The Panama Canal is framed by Panama’s two largest cities. At one end is Panama City, a vibrant, bustling metropolitan center that is currently experiencing some of Latin America’s greatest growth. At the Canal’s other end, just forty miles away, lies the city of Colon, where potable water, electricity, structurally sound buildings, and meaningful work are all in short supply for the city’s 220,000 residents.
Panama has had an average economic growth of nine percent every year for the last five years. This is due in large part to foreign investment and development in Panama City, where Central America’s first subway is currently under construction. The tallest building in Latin America, a 70-story Trump hotel and condominium, is not out of place among newly constructed skyscrapers, malls, and restaurants.
But Colon has not enjoyed the same booming industrial and commercial development. The city has the largest duty-free trade zone in the Western hemisphere, which has long been a point of contention between residents and developers. Recent development within the zone has benefited businesses there, but not the city at large. The duty-free zone caused social unrest last year when Panama’s president passed a law allowing sale of land in and near the zone. Residents feared this would displace them from their homes and hurt their incomes. Several were killed in the protests.
The economic inequality between Colon and Panama City stems in part from racial segregation and discrimination. Racism is a long-standing problem in many Latin American countries, and Panama is no exception. Those with light skin are often viewed more favorably than those with dark skin in terms of wealth, attractiveness, and ability.
Colon is predominantly black, while Panama City has a larger percentage of European descendants. Many believe that racial discrimination has played a role in Colon’s economic depression.
The stark disparity between Panama City and Colon is an example of the unequal economic growth occurring all over the world. In many places, wealth remains concentrated where it is already abundant, while the poor remain poor, and grow poorer. Correcting this imbalance will require a multifaceted, in-depth, strategic approach that the world’s poor are unable to implement themselves. Therefore, those who have the means to do so are responsible for working to make humane living conditions and economic security realities for every person on the planet.
– Kat Henrichs
Source: NY Times