Petaquilla


DSC_0004We woke up at 4:30 Tuesday morning to go visit the shaman in Coclecito. I’m not entirely sure why I’ve been invited on this trip, especially since I tend to have a rather materialist view on life. The shaman invites me to sit down with him, and between my strong accent in Spanish and his hearing loss it turns into a very frustrating conversation. He tells me of how he was driven out of El Cope as a witch doctor, and how he has acquired an extensive knowledge of medicinal plants.

On the way here we passed the Petaquilla mine. As seemingly is the case throughout the Americas, a Canadian company is working the mine. Similar to Guatemala, El Salvador, Ecuador, and elsewhere, the mine has triggered a lot of local opposition. This is, of course, a topic that deeply interests me because it engages issues of social movement organizing. I wish I had contacts with organized opposition to the mine, if indeed it exists. Last May when we were here a newspaper article talked about local groups closing the road to the mine. But now all I hear are random individual stories of peoples’ experiences with the mining company.

As an academic topic in an interdisciplinary class, it seems like studying the mine would open up a lot of possibilities. Such an investigation would bridge issues of environmental conservation, the economics of international finance, histories of resource extraction, studies of labor legislation, the politics of treaty negotiations, etc. But, unfortunately, I don’t have the contacts to make such a study viable, and I’m not sure how much interest the students would have in studying the mine anyway. Too bad.

DSC_0213One the way back from the shaman we stopped in the small town of Coclecito to visit Omar Torrijos’ house. Torrijos was headed to his hideaway here in the mountains when his plane crashed at Santa Marta in 1981. In her autobiography The Country Under My Skin, Gioconda Belli talks about how Torrijos tried to take her to this house. Relatively speaking, the house was not that large and had very much of a 1970s dark wood feeling. According to the guide, Torrijos first came to Coclecito in 1970 after a flood washed away the houses of a couple local inhabitants and they wrote to the General for help. He apparently fell in love with the place, and provided the local peasants with a lot of material support, building the town in the process. Seeing the house provided an interesting view into the life of the most famous of the Panamanian leaders.

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