A tale of some white elephants
When Dr Belisario Porras decided to build the San Tomas hospital on Avenida Balboa, there were enough nay-sayers to fill the National Th...
When Dr Belisario Porras decided to build the San Tomas hospital on Avenida Balboa, there were enough nay-sayers to fill the National Theater to overflowing. But the president, who finished his time in office in 1924, the year of its official inauguration, persevered with his truly visionary project.
Since then, the structure which they called “The Elephant” because it was too big, and too grandiose has seen several extensions, and today struggles by with cramped facilities and inadequate funding, performing sterling services to the community that can’t afford the luxury of the private hospitals. For decades it has also served as a medical training school for the University of Panama.
ANOTHER WHITE ELEPHANT. Adjacent to the original Elephant stands the former American Embassy, which now operates from it’s walled fortress in Clayton, where the service is reported to be excellent, but not the traffic leading to it. Most of the approach roads resemble parking lots for most of the day, so while columnist Phil Edmonston waited in line at the Embassy for only ten minutes, he surely spent more time than that parked at any one of the traffic signals en route.
The old building appears largely empty, and when the move to Clayton took place it was understood that the building was for sale.
That was until the Panamanian government pointed out that the land on which the embassy stood was leased in 1938, with an agreement that would not allow its use as a commercial entity.
There the case appears to be resting. What an opportunity for the American government to pass on to Panama a building that could serve either its fellow white elephant, or perhaps be converted into offices for NGO’s or cultural groups.
MOVING TIMES. Further along Balboa stands the elegant residence of the very British Ambassador, Richard Austen. Elegant, but the old lady, hidden from prying eyes behind high fences, is sadly in need of a face lift and some serious internal surgery. That could likely run up into big figures, and it seems more logical, and less expensive, for Her Majesty’s Government to find or build, alternative accommodation.
The Canadian Embassy is also planning to move, from its location in the World Trade Center, to more spacious quarters in Punta Pacifica (another traffic bottleneck). The mission’s role has grown in recent years, and the embassy now has a trade commissioner and an office that helps process visas. Hopefully, some day soon, with a Canada-Panama Free Trade Agreement in the offing, the office will become a fully fledged passport and visa office.
OPTIMISM. When are industry spokesmen whistling in the dark and when are they facing reality? Checking through recent files on the economic future of Panama, I find vastly different approaches. One spokesperson for the construction industry, maintains all is well, another says apartment and office building is grinding to a halt. Javier Diaz of the < Automobile Distributor's Association was “optimistic”. on February 10.Later came the news that January sales fell 38 percent.