University of Panama Wants Back 1,000 Hectares of Land Near Gatun Lake
Wednesday, March 05 2008 @ 01:42 PM UTC
Contributed by: Don Winner
Editor's Comment: In this article they used the expression derechos posesorios "brujos" (false rights of possission.) The word "brujo" literally means "witch" or in this case, "wizard" because, ending in the letter O, indicates a male. it's a man. The usage is slang for "false" or "fake" Rights of Possession. I just wanted to spend a minute on that expression, because if you hear it red lights should go on.
Who Are The Players? Involved in this case are the Offices of Agrarian Reform, which calls under the Ministry of Agricultural Development (MIDA). They are the people who (primarily) grant and recognize "rights of possession" in the internal areas of the country, away from the coast. Along the coast you have to get a "concession" from the Ministry of Economy and Finance (MEF) for any land closer than 200 meters from the ocean. In terms of square meters the MEF has a much smaller area to administer but it's much higher in relative value because it's next to the ocean. The great majority of the land is farm and cattle grazing land falling to the Agrarian Reform. The University of Panama is a part of the Panamanian Government, but at the same time they are "independent" or "autonomous" for political reasons. The President does not name the Rector of the UP, for example. But, lands owned by the UP are lands owned by the State. Clear?
Bought Any Land Near Gatun Lake? (So you ask your lawyer about it, and he says;) "Then maybe you don't quite own it as much as you thought you did. I mean, maybe you do, and maybe you don't. I hope you didn't spend too much for it, or invest too much money into building something there. But don't worry (too much) because you might be just fine. Or then again, you might just be totally and completely screwed. But don't worry, whatever happens I will be willing and able to fight for your rights all the way to the Supreme Court. It won't cost you all that much in legal fees (I'll need $10,000 in cash upfront), but I'm a hard worker and connected to the government. Did you know my ex-wife's former brother-in-law used to sleep with the daughter of the executive secretary of the former deputy mister of the ARI in the Moscoso administration? I'm hard-wired into the government, I tell you - we're going to WIN! And of course that's my professional opinion. Want to know where to send the check? Have a nice day. I'll call you when it's time to send me more money (err...) I meant to say sign some papers or something."
The Property Dilemma Continues: This article is a perfect example of continuing manifestations of "dilemmas" created by the Rights of Possession scheme in the Republic of Panama. Land ownership is questionable, and while the government has taken steps to grant land titles and to strengthen and improve land ownership documentation, there is still a very long way to go. The entire scheme is built on a dilemma from the 1960's - give the land to the poor farmers and ignore land titles from 1917. I've written about this several times in the past, but it's worth another look.
Independence Day: The Republic of Panama was created on 3 November 1903. Within the first few years of the existence of the new republic, and after they got the Panama Canal constructed, the government looked at the question of land ownership. Who owns all that land? Since they were no longer part of Colombia those documents were no good. So, they started issuing Panamanian titles for lands. Of course those land owners were the rich and powerful and they obtained legal ownership of most of the country. The poor had nothing, the rich had a title with a date of 1917.
Fast Forward to Omar Torrijos: Omar was a popular guy because one of the things he did was create the "Rights of Possession" scheme. Elegantly simple, actually. If you are the poor farmer who is actually working the land, then eventually you can document that fact and solidify your "rights" to a form of ownership of that land, even though some other rich dude (that you never actually see) has a piece of paper somewhere. Everyone was happy (except maybe the handful of rich land owners) and the whole thing worked well back in the 1960's.
Fast Forward to 2008: The economic boom in Panama is still in full swing. Real estate investors and developers want to take advantage of the price and cost of living differentials and to build resorts and retirement homes for aging Baby Boomers. With about $60 million dollars in hand, they come to Panama with a desire to build, create, invest the money, and get rich selling the new houses or condominiums to gringos. But the land they are buying to build those condos? That's right - "ROP" (Rights of Possession.)
Screaming for Reforms: Everyone has been begging the Government of Panama do "do something" about this problem. To a certain extent they can - the executive branch of government can hand out land titles, no problem. But legally, what's the difference between a title the Government of Panama handed out in 1917 and 2008? Put both of them before a judge and ask him to pick one as valid - what would you do? Panama needs to pass some kind of wide reaching legislation which grants priority of one title over the other. If not, the entire thing is built on legislative quicksand.
Panama Is Attractive for Investment: Large and right international investors want to invest in the Republic of Panama for all kinds of reasons. Smart businessmen are accustomed to be able to just figure out the rules, comply with those laws and regulations, make a decision, and press forward. Of course sometimes you have to fight through some local bureaucracy and administrative bullshit and red tape, but that happens anywhere. But it is quite literally impossible at times in Panama to buy land to build something and sleep well at night. What are the rules? Am I safe? What happens in ten years after I've built my development and sold it, and then all of a sudden some government official changes his mind and in fact I never owned anything? Or, you "buy" some land and pour your life savings into a retirement home, only to find out later that the land you (thought you) bought really is not yours at all, but in fact was donated to the University of Panama in 1955 (and they want it back.)
The 1,000 hectares were assigned a value of only $800,000 by the General Comptroller's office in 2006, even though the area is ripe for possible residential or tourist development.
At this price they have assigned a value of only .08 cents per mete which is ridiculously low when compared to an adjacent properties being sold for as much as $600 per hectare due to their location near Gatun lake.
Most people agree that on the commercial market the property has a value of at least $6 million dollars.
The property has been occupied by squatters who said they were doing agricultural experiments, but since then they have they have built businesses and houses that are being used as weekend retreats.
In addition someone sold "false rights of possession" to a foreigner who is building a tourist complex today.
The first squatters invaded the land in 1970 and since then have increased.
Two years ago the UP conduced a survey of the area and discovered that 282 hectares are in the hands of farmers.
Reliable sources report that more than three years ago, informed to that more ago than 3 years, Jacinto Cárdenas, a Substitute Magistrate on Panama's Supreme Court (a substitute for Winston Spadafora), acquired almost 31 hectares, knowing full well the property belongs to the UP, an independent organization.
...reviewed the area and the residents of Cerro Cama confirmed Jacinto Cárdenas acquired a parcel of land, where he planted improved grass for his cattle to graze.
Jacinto Cárdenas, who directed the Agrarian Reformation between 1981 and 1982, said through an official spokesman from the Supreme Court that he currently has the lands "rented" to a farmer named Garcia, but he plans to buy the land from the University of Panama to avoid any problems.
With legal documentation in hand, the Director of the UP, Gustavo Garcia De Paredes, warned that "those occupations are illegal" and blamed the offices of Agrarian Reform for granting illegal Rights of Possession to squatters, who have turned these lands into a booming business.
In the offices of Agrarian Reform they do not know how these people obtained such rights, especially when they are territories of the UP that is an independent organization.
The director of the Agrarian Reform refused on two occasions to speak to the Panama America, saying that the person who deals with these issues was out sick.
...went instead to the offices of Agrarian Reform in Western Panama, where supposedly the documentation exists, but they said they only have the original plan and that the authorities in the central offices know perfectly well about this "dilemma."
"We evaluated the possibility of taking this property to a public auction, but it is almost impossible to evict the people who have been residing there for many years," said Garcia de Paredes, after having admitted that the UP neglected the property.
The UP requested authorization in 2006 from the Ministry of the Economy to sell the 282 hectares directly to the invading farmers for $170,000, a price slightly less than the value estimated by the Comptroller, but to date they have not received and answer.
With regards to the price for lands for those people who have developed businesses, a price has not yet been established, but Garcia de Paredes said the price would be "a little higher."
Transacción. La UP pretende venderle a los invasores a bajos precios
Magistrado procura tierras invadidas de la Universidad
282 hectáreas fueron tomadas por personas que aseguraban necesitar el terreno para producir su sustento, sin embargo, ahora están en manos de empresarios y hasta de un alto funcionario de la Corte.
Jacinto Cárdenas sería vecino de su principal, Winston Spadafora, quien también tiene una finca a orillas del lago Gatún.
Precaristas, inversionistas y hasta un magistrado suplente de la Corte Suprema de Justicia, que en el pasado fue director de Reforma Agraria, tienen sus ojos puestos en parte de las mil hectáreas que posee la Universidad de Panamá (UP), en La Chorrera, a orillas del lago Gatún.
Se trata de la finca "Las Mercedes", que donó Castara García a la UP, el 19 de diciembre de 1955, e inscrita en el tomo 122, folio 54, para hacer experimentos y levantar una Escuela de Agricultura, según la escritura 1409 del Registro Público.
Las mil hectáreas fueron avaluadas en B/.800 mil por la Contraloría de la República en el 2006, a pesar de que es un área con posible explotación turística.
Esto equivale a B/.800 la hectárea; 8 centésimos el metro cuadrado, un precio irrisorio si se compara con fincas adyacentes que se venden comercialmente hasta en B/.6 mil la hectárea, por su cercanía al lago Gatún.
Se estima que en el ámbito comercial, la finca tiene un valor de mercado de unos B/.6 millones.
La propiedad fue ocupada por precaristas, con la excusa de emprendimientos productivos, pero al tiempo levantaron negocios y viviendas que son usadas los fines de semana. Además, vendieron derechos posesorios "brujos" a extranjeros que hoy construyen un complejo turístico.
Las primeras invasiones iniciaron en la década de 1970 y después se hicieron más intensas. Hace dos años, la UP levantó un censo y descubrió que unas 282 hectáreas están en manos de campesinos.
Fuentes confiables informaron a que desde hace más de 3 años, el magistrado suplente de la Corte, Jacinto Cárdenas (suplente de Winston Spadafora), adquirió cerca de 31 hectáreas, a sabiendas de que la finca pertenece a la UP, que es una entidad autónoma.
recorrió el área y los residentes de Cerro Cama confirmaron que Cárdenas adquirió parte de las tierras, donde sembró pastos mejorados para sus bovinos.
Cárdenas, quien dirigió la Reforma Agraria entre 1981 y 1982, dijo, a través de un vocero de la Corte, que mantiene "arrendadas" esas tierras a un campesino de apellido García, pero que sus planes son comprarlas a la UP para evitar problemas.
Con documentación legal en mano, el rector de la UP, Gustavo García De Paredes, advirtió que "esas ocupaciones son ilegales" y culpó a la Reforma Agraria por otorgar irregularmente derechos posesorios a los invasores, quienes han convertido estas tierras en un negocio redondo.
En Reforma Agraria desconocen cómo estas personas obtuvieron tales derechos, máxime cuando son tierras de la UP que es un ente autónomo.
La directora de esta instancia, Nadia Moreno, se rehusó, en dos ocasiones, a hablar con este medio, aduciendo que la persona que domina el tema estaba indispuesta.
acudió entonces a la Reforma Agraria de Panamá Oeste -donde supuestamente estaba la documentación-, pero se informó que solo contaban con el plano original y que las autoridades de la sede central conocían claramente sobre este "dilema".
"Evaluamos llevar esta propiedad a subasta pública, pero es casi imposible desalojar a las personas que tienen muchos años de residir allí", sostuvo García De Paredes, tras admitir que la finca fue descuidada.
La UP pidió en el 2006 autorización al Ministerio de Economía para vender directamente las 282 hectáreas invadidas a los campesinos en unos B/.170 mil, un poco menos del avalúo de la Contraloría, sin embargo, a la fecha no han tenido respuestas.
En cuanto a la parte ocupada por las personas que han desarrollado negocios, aún no se ha fijado un precio, pero García De Paredes asegura que será "un poco mayor".