Most of the 14, 538 properties have fallen into disrepair; only a fraction of them have been sold.
The Panamanian struggle to reclaim the territories long-held by the
When the last troops packed up and left
According to a report discovered by La Prensa at the Ministerio de Economía y Finanzas (MEF), the American inheritance was valued at $10.8 billion, a sum greater than the country´s total outstanding debt.
The hard-won properties, however, have not been well-managed. To date, 513 residences and 161 buildings have been razed after falling into disrepair, or demolished to make way for new projects.
A tour of the former American sites by La Prensa reporters revealed leaky, dilapidated structures which had generally been taken over by jungle flora and vandals.
A sign hanging at one of the 30 abandoned buildings on the Amador Causeway indicates that the Caja de Seguro Social (CSS) is responsible for their maintenance.
So far, the MEF has not confirmed plans to intervene with investment contracts involving the CSS´s Causeway properties. And although CSS officials acknowledged that the buildings have been vandalized, they insisted that they are being cleaned once a month in preparation for their eventual appraisal and sale.
One of the Causeway properties in question was donated to the Fundación Omar Torrijos with the promise that it would be transformed into a public recreation center. Years later, it remains unchanged, a hideout for feral cats and other wildlife.
Julio Ross, director of the Unidad Administrativa de Bienes Revertidos, explained that many of the former military residences and buildings in Clayton and the Causeway are in poor condition because they were sold during past administrations and are no longer maintained by the State. He said that it is up to local authorities to make sure that the current owners don´t neglect the buildings´s upkeep.
The old structures of the former Howard Air Force Base, now known as the Área Económica Especial Panamá-Pacífico, have suffered to a lesser degree because they were given as concessions to London & Regional Properties, a joint British-Colombian company that promotes investing in the area.
Gustavo García de Paredes, former president of the now defunct Autoridad de la Región Interoceánica (ARI), urged the government to expedite the process of awarding these assets to companies such as London & Regional Properties, before the structures lose their value entirely.
“The houses should be sold when an opportunity presents itself, or better yet, sold to the residents that currently occupy them,” he said. “But the Unidad Administrativa de Bienes Revertidos has no leasing agency or real estate department.”
For the properties that have not attracted bids and are not being rented, García recommends that discounts be offered as incentives.
Ross, of Unidad Administrativa de Bienes Revertidos, said that he has already begun working on a financing program with the Caja de Ahorros to help tenants become owners without adjusting their current rents. His agency reported that sales of these properties totaled $27 million last year. In addition to the 123 sold in 2007, 22 titles were traded or appropriated by government ministries, such as the Autoridad del Canal de Panama (ACP), academic institutions and private international groups.
The erstwhile ARI administrator Nicolás Ardito Barletta said that with the real estate boom in the country, now would be an auspicious time to sell these buildings, even if they´re in relatively poor condition.
“That´s what I did in Albrook, and none of the houses were lost,” he said, adding that during his administration (1995-2000), “only one or two houses had to be demolished.”
Despite last year´s purported sales and the investment proposals pending at the CSS, upwards of 50 percent of the land and properties in question remains unused and abandoned, especially the sites zoned for industry.
“It´s unjustifiable what´s happenening,” said José Chen Barriá, another former ARI director. “It´s been nearly 10 years since the last house was reverted; all of the houses and infrastructure should already have been reassigned or sold for a suitable use.”