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Rescuing Panama from its citizens

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Rescuing Panama from its citizens


Posted 22/03/2022

 I was born in Panama City, grew up, educated and have worked throughout the capital. Never in my life have I seen it so dirty and discolored. There is a sense of abandonment and indifference.

Throughout the city a brand has appeared that dominates the skyline: “for sale or for rent”.

This symptom of the bursting of a housing bubble has been accompanied by others that show the poor health of the patient.

Panama City is invaded by an army of "bien cuidao", scavengers, people with mental illnesses who have been abandoned to their fate and the consequent deterioration of the private and public space of the capital of the Republic.

basura-en-panama.jpgOne morning in March, together with my wife, we went to the General Directorate of Revenue, in the Calidonia area. The "bien cuidao " had appropriated public parking lots, with cones, buckets, boxes, or any other object that would allow them to mark their territory.

The continuation of the procedure required going to a public office on Peru Avenue, in an area in which the problem of "bien cuidao " was magnified. When we left the public office, around noon, we went down Cuba Avenue towards 5 de Mayo and we could see a young woman lying on the sidewalk, right in front of the Lottery building.

The policemen who were with her told -worried- passers-by that it was in vain to call an ambulance because they would not come to pick her up since she is an alcoholic and this happened often.

As if it were the set or scenario for a zombie movie of poor quality, when we finally headed towards the Vía España, a half-naked scavenger was bathing with stagnant water from the street. As a tourist attraction and quite naturally, a lady in Martín Sosa hung out her “freshly washed” clothes on the perimeter fence of the residence of the United States Embassy in La Cresta. It was not yet 1:00 pm

Another day, on a tour of Nuevo Tocumen, we found ourselves in that community with a strong interior flavor, invaded by garbage all along the road and lacking sports infrastructure, outdoor entertainment, and without a cultural offer as such. The inhabitants of the area depend for their food on informal food stalls where bananas, yuccas, yams, tomatoes, onions, carrots and small portions of rice are in plain sight.

This part of Panama City shares a common feature with the urban landscape: the lack of lighting and the poor condition of the streets and sidewalks. In addition, in the case of Panama City, there were no manhole covers, the eternal problem that pedestrians and vehicles face with harsh and costly consequences.

On another trip, to the bowels of San Miguelito, the garbage bags on both sides of the streets and sidewalks are a constant in the landscape, as if these Panamanians did not deserve better. Domingo Díaz and José Agustín Arango, both important and busy roads, are full of garbage. There, next to the Metrobus stop, adjacent to the inns and street vendors, and in the shadow of the imposing structures of Line 2 of the Metro.

A large part of Panama City is awash in garbage, which has taken over public space from pedestrians. This is a city waiting for another fatal epidemic, perhaps cholera, dysentery, or worse. The problem is widespread.

street-vendors.jpgIn the very middle class of Hato Pintado there are buzzards camping next to the residential dumps. This Dantesque image can be seen in La Alameda, in Juan Díaz, even on Avenida Balboa (just where they intend to build a new seafood market).

An environment such as the one described above can only cause a deterioration in the living habits of the community. What was once a bad habit of a few male drivers is now on its way to becoming a widespread practice. How many times have you observed that in front of you a driver, a passenger, or a pedestrian, in broad daylight, decides to use a sidewalk, park, right of way, or ditch as a restroom? The city has been turned into a urinal.

It is embarrassing to pass the beautiful route of the Metropolitan Natural Park, round trip, it is already common to find drivers who, without the slightest modesty, are watering the vegetation. The same happens on the Pan-American highway, in the corridors, on the Alberto Motta highway, or wherever.

It seems that there are no public restrooms in this city. Don't they know that gas stations, fast food restaurants, supermarkets, coffee shops, and all shopping centers have “thrones” worthy of the citizen nobility?

Trying to escape from the city leads you to the same trap. This is how we see it on the Veracruz highway, which is colonized by garbage bags, tall grasslands, and darkness.

The road to Portobelo and Isla Grande does not escape this garbage tragedy and sadly there are already "bien cuidaos" in Portobelo.

The Pan-American Highway, towards the interior, is trapped like a pincer by the traffic of Arraiján and La Chorrera, which is always a favorable opportunity for dozens of street vendors to take to the streets with the risks and roadblocks that this implies.

Because of the economic crisis, the number of street vendors has increased throughout the country.

This situation complicates life in public space because there are also many cases of people who urgently need psychiatric help and have nowhere to turn.

A few weeks ago a young man with a mental illness killed his grandmother for a cell phone card. The family did not have the resources to have the boy in a specialized care center. A few meters from the headquarters of the Ministry of Social Development (Mides), in Plaza Edison, there is a platoon of homeless people, some sleeping under the different overpasses and pedestrian bridges, while others do so on sidewalks and corridors. truly exposed to everything… However, there is no MIDES(Ministery for Social Development) for that.

The pedestrian bridges of Panama City, from Avenida de Los Mártires to San Miguelito, and those towards 24 de Diciembre and Tocumen, are colonized by street vendors, homeless people, and even the mentally ill.

People avoid them for safety reasons and risk being run over. The beautiful Ricardo J. Alfaro avenue has its islets in the El Dorado area converted into an industrial warehouse for the street vendors that swarm in the area. Here there is no Ampyme, municipality, Mides, that assumes responsibility for changing this.

Panama City could be another. This is demonstrated by urbanization called Don Bosco, in the corregimiento of the same name.

Spending a Saturday enjoying sports games at the excellent Roberto Kelly sports center, surrounded by more than a thousand boys and girls from all over the country, ping pong, volleyball, basketball, baseball, soccer, and even dance practitioners show another possibility. As there are no restaurants or snack bars in the surroundings, the residents of the Roberto Kelly sell properly prepared food and drinks from their homes at very affordable prices.

Clean streets and a bit of public security provided by units of the National Police give a lot of peace to sporting events.

It was the union of the community, public investment and an adequate security environment, and functional public services that made this possible.

In other words, engaged citizens and good local government. That is the formula that can get us out of the big and small crises, allowing us to recover the great city of Panama and this country. Only Panamanians with commitment can change this. Rodrigo Noriega, La Prensa


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