Panama Cannons: gangsters gone good, part 6 of 6

Part of the police contingent present at Bob's lectures.
Part of the police contingent present at Bob's lectures.

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.

One of Bob Arno's lectures in Panama: 100 of Panama's top security and tourism professionals attended, including majors and chiefs of the national police and the  
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:

Tourism Cops Busted For Torture

…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

It was pitch dark in Casco Antigua. It's amazing what a good digital camera can do.
It was pitch dark in Casco Antigua. It's amazing what a good digital camera can do.

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.

Again, this was a dark night. Taken with a flash and lightened in Photoshop.
Again, this was a dark night. Taken with a flash and lightened in Photoshop.

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.

The gangsters got a kick out of Bob's attention. They probably behaved themselves because of Angel's mother's deference to us.
The gangsters got a kick out of Bob's attention. They probably behaved themselves because of Angel's mother's deference to us.

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.

As far as gangsters go, these don't look too threatening. But what do all their hand gestures mean?
As far as gangsters go, these don't look too threatening. But what do all their hand gestures mean?

This is part 6 of 6. —— Part 1.

See our pickpocket summary page.

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2 Comments

  • For travelers, it is very easy and cheap to extend the bottom of your front pockets by 2″ – 2.5″ inches. For peace of mind, I altered all my travel clothes in this way many years ago. Since then sneaky pick-pockets in bad neighborhoods, crowded tourist places or bars have been a non-issue for me and I enjoy my travel time much more.

  • for god’s sake stay out of Casco Antigua! After all, you want to keep your cameras, not to mention your lives.

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