Panama is about to sign a military cooperation agreement with the United States that will include the use of the so-called aeronaval bases and military training of Panama's police.
The agreement hasn't been made public so far on request of the Martinelli government. The agreement is very similar to that between the United States and Colombia, which generated heated debate and fierce protests from neighboring countries.
The US ambassador in Colombia, William Brownfield, said in an interview with El Espectador, published in English by Colombia Report:
Some people suggest that this agreement (with Colombia) is different, but it is really the same as with other countries, so much so that we are about to sign military cooperation agreements with two other Latin American countries, whose government have asked us us to keep silent at the moment to avoid the types of reactions that these agreements tend to produce.
One of these two countries is Panama.
I have always believed that Panama would drift back to a military dictatorship. The national character or collective personality of the Panamanians doesn´t lend itself to sustained democracy. They accept and respect arbitrary senseless rules and capricious authority.
My belief was sadly fortified about a year ago by a bizarre sad event . I was waiting outside of the Juzgados (Courthouses) in Ancon under the mid day sun. To rest my legs I sat down on the base of a flagpole. A security guard whistled rudely, as is their custom, gesturing me to stand up. I pretended not to understand. Finally he approached me and told me not to sit on the flagpole base becuase it was symbol of the national patrimony of his country. I laughed inside, smiled at him and moved over to a railing that surrounded the parking lot. Thinking that this could not, in anyway, be an item of cultural sensitivity. But low and behold he objected to this and told me I couldn´t sit anywhere on the courthouse grounds. I spoke to him of the heat, my tired state and the lack of benches. But to no avail. His word was the law and there was no pity for anyone under his edicts.
Being 50 years old, stubborn, born and fattened in a liberal democracy and flabergasted by this type of silliness decided to engage in a silliness of my own. I told him no. I was staying put, unless he could come up with a valid reason that I should move.
A long line of Panamanians had formed, first to enter the Banco Nacional and subsequently to watch the tempest in a teapot that was beginnning to swirl. I appealed to the line collectively, in hopes of deflating the little tyrant by having logical discussion of why a tired and hot person should be prevented from sitting on a metal railing that had no patriotic value. I had hoped to direct a little humiliation toward the guard by discussing openly his rigid, mean and petty actions in a mock debate. I failed miserably. Irony and sarcasm are not imprinted on the minds of Panamanian children, and hence in adulthood there seems to be no capacity to even recognize, let alone appreciate, these forms of humour.
I was a troublemaker, disrepectful to authority and had no right to question this guard´s authority despite him having no legal, administrative or logical reason. This was the concensus.
Further discussion ensued, two lawyers also partaking. My thesis was that the loss of individual rights begins with the acceptance of small acts of arbitrary abuse, that seem to endless and petty to defend initially. However these acts unquestioned gently erode one´s confidence and slowly encourage the acceptance of arbitrary bullyiing by authority .
A blank collective stare was my rebuttal. To them it seemed simple, the guard had absolute dominion over the entire area, his power was unlimited, need not be based on any system of regulations or guidelines and to question it was bordering on treason.
On the railing I stayed. Now, after my public humiliation, and his victory, having his authority proclaimed and celebrated by his countrymen I expected to receive the guard´s sympathy. His symbolic battle won, what purpose would be served by removal?
But he called the police.
Two Linces arrived, one with his finger on his trusty Uzi as is their unstable tendency. I spoke kindly to them about my dilemma and asked them where I could sit in the area. They told me nowhere, because I didn´t really want to sit. All I was doing was being a trouble maker. They told me to stand up and leave the premise or they would arrest me.
I asked them on what grounds. “Disrespect to the police”.
What was disrespect to police? The asking of the question itself is the “disrespect to police” I was informed with absolutely no appreciation of the irony.
By now the entire bank line was mesmerized by what in most countries would be viewed as a group of bad stand up comics in an impromtu show. A Panamanian Punch and Judy…. Curlie, Lince and Moe, with a stubborn ¨sitter¨and a miniture riot squad .
One of the lawyers, in need of more excitement, suggested that the police stop wasting time and just arrest me. I feared that they may take his suggestion as in the eyes of the irony-deficient mob my index of criminality was rising fast. I was becoming dangerous to their national pride. The show ended and with a stern warning I was reminded that had I not stood up I would have been a guest of the state in one of it’s exempary prisons.
From this moment on, after 15 minutes of utter madness-though whose was the madness I still ponder- I knew that a dictatorship was what Panamanians really wanted and needed in the deep down in their humourless souls. Any questioning of authority, no matter how small harmless frightened them silly. Arbitrary, capricious,senseless authority is all they understand.