Panama today is best known for its economic boom, and rightly so. But unfortunately, poverty and piracy remain as much a part of the country's image as the Panama Canal.
According to the World Bank, half of Panama’s children are poor. A fifth of them are malnourished. Those underfed kids cram Panama charity centers like Nutre Hogar. On a recent visit there I saw the devastating effects of child malnutrition, including brain damage.
“We don’t only feed them,” one Nutre Hogar staff member told me. “We spend a lot of time repairing their motor skills.”
As for the piracy, Panama was once a favorite target of Captain Morgan and other seafaring brigands. Today they’ve been replaced by Panama’s legal system. The World Economic Forum ranks Panama 133rd out of 142 countries when it comes to the integrity of its courts.
Which is why South Florida millionaire Wilson Lucom probably never should have trusted them with his fortune. Even when — or especially when — he left the bulk of it to Panama’s poor children.
What has happened to Lucom’s will since he died in 2006 is a bewildering if not byzantine tale of legal intrigue that stretches from Panama City to Palm Beach County. Critics at home and abroad call it a stark illustration of Panama’s, and to a large degree Latin America’s, indifference to gaping wealth inequality and brazen judicial corruption — two factors that weigh down the region’s development like millstones.
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