In writing this blog, I have always tried to be honest about my experiences living in this country. I have had to learn many new things which at my age can be a challenge in itself. And although I love Pedasí, it’s beauty and “tranquilo”, it is like any other place, not perfect. I was a little reluctant to write about this, but I do want my readers, especially those while traveling, to be aware that wherever you are, in a foreign country or your own home country, that you must be careful and not assume everyone is going to look out for your best interest. And some may not like me writing about this because it may deter tourists, who bring in income to the community, from visiting. This is definitely not my intent; I just want to share the truth about what life is like here-one of the purposes of writing this blog in the first place.
For us, but perhaps not for everyone, Pedasí is a great place to live. Unfortunately, in the past month or so, there have been many home and business robberies here in Pedasí. We haven’t been robbed personally, but several of our friends, both expats and Panamanians have. Other larger towns in Panama have had these problems, but now it seems Pedasí is a target. To add to this problem, many have been without or with little water in the past few weeks and the roads throughout the pueblo continue to be under construction with lots of equipment and piles of rocks and dirt everywhere. The townspeople are finally fed up, mostly with the lack of security, and now taking action. There was an informal meeting with the alcalde (mayor) and local police chief a week ago last Friday evening at the townsquare. Many came to share their concerns. We were informed that unfortunately in the Pedasí district, from Cañas to Purio, which would be about 1 1/2 hours drive from one end to the other with Pedasí in-between, there are only 6 police and 1 vehicle. They had requested for 1 or 2 more vehicles and more personnel, but not sure when that would happen. They also said they had suspects in mind, but so far no concrete evidence. In the meantime, we passed a petition around to request more security. The next few days, more were robbed and for the first time ever, many of us did not feel safe to leave our homes and enjoy life as we knew it. Even though our home is pretty secure with locked gates, walls surrounding most of the property, triple locked heavy metal doors, and bars on all the windows, I still kept watching carefully everyone who would pass by in car and on foot. And now I don’t care if our dog Bella barks at those who walk or ride bikes on the street pass our house. Just another deterrent to keep the uninvited out.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I still feel safe living here, just more cautious about my surroundings, comings and goings around town. Also, for those who might be considering visiting our beautiful little beach town, these crimes have not been targeted toward tourists.
Well, on Monday, a call for action was planned. The word got out of a non-violent protest was being held in front of the Acalde’s office on the main street in and out of town, by telephone calls, texting, and word-of-mouth (trying to keep it off Facebook, so as not to alert anyone who is watching and ready to take advantage of our absence from our homes). About 100 people showed up and we blocked the street, not allowing any vehicle to pass. Although many vehicles could go around on the side streets, the larger trucks had no choice but to park and just wait. The police, TV stations, and government officials even in Panama City were informed before. Amazing how many police were suddenly present and available. While some went inside the office and spoke with the police chief of the Los Santos province about their concerns, many others stood outside in support that something needed to be done to assure the people of Pedasí that these crimes will not be ignored and our town can return to enjoying its “tranquilo”. Later the police chief came out and spoke along with a few others. Afterwards, many of us walked slowly down the street to the police station at the entrance of Pedasí chanting “Seguridad, Seguridad”. (Funny, but this reminded me and a few others of our much younger days at “peace marches” in San Francisco or other cities, shouting “No VietNam”. When we quieting called that out, a young girl looked back and asked us what that meant. We just told her it was way before her time, laughed, and went back to “Seguridad”. Yes, I was a hippy in the late ’60’s, early ’70’s.) After the Pedasí and Las Tablas police chief once more came out, promising they were going to do what they could to stop this crime spree, we all returned to our homes to see what would transpire in the future.
Since then, I have seen a stronger and larger presence of police in and around town, some in unmarked cars, a motorcycle with 2 men in uniform fatigues riding up and down the streets with rifles, a police “paddy wagon”, uniformed police walking around, and vehicle stop checkpoints. One day while Mikkel and I were walking Bella, we noticed men with DIJ vests searching some parked cars in the neighborhood and talking to some men. I have heard of some arrests have been made, but not sure what has happened with those who have been arrested. I have not heard of anymore robberies, but I don’t always receive the local news.
A little explanation of the police/crime system in Panama – there are different police branches: local, national, traffic – all with different assignments. And then there is the “DIJ” (Dirección de Investigación Judicial) who investigate the crimes. The police can arrest people, but the DIJ have to come out and investigate, looking for evidence and proof.
There have been a few meetings with different officials since; one at the la cancha (basketball court) with the Security Vice Minister, National Police Director, Governor of the Province, Police Commissioner, and the Mayor; and another to take place tomorrow back at the Mayor’s office. All this shows that some progress is being made and hopefully the culprits behind these crimes will be found and brought to justice.
Now I think what these events have brought is more community. Panamanians and expats have come together to work at making this town a better and safer community for all. Whether it be the recent crimes, lack of water, continued construction throughout the streets, or other concerns; many of us now have common goals. I also think that if any of us have gotten a little complacent about our security, we are now a little more aware of our surroundings and no longer assume we are immune from anything bad happening. I still feel very blessed living here in Pedasí. I have always enjoyed the welcoming friendliness of Pedasí’s citizens. As I still feel safe to walk the streets both during the day and at night, I am greeted by most everyone with smiles and “Bueno” or “Hola”. It is what makes this little town home to Mikkel and I.