Health Care Worker’s Strike ends in Panama


By: Alex Dmuchovsky

After a month-long strike, the health care system in Panama is finally back in full operation. Starting on September 27th, a group of Panamanian doctors launched an ‘indefinite strike’ following the country’s National Assembly approval of a bill that sanctioned the recruitment of foreign medical professionals, dubbed “Law 611.”

The medical profession argues that Law 611 seeks to privatize health care, however Health Minister Javier Díaz has stated that the bill only intended to extend health services to hard-to-reach areas without their having to depend upon private clinics. La Estrella de Panamá quotes Díaz as having said, “When a person can’t get a medical specialist, what he has to do is go to a private clinic or move to the capital. It’s incredible to me that what COMENENAL wants is to keep this bill from passing so that people will have to keep on going to the interior of the Republic or go to private clinics.”

The group of medical professionals responsible for the strike, the Panamanian Commission of Medical Negotiations (Comisión Médica Negociadora Nacional, or COMENENAL), firmly believe that doctors & nurses, technicians, and health professionals are being left completely unprotected under the terms of the bill. According to them, the “employment stability” of everyone in the field of medicine and health will be drastically affected, and not for the better.

The medical profession has become increasingly unpopular with the citizenry, due to both the oftentimes outrageous demands that are made by groups such as COMENENAL, as well the frequency with which they conduct such strikes. There has been some debate that doctors work both sides of the industry, seeing patients in both public and private clinics. Additionally, citizens are concerned that the health sector so willingly strikes for their own gain, while estranging thousands of patients who desperately need the care. As Soraya Castellano puts it: “Health worker strike due to passing of a bill permitting the hiring of foreign doctors. Deficit of over 6,000 health professionals.”

Patients can now rest easy however, at least for the moment, as health professionals and government officials worked out an agreement this November. According to The Panama News, health care workers won all but a few demands. Still unfinished are negotiations concerning the jobs of union activists fired prior to the strike for “disrespecting management.”

Although current negotiations are, for all intents and purposes, complete — it is apparent that Panama is in the midst of a crisis between its government and its health system. The current government in what appears to be questionable practices, and Panama’s health profession’s abuse of its responsibilities to patients are both factors that lead one to believe this is not the last we’ll hear about the healthcare in Panama.

Find out more about Panama’s: doctor shortage



Panama continues to deal with environmental affairs


Written by Hunter Kinder

Panama has among the richest biodiversity in Central America; yet it continues to be environmentally problematic. Deforestation is among the problems as it loses more than 1% of its primary forest every year.  This is contributed to by many things such as road construction, logging, industrial gold mining, and colonization which leads to clearing even more so for agriculture. Environmentalists are also concerned that road construction and other infrastructure projects in Panama’s Darien Gap will open the  area to increased colonization and development by loggers.

Illegal logging has and continues to be another major problem in Panama. The Panamanian government struggles with this issue and calls upon the UN to set up a regime. The UN has tried to get involved with the REDD Program but the indigenous withdrew, claiming, “we ask only that it benefit everyone, and not just big corporations that only want to exploit the resources,” said by The National Coordinating Body of the Indigenous People of Panama (COONAPIP)’s leader,  Betanio Chiquidama. He went on to say that they were willing to negotiate but reforms would have to be made from the proposed.



Panama Expresses increased interest in TPP Talks

newTPP map cropped

-Alex Dmuchovsky

In the past year or two, international trade talks have been heating up concerning a new global trade agreement; one that involves a multitude of countries in several hemispheres. The “Trans-Pacific Partnership,” (or TPP), is a proposal for restructuring the current free-trade agreements in order to address emerging international trade issues of the 21st century. The talks are being spearheaded by the United States, and have already confirmed 7 other countries. Due to the secretive nature of the negotiations, very little is known about the current state of affairs, however there are several story-lines detailing a number of unconfirmed countries that have expressed interest in joining the trade discussions. Talks have been stalling along the way, and discomfort at the pace and transparency of the proceedings has raised concern among international leaders.

According to Panamanian news sources, the country’s Foreign Minister, Fernando Núñez Fábrega, has expressed a great deal of interest in joining the TPP, citing Panama as a “natural interconnecting hub for the continent” due to its regional prominence in marine, land, and air connectivity.

The new era of trade has brought about several concerns regarding regulation, as several secretive and possibly illegal recent global trade events are a cause of concern for the future. Additionally, this globalization effort has been suspect to rumors that the TPP is an effort towards isolating China and the MERCOSUR countries. In brief, the rise of “supraterritorial institutions and associations,” such as the TPP, give cause for concern about pitting international powers against each other in ways the world has yet to see (Steger, p. 68).

Steger, Manfred (2013), Globalization: A Very Short Introduction, Oxford University Press

Panama seeks International help with North Korean freighter


Posted by: Alex Dmuchovsky


As many people know (or could reasonably infer), the Republic of Panama has been the epicenter of transcontinental shipping for decades, following the opening of the Panama Canal in 1914 under administration of the United States. The Panamanian government has only recently acquired control over the canal (officially in 1999), although the transfer of management has been long planned. One would be accurate in assuming that, of the millions and millions of tons of cargo transported through the canal annually, a significant percentage of cargo would be comprised of illicit material, some of which could potentially spark international conflict.

As of 15 July 2013, such controversial materials have been intercepted on a ship passing through the canal by Panamanian officials. Not very news-worthy material until you consider this: the cargo in question was found on a North Korean freighter (the “Chong Chong Gang”), making a return trip from Cuba. Due to North Korea’s current international restrictions, especially concerning weapons, this development leads questions as to just how compliant North Korea is behaving with the U.N., and also leads questions concerning the international relationship between Cuba and North Korea (both of which have a history and are currently known to be troublemakers in the global dynamic).

With its integrity at stake as a conduit for safe AND legal international trade, Panamanian officials immediately sent word out to both the United States and the U.N., requesting an official inspection of the ship and its contents. No more than a month later, U.N. officials arrived in Panama for inspection, however were met with some resistance: crew members cut cables to cranes to slow the process and the ship’s captain even attempted to commit suicide during the search. Investigators were able to identify two anti-aircraft missile systems, nine missiles (in parts and spares), two MiG-21 jets and 15 motors for this type of plane. The captain and 35 members of the crew are all charged with international arms trafficking.