Stay Calm & Don’t Panic : Policing in Panama

The Panamanian Public Forces was a facet of Panamanian culture that I was quickly acquainted with on my 5th day in Panama City. We were stopped not once, not twice, but three times after a night out on town in Casco Viejo. Since I was a child I have never been so afraid of authority and never felt such a need to use the bathroom after seeing the faces of officers asking for my papers and passport. I quickly learned that the Panamanian Public Forces were the country’s source of defense and protection. Unlike within the United States, the PPF is responsible for protection domestically, as well as maintaining protecting externally.

Experiencing night life in Panama, I initially held a very naive American attitude to our cultural experiences and adventures without fead of being stopped and questioned. Similar to the United States, the PPF employs protective measures in order to maintain peace and expunge any illicit activities.Curiously, PPF is the only source of defense for Panama, as a result of Panama abolishing its standing army. With the PPF acting as a para-military force, this structure resulted from the “American Just Cause” in invasion that overthrew the military dictatorship in Panama. However, the difference lies in their priorities and maintaining safety and protection from the US. Within the context of the United States, police stops are based on the suspicion of illicit activities. Additionally, there is an expectation of punishment when being stopped by police. As I learned, being stopped by police in Panama is no surprise and is as common as filling gasoline at a gas station. As a visitor in Panama, I was frightened by the invasive nature of defense forces that protected and monitored the city at all hours. However, I  began to learn that in a foreign place, I needed to take the time to learn what is normal.

Though I was frightened my experience interacting interculturally with the PPF, I was lucky to have first hand experience of understanding defense culture in Panama. My understanding of the various differences politically, economically, and socially between Panama and the United States show me that I need to maintain an open mind in all of my experiences abroad. Even though defense plays a different role in Panama and the US, its important to note that one must let go of of his or her expectations in order to adjust to a new way of life. Even the most uncomfortable experiences are experiences nonetheless.Panama Police


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