Contributed by: Don WinnerBy DON WINNER for Panama-Guide.com - Once again - I'm glad that Sam and Paul made this effort. They took their "book" all over the place and made the Panamanian government aware that the gringos are "pissed" about the change in the tourism law. Great. Then today this press release drops into my basket and my first response was "aw, crap." Mostly because Matt left out one important detail - the law has not been changed. I spoke to the President of Panama's National Assembly Elias Castillo about this issue, and he said the National Assembly is not going to address this issue during the special sessions in July which were called specifically to vote on the newly signed Free Trade Agreement with the United States. Yesterday the Free Trade Agreement was approved in the first of three votes. You have to look closely to find the BS, but what this comes down to is a marketing ploy by Prima Panama. I would suggest that they should have held fire until they actually got change implemented before declaring victory. And, everything I'm hearing from Panamanian government officials says "we're going to do something" but no one says they are going to change the 30-day tourist visa rule. So, no "Presto" any time soon. Saying anything else is a disservice and is fundamentally dishonest. And, I don't like it because (in my opinion) people need to know the truth about what's going on, more than they need to hear Prima Panama trying to take credit for giving a crap. (more)
By Way of Fairness: Here's the Prima Panama news release, full text, as written:
A New Voice: Panama Company Uses Internet to Reach President
The real estate and tourism boom in the Republic of Panama, Central America was recently compromised as an ill-advised government change reduced the nationīs tourist visa to just 30 days. But one small company and all 800 of its concerned clients banded together to fight this new law, in a story of technology and determination that became proof the internet is capable of wonderful things.
Panama City, Panama (PRWEB) July 11, 2007 -- The days of floppy disks, MS DOS, and monitors the size of small sedans have long given way to a new era of computer technology: an era where blogs, downloads, and search engines have revolutionized not only the way people communicate, but the way people live. One small country in Central America is active proof that, with the power of the internet, far-fetched ideas are a lot more feasible than one might think.
May 25th, 2007: The government of the Republic of Panama--a nation 3.5 million people strong, in the midst of a hefty real estate and tourism thrust--passed a law changing the length of a traditional tourist visa. The new law required foreign travelers to leave not once every 3 months as traditionally declared, but once every 30 days. This law elicited an uproar from the country's growing investor community who feared it would be a serious roadblock to the promotion of Panama as a retirement haven.
It became apparent over the ensuing month that the decision made by the Panamanian government lacked adequate research, principally in the possible effects on the status of Panama's expat community, both in-country and abroad. But how, with so many expats scattered all over the globe, was a single cause to be heard? And how, if presented with such a call to action, would a confident government react?
June 22nd, 2007: Enter Prima Panama, a humble real estate marketing and consulting company based out of Panama City. Acting as an advocate for those who would be personally affected by the tourist visa change, this small group made history with, what at first seemed like a futile plan: to create a short online survey examining just how important the new tourist visa law would be to its clients.
June 25th, 2007: The survey took off like a rocket. 100 completed surveys, then 300 surveys, then 700 surveys! The group's blog website saw as many as 10,000 unique visitors a day: each of whom, without a doubt, had something to say about the issue at hand. Nightly Updates with photos, were posted keeping readers abreast of the day's activities and readers followed them intently. Developers wrote in with desperate pleas, future investors commented with doubt, and Panamanian citizens responded with their own feelings of disgust: the results were overwhelmingly negative.
June 27th, 2007: Representing concerned individuals from over 21 countries, Prima Panama willingly became the voice for what had, up until then, been a faceless and anonymous concern. They presented "the book" and their findings to policy makers at a series of meetings and each meeting appeared to go better than the last. Because Panama is such a small country and because the numbers in their study were so sizeable, the team at Prima Panama seemed to cut themselves a path, clear and direct to the top. And impressively, those at the top actually cared about what they had to say.
June 28th, 2007: When high level administration representatives of the President of the Republic called personally to compliment them for their efforts and to ensure a quick and effective policy change, the gang at Prima Panama--along with hundreds of thousands of other Panama-philes around the world--took one giant sigh of relief. In just six short days, a law was made, information was disseminated, a market responded, results were compiled, policy makers consulted, and a change was implemented. Presto!
If, by perseverance, a sloth could make it to Noah's Arc, then the team at Prima Panama figured maybe they could lobby to change the tourist visa back to its original 90 day formula. What they didn't expect was the speed or power of their biggest ally--the world wide web. It was a story of technology and free flowing information in which people thousands of miles away were able to react to an issue in real time. And with that, in the small isthmus of Panama, a grand new voice was born.
About Prima Panama
Prima Panama is a real estate marketing and consulting firm based out of Panama City, Panama. Their efforts in statistical research regarding the area's investment boom have been one-of-a-kind and their Prima Passport program has established itself as one of the most honest and useful investment tools on the market.
About the Author
This article was written by Matt Landau, a freelance writer based out of Central America. His website and print publication The Panama Report provide travelers and investors to Panama with witty, entertaining, and informational articles about a nation that otherwise lacks accurate news outlets. His no-holds-barred writing style has been featured in numerous travel and investment publications.
The Panama Report
CEO: Paul McBride
Ocean Business Plaza, 17th Floor (next to the AMCHAM office)
Panama City, Republic of Panama
Toll Free (from the U.S. and Canada) 1-877-226-6048
Fax (U.S. based) 1-810-963-46177
End Of Press Release: My concern is with this part right here -
In fact, no, it wasn't: No change has been implemented as of this moment. Tourists who arrive are granted 30 day visas, and they can apply for one 60-day extension for a total of 90 days. I'm hearing more and consistent reports from people who were using the old loophole to live in Panama as "perpetual tourists" and, because of the history of stamps in their passports, and being denied their requests for 60-day extensions. That means that every month people in that status have to leave the country for 72 hours in order to "reset" their tourist status. Then, they can stay for another 30 days.
Get Legal: I also spoke to Panama's Minister of Tourism Ruben Blades briefly about this issue. He recognized that Panama needs to reform their tourism law and come up with a way to allow part-time residents and snow-birders (for example) to stay here for several months, not as tourists. But at the same time, tourists are tourists (and not residents.) He related that every time he goes back to the United States they treat him as if it's the first time they've ever seen him, even though he lived there for many years, worked, and payed taxes. But the message from Panamanian government officials across the spectrum and representing several different Ministries has been consistent - "get legal." Pick a visa program and apply. You can't live here any more as a tourist. Deal with it.
Immigration Law Reform Coming: There are currently about three different drafts of changes to the basic immigration law floating around right now. Elias Castillo said he expects they will deal with this issue in the next normal legislative session, probably in September. Panama's First Vice President and Chancellor Samuel Lewis Navarro told me "we're going to fix it" but he wouldn't (or couldn't) tell me exactly when or how. But, he's certainly aware of the issue. Immigration representatives are clear - they have their marching orders and are implementing the law.
So, There You Have It: There are a lot of people out there who read these boards and websites to get factual information about Panama. Prima Panama, Paul and Sam, are clearly using this issue to create some traction for their company. They are taking credit for what they did, and they wanted to push out a press release to pound their own drum a little. Good for them. I'm pro-business, pro-Panama, and I don't have anything against Sam or Paul. I hope they sell a whole butt-load of property and get a bunch of clients. Good for them. But I don't sell real estate (my advertisers do.) And, my readers need to know what's really going on with regards to this 30-day visa issue. And, I called Matt and spoke to him about the press release as a matter of professional courtesy - I didn't want to blind-side him either. In any case, there's a clear, concise, and factual update of the situation on the ground.
Copyright 2007 by Don Winner for Panama-Guide.com. As usual, go ahead and use whatever you want as long as you credit the source. Salud.