Southern Neighbor Goes Right

By Larry Pratt
July 22, 2009

For at least two years, Panamanian gun owners had to live with the threat that the socialist government of Martin Torrijos (son of the late dictator) was going to impose a George Soros-inspired backdoor gun ban. 

The Soros gun ban comes advertised as a licensing scheme which means that gun ownership is illegal unless you get special permission from the government.  Getting that permission is the problem.  By simply delaying processing of applications and renewals, the clock runs out and before long, nobody has a legal gun.

This kind of law can be very effective at disarming the public.  I first saw a law like this on the books and in use in South Africa. 

Panamanian shooters actively opposed the measure.  At one point I addressed a forum they organized to dramatize the problems with the bill and the threat to safety that it presented.  Happily, the Chavez-backed candidate (to succeed Torrijos) in the elections last May got her clock cleaned, and the threat of the bill ended with the socialist government.

The winner, Ricardo Martinelli, is a wealthy businessman — as is his vice president Juan Carlos Varela.  To set the anti-graft tone of their administration, Martinelli announced at his inauguration that they would be donating their salary to a charity that would be building a medical clinic in the interior of the country.  “We might stick our foot in our mouth in my administration,” he said, “but we will not be sticking our hand in the till.”

The two official inaugural celebrations that feted some 10,000 people combined were paid completely from private funds, starting with those from Martinelli’s own pocket.

Martinelli also announced a truly transformational reform.  As in a great deal of the world, many rural landholdings have no clear titles, hence loans are unavailable for the owners.  I have seen this reform carried out in Guatemala and in El Salvador, and the result is a fiercely anti-socialist group of rural voters.  Memo to Chavez: in Panama, many of those voters already own guns.

During the administration’s first day, the education minister announced that she would not allow an association of professors to be recognized as a union.  The same day, Martinelli announced that a bankrupt banana-workers’ cooperative that had been getting subsidies from the socialist government would now be on their own.  Sink or swim — in the private sector. 

At an inaugural mass specially called for by Martinelli, the sermon was preached by the Bishop of Panama.  It sounded like one of our colonial election sermons.  The bishop urged the people to pray for their new leaders that there might be peace in the land.  He then challenged the politicians who were present to never separate their Christian values from their politics lest the country lose its culture of respect for life and protection of the family.

With the legally deposed thug from Honduras (former President Mel Zelaya, a Chavez ally) sitting some twenty feet from him on the stage, Martinelli announced that his election represented a challenge to the far left wing in Latin America.  He added that he intends to make Panama the best place in Latin America to do business. 

That is change that I can believe in.