Having just returned from Panama City, I have some thoughts that I would like to share. Since I would like to keep the primary post about my trip positive and upbeat, I decided to write this part as a stand-alone piece, so as to not corrupt the trip narration portion.
I have to admit that I hate going to Panama City. This trip, I drove and just parked the car in a secure area with a guard. Traffic has definitely increased in Panama City, since I moved to Panama. There is no way I want to drive in Panama City traffic. Unless you do it on a daily basis, you are taking your life in your own hands. Even if you do drive on a daily basis you are taking your life in your own hands.
I was talking to a Panama City resident and I was saying that you need to drive in Panama City everyday to feel reasonably secure. Wherever you are going, you need to know multiple ways to get to the destination. You never know when there will be a protest or accident or some other reason that will prevent you from taking a primary route to where you want to go.
To complicate things more, some streets have three hours in the morning where the street is one-way in one direction. Then in the evening, there is a three hour period when the street is one-way in the other direction. The rest of the time the street is two way. There is no indication on the streets and only a local would know this. There is no organized transition from one direction to the other. People just look at their watch and based on the time, they go one way or the other. What happens if your watch is a few minutes fast or slow? You will likely be going against traffic.
I talked to a local that had an accident just because of that. He was at a corner of one of those streets and looked to the left and saw cars coming. It was right around the time of direction change. Since he saw cars going one way, he turned the other direction and hit a car coming from that direction. It is just that easy.
Riding in a cab is my preferred option. However, this has become more dangerous as well. The crime rate, has increased during the current administration by an enormous amount. Many crimes occur in cabs. Now I am not saying that all cab drivers are involved, but some are. Many Panamanians will not take a cab, if they are not with a driver they know. That is a warning to tourists and foreigners.
Many people are being robbed after leaving the airport and are going into the city. Many of these passengers have declared bringing money into the country. Now how do the thieves know to pull over a certain car that has money unless someone that read the declaration called the robbers?
Most people drive in Panama with their windows up and the doors locked. I try to never take a taxi that is driving with the windows rolled down. I always have my camera and if you pull up to an intersection, it is easy for someone to run by the car, reach in and grab a camera or purse. The taxi driver never has anything of value in the car so he has no vested interest in your safety.
I was told by one of my hosts that in November, the El Rey on Calle 50 has 35 cars stolen from the parking lot in a 2 hour period. They got into the cars by preventing the cars from being locked. As the owner was walking away from the car, and before he has pressed the lock button on his key to lock the car and arm the alarm, the thief would be walking on the other side of the car and gently open the door on the right side. Then when the owner did press the button and thought he secured the car, the locking mechanism would not activate because a door was ajar. Most shoppers are in an El Rey for at least 20 to 30 minutes or more and that is plenty of time to take the car.
To make it even worse, this El Rey is less than 50 yards from the police station. The person that told me said he had been told of these robberies by both a policeman and an insurance agent who had had claims filed.
Yes, there is no question in my mind that crime in Panama and specifically Panama City is out of control. It is much worse than under the previous administration. Most new presidents come into office with far less money than they leave office with. If they spent more time working for the people that elected them, instead of lining their pockets, Panama would be a better place. That can be said for the US elected officials as well.
The next president had better take action on reducing crime. Laws for prosecuting crime have become lax during this administration and people are on the street that should be behind bars. If the next president doesn’t change this, many of the skyscrapers that are in the process of being built will wind up being empty. These buildings will become prisons for the owners of the apartments. People will be more afraid to walk the streets and even get into cabs. The valuation of these investments will fall.
Unfortunately, crime is moving to other parts of Panama as well. Just look at the recent home invasion in Boqueron.
I feel certain that there is more of this going on than people know about. To have it published would have a negative effect on property values. I am more concerned in peoples lives than property values. If people can move here and live comfortably and safely, then property values will increase and everyone’s lives will be better. That will include Panamanians as well as foreigners.
I was at two different residences while I was in Panama City. One was on a third floor and one was on the second floor. Both have added extra security measures during the last year. Both had added iron gates that could be locked outside of the main door and one was in the process of adding an alarm system. Both of these residences were in the better part of San Fransisco.
While I can’t vote and express my opinion about the elections that will occur in Panama, I can hope that the Panamanians that can, realize that they need to hold their elected officials accountable for making Panama a safe place to live in and to visit. My wish for 2009 is for action against the growing crime rate to be a top priority.