Panamanian xenophobia: Donald Trump goes the way of Paco Gomez

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Want to see a fine mix of hypocrisy, xenophobia and narrow-mindedness at work? Look no further than Panama, a country where they've turned cooking sancocho from these ingredients into an art form.

Panama, until just a week ago, loved Donald Trump. The Donald came down here with his roaming meat auction also known as the Miss Universe contest, and the media as well as the population were all over it. Then Roger Khafif cut a deal with Trump to use the name for a tower in Punta Pacifica, and each and every newspaper, real estate promoter, chamber of commerce bozo and politician started a crowing contest on how "even Donald Trump is investing in Panama" (a lie; he only rents out his name and thus takes money out of Panama, but hey, who cares!).

Trump made Panamanians feel as if they were now inhabiting a real country, a mature player in the real world. They need this type of reassuring constantly on the isthmus, which explains how a tiny country created by Wall Street in a series of backroom dealings believes itself to be the "bridge of the world" and the "heart of the universe" and has an anthem that starts with, "We finally reached victory" and tells us about "ardent fires of glory".

This national inferiority complex shows itself not just in overcompensation by shouting out loud such superlatives - which at least is a kind of funny for a while - but also in darker sentiments like nationalism, xenophobia and an extreme sensitivity to anyone who dares criticize them or even doesn't share their vision of Panama as God's gift to the universe.

As Donald Trump has just found out.

Trump, in an effort to please US conservatives for electoral reasons, said something to the tune that handing over the Canal to Panama had been a gross mistake, because the US had not gotten anything in return. This infuriated Panamanians left and right, who took the statement by their former hero as if the US army was already en route to take back the waterway by force, so to speak.

Trump's statement in itself is nothing new. Just before the Canal expansion referendum in 2006, your reporter interviewed Howard Philips of the Conservative Caucus on the subject and he stated that nobody should invest a dime in the Canal until there are boots of US soldiers on the ground again in Panama. No-one took notice. Similarly, earlier this decade US conservatives organized their "missions to Panama" without creating the rage that the Donald has now generated.

The latest in this bizarre saga is that the municipal council of the Panama City - only two weeks after Paco Gomez was expelled from the country for similar reasons - has unanimously passed a resolution declaring Donald Trump "persona non grata" in the capital.

Mind you, this is a municipality headed by a corrupt former televised perfumes salesman where they are unable to even pick up the garbage in any organized fashion.

Mind you, this is Panama, a country that has diplomatic representatives who don't even know how the Canal works or what its history is.

Mind you, this comes from a country that failed miserably in using the handover of the Canal as a boost for development and a more equal distribution of wealth (with the elite saying it would turn us into a "democratic version of Singapore"); instead turning the management of  Canal Zone assets into a pool of corruption, bureaucracy and mediocrity (remember Fraudito's ARI?). Especially in the Northern part of the former Canal Zone, closer to Colón, nothing meaningful has been done with gazillions worth of infrastructure and real estate. The former submarine base where John McCain was born is now a poverty-stricken gangland and decay is everywhere.

But in Panama you can't say these and other things if you're not born Panamanian. The right to express an opinion - even if it is a dumb statement from a three-time bankrupt idiot like Donald Trump - is universally accepted throughout the civilized world, but in Panama you'll get expelled or declared non grata if you exercise that right. And that's exactly why this country is not the "center of the universe" but a third world dump with a ditch running through it.

27 thoughts on “Panamanian xenophobia: Donald Trump goes the way of Paco Gomez

  1. Panama loved Donald Trump? Or do you mean panamanian polititians / public servants / companies. I’m panamanian and i didn’t like him before any of this, or after it.

  2. I’d say the Municipal Council exaggerated the response. A classier thing would’ve been to say, “well you know in 1903 Panamanians got the short end of the stick with the treaty. In 1977 the U.S. got the short end. I guess Mr. Trump knows now how we have felt all those years!”

  3. It’s amazing how these people never miss an opportunity to make total fools of themselves. Sure, Panama has done a good job managing the Canal itself, but just months ago we had this whole affair with WikiLeaks disclosing how Martinelli & Co were calling the expansion project a “disaster” and accusing Alemán of corruption – all within just 10 years after the handover. The best response, imo, would have been to shut the f**k up.

  4. Editor, The Donald is incapable of shutting the f**k up as he suffers from diarrhea of the mouth and megalomania. It is a tragic combination. As someone who makes a regular fool of himself, he should feel at home in Panama. In a perfect world, he would become a naturalized Panamanian citizen and run for public office here.

  5. @Editor: Tens of thousands of people are missing because of the worst tragedy in japan’s history and all you are interested in is what some Panamanians had to say about the offensive remarks of that stupid asshole Donald Trump (!) You lost it.

    • Ummm, XIO, this is a blog about Panama, not about Japan. It says nothing about what I am currently interested in. If you’re looking for coverage on Japan, or Libya for that matter, Al Jazeera in English is an excellent source. This site is not.

  6. He said what millions of “gringos” think , you have explained perfectly how Panamanians react and how xenophobic they are. The Canal management is a succes ? Let me laugh ,how come 38 % of them don’t eat or survive on 1 dollar a day? I hope lots of panamanians read you and finally understand.As lots of people know DT is a fool and nobody can take what he said seriously , but my fellow citizens.

    • @Amarillys: Truth is that Panama has so far done a decent job getting ships through the Canal and making money off it. But you’re right, the handover of billions of dollars worth of infrastructure has not been used to boost development for all. Instead it has benefited the usual suspects and been turned into a den of corruption and dark schemes. But that’s not what Trump said; he said that basically Panama should have paid for the Canal – and I don’t agree with that. Panamanians paid already with 20 years of dictatorship, among other things.

      But any discussion about the Canal and the former Canal zone is taboo in Panama for foreigners because you’ll hurt their precious nationalistic feelings. I often wonder, for example, how difficult it really is to move these ships through – more ships are handled by pilots in the world’s biggest ports on a daily basis – and if it justifies the local attitude as if they’re successfully running nothing short of a space station.

  7. Donald Trump is a clown. For all his billions the most imaginative thing he can do with himself is present a reality TV show. And what’s with the hair? Still, he’s entitled to his opinion, however boring it may be.

    By the same token, this publication is entitled to its opinion, but this particular article relies on national stereotypes and is therefore on shaky ground when it starts shouting about xenophobia. Unless, of course, the irony was intentional.

    Isn’t this is all about political point-scoring anyway? The instigators of this ‘resolution’ are merely trying to rile the masses and manipulate public sentiment to their advantage. Besides, who knows what’s been said or done behind closed doors. There must be some back-story here.

  8. @Editor: It doesn’t hurt to put things into perspective from time to time. For instance anyone who has transited the Suez Canal in a small sailboat, as I did in 2002, can tell you that the level of corruption in Egypt is without comparison to that of Panama. In my case – just to be allowed to sail thru the sea level Suez Canal – I had to pay under-the-table « backshish » money to no less than six different « vultures » who work for or off the Suez Canal. Personally, I never heard that anyone had to pay a « coima » to transit the Panama Canal. Have you or have any of your readers

    • @XIO: So what? Nobody here ever said anyone had to pay bribes to transit the Canal. I wrote that the handover of the Canal Zone has been mired in corruption – ARI etc. etc. I write about Panama here, not Egypt or Japan, get it?

  9. @Editor: Panama has paid with more than 20 years of dictatorship, as you allude. This country paid by being denied sovereign powers on its own land for close to a century. It paid with the blood of students shot dead in 1964. It also paid with the invasion of a sovereign country and the kidnapping of its head of state in 1989, however evil and without redemption he may have been.

    Panama has paid more than a fair price for the canal, so while I don’t agree with knee-jerk reactions to what is tantamount to an ignorant, shit-stirring comment by a buffoon, I can understand how it would irritate the crap out of Panamanians. In this instance, I can understand but not condone a sentiment along the lines of “Yankee stay home’.

    And I reiterate by saying, I think xenophobia is at the root of so much international evil. However, The D (for Dickhead) had it coming.

  10. Editor, yes you’re right about Panamanian nationalism which can be silly and irritating . However, you seem to write about this as if Panamanians are the only people in the world who display these sort of attitudes. Let’s take the United States for example, if you criticize aspects of U.S. policy/life you’ll be chastised and on top of that you’ll get the usual ” if you don’t like it go home” . Or take Israel, if you even dare to criticize the legitimacy of the Jewish “homeland” , you’ll immediately be labeled as ANTI-SEMITE. Yes , I understand this blog is about Panama , so other countries are irrelevant to this issue, but please do me a favour … if you’re going to write about a country with absurd nationalistic attitudes, spend some time writing on the ones that I mentioned because they lead the race in this field.

    • @Unknown: Oh yes, there’s tons of Americans who will instantly label you as “anti-American” as soon as you dare criticize any of their policies, tell me about it. Israel is a different case, because as you say, the criticism often focuses on the legitimacy of that country’s very existence while Trump’s comments re Panama are really far from that (he didn’t say Panama is an illegitimate country, but only that it should have paid for the handover of the Canal). But we’re not going to discuss Israel here, or the US, if only because I find the whole “they do it too” routine a bit childish.

  11. @Exiled Brit: Yes, of course I am generalizing. But the cliché is a cliché because there’s truth to it, as you say, there’s lots of pandering to the masses, but that only works if the masses indeed massively share these nationalistic and xenophobic sentiments. Most foreigners who have been here for any longer amount of time know the drill: Bring money, pay bribes, and then shut the fuck up. This case is a good example of that; Trump was oh so welcome when he came with his Miss Universe circus, was almost declared a national hero when he “invested” in this Trump Club here, but as soon as it turns out he actually has opinions about Panama – retarded as they may be – it’s all hurt feelings and “falta de respeto”. I’ve seen the same thing over, and over, and over, and over, and over……

  12. @editor – All masses everywhere share xenophobic sentiments. Didn’t Geert Wilders demonstrate this in elections last year? Isn’t Le Pen’s daughter making great strides in France? Need I mention the Swiss? The Austrians? Ah, the Tea Party? The Tories? Who else? I know you don’t like comparisons, but it seems to me racism and crumminess are universal afflictions. The same goes for corruption and extortion. All evidence indicates the human race is clutching and grotesque in the extreme, utterly lacking in civilisation, and I find the local politics no more vicious or nasty than anywhere else. Or is this generalisation unfair? Personally I like Panama and I like Panamanians. The country may be tawdry, but it’s also beautiful. The complaints I hear from many expats are more or less identical to the complaints I heard when I was living in Nicaragua. Which makes me wonder about ethnocentricity.

  13. This is a nice distractions for our main problems down here…
    Some “comunicadores sociales” could not think clearly and created this circus…
    More circus … and they don´t investigate the real “chanchullos”.

  14. I know Panamanians, rightly or wrongly, who agree with Trump’s assertion. They see it as a national coup (no pun intended) that Carter and Torrijos in a convergence of politics, personality and historical providence managed to sign the document that transfered such an enormous asset to such a small country.
    It should have instantly doubled the net worth of every Panamanian. It didn’t happen.

    What is depressing is that the rage, spewed forth toward silly comments from a foreign blowhard, finds no target in those Panamanians that have effectively stolen the canal from the Panamanian people.

    When asked why their lives are no better, and perhaps worse, after receiving the biggest voluntary transfer of infrastructure in the history of the human race, most Panamanians shrug. No rage, no reaction at all. But an off handed foreign comment about the gift to the country causes outrage while the theft of that gift by a greedy few compatriots goes unchallenged. Too Sad.

  15. @Exiled Brit,

    Corruption and graft here is very bad. Rule of law is weak and the situation is getting worse. I have lived in Honduras, Jamaica and Nicaragua as well as a few first world countries. I found the corruption worse here than in the others. Relativist arguments always try to justify a wrong by implying it;s universality and hence its omnipotence. But degrees are important and Panama has lots of potential that will be destroyed by the rot.

    Panama is at the moment in the perfect storm of converging financial benefits. The canal, the real estate boom, the Venezuelan exodus, the Colombian exodus, the enormous inflows of drug capital, the thriving banking sector and the free zone,

    The sheer quantity of wealth arriving in a country with such a small population should guarantee a great future with ever increasing standards of living. Will it happen, no way. It will be stolen but the rabiblanco class, aided by the courts and unpunished by the people. Sorry but I can’t buy the old “it’s just shitty human nature” arguments.

  16. Sorry one more quick point. It is not that Panamanians don’t fight for what they believe. It’s just they always seem to fight for their overwrought sense of honour. They seem so hung up on it. They can be abused, stolen from, denied opportunities, oppressed, badgered by their government, even starved without much complaint, but si hay falta de respeto…then its a fight.

    “sticks and stones will break my bones….but words will never hurt me” has no corresponding saying in Panama. My Panamanian friends generally do not agree with the premise of this old wisdom. In fact they insist that slights and insults are often worse than physical wounds.

  17. @Faustino: One thing about your last comment; the exception to that are the indigenous people, as recent history has shown. That’s why I called their protests “authentic” in an earlier – and unrelated – article.

    Other than that, I completely agree with you.

  18. @Faustino – I’m not trying to justify a wrong, corruption is a problem and Panama definitely deserves better. I would not say shitiness is omnipotent, but it is certainly the overarching flavour of human experience. And what you say about the rabiblancos entirely corresponds to the corporate elite in the developed world. Aided by the state, who enact legislation to protect them, they rape and pillage at will. The rich and powerful come first, we all know that, and the financial crisis (and the subsequent socialisation of the banking debt) was a particularly grotesque moment in recent history. Still, no one does anything about it, they’re too busy watching X factor or playing with their shiny mobile phones. I would say both Europe and the US are riddled with corruption and apathy, the politicians are just more slick at concealing it. Mussolini stated fascism should more properly be called corporatism because it represents a merger of corporation and state. This is where we’re at the moment, not just in Panama, but globally. In some ways the situation in the developed world is more disturbing, because the systems of control and deception are more sophisticated.

  19. @Okke. Yes, a huge oversight on my part. The indigenous people have been very tough. The Kuna uprising, in the early 20th Century, that won them a considerable amount of independence is another example. Let’s hope the “crazy white father” isn’t successful in his alternate strategy of divide and conquer with his psuedo-caciques.

    @E. Brit..Sadly, you are correct. The Banking scandal ended my already diminished belief in rule of law in the US anyway. Panamanians get the martillo on the head we so called first world people get the old velvet hammer. No need to oppress the masses they are too busy with their drunken materialism to give a damn anyway.

  20. Trump, the Chump on the Stump!

    And he might even turn out to be more attractive of a presidential candidate than the rest of the GOP field. Probably means that Obama will be re-elected.

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