A classic scene: tourist wants to go to Casco Viejo and
asks a taxi driver to take him. The taxi says, oh no, it is dangerous. Don´t go there.
Actually, ask most Panamanians and you are crazy to even consider living here. But
somehow a miracle happens: the visitor (now really curious about the place) gets to
Casco Viejo… and has a blast. Interviews people living in the area, and everywhere
they tell him is quite “tranquilo”. Notices that somehow, even where there are obvious
economic differences among the population, the community as a whole seems to work
very well and everyone mingles.
The reason isn´t really that there are more policemen than anywhere else in Panama,
although I have to say we have a strong police force presence, but the small town
scale that makes everyone behave better.
Now, if it makes you feel better, Casco Antiguo has 3 different types of police forces.
Why? because this used to be
…. the entire city of
. So we ended up with the Presidential Police (or SPI), the National Police Station
and now the Tourism Police. Although they all take their jobs very seriously, my own
“town-like” view of the difference between station and station is the following:
The Presidential Police are tall guys standing in B Avenue by the Presidential Compound,
mostly strong and good looking. They also like flirting a lot with the girls passing
by, so don´t take it personally, they do it with everybody. It is part of the “latino
thing” they have going on. Remember our last President was a woman, I´m sure she picked
them personally. Good taste in most cases!
The Tourism Police are the “tropical nice guys” of the town. Wearing tight shorts,
they run around in bicycles and they can give you a tour of Casco Viejo. Somehow the
government thought it was useful (or fun?) to have policemen be tour guides. Well…
but they are very helpful, basically they are the true neighborhood police.
If you get lost or need to go anywhere, they´ll do their best to point you out in
the right direction.
The National Police is more of a “normal” police in the sense that they direct traffic
and handle crime cases. Most of them remind me of the classic police image of
the guy with a belly and a donut, but they really want to help and do their work.
So there you go! the best part is to see them training.
Of course, the SPI trains like hell, starting at
.m. in the morning, running through the streets of Casco singing songs and doing some
serious gymnastics. The tourism police (see picture below) does some exercise and
participate in football leagues. The National Police… well, haven’t seen them doing
much physical training at all!