Panama is the fastest growing country in Latin America and is predicted to continue as such through 2015. This feat usually works to its advantage. There are a handful of reasons why Panama has been successful over the past ten years, most of which I’m uninterested in explaining right now. But a factor I do find consistent and newsworthy is their desire to reach the first world, and in some cases leave behind the past: even if both of those destinations are somewhat unknown.
I saw a Kuna woman and her son at El Machetazo of San Felipe in the kids clothing department trying on clothes. For whatever reason, Kuna women of Casco Viejo have to wear full indigenous garb anytime they go out, whereas the men and boys can wear virtually whatever they want. This seems unfair to me, but it’s not my basis for observation.
After disappearing for a minute, the boy returned wearing an electronic abdominal belt (you know the kind you see on infomercials that magically electrocutes your belly fat into rock hard abs?). He was wearing the belt around his head, like a helmet. “I want it,” the boy said to his mom. “I want it. I want it. I want it badly.”
Panama is the same way: Panama doesn’t know exactly what the first world is, but it wants it. Badly.
Many people think Panama aspires to be modern, which is only partially correct. More than anything else, Panama really just wants to appear modern. This means new cars, chain restaurants, big malls. In today’s globalized world, Panama has the chance to play to its strengths as a niche market. This could be anything really: Panama the eco-paradise, Panama the history buff’s lair, Panama the trade hub…etc. But instead, I often think Panama chooses to enter the “first world” race. A race we all know that only the big, rich, and powerful countries can win.
Let’s face it. We live in a time when, in the same way small entities can have global reach, Panama should be competing on the basis of its history, passion, traditions, natural environment, and personality rather than on raw GDP and fiscal growth. Casco Viejo fits in this argument perfectly.
What’s ironic though is that many of the principles and resources Panama disregards (since they appear to be unnecessary in the fight to become a first world nation) are the very same principles and resources that today’s first world nations are struggling to rediscover. Things like family values and closeness with nature and tradition.
In the face of unprecedented growth in Panama, we have to ask ourselves is poverty decreasing, is education improving, and are Panamanian people really happier in this surge towards the first world? Does the one non-modern portion of Panama City, Casco Viejo, actually have a place in the plans of this country’s capital?