

The incumbent party’s Jose Domingo Arias has chosen for his vice presidential running mate the current president’s wife. This means that if elected, Panama looks forward to five more years of more of the same:

More money on large government projects, a further consolidation of power for the ruling Cambio Democratico party, and an economy that looks to continue their thrust forward at breakneck, winner-take-all speed.

The current president Ricardo Martinelli enjoys a strong approval rating and his successor Arias is ahead of the campaigns, but what happens if the election results are contested or even worse, if there is a suppression of unfavorable election results?

This type of political scandal would not only turn off foreign investment, it would incite the radical anti-Martinelli minority who took to the streets during the mining protests and government land sales controversies in 2012 and would shake the system to it’s core.

President Ricardo Martinelli’s deep pocket spending and no-bid contract style has accomplished much for the small country of less than 3.5 million residents, including a multi-billion dollar metro system that is set to open in April 2014, but the president is not without his critics.

The anti-Martinelli contingent cite a growing consolidation of power and a repression of civil liberties which, if continued for another five years they argue, would create the type of political discord that the political opposition in 2019 could see the likes of a populist leader vis-à-vis Venezuela’s Maduro.

Souring Relations with Venezuela

Another factor that may negatively impact Panama’s rampant growth is the souring relations with Venezuela and the free trade zone implications that come with a distancing of commercial relations between the two countries.

Panama’s free trade zone enjoys over $30 billion dollars of economic activity on a yearly basis, and Venezuela is a key trading partner.

Not only is there an outstanding debt of one billion dollars that may go uncollected, which would put many small business owners out of business…but Venezuela accounts for over 20% of the free trade zone volume in exports.

This, combined with the recent trade embargoes approved by the government of Colombia has been a one-two punch that could be difficult for Panama to recover from quickly.

Speedbumps With Canal Expansion

A third potential chink in the armor of Panama’s economic charge is the massive engineering venture that is the Canal expansion project.

While construction is once again moving forward, the Spanish group SACYR has been teetering on the verge of bankruptcy and is rumored to have underbid the project in the hopes of claiming cost over runs from the Canal Authority.

The drama unfolded in the first two months of 2014 and while a tentative agreement’s been reached, the threat of work stoppage or an outright abandonment by SACYR is not beyond the realm of possibility.

While this wouldn’t be a nail in the coffin, it would be a black eye for Panama’s earnest attempts to deliver the expanded canal on time and prove themselves capable of completing one of the largest engineering projects in this decade.

Construction delays and heaven forbid a rebidding process would shake things up and may put back other projects, including the planned fourth bridge over the Canal and line two of the metro.

Souring Economics

Inflationary pressures are catching up to Panama’s lower and middle classes, as rising food and transportation prices keep the savings rate down to next to zero.

This issue has been on the radar for the 2014 candidates and the hope is that the new administration will enact policy to combat rising prices that are causing angst in some of Panama City’s exploding middle class communities such as Chepo, Araijan, and Chorrera.

On the heels of a near 30% increase of the minimum wage and subsequent across-the-board negotiations from higher paid employees, inflation will in all likelihood be a continued issue: if unaddressed, it could lead to a more aggressive wave of discontent.

And while Panama enjoys one of the lowest levels of unemployment in the world, as government spending slows on infrastructure construction, many laborers could be displaced and unable to find work in the private sector.

Crime On the Rise

The first three months of 2014 have seen a number of alarming incidents involving both foreigners and locals in Panama’s beaches areas, and members of the community are concerned at the reaction (or lack thereof) by Panama’s legal system.

Armed robberies, home invasions, and other violent crime are on the rise in the popular tourist areas surrounding San Carlos and could have a huge impact on both tourism and expat relocation if left unaddressed.

Many see a growing income gap as one possible driver for this new crime wave, as locals cope with rising prices and an increased presence of wealthy visitors make for easy targets.

While crime rates in Panama City have dropped significantly over the past few years, crime in Panama’s tourist heavy interior is alarmingly on the rise and has locals and foreigners worried for their safety.

What’s to Come?

Panama remains in the international spotlight for an admirably strong economy and relative political stability. With elections at the beginning of May, here’s to hoping the party continues.

Of course, this is A LOT of attention and development for the one-time Banana Republic. Uncertainty is always present in predicting Panama’s near (and long term) future but as things stand, we here at Panama Equity are still optimistic and confident that the next administration will address these issues and help keep the course of growth.