Continued from Part I of Know your Competition: Panama City; where Miami and Panama City are compared as candidates for the FTAA secretariat.
Panama City is a force to be reckoned with. Currently, there are plans to build approximately 107 residential properties (20 floors and up) valued at $3.5 billion. It is definitely Latin America’s boomtown. Two of the proposed projects are vying to be the tallest in the southern half of the hemisphere. Many of the projects are extremely impressive but I have to admit not altogether original. The Trump Ocean Club International Hotel and Tower looks like a replica of Dubai’s Burj al Arab.
The Faros del Panama development has a similar architectural concept to Riyadh’s Al Faisal Tower: the difference is that instead of a sphere at the pinnacle there is cube. In a parallel to Miami’s boom, some of the project names are the same: Platinum, Ice, Acualina, and Ocean One. Surely this was not intended but it is ironic nevertheless. Panama City, after all, has its sights set on countering Miami’s trade influence in the hemisphere.
Anatomy of a Boom
PC is booming, but it is not clear whether there has been a catalyst to this surge or if momentum has been gradually building over time. In Miami, the city was racked with hurricanes, immigration crises, riots, and political corruption during the decades preceding the current boom. Despite the many obstacles Miami faced, the city resiliently moved forward into the future. The immigration crisis subsided and led to the establishment of a Spanish-speaking foundation, which serves as the basis for Miami’s status as the Gateway to the Americas. The riots and political corruption resulted in changes in the political establishment that created more adequate representation among the minorities. This led to stability, security, and economic success. Panama City, much older than Miami, has seen destructive pirates, revolution, foreign invasion, a dictator deposed, drug cartels, and yadiyadiya! So,why then is PC booming? The answer might be simple: the Panama Canal. Duh. Certainly, long term security and aid provided by the U.S. helped. And, last, its central geographic location: where two continents meet.
Today, many Caribbean nations rely heavily on Miami for material support and trade facilitation. Latin American nations consider the city the logical entry point into the U.S. market. However, Panama City is actively reaching out to mitigate Miami’s importance. To bolster Panama City’s hemispheric economic stance, the Panama Canal is undergoing a 5.2 billion dollar expansion that will further expand the critical waterway’s trade role during the new millennium. Tocumen International Airport, Central America’s busiest, just recently underwent major renovations and has flights to almost every major city in the hemisphere.
Panama City has a long history of U.S. intervention. Panama declared independence from Colombia in 1903 with American support; the main condition was that the U.S. would be the controlling interest in a new trans-oceanic canal that was to be built. Although the U.S. government has long since relinquished control of the canal, Panama remains a dollar based economy. Many Panamanians speak English. U.S. citizens compose two-thirds of all foreign visas issued. To some, the quality of life and health care system rivals that of the United States without the high cost. American expatriates feel at home there and make up a big chunk of the buyers market for PC real estate, and it sits right smack in the middle of the Western Hemisphere.
The city has its pit falls. It is over 400 years old and still lacks a decent and modern transit system. The public buses look like they were vandalized by Rastafarian loons. Untreated sewage is still pumped out into Panama Bay. Certain poor neighborhoods on the fringes of the capital lack easy access to drinking water. The government has pledged to do more regarding the environment and public transit but the promises remain, well, promises. Familiar? Miami suffers from its own infrastructure improvement lag, but for the most part, the funding is in place and the plans for improvement, in many cases, have already begun. Miami’s public bus and monorail system eclipses what Panama City has for transit at this time—this is no compliment for Miami.
Panama City is also a hot bed of drug trafficking. As infamous as Miami’s drug past and present is, Panama City is at a different level. Recently, Panamanian and U.S. authorities seized a ship with a record breaking 11.5 metric tons of cocaine only to get that record broken by a 19.4 metric ton cocaine bust off of the same Panamanian coast. Much of the drugs that go through Mexico across the U.S. border, at one point or another, went through Panama first. This has resulted in heavy gang violence and involvement in the lucrative drug trade coming from nearby Peru and Colombia. The Panamanian police engage in routine anti-gang sweeps where hundreds get arrested. Drug traffickers have been known to possess machine guns and RPG’s. Panama City in many respects is susceptible to the instability that spills over from neighboring South and Central American countries. The result has been an increase in violent youth gang activity.
When broadly considering the facts, it still remains true that Panama is surging towards a more positive future than just about any other Central American metropolis and arguably South American too. The boom in Panama City is, by far, more speculative than the one in Miami. As much as Panama City impresses one with its English speaking population, it pales in comparison to Miami, which is considered to be the hemisphere’s foremost bilingual metropolis (with the largest presence of foreign born residents in the world). Panama City’s main airport, although recently renovated, does not compare to the massive expansion of Miami International Airport. Also, the city’s lack of a modern transit system, lack of environmental friendliness, heavy drug trafficking, substantial gang violence, and proximity to unstable neighbors, leaves it a questionable FTAA secretariat candidate compared to Miami. This is not to say that Panama City cannot get their act together in time.
Note: Panama City’s construction boom is valued at approximately $3.5 billion. This is chump change when considering Miami’s construction boom, which according to the latest City of Miami large scale development report, is valued at approximately $29 billion.