Two Panamas: Panama City’s gleaming new towers directly above its large shanty slums. (Photo credit – PETER NICKALLS / FLICKR)
Hijos de algo – somebody’s sons – & los rabiblancos
Well, I haven’t started on the other two books mentioned in my last post, but recent news on The Panama Papers led me off on another trail in search of the rabiblancos. It would seem they – the monied elite – are still in charge. Some things don’t change.
I’ve made progress – I now know what the monied elite is known as: Los rabiblancos.
The term rabiblancos, which I’d first learned of in Carlos Ledson Miller’s PANAMA: A Novel, translates to Whitetailed Hawks (why, no one seems quite sure – perhaps it has to do with their heritage – of Spanish descent and therefore European, or white, as opposed to the indigenous peoples of the Isthmus, or the black slaves and their descendants, or the mixtos).
But to digress a little, simply for the sake of history, before the rabiblancos, there were the Hidalgos: Hijos de algo – somebody’s sons.
And so we come to The Panama Papers. The following extracts are from a very interesting article by Eric Jackson, on the site: The Panama News –
“Who are these people?”
In the history of the Spanish conquest of Panama, “The soldiers and priests of conquest were by and large led by the younger or out-of-wedlock sons of the nobility — hijos de algo or somebody’s sons, or as it has come down to us, Hidalgos.”
“The Hidalgos and the rabiblancos do, however, share a continuity. They embody a set of values, one that has diffused throughout most of Panamanian society. It’s not what you know, it’s who you know. Family values include theft if it makes the family a bit more comfortable, and mean that if you come into a public office with the power to hire people and you do not put as many relatives as possible on the payroll you have betrayed your family. The use of political or judicial power to promote somebody’s business, or to destroy somebody else’s business so that a favored party can move in and take over, is the essence of government. Panamanians are mostly of mixed race and are an international polyglot, but if there is advantage to invoking racism or xenophobia the general culture won’t take that as overly disgraceful.”
“What is Panama’s offshore industry?”
“Banking secrecy, providing refuge for criminals from around the world and the celebration of defrauding the tax man go way back in Panamanian culture and law. But the institutions from whence arose the Mossack Fonseca law firm — and a number of others in the “offshore asset protection” sector — mostly go back to the establishment of the international banking sector and the rise of the duty-free import/export industry.
“International banks first came here so that ship owners could pay their crews. The large payrolls of the French and American canal construction efforts were largely handled and guarded in-house, without the need for a major banking presence. Once the canal was open the needs of shipping and commerce increased the demand for banking services.
“So is Mossack Fonseca the center of world attention at the moment? With branches in nearly four dozen countries they may be the most widespread Panamanian “offshore asset protection” firm, but there are others and some of these may have more clients, or richer clients. You may have heard this European adage: “There is multilingual, trilingual, bilingual and American.” So many US citizens, including some very rich and supposedly sophisticated ones, only speak English and look for Anglo surnames when searching out a Panamanian law firm with which to do business. Do conspiracy theorists of the weird left and of the online paranoia profession make a big point of of the relatively few Americans mentioned in the Panama Papers? There are Americans named and their relative unimportance in this huge leak may be mostly a matter of US citizens with money to launder or big tax bills to evade prefer the services of other firms.”
There is a considerable amount of information of interest within Eric Jackson’s well written article in addition to the limited amount I’ve quoted above, well worth the time required to read through it. Meanwhile, we come to the present time – and the latest news on the commission investigating the Panama Papers.
From the BBC News website:
“The Swiss anti-corruption expert, Mark Pieth, has told the BBC he resigned from the Panama Papers commission because of government interference.
Mr Pieth said officials told him that they would have final say on whether to publish the panel’s findings on the offshore tax evasion scandal.
Joseph Stiglitz, a Nobel Prize-winning economist, also resigned.
The seven-person panel was set up by Panama’s government in April 2016 to improve transparency.
Speaking on the BBC’s Newshour programme, Mr Pieth said he had received a letter from Panama’s authorities stating that they would have the final say on whether to publish the panel’s report.
“They told us they were going to decide in the end whether (the report) is going to be publicised or not,” he said.
“I think that the official Panamanians were in a state of denial. They were basically saying ‘well, what we’ve been seeing in the Panama Papers is something that you observe everywhere in the world.'”
Mr Stiglitz also told Reuters news agency he was concerned that the panel’s final report would not be published.
“We can only infer that the government is facing pressure from those who are making profits from the current non-transparent financial system in Panama,” he said.””
There’s more – worth reading – links provided above
My conclusion? Panama is still run by los rabiblancos – or so it would seem.
And for further reading, from NPR.org:
Panama’s Canal Divides A Country Into Haves And Have-Nots – June 1, 2014 5:06 AM ET – by Tim Padgett
“Jorge Quijano has one of the coolest office views in the Americas: the Pacific port entrance to the Panama Canal. The panoramic vista seems to help Quijano, who heads the Panama Canal Authority, see the bigger picture.
On the one hand, Quijano understands why Panama has run the canal so effectively since the United States handed it over in 2000.
“When the United States built the canal, it was treated like a noncommercial utility, like a water filtration plant,” Quijano said in an interview at his Panama City headquarters. “We’re running it as a business.”
One that’s expected to rack up revenues of more than $2.5 billion in 2014, and which moves 330 million tons of cargo in and out of the Western Hemisphere each year.
But Quijano, while stressing that he’s an engineer and not a politician, also concedes that more Panamanians need to see more of that wealth.
For starters, he says, “Panama has to strengthen its education,” which is rated among the world’s worst. “There’s so much investment coming into Panama now, but if we don’t have [trained] people, those investments will go elsewhere.””
(There’s more, at the link above, worth reading, including mention of a rabiblanca and her machinations).