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Tuesday, April 24 2018 @ 05:15 PM EDT

Retirees and Pensioners Close Transístmica, Again...

Protests & Demonstrations I decided it was time to wander down to Transistmica to have a chat with the people who have been making my life hell. Poof! There goes my objectivity. Oh well. I've been watching these guys on television for a week now, and have spent enough on gas sitting in the traffic jams they've caused to pay for an increase myself. And since I could not get anywhere today anyway, it seemed to make a whole lot of sense to go talk to the people who are blocking the streets to see "what's the beef?" Basically, these are a handful of retirees who are protesting to get more money in their government retirement check. Endara gave them a $30 increase, Balladares gave them $25, and Mireya Moscoso $15. Now they are asking for another $30 increase. They have been closing Transistmica everyday from 10:00 am to 3:00 pm, causing huge traffic jams all over the city. Everyone is talking about this and looking at the details of their demand.

Eladio Fernandez Avila: It was nice to have met this character. He's "animated" to say the least, and he's the primary on-camera speaker who represents this group of retirees any time there's a camera around. He just basically does not give a crap about anything. He's been calling Panama's President Martin Torrijos a "little toy doll" and threatening to throw himself off of the Bridge of the Americas.

A Look At The Numbers: Want to know how much a retiree makes in Panama? Just go down to Transistmica and ask, they will be happy to show you their pay slips. As a matter of fact they called forward a woman who is receiving the minimum monthly retiree payment of $175.00 per month. She showed me her bi-weekly pay slip which showed how she receives $87.50 every 15 days, and from that the Caja de Seguro Social or Social Security medical service, takes back $6.61 to pay for medical coverage. So in the end she is left with $80.89 every two weeks to live on. No kiddin'.

Leonold Rodriguez Alcedo: Much less animated, much more serious. You've probably seen him on television, you can't miss his hippy-length hair which makes him stand out.

A Protest, With Rules: The college kids from the university marched down to "help" the other day, and the retirees told them to get lost. They don't want to give the government any reason (at all) to shoot tear gas at them. They know that if the rowdy kids get involved then the government will not hesitate to gas the whole place and call it a day. But shoot tear-gas at grandma is simply bad politics no matter how you slice it. They let police cars, ambulances, and other emergency vehicles through the road block. In this case a roving reporter drove through to find out what the plan for the day was, and was able to do a "drive by" interview without leaving the comfort of her air conditioned car.

A Time To Dance: If you're going to hang out under the bridge and block the street all day you get bored after awhile. So, they've got a band. This young lady decided to take a twirl...

And How Does It Happen... That when you have a group of people blocking the road in protest, and they have their own band, that the band becomes the story. Little old ladies dancing in the middle of Transístmica, standing in the middle of the road and ordering 18-wheelers to "back the hell up" like that guy in Tienanmen Square. So I had to ask, what are the numbers, and is this a political protest?

"That's The Other Guy" I asked for some clarification between the "Independent Association of Retirees and Pensionados" and the "Confederation of Retirees and Pensionados." It turns out that the "Confederation" is headed by Rafael Medina who represents a collection of several groups of organized retirees. They are also asking for an increase in retiree pay, but they do not back the $30 increase that the "Independents" are asking for. In reality retirees are already going to get a $50 "Christmas Bonus" on 18 December 2006. Medina is negotiating for a cost of living increase in the base pay, and I suspect that in the end all retirees across the board will end up with about $15 or $20 more per month in their paychecks, thanks to the Martin Torrijos administration. That's just barely enough to keep pace with inflation and it's better than nothing, but there's no way (I don't think) that this administration is going to give retirees $30 per month.

The "Independents" Really, Really, Really Don't Like Medina: They handed me this flier which was quite literally they made by cutting and pasting clippings from old newspapers and making photo copies. Very crude, and I have no idea about the veracity of the claims, but this is what they are saying. There are like a total of 50 people out there (max) and this goes to the sophistication of their effort.

So What's Going To Happen? Chances are pretty good that fairly soon people are going to get fed-up with the pre-Christmas traffic jams and are going to demand that the government do something about it. Expect an announcement any time that approves a raise for the retirees and these "Independent" guys will find themselves in the position of the striking teachers (May 2006) who were protesting with a pay raise already in their back pocket. When the time comes, the police will simply move in cops and push the protestors out of the shade of the pedestrian overpass bridge that they have been camped under for a week. While we were there talking there was a short cloud-burst, followed by bright, hot sunshine. The only thing the government has to do is push these guys in any direction 20 feet, and the protest is over. If there's no shade then there's no place for the band to play. We will run this tape again in about three or four years for the next administration. See you then.

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