See all those languages up there? We translate Global Voices stories to make the world's citizen media available to everyone.

Learn more about Lingua Translation  »

The Butterfly Effects of Panamanian Social Media

Panamono 2

“I <3 My Jungle.” Image shared on Panamanian social networks as a response to Rita García's online comment.

Immigration in Panama is a hot topic, and social networks are stoking the fire. Small acts online have a tendency to affect people's lives in big ways.

Most recently, Panamanian lawmaker Zulay Rodriguez attracted the scorn of Internet users abroad with a speech in parliament where she used the word “scum” to describe Colombian citizens captured in Panama, blaming foreigners for various crimes throughout the country, and advocating an end to the state's Crisol de razas (melting pot) program, which seeks to facilitate the naturalization of thousands of undocumented immigrants.

The Colombian Foreign Ministry and the Panamanian press also condemned the speech. Rodriguez later apologized for her words, but Internet users have continued to debate her remarks. Not surprisingly, Panamas's immigrants have been especially aggressive about responding. 

Venezuelan immigrant Rita García answered Rodriguez's speech with a controversial tirade against Panamanians, comparing them to “monkeys” and saying they're incapable of respecting foreign cultures. After a massive backlash, García deleted her inflammatory post, but not before it had been shared widely across the Internet. Outraged Internet users responded with a petition on calling for her deportation, quickly collecting more than 17,000 signatures. Panama's immigration officials later contacted García, but she and her husband had already lost their jobs and left the country

On Pin Radio, Alejandra Farías, another immigrant from Venezuela, wrote an article titled This Is Why Venezuelans Are Thrown Out, where she expressed her outrage and argued that García's case should be a lesson to other Venezuelan immigrants to Panama:

¿Quién se cree Rita García de Zedde para ofender y no recibir ningún escarmiento?. Yo estoy a favor de su deportación. ¿Cuántos venezolanos no quisieran tener ahorita, el empleo en el banco Panameño que tenía Rita?. ¿Cuántos venezolanos viven meses separados de sus familias tratando establecerse para trasladar a esposa e hijos con alguna comodidad? ¿Cuántos Venezolanos exiliados salen todos los días a “patear calle” a ofrecer sus productos, mostrar sus negocios o a repartir hojas de vida? 

Who thinks Rita García can offend others without being punished? I'm in favor of her deportation. How many Venezuelans right now would not want to have the job that Rita had at the Panamanian bank? How many Venezuelans spend months separated from their families, trying to settle down, so that they can send for their wife and kids to immigrate comfortably? How many Venezuelan exiles go out every day to “walk the streets” to offer their products, display their businesses, or hand out resumes? 

The online response wasn't all attacks, though. There were also shows of appreciation for immigrants from Panamanians like Shaila Valdez, who shared several words of welcome in on Facebook: 

PanamaI love my Colombian who manicures my nails perfectly, and does my hair removal divinely. I love the one who tends to me in a restaurant and says “good morning,” “one moment,” and “come back soon” to me!!! 

I love my Dominican who gives me a beautiful blow out, and plays her beloved bachata for me, while she shows me photos on her cell phone of the children she left behind in the Dominican Republic. 

I love the Chinese man who stands at the corner of my block and greets me with a “WHAT'S UP” and the woman with a “HOW ARE YOU, GIRL?”

I love the Italian who makes oven-baked pizzas and while I wait tells me that the man who founded the pizzeria many years ago was his grandfather. 

I love the German who brings me beer and apple shots, while he teaches me to say “good morning” and “thank you very much” in German, while we celebrate Oktoberfest…

I love the immigrant who comes here to make my Panama bigger and more productive, who comes here to move forward humbly… I love them because I want people in other countries to love my people when they arrive in search of a better future. 

Panama, the bridge of the world and the heart of the universe. 

Migration in Latin America is a complicated process, of course, and the incident with Zulay Rodriguez and Rita García show how the Internet can amplify ill will, just as it can bridge divides between people. It's up to individuals which kind of social media they'd rather have.

  • Walter Motley


    We are looking for some people that
    are interested in working from their home on a part or full-time basis.

    If you want to earn $30, $50 or even
    up to $100 a day, and like spending time on Facebook and Twitter then this is
    the perfect opportunity for you!

    As you know, businesses of all sizes
    right from McDonald’s and Coca-Cola down to your local hardware store are trying
    to get a presence on social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter. Think of
    how many ‘Fan pages’ and advertisements you have seen on Facebook recently for
    businesses in your local area.

    It’s a big thing right now and it’s
    making people just like you a lot of money.


Receive great stories from around the world directly in your inbox.

Sign up to receive the best of Global Voices
Email Frequency

No thanks, show me the site