MIDES Says Bocas del Toro’s Elderly Could Be Ready to Come Home in Five Days

With the new school year approaching on March 11, community members are wondering exactly where the residents of the Bocas’ elderly home will go?

On January 2nd there was a catastrophic flood that has since displaced 30+ of Bocas del Toro’s elderly and disabled residents of the “Asilo de Ancianos” in Isla Colon. They were able to take refuge in the town’s elementary school and have been living there for the better part of the school’s summer recess (full story here).

February 27th Update:

The Bocas Breeze interviewed Mario Matute, the Bocas del Toro provincial director of MIDES (Ministry of Social Development). Mr. Matute informs us that the current plan is to build an L-shaped barricade from the west part of the property to the east, which he says will prevent flooding. The barricade is planned to be 1.5 meters high and 2 meters inside from the current seawall. This will render the current laundry room inoperable, which they will have to install the washing machines elsewhere on the property. The original project deadline was February 25th. This deadline has of course passed and MIDES is hoping to achieve a livable situation for the Asilo residents by March 5th.

MIDES provincial director Matute admits that as of February 27th, the property is not close to being inhabitable, however he is hopeful that this weekend’s work will be fruitful. Teachers from the Escuela de la Republica de Nicaragua are planning to volunteer with cleaning, painting and the re-installation of furniture. The electricity and plumbing, according to Matute, has been successfully restored. What needs to be completed now is the seawall to prevent future flooding.

The immediate plan is to finish the L-shaped barricade of steel cage and rock, which civil engineers assure will direct the water away from the property and prevent flooding. The second phase of the plan is to build an actual seawall directly inside the current barricade that is currently being built. The municipal civil engineers claim that if a seawall were to be built where the current one is, then the wall would soon crumble into the sea. The current (and failing) seawall is very weak. It was built without steel and it is quickly eroding away.

Why not just build the sea wall now?

According to Matute, there are no materials or government funding for the project: “It’s election year, so government spending is frozen.” Other factions of the government are lending their support, as well as the community. The steel cage and stone have been provided by MOP (Ministery of Public Works) and the trucks by MIVI (Ministry of Housing).  Transbordadores Maritimos, better known as the Bocas Ferry, has supported the project by free transport of materials and equipment on the ferry from Almirante. The community of Bocas del Toro, particularly the volunteer group Friends of Casa de Asilo, have been very supportive over the years and continue to do what they can to provide for comfort and compionship of Bocas del Toro’s beloved residents of the Asilo de Ancianos. Ricardo Zheng of local hardware store Richard Maderas has donated sand and rock and has made steel and cement blocks available at a generous discount to any who would like to donate it toward the seawall. The community can only provide so much and seem to agree that rectifying this situation is the government’s responsibility. Matute is optimistic that the funding for the seawall project will actually come through, but it is a complicated political process during election time (May 2019).

Matute agrees that the even after repairing the seawall and cleaning the interior of the current building that the conditions are not ideal and a long-term solution is needed. During the interview he cited that plans were being proposed for a brand new Asilo de Ancianos to be built on the land being used for the new Isla Colon hospital, but nothing has been confirmed yet.

MIDES Bocas del Toro Provincial Director Mario Matute ((pictured right) and MIDES workers at the work site

What if the Asilo de Ancianos is not ready for when school starts on March 11th?

Some areas of the world have “snow days” while others have “hurricane days.” I’m not exactly sure what to call this sort of cancellation of school, but it’s rumored that if the Asilo de Ancianos is not suitable for the residents on March 11th, classes for Bocas del Toro’s elementary students just may be suspended…




The Bocas Breeze is a digital and print newspaper proudly serving the Bocas del Toro community since 2004; reporting news, advertising local businesses and promoting tourism in Bocas del Toro, Panama.


  1. Jean Sohmer Reply

    The government has no money and therefore, others must do their job. Old story being retold over and over. After volunteers do the government’s work, MIDES comes in to boss & make the volunteers task impossible. Jean Sohmer, Friends of Asilo volunteer for 3 years.

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