Panama closes down Bocas ferries, help tourism boycott

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Okay, so it IS a bit old, but this one appears to be running

Who said that the government of our enlightened money laundering supermarket king, Ricardo Martinelli, doesn't listen to the people? Tourists called for a Panama/Bocas del Toro boycott and just weeks later the authorities step in and make the dream come through!

Friday at about 4 PM, heavily armed police escorted officials from the Maritime Authority and closed down the two ferry services (actually the two water taxi services) that connect Isla Colón with Almirante on the mainland, Bananama Republic has learned. Official reason: security. The ferries are apparently unsafe. That in itself wouldn't surprise us, because unsafe transport is the norm here in Panama and a couple of years ago the ferry to Taboga sank and the captain was drunk. Not to mention the buses.

However, now there is no ferry in Bocas only the la palanga ferry is running. People who work on the islands but live in Almirante or Changuinola can't go home. Tourists are trapped. And it will be like that the whole weekend, because the authorities are only open on weekdays. So who needs to cross the water will have to do so in even unsafer launches and canoes.

Bystanders noted that the police behaved as if they were on to some big drug bust instead of rickety Panama boats, and one remarked that, "they weren't up to the cholitos in Changuinola so now they're trying to screw over the negritos from the islands....."

Does all this trashing of Bocas del Toro look like a "pump and dump" scheme to you too? To us it does. Drive prices down again, make people leave, sell cheap to millionaire friends and make a quick buck. No wonder our tourism clown Shamah is so quiet.

UPDATE: And as if ferry trouble isn't enough, an Aeroperlas plane coming from Bocas got in trouble because of faulty landing gear, tires exploded and all air traffic had to be diverted from Albrook. We're telling you; Bocas is just CURSED!

UPDATE 2: We clarified some issues, what has been closed down are the two main water taxi services. The big ferry is running. Others have taken over the water taxi service and now charge more.

UPDATE 21/8: Well, this ain't over yet. Friday there was apparently a protest, which didn't help much. The two affected companies are Taxi 25 and Bocas Marine Tours, plus the ferry Mantarraya. Population stuck. Tourists miss international flights. El cambio esta en marcha!

28 thoughts on “Panama closes down Bocas ferries, help tourism boycott

  1. Well, if they were RESPECTABLE like Martinelli’s friends they’d have private yachts.

    And if those SUNTRACS guys were as good as the best of a previous generation of carpenters, they could just walk across the water.

    So there’s no sympathy for genetically inferior Panamanians, or the despised (except for their money) foreigners. I mean, talk about SCRUFFY!

    (The Central Scrutinizer)

  2. These militarized cops are becoming a real bore. I saw about 10 of them going over a couple of the hippy kids who juggle flaming sticks at the corner of Via Isreal and Via Brazil. The usual story, relentless ID checks, fingers on the triggers of the automatic weapons, senseless questions, macho posturing and then letting the kids go because as was known from the beginning..THESE ARE NOT CRIMINALS.

    They do the same thing to tourists.

    The only people they don’t hassle are the criminals. Because despite the overwrought firepower and body armour (that would make US soldiers in Iraq envious) these guys are afraid of the real bad guys. The bad guys fire their guns and will risk a firefight. The problem is we now have to fear the bad guys and these bullies also.

    What Panama needs to do is develop SWAT TEAM TOURISM, with Rambo Theme Parks where you too can be hunted down by paramilitary wannabees.

    Its such a sad joke to see these guys with their 57 varieties of berets and other cheesy costumes.

  3. Sometimes it is hard to determine whether your news is factual or if it has a spin. Would be nice to separate your pieces into either “editorials” or “news” categories because Panamanians do like reading this site: it’s just sometimes hard to differentiate the two.

  4. You mean it sounds unbelievable at times. It does. They say that Salvador Dali refused to visit Panama because it was just too surreal even for him.

  5. To Things Panamanians Like: You can safely say that Bananamarepublic is ALWAYS over-the-hill and very often very funny “News”. You need a healthy sense of humor to take-in some of the stories. A recent example to illustrate the obvious is the story about Monte Friesner suing Okke Ornstein for alledgedly hiring Wild Bill to kill his puddle Frou Frou… Hahahaha…

  6. @XIO – I think it is “over the top”. Our favorite editor may not want to be referred to as “over the hill” quite yet. He has a few good years left. To the editor, please post the link to the tsunami story again – priceless.

  7. @XIO: The part of the corregidor and the restraining orders is actually completely true. Based on the dead poodle. I kid you not. I’ll get copies next time I’m there – if ever – and post them, plus the statement from the Friesners.

  8. @Faustino, man how right you are. That p*sses me off on a daily basis. Panama Police is the worst I’ve encountered in over 30 years of traveling the world. The one thing the’re not doing is fighting crime.

    Some time ago I was walking with my longtime (of course Colombian) girlfriend , maybe 200 meters from my apartment. Two police officers. Papers! Ok, we presented our papers. The card of my girlfriend had the dates stated in US fashion, month first. So? Not her fault. She had pointed this out at the immigration office, but they said “not a problem”. They would need to take her to the station to check things out. Of course I could have offered something but I just was to furious. I could come with her, but I didn’t have my phone with me and did not want to take a chance, as I know how they operate. So I checked where they would take her (Marbella) and ran home to get my phone. As it was Friday 3 AM there wasn’t a lot of legal aid to be called. I called a close Panamanian friend of mine and together we went to the police station, which we were not allowed to enter. We needed to stay on the sidewalk. Everything will be alright, they’re just checking. How long can that take, don’t they have computers? I saw a whole bunch of girls waiting on a bench, among those my girlfriend. Things were taking way too long. There was word that they were going to keep them until Monday, as now it was Saturday and Atlappa (database) was closed. I have a friend working in immigration, so I tried to call him, no answer. Hours went by. Finally my friend picked up the phone and promised me to come. When he arrived it was 8.30 am! Without any news. He talked his way in and half an hour later returned with my girlfriend and a request for a donation of 20$ for coffee… I paid.
    They knew within half an hour her papers were ok. They insulted her and the other girls, who also had valid papers. Some of them were taken there every day and knew those officers on a first name basis. I can write pages about this and other incidents, the insults, corruption and ignorance. Maybe another time.. BTW, to rectify the problem in the immigration office my girlfriend had to pay for another card. Can you believe that? No sorry, no nothing,
    For those wondering about my girlfriend, she’s studying and works a normal job. We live together for 3 years now. Certainly not your stereotype operated Colombiana. Even then.. so what?

  9. That kind of thing happens all the time with Colombianas of all professions. What the cops want is to get laid. Their social skills are lacking so they try for this type of “extortion-rape” type of courtship. It is pathetic. @Easy, your situation happens countless times in Panama.

    I spent 12 hours in a police station in 2003 for refusing to pay a bribe. I entered the Corredor Sur and changed my mind about the direction I was going in. I went through the toll and the toll collector said just do a U. He signaled to the other side to let me pass.

    The police saw me and pulled me over. We went to the toll guy and he told them it was legal…after all they own the road. But the cops told me they needed to check me out. All day in the cop shop being checked out…although their was nothing to check. They wanted $30 for coffee. I said no.

    12 hours later I was released. I filed a complaint with the Ombudsman. Eventually the Ombudsman told me they did nothing wrong and said I should have offered $10 as they are underpaid. I laughed my head off…This is when I realized that the entire system was a joke, right up to the top. I came to accept this as normal and continued to enjoyed my life in Panama.

    However, now those same cops, who at the time put the Keystones to shame,
    irritating but harmless, can now rough me up or pepper spray me to get their bribe. And I have absolutely no recourse.

    Some may think that this is an exaggeration but I am willing to bet anyone $100 that within a year a European or North American tourist will be seriously injured by these police for having done absolutely nothing illegal. (the latino tourists are already seriously abused by the police.)

  10. The problem is that they can hold you for 24 hours for “verification”. They do this all the time, it’s their way to have leverage over you to extort money. In the suburbs like Arraijan the practice is rampant, also with Panamanians.

    When it’s just one policeman or two having their own little “checkpoint”, I usually don’t even stop any more. And certainly not when it’s dark. Just wave and drive through. It’s ALWAYS about getting money, so fuck ’em.

  11. LOL, I’ve got to try that. “Okke told me so!” 😉

    This really is a big problem, because it affects the country. They are so f*cking ignorant. I remember one time I actually went in discussion with a policeman. Maybe 20 years old. I asked him friendly, in my best Spanish (which isn’t all that “best”), why they kept molesting us. I was so fed up, after I had to show my papers for 3rd time or so that day. “Politics” he said. Politics? Your country needs foreigners, We pay salaries and taxes. You would be without a job without us. This is how you welcome us? Where is Panama without foreigners? “We have the canal!” LOL Who pays that, you think? Silence.. “Well, why don’t you go home if you don’t like it? Better for us!”
    I think you’re right, “accidents” are bound to happen. Cheers for “ley Chorrizo”!

    I’m actually thinking of buying one of those belt cameras, record all this shit and put it on Youtube. Fuck’m indeed!

    I’ve been in Colombia, Brasil (bad places in Sao Paolo), nearly all of Latin America, in various parts of Africa and Eastern Europe a.o. I’ve met with corruption and ignorance, but never in my life so abundant , obvious and threatening as in Panama.

    I can live with someone providing a “service” for which I pay. Hell, I once left my new white shoes in the immigration office in Ghana (25 years ago) in exchange for a 6 months visa within 5 minutes. Normally that would take months. I can even live with an officer in need of a few bucks every now and then. It’s the disrespect and sheer mafia-like modus operandi I absolutely detest.

    Everybody tells me, don’t worry they can only hold you for 24 hours. So? Wtf! I spend money, time and energy on papers to end up in a police station in the middle of the night to get screwed yet another time. Sorry, but that bothers me enough to really rethink my “Panama adventure”. I don’t mind a rough country. I don’t mind fighting for my existence. I do mind not feeling welcome. I’m a positive person and the energy here at the moment is way to negative for my taste. I still can’t believe how Panama worsened in just a few years. If nothing else, at least it used to be fun.

    Martinelli is closing the country for tourists so they stay in his resorts and spend their money there. In the meantime he’s crushing real estate prices in Bocas so he can open one cheaply over there as well. That’s what it looks like to me, sort of.

    Faustino, you can NOT make a U-turn on the highway. Even my Panamanian driver knows that. 😉

  12. In the area of the tolls you can. They leave a space in the rubber pylons to do it. It is to accommodate those that get there and realize they have no money.

    As far as damaging tourism is concerned, the ruling elite here have never been more than ambivalent about tourism. They very clearly don’t like tourism that extends into retirement living.( Ruben Blades was adamant that people who wanted to stay in Panama more than a month were not tourists. They were immigrants.) The rich absolutely despise the foreigners that treat the poor with respect. Worse yet if you pay your workers a drop more money. I think it feeds into their collective guilt about treating the poor like shit. It also could herald the end of their feudalism and that scares them silly. If more people start paying better wages the poor might feel they deserve more and begin to fight for more. Look at Martinelli’s violently insane reaction to giving some of the most abused workers in the world(banana workers) a tiny bit more.

    What Panama likes is tourists who do quick 2 week stays, spend their money and ask no questions. People who stay become involved with the society and begin to notice how crazy it is. They tell their friends. They spoil the illusion.

    However crooked sleazy long term foreigners are welcome because they become a cheering squad to keep up the facade. They don’t complain about the local crooks, because they are in the same game. They receive support and encouragement from the government to attack the honest foreigners who bring the truth to light. Okke has been attacked by sleazy foreigners backed by Panamanian government officials.

    The theme seems to be: Panama is run by crooks, foreign crooks are welcome if they forward the local crooks goals and philosophies. Honest foreigners are tolerated if they don’t question and don’t put up a fight after being ripped off. Question the crooks or fight back and they will try to turf you out.

    They guy on the street is ambivalent to foreign long term tourists and residents because on one hand they generally are more generous and gullible employers but on the other they hand they are followed by great increases in local prices. Like most societies they have a tendency to blame foreigners for their problems.

    But don’t look to the potential loss of tourism to reign in the locos, they will gladly forgo tourism to maintain feudalism.

  13. I just want to say to all of you who say I’m willing to pay a little something propina etc. You are as much or more responsible for your extortion encounters.

    You label the foreigner be it resident or tourist as a “stop them they will pay and they have the money to pay”.

    Don’t get in their face keep the somewhat silent do whatever you have to do officer attitude and they will soon realize they aren’t going to get fed.

    Sure it’s a battle of wills, remember they are the law corrupt or not they have the upper hand their supposed to when push comes to shove.

    Funny, most of you wouldn’t even think about attempting a bribe in the states but here yes!

    Do the right thing become a solution not a form of prostitution

  14. @PJ,

    Talk about blaming the victim!!

    Your right, I wouldn’t think to bribe anybody in the US, but then again I have never been incarcerated for 12 hours for doing nothing.

    If you read my comment you would see that I didn’t bribe them. But I sure paid with my time.

    Also if you do business here you simply won’t survive without bribing. It is very easy to take the high ground until you actually live and work here.

    I was falsely accused of fraud once here. I had to payoff the judge to simply to make the just decision. What are you suggesting I should have done…gone to jail for 2 years and live in a cell with two beds and 10 other guys in the shit and piss on the floor?

    It pisses me off to hear people like you blame the victim when you have no idea what goes on here. Do you even live here???

  15. PJ,
    How nice it would be if life was that simple. Maybe if we were talking a few cops here, you could try and get away with it. That is not the case. It goes all the way to the top. These guys despise you sufficiently to make your life very difficult and will use all their resources to do so. It is always your word against theirs. And..who t.f. are you?
    It is no secret either, so nothing to expose. Everybody knows, smiles and asks you why didn’t you pay right away?
    In the US or Europe there are agencies for that, people you can contact. Here..? LOL

    I encounter very few people with such clear and well informed views. Really refreshing to read comments that actually “say” something. Thanks a lot and my compliments!

  16. Hi Faustino,

    Yes, I live here 11 years + and had a store front business for a number of years here and never had to pay off anyone.

  17. Hi Eazy,

    I agree some hidden videos would be great especially given to all the medias here and abroad.

    One must keep in mind attitude is everything when stopped and yes the police in general sucks. Moreover there is a vast majority of barely illiterates working there as per their requisites for being a police here etc and finally yes it goes to the top. from the district commander on down they all get a percentage the worker bees are who stop us.

    Serpico all over but a hundred times worse.

  18. PJ

    You are very lucky.

    I run a heavy equipment and bus importation company that finances the vehicles also. I am in the courts at least 2 days a week in reposession proceedings and have to constantly pay people off to get the results that are very basic. All the bank and finance companies here bribe court officials regularly to get things done. If not your case is buried. Not all court officials are dishonest but the vast majority are.

    We don’t bribe to get illegal results, we just bribe so that we get decisions in 2 years and not 15. Over the last decade as a result of business operations I have had three false fraud charges made against me (all dropped), various death threats, extortion from health officials, city tax collectors, local politicians, fiscales.

    Perhaps I have these problems because we have a lot of exposure to the legal system. We used to do a lot of volume so we gave off the impression that we were making a lot of money(not true because very few pay their bills). High volume attracts the parasitic elements of society here. It is inexcusable and I did not cause it.

    Luckily I have almost liquidated all I have here as I have decided that I life in Panama just isn’t worth it. I opened a branch of the business in Costa Rica about 5 years ago and have had only a few normal run of the mill problems there. I have been asked once in a while for a bribe but have resisted. But never have I had my life put in danger or my liberty restricted.

    The difference between these two countries is night and day. Panama is a wealthy third world country, Costa Rica is a poor first world country.

    These are my experience here. I have had good ones and have made a modest amount of money. But the bad far outweighs the good, and the situation is getting worse.

    I admire people like Okke and others who can see the truth here and still love and fight for Panama. But I am too tired and have to leave.

  19. Faustino,
    I’m in the same state of mind. As things are now I plan to leave end of this year/early next year. I’m not sure what my next stop will be, maybe I travel around a bit first to check some areas out.
    I can only imagine how frustrating your court days must be. Luckily I didn’t go through that. I would have been long gone, I guess. I can’t even stand to pass Immigration, while my lawyer does most of the work and waiting there. Yes, I’m inpatient and absolutely despise their perception of service and way of thinking.

    Your Costa Rica experience I completely share. I’ve managed companies there and had my own. I never had to bribe a single person, never was molested by the police. I do not remember having to show my papers one single time in 15 years.
    You can speed up a process in Costa Rica by taking somebody to lunch, not unlike US or Europe. Costa Ricans usually are very friendly, respectful and sociable people. They are interested to know you. I could withdraw money at my bank (not a small one) without identification. “Don “Eazy” ;), como no.” It was a pain to open accounts, but after that perfect service and friendliness. The willingness to help out. I guess that is the big difference. In Panama “no hay”, in Costa Rica it may take a day but they try. They’re slow as well, but with an attitude that makes you forgive them.

    When you read touristic info about Panama, it shows that a large percentage of the locals speak English. LOL. Costa Rica does not have that reputation, but there it is way more common. I once talked with President Figueres, he spoke better English than Bush. 🙂

    I really like Colombia as well, for its people mostly. There are some regulations and laws that still make me hesitate to move there, but I think I will be checking it out more in-depth. I never for a moment felt unsafe or unwelcome there. I like a challenge. We’ll see, time will tell.

  20. @frombocas… You are absolutely right. Of course I meant to write “over-the-top” – not “over-the-hill”. Since English is not my mother tongue, I do sometimes make unintentional mistakes like that one… I apologize to Okke and all his News readers.

  21. @Easy
    It is a shame about Panama. Colombia has it nice features but I still worry about the security and the government does some absolutely horrible things.
    ie False positive scandles. Perhaps Santos will end up less rabid that Uribe. I wish they would recognize the FARC as a group that represents many Colombians and assimulate them politically. I think the only solution to these long term conflicts is to try to morph the combatants into viable political parties. As they have finally done in Ireland.

    Good luck wherever you end up.

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