Panama city is now the home of a new 280 hectare luxury housing complex fully equipped with a golf course, fitness and shopping center, as well as a wall about 10 meters high built around its perimeter to keep out the poor.
The wall around the Santa Maria Golf & Country Club extends for several kilometers along the South Corridor, which has been highly controversial and is emblematic of the drastic rich-poor divide that continues to grow in the region.
According to the World Bank, Panama has a relatively high income per-capita, yet over 37 percent of the population continue to live below the poverty line with 19 percent living in extreme poverty. In addition, more than half of the country's youth are poor, and almost a fifth suffer from malnutrition.
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Though the problem is more pervasive in rural areas, a large percent of the poor live in urban areas as well. Some 40 percent of the urban poor are in Panama city, while a significant share of the city-dwellers live just above the poverty line and are considered vulnerable, according to the World Bank.
The pristine Santa Maria Country Club highlights this inequality that exists in the city. The luxurious complex will house 5,000 residences, including houses, apartment buildings, resort type villas for vacationers and a shopping center. It will also include a five star hotel, a private school, a gym, and an 18 hole golf course designed by Nicklaus Design.
The country club is part of a larger building boom happening in the city, as the country continues to generate more and more income from the Panama Canal. The canal moves some 330 million tons of cargo in and out of the Western Hemisphere each year, and made over US$1.9 million in revenue in 2014 from tolls alone.
Yet this wealth has not trickled down to the most vulnerable in the country, while, according to reports by NPR, the building boom has increased the cost of housing for locals.
One Panama City resident told NPR that new apartment complexes “charge $500 or $700 a month, and the salary here is like $200 or $300 a month. Who do you expect to go and live in those buildings?”
However, the construction of luxury apartments with walls separating rich and poor communities represents a larger issue. According to local media reports, this has been a phenomenon in other cities in the country.