10 February 2006 | streetmilitant
A Latin America that people's don't see
I am a Panamanian American who had the misfortune of only visiting the country twice in the 1990s, once in 1990 and again in 1999. Coincidentally, those were the years that the Oscar winning The Panama Deception, and this documentary One Dollar/Un Dolar el precio de la vida came out. One Dollar is an exceptional film, both as a companion to the Panama Deception, as well as on its own.
About the violence of everyday life in certain parts of Panama, mostly focused around the provinces of Colon and Panama, it brings to the viewer a different version of Latin America than they are used to. Not hispanicized, not even Mestizo, these are the Afro-Panamenos of the isthmus, a diverse and large community coming from two different periods of labor migration- once during Spanish colonialism as slaves, and then as English-speaking West Indians looking for work on the canal.
But the film is not about Afro-Panamenos in general. It is specifically about the gangland life, the poverty, grit and anger of the youth. It is also an early depiction of Spanish reggae which later became Reggaeton and was popularized by Puerto Rican/Boricua stars. Though Panamanian Spanish reggae had been born a couple of decades before, it was still far out of the plain of vision of North Americans and other Westerners, and this film includes concert footage from Kafu Banton, one of the most respected Panamanian reggae artists, and others.
It's called one dollar, because in this part of the underdeveloped, many times colonized world, one dollar can get you a heavy firearm (both because of gun smuggling and because of the collapse of the Panamanian military), or cocaine.
I haven't actually seen this movie in years, but I strongly recommend it, and am personally on my own quest to get a copy.