Panama City, Panama—Bob asked one of our Panama police escorts what serious crimes against tourists had occurred recently. The officer stunned us with a horrific story of some visitors who had rented a car and driven to a lodge in a rainforest. They were ambushed somewhere out in the countryside and robbed of everything.
With disgust all over his face, the officer went on: the perpetrators, it was later discovered, were police officers. They had been tipped off by someone at the airport or car rental agency.
Two days later, we saw an English-language Panama paper:
…members of the Tourism Police who arrested three men who are suspected of being part of a gang that robs tourists allegedly smashed the suspects’ fingers with a hammer, beat them with golf clubs and forced their heads into bags full of pepper gas in an attempt to make them reveal what happened to the proceeds of a string of robberies. According to a report, the crime was allegedly aggravated by the cops’ motive to make the suspects reveal where the money was so that they could take it for themselves. —The Panama News
We returned to Panama half a year later and, though it was already 9 p.m., made straight for the old, dilapidated, historic section of Panama City. We walked the dark and dangerous streets with our cameras dangling and very soon approached a few people loitering on a corner to ask for Angel or Jaime, the former thieves.
The loiterers whistled over an English-speaker: amazingly, it was Angel’s mother. She and one of the men, a private security guard, walked us to a gangster hangout, and there we spoke with about a dozen young thugs, Angel’s mother translating.
The boys sized us up quickly and automatically, and we did the same. I looked at their smooth skin, fake-tough faces, and posturing, and couldn’t prevent wistful thoughts of their youth and potential, or lack of potential. Bob did some goofy steals on the guys. One of them brandished a cellphone and fancy money-clip full of cash, claiming he’d just lifted them. Despite all their braggadocio, the gangsters clearly wanted a little old-fashioned fun. Like the thieves we speak to the world over, they blossom when spoken to with simple respect.
Eventually, a stoned-looking Angel arrived, with bloodshot eyes, no job, no vocation, and apparently still one of the gang. We wouldn’t be surprised if he was back to thieving. Jaime, on the other hand, was working with the Department of Tourism, we were told.
A pair of cops arrived on the scene and chastised us for clowning around with these criminals. We were not allowed to be in this area at this hour. There had been a murder right here five days ago. The cops pointed us out of the neighborhood and gave us a virtual kick in the butt along with the virtual spanking. Before we left the district, Angel’s mother brought us into her friend’s house. Angel followed and asked us for a gift of cash, which we gave him.
This is part 6 of 6. —— Part 1.
See our pickpocket summary page.