Connectivity and/or Drugs

Just when I was looking for alternative, more reliable and faster ways of communication, much to my great surprise two Mobilnet techs arrived as promised to check out my connectivity problems which have been going on for months. The problem apparently was that they antenna on the top of the tower on my living room needed turned from one of their signal points to another. Now grant you I had reported the problem on Thursday, so it only took five days for them to respond, but hey, on Friday they said they would send two techs out on Monday morning and by golly they came! On schedule! Not just with Mobilnet, but in Panama . . . a miracle!

It almost fell apart with me going “postal” . . . for those of you outside the US that’s when you flip out and grab an AK47 and start shoot up the place.

Yesterday we had rain in Palmira for the first time in the two months I’ve been home from the sea.  Coming near the end of the rainy season my yard was looking like drought-stricken Texas.  Well almost.   So these guys from Mobilnet get here and it is pouring.  Naturally they don’t want to go up on the roof and get wet.  I guess the fact that my Indian worker and I were both out working in the rain and soaked to the skin intimidated them, so Sabino got my ladder and helped them climb up to the top of the roof and switch the direction of the antenna.  And now the damn thing works!

Now . . . if I could just get their sales people to do as promised and increase my service to 1 Meg, since I’m already paying $60 for 1/2 Meg and they’ve been overcharging me for two years, and 1 Meg only costs $65.  [In all fairness, in Boquete town proper they have CABLE Internet with Cableonda and 1 Meg only costs $20.] But in the meantime . . . I’m going to keep the old, proven ways of reliable connectivity and communication in mind and hope that my Internet service provider doesn’t drive me to become an alcoholic or drug addict. [Flimsy transition, I know but I'm only gradually recovering from the trauma of my loss of Internet connectivity!]

Speaking of drugs . . . well we were, in a way . . .

“SOLVE YOUR OWN DAMN PROBLEM!”

Guatemalan President Otto Perez Molina is telling the US to solve their own damn problem. Prohibition of drugs, like prohibition of alcohol hasn’t worked and the demand for drugs in the US is wrecking havoc in every Latin American country. It’s not that the Latinos are hooked on drugs, but it is the US failed drug policy, its ridiculous “War on Drugs” and the increasing demand and all the money flowing to the drug cartels that makes life difficult in Latin America countries who happen to be on the route to America. Molina has proposed legalizing drugs in Guatemala and has encouraged other Central American countries to do the same.

“I want to bring this discussion to the table,” he said. “It wouldn’t be a crime to transport, to move drugs. It would all have to be regulated.”

Panama has politely said that while the proposal is interesting, Panama isn’t interested. But it is an interesting approach. It is because of the US prohibition that headless bodies are being stacked up in Mexico and that tons of cocaine are being seized weekly in Panama . . . all bound for the US. The problem isn’t that all these countries are being used to trans-ship drugs, or even that some of the countries produce drugs, the problem is that the US just can’t get enough. The US would rather spend billions on a failed drug war while at the same time keeping the legal-judicial cartel off the unemployment rolls, money the US doesn’t have, rather than decriminalize, regulate and tax the hell out of the drug business.

But if I were looking for a country in which to retire or live as an expat . . .

Right now, the way things are, I’d certainly have some questions. One of the Web sites I read regularly is Don Winner’s Panama-Guide.com. If you are even thinking of moving to Panama, and certainly if you live here, I’d recommend following Don’s site and his commentary. If you forgive his occasional fixation with pin-ups (It works for rags in the UK, why not Panama?), he does a great job of reporting life in Panama from an expat perspective. This post, “Will Panama go the way of Mexico?”, is well worth repeating.

By DON WINNER for Panama-Guide.com – Received this afternoon via email: “Hello, As many people have probably inquired, I too have been thinking of moving/renting/buying property on Panama, specifically, the Boquete/Dolego/ Boca Chica area. I have been to Boca Chica area by boat from Costa Rica to the canal. Like all latin countries, safety is my primary concern. Of course, Panama is the main route for drug and weapons traffic. and the many articles I’ve read on the subject have said how much the traffic and violence has increased. I for one say there is no stopping it. The main reason I don’t go to Mexico anymore. I recently got back from San Carlos Panama and it was just ok. I think David is a small Panama City, where you can still get goods and services. I speak very little Spanish, although I continue to take lessons, but difficult for me. They say it’s the one of the safest Latin American countries, but will that continue? I found the Panamanians good decent people, hardworking, and pretty helpful, just like the Mexicans, but Mexico is being overrun by the cartels and the government, although trying, is outmanned, outgunned, and out financed, thereby contributing to the eventual downfall of the country. I guess my question is: will Panama be another Mexico in the near future and would it be wise to make any kind of investment/move there? My thought is to move to Florida {I’m from NH}, and perhaps just do 6 mos. there and 6 mos. in David area. any info or your own thoughts would be helpful. Thank You. MC.”

Editor’s Comment: Excellent question. The short answer is – no – Panama will probably not go the way of Mexico, with regards to internal security. Panama has always been a transit country for drug traffickers. The cocaine is grown and processed in South America then moved past, through, or around Panama on the way to markets in the United States and Canada. Here in Panama the drugs go North and the money comes South. So, there are problems associated with the drug traffickers and money launderers, as well as all of the associated peripheral activities such as trafficking in weapons and human beings. Back in the 1980′s when cocaine first became big the drug cartels were all Colombian – guys like Pablo Escobar. Once they were taken down and broken up, the Colombian guerrillas (FARC) woke up one day and realized they were in charge of the whole thing. Their power peaked in the mid 90′s when they were receiving more than $2 billion dollars per year from the drug trade. In response the United States started to spend some real serious money to help the Colombian government defeat the narco-guerrillas. That was so successful that today the FARC is talking about disarming and disbanding. Once the FARC started to get their butts kicked, the ball was passed to the Mexican drug cartels. They turned out to be much more blood thirsty and violent than the Colombians every were. And that’s pretty much where we are today – with the Mexicans being responsible for most of the trafficking of cocaine. So, what does all of this mean for Panama?

A Safe Haven: Just two days ago I published this article – Mexican and Colombian Drug Cartel Capos – Hiding in Panama. It seems that Panama is a relatively nice place to use as a base of operations if you’re a drug trafficking kingpin, and the last thing you want to do when you’re hiding is make a lot of noise. In the last three years the Panamanian authorities have busted about 130 tons of cocaine – which the drug traffickers just see as the cost of doing business. The lower level guys will very often get into violent clashes among themselves. Sometimes one group of bad guys will learn that another group of bad guys is moving a load of cocaine so they will try to steal it from them, and there’s a gunfight, and then the authorities find the bodies a few days later. Or, if there’s a drug bust, then a few days later the bodies start turning up as the bosses punish those who screwed up. Or, low level local youth gangs will kill one another in turf battles for rights to control the drug trafficking in the different parts of the neighborhood. None of this violent activity ever splashes on to the community of English speaking expatriates in the Republic of Panama. The greatest danger to expats? The possibility of getting mugged on the street by some crack head who is desperate for a few dollars to score his next fix. And even that is extremely, exceptionally rare.

Panama Is Like A Straw: Panama is very narrow, and it’s relatively easy for the authorities to shut down any one part of the country if necessary for security reasons. Like, let’s say the Darien region, for example. If all of a sudden a large number of heavily armed narco-traffickers started raising hell in the Darien, the authorities could control all access into and out of that entire province by putting checkpoints on one road. They are already patrolling both the Pacific and Atlantic oceans, looking for drug traffickers. There are only two bridges that connect Panama City to the interior of the country. Panama is investing heavily to buy arms and equipment to be in a better position to enforce the law and interdict drug traffickers, so their capabilities are improving. The National Police, the SENAFRONT, and the SENAN are all training more people and improving their overall capabilities. So if anything the security situation in Panama for the members of the expatriate community is improving, from a strategic point of view. All of these factors combine to make Panama a much, much safer place than Mexico. And, I don’t see anything on the horizon in either the near or long term that might change the fundamental security situation to the negative. On the contrary, in the long term the trend is for Panama to become even more safe and secure than it is today.

My Point Of View: When I first arrived in Panama back in 1987 Manuel Noriega was in charge of the country as a military dictator. He was trafficking cocaine through Cuba, and the security situation go so bad that the United States was forced to invade (Just Cause) in order to secure the Panama Canal and the US citizens living here. Since Noriega was taken down and democracy restored, there have been five democratically elected presidents. During that entire time the security situation has improved substantially. There was a sharp increase in murders related to drug trafficking during the Martin Torrijos administration, precisely because the Colombians passed the ball to the Mexicans back in about 2006 or 2007. So now five years later, the government has spent the money necessary to combat the threat. They have not won the war, but they are heartily engaged. So, through my 25 year lenses, the situation has gone from really bad to a whole lot better, and chances are that trend will continue.

Copyright 2012 by Don Winner for Panama-Guide.com. Go ahead and use whatever you like as long as you credit the source. Salud.

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