Why are so many people interested in Panama?

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Yesterday we greeted visitors to this blog from the United States, Canada, Thailand, Mexico, Panama, United Kingdom, Japan, Greece, Costa Rica, Japan and Australia, and that’s a pretty typical mix of where visitors come from on a typical day.

Why this great interest in Panama?  

Well Panama has always been at the crossroads of the world.  Geographically, but also in terms of its strategic and political importance.  Yes, today it is bolivar_arturo_michelenalargely because of the Canal and one of the largest international hub airports in the Americas.  But even before the Canal … during the Spanish conquest, as Spain started sending back the treasures of the New World, most of that went through Panama City, then “the richest city in the world.”

The great liberator of Latin America, Simon Bolivar, once said, “If the world had a capital it would be Panama.”

Today the attraction of Panama is …

  • It is at the “crossroads of the world,” “the hub of the Americas.”
  • It is a neutral country, a peacemaker on the world scene not given to stirring up conflict and anxiety.
  • It has one of the most, if not the most, robust economies in the region.
  • It uses the US dollar, calls it the “Balboa” but it is in fact the US dollar, still considered by most to be one of the most secure currencies in the world.
  • It is outside the hurricane zone.

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  • It is safe and peaceful.
  • It is still in many ways relatively affordable.
  • Although officially a Christian, Roman Catholic country, it has total religious freedom with large groups of Jews, Muslims, Evangelicals and many smaller faiths.  It is home to a Mormon Temple and a Bahai Temple.
  • Because it has been at the crossroads of the world, Panama is composed of a rainbow of people from different cultures and backgrounds.  Panamanians come in all shapes and colors and live and work happily together, and in fact Panama has scored as one of the “happiest” countries in the world.
  • Anyone can own property in Panama.

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  • For most people, assuming you have no criminal record and you come from one of the many of Panama’s “friendly nations,” it is easy to get permanent residency and after five years you can get a Panamanian passport.
  • It is tropical, with lush foliage, no snow, no big time changes, and tropical climates ranging from hot & humid to the cool, year-round Spring-like climate of Boquete and Volcan.
  • Panama has beautiful beaches, snorkeling and diving, and some of the most fantastic fishing in the world.
  • For 27 years Panama has been a thriving democracy. [Presidents are limited to one 5-year term, then must sit out 10 years before being able to be re-elected.  Politics are grass-roots.  People are elected based on party and program and not TV ads and robocalls.  There are three parties with passionate followers but no great political divide, since everyone pretty much wants the same things and it’s just a question of which group is going to pocket the money for the next five years.  Candidates are typically all slightly right-of-center business people.  When elections are over everyone just works together to move the country forward.  Once in a while there is a fist fight on the floor of the Assembly, which may actually be a better way of resolving differences than perpetually blocking all progress.]
  • Panama is not a one-pony economy but has strong international banking, is home to many of the world’s largest corporations, has registry of about 25% of the world’s ships, has the world’s second largest free trade zone, is a rapidly expanding airport hub of the Americas, and has a booming tourist industry.
  • And, oh yes, did I mention … The Panama Canal.

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Thinking about Panama?

  1. Get my book THE NEW ESCAPE TO PARADISE all about our experience moving and retiring in Panama.  As my expat neighbors say, “Richard tells it like it is!”
  2. Check out the Welcome To Panama List of Friendly Nations
  3. Come on down and check it out for yourself!  Panama is not for everyone, but it just may be the Paradise you are looking for!

 

All That Glitters …

For a half-dozen years Panama’s glowing economy has stunned many. Working on ships I get the opportunity to bring people to Panama, many for the first time, and many whose image of Panama is stuck somewhere in the past, frequently a quarter of a century ago when they’d read about Noriega.  When they see Panama City for the first time they are stunned!  Similar thing happens when they fly into Tocumen International either to visit, or just to connect at the “Hub Of The Americas.”  They expect a “third-world” style airport, which frankly is pretty much what it was when we came here 11 years ago.  Today when I get lost in Tocumen I am reminded that it could be any international airport anywhere in the world … yes, and unfortunately, they all are pretty much the same.

I try to present a balanced view of Panama … both the Panama we love and the Panama that drives us nuts.  One of the important chapters that I’ve added through the years as I’ve continually updated my book, THE NEW ESCAPE TO PANAMA: OUR EXPERIENCE LIVING & RETIRING IN PANAMA, is entitled “The Devil You Know” … as in “The devil you know is sometimes better than the devil you don’t know.”

Many people decide to move to Panama assuming that the legal system here is pretty much the same as from whence they came.  Assuming anything is the worst thing you can do it Panama. That is particularly true when it comes to the legal system which is vastly different from that in North America and many other places. The basis of law is different.  Many of us are used to a law that features trial by jury, law based on statutes interpreted from custom and judicial precedent, which is why law students are always searching for cases in the past which can be used to benefit their clients.  In the US, at least prior to the Patriot Act, the accused was entitled to a speedy-of-sorts trial.  Many of us come from places where practicing the law is an honored profession requiring long study and preparation, passing a rigorous bar exam proving that you not only have a paper saying you graduated, but that in fact you know the law.  We have ideas like “time is of the essence” – good luck with that in Panama!, “agency” – oh, what a can of worms here, yada yada.  Get involved with the legal system here and you can sit in prison for months, even years, waiting while folks sort out what, if anything, you are being charged with, and if, and when you might be tried, depending on what connections and how much money you have.  “Justice” can be bought if the price is right and if you have enough political clout and the right family pedigree … but not always as the Former President of Panama, Ricardo Martinelli and his family and cohorts are finding out. Senor Martinelli is apparently on the run, whereabouts unknown although he still has his Twitter account.  Half of his cronies have fled the country, half are in “protective custody”, and half are quivering at home.  I know that three halves don’t generally make a whole, except in Panama.

The current government is obsessed with rooting out corruption … at least the corruption of the previous government … and seeking transparency.  And these are good, and much-needed objectives, but … in the meantime the engine of progress must continue.  Martinelli’s “get ‘er done” style of government pushed ahead approving a myriad of projects without competitive bidding (Ah-ha!) which many allege opened the door for Martinelli and his inner circles … like Versailles there were many concentric circles … to line their pockets with essentially stolen funds which is alleged to be as much as $3 Billion.  But while the mess is sorted out a giant hospital complex, new convention center, hospitals and medical centers across the country sit unfinished and deteriorating.

How successful the current government will be in seeking transparency will depend on what happens when the next government … and democracy in Panama seems to require switching political control in each presidential election … investigates the present government.  Knowing that certainty the present government, the new team that came in when the old team left, are super cautious and almost afraid to move on anything fearing that in five years they will be the ones under the microscope.

A lot of folks are intrigued by the idea of a country that isn’t lawsuit happy … but remember, when you’ve been wronged, or cheated, or the victim of malpractice … what recourse do you have?  “So, sue me!”  Yep.  So unless we both have deep pockets to pay endless legal fees for years and years … and the cost of the suit, should you win, wouldn’t cover your years of legal fees.  The alternative, if either of you has the money, would be to buy off the judge and legal system for settlement.

Before you pick up and decide to move to Panama or any other country you need to really do your homework and know what you are buying into.

The former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court is already sitting in jail.  Then this morning this was the news …

According to research by Assistant Prosecutor Marcelino Aguilar, the group – which included assistant judges, clerks and lawyers — intentionally delayed cases, bribed jurors and tampered with evidence on behalf of defendants.

According to evidence collected in the case, this included at least one case where a judge’s signature was forged reports La Prensa.

The investigation was launched when allegations surfaced that a jury in the case of murder suspect Hilario Chen Quintana had been tampered with. That trial has been suspended until next year so while the corruption investigation takes place.

Evidence collected also included the seizure of whatsapp messages that showed officials negotiating prices for verdicts with lawyers.

So far, 12 court officials and one other individual have been charged. More arrests are likely say sources.  [NEWSROOM PANAMA]

Don’t Stop The Carnival

Before anyone even thinks of moving to Panama or any other tropical paradise, Herman Wouk’s DON’T STOP THE CARNIVAL should be required reading.

It is set on the tropical island of “Amerigo” which in actually is St. Thomas, USVI. Wouk lived in St. Thomas with his family for 6 years, and DON’T STOP THE CARNIVAL was a fun, aside project and a way of coping.

I first went to St. Thomas in 1969 and was instantly in love. I was chaplain on the old ROTTERDAM and we were in St. Thomas on the US Thanksgiving Day. I called an acquaintance of mine who was the pastor of the Reformed Church in Charlotte Amalie and it turned out he was “off island.” But a young couple from Australia were house-sitting for him and insisted that I join them and a lot of other ex-pats in celebrating a US Thanksgiving. Well, I was the only United States citizen in the bunch, but it was a great party and they managed to get me back to the ship on time. Brian and Heather had a sail boat anchored on Hassel Island in the St. Thomas harbor and I would return to visit them, and boat sit and that started a fun friendship. In those days, if you can believe it, there was nothing along the waterfront in downtown Charlotte Amalie. Brian would leave his Jeep, we’d hop in a tiny dinghy and row out to Hassle Island where his boat was anchored. There was one grocery store and you kind of made do with whatever they happened to have. You needed a four-wheel drive to get anywhere on St John! I was hooked. We ended up going back on vacation with our best friends, a seminary classmate of mine who also fell in love with St Thomas and ended up becoming the pastor of the church there. Before he accepted the call he made us promise that we would come and visit . . . and we did! So I have a long love affair with St Thomas . . . and even after the love of my young life has become pretty much an aging cruise ship whore . . . I have fond memories. Unfortunately, now, I don’t even get off the ship.

As usual, I digress . . .

Wouk’s book came out in 1965 and I discovered it around 1969 . . . and at that time some of the real people who were the basis of the fictional characters, were still around. The story line of the book is about a Broadway publicist who gets tired of the Big Apple, buys a tiny hotel on an island in the harbor of “Amerigo” and all of his frustrations. The island is actually “Hassle Island” and we knew the hotel well.

It’s a funny book and I’ve read and reread it through the years when I want to escape and laugh. My standard movies for escape and laughter are “Birdcage” and “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels”, and my standard book is DON’T STOP THE CARNIVAL. My copy is now held together with rotting rubber bands. So I took advantage of our local used book store in Dolega. Dolega is about 25 minutes from Boquete, and there is a wonderful used book store with mostly English books there called The Book Mark. I went to Dolega and picked up another copy, and full of frustration reread DON’T STOP THE CARNIVAL. I had not read it since we moved to Panama and let me tell you . . . it’s about Panama! Well, not really, but the cast of characters . . . the politicos, the shoddy contractors, the schemers and rip-off artists, the rain, the floods, the foolish gringos with their brains clouded by rum and hibiscus . . . it’s all here, and it’s all the same.

So if you are even thinking about retiring or picking up and moving to Panama . . . read DON’T STOP THE CARNIVAL first . . . and then lets talk.