Panama Booming, Centroamerica Collapsing. Is Something Cultural Going On Here?March 19th, 2013 by Dean Foster | Discuss This »
If you were living in any of the seven centroamerican countries these days, and had the economic option of living in any of these countries in the absence of any individual factors which would make the choice of one more advantageous than the other (like, you are coincidentally, a member of the ruling elite of your present country!), most people in centroamerica would choose Panama. Maybe Costa Rica, although Costa Rica has been on a disconcerting slide of late from its previously secure slot as the go-to democracy of the region. Now this is not based on any official survey, just a cultural gut reaction from recent informal chats I’ve been having with my centroamerican colleagues.
Here’s what’s been happening: Panama’s been booming economically, Costa Rica has not, and the rest of the countries in the region have been reeling, both economically and politically, under the influence of a shifting drug trade, which has made centroamerica the entrepot for Andean cocaine to the vast North American marketplace, as opposed to former Colombia. As Colombia has cleaned up its act, drug trafficking has moved in Darwinian free-trade fashion, to the next most opportune location, the wobbly and vulnerable nation-states of centroamerica. This has predictably exacerbated the staggering problems that these countries have been dealing with since their inception: monumental income and class disparity based on land-ownership patterns, reinforced by ruling elites that represent the radical extremes of either right or left, influenced, in turn, economically, politically, and in some cases, militarily, by greater world powers (mainly the US). Panama, with its newly expanded canal (parts of which are still be opened in the near future), is now benefitting from the enormous rise of Chinese economic clout, becoming the locus for the shipment of Chinese and Asian manufactured goods to the Americas and Europe, and in the reverse direction, for oil from the Middle East, Russia and the Americas (mainly Venezuela) going to China. Hence, Panama booms as China booms. At the same time, Colombia has ousted the drug traffickers as it has beefed up its nationstate apparatus, while the North American marketplace for Andean drugs remains as vital as ever. Given Panama’s recent history having ousted a dictator who was once cozy with drug traffickers, Andean druglords, with oodles of influence and cash, have avoided a less receptive and less needy Panama and easily relocated their operations to centroamerica (absent Panama), where it is far easier to buy off police, military and entire governments to look the other way as they ensconce themselves into the daily life of already impoverished peoples.
Is any of this cultural? Is there any cultural DNA at work that is fundamental to all of this, that underlies the political and economic realities of the region? This blog always tries to look for the cultural DNA that creates the economic and political realities that define the current situation. Cultural DNA, being fundamental to any culture, is created from the beginning of the history of a nation or a region, and in centroamerica, we discover the cultural genes of the indigenous cultures (Mayan mainly, from the northern states of current Guatemala, Belize, El Salvador, and the lack thereof of similarly powerful centralized and hierarchical indigenous civilizations in the central and southern states of current Honduras, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica), the conquest of Spain (and the institutionalization of a different, even more oppressive hierarchy, defined by unequal distribution of wealth and political access), and the challenge of US political, economic and military interests being repeatedly enforced at the expense of local sovereignty in every country repeatedly throughout the region. In the absence of any counterweight to these cultural genetics, such as the independent rise of exceptional local political stability (ie, the democratic institutions of Costa Rica, itself a result of some unique Costa Rican cultural genes), or economic independence (read, the Panama situation), these historic cultural genes have made centroamerica receptive to the druglords of the Andes. What the region, and the world so responsible in many ways for the current situation, does in the face of the current situation, is of course, the stuff of headlines yet to be seen.
Victor (em Lisboa), March 21st, 2013 on 6:32 am
I’m sorry but I don’t agree with this interpretation based on genetic raisons. It ins’t a diversuty antropologic or sociologic interpretaition.
Is it cultural (your interpretation) ?