Rumors abounded at Shelter Bay Marina before we embarked for the San Blas. According to reports from cruisers already in the islands, the Gunas were planning to charge a monthly square foot vessel fee for being in Guna Yala beginning after the New Years. The average fee would run in the thousands of dollars per month. Panama requires all cruisers to buy a yearly cruising permit which entitles free passage in all Panamanian waters, including the San Blas. Thus, in disregarding the national cruising permit, the Guna were reasserting the independence that marked their early relationship to Panama and were simultaneously targeting the visiting cruisers. The rumors hinted at disquiet between the cruisers and the Guna. Could this be the answer to the fourth question posed in our January 12 blog?
By the time we arrived, the Guna Congreso had scrapped the fee proposal. It is unclear what pressures led to dropping the proposal and none of our interactions with Gunas evidenced any animus or tension. The mola makers, fishermen, and delivery launchas were only too happy to do business with us.
While cruisers undoubtedly present opportunity and frustrations to the locals, the cruisers are the least of the change agents in the islands. With our without cruisers, cell phones, generators, satellite dishes, and small scale solar panels are providing information and comforts not previously attained.
The encroachment of the sea on a number of the smaller islands and their inhabitants presents a more sobering long term challenge to Guna Yala. Photo credit: Max Friedman.