OPINION: A pilgrim reality check.

 
1,450Views 18Comments Posted 21/01/2019

By Corina Rueda Borrero*

Dear Pilgrim, I imagine that at this moment you are anxiously packing your bags, buying small necessities and saying prayers because your dream of knowing Pope Francis will come true, and no wonder. You have been involved in activities in your parish to be able to afford the buses and planes that you must take to get to Panama. But I am writing this because you may not know that your joy is not shared in the country that will receive you, even if you have been told otherwise or have seen government promotional videos of smiling Panamanians because there are dark realities behind this great celebration of the world’s Catholic youth.

[caption id="attachment_90990" align="alignleft" width="236"] Varela and Lorena Castillo exchange gifts with Pope .[/caption]

For many Panamanians, World Youth Day is nothing more than a  multi-million dollars whim of  President  Juan Carlos Varela, who travels abroad as a good Samaritan and whose wife, Lorena Castillo, faithfully attends all papal activities that can be paid with State taxes.

Both speak of love for their neighbors  without missing a "God bless" them at the end of their speeches, but they are the same ones who endorse orders to repress farmers' protests for the right to food sovereignty and a decent living and  sanction budgets reducing the amounts destined to culture, science, health, education and technology, and assure that there are no funds to investigate reported cases of sexual abuse in areas of difficult access.

Smiling masks
Juan Carlos Varela, dear pilgrim, is the one who will receive you  and publicly say  that Panama is showing its  best face but  will not dare to tell the truth: that what they are really wearing are smiling masks, because on  that great platform of $12.4 million where he and the Pope will stand, you will not see the teachers who have not been paid for months, nor  the patients who missed appointments due to lack of funding nor the retirees who spent more than four hours in a line  to pick up medications that  they did not receive due to lack of budget.

Every time I receive a new piece of news about what is being spent on World Youth Day, I get a lump in my throat because most of the hiring is being done directly, while there has never been money for the roof that is falling in a school or in the emergency department of the Hospital del Niño, nor is it that there are no funds for the athletes' shoes or gloves for the boxers going to the Olympics, because none of this seemed a priority.

[caption id="attachment_93653" align="alignleft" width="212"] $18,000 for dogs[/caption]

That $14,000 for  a carpet to receive the Pope, that $18,000 for six dogs, that $1.5 million for metal railings , that almost $1 million in luxury hotel rooms for "special guests", that $145.000  in smart cards for drivers   and each day new  expenditures  of which we have no more information than what  appears in the portal of Panama-Compra, without logical justification of its acquisition and without responding to the citizen's right to demand and receive information on the proper use of its taxes.

Do not misunderstand me, pilgrim, I really understand that an event of this magnitude should have its expenses, however, do you think that all Panamanians, even non-Catholics, must pay for the World Youth Day to be celebrated? Do you think that all Panamanians should change their way of life for almost two weeks because of this event? Do you think it's right that the officials of the health system and the security system have been denied their right to request free days or vacations during the whole month of January? Do you think it's fair that they gave orders to hospitals to postpone appointments when there are patients who take up to three days to reach a specialized hospital? Pilgrim, I know you have your heart in the right place.

They tell us that this will "benefit" everyone, but I don’t see it in that way. They tell us that it will "activate" the economy, and  in theory you, pilgrims, will generate profits for  the country by staying in hotels; But instead, Archbishop r Ulloa tells us on television that we are not sufficiently supportive in opening our homes to pilgrims and that we should host those who do not sleep in schools, and then they reiterate what income there will be because you will spend in restaurants and pharmacies, and This also implies that the small business owner benefits directly, but when I check the Panama Purchase page I see that within the bids there are calls for preparation, transport, and delivery of food and groceries for the pre-, WYD events, from  which, the Pro-Mundi, benefit .

I am sincere, pilgrim: I believe that it would be just for the Church to pay for it. We all know that they have enough funds to eradicate world hunger, so I do not think that a small event represents greater spending; This is an event that is done for the faithful to come together. Therefore, dear pilgrim, I ask you: Do you believe that Jesus, who was a great revolutionary, who faced the hegemony of the Roman Empire, would participate in an event that more than benefits represents the hypocrisy of those who use his name in vain?

*Corina Rueda Borrero is a writer, lawyer, feminist and

Panamanian human rights activist.

The comment was first published in (Casi) Literal, Jan 16



Comments 18

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George Klk

PANAMA | Referring to Long Term / Short Term Profits. Greed does not care about the long term profits. Greed among corrupt politician are... "my political term is almost over, need cash for re-election." "need quick public investment...give away free hams." "buy security cameras...$5,555 each...90 -1000 or more!" Obviously, education for professionals can earn substantially more income but does take a decade or more. Panama knows the state of corruption in most cases and addresses the issues so money can be available for these professions. Case in point: Pandeportes did not distribute the $millions for the athletes to perform.

3 months ago
user
George Klk

PANAMA | Referring to Long Term / Short Term Profits. Greed does not care about the long term profits. Greed among corrupt politician are... "my political term is almost over, need cash for re-election." "need quick public investment...give away free hams." "buy security cameras...$5,555 each...90 -1000 or more!" Obviously, education for professionals can earn substantially more income but does take a decade or more. Panama knows the state of corruption in most cases and addresses the issues so money can be available for these professions. Case in point: Pandeportes did not distribute the $millions for the athletes to perform.

3 months ago
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wacobandit

LOL. I've had a few girlfriends in Panama and Colombia that worked those same hours but in my case, there was usually a "sancho" lurking in the background. We can only hope that the old dogs are not teaching the pups the old tricks.

3 months ago
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Richard Charron

Waco, I dated a Panamanian School teacher for a while who taught in a private school. I can tell you that part of the curriculum was in fact teaching these children of upper income individuals, who where basically spoiled rotten that there was more to life than just stepping on people to get ahead. I went over some homework with her a few nights and was amazed at the extent of discourse which involved more than just the basic R,R,R. Whether she succeeded or not I do not know but I know for a fact that this teacher worked a minimum of 50 hours during the week and all day Saturday and sometime on Sunday afternoons. Now you know why my dating was short lived. LOL You have to believe in the coming generation because you will never teach these old dogs new tricks.

3 months ago
user
wacobandit

Richard, I rarely disagree with many of your comments but I will this time. Schools are tasked with teaching students " readin', writin', and 'rithmetic ". Learning respect, basic hygiene, good habits, and a good attitude should be taught at home. However, teachers COULD be role models for the extracurricular virtues you mention if the students are paying enough attention. Just saying. Keep up your comments. You're one of the few that make any sense on this forum.

3 months ago
user
George Klk

PANAMA | The Panamanian...I was born early long one... I am Panamanian, arrived in the U.S. at age nine. I have not visited Panama but may soon retire there. I still feel like an outsider of Panama and fear the worst. The Panama canals is a treasury of sorts, an icon. Panama could become more iconic but needs a strategy. The strategy is not the creative ways of corrupt politicians to bamboozle Panamanians. Panama has become a legacy of a Jessi James era. As technologies take hold the question will be how does a few canals really change Panama? Panama is still working on a new constitution! The world appears to know Panama from their little beginnings. Once a fiery inferno of the 1989 U.S. invasion to the mega project of projects with the new canal expansion. What is the mystic of Panama? The Panama Papers? Panama for now appears to be the tropical haven for retirement of a large U.S. citizenship. Strange...with all that retirement nest egg... one would think with all the retired U.S. citizenships... Let's make Panama great. The U.S. is still divided among their political parties.

3 months ago
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José

What a shame of writer. Smart people who read this, make sure you keep something on your mind after all the time you spent reading this article. What you read above IS NOT PANAMA, is some sort of fantasy in the mind of a desperate writer who wants to receive some attention. Dear pilgrim, I'm a truly Panamanian and we are a lot :) We wait for you with open arms.

3 months ago
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Richard Charron

You fooled me as well but I will respond to your comments regardless of your never having visited Panama. The education process involves more than just learning math, language and home economics. It also is an opportunity for the student to learn respect, and to develop attitudes that are conducive to whatever they chose to do in life. These qualities translate to any visitors coming to this country. It is also an opportunity for them to be taught basic hygiene and how to develop habits that do not contribute to the pollution you see everywhere in the country. From these young well trained minds rests the future of the country. IMHO, Panama is at a decision point on whether it wants to continue to be a "Banana Republic" or to move forward and join the association of modern countries. Panama has every economic opportunity spurred by the Canal to advance and it would be a shame for it not to take that opportunity.

3 months ago
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sral

Ms. Borrero stated a fact. The Catholic Church is wealthy enough to absorb ALL the expenses of JMJ. The fact that Varela spent our taxpayer $Balboas to host the gig will follow the man for the rest of his days. We have nothing but good will for the peregrinos. It is the cynical ¨buying his stairway to Heaven¨ that shows Varela´s true colors. As another failed leader might tweet; ¨SAD!¨

3 months ago
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mhogan

My goodness! All this time I was thinking from your comments that you were either Panamanian or a long-time resident. Now, you state you have never "visited Panama". Although a proponent of free speech, your comments -- like so much of the MSM who assesses things without first-hand knowledge -- now lack credibility. You really fooled me, there.

3 months ago
user
George Klk

PANAMA | Education System and the Reality. The best education system in a poor country does not necessarily provide a tourist with a reason to tip a high end restaurant or other establishments. If a tourist feels uncomfortable with his/her surroundings such as the sight of trash in the near vicinity they (tourists) may believe the services could not be all that great. Tourism based on the sight and smell of a city with congestion may not necessarily provide a tourist with a pleasant experience. Tourists see native Indians working to their bare knuckles on small craft items with bare feet and naked children may not help the matter of increased tourism. Tourists tend to think, how can I help these people? But, I only have so much money? Oh dear, they are so poor! The tips than become the generosity of a few pence. The streets themselves at night lacks the Vegas street allure that many tourists become accustom to. I am speaking from my own observations not that I have ever visited Panama to provide an accurate assessment. There is still that desperate attempt to capitalize on the opportunity for whatever its worth.

3 months ago
user
LaVonda Like

This is EXACTLY what we have been saying to each other since they announced this event. Thank you for writing this. Well said and spot on!

3 months ago
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TruthSeeker

Pure and simple: He has disgraced his country and he has disgraced the Catholic religion.

3 months ago
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Richard Charron

I totally disagree with your statement " Panama investment for...farmers, teachers, pharmacy, education, etc... does not provide a great return on investment." In fact the lack of education partially as a result of the poor investment in teachers, and facilities is one of the primary factors in the recent drop in tourism. In your last paragraph you contradict that statement yourself. "Yes, Panama does lack the credibility to provide a service that apparently is not satisfactory to customers and tourists. Perhaps due to lack of training or an outward character flaw due to greed and poor communication skills." With this I can agree.

3 months ago
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George Klk

PANAMA | Tourism Generally it has to be assumed tourists will spend a few hundred in cash or credit / debit cards. There are other cheaper rental places but apparently Panama cracks down on. The hotels vacancies improve during promotional tourism and increases from 40% to 60% and other areas such as sight seeing, and rafting generally bringing in more revenues. My point is determining the out of control government expenses at the cost of Panama tax payers. An excerpt from a recent News Room - Panama article mentioned... With President Varela’s attention focused on receiving Pope Francis on Thursday, the pensioners have so far got little response to their demands, but critics of the government expenditure of over $61 million on WYD, are raising their voices. There is no way president Varela can recover that expense from tourism that is mentioned to be justified. When I mentioned... One (1) million tourists: One (1) tourist spending $500 each means $500,000,000 for the government. The government collects on taxes assuming 7% - 8%, that would only amount to $40 million, not nearly enough to cover the $67 million that is claimed to recover easily. It could be president Varela is trying his best and desperately attempting to revive Panama economically and heavily dependent on China at some point in the future. Aware of the fact that China is burgeoning Panama with mega billion dollar projects. The future election of another corrupt Panama political president is going to be the combined party conformity of a probable new corruption system. Definitely, more corrupt hidden money transactions. Factors are not limited to Panama weak tourism industry.

3 months ago
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Chele

Mr. Kik, What world are you living in here in Panama? Tourism is a complete 100% failure.....and has been for the last 3 years.....why? Too expensive and the worst customer service on the planet!!! In 2018 6000 hotels jobs were lost to the failure of tourism......you should read a bit before making these absurd comments

3 months ago
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jm hens

Right-On! I love the church but this is ridiculous. I can think of many more important things that money could have been used for. The disruption in services, traffic, and general pandemonium this event is causing is disgraceful.

3 months ago
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George Klk

PANAMA | WYD BENEFITS AND BUDGETS Panama expenditures are not always transparent. Expenditures by any government is normally discretionary among the elites. Expenditures for Panama can become a routine welfare panacea. Expenditures are usually justified in large projects for modernization. Modernization brings tourists and income. Panama than see opportunities to increase income from tourists. Opportunities means an increase in investments toward a tourism industry. Tourism industry creates jobs. Panama investment for... farmers, teachers, pharmacy, education, etc... does not provide a great return on investment. Panama may be better able to sustain their personal needs with private tutors and their own private insurance package deals, etc. Panama government will always prioritize their stores of money for profitable tourism growth at any expense. Analysis and Calculations: One (1) tourists spending $500 each means $500,000,000 for the government. Panama needs to discuss this with the Executive and National Assembly. Whatever you do, do not accuse President Varela of corruption = $300 fine. Whatever you do, do not intimidate National Assembly, you may be punished. N.A. president Yanibel Abrego want 90 security cameras. Yanibel Abrego will assuredly want 1000 more security cameras...profitable. Question is... Who has control of this money? Panama Executive leader? Panama National Assembly? Panama State Treasury (coffers)? N.A. want $500 K or more for 90 security cameras, $5,555 per camera each! Why so much greed? National Assembly president, legislatures (71 each), deputies (each), businesses, contractors, corruption network of organized crimes / money laundering, etc... $300,000 minimum to be declared tax evasion with new law? $295, 000 not a tax evasion with new law, more manageable. 100 organized network of profits = $295,000,000 is possible. Panamanians pays for it. ALL want their share! Conclusion: Panamanians are actually in the business and expected to pay for ALL expenses! Panama let us do the homework or someone else will.

3 months ago
The comments are the responsibility of each author who freely expresses his opinion and not that of Newsroom Panama.
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