Peace Corps Volunteers Out in the Cold in Tropical Panamà

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The President arrived in Panamà City this Thursday evening for the Seventh Summit of the Americas. It is being held in Panamà City this 10th and 11th. Tonight, Thursday, the 9th, a Reception was held at the Westin Playa Bonita for the Embassy personnel and their families, but not the Embassy local hires or ‘low level’ US employees. The affair was also closed to the Press and all Peace Corps Volunteers.

Currently there are approximately 209 PCVs working in Panamà, and since 1963 over 2,370 had served there as English teachers, environmental health, environmental conservation and in agriculture. My guess is that the Secret Service wanted to control the number of guests, therefore, no PCVs, but given the Secret Service agents behavior of late, I would have thought they might invite the Peace Corps just to ‘hit’ on some of the women.

The Summits of the Americas are institutionalized gatherings of the heads of state and government of the Western Hemisphere where leaders discuss common policy issues, affirm shared values and commit to concerted actions at the national and regional level to address continuing and new challenges faced in the Americas.

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The Summit was started under the Clinton Administration. Former President Clinton and Secretary of State Kerry are attending this meeting in Panama, and they were invited to the Westin Playa Bonita tonight.

In 2013 the Summit was held in Cartegena, Colombia where the first group of Volunteers in-country arrived after 30 years, but they weren’t invited either to the Embassy reception. Was is it? Do we eat too much?

The real reason, however, for no invitation I have since been told is because that the US Ambassador in Colombia at the time hated the agency.

This Summit, however, has included a Cuban Delegation. President Obama and the Cuban President Raúl Castro will make their first appearance together since they announced moves to normalize relations. That handshake is sure to be one of the enduring images of the Obama presidency.

The Peace Corps is not entirely without representation at this two-day summit in the capitol. The US Ambassador in Panamà, Jonathan Farrar, has set up tables in three hotels being used by the American staff and asked Bob Arias (Colombia 1964-66) a longtime Response Corps Volunteer, who lives in Panamà to manage the tables.

Bob's home in Bavamon

Bob's home in Bavamon

Having lived in this region as a Response Corp Volunteer, Arias is something of a marketing specialist for the Emberà tribe of the Darien peninsula, located deep in the jungle and he gives his assistance to generate income for the tribe by working with 24 artisans, mostly women, and 6 children, from the village of Bavamón. What he is able to sell at the Westin hotel, and the two other hotels–$600 in one day–goes

Craft Table at the westin Playa Bonita

Craft Table at the Westin Playa Bonita

directly to the village. There is no middleman.

And since Bob is no longer a PCV, he is also allowed by the Secret Service to move freely in the city. Why, he might even be able to get a free drink at the Reception. Have a beer on Obama, Bob.

8 Comments

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  • Thanks John, no beer but I have had an enjoyable time with some of the personnel from State, and they have purchased many of the artesan items I displayed on my table from the Emberà of the Darién peninsula. Our friends at State speak highly of Peace Corps and the value of the Volunteers. I have even met RPCV’S that now serve as State staff. And yesterday one high level official from DC was pleased to inform me that his mother had been a Volunteer in Colombia in the 1960’s. I wish President Obama had the time to meet the Volunteers, he would be proud of their work in Panamà

    My appreciation goes to American Ambassador Jonathan Farrar for his friendship, support, and interest in the Peace Corps, he is our friend. His wife Terry would be an ideal Volunteer. Thanks Ambassador and Mrs. Farrar. To have participated in the Summit of the Americas has been awesome and very rewarding for this RPCV and former Response Volunteer.

  • Bravo, Bob Arias! You represented us well, and thank you for your report of a great personal experience of a milestone political event.

    Too bad more PCVs could not have joined you.

    Leita Kaldi Davis
    (Senegal 1993-96)

  • I certainly bow to Bob Arias’s expertise. But, I did want to mention during my time in Colombia in the early 60s, Peace Corps Volunteers did not associate with anyone from the State Department. I did not even know where the American Embassy in Bogota was.

    I remember when we were greeted by the Ambassador in 1963, we were told that Volunteers were welcome at the Embassy for the annual Fourth of July Picnic, but at no other time. Some Volunteers were invited to the Ambassador’s private residence for Thanksgiving and Christmas. Other than that, there was a wide separation between Peace Corps and the State Department. So many Latin Americans remembered and loathed the frequent historic military interventions by the US in Central America and simply did not trust the US government.

    Keeping current Volunteers away from such an important conference may have been prudent.

  • Jo- I agree with you. However, it would have been a nice touch if the President could have had his armored luxury car driven to the Peace Corps Office where he could have shaken hands with current volunteers and thanked them for their service. As was true with the 50th anniversary, he does not seem to have much time for Peace Corps Volunteers.

  • I went from the Peace Corps to the Foreign Service. I am always amused by comments about the “chasm” between volunteers and diplomats. In fact the experiences are very much the same.

  • The same personal contacts with host country nationals, the same effort to explain America to others, the same desire to learn about another people, the same hope to improve mutual understanding.

  • I didn’t see any diplomats hanging with host country nationals in my village in Turkey, but I’m sure they were rubbing elbows somewhere out there on the Anatolian plateau. And still, more expensive booze.

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