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Arepas, a Breakfast of Colombians

The history of Panama and Colombia separated about one hundred years ago. Before the US decided to acquire the ill fated French attempt at building the Panama Canal, Panama existed as a provence of Colombia. It is therefore no surprise that many of the traditional foods in Panama came from Colombia. If you go to the Tuesday market you can try an Arepa or if you are willing to get your hands wet make some yourself in minutes.

One very traditional food here is the tortilla, if you are familiar with tortillas from Mexico, Nicaragua, El Salvador or Guatemala, these are not the same thing. The Panamanian  tortilla asado is a direct descendant of the Arepa of Colombia, it is the same thing thinner and dryer.

Arepas are simple to make, tasty and have lots of cheesy calories.

The ingredients are:

Donarepa, corn flour and some grated mozzarella cheese

1 cup precooked corn flour  (A dry corn, maize, flour, precooked and dried. There are many brands in Latin American markets. Look for a fine corn flour that is precooked, the word is precocida. It will usually say for Arepas.)

1 cup of grated fresh cheese, Queseo Fresca in Panama, try cottage cheese in the US, it might work, farmers cheese or a Mexican queso fresca would be better.

1/2 tsp salt

1 Tbs of cooking oil or melted butter

1+ cup of warm water

Mix all the ingredients together continuing to add water until is a smooth paste that you can form into a ball. You can do golf balls, tennis balls but not basketball sizes.

Heat a flat oiled grill over low heat, and put the ball on the grill flattening it down to about 1/3″  thickness. The moister the batter and thicker the tortilla the better the texture and flavor. You want them moist inside and crunchy outside when done.

Panamanians overcook tortillas asado until they are dry inside. The Colombian version is moist and cheesy, much better. So look for bubbling on the surface and golden brown against the grill. Flip them and when browned on both sides they are ready to eat hot from the grill.

Arepas
golden brown and delicious.  Enjoy for breakfast, I do.

Guacho de Mariscos, good local eats

This is my favorite Guacho and although you can occasionally find it in a typico or seafood restaurant they tend to skimp on both seafood and heat.

Guacho de Mariscos or Camarones

guacho de Mariscos

guacho de Mariscos

Photo from Las Tinijas in Panama City

6-8 servings

Ingredients

2 cups long grain rice, soaked

Water

Extra virgin olive oil

About 8 cups seafood broth (see below)

2 cups frozen mixed seafood or cleaned shrimp, cut into mouth sized pieces (hold the shells for the broth)

salt

2 cups sofrito (below)

sofrito:

2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

1 cup yellow onions, finely chopped

1 red bell pepper, chopped fine

1 clove garlic, crushed

3 green onion sprigs, finely chopped

3 ripe tomatoes, finely diced

1 chopped habenero chili without seeds or other source of heat

salt and a pinch of sugar

Make the seafood broth: Use the skins from the shrimp or  a fish head.   Bringing to a simmer with plenty of water, 1 clove garlic, culantro (cilantro is a substitute), 1 carrot, salt & pepper. Strain and set aside. If necessary you can use packaged seafood or shrimp broth, be aware of the high salt content in the packaged broth.

Soak the Rice in water for 20 minutes to an hour.

Make the Sofrito:

In a medium pan heat the oil and add the onions and bell pepper, cook them until soft before adding the garlic and green onions. Then add the tomatoes, 1/2 cup water, rice and chile, lower the temperature and allow it to simmer for about 30 minutes.

Assembly

Add olive oil to a large large sauce pan and add the drained rice, mixing to cover the grains. Then add the sofrito and seafood broth. Mix and cook covered on a low flame until the rice is almost done. Check in 25 -20 minutes.

Then add the seafood stirring and continue to cook until done adding more broth as necessary. The goal is almost a porridge, thick and glutenous.

You want to rice to get more done than usual, overcooked.  Keep warm.

Thank you to Anamaris Cousins, for permission to use her recipe. She blogs on Latin American Cuisine at Chef it Yourself.

The Schism of isms

The various philosophies of government and economics rule our daily lives by setting the parameters of what we can do with our lives. Governments regardless of their nature add barriers, some to protect the minority from a majority, others to protect the government from the people.

In Panama we have a republican form of government with a unicameral legislature that has recently been functioning as if it was a private corporation. This is a rapid change from the last government which might have been called a mix of two isms, socialism and capitalism. The two tend mix well because either without the other fails.

In the United States two isms, Socialism and Communism are swear words, this without understanding the sacred talisman, capitalism, unregulated, is not a god to be worshipped.

One definition of Socialism is “any of various economic and political theories advocating collective or governmental ownership and administration of the means of production and distribution of goods” Merriam Webster

In contrast Capitalism is “an economic system characterized by private or corporate ownership of capital goods, by investments that are determined by private decision, and by prices, production, and the distribution of goods that are determined mainly by competition in a free market” Merriam Webster

The role of government is each is very different, in Socialism government runs everything, in capitalism the government is an observer of the economy and the Free Market decides. History in the United States has taught that if government does not act to protect the rights of individuals in a capitalist system, people become one more commodity used by the engine of capitalism. There are few Americans alive today who remember why the labor union movement began and how significant it’s impact was on people who were not the capitalists but the workers who were often abused. But in reality, Capitalism with protection for workers has proven itself to be the best of economic systems.

Human nature creates a hierarchy and in theory those with the best skills who work hardest gain the most. In theory because many do succeed in that manner, some recent names would be Steve Jobs, Bill Gates and Warren Buffet. Others are born into capital and never need to learn to survive, ask GW Bush or Mitt Romney.

The free market is a good thing and it made the United States an economic power. But Capitalism and the free market no longer, mean the same thing. What we have in the United States now in the age of “too big to fail” is Corporatism. According to Merriam Webster “the organization of a society into industrial and professional corporations serving as organs of political representation and exercising control over persons and activities within their jurisdiction”.

In 2010 the SCOTUS decided “Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, 558 U.S. 50 (2010), was a landmark United States Supreme Court case in which the Court held that the First Amendment prohibited the government from restricting independent political expenditures by corporations and unions.”
Wikipedia

This decision opened the floodgates of Superpacs, now the bigger the money the bigger the voice selling, lying and pandering political views. Corporations or other well heeled groups can shift opinions to protect their positions. Add this to the thousands of lobbyists in Washington who buy “honest” politicians and there is little question who runs the government; not the people. Political corruption is a free market concept.

One of the innate factors of capitalism and the free market is risk. Shareholders in a venture large or small stand to gain or lose based upon the decisions made by their managers. But what happens when there is only an upside, no risk?

“Too big to fail” is a colloquial term in describing certain financial institutions which are so large and so interconnected that their failure will be disastrous to the economy, and which therefore must be supported by government when they face difficulty. wikipedia

As US economy buckled in the last decade in part due to four Trillion dollars borrowed for wars in the Middle East. MarketWatch, in part due to bad economic decisions for decades. The US government stepped in to aid failing banks, auto manufacturers and for some reason AIG Insurance company. They were too big to fail so the taxpayer needed to save them. Many of the same politicians who scream against welfare for people had no problem bailing out mismanaged private companies saving their shareholders untold billions in losses.

This takes me to another quote from another source entirely, about another ism, Fascism a form of government that believed government should let business prosper.

“State intervention in economic production arises only when private initiative is lacking or insufficient, or when the political interests of the State are involved. This intervention may take the form of control, assistance or direct management. (pp. 135-136)”

Benito Mussolini, 1935, Fascism: Doctrine and Institutions, Rome: ‘Ardita’ Publishers.

Too big too fail is by Mussolini’s definition a component of a Fascist state, it is certainly not Free Market nor Capitalist in concept.

Although they are only isms, each does have a meaning and each effects those who live within the bounds of their respective governments. The transition is the United States has been swift from Free Market to mega corporate take over. People voting need to try a see though the lies and billions spent on selling politicians and effect change. When there was a voice, Ron Paul, screaming from the shadows, he was quickly silenced. Even if you disagree with his ideas, much of what he said was true and truth is not something wanted in an election year.

This final quote is one worth some reflection.

“When fascism comes to America, it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross.” Sinclair Lewis.

Power Corrupts in English and Spanish

Since living in Boquete Panama I have spent a lot of time with people who grew up here. When we discuss politics they often laugh and say that if you have no education and want to get rich get into politics. I grew up in New York City and even in the 1960s that city had twice the population than the entire Republic of Panama has today. My father taught me that politics equals corruption. That upbringing may have jaded my world view. As an entrepreneur I had occasion to do a lot of work for government on many levels. At no time did anything in my life experience disprove either the lesson from New York City or Panama.

This interview on Fox Business News does not surprise me. The President of the Republic of Panama tooting his horn.

President Martinelli  may have lowered income taxes, but since most Panamanians I know don’t earn enough to pay income taxes that has not effected them, I am sure it did hurt the Presidents corporations. His low 7% value added tax was 5%, until he raised it to 7%, that increase raised costs disproportionately for the lower and emerging middle classes.  He started taxing land under condos which before him might have been below the minimum. He forced businesses to buy new point of sale equipment to enforce the 7% ITBMS. He raised Social Security taxes hitting both the employer and  lowest earning employees hardest. He is a politician, lips move and nothing that emerges should be believed without verification.

I know many people in the US believe Wiki leaks was a disservice to the the US, I am not so sure. One of the leaks was a cable from the then US Ambassador to Panama back the the State Department. I can no longer find the text of the original cable but the Cado Foundation is a reasonable source if you lean right when you walk.

” A cable released by Wikileaks this week seems to confirm many of these fears. Dated August 2009 and signed by then U.S. Ambassador to Panama Barbara Stephenson, it describes Martinelli’s “autocratic tendencies” such as asking the U.S. government for help to wiretap political opponents—a request that was promptly rejected by the U.S. embassy in Panama. Stephenson goes on to say that, after meeting the Panamanian president, she is under the impression that Martinelli “may be willing to set aside the rule of law in order to achieve his political and developmental goals.”

According to the cable, Martinelli has resorted to “bullying and blackmailing” of private businesses. Stephenson describes how the Panamanian president told her that “he had already met with the heads of Panama’s four mobile phone operators and discussed methods for obtaining call data.” A bill has also been introduced in the National Assembly (where Martinelli’s coalition enjoys a large majority) that would “require registry of prepaid cell phones and compel mobile operators to submit call data to the government for criminal investigations.” Martinelli also told Stephenson that “he had twisted the arms of casino operators and threatened to cancel their concessions if they did not pay their back taxes and cut their ties to the opposition political figures who had granted their generous concessions.”

The cable ends noticing how “[m]ost of [Martinelli’s] government appointments have favored loyalty over competence.” That is, the Martinelli administration is riddled with cronyism” Cato@liberty

How can this be put into the context of US politics. The US Constitution was a brilliant work, by having a separation of powers into the Executive, Legislative and Judicial branches it created a great inertia. By separating the Legislative into a Senate with, in theory more seniority, staggered elections and a House with in theory more rapid response to public whim it furthered that inertia. I suspect the grand idea was a government that could respond quickly when threatened and could debate itself to sleep when not needed.

“I heartily accept the motto, — ‘That government is best which governs least.’”
Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862)
American author, philosopher, naturalist and social critic
In his essay “Civil Disobedience” (1849)

Mitt Romney says that when he was Governor of  Massachusetts he did not raise taxes. A former resident  who now lives here in Panama suggested I try to differentiate between taxes and fees.

“The Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation noted that fees for registering deeds increased by $170 million between 2001 and 2004 and characterized those fees as “far in excess of any reasonable measure of the cost of services.” And the increases in fees overall were “unquestionably” greater than what inflation would account for since the last time they were raised, says MTF’s president, Michael Widmer. “It was certainly well more than inflation, way more than inflation,” he says. “And it wasn’t tied to any analysis of the cost of delivering those services. It was a budget-closing exercise.” Factcheck.org 2008

The problem is that those who venture into politics anyplace do so for gain. It is naive and antithetical to human nature to believe otherwise. Too often they will say what ever is necessary to win, and then do what ever is necessary to stay in power.

Whether it is Martinelli, Obama or Romney they are in the game for the gain. In Panama the few connected with power are gaining far more than those on the bottom of the social or power ladder. People I know here who vote make their selections based upon which choice is most likely to aid their career or business opportunities, cronyism.

I have no idea how you select a politician, anyplace, when you can believe nothing they say.

Republics and Politics

Election year in the United States and a lead up to next years Panamanian are making for an interesting comparison and an opportunity for some education.

Both Panama and the United States are Republics, as with many words, I and perhaps others use the word Republic without thinking what it really means.

“A republic is a form of government in which the country is considered a “public matter” (Latinres publica), not the private concern or property of the rulers, and where offices of states are subsequently directly or indirectly elected or appointed rather than inherited. In modern times, a common simplified definition of a republic is a government where the head of state is not a monarch.[1][2]” Wikipdia

Republics can be very different, the common claim is that in a Republic government is responsive to the people and that the people who govern are elected by the people.

“The purpose of government is to enable the people of a nation to live in safety and happiness. Government exists for the interests of the governed, not for the governors.”― Thomas Jefferson

In my opinion, jaded by life,  whomever is in power, wherever they are in power, has one common goal, to stay in power and profit from that power. I realize that is cynical and anti Jeffersonian, but it is my observation of government from reading history and life.

Four years ago Panama elected a businessman, Ricardo Martinelli as President of the Republic. When he was elected President Martinelli was the darling of the US media. Here was a US educated, University of Arkansas, a businessman with a very successful chain of business in Panama. Pundits said he could be a example of how a business owner leader could change a country. He has indeed created a great deal of change, some good, some bad.  However instead of privatizing government,  has has transformed the national government of Panama into a business, his business.

In about four years he has neutralized most of his political opposition and is running the country with little effective opposition. As a businessman he has recognized that he needed to improve Panamas credit rating so he could borrow money. To do that he had to prove the ability to repay. loans; he raised taxes.

Much of the borrowed money is being poured into infrastructure, public works. Panama is doing some amazing things, new public buses replacing independents, a new metro rail system, a urban sewer system in the capital, new roads everyplace and more.  Unemployment, especially for those who have education is very low, 4.5% total by one estimate. This investment in infrastructure in Panama has the short term effect of providing jobs, so many jobs that Panama has had to import skilled labor. the speculation is that it will also have the long term impact of allowing for faster commercial growth nationally with the improved infrastructure.

Another area President Martinelli sees worth investment is education. The government has been forcing a new regime into the rather awful public education system. Teachers are having to work more, go to more seminars, learn how to use computers and have more classroom hours. Not everyone is happy about the changes because they are putting pressure on underpaid teachers, inadequate facilities and even parents who are having to adjust to change.

I point these few things out as I think about the current US election where a very successful businessman Mitt Romney is making his play for the presidency. Mr. Romney is a bit different than Mr. Martinelli. Mr. Romney does not think the government should do much of anything for it’s citizens, he seems to think the private sector can do it all.

I am not sure what type of government I prefer. I want government that leaves me alone but I also want  government that is there in the event I need assistance. Perhaps I would rewrite Jefferson’s quote to say this:

“The purpose of government is to enable the people of a nation to live in safety and happiness. Government exists for the interests of the governed, not for the governors. Government is to serve the needs of the people, the people are not here to serve the needs of government.” 

Over the next few days I want to compare and contrast the politics of Panama and the United States through my eyes. These posts will be my opinion,s based on my world view. I welcome comments and debate as long it is based on facts. I will pick some specific areas of contrast, State Religion, Social Security, Social Safety net, security and where ever the discussion goes.

 

TCM: MINSA on Mosquitos, take off those shorts

This Tuesday we had a excellent presentation by a Public Health professional for the Ministry of Health. She did a presentation on mosquito born diseases in Panama. To my surprise we learned that Dengue although rare in the Boquete area does happen here.

Dengue is a viral infection carried by the female Aedes mosquito which has been slowly moving from the urban areas at sea level up into the cooler areas. The Aedes mosquito is an urban dweller and prefers fresh water to stagnant and can live in moving water including fountains. Dengue comes in two forms, the very painful Dengue fever, which can appear to be a severe flu and the occasionally fatal severe or hemmoragic dengue. There is no cure just treatment for the symptoms. Severe Dengue requires intensive care hospitalization and can be fatal. MINSA says do not self medicate for Dengue go to a hospital. The best defense is eliminating anyplace mosquitos can breed.

Symptoms of Dengue, Wikipedia

Malaria was also discussed and MINSA reports no cases in Chiriqui. The mosquito that carries the malaria parasite is a rural dweller and likes stagnant water for it’s eggs and larva. More on Malaria here at Wikipedia.

The third insect born disease discussed was Leishmaniasis is a disease caused by protozoan parasites that belong to the genus Leishmania and is transmitted by the bite of certain species of sand fly (subfamily Phlebotominae).

Life cycle of Sand Fly, Wikipedia

Of the three diseases this is the most common in Boquete with a handful of cases each year.

Leishmaniasis Skin ulcer

If you discover an ulcerated bit on your skin you should go to a MINSA clinic, the government has treatment at no cost for this parasite.  Much more information here at Wikipedia

Our final insect born disease of the day was Chagras disease. It is carried by this inspect common in this region.

Triatomid, the kissing bug, can carry Chagas’ disease (American trypanosomiasis). (Image courtesy of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.)

Chagas disease is caused by Trypanosoma cruzi, a parasite related to the African trypanosome that causes sleeping sickness. It is spread by reduvid bugs and is one of the major health problems in South America.

Risk factors for Chagas disease include:

  • Living in a hut where reduvid bugs live in the walls

    Living in Central or South America

  • Poverty
  • Receiving a blood transfusion from a person who carries the parasite but does not have active Chagas disease

Symptoms

Chagas disease has two phases: acute and chronic. The acute phase may have no symptoms or very mild symptoms. Symptoms include:

  • Fever
  • General ill feeling (malaise)
  • Swelling of one eye
  • Swollen red area at site of insect bite

After the acute phase, the disease goes into remission. No other symptoms may appear for many years. When symptoms finally develop, they may include:

  • Constipation
  • Digestive problems
  • Pain in the abdomen
  • Swallowing difficulties

The acute phase and reactivated Chagas disease should be treated. Infants born with the infection should also be treated. Treating the chronic phase is recommended for both children and adults. Adult patients should talk to their doctor about whether to treat chronic Chagas disease. Two drugs are used to treat this infection: benznidazole and nifurtimox.  Source and for more information   US NIH .

All said, the suggestions are keep a clean home, eliminate breeding places for the insects, all standing water. A point was made that ponds, fountains, vases with water for flowers are all risk areas for mosquito breeding. Also wear logn pants and long sleeves and use insect repellant when outdoors.

Wither the fourth estate

“The Fourth Estate (or fourth estate) is a societal or political force or institution whose influence is not consistently or officially recognized. “Fourth Estate” most commonly refers to the news media; especially print journalism or “The Press”.” Wikipedia

During the Noriega years in Panama the press was bullied and harassed. La Prensa was one media that stood up to Noriega. In fact La Prensa was created in 1981 to oppose the rule of Noriega. Wikipedia .

In all the world the media is both the influencer and investigator, often a free press is the only loud voice against repressive governments and like Chavez in Venezuela. In Venezuela, Chavez slowly silenced the press, we have that same danger in Panama. There has been a series of events with a large local contractor that makes me wonder who actually runs this country.

“ARRAIJAN, Panama West. – The vehicular traffic on Highway Arraiján-La Chorrera was interrupted this Wednesday, August 1, for workers Transcaribe Trading Company, in charge of extension work this way.

The workers’ action was in defense of the company, owned by brothers David and Daniel Ochy, for the publications in the newspaper La Prensa in recent days concerning the benefits and infrastructure projects that have been tendered by the current government.

The four-lane road was closed with heavy equipment and dump trucks.

According to workers, these publications not only affect the company but also the workers, saying the protest action was clearly of the workers.

After 30 minutes to keep the road closed the workers agreed to open it, but did not rule out new blocks in the coming days.”

La Prensa

On August 2, the same company blocked the road to the Centenario bridge. La Prensa

On August 3 2012 trucks owned by Transcaribe Trading blockaded the offices of La Prensa in Panama City by blocking all access and egress with their trucks. The owner of the company David Ochy said it was done because La Prensa printed false statements about him and his company. What is alarming is that when the police arrived they did nothing, when the vice President arrived along with others from the press no trucks moved, only after the President of the Republic arrived did the trucks disperse.

The accusations printed claimed that the Transcaribe Trading  was given over $400,000 million dollars in contracts by the government, including contracts where there was no work to be done.

I have no idea whether the claims of La Prensa are true or false. I do know that the actions of the demonstrators were wrong, the lack of action by the police was wrong and in this politically charged atmosphere we in Panama and around the world we the people need a free press not a intimidated press.

If La Prensa printed false information Panama has rather draconian libel laws, the arena for the argument is in the courts, not the streets. The government not only turned a blind eye to harassment of the press but several recent incidents have made government agents to perpetrators.

El Siglo a local newspaper, reported on 10 August 2012, Rafaela Sanchez, a RPC news reporter and his cameraman were attacked, yesterday, by five units the Institutional Protection Service, while preparing to make a coverage Chilibre Water Treatment Plant.

The lack of uniform law enforcement is a sign of a country that is not yet matured enough to enter the developed world. Lack of a free press is the sign of a government afraid to have an informed populous.

Music, food and a wake, what a weekend

Our Saturday in Boquete Panama started at the Boquete library. Boquete is very fortunate to have a new, modern three story lending library. People reading this in the Untied States might yawn at the idea, but this is a project funded not by the government of Panama, but by private donations of several non profit groups. A major nod of appreciation to the Peterson family and the Lions Club, other groups such as Bid 4 Boquete also contributed.

We were heading down the side road near the police station to the library when we encountered this herd being driven along, maybe to the local hoosegow?

After a short pause to allow the cattle to pass we parked and went to a showing by the painter Chiru.

Mayra scanning works of Chiru

Mayra scanning works of Chiru Boquete Library 11 Aug 2012

I was not impressed by the paintings, but they did have wine, snacks and a band of children.

After indulging in some wine, some snacks and listening to some surprisingly good tunes we marched off to meet some friends a La Posada. La Posada has become our Saturday night haunt, they have good pizza and live music.

La Posada also has lousy acoustics, poor lighting and too much volume, but still for now they are the best Boquete has to offer and Mayra likes their Margaritas.

This week they had Latin Jazz mixed with some salsa, it started out very good and by midnight was too loud for my tired ears. I became a frequent visitor to the tables outdoors out of earshot of the music.

We dragged ourselves out at midnight and decided not to continue the night at Coca Cola in Los Naranjos; so up the mountain we went.

First thing in the morning my farm worker was at the door to notify us that a friend who had been seriously ill had died that night.

We had a commitment for lunch at One Eyed Franks in Palmira and after after ingesting some very good food we went to a wake. It seemed all of the Alto Jaramillo Panamanian community was there, I was disappointed to not see one other non Panamanian neighbor.

I suspect most non Panamanians do not know the traditions in Panama. I did not know about the wake either, Mayra was once again my cultural teacher. Life and death, a daily reality in ever community has different meaning in different cultures. I have so much more to learn about my adopted country.

Lessons for property buyers

“If we can learn from the mistakes of others rather than repeating them, we are wiser for their  experience”

If not for a post on BoqueteNing offering a slice of Eden, in still another urbanization, I probably would not have written this, Caveat Emptor check list. This is a advisory to people who plan to retire into a subdivision or just buy land  in Panama. This is not a complete list so I would ask anyone who wishes to add to it in comments.

(Please do not consider this anything negative about the Eden project.  I know nothing about the project. I am only using it as an example of a marketing piece.)

Those who chose to purchase property in a subdivision (urbanization) do so for various reasons. For some it is a sense of security, for others the sense of common community and each subdivision has other competitive virtues. If we buy into a subdivision we are paying a premium for those elements.

I am extracting this one line from the Eden post, “* There are covenants designed to protect the community without over regulation.

As the residents of another urbanization are learning without those covenants beginning  filed with the Registrario Publico and attached to the Finca there are no protections. If the covenants say there can only be residential development and define the regualtions defining that development those will hold up only if the documents are recorded, if not they are just marketing material. Remember the highest and best use of a property might change and you do not want the lot next to yours to become the neighborhood mini super.

One more caveat emptor, not only in Panama but anyplace in the world, deed restrictions are a legal contract but unless tied to the property and legally recorded they only effect the people who signed them.  If you buy into any subdivision, anyplace, for the specific enhancements marketed by the developers be sure that the restrictive covenants for which you paid a premium are legally enforceable.

Some other questions to ask the developer and be sure the answers are in the contract.

1. Do I contract for utilities directly or are you reselling utilities. If utilities are being resold find out how much more they are going to cost you . Most urbanizations are classified as commercial businesses and if they are reselling utilities they are in the utility business. I pay about $40 a month for electricity, friends in various subdivisions pay $100 – $200 a month.

2. Who owns the water concession. Many of us do not consider water source ownership in a property purchase but none of us can live without water and in Panama all water is owned by the government, rights are conceded to someone. Boquete has balkanized water sources and none of the District is on the National Aqueduct, IDAAN. Who owns your water rights effects availability, maintenance and costs. We on Jaramillo had to fight to gain our water concession for the community and after years, ownership is still unresolved.

3. Who owns the common areas. You might have clear title to your lot, but what about the street in front of your house. If it is in an urbanization, it is a private road, not public. Who is going to maintain it? If a sequester is placed on the owner you might lose your right to access or egress from your own home.

4. Is there a home owners association legally constituted as a “persona judicial” of some type? If not you need to be sure there is and that it has clear bylaws that put the home owners, not the developers, in the drivers seat. That association should, in an ideal world get title to common areas.

5. What are the recorded prices of your lot. Lots recorded at a value of more that $30,000 have property taxes due three times a year. No one is going to send you a bill but if you are ignorant and do not pay the taxes you will have a big, unpleasant surprise at some time in the future.

6. Is your home exonerated on property taxes and for how long. Regardless of the marketing, unless the paperwork is done property and accepted by the tax people at Catastro, you will owe taxes.

7. Is the title on your lot secure. Was it actually subdivided legally, given a Finca number and free of any liens. Panama lacks title insurance, so it is buyer beware and your responsibility on any land purchase, not just a lot in a subdivision to research title.

8. Was a geologic survey done on subdivision property. Request to see it and the ANAM environmental impact study and have someone, not the developer, explain them to you. If neither was done, look someplace else.

9. One more thing not found in Panama is an escrow service. Every Real Estate transaction should have at least two lawyers, yours and theirs, never  take the suggestion that you use just their lawyer to save you some money. You need someone to watch out for your interests.

This is just a short list of due diligence needs that many of us take for granted if we come from a developed country. Panama is a rapidly developing country and although it has a law to cover all occasions those laws are not always followed nor enforced. It is easier to walk away before you make your investment than after.

Cavet Emptor consider this lesson before buying or building

There is no way to sugar coat the disastrous events at Montanas de Caldera in Boquete Panama; but we can learn from what happened. This post is about the geology not only of Montanas de Caldera, but of many areas around Boquete Panama.

One house in Montanas de Caldera needed to be destroyed after it’s swimming pool plunged into Caldera river.

Contrary to what I had thought the pool was quite small and many meters back from the cliff edge, not even close to the edge.

View after the collapse from the canyon

After this event and subsequent investigation, the Civil Defense authority, SINAPROC,  ordered the other houses on the rim be evacuated until a soil study could be done.  Link to information about the order.

The owners of the sub division did commission a study.  I have made the English version of the study available for download at this link.  LINK . It is a 20 meg PDF file that will download if you click the link.

The engineering study suggested that nothing should be built closer than eighty meters from the edge of the cliff. A subsequent amendment changed that line to exclude some lots along the rim. The amendment is part of the same download and appeared to me to be questionable, at best.

I disclaim expertise, I am neither am engineer nor a geologist. I did however submit the report to a engineer in Boquete and an architect in the US who sent it off to an engineer in the US. I did this because I wanted to know what I and others might learn from the disaster in Montanas de Caldera.

The summary is that both engineers believed the original report was well done and thought the eighty meter rule was minimum. The US based engineer said, “run away as fat as you can”.  Do not build, not even as close as the recommended “stay back eighty meters”. He said eighty meters is a safety margin of one, he likes a margin of three,  two hundred forty meters back. He said, the river will most likely flood off and on, run into the banks, undermine them again, change directions, undercut and ‘eventually’ the area will cave in. It is not a matter of if, but when, it just time related. The engineer also said that the rock down deep will let water in and undermine the stability of the entire ridge.

After this disaster and the prior slides into Valle Escondido (link),  we, the buyers, must beware.

The lesson we can learn is about living on beautiful view or hillside property anyplace. It has special import in Boquete which has many mountains that are really piles of rock and not solid rock. Before investing in property or in building your dream house, have the land checked for geologic issues. The investment in the required studies can allow informed decisions. I am sure if these studies were done and presented to perspective buyers they would never have bought or built on these lots, learn from their experience.

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