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Panamanians and November

It would seem that 103 years ago a group of socially-conscious Panamanians decided to rise up around the end of October and make November the month where most (if not all) of our most important battles for freedom took place… more than a hundred years later we, the people, enjoy these dates as excuses to go to the beach and get drunk on so many levels there should be a hospital wing where people can detox, frequent puker program included. The only real exception to the November rule would have to be August 15th, which is marked as being the day when the old city was founded in 1519 by one Pedro Arias de Ávila. It was the most important city in the continent due to its blooming business prospects and other wonderful things going for it until 150 or so years later when the place was raided and left in ruins by pirates… this, in many ways, would mark the fate of Panama as a whole: a place with a ton of potential, always blooming, until some savvy bastard comes in at just the right time and sweeps all of the riches away for himself. If that’s not “Juega Vivo” for you then I don’t know what is. Anyway, it’s history time; I’ve taken the opportunity to catch up on my high school history books (and by “high school history books” I really mean “the Internet”) to talk to you about why exactly we’ve gotten so many holidays and not just that, but why we should be thankful that out of the economical wasteland that many people see Latin America as, we’re the most well-off. Think about that for a minute. We’re the most well-off. Here you go:

November 3rdPanama separates from Colombia in 1903 to become a sovereign country: Ohh, yes… freedom, at last! After being Spain’s bitch for hundreds of years we separate from them under the condition that we become a colony for Colombia. I suppose that would make us Colombia’s Puerto Rico, if you will; thing is that we, of course, eventually grew tired of the arepas, the bachata and that fucking accent so in 1903 we decide that it’s a good idea to break free of our neighboring country and haul ass so we can finally become our own sovereign state. The United States helped us achieve this goal and in many ways we’re still their bitches, but we’re not. “Officially,” anyway. This is of no consequence; the U.S assisted us in the separation effort, one that was long and daunting as many patriotic Panamanians died in the struggle yet with a lot of blood, sweat and tears we finally got rid of the shackles and became a recognized country. Hooray!

Today our independence is a little bittersweet if you think about it long enough: we’re living in a globalized world now where even if we do get to keep a strong sense of identity, in order to survive we need to play nice and fair with the rest of the world. It’s a free market I suppose, and even though Panamanian businessmen sure as hell know this it’s the workforce, the gears of the machine, that don’t really understand. I see it on the news all the time, how the worker unions one minute disagree with whatever the “corrupt government” can come up with but the second they’re thrown a piece of the pie then they’re the government’s BFF (best friends forever) which makes them just as rotten as their so-called “enemies.” It would seem that the only sane move we’ve made politically in the past 100 years was to push the Torrijos-Carter treaty which was the one that gave us the Canal and kicked U.S troops out of here making us, at fucking last, an honest-to-God independent country. But hey, if there’s something you learn quickly when you stay in Panama long enough is that you can kick people out left and right but what you can’t get rid off, no matter how hard you try, is the influence.

The best hookers are colombian, the best leather is colombian, I’ve had some great Colombian food in the thousands of Colombian restaurants littered all across the city. Half of the business people I run into for commerce are Colombian, we listen to bachata music (again, Colombian) as much as we do our our típico music, people talk Colombian just like white guys like to talk Blackanese and the list goes on and on. Most Internet café/International call businesses came from the need of foreigners wanting to communicate to their friends and folks back home, and a lot of them come from Colombia. I remember I read this poll a few months ago that said that, contrary to popular belief, Colombians aren’t the largest foreigner group in Panama even though you see their influence the most; there’s also Chinese, Arabs, and Americans to consider, among others. And don’t you even get me started on our American influences: look out the window and you’ll see how every billboard is bilingual and well, fuck, me writing this in English and you being able to understand it should put this discussion to a screeching halt. We’re a melting pot of different cultures but somehow we can’t seem to find our own identity… or rather we supress it to make way for other influences that we think are better than our own. That’s neither here nor there though… the point of this here rant is that we’ve never really gotten rid of the people who used to rule over us; we’ve only done so on paper, but for some reason we’d still rather be more like them and less like us. Don’t get me wrong: having influences is always good… that’s how we learn and become who we truly are. Maybe the case here is that we’re just too young to know any better. I said this not that long ago, how we’re in our teens and it’s not just from a political standpoint but from every single point of view I can think of! I think that a large group of the population is aware of this though and is pushing to mature rapidly… that’s always great. I’m very glad someone’s become aware of the issues at hand here but it’s a case of just wanting it to be over… nobody like to go through the messy parts and instead just magically fall asleep in order to wake up when the whole thing is over and everything is peachy again. So yeah… happy birthday, Panama!

November 4thFlag Day: While people were fighting and dying on the streets of Panama City, one particular lady was shacked up at home knitting what would eventually become the Panamanian flag. Just one day after we officially became a sovereign country a nice old miss that went by the name of Maria Ossa de Amador who knit up the design drawn up by Manuel Amador Guerrero’s son. Manuel Amador Guerrero would become the first president of Panama, mind you… so you can imagine how nobody dares taint the man’s name even to this day.

You’ve probably seen our flag and have noticed that it shares some similarities to the American flag, mostly by the colors (red, white and blue) but fucking mierda if the first proposal wasn’t just insulting, but also downright disgusting. I like the flag the way it fucking is now, thankyouverymuch.

November 10thLos Santos gets off its ass and kicks off Panama’s independence from Spain: It took a while, but tension between the nations grew larger until one fine day someone said “I’m tired of these motherfuckin’ snakes on this motherfuckin’ villa” and jump-started a revolution in the famous “Villa de Los Santos” that would result a few weeks later in Panama’s separation from Spain, circa 1821. Fom the crazy history I’m beginning to notice we have I’ve come to realize that modernism has turned us into bona fide pussies. We used to be so brave and maverick; now we get constantly shivved by the very establishment we helped… umm, establish. People wear Ché Guevara shirts because its trendy. They also go with the flow on whatever political opinion they’re supposed to have… whatever’s trendy, they support it. There’s been an outbreak, and they’ve all become zombies. The bad kind. Look, I guess it’s fine that we’ve never really been independent no matter how many countries we have to separate from (you say 103 years, and I say 6. God, I’d love to say 103 too! I sure as hell would but then I’d feel highly hypocritical) but really, have we really done any better for ourselves looking at things from a sociological perspective? Not only did it take us 97 years to wake up, but how do you make up for all of that lost time? If I look at it that way though, it’s safe to say that our progress is on crack since it’s going so fast that the Panama from 6 years ago would never believe that it has become what it is today. Luckily, we learn quickly. The events that went down at la Villa de Los Santos would pave the way for…

November 28thPanama’s independence from Spain: In 1821, a little past the 2-week mark of “independencing” the whole country proclaims being independent from Spain! Cool shit, huh? Oh God, you are so wrong:

Panama City immediately initiated plans to declare independence, but the city of Los Santos preempted the move by proclaiming freedom from Spain on November 10, 1821. This act precipitated a meeting in Panama City on November 28, which is celebrated as the official date of independence. Considerable discussion followed as to whether Panama should remain part of Colombia (then comprising both the present-day country and Venezuela) or unite with Peru. The bishop of Panama, a native Peruvian who realized the commercial ties that could be developed with his country, argued for the latter solution but was voted down. A third possible course of action, a union with Mexico proposed by emissaries of that country, was rejected.

Panama thus became part of Colombia, then governed under the 1821 Constitution of Cúcuta, and was designated a department with two provinces, Panamá and Veraguas. With the addition of Ecuador to the liberated area, the whole country became known as Gran Colombia. Panama sent a force of 700 men to join Bolívar in Peru, where the war of liberation continued.

The termination of hostilities against the royalists in 1824 failed to bring tranquility to Gran Colombia. The constitution that Bolívar had drafted for Bolivia was put forward by him to be adopted in Gran Colombia. The country was divided principally over the proposal that a president would serve for life. The president would not be responsible to the legislature and would have power to select his vice president. Other provisions, generally centralist in their tendencies, were repugnant to some, while a few desired a monarchy. Panama escaped armed violence over the constitutional question but joined other regions in petitioning Bolívar to assume dictatorial powers until a convention could meet. Panama announced its union with Gran Colombia as a “Hanseatic State,” i.e., as an autonomous area with special trading privileges until the convention was held.

So we basically jumped from one struggle that was worth fighting for only to be dumped into an even bigger struggle, one which we didn’t have anything to do with in the first place. Grrr-eat. I’m starting to think we’re idiots.

Come to think of it though, we didn’t really have a choice: if we wanted to be free, in both instances (Spain and Colombia) we were going to need assistance since in both cases we were up against far more powerful nations that were milking us for long periods of time. We’re still not prepared to fight for our independence no matter how hard we try and that’s not because we don’t have an army and our cops are ridiculous and embarrassing for the most part; the new war here is waged with commerce, money being our weapons. In theory, we’re one of the big boys! We’re a trading hub unlike any the world has ever seen and of course there’s enough money floating around here to get every single person in Panamanian soil out of poverty but something money does that guns can’t is subtlety. Money corrupts in a subtle way. Money is the One Ring, and we’re all a bunch of little Gollums running after it, some even possessing it and downright rotting by its obsession with it. Sometimes I wish we had kept using trading as our basis for commerce; that way I can trade coconuts for everything and the saying “money doesn’t grown on trees” would be rendered obsolete on the spot.

As long as money exists there will always be corrupt fuckers trying to get it as fast and easy as they possibly can. We’re human, after all: I’m not an idiot… I know that if I found a suitcase full of money I’d probably make it disappear with what the Internet has taught me. I’d give back to my community though if you’re willing to believe it, but does becoming Robin Hood make my corruption any better? If you for a second so much as thought of “yes” then you’re just as bad as I am. Welcome to the club… we have jackets!

I’ve talked about how we Panamanians love us some holidays every chance we can, and that’s why November is longed for almost as much as Carnivals since there are simply so many holidays to toss around and that, coupled with the law that makes us celebrate every holiday that lands on a Sunday to the following Monday, we have us some party time all across the month. Foreign businesses set up in the country don’t do what Panamanian businesses do, which is to simply give their employees the week off since productivity always lowers in situations where you’re coming in on 2 out of 5 days in a week since there’s so many frickin’ holidays to consider… and we’re specially pissed off about us not having the choice to take the days off or not since, as I said earlier, we love holidays and would rather party and be broke than work and be miserable while others have fun without you.

That, esteemed reader, is November: another chance for us to get drunk and chill out. Let it be noted that there are awesome parades not just in the capital but all across the bigger towns of the interior that if you’ve never had the chance to check out, you definitely should. During these days (particularly the 3rd and 4th) transportation by car is pointless since the main arteries are blocked off in order to make way for the parade… Via España and Calle 50 (sometimes even Avenida Balboa) are blocked off, and it naturally cause a whole lotta chaos as far as traffic is concerned. The spectacle is well worth it, nonetheless: all of the country’s schools, the police, the fire department, representatives from the interior and many, many more make their presence known and march for everyone to see in downright awesome marches with fantastic musical pieces. It truly is a sight to behold… internal commerce also booms because of the festivities since people need to be fed and they get thirsty… also, with patriotism all over the place you’d better believe a lot of Panamanian flags will be sold. Tourists seem to like the festivities very much, which is another sign of how we take our stuff for granted… I’m not one to talk, either, since I took the days off and eloped to the Promised Land yet again and had a chillaxed blast. My excuse is the same one every other Panamanian would give you if you asked them why oh why, if the parades are so beautiful, are you sipping that beer while playing dominoes in an inflatable pool on the porch of your home? Simple: Been there, done that. Sad but true. Sometimes I wish I was a tourist… sometimes I wish this all seemed new to me again. I don’t think I’ve traveled enough to say that I know what it feels like to have that sense of discovery you mostly felt when you were a kid, but I sure as hell would love to. Enjoy the holidays; next one’s this Friday.

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