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Letter Home From Panama

As if Panama didn’t have enough holidays of its own, we imported one from the States earlier this month. Our entire little Panama City operation celebrated Labor Day with a Sunday cookout at our new home in Marbella. We had homemade potato salad, coleslaw, chocolate chip cookies, and sangria, and Lief made hamburgers, chicken, and ribs on the grill, all enjoyed outdoors on a typically tropical afternoon.

Meantime, the Panamanians are gearing up for their biggest holiday season of the year. The month of November is one parade after another, as the country celebrates a series of four independence days (Nov. 3rd, 4th, 10th, and 28th). This month, the rehearsals begin. Students across the country are practicing marching, beating their drums, and showing their colors. The parades and other festivities are great, of course…but don’t count on getting a lot of business taken care of around these dates. Panamanians take their independence celebrating very seriously.

What else is going on down here in the Hub of the Americas?

In Panama City, building continues, and a number of mega-projects are coming online within the next 12 months. A new 35-story Riu Hotel is opening a few blocks from our office. It will be the biggest hotel in the city, with 645 rooms and capacity to host conferences with up to 1,300 participants. We’re considering it as the venue for a late 2011 event. Not only new and bigger hotels, but new and bigger office buildings, too, will be available starting in 2011, meaning pricing for hotel rooms and office space will grow more competitive.

We’re looking for new office space ourselves but not in one of the commercial towers about to be delivered. We’re shopping for a house of character, as we think of it. The trouble is that there aren’t many houses in Panama City, and nobody’s building anymore of them. Not much supply, and no reason for prices to soften. We continue our search.

Panama City continues to remake its skyline, with all the ongoing construction, but also, more and more, with beautification projects like the Cinta Costera, the coastal beltway completed two years ago that transformed the Panama City panorama. More recently, an initiative by Union Fenosa, the national provider of electricity, plans to take city power lines underground.

Great idea. Right now, Panama City streets are sometimes criss-crossed by masses of electrical lines, with the odd shoe or Whopper wrapper caught amongst them. This month, though, Union Fenosa has announced that it will replace power lines with underground cables in Panama City, Santiago, and David. The work is a four-year period to commence in March 2011.

The cost of the effort will be born by residents of these cities, where the price of electricity will increase by 0.001 cents per kilowatt, or US$1 for every 1,000 kilowatts.

Another beautification initiative is taking place in Boquete, where the municipality signed an agreement with Ingenieria Ecologica de Panama S.A. to start collecting and recycling materials from the city’s garbage ward. Children from the local schools are getting involved in the campaign, earning money for the institutions where they study.

Mining operations are expanding in the country. Petaquilla Gold started operating this year. A project known as Cobre Panama (Panama Copper) is to begin building its infrastructure in 2011 and then to begin extracting copper four years later. In the Los Santos Province, the mining company Cerro Quema has created a lot of tension among the locals by announcing that it will start mining gold and silver in that part of the country in 2012.

Meantime, Martinelli’s government is considering modifying the Mining Code, which now doesn’t allow foreign governments to invest in the mining sector. Singapore has made a tempting offer…

Finally, interesting news on the immigration front. A friend wrote yesterday to report, “I contacted my lawyer today, and he told me that Panama’s tourist visa has been extended for gringos (that is, Americans…I’m not sure about other countries) from 90 to 180 days.

“My lawyer said you don’t need anything stamped on your passport. Americans are simply permitted now to remain in the country up to 180 days with nothing more than a tourist visa.

“There are conflicting stories of this all over, depending who you talk to, but it seems this is the case, at least for now.”

We called immigration here in Panama City, and the person we spoke with confirmed that the term of the tourist visa has, in fact, been extended from 90 to 180 days. This is for all tourists, not only Americans.

For how long? Who could say…

Kathleen Peddicord

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