in Old School

Drinking With Ruben Blades

My girlfriend doesn’t understand my affection for Ruben Blades. Alex thinks Blades is a hypocrite. That he fled during hard times, became rich and famous in the U.S, then returned to cheer and dance when the U.S. military was forced out of Panama.

Alex can’t seem to forgive him for that. Of course, that animus didn’t stop her from singing along to “Amor y Control” last night. I, on the other hand, had been eagerly anticipating Blades’ appearance at Panama City’s carnival for weeks.

He hit the stage wearing a sombrero tipico, and a jacket emblazoned with the Panamanian flag. I was into the Abuleo by then. But I could still see my hero had aged. He’d put on a couple of pounds, and needed glasses to read the sheet music. But he hadn’t lost any of his charm and charisma.

The carnival crowd that received him was huge, drunk, and appreciative. Blades sang many of their favorites: “Decisiones”, “Plastico”, “Buscando Guayaba.” In particular, “Pedro Navaja,” the song about the thief with the gold tooth, was well received. Many in the crowd knew the words and sang along.

Even though I loathe nationalistic displays, “Patria,” is one of my favorites. Alex hates it because Blades sang it the night the U.S hit the road. She lost her job and a lover that night. She feels betrayed, and this song is a reminder of that betrayal.

I don’t think many people understand the depth of passion many poor Panamanians feel for the U.S. Given a choice between trusting gringos, or the inbred Panamanian elite, they’ll choose the U.S every time. I tell Alex I trust Blades, and I agree with much of what he has to say. I think he’d make an excellent president of Panama.

I just don’t think he’s dumb or corrupt enough to get elected. Blades has degrees from the U of Panama (probably worthless) and master’s in international law from Harvard (probably good). That means he’s better educated than most everyone in the current government. He’s already rich, and has given up big money to work in Panama.

The man loves his country, and has put it ahead of his selfish interests. He’s unlikely to continue Panama’s tradition of corruption. And if Ruben Blades has mixed feelings about the U.S., that only highlights his uncommon good sense.

Anyone with the sense to show up last night was rewarded with two hours of musical excellence. I tried my hand at salsa, sucked down a couple of Balboa beers, and when Blades finally finished up with a flag waving version of “Patria”

I was not the only one fighting tears.

-Cojito @ Panama After Dark.

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Care to Comment?


  1. ¡estoy de acuerdo! Blades me cae muy bien. tambien pienso que él sería un buen presidente. Estoy envidioso que no estuve allá para mirarlo.

    You lucky devil.