Panama

Mus­ings are thoughts, the thought­ful kind. For the pur­pose of th­ese ar­ti­cles, a-mus­ings are thoughts that might amuse, en­ter­tain and even en­lighten.

The Star (St. Lucia) - - LOCAL - By Michael Walker

The Cen­tral Amer­i­can coun­try of Panama has a long and less honourable history. Events of this week have done noth­ing to change that fact. The Span­ish ex­plored and set­tled the coun­try in the 16th cen­tury; by set­tled I mean they solved the prob­lem of the in­dige­nous pop­u­la­tion in the way colo­nial­ists al­most al­ways did - they ei­ther re­placed them or erad­i­cated them. Around 200 years later, in 1821, Panama broke with Spain and joined a union of Colom­bia, Ecuador and Venezuela, named the Repub­lic of Gran Colom­bia that lasted un­til 1830, af­ter which Panama re­mained part of Colom­bia.

With US back­ing, Panama se­ceded from Colom­bia in 1903 and promptly signed a treaty with the US al­low­ing for the con­struc­tion of a canal and US sovereignty over a strip of land on ei­ther side of the struc­ture called the Panama Canal Zone. The Panama Canal was built by the US Army Corps of En­gi­neers be­tween 1904 and 1914.

More than 75% of Panama's GDP in its dol­lar-based econ­omy com­prises a ser­vices sec­tor that in­cludes op­er­at­ing the Panama Canal, lo­gis­tics, bank­ing, the Colon Free Trade Zone, in­surance, con­tainer ports, flag­ship reg­istry, tourism and off­shore bank­ing. How­ever, pub­lic debt has sur­passed $37 bil­lion be­cause of ex­ces­sive gov­ern­ment spend­ing. About a quar­ter of the pop­u­la­tion lives in poverty. Panama has the sec­ond worst in­come dis­tri­bu­tion in Latin Amer­ica.

In 1977 an agree­ment was signed for the com­plete trans­fer of the Canal from the US to Panama by the end of the cen­tury. With help from the USA, Pana­ma­nian Dic­ta­tor Manuel Nor­iega, who died re­cently, was de­posed in 1989. The en­tire Panama Canal, the area sup­port­ing the Canal, and re­main­ing US mil­i­tary bases were trans­ferred to Panama by the end of 1999. An am­bi­tious ex­pan­sion project to more than dou­ble the Canal's ca­pac­ity was car­ried out be­tween 2007 and 2016 at a cost of $5.3 bil­lion. The USA and China are the top users of the Canal.

Just a few days ago, China added one more breach to the long-es­tab­lished pol­icy of de­sist­ing from dol­lar diplo­macy over Tai­wan's diplo­matic rel­a­tives by buy­ing the fealty of this im­pov­er­ished na­tion for some­where around 9 bil­lion dol­lars and a few soft loans, prov­ing once again that the Age of Eco­nomic Colo­nial­ism is not yet past. Like many other Caribbean na­tions Panama has put a price on its in­de­pen­dence and has cho­sen vas­salage, which must be of con­cern to its for­mer pa­tron state, Amer­ica.

Af­ter tak­ing Panama and its Canal un­der its wing, it takes no more than a glance at the map of the Caribbean to see that China is fast gain­ing con­trol of this whole re­gion, so strate­gi­cally im­por­tant to World Com­merce and so vi­tal to Global Po­lit­i­cal Dom­i­nance. To the east of the Caribbean Sea lies a more or less con­tigu­ous chain of Small Is­land De­vel­op­ing States that has his­tor­i­cally formed a pro­tec­tive bar­rier against in­vaders.

To­day China is get­ting very close to total dom­i­nance among th­ese mini-SIDS, which should be a cause for con­cern in Trump's Amer­ica, and it is only a mat­ter of time be­fore we see Chi­nese war­ships call­ing at their ports, es­tab­lish­ing Chi­nese bases along their coast­lines, and pa­trolling the wa­ters of the Caribbean. Soon per­haps, only the French Is­lands of Mar­tinique and Guade­loupe, Puerto Rico and the Amer­i­can Vir­gin Is­lands, the BVI and per­haps the Dutch An­tilles will be able to re­sist the bribes that China dan­gles be­neath the noses of their lead­ers.

Cen­turies ago, tribal chief­tains sold their peo­ple into slav­ery to be trans­ported across the great ocean in the west and be­come the prop­erty of peo­ple who like­wise came from far away. I per­son­ally have no doubt that a por­tion of the bil­lions China has paid for diplo­matic ties with Panama and es­sen­tial con­trol of world trade through its Canal has ended up in the pock­ets of Pana­ma­nian politi­cians and chief­tains.

China has in­creas­ingly ex­panded its sphere of in­flu­ence in the seas around its coast­line, even go­ing so far as to cre­ate ar­ti­fi­cial is­lands while Amer­ica and its Pres­i­dent stand im­po­tently by. How long will it be be­fore the reefs and shal­low wa­ters of the Caribbean are con­verted into Chi­nese ter­ri­to­ries and our tourism fa­cil­i­ties and in­dus­trial com­plexes are swarm­ing with tiny Chi­nese work­ers whose work ethics and en­ergy far sur­pass those of our indi­gent, fairly in­do­lent, com­fort­able, some­what lazy, less skilled work­force?

And I have not even men­tioned our true and trusted al­lies, the Tai­wanese, who de­serve our loy­alty and con­tin­ued friend­ship for all that they have done for us through the years.

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