I went to Panama a day early before the Panama Relocation Tour began. It happened to be Good Friday which is a national holiday in Panama. I thought the Rapture had come and I had been left behind! There was NOBODY in Panama City! It was deserted! Incredibly, no bumper to bumper traffic chaos! Amazingly quiet. Since it was a holiday everything was closed and most of the people in Panama City took advantage of the long weekend to escape to the “Interior”, that is any place outside of Panama City.
So my friend Jubal Antencio met me and we decided to ride the new Metro from the heart of the city out to San Miguelito. Jubal has been living in Spain and has dual EU/Panamanian citizenship but returned home to Panama to work on the campaign of a farmily friend, Marina Ardines who is running for representante in San Miguelito.
As an expat I can’t vote in Panama and am not involved in the campaign. I have neighbors who are running as candidates for the PRD party (the party of Omar Torrijos) but many of my friends, including PRD party members, are working for the relection of the current government’s candidate Jose Domingo Arias in the hopes that the expansion and booming economy of Panama will continue under the same government. A change in parties in Panama means that everything comes to a screeching halt. Without an established civil service, pretty much everyone in government except the janitor loses their jobs, and are replaced by those who supported the new party in power. Not very efficient. Election day is May 4th, so we shall see. The government candidate, Jose Domingo, had a comfortable lead a few months ago, but what I consider political missteps by the current CD party leader and President Ricardo Martinelli have resulted in what appears to be a neck and neck race.
The current government likes to claim that it has done more in four years than previous governments have done in forty years, and they are probably right. Putting personalities and party loyalties aside, it seems to me that it would be best for Panama to keep the current CD [Cambio Democaratico] government in place for another five years.
One of the most amazing projects of the current government is the Panama Metro System. Old, frequently dangerous, “Diablos Rojos” buses have been mostly replaced by modern city buses. The first line of the Panama Metro has just opened and bidding is underway for the second line. The Metro really is amazing! Ten years ago when we came to Panama we could never have imagined a subway in Panama City. The Metro is underground in the center of the city and then, similar to subways in New York, elevated as it moves outward. Built at a cost of almost $2 billion, it remains to be seen what the fare will be and how affordable it will be for ordinary Panamanians commuting to work. Right now the Metro is free! After the elections . . . we will see. The challenge will be to keep the Metro in its current pristine condition.
We rode the first train on Good Friday along with a scattering of others. All you need now is a souvenir metro card which costs $2 to activate the turn styles. You can use the same card for more than one person. In the future you will load your card with credit at machines in the subway station. The system is amazingly clean and well run.
The other fantastic new project which was completed in record time is the extension of the Cinta Costera. The first phase was a project of President Martin Torrijos and the last PRD government. It has proved an amazing improvement not just to traffic flow but to the quality of life and recreational opportunities for city dwellers.
The current government and President Ricardo Martinelli in record time have envisioned, proposed and completed an extension of the Cinta Costera as an over water highway around Casco Viejo providing convenient access to the Bridge of the Americas without all the hassle of driving through what was one of the most congested areas of Panama City.
A trip on this overseas extension provides fantastic views of the modern city and Casco Viejo. You can bike or jog, and there are parks and viewpoints along the route. What is even better is that after it passes the new soccer stadium it is very easy to get right onto the Bridge of the Americas and across the Canal, avoiding what used to be a massive jam up on the Avenida Los Martires.