Our interest in the ongoing unpleasantness with robberies and home invasions in the Pacific beach area had dwindled a little bit lately. Crime is going up after lots of expats settled down in the area, they started doing some crazy militia stuff, the real estate market is down the gutter - I mean, what else is new?
Luckily, we found this story in The Panama News, about a meeting organized by a new organization, "Neighbors Helping Neighbors" (NHN). There were area residents. There were officials like Ana Belfón (recycled Noriega figurehead) and Salomo Shamah (recycled Colombian arms trafficker). And there was no crazy gun talk! Intrigued, we read Eric Jackson's story:
The balance of the meeting was dedicated to various presentations and trial balloons. Some computer people and retired US cops in Coronado want to create an armed first response security service (“ADP on steroids”). There was discussion about various electronic security systems available. An insurance agent who represents Suramericana de Seguros explained that you need a “multi-risk” policy to cover thefts from your home and that as far as Panama’s actuaries are concerned, the beach areas are “high risk.” The meeting heard from lawyers, not so much about the law down here but about comparative culture and a certain perspective on the history of Americans in Panama. The gathering heard from a martial arts instructor who gives classes in Coronado. Some women from the Panama Animal League bought up humanity’s most ancient alliance in such situations, our partnership with the dogs, and how their group has dogs looking for permanent homes with people to befriend and protect.
Was there the inevitable argument about guns? Actually, not. Some people made their opinions known on the subject but from the outset it was announced that NHN does not take a position on the firearms issue.
Boring? That's what we thought. But, expats are expats in Panama, so we didn't have to wait long for some wacky and entirely stupid controversy to come up. We learned, from Eric Jackson's piece, that the organizer behind the NHN is one Rob Brown, who runs a website called "retirement detectives" (no joke). Eric Jackson had put a picture of him with the article, which prompted this diatribe from Mr. Brown:
Eric Jackson, the left-leaning, self-appointed cynic surprised me by attending the NHN Meeting last Sunday. He has long refused to cover these events, often pitting himself against the ugly, gun-toting (often American) gringo in favour of the down-trodden Panamanian.
He wrote an article - and published my name - and a huge photo of me - when I had specifically asked - and it became a bit of a joke with all speakers - that NHN be mentioned - not any specific person. Notice he only used the victims first name in his other photo - he knows that you don't identify group leaders in order to protect their identities as much as possible.
Why he chose to expose me is anyone's guess.
My second request to Eric:
"Eric - why are you doing this? You say you know how Panama works - are you deliberately putting me at risk?
Take down my photo please. You know the gangs are reading these blogs as well - why make my face a target?
Are you trying to see me or my family hurt? Rob"
"I will do that, but you should quit what you are doing. You can't be a public figure doing what you are doing and be risk-free."
I am a volunteer Eric - so now I am supposed to take a bullet in order to help protect you and your family - or quit?
Now here's what makes this so funny: Right above the article on Rob Brown's site, in which he complains about Eric Jackson publishing his full name, it reads:
Written by T. Rob Brown (aka Roberto Chocolate)
So how the hell is it that his name is such a secret and he's in danger if we publish it if he himself features it above every single article that he posts on his website?
And Jackson is of course right: You can't hang yourself out as a community leader in crime prevention initiatives and stay anonymous. That Brown doesn't seem to understand that really tells you all you need to know about how shallow his understanding is of security related issues.
And his picture, that had to be taken down because gangs would be able to identify him? He has a publicly accessible Facebook profile where you can find pictures of him from every possible angle with various types of hats. So much for operational security there - most Panamanian teenagers have a better understanding of staying private online.
To top it off: It now appears that Rob Brown actually wants money from the area expats if they want to stay informed about robberies and such. Last Saturday, on his website, he posted a blurb about recent mayhem:
Two more violent attacks rook place in the beach area in the past two days. One was in Las Lajas near the Interamericanna, the other was in Coronado. See www.nhnpanama.com - in the member's area - under news, for details. Roberto
This prompted the following comment from a reader, one Stephen Jorgensen:
You might want to rethink this "pay me or I won't tell you" policy. I had been seriously considering joining until you pulled this stunt. I did join Don Winner's paysite, and have no regrets.
This is a matter of journalistic ethics, pure and simple...or are you just in this for the income (large or small though it may be...)?
I live in the beaches area, and what is generally lacking is ACCURATE reporting of crime, a niche you had begun to fill - until today. If someone is robbed or wounded because you have decided to put "membership" ahead of the dissemination of important information then shame on you.
And that was of course rubbing the anonymous Rob Brown the chocolate man really the wrong way:
Dear Stephen Jorgensen,
Five years of writing a free information site - with one article that required you be a member of a community group - and you jump to the conclusion that I am unethical?
I did not publish this on an open forum to keep the information away from the criminals, you idiot. (...)
So, to sum it up: Here we have a community initiative of which the name of the figurehead is a secret (but who displays that name all over the place online), whose face must be kept a secret (and then makes hundreds of pictures of himself publicly available on FaceBook) and who thinks his cause is best served by keeping the news of an armed robbery secret from the robbers (as if they weren't the first to know) by having people pay for it. "Idiot", he says? It would make much more sense to convince people to sign up for NHN by providing them with information instead of making it all a secret, so who's the idiot here?
We told you. Get an expat community initiative going in Panama - any expat community initiative - and you will guaranteed be enjoying a freak show in no time.