As an expat, living in a country, Panama, other than my won, the United States, it is interesting to observe the official responses and the way in which the US, Panama, and other nations respond to this crisis, and the tenor and tone of the national leadership. As I mentioned previously, one of the challenges of living as an expat and not speaking the national language, Spanish, is that sometimes it takes a while to get translations Thanks to Calvin Froedge here is an English translation, which he admits “is not exact but should be pretty close” of the address to the nation given by the President of the Republic of Panama, Laurentino “Nito” Cortizo in the face of the coronavirus pandemic.
“Good afternoon, I wanted to take this opportunity to communicate to the country about what we’re doing and what we’re going to do. The world and Panama is facing a difficult moment. It’s a moment of uncertainty. This is going to be a hard war, a prolonged and extensive war, but I don’t have any doubt that we’re going to win it. A team has been established to mitigate all the effects of the virus, health effects, social effects, and economic effects. How did we come to the decision to put these measures in place? In light of evidence. ‘You have to do this, you have to do that’ – in this kind of situation that stuff isn’t worth much, we have to support executive actions with the decisions of the health teams. The ministry of health, CSS, scientists, the directors of different institutions, and other organizations observe and analyze make a decision and pass it to the executive branch. We’re beginning a 24 hour quarantine obviously with some logical exceptions, health workers, public forces, food sellers and grocery stores, chinitos, banks. Daily movement is allowed but restricted based on the last number of cedula (he lays out details for this, there are charts you can refer to) for purchase of food, gas, medications. This is a 24 hours quarantine but there are VERY IMPORTANT exemptions, understand that this is a decision based in evidence provided by the health team. The health team needs to respond to this crisis with constantly having in mind “Why are we here” and have a lot of discipline, because this is a difficult situation. We need to take ALL decisions based on evidence. When we say you need to stay in your house, it’s important that you do so, maintain a meter and a half between yourself and other people. When there’s someone infected, it’s not just an isolation process, it’s also a treatment process, we need to keep in mind what the enemy is. When we see someone suffering, when we see someone fall in the streets, it’s a real heartache, I give to everyone affected by this virus my condolences. I can’t give you a hug because right now that’s prohibited. We need to keep pushing and fighting, I’m sure we’re going to win this thing.
Wash your hands using the water responsibly. It’s important that we conserve water. Conserve water brushing your teeth or flushing the toilet, make sure it doesn’t run. Every gallon of water that we save is important. We’re on top of the financial situation, making tests, and treatment. We have the resources to keep advancing as we need to for months. For sure, our resources are not infinite. We don’t have a central bank. We have to be efficient, and organized in the following months and use our resources well. We have to be very conscious of using our resources effectively.
We assure to the country we’re going to maintain all of the transfer programs, $1.6B in CSS transfers, gas subsidies, electricity, welfare, scholarships and many other subsidies and benefits – we’re going to guarantee EVERYTHING but please utilize these things on what is necessary – food and medicine – forget about everything else – worry about the basics. We’re not gonna leave anybody behind who is losing their income, but we ALL have to share the burden. This is the moment of solidarity – there is no other. Nobody who has lost their income on account of the virus is going to lose their home due to mortgage default. The banks are flexible, believe me, I’ve talked to the banking authorities and they are going to be flexible. Rest assured if you’re without income for three months you won’t need to pay your mortgage. Nobody is going to take away your house because you can’t work. For those of you who fall in the range of standard usage the electric bill will be lowered by around 50%. Nobody is going to lose electricity because they aren’t working. 300-1000 KW usage will be discounted by 30%. In any case you have three months of grace where your electricity will not be cut. Nobody is going to cut the water service in the next three months. But use it responsibly. Nobody is going to cut the internet service in the next three months. This relief plan is a fight for survival against a mortal enemy. Relief is for food, medications, and gas. We’re testing a system to use the cedula like a debit card. We’ve been testing it for a week and we need to study it more but it seems like it’s working. The relief plan is for families, people that live day to day, people who have lost their wages, vulnerable populations.
All of the logistic aren’t simple. We’re advancing and we’re doing tests. We’re going to be watching house by house, working with local authorities, to implement this process. Remember we’re in war time. We have to have solidarity. Don’t ask for things that someone else needs more. If you have plantains, or chickens, or eggs, and you have a neighbor in trouble, offer them some. Demonstrate the solidarity and the greatness of the country. Remember that the relief plan for the country is a plan of survival. We have a bank account in Banco Nacional for receiving donations to augment the national response. Our resources are very finite and every bit of help is needed. We need that each and every person shows solidarity. This virus kills solidarity, unity, discipline, order, and faith. If we unite, we’re going to defeat this virus and live a more beautiful life. We have to have patience. In a situation like this patience is very important. Resistance, the good administration of food, plains, rice, beans, it’s essential we administer everything well in this fight for survival.
This is the time to pray. If you don’t pray to above you won’t be blessed. Give thanks to God. Today I received videos of solidarity for example from restaurant owners, disco tech owners, bar owners, a beautiful but different type of video giving us joy and strength, that said let’s move forward, uniting forces. Someone from the police arrived and he said “We leave for the streets in the hand of god.” There are many units in the police that are testing positive, but when I read these messages from the police, sinaproc, the public forces, saying we’re going to the streets united, wrapped in the hands of God, we’re going to defeat our enemy. We have to give thanks to God for the people on the front line. I have to be in meetings and I have to be answer answering people till 1 in the morning, but we have to give thanks to the doctors, the nurses, technicians, administrators, the laundry workers, the people cooking and cleaning, all these health workers, damn. We have such an extraordinary team in this country. To the public forces and functionaries that have to be on the front line in this 24 hours quarantine. To those operating the metro and busses, those in the fields and the sea producing food, thank you. Those in the public forces, those producing food, the chinos, the supers, the means of conversation, to this spirit that grows in adversity, for this warrior attitude, the only thing I can say is I, Nito Cortizo, with the loudest cry, thank you.
All of us Panamanians need to keep uniting forces. We’re fighting against the current. We all have to advance in the same direction, have solidarity, in the hand of God, us the world and Panama, are going to overcome this enemy, the coronavirus.Thank you for allowing me to speak to you – to all who are listening, I love this country. To all of you who are listening, love this country. Take out your Panamanian flag, no matter how old it is, take out your warrior flag. We’re gonna keep moving forward, like we’re doing, doing well. To the health team and the Panamanians in the front line, all we can say is take care of yourself, but please, care for us, too. Let’s keep advancing. May God bless this great country. Thank you.”
On a personal note . . . I realized that this creates great hardship for many, however, riding out the quarantine at our home in Boquete, Panama, it honestly isn’t hard to enjoy being forced to stay at home, relax, read, chat, and enjoy a more stress-free life. Yes, i’ve had three river/coastal small ship cruises cancel, but coronavirus permitting, I’ve picked up two more the end of May and June. Fingers crossed!