Panama is a country where extreme xenophobia is part of the menu, as we have seen before. In that light, it is all the more remarkable how former president Ricardo Martinelli implemented policies that opened the door to immigration. Immigration is good for the country, it stimulates the economy, it generates jobs, it allows fresh air in, culturally speaking.
But the xenophobic fever is spreading nevertheless as if it were the Ebola virus.
One of the initiatives from Martinelli was to legalize, under certain conditions, immigrants who had already been in Panama for two years or more. To that end, they organized the "Crisol de Razas" events. Applicants had to show up in a sports stadium where immigration officials would review and process their paperwork - and in many cases solicit bribes - and, voilá, former indocumentados would go home with a cedula.
Just under 50,000 immigrants had their status legalized since the program started (Panama has about 3.5 million inhabitants). However, even in the face of quite obvious math and numbers, nationalists began complaining that "they are taking our jobs".
The PRD - historically shy of foreigners - has now presented a law proposal that would end the Crisol de Razas program and change some other things in Panama's immigration law. The proposal, and even more so the rhetoric spouted by its author Zulay Rodriguez, is drenched in primitive nationalism devoid of any facts.
It also gave rise to a plethora of posts and discussions on social media. Usually these start with some petit-bourgeois character complaining about how foreigners are "not nice" or "too critical" and "disrespectful" as well as "ungrateful" towards them. That is then followed by the inevitable "if they don't like it here, go home".
REAL ESTATE BROKERS AND THE GREEK PERSUASION
Most of these sentiments are voiced by people who feel threatened by the idea that they might have to compete with foreigners, like, lawyers, doctors, photographers, chefs and so on. Lawyer foreman Celma Moncada said that "Panama has become a popular destination for foreign criminals". No mention was made about how most lawyers happily assist these foreign criminals with their schemes and swindles and other crimes on the isthmus, of course.
A special mention should go to Panama's great real estate brokers. Foreigners, they say, are taking over their business illegally which might endanger the spotless reputation of the profession down here. We kid you not, they really say that:
‘No nos beneficia que se regularice a más extranjeros. Nuestra profesión está siendo vulnerada por la cantidad de inmigrantes que están ejerciendo ilegalmente." - Doris Gordón, speaking on behalf of 50 real estate brokers.
There are even more wacky extremes. On Twitter a new hate group set up shop, calling themselves "Amanecer Dorado Panama". That's right, that means "Golden Dawn" - oh irony, a nationalist group against foreigners copies, in true Panamanian fashion, its name and logo from a foreign Greek nazi-cult of which many a leader sits in prison for things like murder.
Needless to say that the supporters of the Panamanian cholofascista group yell things like, "all foreigners out" and similar drivel.
And, you ask, where is the left - extremely xenophobic in Panama - in this tipico dance? Well, we just read in La Prensa that lawyer Miguel Antonio Bernal, who over the last days retweeted a series of absurdly xenophobic tweets, has filed his legal objections against the "Grisol de Razas" program as well. (Update: He filed that together with lawyer Evans Loo, who used to rail against foreigners owning island property saying he was going to take it all away from them.)
Should we be worried about all this? No. Of course nobody in his right mind is stupid enough to give up a US or European passport for a Panamanian one, and if you do you're asking for it. Other than that, remember that Panama exists because of foreigners, was populated by foreigners, has money because of foreigners, all the products and services they use are made by foreigners. Without us, the country is nothing.
Last but not least: Not all Panamanians are xenophobes, of course. There was a very good op-ed in La Prensa the other day, by Xavier Sáez-Llorens, who used strong words against the primitive sentiment:
El extranjero ha sido convertido en el chivo expiatorio de todas las calamidades y en la mejor coartada para disimular nuestro propio subdesarrollo mental. Viví un año en Costa Rica y me molestaba que los medios, ante cualquier delito, culpaban a ilegales nicaragüenses. Cuando se hacía la investigación, sin embargo, los infractores eran predominantemente ticos. La noticia aclaratoria era comentada, por supuesto, de forma parca y en segmentos poco escuchados o leídos. Aquí sucede igual. Todo homicidio o hurto se le achaca a colombianos, dominicanos o venezolanos cuando, en realidad, un significativo porcentaje es cometido por paisanos. Los sucesos violentos atribuidos al narcotráfico ocurren porque algún político, abogado o empresario criollo se ha prestado para participar del lucrativo negocio correspondiente.