The impact of roadblocks on residential tourism
This is not meant as a rant, neither serious criticism. I can understand their reasons for doing this. Still it makes me think and, as I have to admit, feel a bit uncomfortable and less welcome.
Apparently Panamanian traffic police performs license checking campaigns preferably on major holidays. That's when you can see them on all major streets, but as well as in remote locations where you really wouldn't expect a roadblock. They make you stop and want to check your drivers license. I have no problem with that and see the reasoning behind these checks.
Another new measure to improve road safety is a new law that went into effect earlier this year. Every driver is required to carry a copy of the traffic rules in the vehicle. I guess the idea is to make people at least skim the book once in a while.
But what gets me mad is this: they ask you for your drivers license and if you happen to show them a foreign drivers license, the very next question is "For how long have you been in the country?". What has checking drivers licenses to do with immigration issues? And what might a potential residential tourist think who gets asked this kind of question on his very first visit exploring the country in a rental car?
There is an enormous amount of construction aimed at residential tourists going on. In Panama City alone there are more than 90 projects in progress that each will put about 200 apartments on the market. And then there are all the other projects in the countryside. I guess every other lawyer in the city works for foreign investors buying property of some sort. The majority of these people will buy a car and drive around ... If they decide to stay and buy property, they will receive their residency with all the national documents such as ID and drivers license at ease. But while this is in progress they are subject to the question "For how long have you been in the country?" I guess many people will questioning their decision to move here due to this less welcome feeling this treatment causes.
The police officers should be instructed to welcome tourists instead of treating them like illegal immigrants, which is what this question implies. In fact they did welcome bearers of a foreign drivers license last year. Now there is a lot of talk going on about foreigners being responsible for increased crime activity. But I doubt whether it's a smart move to harass people who present a US or European drivers license and beyond doubt look like visitors from these countries.
On the other hand Panama sees a lot of immigration from Colombia and Venezuela and there has been some negative attitude against Colombians amongst a lot of common Panamanians. From what I can tell - that's only casual observations - it's envy as many Colombians buy properties in the better neighborhoods and start businesses.
Still street opinion should not lead to this kind of questioning when checking for valid drivers licenses.
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