Bulldozers obliterate a Panama institution for sailors

The 81-years-old Panama Canal Yacht Club, at the Caribbean end of the canal, near the French cut in Colon was demolished in the middle of the night by employees of Panama Ports Company. The ‘midnight massacre’ was said to be part of long-term expansion plans by the Panama Ports Company.

Boat owners, employees and businessmen, were evicted and given only only an hour to vacate the premises. The eviction order, reportedly granted by the Colon Mayor’s Office, was executed a minute after midnight on February 27, to the dismay of those present, who saw the obliteration of a Panama institution, built little more than a decade after the completion of the canal.

Apparently boat owners have been asked to remove their vessels by the end of March. Despite many of them paying mooring charges in advance, water and electricity had been cut.

A report in the Yachting Examiner said that several boat owners will be moving to Shelter Bay Marina, across Limon Bay, Colon, which is more expensive, but has better security. Others are planning to take their vessels to marinas in Bocas del Toro.

Meanwhile, on March 5 employees of the now defunct yacht club were protesting at the entrance of the Cristobal Port demanding an explanation and compensation from Panama Ports.

Panama-Guide.com, an English-speaking website, reported through an eyewitness how events unfolded:

‘At 0300 hours Friday morning the entrance to the club was sealed off by two massive containers and the fence into the club was breached for access….. the demolition crew arrived with huge spot lights, wrecking balls, trucks and back hoes and started bashing down the buildings……sealing off the club may or may not have been legal – wrecking the place we’ve been assured is an illegal – probably criminal act.

By 0800 hours the water main had been busted and the power lines downed…..now Friday was “Colon Day” another of many official holidays making a long weekend so naturally, as the Ports lawyers had calculated, there was no recourse that the Club or its lawyer could take as all government offices and judicial offices were closed…..no way to get an injunction to stop things.

When we all started waking up and seeing this incredible destruction and asked questions we were told that they were only taking down one old empty shed that the workers had been using ….as the day went on the demolition never stopped… it was dismal with all our the friends we’ve made among he workers (the real people) who showed up for work as usual, sitting stunned in shock and tears…

All the contents of the office, the bar, the restaurant, the storage rooms, freezers and the workers lockers were being carted away and locked in containers which were moved to unspecified and unknown locations “for safe keeping”.

Now this morning… it has begun again… there really won’t be anything left standing by the end of today… yesterday we were told that we had six weeks to empty our shed that contained virtually everything we keep on the boat.
But, according to local yachting writers, the plan only called for the demolition of two docks in the yacht club, rather than the entire facility.”

The yacht club opened with the Panama Canal in the early 1900s, but, according to some sources, had fallen on hard times, with lax security. The Yachting Examiner reports that cruisers visiting the marina were routinely offered cocaine and prostitutes along with other more routine provisions.

According to the Caribbean Compass, the closure might be part of a larger plan to make visiting yachtsmen unwelcome. “The new policy in Panama Canal waters is apparently to run visiting yachts out, discourage them from lingering and fine them if they do,” wrote David Wilson last September. “As of this writing, the Maritime Authority of Panama (AMP) has sent launches into the free anchorage area and threatened the yachts there with eviction and fines.”

Wilson said that there are virtually no slip spaces for visiting yachts. “Add to that the fact that the AMP is not allowing yachts to anchor anywhere in Panama Bay, and you have a situation that makes it difficult, if not virtually impossible, for yachts heading to the Caribbean from the Pacific to stop even to make arrangements to transit the canal, let alone re-provision, tour Panama or handle emergencies,” he wrote.

In a brief statement the authorities said: “Panama Ports Company has only exercised its right to make use of the areas that were given to it in concession through the Contract Law 5 of January 16, 1997. The lease contract of the Panama Canal Yacht Club expired a long time ago and for that reason the Yacht Club was occupying Panama Ports’ land illegally.”