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Avnery, The four-letter word

Art on the Bethlehem side of the apartheid wall.

The four-letter word

by Uri Avnery — Gush Shalom

When a Briton or American speaks about a “four-letter word,” he means a vulgar sexual term, a word not to be mentioned in polite society.

In Israel we also have such a word, a word of four letters. A word not to mention.

This word is “Shalom,” peace.

(In Hebrew, “sh” is one letter, and the “a” is not written.)

For years now this word has disappeared from intercourse (except as a greeting). Every politician knows that it is deadly. Every citizen knows that it is unmentionable.

There are many words to replace it. “Political agreement.” “Separation.” “We are here and they are there.” “Regional arrangement.” To name a few.

And here comes Donald Trump and brings the word up again. Trump, a complete ignoramus, does not know that in this country it is taboo.

He wants to make peace here. SH-A-L-O-M. So he says. True, there is not the slightest chance that he really will make peace. But he has brought the word back into the language. Now people speak again about peace. Shalom.

Peace? What is peace?

There are all kind of peaces. Starting from a little peace, a baby-peace, to a large, even mighty peace.

Therefore, before opening a serious debate about peace, we must define what we mean. An intermission between two wars? Non-belligerence? Existence on different sides of walls and fences? A prolonged armistice? A Hudna (in Arabic culture, an armistice with a fixed expiry date)?

Something like the peace between India and Pakistan? The peace between Germany and France — and if so, the peace before World War I or the peace prevailing now? The Cold War between the Soviet Union and the United States, or the Hot Peace between Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump?

There are all kinds of peace situations. What kind of Israeli-Palestinian peace are we talking about? The peace between a horse and its rider? The peace between a people of masters and a people of slaves? Something like the peace between the South African Apartheid regime and the Bantustans it had created for the Blacks? Or a quite different kind of peace, a peace between equals?

It’s about this peace I would like to speak. Not “real” peace. Not “perfect” peace. Not “complete” peace.

About peace. Peace pure and simple. Without qualifications, please.

When did it all start? The conflict that now dominates the lives of the two peoples, when did it begin?

Hard to say.

It is easy to say: it started when the first Jewish immigrant reached these shores.

Sounds simple. But it is not altogether true.

It seems that the pre-Zionist Bilu immigrants, who came here in the early 1800s, did not arouse hostility.

I have a theory about that: some time before the Bilu (short for “House of Jacob, Go!”) came here, a religious German sect, the Templers, settled in this country. They had no political aims, just a religious vision. They set up model villages and townships, and the locals were grateful. When the first Jews arrived, the locals assumed that this was more of the same.

Then came the Zionist movement, which definitely had political aims. They spoke only about a “national home,” but the founder, Theodor Herzl, had previously written a book called “The Jewish State” (or, more accurately, “The Jewstate”). The aim was hidden for a time, because the country belonged to the Ottoman Empire.

Only very few of the local population realized right from the beginning that this was a mortal danger for them. A large majority of the Muslims saw the Jews only as an inferior religious community, which the Prophet had commanded them to protect.

So when did the conflict start? There are various theories about that. I adhere to the theory of the almost-forgotten historian Aharon Cohen, who pointed to a particular event. In 1908, the revolution of the “Young Turks” broke out. The Islamic Ottoman Empire turned into a nationalist state. As a reaction, there arose in Palestine and the neighboring countries an Arab national movement, which called for the “decentralization” of the empire, giving autonomy to its many peoples.

A local Arab leader approached the Zionist representative in Jerusalem with a tempting offer: if the Jews support the Arab movement, the Arabs will support Zionist immigration.

In great excitement, the Zionist representative rushed to the then leader of the Zionist world movement, Max Nordau, a German Jew, and urged him to accept the offer. But Nordau treated the offer with contempt. After all, it was the Turks who were in possession of the country. What did the Arabs have to offer?

It is difficult to know how history would have evolved if such a Zionist-Arab cooperation had come into being. But a European Jew could not even imagine such a turn of events. Therefore the Zionists cooperated with the Turkish — and later with the British — colonial regime against the local Arab population.

Since then, the conflict between the two peoples has intensified from generation to generation. Now peace is further away than ever.

But what is peace?

The past cannot be obliterated. Anyone who suggests that the past should be ignored and that we “start again from the beginning” is dreaming.

Each of the two peoples lives in a past of its own. The past shapes their character and their behavior every day and every hour. But the past of one side is totally different from the past of the other.

This is not just a war between two peoples. It is also a war between two histories. Two histories which contradict each other in almost every particular, though they concern the very same events.

For example: Every Zionist knows that until the 1948 war, the Jews acquired land with good money, money contributed by Jews around the world. Every Arab knows that the Zionists bought the land from absentee landlords who lived in Haifa, Beirut or Monte Carlo, and then demanded that the Turkish (and later the British) police evict the fellahin who had tilled the land for many generations. (All the land had originally belonged to the Sultan, but when the empire was bankrupt the Sultan sold it to Arab speculators.)

Another example: Every Jew is proud of the Kibbutzim, a unique achievement of human progress and social justice, which were frequently attacked by their Arab neighbors. For the Arabs, the Kibbutzim were just sectarian instruments of displacement and deportation.

Another example: Every Jew knows that the Arabs started the 1948 war in order to exterminate the Jewish community. Every Arab knows that in that war, the Jews evicted half the Palestinian people from their homeland.

And so forth: nowadays the Israelis believe that the Palestinian Authority, which pays a monthly salary to the families of “murderers,” supports terrorism. The Palestinians believe that the Authority is duty-bound to support the families whose sons and daughters have sacrificed their lives for their people.

And so forth, without end.

(By the way, I am very proud of having invented the only scientifically sound definition of “terrorist,” which both sides can accept: “Freedom fighters are on my side, terrorists are on the other side.”)

There will never be peace if the two peoples do not know the historical narrative of the other side. There is no need to accept the narrative of the opponent. One can deny it totally. But one has to know it, in order to understand the other people and respect it.

Peace does not have to be based on mutual love. But it must be based on mutual respect. Mutual respect can arise only when each people knows the historical narrative of the other side. When it understands that, it will also understand why the other people acts the way it does, and what is needed for peaceful co-existence.

That would be much easier if every Israeli Jew learned Arabic, and every Palestinian Arab learned Hebrew. That would not solve the problem, of course, but it would bring the solution much closer.

When each of the two peoples understands that the other side is not a bloodthirsty monster, but acts from natural motives, it will discover many positive points in the culture of the other side. Personal contacts will be established, perhaps even friendships.

This is already happening in Israel, though on a small scale. In the academic world, for example. And in the hospitals. Jewish patients are often surprised to discover that their nice and competent doctor is an Arab and that Arab male nurses are frequently more gentle than the Jewish ones.

That cannot replace dealing with the real problems. Our two peoples are divided by real, weighty controversies. There is a problem about land, about borders, about refugees. There are problems of security and innumerable other issues. A war of more than a hundred years will not end without painful compromises.

When there is a basis for negotiations between equals, a basis of mutual respect, insoluble problems will suddenly become soluble problems.

But the precondition for this process is the return of the four-letter-word to the language.

It is impossible to do something big, something historic, if there is no belief that it is possible.

A person will not plug an electric cord into a wall if they do not believe that they will be connected to electricity. They must believe that the lights will go on.

Nobody will start peace negotiations if they believe that peace is impossible.

The belief in peace will not make peace certain. But at least it will make peace possible.


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Did Ana Matilde Gómez just nail the president?

Ana Matilde
Ana Matilde Gómez, from her Facebook page. Does she want to be president? Does she just want to set the record straight?

Ana Matilde’s bombshell

by Eric Jackson

Of all the many scandals swirling around the former president, Ricardo Martinelli, it’s the one about illegal electronic surveillance that has landed him behind bars. For how long, we know not.

On June 21, the day after Martinelli’s bail hearing in Miami, independent legislator and former attorney general Ana Matilde Gómez went on channel 2 (TVN) and talked in public for the first time about Ricardo Martinelli’s wiretapping. The gist of her statement in a long interview was the it was an ill-kept secret that Martinelli was engaged in massive illegal wiretapping. Morover, that from her personal dealings with the matter, one of the people who knew about it and was assigned a task related to it was now President Juan Carlos Varela, then vice president and in an alliance with Martinelli.

Recall that Gómez herself was convicted of illegal wiretapping and removed from office on that pretext. It was a maneuver orchestrated by Ricardo Martinelli and his appointees on the high court. A prosecutor had been shaking down an incarcerated woman’s family, threatening a transfer to more hellish conditions if payments were not made. The target of this extortion scheme appealed to Gómez and requested a tap on his own phone in order to catch the corrupt prosecutor. She did that, caught, arrested and fired the guy, and was in turn charged with a crime for wiretapping without a court order. (But of course, had she gone to court the odds were great that the extortionist would have been tipped off — such are the ways of the criminality ingrained in Panama’s judicial system.) At the time of her prosecution, she did not raise the “but THEY do it” defense. It would not have helped. Martinelli wanted his people — first the embarrassing Giuseppe Bonissi, then after another scandal, José Ayú Prado, the latter who now presides over the Supreme Court.

Martinelli, Gómez recounted, wanted someone from the Public Ministry to be part of the National Security Council’s wiretap team. Would that be to get a prosecutor’s permission for such things as recording domestic arguments of his political foes? In any case Gómez took the position that any prosecutor who took such a job would have to resign from the Public Ministry and take a job with the National Security Council. She said that “Martinelli used the Security Council system and all of the apparatus, mechanisms and technological tools to be able — according to him — to know everything.”

While at the United Nations calling for more electronic surveillance to fight crime and terrorism, and for more governmental powers to censor the Internet, Martinelli briefly called Gómez and said that Varela would speak to her about the subject of wiretaps. That he did — “timidly” according to the legislator. Varela, she said, relayed Martinelli’s request for the assignment of a certain person in the Public Ministry to duties with the president’s security team. Gómez says that she told him that could only happen if the person resigned from her ministry.

Wouldn’t you know that Gómez’s PRD demagogue colleague and high-profile victim of Martinelli’s eavesdropping, legislator Zulay Rodríguez, would say that this justifies the start of impeachment proceedings against Varela? With Varela’s popularity slipping it may have been an obvious thing to say, but it seems not to have caught on with the public imagination. The deputies of Martinelli’s existentially threatened Cambio Democratico party asked for a clarification. There have been more calls, from reasonable and unreasonable voices, for further explanations from Gómez.

It’s Ana Matilde’s record in public life, however, to be sparing and disciplined in her public statements. Most likely she said what she wanted to say and nothing more. That what Martinelli was doing was pretty well known has been documented that much more by the former attorney general, whom pollsters say is the most popular possible independent candidate for president in 2019. President Varela has reason to be annoyed. But Gómez did not directly accuse him of a crime, and probably won’t.


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Anti-corruption prosecutor goes after Martinelli’s media deals

public enemies of the strutting but lesser kind
‘I don’t see Martinelli’s name in there!’ In a money laundering scheme the names of the principals are not supposed to show, and Panama’s corporate secrecy laws make this easier to accomplish. This chart is about how EPASA, the parent company for El Panama America, La Critica and some other media holdings was bought, then to become Martinelli political props and the recipients of huge inflows of government advertising revenue. On the left side of the chart, most of these men and companies have been named in shady transactions that were either contracts with the government or illegal things that were protected by the government. A bribery and kickback scheme? So it would seem. But in any case the anti-corruption prosecutor’s office is looking at it as a money laundering scheme. On the chart you see the Ochy family and Trans Caribbean Trading listed, and while this money laundering probe is going on, so is a prosecution of that family business, some of its principals and some public officials for overpriced road construction contracts with kickbacks.

Leader of the laundromat?


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Posts from the last few days of our latest exile to Facebook

but Boris...
Sneaky, the traps they can weave….

From the latter part of our recent exile

The Panama News uses the editor’s Facebook page as a vast extension of its content, mostly other people’s stuff but also original things, and all of the back and forth banter on this issue or that. It’s also a backup in times of crisis, when our website is shut down or made dangerous by various sorts of hackers. We could spend way more money than we have to armor our website and try to make it impregnable, or we can be resilient, retreating to our backup position while we figure out and counter an attack. We retreated, found and fixed the vulnerability, and are back. It took in-kind donations of expertise and a relatively small donation of money to deal with this particular attack. The loss in readership while the website was crippled also implied a reduction in donations, and although we don’t believe that we can build a defense that will fend off all attacks we are looking at some new defenses that will cost a bit of money.

In any case, if you didn’t visit us when we were on Facebook, here are some of the things you missed:

Richards, health care bill alert

Note and discussion: WHO built the Panama Canal?

Hightower, A surge in Afghanistan

Timeline photo: Take him away!

Make that SIR Richard Cooke

RSF on World Refugee Day

Editorials: China; and America

Timeline photo: Low-density paleta route

Avnery, The New Wave

¿Wappin? A mostly soft Saturday


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GECU: taller de producción de cine


Taller de producción de cine en el GECU en julio

El Centro de Formación y Capacitación Cinematográfica del GECU de la Universidad de Panamá, inició sus actividades con éxito. Veintitrés alumnos se inscribieron en el Taller de Escritura de guión cinematográfico impartido por el cineasta y dramaturgo panameño Edgar Soberón, seguido de una excelente convocatoria para el Taller de Narrativa Documental impartido por los cineastas estadounidenses Hugo Pérez y Ava Wiland, que fue gratuito gracias a la colaboración de la Embajada de EEUU.

El mes de julio iniciará con el Taller de Producción Creativa que impartirán las productoras Isabella Gálvez (Panamá) y Neila Santamaría (Colombia), taller que como objetivo plantea brindar a los participantes las herramientas de la producción cinematográfica, desde el desarrollo de la carpeta de producción, el rodaje y cómo defender los proyectos en búsqueda de financiamiento a nivel nacional e internacional, así como estudiar y entender el panorama de la producción cinematográfica contemporánea.

El taller está dirigido a estudiantes de cine, artes visuales y comunicación, así mismo para el sector audiovisual, productores, guionistas y realizadores, desarrollándose del 3 al 14 de julio 2017, en horarios de 6 a 9 p.m, para mayor información contactar a: formaciongecu@gmail.com / 6806-5419


Impartido por: Isabella Gálvez (Panamá) y María Neyla Santamaría (Colombia)

Fechas: 3 al 14 de julio 2017.

Horario: 6:00 a 9:00 p.m.

Donativo: $150


Universidad de Panamá, contiguo al Hospital del Seguro Social, diagonal a facultades de Ciencias Agropecuarias y Odontología.

Información: formaciongecu@gmail.com / 6806-5419


Estudiantes de cine y comunicación, estudiantes de artes visuales, sector audiovisual, productores, guionistas y realizadores.

Las productoras:

Isabella Gálvez (Panamá)

Productora y miembro fundador Mente Pública, Coordinadora del programa de formación del Festival de Cine Pobre Panalandia. Egresada de Producción Radial y Televisiva de la Universidad de Panamá y de la Maestría en realización Documental en ECIB, Escuela de Cine de Barcelona. Produjo los documentales “Caos en la Ciudad” y “La felicidad del sonido”, ambos ganadores del Fondo Doctv, y el largometraje de ficción Kenke. Actualmente produce el largometraje de coproducción centroamericana Días de Luz y los documentales Volar a Ciegas y Panamazing.

María Neyla Santamaría (Colombia)

Productora con amplia experiencia, sus proyectos han recibido fondos nacionales e internacionales como DOCTV, Fondo para el Desarrollo Cinematográfico (FDC) de Colombia y Fondo IBERMEDIA. Productora del documental Mama Koka, co-producción alemana entre StoryTellers y Corazón Internacional, producida por Fatih Akin; productora asociada del largometraje “Entre nos”, coproducción EEUU-Colombia, premiada por el público en el Festival de Tribeca, EEUU, en 2009, produjo el documental “Picó, la máquina musical del Caribe”, ganador del FDC. Actualmente produce el documental “En busca del Indio Conejo” de Annie Canavaggio, Panamá y “Río Sucio” de Gustavo Fallas, Costa Rica–Colombia, encontrándose en postproducción del largometraje de ficción “Sultán” de Enrique Castro, Panamá.


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¿Wappin? Sunrise music for a Friday morning

Melissa Aldana

¿Wappin on a Friday morning?

Melissa Aldana Home Quintet – Esto Fue

Centavrvs & Denise Gutiérrez – Por Eso

Champion Jack Dupree – How Long Blues

Lord Kitty – Neighbor

Pink Floyd – Wish You Were Here

Cyndi Lauper – Time After Time

Juanes – Angel

Cultura Profética – Somos muchos

MecániK InformaL – Deja La Takilla

Lorde – Green Light

Bruce Springsteen – Darkness on the Edge of Town

Tangerine Dream – Loved by the Sun

The Weeknd – Lollapalooza Chile 2017


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Back after a hack attack


Holding out at the foot of the foothills, The Panama News persists

Manteniéndose al pie de las estribaciones, The Panama News persiste


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The Panama News website is under attack. This is a test of our defense.


If, when you tried to open this page, you saw one of these:

This is not the only pop-up. All of them say that they are from shorte.st, which is an outfit in Mississippi. Some, like this, are for illegal in the USA online gambling, which industry is home to many cheats who don’t pay if you play and win. Others are for financial services which on the faces of their promotions appear to be fraudulent. Those folks in Mississippi may not have actually placed the ads here.

…the problem is still ongoing.

We are also getting, from our MalwareBytes program, messages like these which point to two other offenders:

accomplice 1


accomplice 2

These spam criminals are not only attacking The Panama News, they are attacking you. Despite it being a website hosted by a US company, and an apparent promotion for such US federal offenses as online gambling and wire fraud, the general practice is that the FBI protects SONY but not small websites from Internet crime. But you still might want to report it.




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The Panama News blog links, June 7, 2017


Islam: blowing up violent delusions with truth

The Panama News blog links

a Panama-centric selection of other people’s work
una selección Panamá-céntrica de las obras de otras personas

Canal, Maritime & Transportation / Canal, Marítima & Transporte

MarineLink, Panama Canal to modify its toll structure

La Estrella, Practicantes piden auditar contratos de la ACP

Splash24/7, Kawasaki markets new LNG tank for expanded Panama Canal

La Estrella, Huelga de pilotos de Copa se mantiene para el 15 de junio

Sports / Deportes

Baltimore Sun, Rubén Tejada called up to Orioles

Fight News, Former world champs to square off against Colombians in Panama

TVN, Chemito Moreno se retira del boxeo

AzCentral, Randall Delgado getting another shot to start for Diamondbacks

Economy / Economía

La Estrella, Asep sancionó a Claro con $50 mil por infringir ley

TVN, A mediados de 2018 iniciará la construcción de la Línea 3 del Metro

El Comercio, Panamá prohibe la entrada de leche peruana

Quartz, Economists: Leaks show ultra-wealthy dodge more taxes than believed

Washington Post, Trump Foundation admits to violating ban on self-dealing

Expansión, Nace el papel higiénico ‘Trump’

Wired, Who will pay for the future if not the robots?

Science & Technology / Ciencia & Tecnología

STRI, Friends help female vampire bats cope with loss

La Estrella, Se inicia temporada de anidación de tortugas en playa Mata Oscura

IFLScience, Statins could dramatically cut death rate in breast cancer patients

Mongabay, Climate change may be choking the oceans’ oxygen supply

Hawthorne, Crazy things that are going to happen as sea levels rise

La Estrella, Alcaldía de Panamá crea la nueva dirección de Resiliencia

News / Noticias

TVN: Las contradicciones, misterios y silencios que rodean el caso Odebrecht

Arkansas Online, Martinelli faces graft case but keeps Razorback ties

La Estrella, Estadounidense buscado por pedofilia es detenido en Chiriquí

The New York Times, Dems see special election win as good sign for ’18

PoliticusUSA, Flipping a state seat no Democrat has ever won in NH

Daily Kos, Deported US military veterans commemorate Memorial Day in Mexico

Telemundo, Dos hombres mueren mientras intentaban detener ataque racista

Washington Post, Suspect in Portland stabbings built life around hate speech

El Universal, Harvard rechaza a estudiantes por compartir memes contra mexicanos

The Intercept, Chinese conglomerate cultivated ties to powerful US politicians

BBC, FARC threatens demobilization delay

BBC, Chilean judge sends 106 former secret agents to prison

Haaretz, It’s not Islam that drives young Europeans to jihad

The Guardian, Spain’s top anti-corruption prosecutor quits over Panama link

DW, Panama Papers tainted PM wins re-election in Malta

Opinion / Opiniones

Buen Abad, Teoria de la falsa risa

Taibbi, Goldman Sachs bailing out Nicolas Maduro

Weisbrot: Venezuela needs honest mediation, not OAS intervention

Boff, El porqué de las elecciones directas ya en Brasil

Targ, The political time of day

Brin, Chaos — and disturbances — in the Oval Office

Stiglitz, Trump’s rogue America

Ash, Terrorism and authoritarianism

Davies, Will the neocons’ long war ever end?

Simpson Aguilera, Hablemos del qué y el cómo

Sagel, O César o nada

Blades, Noriega

Culture / Cultura

The Guardian, Imams refuse funeral prayers to London Bridge attackers

NPR, NYC activism begins with lessons in theater

Q, What breakfast looks like around Latin America

La Estrella, Murió Papi Brandao

VICE, El General pioneered regueton and then disappeared


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The Culture Wars, on several merging fronts here


On June 2 sex workers and civil liberties activists marched to National Police headquarters, intending to deliver a letter to the chief complaining about abuses against prostitutes. The riot squad moved in and 15 protesters were arrested. After mediation by University of Panama rector Eduardo Flores — some of those detained were students — the 11 women and four men were released without charge. Video by El Kolectivo.

Culture Wars 2017

by Eric Jackson

Should the state be Christian or secular? What should the role of women be in society? Are those with sexual orientations other that heterosexual disgusting perverts who must be suppressed, or citizens whose rights and freedoms should be defended? What, if anything, should the nation’s schools tell kids about such subjects?

These arguments have been going on for a very long time: in society at large, in the learned professions, among and within the religious denominations and increasingly in Panamanian political life. Some were the subjects of civil warfare during the eras when Panama was part of the Spanish Empire, then part of Colombia. Some have been lurking quietly on the margins until relatively recently.

It’s a difficult set of subjects to accurately measure with public opinion polls, but such little polling as has been done suggests that Panama has been very conservative in many ways but is going through some dramatic changes like many other Latin American countries are. An overwhelming majority of Panamanians are nominally Catholic, but the church is slowly evolving on the one hand and losing adherents to those who become less religious or non-religious on the one hand and to other religious denominations — the Evangelicals are the ones who are picking up the most converts — on the other.

What appears to be going on now is a shift and polarization, with secular and libertarian strains informally but effectively merging their movements and efforts. The Catholic Church appears to be mostly withdrawing from these battles and urging tolerance if not full acceptance. A militant religious right centered around Evangelical reverends is preaching intolerance and non-acceptance of homosexuals, women who live or aspire to non-traditional roles, sex education in the schools and the separation of religious and public institutions. In recent days the battles have become pronounced on several fronts.

police symbols
Notice the symbols of the nation’s main law enforcement agencies, and the values that they emphasize. God and Country figure large, although the meaning of each is open to various interpretations. Only the Institutional Protection Service — SPI, the presidential guards and most of what intelligence service we have — promotes just secular values on its shield.

The bust, and the police as religious enforcers

Prostitution is legal in Panama, and long has been. Among richer boys, it’s quite common that a first sexual experience will be with a prostitute. But although it’s an ancient and legal craft, it’s socially denigrated. Our misogynistic former President Ricardo Martinelli felt no inhibition about calling a critic an “hijo de puta” — son of a whore — and only a few Panamanians took him to task for his frequent use of this abusive expression.

Over many decades, public policy was that prostitution, though legal, was so degrading as to be properly reserved for foreign women. There were special visas for this purpose, many obtained by young Colombian and Dominican women with plans for a university education or to start a business or farm. The world, and particularly the US government, began to look askance at human trafficking for such purposes. The practice didn’t particularly stop, but largely went underground. There are lots of foreign prostitutes working in Panama and on the one hand they are hassled by police and on the other enslaved by pimps and madams who will confiscate their passports to keep them from going anywhere. Over recent years the Spaniards who had dominated the brothel scene have largely been muscled out by Russian mobsters.

Come June 2 and it’s International Sex Workers Day, but the foreign women in that line of work here were generally in no position to take part in any public protests. To do so would likely lead to arrest and deportation. However, Panama’s ever stronger feminist movement and a wide array of human rights activists were willing to take a stand for the rights of sex workers, and by and large they did. The focus this year was on police harassment.

Where does this put the police, who are increasingly recruited from the ranks of Evangelicals and who are indoctrinated about a duty to God? They would see themselves as unfairly criticized for doing their job of upholding laws about public morals. They would see themselves as insulted by the suggestion that some in their ranks take advantage of women in dicey legal situations. Some might see themselves as the flaming sword of The Lord. In any case they did not allow protesters to deliver a complaint about police abuses of sex workers to National Police Director Omar Pinzón.

According to the protesters the cops were not all that fundamentalist about it in a Ten Commandments sense — they say that they were not blocking ingress and egress to the police headquarters, but protesting near the bus stop, when the riot squad pushed them against the gate and then arrested several of their number. The proffered excuse? The protesters were blocking the gate. And this little stricture about not bearing false witness? Its violation is a problem in police forces in many places, and also in the religious right of many nations and faiths. This is not to say that everyone who criticizes the police, or the religious right, has inerrant truth on his or her side.

Same-sex marriage

Many a country thought be unalterably conservative about this issue have made rapid changes. Ireland may be the most salient example, but it’s a phenomenon throughout much of the world. And now the subject has been presented to the Panamanian courts. Two cases, one of a British subject and a Panamanian married in a British diplomatic mission, and the other of two Panamanians married in the US state of Illinois, have been filed in the Panamanian courts. Both gay male couples argue that Article 26 of the Family Code, which defines marriage as between a man and a woman, violates several articles of Panama’s Constitution and also some international human rights treaties to which Panama is a party. The cases have been filed by the prominent law firm of Morgan & Morgan, for which one of the four plaintiffs works.

The Attorney General and the Administrative Prosecutor, Kenia Porcell and Rigoberto González respectively, take opposing sides on the question.

Porcell opposes same-sex marriage, citing Article 15 of the Constitution, which holds that citizens and foreigners have the same rights and arguing that foreign marriages should not be given more rights than those registered in Panama. But of course, the plaintiffs seek a sweeping ruling that would legalize same sex marriages for Panamanians under this country’s laws.

González argues that the ban on same-sex marriages is a species of sex discrimination that’s prohibited by the Constitution. In the scheme of things his rank is the same as Porcell’s and often the courts pay attention to the stands taking by these top officials.

Whether the Supreme Court will take the cases and what they will do remains to be seen. The institution is widely despised by Panamanians so doing something bold and decisive — whichever way — might be a useful distraction. But either way, a lot of people will still dislike the high court.

Gay Pride

When Juan Carlos Varela became president, gay leaders were quite pessimistic. The man was a member of the right-wing Catholic organization Opus Dei and they expected the worst.

But a new pope, a more tolerant and progressive man, came to lead the Catholic Church. Plus Varela, notwithstanding all stalls, cover-ups and opacity, is likely touched by the Odebrecht bribery scandal and widely perceived to be. He appears to be, unlike his predecessor, cultivating a nice guy image rather than playing tough. It fits the president’s tolerant image for him to accept that Panama has a gay community of worthy men and women. It fits the scientifically sophisticated aura the industrial engineer turned politician would exude to understand that there are transgendered persons and to seek honorable and productive places for them in society. And then there’s the first lady, former television reporter Lorena Castillo de Varela. She will be carrying the rainbow flag in the July 1 Pride March.

Pride has come a long way from being ridiculed as a freak show to being honored as a civil rights march. There are people who will be appalled, but the religious right will probably not stage any counter-demonstration because the way that Panamanian public opinion appears to be evolving, they would be the ones to look ridiculous.


This last legislative session, as the one before, saw sex education in the schools proposed and fought for. Despite polls showing a large majority of Panamanians in favor of this and despite the Catholic resistance softening, the Evangelicals put up a raucous fight and the proposal failed again.

Now Panama’s first and most noteworthy gay rights organization, the Association of New Men and Women of Panama (AHMNP), is for the third straight year proposing legislation to bar discrimination against lesbians, gay men, bisexuals and the transgendered. The last two times it didn’t even get to a committee vote. Perhaps it will fare better this time, but with some honorable exceptions like the Balboa Union Church and Rabbi Gustavo Kraselnik few religious leaders or organizations seem ready to take a public stand in favor of the proposition that gay people have any rights. Those who will mobilize their congregations to affirm that the LGBT communities have no right are the minority among Panama’s peoples of faith, but the odds are that the legislators will listen to them.


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