Peace Corps 2009-2010

Land dispute and water rights issue

May 8, 2010

Lito’s confrontation

One of the problems facing Panamanians is the lack of land deeds. Most plots have conveyed within families but these days more are being conveyed outside the familiy. Therefore precise plots are necessary and are often lacking. The lack of registration also applies to easements, and this factored into a confrontation just the other day.

Our village, like many, obtain drinking water from sources originating at a higher elevation to take advantage of gravity to produce water pressure. There are very few holding tanks filled with electric pumps, an excellent choice in a country where electricity supplies are too often interrupted. When visitors from the Biological Corridor, part of ANAM, the enviromental agency, came to visit the other day they wanted to see the water font. To get there they need ingress through the land of the Aguilar family.

The visitors were refused entrance. There was a document signed in the 1970’s allowing the water committee to use the land but apparently there was never an easement granted. Thus the owners have to be forced to allow any access to the property until an easment is granted. This could take some time, and if there are any broken pipes or other problems, Santa Clara’s water supply is at risk.

Apparently the conflict turned ugly. Lito is very civic minded and energetic and perhaps is not always diplomatic. He seemed very upset when he told all this to Peg.

The mayor supported the landowner, for reasons I could not understand. But ANAM apparently has lawyers who work on these sorts of problems.

Peace Corps 2009-2010

What a $100 a month means

He is somehow rather distinguished looking despite his weathered face, or maybe because of it, and certainly despite his clothing, clean but beat up. He comes around from time to time looking for something to eat. Our hostess always brings him something, or maybe gives him a cup of coffee. She has hired him to work on her small finca (farm). He finds work from other farmers too. Where he lives, I have no idea, nor how he gets food most days.

Until the government started monthly pensions just a few months ago, his income was unsteady at best and always low, earning at best the minimum wage of $9 a day. Now, at $100 per month, he will, as he puts it, never be poor again!

Peace Corps 2009-2010

A site development visit to Caizan

Peace Corps Panama sends volunteers to potential new sites for future volunteers. They talk to locals to gauge interest and then send sector leaders (who are PC employees) to meet with the locals so they can explain the PC program and evaluate the community. If the community is appropriate and a future volunteer seems like a good match, the community gets a volunteer. March 20 was the second visit to xxxxx (location deleted) for this purpose.

About 15 people from the community came to the meeting in the hopes of getting a PCV. They have several projects and problems they would like help with. A group received a grant from the PAMBC, commonly called the Biological Corridor, an organization which helps protect this environmentally important zone. It does so in part by helping establish environmentally friendly businesses. This group has such a grant, The problem is they do not have a market for the trees they grew with the grant money. ANAM, the government’s environmental agency, suggested they might be able to sell the trees to the hydroelectric project which is right in town, and which is required to plant 10 trees for each one they remove. The group’s trees are ready to plant and there is no offer in sight to purchase the trees.

I would guess that the group started the nursery without ever talking to project management and if they did without getting a commitment. Volunteers almost always find that planning is given short shrift if it is given any at all.

Those present eagerly shared their complaints when asked, except for the 30 minutes when it was raining. Most roofs here are metal and when it rains hard no one can hear. I was wondering if there would be a meeting at all but finally the rain abated.

Towards the end there was some interesting discussion about how the community and volunteer would adapt to one another especially in the first three months when the volunteer is expected to live with host families. Food is a big issue and I explained that Americans do not have a rice based diet and many find the quantity and frequency of rice consumption to be overwhelming. Some might be vegetarian. To help avoid problems they were told not just to serve food but to ask the volunteer what he wants so the volunteer does not feel obliged to eat something they do not want. There was discussion about language, too and cultural differences. Panamanians are very indirect in their communications. We told them to be more direct with the volunteer if they can, since given the language barrier especially at first, it is very hard to decode subtleties.

This community has a housing shortage, as is common in the area. Their last application for a volunteer was not filled because there was not a dwelling the volunteer could rent. One of the locals is fixing something up for the new volunteer. This will be inspected before the volunteer arrives, as will the host families, probably by the regional leader, who is a PCV usually in their third year (you can choose to extend to a third year).

I came in part because I want to organize some training for the groups like this in the area, that number upwards of 15. All of either have projects they are running or would like to have one and they get no training in manangement skills, so their projects often do not perform as well as they could. In this case, no one has been paid for labor on the hope that the payment for their efforts would come when they sold the trees. Without a Plan B those trees are likely to die in the nursery, and you do not have a Plan B if you have never had a Plan A.

Peace Corps 2009-2010

Atop Volcan Baru

My wet jeans were about as damp as the iffy mattress I slept on and only slightly more so than the sleeping bag, so I did not freeze when I slipped them on. I suppose that having put the jeans underneath a blanket and my sleeping bag into which I added my body heat helped reduce the moisture a bit.

Outside it was bright and cool, perhaps around 60F, the sun warming us up as we walked from one side of the cell phone tower compound to the other looking at nearby Volcan and Cerro Punta, with Costa Rica and the Panamanian province of Bocas del Toro in the distance. There was still cloud over both the Pacific and the Caribbean, which changed a bit later just enough to allow me to see Puerto Armuelles on the Pacific side and a patch of emerald blue to the east.

Short video from from atop baru. At the time we could not see either ocean.

After an unusually oil-soaked breakfast – I think they even fried the plastic plates – we took began walking down the moutain on the east side, which will take us to Boquete. On this side the walking is easier, although in parts you are in walking amongst the stones and boulders of what looks like a dry stream bed, so you have to be very careful not to slip. The path is wide and there is no getting lost, unlike the Cerro Punta side, where a Peace Corps volunteer was lost for three days last summer before a small army of searchers finally found her.

The forest is thick on either side but like on the Cerro Punta side there are more birds in Santa Clara or there seem to be and you can easily see them there whereas here the ones you can hear you rarely see.

The trip down took over 5 hours and my thighs began to ache, and I began to slide inside my left boot, banging my large toenail against the front of the boot. The last two hours were difficult. When we reached bottom my toenail was blue. One of the former PCV’s is a nurse and she said I would probably lose the nail. But I had made it and fortunately Lourdes had arranged for someone to pick us up. Even after two ibuprofens I could not have gone much farther.

Video: on our way down the volcan