The Melting Pot
The geopolitical status and demographics in Panama and Dubai have few similarities. Both states have been naively labeled as “melting pots” but, as we may guess, this is an absurd and inaccurate term. The population of Panama since the last census is just over 3.5 million people, while Dubai is 2,103,177 million at last count and the greatest amount of growth has been seen in the last ten years.
The people of Panama are called Panamanians and they are racially divided into mestizos (mixed Amerindian and white) 70%, Amerindian and mixed (West Indian) 14%, white 10%, full Amerindian 6%. With our last census, the government was supposed to gather more detailed statistics on the indigenous populations and the people of African descent which have traditionally gone uncounted for and/or invisible to the authorities but the census really didn’t reach its goals. Melting pots they are not as most groups of people pretty much stay to themselves. In Panama I would say, however, we have a greater measure of integration of the races than in Dubai. The greatest barrier to integration in Panama is economic class as well as race.
The native people of the UAE are called Emirati and they make up only 19% of the population, other Arabs and Iranians are 23%, South Asian 50%, other expatriates (including Westerners and East Asians) 8%. This is where any construable similarities end.
While the greatest portion of Panama’s population continues to weigh in as the poorer class or members of the extreme poor with little access to even the most basic of resources such as water and electricity, Dubai’s Emirati’s are its elite class; they are at the head of the state’s beneficiaries of all the oil wealth and tourism trade and modernization especially the young. Again I quote Johann Hari’s article:
“This is the best place in the world to be young! The government pays for your education up to PhD level. You get given a free house when you get married. You get free healthcare, and if it’s not good enough here, they pay for you to go abroad. You don’t even have to pay for your phone calls. Almost everyone has a maid, a nanny, and a driver. And we never pay any taxes. Don’t you wish you were Emirati?”
Accumulating Public Debt
Another striking similarity between the two states is, at least with the dramatic incursions of the Martinelli government, the ponderous public debt being leveraged to support all of the new sweeping construction of skyscrapers, highways, bridges, public buildings, airports etc. It is also troubling to see how all of these changes have been accomplished with the tiniest regard for the environment. Ecocide is a term that aptly fits what both nations are suffering in accommodating modernization.
The differences are not as perceivable when you look beyond the obvious. Again, the climate of Dubai is a hot/dry desert while Panama is an isthmus known for its tropical rainforests having been identified by its French and American developers more than 150 years ago as a vast “water shed.” Dubai’s petroleum is Panama’s water. Panama has all but turned into an extremely hot, hostile and dry dessert.as more and more hectares of forest are being cut down and burned to make way for development. I cite Johann Hari’s article, “The Dark Side of Dubai”:
“Dubai is not just a city living beyond its financial means; it is living beyond its ecological means. …
Dr Mohammed Raouf, the environmental director of the Gulf Research Centre, sounds sombre as he sits in his Dubai office and warns:
‘This is a desert area, and we are trying to defy its environment. It is very unwise. If you take on the desert, you will lose.’”
In the case of Panama, the ecological scenario is just as alarming with massive hydroelectric projects being aggressively imposed on the frail ecosystems of Panama’s powerful rivers, streams and coastlines. Something indeed is going to give in the form of catastrophic flooding and possible Tsunamis in the not too distant future. We have already witnessed the environment pushing back in the many floods and land and mud slides throughout the country in recent years.
The big difference between the two nations has boiled down to one question, “What has all the modernization and structural development done for the people, the real people of Panama?”
Despite all the impressive additions to infrastructure, for instance, the sewer system remains an afterthought to the geniuses spearheading all this change so that it remains as it was back in the early part of the twentieth century for Panama and, for Dubai, a real developmental challenge needing special attention. After all, you don’t want all those international business travelers and tourists coming to Panama and having to continually walk in torrents of sewer water with its accompanying odors fouling up the air.
Stay tuned for a closer look at the myth of “The Dubai of Latin America.“
This article continues.