Gandásegui, A migration crisis?

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Montage by Eric Jackson. It’s a political / philosophical simile, not an allegation that she was at any Trump rally. To the best of our knowledge the deputy does not go to the United States.

The fabricated “migration crisis”

by Marco A. Gandásegui, hijo

Panama does not currently have a migration crisis. Panama has always been a country open to migration. Not because we are more or less supporters of foreigners who come to look for work. The reason must be found in social and economic factors. The investments made in the country have to be given value by the workers (preferably cheap labor). During colonial times the Spanish brought in many workers from other parts of the Americas. In the Colombian era, the construction of the trans-isthmian railroad and the French Canal brought migrations from Europe, Asia and Latin America, especially the Caribbean, to this country. Likewise, when the Americans built the Canal (1904-1914) the migrations were enormous.

These gigantic migrations from around the world did not occur again in the twentieth century, or when the third set of locks was built in this century. There is a very simple reason that explains it. The cheap labor that built the US military bases before and during World War II was ours. They were farmers displaced from their lands and who sought employment in the terminal cities of the Canal. They were expelled from their lands by large agribusiness corporations. Most of the “internal” migrants, with their families, created huge shantytowns on the outskirts of Panama City. They also settled in the old barracks built by Panamanian landlords for informal Canal workers.

Panama currently has some four million inhabitants. About 40,000 are foreigners. That is, one percent of the total. According to the government, fewer than a thousand foreigners have applied for refugee status. What is the crisis? This appearance of a crisis also has its explanation.

Panama is one of the richest countries in the region. Its economic growth rate in the last 20 years has been extraordinary. The gross domestic product (GDP) has multiplied several times in the last two decades. The United Nations agencies consider Panama a moderately rich country, so we have been excluded from the aid programs created by that international organization.

The crisis, then, is not in the population or in the migrations. The crisis is that a rich country has such deplorable social indicators. In almost all social aspects Panama is in the lowest positions: education, health, housing, employment and others. We can thus explain the migration crisis. It is a crisis made to distract the population — especially the popular sectors that suffer the consequences of these inequalities — that finds no solution to their problems.

For example, the government says that the high cost of food is not the result of laws that benefit importing companies. The mainstream media do not deny this official version. Instead, they flood us with contrived “news” of foreigner migrations, their adventures, and the heroics of SENAFRONT. The government also says that the collapse of the education system is not due to its neglect, the diversion of resources to other unnecessary activities and the lack of a minimum plan to invest our resources. Again, they distract the attention of the Panamanian people by accusing foreigners of stealing jobs from our workers.

The lack of employment in the country and the fact that 50 percent (one in two workers) are informal is not a problem created by immigrants (legal or illegal). This is the result of public policies that discourage the investment of our wealth (Canal, ports, mines, real estate) in productive activities such as industrial and agro-industrial plants. They do not take advantage of the Chinese interest in investing in Panama and creating what they call a “hub” for all of Latin America. Job opportunities would be created and — why not? — even for immigrants.

In the USA they apply the same tactic, trying to turn immigrants into the cause of all the ills currently suffered by American families without jobs, with education and health services getting worse and increasing homelessness. Trump convinced many that the problem was the Mexicans. Close the border, build a wall and criminalize immigration, he said.

In Panama, we have to put an end to policies that benefit only a few nd put the country on the path of wholesome development, with a formally employed and productive working population.

 

 

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