When it’s time to “walk the talk”
A society without a middle class and fair wages is like a car without a suspension. You get a harsh ride, erratic steering, and no contr...
A society without a middle class and fair wages is like a car without a suspension. You get a harsh ride, erratic steering, and no control. Panama’s socio-economic problems are emblematic of the country’s upper classes refusal to share their money with the poor. Wealthy people like their comfy economic perches. They know a middle class that rises up from the primeval goo of poverty will force them to share their riches.
How hard is it being poor in Panama? Let’s take some everyday examples from the ads: “ Wanted, full-time nanny, maid: $250 a month; Wanted, police officers: $380 a month; Wanted, full-time fumigator: $450 a month, plus bonus.
TWO-LEGGED ‘RATS’. There is something seriously wrong here. Employers will pay a rat-killer more than they’ll pay a cop, who can be killed at any time by a gang of two-legged ‘rats’. And, we, the silly, hypocritical beings that we are, bemoan how much corruption there is in our police force. I salute President-elect Ricardo Martinelli for his promise to raise police salaries $100 a month. That’s a good start. Health workers and teachers should be next.
Private security guards are “dead men, walking”. They are paid $1.58 an hour for a ten-hour day and patrol their area on foot, often unarmed. Crime stats show they are being slaughtered by pre-pubescent kids hired by adults to ‘rob and run’. Don’t forget our hard-working nannies, maids, and gardeners. Many Panamanian and ex-pat families chortle at the low, ‘under the table’ $12 to $15 daily rate they pay. No wonder the kids of these workers, join gangs, get pregnant while barely in their teens, and steal and kill. Ironically, their moms and dads (if the family hasn’t been abandoned), are out caring for other persons kids, cleaning other houses, prettying up other neighborhoods, and doing handyman work trying to earn the $250+ monthly needed just to eat. There are no role models for the kids of these workers; parents have no time to attend school meetings, or money to educate their children; and neighborhoods deteriorate as fear and crime increases, and positive peer-pressure vanishes. The value of higher education? Ask the many cab drivers who are college graduates.
CREATING KILLERS. Thieves and killers are nurtured in the poverty we have created. What I find most shameful about North American and Canadian residents’ attitudes regarding paying a fair price for goods made and services performed by Panamanians is that they would never dream of exploiting workers in their own countries in the same manner. They know they would be seriously fined and lose the respect of their community. So why do many foreign residents lose their social conscience and become so Scrooge-like when they arrive at Tocumen? It’s the same reason they don’t learn Spanish and flock to their own little ex-pat social clubs ‘pandillas’ (gangs). They don’t want to integrate into Panama. Go to any ex-pat function and listen for Spanish. You won’t hear it. They are ‘takers’ who build their little enclave communities high in the mountains growing beautiful flowers and $130-a pound coffee, surrounded by people just like them. Others are in near-poverty, living in Panama City because they believed the hype that one can live well in Panama on $7,000 a year— and now in a recession, they can’t leave.
TAKING ACTION. If you truly want to fight crime and give your fellow countrymen help and hope, start within yourself. Pay for services what you believe they are worth, not what you can get away with. Also, audit your church and social group to see if they are exploiting their own employees with sub-par, under-the-table wages without benefits.
In effect, start “walking the talk”. You will keep your good friends. The others? Let them fly back home.
That’s how I see it.
Next Week: Four promises Martinelli MUST keep.