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Curtain call for 2012, what is coming to Boquete in 2013?

I am going to take a risk based upon the pulse I feel in the Boquete Panama community. Some of these observations are based upon what is happening, some on projections and some on clear speculation as I peer into a recycled crystal ball.

crystal-ball

The wave of new immigrants to Boquete Panama will continue, people from the United States will join others from Canada, Europe and Venezuela. Many of the Americans will come, rent and leave within the year because they think they are fleeing Socialism only to discover Panama is far more socialist than what they are leaving.

2012 showed that financial deals that sounded too good to be true, were indeed too good to be true; COACESS, Financial Pacific and Pronto Cash all washed out in 2012. Expect great new opportunities lusting for your money in 2013 and expect some of them to fail too. With all of the regulation Panama has of it’s financial industry there is no effective regulation, just laws selectively enforced when it is good press or good for those in power.

Boquete is a great place to retire as long as you understand this is a rural area based on an agricultural and tourist economy. The US Panama free trade agreement will change the agricultural economy and many small farms will need to change or they will fail. Climate change is already effecting coffee production and should it continue, coffee will become a lesser part of the local economy. That is a shame since our coffee is wonderful.

Tourism has developed as an industry in Boquete during the world wide recession. It has always existed here, but tourism has grown tremendously in the past few years. It is likely to continue to expand if the government does not destroy all of the ecotourism destinations with dams and pavement.

Union Fensoa will keep installing street lights even where the streets are really paths for cows. The cattle need to find their way also. The question will be whether they will move the poles out of the Boquete David Highway or just cut them flush with the new blacktop.

Expect the road to David to be completed in 2013, the same with the airport in David. I predict direct flights from David to Tocumen. If Copa or Air Panama are into speculation one of them might try David to Florida, but I am not holding my breath.

When the transportation corridors are open look for new commercial projects to start. Also some large new hospitality projects, like the environmentally destructive project in Jaramillo Abajo. I do not understand why developers have not figured out that what makes Boquete unique and desirable is the environment. Cutting down the trees and paving the mountain eliminates all that makes this area special.

Panama is a land of opportunity, if you have the knowledge and correct connections, but most expats who come here to build a business fail. They fail because they don’t have the knowledge or the correct connections, this is not Kansas.

Boquete will see still another crop of restaurants, seems many new immigrants want to open restaurants. No one knows the Boquete market size, how many people live here at any time, how many are dining out, how many venture out at night, who has sufficient discretionary income. Still without market informaiton investors will come, invest and often lose. Still other ventures are bitten by the labor laws, the sound regulations, the health laws, the immigration laws etc. Some of these new ventures will succeed, most will last less than one year.

The BCP will have it’s best season of plays ever, hopefully people will pay to see them even if it means being out after 8pm. The Tuesday market will continue to grow and evolve as the hub of the expat community in Boquete. The meetings will continue and become more interesting. Bid4Boquete will have their best year ever and the community will continue to support needs of it’s most needy and the dogs too.

For all those here it will be a year of inflation, change and politics. Panama is heading toward primaries in 2013 and in 2014 a new cycle of politicians all of who will promise to clean up corruption and none of whom will.

I do not see anything dramatic changing in Boquete in 2013, just a continuation of growth without a plan, despite the fact there is plan and immigration without understanding by those fleeing known into unknown. On the positive side hopefully we will see an evolution into a stronger tourist economy for all the residents here who need to earn their daily rice and lentils.

One final note, I can predict with some security, that for me the January winds will not be a bother to me since I am taking a vacation from my full time vacation and will be writing from venues to the far south for about a month.

Financial Pacific, still another fallen star in 2012

I have heard that residents in Boquete Panama has been hurt by the failure of the investment firm Financial Pacific.

Apparently in an audit by the Superintendency of Securities the firm was discovered to be missing seven million dollars. Panama Guide

It might be of interest to know that the President of the Republic has been busy using his office to deny that he had any involvement with the failed company.

The National Chamber of Commerce has issued this statement in asking for an investigation into the failure of the firm.

“This case undermines the international image of our country, since its effects are counterproductive in the attraction of investments and has a bearing on the value of shares that are quoted on the stock exchange, which ends up creating insecurity for current and future investors in Panama,” the chamber said. “We join the pronouncements made by the Superintendency of Banks of Panama, the Panama Stock Market and the Panama Chamber of Capital Markets for due transparency and a quick, complete investigation that clarifies what happened with Financial Pacific.”

La Prensa

The newspaper La Prensa, no friend of the President, has published a lengthy article tying President Martinelli with Financial Pacific and the Petaquilla Gold mining operation in Panama. Petaquilla is a publicly held Canadian company.

La Prensa claims to have documents from the fraud investigation process in Financial Pacific, linking Martinelli with this brokerage.

“The investigation was performed from 22 to 29 November 2012, and she, Pellegrini (A former employee of Financial Pacific currently in custody), said that managers of Financial Pacific, West Clare and Ivan Valdes, said publicly that an account called High Spirit is “Mr. Ricardo Martinelli.”

“There is an account called High Spirit, which Mr. Ivan Valdes and West Clare have publicly stated that Mr. Ricardo Martinelli had the opportunity to manipulate the stock market value of shares of Petaquilla. In this way, they could make money with inside information he received President Martinelli on Petaquilla’s performance. ”

Martinelli accused La Prensa of “manipulating information”, and try to involve him in a “small problem”.”

La Prensa

According to the same article in La Prensa the “Officials of the British Columbia Securities Commission, the Canadian regulator which is subject Petaquilla Minerals Ltd. – contacted yesterday by The Canadian Press on publications in Panama, preferring for now “no comment on the issue.” In this city, the Embassy of Canada decided not to comment, stating that the ambassador, Sylvia Cesaratto, is on holiday in your country.”

There is much more background on the Newsroom Panama site.

and more on the Panama Guide.

In 2012 we have seen the collapse of Pronto Cash, the seizure of COACECSS Cooperative and this issue with Financial Pacific. I for one would not consider putting any significant sum of money into any entity in Panama.

A three course meal of live music with a disco for dessert

For the last Friday night before Christmas in Boquete Panama Mayra and I decided to look for some live music. I have written several times that music has become hard to find in Boquete with various new regulations inhibiting and at times prohibiting it, last night was an exception. I am going to included our bar tabs for those concerned that a night on the town in Boquete is prohibitively expensive.

Our night started at Porotos (Kidney Bean) the new bar, restaurant, casino and now a place that occasionally has live music. I am not sure when the music started but we made the final set at 8PM, yikes, early. The band, which may or may not yet have a name was excellent. Three expat and one local did a great job with Rock and Jazz tunes. The music was the type that I love. Close your eyes and let the music take you away from reality, fantastic. A salute to Frank, Steve, Michael and their fourth whose name I do not know. There was no cover and we paid $2.50 for two beers plus a tip to Lorena.

The Namless ones

The Namless ones

When the final set ended with a rousing performance of Johnny be Good we marched off to Baru. They said they would have Salsa. They had music, we were told from Cuba. It was good, it was background compared to the first band of the night. We ran into several friends and enjoyed two more bottles of beer each, no cover, total bill $6.00.

Party2

At about 10:30 we decided to see of La Posada had their regular group in for the night, they did. We ordered drinks and danced to Typico for about an hour more. La Posada caters to a mostly local crowd and has excellent live music virtually every Saturday night. We drank a Margarita and a rum between us and the bar tab was $5.85 including tip.

Party3

After our third course it was still Saturday, not yet Sunday and the last option of the night was Coca Cola a mostly Panamanian Disco in Los Naranjos. Off we went, paid out $1 cover charges and joined a host of others on the dance floor. They spin to much reggie for my taste, but they did enough Salsa, Meringue and Typico to make a fun hour or so. Coca Cola has beer, rum,Seco and Vodka on the menu, we had rum. The price has gone up 50% from $.65 to $1.00 a drink since my last visit. Total tab for cover and bar, $4.00

Our night on the town cost less than $20, compared the $6 bottles of beer I was buying in Miami not a bad deal for three bands a disco and more than enough to drink.

We were among the first to leave Coca Cola at 1 am. In all a fun night following the sound of music in Boquete Panama.

Party5

Boquete’s Franken Salmon has received FDA Approval

When AquaBounty Technologies needed a place to test grow it’s genetically modified Salmon they wanted a remote location that was unlikely to allow for genetic contamination of native Salmon populations. They choose the trout farm in Boquete Panama. The salmon grew and the entire harvest was tested and destroyed. Then the long wait and hope for FDA approval.
fast_growing_salmon-0b929-2443

According to the Washington Post the FDA has given approval so I suspect Boquete will soon have farm raised Franken Salmon available for export and I presume local consumption. These Salmon do not glow in the dark but do grow much faster than normal salmon.

“Under the company’s proposal, no modified salmon would actually be produced in America. The eggs would be produced at a facility on Prince Edward Island in Canada and shipped to another facility in Panama, where they would be harvested and processed. “

“Countries in the European Union have banned some genetically modified foods outright and instituted tight labeling requirements on foods that contain modified ingredients. Countries such as Russia, Japan and Peru also have instituted restrictions on genetically altered foods.

AquAdvantage, the fast-growing fish at the center of the controversy in the United States, is an Atlantic salmon that contains a growth hormone from a Chinook salmon and has been given a gene from the ocean pout, an eel-like fish. The result is a fish that grows larger and faster than traditional salmon.”

Washington Post

Christmas dining

As we approach Christmas I have been barraged by restaurants in Boquete offering Christmas dinners for prices from $24.95 up, most have the fine print that this is a special price not subject to the 25% jubilado discount. I never fault the restauranteurs, they need to earn a living but I want to share an option.

As several people in Boquete have discovered the restaurant in the Hotel Ciudad de David has an excellent buffet lunch. They are doing an enhanced holiday buffet until New Years Eve. Mayra and I stopped by Friday and enjoyed the fare.

Hotel Ciudad David

Salad Bar is excellent

The entrees included pasta with shrimp, beef overcooked (This is Panama) in wine and excellent Turkey with lots of rice.

Turkey entree

Turkey entree

All this topped off with dessert from a too good to pass up selection.

Desert selection

Desert selection

Made for a smiling Mayra.

Ciudad de David5

I am not suggesting that you abandon Boquete for David but if you are in David any afternoon you should try the restaurant in the Hotel Ciudad David, they have parking in the building and good eats in the restaurant. The cost for holiday spread is $16 plus tax less the Jubilado discount, normally the price is $12. Still for half the price of the Boquete offerings you can enjoy an elegant Panamanian Christmas meal.

Winter Solstice and the end of the world, coming tomorrow

Boquete Panama is bracing for the end of the Mayan Calendar. Large amounts of Rum and Seco are being imported to numb the masses for the end of days.

Weather

A Celebration of fire, brimstone and lava flowing will be held at the New Fuzion Grill, located in the former pseudo Mayan Ruins of Las Ruinas and at Amigos, a little closer if you live closer to Amigos. Assuming you survive the pending post Mayan Disaster, it is also the Winter Solstice, so you can celebrate another holiday four days before the Christmas events.

“Archeologists studying Mayan artifacts have canvased the few documents that survived the destructive fury of tropical weather and the zealotry of Spanish Catholic priests and found no evidence whatsoever pointing to an end-of-the-world prophecy. For those interested in the meaning of the fragmentary text where the apocalyptic misinterpretation comes from, an in-depth analysis of the Mayan Long Count can be found over on the Naked Science Forum.” NPR

Fear not as NPR explains in their linked post this apocalypse will soon be forgotten only to be replaced by still another. This has gone on forever and will continue as long as our species of carbon based organism pretends to be intelligent.

 

Seeds of change, they take time and fertilizer to grow

When I arrived in Panama in 2006 I said that it was like taking a time machine back to the 1950′s in the US. In my six plus years here I can say that some rural areas like Bongo, Bugaba at back someplace in the beginning of the 20th century, others like Panama City and the Pacific Beach area have jumped into the 21st century.

When you see such remarkable change in such a short time only the vanguard lives the transition. Panama’s upper and much of it’s middle (professional) class are riding the wave of change. The poor of Panama are helping to create the change, but many cannot afford to participate. Many of the rural poor have not even noticed a change, unless they saw it on television.

This change is not unique to Panama. When I travel to the US with Panamanians they are stunned by poverty in the US. They thought everyone in the US lived well. I think they must have seen too much CSI Miami and not enough reality. Poverty exists everyplace, in some places worse than others.

In Western Europe, Canada and to a lesser extent to US the government provides a safety net. Although there are indeed people living on the streets and starving in the US, many that would join them are in shelters, apartments and receive food stamps. Panama has little of that type of safety net, what Panama has is a extended nuclear family.

The culture I have observed here is a startling contrast the the culture I saw in my microcosm in the US. Here families take care of each other. You can find three or even four generations in one house, that makes that into a home. Parents have live in baby sitters, grandparents have assistance. Often this make for overcrowded housing but it allows families to function as units despite low incomes.It also creates burdens of caring for the sick, the elderly and the children. Often this very solution exacerbates the generational continuation of poverty.

La Prensa recently ran an article about the now slowly decreasing poverty rates in Panama. Still a large portion of people are considered very poor. I have been searching for a workable definition of poverty, the UN definition below is the best I can find.

“Fundamentally, poverty is a denial of choices and opportunities, a violation of human dignity. It means lack of basic capacity to participate effectively in society. It means not having enough to feed and cloth a family, not having a school or clinic to go to, not having the land on which to grow one’s food or a job to earn one’s living, not having access to credit. It means insecurity, powerlessness and exclusion of individuals, households and communities. It means susceptibility to violence, and it often implies living on marginal or fragile environments, without access to clean water or sanitation”

(UN Statement, June 1998 – signed by the heads of all UN agencies)

Nogble Bugle Comarca

On the Nogble Bugle Comarca

Under this definition all the world has poor people, Panama included. The world has always had poor people and barring some amazing change in economics and politics, the world will always have poor people.

Some blame poverty on laziness, others on cruel capitalists, others on lack of education, still others on lack of opportunity.  I am sure it is a combination of all of the above, with some poor falling into each group and others I did not identify. The question is how can you reduce the level of poverty, I doubt you can ever eliminate it.

This time of the year people find themselves in a generous mood, they give gifts and donations, some to feel good, others for business reasons, still others for tax deductions. The real solution to reducing poverty requires the type of year long activities I am seeing here in Boquete people helping people. People educating people, people taking some of the burden off families so those who can gain education or work have the ability to do so.

I want to take this opportunity to thank those in Boquete, expats and non expats, who give of themselves all year. Those who do want they can to break the cycle of poverty one person at a time. There are organizations like Bid4Boquete, our version of the United Way, Buenos Vecinos de Boquete, who help feed people who have no food, the Handicap Foundation of Boquete /Fundación Pro Integración, Capítulo de  Boquete who work with those with physical disabilities and their families, Finca Dos Jefes that gives part of it’s earnings to  a education project on the Comarca  and many more. There are individuals and churches who give all year long, they give food, they give clothes, they give education and most of all they give hope.

School Uniforms donated by  Boquete Bible Fellowship  to Las Lomas School in David

School Uniforms donated by Boquete Bible Fellowship to Las Lomas School in David

 

Lunch, much of which is now grown by students on the comarca with assistance from Dos Jefes, Carlos Ortega, a teacher and others on the Comarca.

Lunch, much of which is now grown by students on the comarca with assistance from Dos Jefes.

For all of those who believe this is the time of the year to give, please give now to the organizations that give all year. If you believe either through your religious or political beliefs that it is not the role of government, but the role of people to help others less fortunate this is your opportunity to make your point.

The Tragedy in Connecticut

There is no way this post will make any impact, the lines in the sand are drawn and emotions run high regarding gun ownership in the USA. I am a firm believer in private gun ownership, a former NRA member and a former firearms dealer in Arizona. Still the slaughter in Connecticut has given me pause for reflection.

The placement of a comma in the Second amendment in the US Bill of Rights makes for a very strong argument for legal, unrestricted gun ownership in the USA.

Amendment II

A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

The counter argument is that “the right of the people to keep and bare arms” is a dependent clause, tied to the well regulated militia, todays National Guard.

Regardless of the comma, it is time for some debate over how that right might be granted more intelligently than today. According the a Gallup poll US gun ownership is in decline.

gun-ownership-declining1-thumb-615x446-108406

That conflicts with FBI numbers on background checks, which show only sales through licensed dealers, not the vast number of resales.

FBI_NICS_Background_Checks

In either event there are hundreds of millions of guns in the US in civilian hands. In my opinion private gun ownership is a good thing. It helps to keep a government under control when it has a genuine concern that an armed population might take things into their own hands. I have little trust for any government to care about it’s people.

Still the crazies get guns and slaughter people, adults and now children. Where is the balance between sane gun ownership and insane people having guns. I actually think Panama has a reasonable balance, as usual on paper not in reality.

In Panama the law says permanent residents may buy guns and carry concealed weapons. They must be licensed and the gun registered to them. Each person needs to do the following to get a license and renew it every five years.

1. A Psychological Exam
2. Submit a urine sample for drug testing
3. A DNA sample for possible future identification
4. Finger Prints
5. A bullet exemplar for future comparison
6. 25 hours of range practice

On paper, this restricts gun ownership to those who are legal residents, were sane at the time of purchase, were not on drugs at the time of purchase and allows followup to identify legal weapons used illegally.

If you added some fiscal accountability to victims of gun related crimes tied to the registered owner Panama might have an example for the US.

Owning a gun is like owning a car, it is a tool. Both are potentially dangerous and like driving a car a gun owner should be licensed and tested to demonstrate responsibility. Resales should be restricted to dealers who need to be sure the new owner passes over the same hurdles.

This will not unduly burden lawful gun owners. In Arizona I had to take classes to get a concealed weapons permit, it was not burdensome and I had learn gun safety. This might prevent some, but not all, of the tragedies that seem too occur too often in the US today.

Thursday Benefit for Boquete Blues and Jazz Festival

I usually write about events after they happen but occasionally I do slip in a promotional post. Hans, Barbara and the others working on the 2013 Boquete Blues and Jazz Festival are toiling to make next years event even more fantastic than the 2012 festival.

This event is a big event for Boquete, but the Panama City Festival is much more important to the corporate sponsors essential for funding, so Boquete needs to raise more cold cash for hot jazz.

Thursday at 6pm they are having a fund raiser with music at Amigos. The music is not live, Amigos cannot have live music, even at 6PM because it is alleged to disturb neighbors.

Support the Boquete Jazz and Blues Festival and let the good times roll on.

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Caja de Ahorros, a bank account for expats

Last Tuesday I was approached by the manager of Finca Lerida, he explained that the owner of the hotel is also now head of the Caja de Ahorro. Caja de Ahorro is called Panama’s Family Bank and is owned and operated by the government of Panama. I was told that they wish to encourage deposits by new immigrants. He said they were implementing a new express approval for expat customers and people could open a bank account in less than  a week.

Today I decided to see if it could be done. I went to the Caja de Ahorra in Boquete, it is next to El Constructor and opened a Green Savings account. It took less than thirty minutes.

I only needed my Cedula E, I asked if a Pensanado Carnet would have been equally fast, they said yes. No letters of reference, no lawyers letters, no bank statements, no utility bills required. The government ID worked just as well for me as it would have for a national.

The account I opened was a small savings account, it pays 2.5%, far less than some other options, but far more than an equal account in the US and just as easy to open. They do have online banking and provided login information and showed me how to use the website before I left. I was also given a Clave card, the first year is free after that $15 annually.

If you want a local bank account and have a permanent Pensionado Visa or Cedula E you can have it opened fast. I am not sure of the requirements if you do not have either carnet, but you can ask and I suspect it can be done within the week stated.

 

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