[dropcap type="circle" color="#ffffff" background="#e53b2c"]T[/dropcap]he Martinellistas are going full force with their exit strategy from the government: Land grabs. All over the country land is being taken without further ado, or being "sold" by questionable means.
On Isla Pedro Gonzalez, part of the Las Perlas archipelago, anti-riot police arrived to make sure a tourism project that is being developed on public land by the Eleta family can proceed without interference of pesky locals who have been objecting to this invasion of public property.
And José Chirú, the outgoing Martinellista mayor of Isla Taboga, signed off on the secret sale of various islands and over 14 hectares of land that belonged to the municipality.
Supposedly, these under-the-table sales concern various tourism projects as well. However, when asked by La Prensa, neither Chirú nor his associates could name one single project that would be under development or being planned.
Instead, Taboga residents fear that the sale of land and islands is one step further towards establishing more oil storage and transshipment facilities on and around the island - most of which is a nature reserve. Such oil storage facilities have been substantially expanded recently on nearby Tabogilla. Isla Melones - which used to have a nice beach - has over the last years been flattened and now houses numerous oil storage tanks as well.
The secret deal - which only came to light after the sale was published in the Gaceta Oficial - appears to have been done in true Panamanian Martinellista fashion: Sloppy and clumsy. Today, La Prensa reported that the Panama Canal Authority is not amused that Isla Tortolita was sold by the Taboga hoodlums. Tortolita belongs to the ACP and is part of the Canal zone, and currently is in use for dredging activities. It can not legally be sold.
In its editorial, La Prensa recounts how a meeting of municipal authorities and baffled residents on Taboga was characterized by Chirú and others threatening people and yelling at them.
The Taboga Civic Association - an organization that consists mostly of well-off part-time residents - is vehemently opposed to the sale and the possible establishment of oil storage facilities. On their facebook page, they list a number of objections, from environmental concerns to the transformation of Taboga into an industrial zone.
What they do not mention however is that property values, which have gone up considerably over the last years, will certainly drop sharply if no assurances are forthcoming that Taboga will not be part of some petroleum free trade zone scheme. Similarly, those who have invested in tourism businesses won't be thrilled by the prospect of contaminated beaches and the smell of crude oil wafting from giant tanks that dominate the view.
So how could all of this happen? First, because corruption is part of the menu on Taboga just like everywhere else, and the same people who will now be victimized by the land sales have never shied away from playing their part in it.
Second, nobody does anything against the most ridiculous policies that are implemented on the small island. You may not know this, dear reader, but if you visit Taboga, as soon as you get off the boat and walk down the pier you're met by armed soldiers who make you drop your bag and stand in line while they go over your luggage with a drug-sniffing dog.
This bizarre spectacle has never resulted in any drug busts. Taboga does not have a drug problem or even a crime problem, and the few drugs that are on the island arrive there by the many small launches that are privately owned, away from the pier. Yet nobody has moved to end the total waste of resources and manpower invested in the absurd war-on-drugs show at the pier.
In an environment where such idiocy is tolerated or even encouraged, it should come as no surprise that local officials are tempted to believe that they can get away with just about anything. And they probably will.