20 de Feb de 2020

Nacional

A crime scene too close for comfort

Time was, not too long ago, when many of my after dinner discussion group, scoffed at talk of the dangerous streets of Panama. Some side...

Time was, not too long ago, when many of my after dinner discussion group, scoffed at talk of the dangerous streets of Panama. Some sided with a renowned tourism politician, blamed the “crime wave” for the escalating crisis, But those skeptics are fast changing their tune. When tragedy strikes close to home, the message sinks in a lot more quickly.

I still remember clearly, my feelings when one of my staff on a daily newspaper in Ndola, Zambia, lost a child to small pox. It was the world’s last outbreak, although we didn’t know it at the time. I edited the daily reports, of the number of cases; the vaccinations taking place in public squares; the efforts of the medical authorities to stop the spread of the killer disease.

Although the office was in the heart of the town, the outbreak was still just another news story and a mass of statistics until one morning, a messenger sat quietly crying in a corner of the news room. When I asked him what was wrong, he whispered “My boy died bwana.” It was no longer a news story. John, the messenger had brought the smiling round eyed two year old to the office only a couple of weeks earlier, to show him where dad worked, and how those big noisy presses, printed newspapers on what looked like giant toilet rolls. From an event seen through the wrong end of a telescope, the outbreak and its effects had become a personal matter.

Much the same has been happening in Panama in the last few months. First a cameraman working for our sister paper El Siglo, was murdered while on assignment. Then, in a matter of weeks, two staff members of La Estrella were attacked. One, ironically a crime reporter, was mugged while waiting for a taxi near the main gate. The other, was attacked inside her car.

Earlier this week we carried a story of the robbery of two elderly ladies acquainted with columnist Phil Edmonston. Yesterday, I received an e-mail from another columnist, Eric Jackson , saying that early that morning, in San Carlos someone had poisoned his mother’s dog. Eric, visibly upset at the discovery, talked with the police and got some startling news. “ The pattern is that dogs are killed and a day or a few days later there is a home invasion robbery. The police told us that the poison used matches the MO of a bunch of these invasions in the San Carlos - Chame area.”

Soon after, a friend who had been house hunting, told me that, much as he would like to give his children their own garden to play in, he had given up the idea. He was worried about home invasions.

The owner of a favorite restaurant suffered a home invasion and robbery. Another friend has hired a man to guard his weekend home in Coronado. Another has been robbed in San Francisco. Our lead story is about the growing epidemic of car jackings, and on the listing of areas with the highest frequency, my home location is near the top of the list. The crime scene is becoming more than just another news story.

TRANSPORTATION. Another form of crime, inflicted on the population at large is the air pollution from buses and trucks. The black clouds of diesel smoke get into the lungs and leave carcinogenic particles, soil clothes, and buildings, and damage the environment. Under serviced cars, diesel and gasoline, add to smog, and seriously affect those with asthma and bronchitis. A clean air task force could be paid for by the fines collected. But which of our presidential or mayoral candidates is preparing to take action?

CHARITY. On Sunday I passed three broken down buses. Yesterday I saw another three broken down wrecks, and my wife was off loaded from a fourth with a shredded tire. A group of transport users recently complained about the $25,000 pay out to bus owners. They claim it should be no more than $5,000. Based on scrap value or charity?