Demographic Tides


For decades, Panama received Colombian immigrants because of the guerrilla war and ongoing narco-related crime.

Of course, some Colombians do not consider this as migration in the full sense of the word because Panama was originally a province of Colombia. Colombia’s terms for the construction of a US canal were tough, and so the US convinced locals in Panama to start their own country (the first “color revolution” of the 20th century?). That’s why Teddy Roosevelt said of the Canal Zone that “we stole it fair and square.”

Colombian immigration has fallen off, I think, now that Colombia is safer and growing economically.

Venezuelan elites have arrived instead, trying to protect their assets and lifestyle here in Panama. They have concentrated into elite neighborhoods like Costa de Este, a new high-rise development south of the airport on the beach. (But the beach here is pretty filthy because this city is a working port). Still, its a ritzy neighborhood with sushi, yoga, and all that jazz.

Venezuelan elites were the first wave. It seems that quite a few poorer Venezuelans have also arrived and work at whatever jobs they can find. Unlike the elites, this is not a family move; they usually arrived singly.

American “gringos” and Canadians are common in Panama, but not much more so than five years ago. Newly retired people are tending to go to Costa Rica, which has better beaches, and Ecuador, which is a lot cheaper than Panama.

I like Panama City, but this has the feel of a working port combined with a shopping mall. The only picturesque area is the Casco Viejo, the colonial Spanish section. Panama City is a place for business and banking. It’s a shoppers paradise for those thus inclined. It’s also a medical mecca for Latin Americans.

Panama City’s airport has outstanding international coverage, reaching many cities in the US and Canada, Europe, and of course perhaps the best Latin American coverage of any airport. It’s the Dubai effect – but this does not necessarily attract a lot of expats or retired people – some, but not as many as one might expect.

It is what it is.

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