Hello, Good morning, good evening, wherever you may be around the nation or around the world. I am your host Dane and this is Spectral Skull Session.
We are recording today from the mountainous isthmus nation of Panama. I am in Boquete, Panama in the north of the country, this week. I’ve been in the mountains of Panama since last Wednesday.
I’m not in Panama FOR the show. But I’m in Panama for reasons that will effect the show and are, directly or indirectly, deeply relevant to the show. But, I’m not prepared to discuss it with the audience. If you bear with me, I will get around to talking about what I’m doing down here, but that may be at least a few weeks, if not months away.
But because I am down in Panama, I wanted to do an episode about how mysterious this place is. So, this episode is going to cover the FIVE biggest mysteries of Panama, that I know of:
1. The origins of Panama, and the mystery of whether Teddy Roosevelt is personally responsible for it being a country.
2. The Panama Papers – and Vladamir Putin’s role in Panama.
3. The Case of the Disappearing Dutch Girls
4. The Strange Petroglyphs of the Panamanian Jungles.
So this will be a bit of a round-up episode. I’m not going to go into depth on any particular topic. There are three reasons for this:
1.) Because I am traveling, I found it hard to do research. I am working on an extraterrestrial and UFO arc. I’ve been re-reading Diana Pasulka’s book “American Cosmic” I’ve been reading about the life of chemist and rocket scientist, Jack Parsons. I’m getting reading to read a new book that just came out arguing that the human race is bioengineered. I’ve got enough material for some really good alien/conspiracy episodes, but it’s really hard to focus when you’re traveling. I was only able to write this episode because I’m staying at a hostel that has a really nice balcony along the river, and I went outside yesterday afternoon, switched off the facebook and twitter, turned off my phone, and just pounded it out.
2.) Some of these topics are mysterious, but a little tangential to the main theme of the show – the exploration of supernatural, occult and esoteric phenomena. The origins of Panama and the Panama Papers are mysterious, and occult for sure, but they’re much more spy and espionage related and less aliens-ghosts-cryptids related. So why cover them at all? That leads to my third reason for doing this show:
3.) I wanted to honor Panama. Before I found out I was headed down here, I did not know much about Panama. I knew it was where the Panama Canal is located. I sort of assumed it was a really hot, muggy, jungle-filled, backwater. In reality, Panama is pretty unique and interesting. It’s a place that doesn’t get enough attention.
And really, something I’ve been noticng for the past 5 – 10 years, if you’re from the United States, we get very very little news about our southern neighbors. I think it was just about five years ago that I realized the death toll from the narco-war in Mexico is comparable to the death toll in Syria. Now, Mexico is a lot lower, but the dead and missing are still in the tens of thousands – and it’s hard to know for sure because so many people just vanish missing. And despite the high amounts of violence, we here almost NOTHING about Mexico in the U.S. Another example, there was civil unrest in Nicauraga around 2018 when i was in Costa Rica, and I barely knew anything was going on there until I was in Costa Rica and tried to go up to Nicraragua and people were telling me “no, you don’t want to go up to Nicaragua right now.”
I do not know why we don’t follow the news in what they call “Latin America” more closely in the United States. I find it very strange, considering how much trade we do with this part of the world. And how important it is for us. Honestly, I kind of think there’s a conspiratorial dimension to it. I think sometimes that there’s a kind of enforced insularity pushed by the people who control the media. For one thing, I think they don’t want us to be fully cogniscant of how much chaos is right on our southern border. It’s really scary when you think about how the Mexican government has frequently been out-gunned, infiltrated, and overrun, by the cartels. All that chaos and instability, which is linked to the American demand for drugs like Cocaine and Opiods, is both terrifying and also chastening. Our own policies play a role in what’s happening throughout Latin America.
I also wonder if maybe they don’t want us Americans to think of ourselves as sharing a continent with a vibrant and active part of the world, a part of the world where people are in many ways pretty relatable, but have considerable different priorities from us. In Costa Rica there’s incredible respect for nature. In Panama, you can see that people are much more connected to their families, to their traditions including but not limited to, religion. Both Costa Rica and Panama, it should be noted, do not have any military at all. Maybe if we were more engaged with our southern neighbors, we would rethink some of our materialism, some of our consumerism, and the people selling us a made-to-order lifestyle definitely don’t want us to do that.
Another thing that’s really struck me arriving down here in Panama, is the growing influence of the People’s Republic of China. When I got off the plane in Panama City, I was greeted at the customs gate by an enormous advert for the “Bank of China” – they literally put a huge advert on the wall behind the customs agents. It made me feel like I wasn’t disembarking in Panama, but I was disembarking in some kind of Chinese colony. And that feeling did not go away while I remained in Panama City. I went into a mall to get a SIM card and there were Chinese tourists, and the most popular phone stores were filled with Huawei products bearing Chinese script.
And so we should all ask: who is gatekeeping us from knowing more about this part of the world and why? What is their motivation? I’ve thrown out about four different possible motivations: keep us complacent about threats to our national security, keep us from taking responsibility for our own role in destabilizing our neighbors, keep us from thinking about an alternative way of living, and keep us from recognizing how important religious belief is to people around the world, and distracting us from the encroachment of a hostile superpower. But, you might have your own ideas about what is going on. These are just ideas. Pay attention and see what you come up with. If you have any ideas, please write the show and let us know.
And it could also just be tha there’s no conspiracy at all, but Americans don’t care. Maybe people don’t want to hear about Latin America because they think it’s boring. But, it’s NOT. It’s actually really really interesting.
So let’s begin with covering the mysterious origins of Panama.
First of all, Panama is located on the isthmus of Panama. It is basically the thinnest part of the land mass connecting the North and South American continent. If you imagine an S, and then rotated the S 80-degrees horizontally, to the left you’ve got Panama. The west side of Panama is slightly higher latitude than the east side. North of Panama is Costa Rica. South of Panama is Colombia.
Panama split off of Spain in 1821. And it joined the Republic of Gran Colombia. This was a super-state that was made up of what today is Colombia, Ecuador, and Venezuala. Eventually, Panama and Colombia became their own state, separating from Ecuador and Venezuala.
Now, Colombia and Panama split in 1903. And this is where the mystery starts.
You see, the United States was in negotiations with Colombia for permission to dig the Panama Canal. Colombia was asking for a pretty high price. Suddenly, Panama declared independence from Colombia, the U.S. recognized Panama as an independent state. And boom, the U.S. resumed negotiating the Panama Canal, this time for a much lower price.
So, it is quite possible that Panama can be thought of as a kind of client state for the U.S. A client state as in: it seems that USA created Panama to serve USA. No judgement there. The world is a dog-eat-dog place, no doubt. I just want my countrymen to be cogniscant of what our nation had to do in order to secure its role in the world, because my sense is that we’re not paying attention now and it could all slip away. Like I said about my shock at discovering that the Bank of China has pride of place at Panamanean customs – you could wake up one day and find out that your backyard is being run by communists. So we got to stay alert on this one.
But what is the evidence that the U.S. created Panama? This is the mystery that requires some history.
So, the U.S. had a treaty with the superstate of Colombia/Panama that they could land troops on the isthmus to ward off pirates, going back to 1846. The lines of communication ran up and down the isthmus and this was a vulnerable choke point.
By 1855, the U.S. had built a railway through the Isthmus. And whenever locals opposed the railway, or the various activiites associated with it, the U.S. had landed troops and beaten them off. Meanwhile, certain people in Panama had gotten rich by doing deals with the Americans. And so, a whole community of wealthy, pro-US Panamaneans had come into existence around this new transportation infrastructure and the American commitment to defending that infrastructure.
These powerful Panameans were in favor of the Panamea canal, they were now positioned perfectly to take advantage of it.
Now, the idea of building a canal to connect the Pacific and Atlantic oceans had been important to the U.S. for decades, but there had been a lot of controversy over how to do it. Many people wanted to go through Nicarauga, not Panama. And there was talk of getting Costa Rica involved somehow. Also, the French tried to dig a canal on their own, and they failed and the company went bankrupt.
So, when the Panama canal deal finally started to go through, powerful Panameans were heavily invested in it. And they panicked when they found out that their central government located in Bogota, remember this is the Panamanean-Colombian superstate – that central government planned to ask for a signfiicant sum in payment for the rights to the canal. And many politicans located further in Colombia were vehemently against further U.S. involvement in their country.
We know that around this time Manuel Amador Guerrero, who would later become the first president of Panama, began working with the U.S. government on plans to secede from Colombia. We know that a pro-Pamamanea interests had planted a story about widespread civil unest in the New York World – a kind of predecesor to the New York Times – in 1902.
We know that a French engineer associated with the canal project met with PResident Roosevelt in 1902, and Roosevelt later wrote that there was an implicit understanding that if Panama revolted against Bogota, then the Americans would rush to recognize Panama and secure the canal zone.
And this is basically what happened. The Panamaean interests drew up a flag, some documents, and declared themselves liberated. A Colombian warship parked outside of Pamana City took umbrage to this and shelled the city. Apparently, the story goes the Colombians lobbed five shells and then retreated, themselves terrified at the prospect of the advancing Americans. Those shells killed a donkey, and a Chinese man, a man named. Wong Kong Yee. Shortly therafter the U.S.S. Nashville arrived in Port, secured the city, and the Panamean Revolution was over.
But the mystery here is exactly what Roosevelt’s involvement was, was this just – America was eager to take advantage of a revolution, and the Panamanean business interests were smart enough and risk-tolerant enough to take advantage of it, or did Roosevelt promise the Panameans through their French intermediary that he would defend Panamena?
Well, the answer can almost certainly be found in the story of how the canal rights were ultimately negotiated:
When John Hays, the Secretary of State, came in to Panama to negotiate the treaty for rights to the canal, his Panamanean counterpart gave him the option of two different legal treaties, and told him that he could have whichever one he prefered. And then, it turned out that the Panamenean represenative had no signet ring with which to seal his signature, so John Hays gave the man his own family ring. The man happily signed a treaty, giving away sovereignty for Panama to America, with the ring of the family of the American Secretary of State. Oh. And one other thing that made this deal extroardinarily shady – the Panamanean representative was not even Panamean hismelf – he was that same French engineer, Bunau-Varilla, who had met with Rooselvelt.. That’s right, the Republic of Panama handed the authority to negotiate sovereignty over the canal to a man who was not himself Panamean So, that suggests to me that the Panamaneans were paying back a favor. A big favor.
So that’s one Mystery of Panama.
The next mystery took place in the 21st century. The Panama Papers are 2.6 tetrabytes of data contained in some 11.5 million documents that revealed the existence of a global network of wealthy elites who were using Panama to illegally conceal their assets through the use of shell corporations. And some of these wealthy elites were connected to rogue governments that are under sanction by the U.S. and Europe. For example, Russian President Vladamir Putin was found to have a close friend, a mere professional musican, who was owning $2 billion worth of assets concealed in these Panamanean companies.
The Panama Papers were leaked anonymously to a German newspaper in 2016. The whistleblower warned the journalists that they feared for their life. As a result of this person’s brave actions, the law firm of Mossack Fonesca was shutdown, lawyers Mossack and Fonesca spent four months in jail. The revelations of hidden offshore accounts led to resignations of politicans around the world – Iceland, Mongolia, Spain, to name a few places. And as recently as October 2020 the government of Germany was seeking to extradite the lawyers who ran Mossack and Fonesca.
Now, almost everything I know about shell companies comes from the John le Carre novel The Night Manager, but here goes. The idea is pretty simple: if you have a bunch of money and you don’t want to pay taxes on it, you find some corrupt lawyers in a country that has low taxes. Say, Panama. Those lawyers set up a fictional company and they put in the name of someone who is NOT you. It could be a friend, it could be THEM. Then you have to move the money somehow without anyone knowing, into the new company. Now, the money cannot be taxed and if people come aftet you – say you have an ex-wife who wants divorce money – they can’t find it. It’s in someone else’s name, and it’s parked in a company.
And I used to wonder “how do you park money in a company”? It’s really simple, you just form a company and then open a business bank account in the company’s name. You can do that if you’re the owner. Businesses need cash to get things done so they can make money, so they usually need some so-called “liquid assets” to keep operations flowing. So, you can just start a business, open a business acccount, and then jam as much cash as you want into that account. now the business owns the account.
Now, as I see it there are a couple weaknesses in this whole process. One is: you need to trust the people who own your shell companies. I don’t understand how anyone could ever trust a crooked lawyer. that makes zero sense to me, but I guess it happens. Two, is the laundering of the money into the shell company. You either need a crooked bank, or you need a very good cover story. A big part of why its basically impossible for you or I to hide assets from the government is that if we go into a bank in say Panama. Say, I, Dane, walk into a bank in Panama and say “hey, I want to open an account.” well, they’re going to demand to know who I am, and see all kinds of records on me. This is called “Know Your Customer” (KYC) and it’s a fundamental practice in banking and payment processing. Now, if I start funneling money into that account, they’re going to demand to know where it’s coming from. Plus, I have to report the new account in Panama to the IRS. The IRS has a special form you have to fill out when you open foriegn bank accounts.
Now, as I understand it, the wealthier you are, and the more established you are, the easier it is to both cook up cover stories, and the easier it is to get bankers to trust you. So, a bank in Panama isn’t going to want to put up with any shady dealings from a guy who is waving around $5,000 in cash. It’s not worth it. But if you’re waving $50 million in cash, the bank may say “well, you know, we don’t really understand all the details behind this cash, but this will really be a good deal for us, so we are going to look the other way a little bit.”
So that is a little primer on how the wealthy are laundering money around the world to avoid taxes. And I want to emphasize, I think there are good wealthy and bad wealthy. If a person has a lot of wealth because they’re running an awesome business and doing good things – maybe they’re making spaceships and electric cars. I won’t name names, but you can imagine a guy who fits this description, I hope. Anyway, if you’re that guy, I think it’s awesome if you’re rich. but if a politican’s son is getting handed sincures – easy jobs that pay a lot – from corrupt-as-heck countries like UKRAINE, and CHINA, in the hopes that this politican will sell out his homeland’s foreign policy…. I’m not going to name any names here because you know twitter, facebook, and other social media services will censor us…. but you can imagine who I am talking about. Anyway, THAT sort of thing is heinous. It is wrong! it is outrageous!
I am against it.
Ok. So there’s another mystery surrounding Panama – why did all these corrupt politicans from around the world use a law firm here to hide their ill-begotten gains?
I don’t know, but I want to mention to you dear listeners. We talk about conspiracies sometimes on this show. The shady origins of Panama, the Panama Papers, these are bonafide conspiracies! This stuff REALLY happened, there is no doubt. So I think we should accept that conspiracies really ARE a part of world history, they are a central feature of the landscape of human society. Anyone who tells you otherwise is probably a CIA frontman.
The challenge is to disentangle real conspiraices from fake ones. And that will be an ongoing thread in this show. As we talked about in our episode on Robert Anton Wilson – it’s very hard to know what is real, what is paranoia, what is disinformation, what is misinformation, what is being put into your head by demons…once you start going down these rabbit holes. And I think that trying to navigate the reality of uncertainty is of central epistemic importance to us, as seekers of occult knowledge.
Moving on, one of the saddest and darkest mysteries coming out of Panama in recent years is the disappearance of two young dutch women in 2014.
Kris Kremers and Lisanne Froon were hiking in Boquete. That’s where I am right now! Boquete is a mountain town. There’s a volcano nearby.
So these young ladies posted that they were going to hike around Boquete on Facebook. And they were seen having brunch with some dutch men on March 29th. The Ides of March. Apparently, they took a friend’s dog with them too. That night, the DOG showed up at his owner’s home, but without the girls. This was the first clue that something was terribly wrong.
On April 2nd, the girls missed an appointment with a local guide. On April 3, authorities began aerial searches of the forest and local residents began searching. On April 6, the parents of Kremers and Froon arrived in Panama along with police, dog units, and detectives from the Netherlands to conduct a full-scale search of the forests for ten days. The parents offered a US$30,000 reward.
Ten weeks later, a local woman turned in Froon’s blue backpack, which she said she had found in a rice paddy by a riverbank near her village of Alto Romero, in the Bocas del Toro region. She said she was sure it had not been there the day before. The backpack contained two pairs of sunglasses, US$83 in cash, Froon’s passport, a water bottle, Froon’s camera, two bras and the women’s phones – all packed, dry, and in good condition
So from the cellphones they gathered all kinds of data. Apparently the ladies had made emergency calls over the course of three days. And one phone had been switched on and then off as late as April 5th, that was six days into their disappearance. None of the emergency calls had gone through because the ladies had been out of range.
One of the most mysterious things about their cell phones – on April 8th one of the phones had been switched on and used to take 90 photos. Apparently, they were flash photos taken in the dark. Two months later, the ladies bones were discovered in the mountains some miles away from Boquete. There was no evidence found of foul play, but there was evidence of trauma – which may have been from a fall or may have been due to animals eating the bodies.
So, if you want more detail about this – many many unsolved mystery type podcasts and youtube shows have covered this story, so I am not going to go into it too deeply. People are often confused about the weird photos taken on April 8th. There’s a whole side story about a possible cover-up by the Panamanean authorities. I would like to simply refer you to a really good, unique, Youtube show – it’s called “Bedtime Stories” and they do black-and-white still drawings with dramatic voice-over. They do a good job of disecting the conspiracy dimension to this story.
There is one really dark possibility that has to be addressed, because this is a show about possibilities. It’s possible the girls were canabilized. I did find a news report about a canibalistic church that was taken down by the Panamean authorities a few years ago. And people I’ve talked to have said that some Panameans practice some kind of nature or spirit worship that predates the European settlements and the arrival of Christianity.
So it IS possible that the girls were ritualistically murdered or eaten.
My take on this is actually that it’s blindingly obvious what probably happened here: two people got lost. wandered around and died.
As for the phone and the photos on April 8th. I think it’s quite possible that one of the ladies used the phone’s flash to try to scare a wild animal, or as a navigational aide. Or it’s possible that someone found the phone.
In fact, I think it is very possible that someone found the backpack, and moved it. Some human. Because the pack and the bodies weren’t found together. And I don’t think that’s a big conspiracy either. I can imagine some young person, probably a panamanean youth, finding a nice backpack, sort of looking into it and feeling excited. What a find! And then the kid learns that there’s some missing people, or he thinks through the ramifications. He gets spooked – he’s technically stolen a backpack, and what if people think he’s involved in the disappearance? So he dumps it somewhere.
Why is there any controversy about any of this? Probably the big deal is the part about how the Panamean authorities tried to deny the women were dead or missing for quite some time. And that is also pretty obvious to me – this is an expat enclave. It’s full of foreigners from Europe and USA. And they didn’t want the bad press. But people, cover-ups tend to make things worse! You try to cover something up, and if you fail, there’s a tinge of the sinister around you forever.
Clearly, the Jungles are dangerous. It’s steep, there are dramatic changes in the weather, there are different species of wild animals. People can die, even if you have a partner. I am traveling solo, so I haven’t gone on any deep hikes. I did drive down one jungle mountain trail – I did a four hour drive from Santa Fe to the Caribean. It was on a very nice paved asphalt highway, and there were bus stops every few miles, and I passed cars. Everywhere, but even I had this creepy feeling like – you know, there’s an element of danger here. I’m pretty isolated.
And this leads me to the final mystery of Panama. I want to end on a positive note.
While I was on this jungle mountain trail I came across one of the most amazing and intriguing ancient artifacts I have ever witnessed in MYL IFE
I was driving on the alto de la pierda, connecting the tiny mountain town of Santa Fe to the caribean ocean. Piedra means basically “rock with petroglyphs carved into it” I found two possible sites for petroglyphs. I was told to check out this one spot high up in the mountains. I got out of my car and a man appeared. He was sort of hiding inside this weather shelter. He slid a window open and said hello.
I walked around the wall and realized it was just an empty shell of a building. So I gave him a dollar for my car being parked in his lot and he gave me directions to hike up the mountain and find a piedra.
I hiked up the mountain. I came across a family home and some children ran away from me screaming. Their mom came out, and I asked her about the Piedra. She said there were no piedras. So I retraced my steps and took another path.
Now THIS Path took me past some obnviously abandoned housing. A big concrete two-story building with no door and wooden slit windows. It didn’t look occupied, because there wasn’t anything around the house – like vehicles or evidence of a lot of recent foot traffic, but I couldn’t see in. But I saw this one thing that scared me – a big hat. Just lying there at the foot of the door. And I thought “wow, there coujld be some people hiding out in this weird, isolated, concrete ruin, waiting for me to walk by, and then they rush out and…
So, this was probably my imagination getting the best of me, but I decided I was done piedra hunting at that site. I yelled out “IS ANYONE HOME?” and then I turned around and went back to the car.
So I kept driving, and I felt very lucky when there was a Piedra, on the side of the road, and it was marked with a big metal sign “PIEDRA DE LA MOLERE”
So I parked my car on the side of the road, about 100 meters down from the Piedra. And I ran up to the rock. And I am just going to run the audio from the footage I recorded:
As I said in the video, I was just amazed. One local guide told me that no one knows how old these petrogylphs are, or what they’re here for. And as I said in the video, it does kind of look like maybe a spaceship, or maybe a fertility goddess has been depicted on one of the statues.
If you want to check that out, I am putting it up on the website so anyone who wants to see the photos and the full video can download it.
[mention the man with the machete]
So that’s the end of our Panama Show.
I hope you realize it’s a far more intriguing place than we’ve been led to believe. Panama is about more than just the canal. It’s a very wild and free place, and you can come here, right now. I would encourage you to come, – not for the shell corporations because 1) that’s not really an option for those of us who are not in the 1%, 2) It’s illegal and don’t do illegal things, and 3) It’s alot harder today to hide money in Panama than it used to be. Now I hear one of the biggest tax shelters in the world is New Zealand. by the time you learn about a place where people are hiding their money, it’s too late, that ship has sailed. but come down to Panama for the petroglyphs. Come for the mountain hiking. The volcanoes. Come for the horseback riding – which is not my thing, I love animals but I find it very boring to be on a horse. Come for the chance to learn some Spanish. I am not getting any kickbacks from the Panamanean government for this episode obviously, because I’ve covered some dark things.
That’s it. God bless Panama. God bless the free people of the world. And may the light of hope soon shine even in the dark places. This is Dane singing off:
Until next time,
Stay strange and stay sane
[END WITH PANAMA NATIONAL ANTHEM]