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Crime in Panama: a love story

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Written by Matt   
Sunday, 27 May 2007 07:49

It was a fairly muggy Saturday afternoon when, check walking through a quiet intersection just short of Via Espana, remedy I felt a tug at the back pocket of my jeans and turned to find a beautiful woman smiling as if I’d just kicked some game her way. It was the kind of tug that might have gone unnoticed had there not been a beautiful face not inches away from mine. We walked a few paces, our shoulders touching, our hips brushing, and our feet semi in sync. Any closer, and I’m pretty sure we’d have been having intercourse.

I looked at the girl, cute face, saddle skin tone and devious eyes like marbles, and then at her breasts which were the size of small ornamental pumpkins. She smiled back in an intimate way and I felt, for the first time in my life, I might be truly in love. A low-cut striped top and relatively tight jeans revealed a slender body that looked to be crafted for model runways and cheap beer ads. I pictured me and my honeydew girl forming a solid and meaningful relationship, perhaps some day sitting with our grandchildren and recalling the day we met. That is however, until I realized that honeydew was not flirting with me, but rather trying to steal my wallet.


Seeing the supposed sneaky hands of petty thieves like Honeydew reminded me of a time back in Paris when my best friend Adam got punched in the face by a homeless man outside Notre Dame. It reminded me of the night I chased down a gypsy in Plaza Santa Ana in Madrid, tackling him to the cold pavement like a sack of crude oats. It conjured up memories from St. Petersburg and Brussels and Berlin, where either I or someone I knew was the victim of tourist-related petty crime. Crime had made its way into my travels like an unwanted uncle: the annoying yet expected byproduct of being in new surroundings.


But crime in Panama is far less common and dramatic than most people think. Sure you have your drug-related incidents involving Columbians, but they’re usually isolated and the result of someone doing something stupid. You must try very very hard to get involved in these sorts of rings, so if you do manage to incorporate yourself, my advice would be to have all the fun you want. For the most part though, to the everyday expat, this kind of crime is not a concern at all.


Yes you have your basic developing-world corruption, but we have that at home in the States too. Nepotistic contract agreements, insider trading, political swindles: it’s just more out-in-the-open here. None of it though is really anything you need to worry about, with regards to your personal or physical wellbeing. You’ll hear about it all the time, with the casualness of a shotgun opera: no need to fret.


As with any tourism destination where money starts to flow, of course you have crazy foreigners who show up to do obnoxious things like scam and murder people. These are usually the foreigners who have fled their home country for one reason or another (often by choice, more often by law) and they bring with them a unusual behavior. Sometimes freak delinquencies occur but unless you choose to go and befriend these individuals, who in a lot of cases are very bad people, you have very little to worry about.


Presumably because tourism is so new, Panama has relatively little petty crime as well. You’ll hear of the occasional mugging or car jacking, but these kinds of occurrences are thankfully pretty rare. Especially involving expats. With such a large income gap, you’d think there’d be more crime, but for the most part, people like me feel extremely safe. I’m guessing that as more and more tourists flow into the isthmus, little things like muggings, robberies, and sidewalk thievery will increase. But for the time being, there are very few areas considered ‘off limits’. To give you an idea, I feel safer in Panama City, walking alone at night, than I do in DC.


Many tourists look at petty crime as a drawback. But I consider destinations in Europe, with rampant law-breaking, to be no better setting in which to practice crime of my own. The process of becoming a thief, has over the years taught me indirectly how to catch one too. I’m not alone here: there are lots of police in Panama who are always out and about (and these are real police, not like the rent-a-cops you have in Costa Rica). Of course crime is on the rise, but what would you expect from a thriving metropolis?


So I figure out Honeydew is trying to grab my wallet and accordingly nab her hand in the act, a la cookie jar. At first she was startled, as most people are when seeing the sort of cat-like reflexes I am capable of exhibiting. Then she smiled and apologized, releasing her grip on my wallet, and giving me the slightest of spanks before she walked in the opposite direction. She was a sexy thief. You very rarely hear of this sort of thing in Panama but as in any city, it has to be kept in mind. Panamanians as a people are extremely warm and welcoming, but taking the normal precautions is of course recommended.

 

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Just a couple of places to be careful
written by Pat Palmer , June 26, 2007
I lived in Colon for a year and in San Felipe following that. you can count on all of metropolitan Colon to be dangereous at night for a gringo alone, and in the day it would be risky, even foolish. If you wander off the main street in the undeveloped area of San Felipe, you will be taking a serious risk at night.
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written by sardo , August 21, 2007
I recently visited Panama and I think many Americans are living in a world of fantasy. Any Gringo walking anyplace in Panama at night is asking for trouble. I was born in Panama and I would tell anyone that from my observation, Panama is an extreemly dangerous place. Poverty is a serious problem and we all know that poverty brings crime. In addition, wadering the San Felipe area day or night is asking for you death.
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I have to disagree
written by Mateo , August 21, 2007
Hey Sardo,
I gotta disagree with you. I've spent a lot of time in a lot of different neighborhoods here at night (god that sounds bad) and I don't believe "any gringo walking anyplace at night is asking for trouble." El Cangrejo, Obarrio, Punta Pacifica, Area Bancaria, Calle Uruguay: they're all far safer than streets I grew up near and I feel entirely safe walking there day and night. Sure places like San Felipe and Chorillo are bad, but you really have to go out of your way to get there.
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Stop making stupid excuses for crime (anywhere)
written by Kevin , December 03, 2008
seems like there are nothing but excuses by gringos with "rose colored eyes" (red) for the crime in Panama. I lived there over 15 years ago, and the crime was horrible then. This crap about being safer in Panama City than in Dc is just that - crap. I have lived in DC all my life, and moved only twice (i'm 47). I never had bars on the windows of my house, barbed wired surrounding my it, nor or a break-in. Stop making up the most pathetic excuses you can just because you want a place to be nice now that you have invested top notch dollar to live there. Get real, will ya! smilies/cry.gif
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Update please
written by Ally , December 06, 2009
Matteo,

It would be great if you could give us an update on this subject since 2007 when you wrote this article. What's different today than yesterday?

Thanks!
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Last Updated on Monday, 11 August 2008 21:42
 
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