We've had plenty of bad things to say about Ricardo Martinelli and his administration here on Bananama Republic, but there are things he has done right. The MetroBus system, for example, has been badly executed but that doesn't change the fact that it was about time we got decent and safer public transport than the diablos rojos.
More importantly, Martinelli has done what very few nations are doing these days: He has opened up the country for immigration by relaxing immigration laws. People from a number of countries can easily migrate to Panama if they start a small business here; it has been made easier for parents of Panamanian children to establish residency in Panama, and the tourist visa is valid for 6 months. These are changes that should be an example for the ever more restrictive "developed" countries of the North and other Latin American countries alike.
The next step, obviously, would be to get rid of the xenophobic protectionism that shields professions such as doctors, lawyers, architects, engineers, store owners and radio hosts from being exercised by non- Panamanians.
Because there is a shortage of medical specialists on top of that, Martinelli has passed and signed a law that allows for foreign medical professionals to be contracted by the Social Security hospitals and clinics.
But Panamanians are xenophobes. It's sad to say, but true. Even though the country owes its independence and prosperity almost entirely to foreigners and foreign investment and even though the impulses for cultural progress largely come from abroad, Panamanians are not ashamed to show vile resentment towards immigrants "taking their jobs". The further to the so-called "left" you get politically, the more apparent the xenophobia becomes.
And so, the doctors are on strike and have taken to the streets to protest against this law that allows for foreign doctors to be hired by the Seguro Social. It's a disgraceful spectacle against the abolishing of a measure that dates back to the reign of one Arnulfo Arías, a Nazi sympathizer who held it that blacks and indians weren't real Panamanians. It's those politics that the protesting doctors are defending.
If the US or Europe were to implement such discriminatory policies banning people from certain professions based on their nationality or origin, progressives would be all over it, and rightfully so. But in Panama, as is so often the case, everything is upside down.
Miguel Antonio Bernal, for example, tweeted yesterday:
El 611 forma parte del Plan antipanameño y antinacional del actual Gobierno. Ellos quieren tener negocios. Nosotros queremos tener PAÍS
— Miguel A. Bernal V. (@MiguelABernalV) October 2, 2013
"Anti-Panamanian" and "anti-national"? This is indeed the creepy nationalism that is unfortunately found everywhere among the so-called "progressives" on our isthmus. In Costa Rica, foreign doctors have been able to practice for ages. Is Costa Rica less Costa Rican because of that?
Similarly, activist and doctor Mauro Zuñiga tweeted, also yesterday:
Al sancionar la ley 611, RMB deja a la población vulnerable para que sean atendidas por médicos extranjeros sin ninguna preparaciónl.
— mauro zúñiga araúz (@maurozuniga25) October 3, 2013
As if it is some kind of horror for which one needs to be "prepared" to be treated by, say, a Colombian doctor or medical specialist. These are sentiments that border on racism at best, voiced by people who are supposedly progressive opinion leaders. It's utterly disgusting.
Panama flourishes when it opens up. The best this country has to offer was all accomplished in tandem with foreign input or initiative. On the other hand, the sectors of society that are dysfunctional - the legal system, health care, politics - are exactly those where foreigners are not allowed because of xenophobic laws.
Mediocrity is always afraid of competition. The hypocritical arguments now voiced by the doctors on strike and their supporters - about privatization and such - are nothing but tools to mask their own fear of everything foreign, their ugly nationalism, and their delusional beliefs in Panamanian superiority. I hope Martinelli defeats this nastiness.
UPDATE Oct. 7th: Next to the comments below, there's also a more or less lively thread going on on Reddit, here. Worth reading.