top tier
Thought to be the front runners: former Labor Secretary Tom Perez and Representative Keith Ellison. There is a second tier of possible next DNC chairs. Montage by The Real News.

A choice in Atlanta, but Democrats
have even weightier decisions

In a few days we will know who will lead the Democratic Party for the next few years. The Democratic National Committee, an elite and discredited body, will be meeting in Atlanta to choose its next party chair. There is nothing particularly democratic about the process, even though it will be an election and most of those voting will have been elected in some sort of fashion. Party leadership selection processes have been rigged in state after state to give us the DNC membership, and much of the DNC membership cares infinitely more about “the donor base” than the party’s rank-and-file. But then, history has many examples of good leaders arising from bad systems.

In a way, we know who might be elected and which of their opinions and accomplishments have been recorded. Those might be predictors, but Americans are in a strange situation and we really don’t know where the new party leader may take the Democrats. The chair whose election some expected to be a disaster could turn out to be a remarkably great leader, or the opposite thing might happen.

The worst of all directions would be into a messy divorce from reality such as the Republicans have undergone. The pretense that greater prosperity for the wealthiest Americans would trickle on most Americans, the notion that picking a fight with Russia would be a wise course of action, the presumption that everyone shares the DNC members’ passions — these are all recipes for disunity, disarray and further defeats. Democrats face a period of legal and physical repression, vote suppression in many forms and venomous hatreds of many sorts being spat in many directions. A grab bag of identity politics will not substitute for solidarity. A legal strategy aimed at rigging the 2020 presidential candidate selection will not substitute for an across-the-board defense of voting rights in the courts and legislatures. Mimicry of the John Birch Society of old with specious accusations of treason will not give Democrats the patriotic credentials that only a wise and tenacious defense of the national interests can bestow.

The Democratic Party can’t go on as before. “Seasoned leadership” in the direction that the Clintons and their old Democratic Leadership Council took us is bankrupt. The vicious denunciations of the younger generations of voters — and non-voters — that we hear from some Democrats who fancy themselves leaders only mean that these people should be retired from any position of influence. Those who advocate purges of the Bernie supporters need to themselves be left out in the cold. Insurgents who think in terms of the wholesale dismissal of the party’s old guard not only won’t get that but shouldn’t want it.

The tensions between the party’s progressive and corporate wings will continue. They will have to be compromised on many fronts and tentatively decided until the next cycle on others. It’s akin to managing a coalition between liberal capitalists and democratic socialists in a fragmented multi-party democracy. Those sorts of balances are inherent in the US two-party system.


lizard action

Just don’t wave a machete at him

President Varela, weak on the home front for many reasons, has been invited to meet with Donald Trump in Washington. It’s dangerous, because Panama’s chief executive will be meeting the leader of a far more powerful nation and his counterpart is either dangerously delusional or cynically playing fantasy cards for public consumption. Panama would be an easy demon for the United States to crush.

Trump is likely to make demands that Varela should reject. The only foreign cards that Panama would have to play in that case would be the solidarity of other Latin American republics and the still prevailing sense of decency among our neighbors to the north. Mainly, though, Panama and its president need to look to the Panamanian people for a common sense of purpose, dignity and resolve if we are to resist any unacceptable US demands.


Bear in mind…

Propaganda does not deceive people; it merely helps them to deceive themselves.
Eric Hoffer


When women are depressed, they eat or go shopping. Man invade another country. It’s a whole different way of thinking.
Elayne Boolser


Only a man who knows what it is like to be defeated can reach down to the bottom of his soul and come up with the extra ounce of power it takes to win when the match is even.
Muhammad Ali


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vote final

A soldier from the US Seventh Army at the gas chamber door at Dachau. Photo from the US National Archives.

Pence at Dachau: not merely hypocritical

by Warren J. Blumenfeld — Tikkun

I don’t usually begin a commentary this way, but — as a queer person and as a Jew who lost multiple family members to murder during the German Holocaust, I feel so furious that I am having difficulty finding the words. What I saw and heard far exceeds mere hypocrisy, but reaches into the inner depths of disgust, outrage, and contempt.

Vice President Mike Pence standing with the President of the European Council, Donald Tusk, at a joint press conference at the European Council in Brussels, Monday, February 20, began his statements by relating how very moved he was on his recent trip (and obvious photo op) with his wife and daughter as they visited the first Nazi concentration camp, Dachau, constructed in 1933.

They walked under the gate with the heinous words “Arbeit macht frei,” (“Work sets you free”) and were joined by Abba Naor, a survivor of the camps, along with other officials. The Pences laid a wreath beneath the International Memorial at the camp, and witnessed the prisons’ barracks and the ovens inside the camp’s crematorium.

In Dachau alone, Nazis imprisoned and enslaved more than 200,000 and ultimately murdered approximately 40,000 people, and millions more throughout the Nazi realm that they defined as enemies of the state, race polluters, abject (cast off) “othered” bodies, those unworthy of life, many under the category of “inferior people” (Untermenschen): Jews, Slavs, non-Aryan emigrants, peoples of color, homosexuals, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Roma, Communists, people with disabilities, labor trade unionists, unemployed people (the “work shy”), people who performed abortions, and others.

I wonder whether Pence truly understands the events in Germany that led to the mass incarcerations and the genocide: the stereotyping of entire groups of people whom the Nazis scapegoated for causing the problems of the state.

I wonder whether Pence understands how his own administration, indeed, the Republican Party writ large has employed the tactics of stereotyping and scapegoating of the bodies of entire groups of people to use as stepping stones in their ascension to and maintenance of power: LGBTQ people, people of color, Muslims, immigrants, people with disabilities, feminists, pro-choice advocates, labor trade unionists who push for collective bargaining, those who understand the important role of government in health care and in maintaining a fundamental level of economic security, and yes, Jews.

Pence, as a member of Congress and later as Indiana Governor, has, first, not been a friend to labor unions. During the election, according to Brett Voorhies, president of the Indiana State AFL-CIO:

“Mike Pence has waged repeated attacks on working Hoosiers as governor and will without a doubt continue the attacks alongside his anti-worker running mate Donald Trump who is ‘100 percent right to work’ (anti-union and collective bargaining).'”

Trump figuratively spit in the faces of minoritized “racial” groups, in particular Mexican immigrants, during his off-scripted rambling announcement speech:

“The US has become a dumping ground for everyone else’s problems,” he said. “[Mexico is] sending people that have lots of problems, and they are bringing those problems to us. They are bringing drugs, and bringing crime, and they’re rapists.”

Trump eventually enlarged his dehumanizing representations to include people in all of Latin America and people in Muslim countries (except for those in which he has business interests).

Vice President Mike Pence, in his first congressional campaign in 2000, argued for public funding of so-called conversion therapy for LGBTQ people. On his website at the time, his disdain for same-sex attractions and sexuality stands out:

“Congress should support the reauthorization of the Ryan White Care Act only after completion of an audit to ensure that federal dollars were no longer being given to organizations that celebrate and encourage the types of behaviors that facilitate the spreading of the HIV virus. Resources should be directed toward those institutions which provide assistance to those seeking to change their sexual behavior.”

Pence opposes marriage equality and LGBTQ non-discrimination protections, and helped to pass the so-called Religious Freedom Restoration law allowing businesses to discriminate against LGBTQ people. The state was forced to amend the law after experiencing serious political pushback.

Let us not repeat history

Though I rarely offer comparisons between events transpiring before and during the ascension to power of the German Third Reich with resemblances to contemporary United States — since to do so could result in trivializing one of the most horrific episodes in human history — nonetheless, I am haunted by certain parallels that demand attention.

I am troubled by multiple similarities between that time not so very long ago with the discourses expressed and events transpiring today. I want, therefore, to highlight, in particular, the parallels I see in Nazi portrayals and understandings of sex, sexuality, gender, and gender expression: a divisive and brutal program that was anti-feminist, anti-women’s equality, anti-women’s reproductive freedoms (anti-family planning, anti-contraception, anti-abortion), anti-lesbian, anti-gay, anti-bisexual, anti-transgender, anti-gender nonconforming, anti-sexuality education in schools.

For example, Alfred Rosenberg, one of the Nazi’s chief ideologues, directed his misogynist outrage by warning all women:

“The emancipation of women from the women’s emancipation movement is the first demand of a female generation trying to rescue nation and race, the eternally unconscious, the foundation of all civilization, from decline…. [O]ne thing must be made clear: Only a man must be and remain judge, soldier, and politician.”

The Nazis added Paragraph 218 of the German Penal Code to outlaw abortions and establish a national file on women who had undergone and doctors who had performed abortions.

In addition, the Nazis acted on and eventually extended Paragraph 175, the section of the German Penal Code dating back to 1871 with the unification of Germany:

“Unnatural vice committed by two persons of the male sex or by people with animals is to be punished by imprisonment; the verdict may also include the loss of civil rights.”

Nazi ideology rested on the assessment that homosexuals (males) lowered the German birth rate; they endangered, recruited, enticed, and corrupted youth; that a possible homosexual epidemic could spread; that homosexuals are “potential oppositionists” and enemies of respectable society; and that sexual relations between people of the same sex impairs their “sense of shame” and undermines morality, which inevitably will bring about the “decline of social community.”

While Nazi ideology and practice rejected lesbianism as well, they did not criminalize same-sex sexuality between women, as they had in Germany’s Paragraph 175 of the Penal Code, because they believed that so-called “Aryan” lesbians could produce Aryan children for the “New Germany.”

On the other hand, Heinrich Himmler, Gestapo head and chief architect of the Reich’s anti-homosexual campaign, justified his actions by arguing that male homosexuals were “like women” and therefore, could not fight in any German war effort. Subsequently, he conducted surveillance operations on an estimated 90,000 suspected homosexuals, arrested approximately 50,000, and transported somewhere between 10,000 and 15,000 to several concentration camps throughout the Nazi dominion. Very few survived.

Hitler also proposed eliminating all sexuality education from the German school system and encouraged parents to take on the primary responsibilities for sexuality instruction within the home.

The Nazi regime connected multiple forms of oppression when Heinrich Himmler reorganized the Reich Criminal Police Bureau to centralize operations by creating a national file on male homosexuals, transgender people (referred as “transvestites”), what they referred to as “wage abortionists” (women and their doctors), and to monitor the production and ban the use of contraceptives to “Aryan” women.

Within this Bureau, they established The Reich Office for Combatting Homosexuality and Abortion, which in the single year of 1938 alone, conducted 28,366 arrests for abortion, and 28,882 arrests of male homosexuals.

The common thread running through Nazi ideology regarding sex, gender expression, and sexuality was their intense campaign to control individuals’ bodies and the bodies of members of entire communities in the attempt to control their minds.

Throughout history, examples abound of patriarchal domination over the rights and lives of women and LGBT people, whom they have been constructed as second-class and even third-class citizens not merely in Nazi Germany, but today as the current political climate indicates.

I wonder if Pence understands the irony, at best, in his journey through Dachau! If he sees the parallels of his own politics and the politics of the Republican Party, with those of the Nazis before they began their fanatical genocidal slaughter, then possibly something good may still come out of his visit.

Warren J. Blumenfeld is author of Warren’s Words: Smart Commentary on Social Justice (Purple Press); editor of Homophobia: How We All Pay the Price (Beacon Press), and co-editor of Readings for Diversity and Social Justice (Routledge) and Investigating Christian Privilege and Religious Oppression in the United States (Sense).


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vote final

Empire State Building
It is, after all, there. The Empire State Building is no longer the world’s tallest, but it’s still an icon and still a 1,576-step uphill climb.

Captain Huerta’s climb

an interview with Luis Huerta

Panama’s Luis Huerta recently ran up the stairs to the observation deck of New York City’s Empire State Building, in the 2017 version of the annual Empire State Run Up. He did it 21 minutes and 26 seconds, 24th in his age group and 143rd overall. The Panama News interviewed him by email, with our questions in italics.

Where do you live?

Panama City, Republic Of Panama

What is your occupation?

Panama Canal Pilot, a ship pilot.

Did you get into stair climbing as a sport or fitness activity in Panama? Are there many others who participate in stair climbing?

It started as a personal goal to run the most famous races around the world, and the Empire State Run Up is the most famous of its kind. I do not really know who does this as a personal sport other than fitness activity. Nevertheless, it is is an excellent tool for training for trail races in Panama where you climb about four times the Empire State height on a 50k race. Also for me it was the second time I did this race because it is simply amazing and challenging.

Have you climbed the stairs that start behind Mi Pueblito Antillano and go up to the top of Ancon Hill? If so, how would you compare that climb with the Empire State Building?

Yes I have many times, last time I did was on New Year’s Eve. The Empire Estate is way more challenging than Ancon Hill, it is because it is a vertical run. I would compare it with a hill called La Mesa or Cerro Gaital in El Valle, Panama — you just go 1000 feet vertical.

I have on occasion noticed various of Panama’s law enforcement agencies running people — generally cadets at the police academies — up and down the stairs at the Panama Canal Administration building. Have you done that? How does THAT compare to going up the stairs at the Empire State Building?

Yes I have done that, but still the Empire Estate is way more challenging. Nevertheless, training at the Admin Building gives you a beautiful view.

Have you had the opportunity to run up the stairs in any of Panama City’s tall buildings? Are there any buildings in Panama that you’d like to climb?

A couple of years ago there was a vertical race in Panama City at the F&F building (The Screw) but I did not participate. I would like to do the Platinum Tower in Punta Paitilla. I train on a 45-floor building in the San Francisco neighborhood.

Do you have a special training diet? If so, what is it? Which Panamanian foods do you really like but have to avoid while training?

When I am in running season I do keep a special diet, which is a low carb diet. Therefore, no hojaldra, corn tortilla or rice and beans for me. Lots of sea bass (corvina), greens and plenty of seafood soup, that latter I would not give up.


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vote final

take them away
Photo by the government of Brazil — even if its president might be the next criminal they take away in these handcuffs.

As Odebrecht collapses on many fronts, are it and its accomplices sealed off from consequences in Panama?

by Eric Jackson

The summit

Odebrecht is dominating the news across much of Latin America, but coverage blacked out in two of the places where the Brazilian-based company operated: Cuba and the United States. If one does not count money laundering jurisdictions, Odebrecht has operations, mostly construction but also petrochemicals and other businesses, in 26 countries. Top prosecutors from 15 of the jurisdictions, including Panama’s Attorney General Kenia Porcell, met in Brasilia on February 16 and 17 to share information and coordinate their investigations.

After the summit 11 of those who attended — Porcell and her counterparts in Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Mexico, Peru, Portugal and Venezuela — issued a declaration that they would establish “joint research teams, bilateral or multilateral, that allow coordinated research on the Odebrecht case” so that they could track down and recover assets. But the statement also acknowledged that each country has full autonomy and the extent of the cooperation was not made entirely clear. At least part of the vagueness was to be expected by the nature of an ongoing investigation and laws in several of the countries banning publicity in pending cases.

The scandal

The current series of Odebrecht scandals began to break as Brazil’s National Police embarked on “Operation Car Wash” — Lava Jato in Brazilian Portuguese — which was about bribery and kickbacks in the country’s Petrobras state-owned oil company. Information coming to light in raids and in questioning of suspects quickly involved Braskem, a chemical company partnership between Odebrecht and Petrobras, and corrupt Odebrecht contracts for offshore oil drilling rigs, tankers and oil and gas pipelines. It wasn’t long before CEO Marcelo Odebrecht was implicated and arrested — he’s now serving a sentence of more than 19 years, but talking to prosecutors in hopes of a reduction in that time. A plea bargain with Brazilian prosecutors likewise got the company to pledge full testimony and cooperation from 77 of its executives in exchange for reduced fines and no revocation the company’s corporate status.

What has come out are tales of systematic bribery in Odebrecht operations abroad, aimed at securing overpriced contracts with part of the proceeds kicked back to corrupt public officials. The company even had a dedicated bribe department, the “Structured Operations Section,” which handled complex money laundering transactions involving many jurisdictions, including Panama. Jürgen Mossack and Ramón Fonseca Mora, founders of the Mossack Fonseca law firm of Panama Papers notoriety, are now in a Panamanian jail awaiting trial for their firm’s alleged money laundering activities in Brazil.

There is a modus operandi in common with the various Odebrecht allegations that have come to light. There are more open payments made to politicians’ foundations and campaign committees — never publicized at the time, but generally a matter of public record somewhere. Then there are outright bribes, concealed through chains of shell companies and legitimate business, with the trail ending (or more likely being lost) with relatives of the public officials being bribed.

In the State of Florida, Odebrecht made a substantial donation to Jeb Bush’s foundation and later received large public works contracts from that state when Bush became governor. The donation was not made public until years later. Odebrecht also got major contracts with Miami-Dade County, and made donations to Miami Democratic party boss Xavier Suarez’s political action committee. In Brazil there were Odebrecht contributions to politicians of almost all factions across the partisan spectrum.

In Panama…

Here in Panama it is acknowledged that Odebrecht gave to multiple politicians’ campaigns, but the Electoral Tribunal is withholding the records of these, citing laws to protect Odebrecht’s privacy.

Did Juan Carlos Varela take money from Odebrecht, as the president’s now incarcerated erstwhile right-hand-man Ramón Fonseca alleges? So far there is no evidence for a direct contribution in the name of Odebrecht. But to the extent that Varela has released the records of the donations his campaign received, many are in the names of anonymous corporations, the principals of which and the provenance of the money donated cannot be readily traced. One donor company, an insurance company named Active Capital Holdings, saw some huge and unusual cash flows through it at the time of the 2014 election campaign and did have a business relationship with an Odebrecht front company called Sherkson. But so far the alleged record published in Ricardo Martinelli’s newspapers and La Prensa shows a Active Capital payment to Sherkson, rather that receipt of money from it. The principal of Active Capital, banker Juan Antonio Niño. Mr. Niño’s wife and one of the directors of Active Capital, Margarita de Niño, is the sister-in-law of President Varela’s brother, legislator José Luis Varela.

Attorney General Porcell is asking about the Active Capital connection, having been alerted a year ago by Swiss money laundering investigators’ letters rogatory. Martinelli’s El Panama America and La Critica are just a part step away from heralding what is known as proof that Varela took a bribe, but Mr. Niño and Mr. Varela deny any wrongdoing and the showing of various ties is not the same thing as proof of a causal relationship. Bribery is a very hard thing to prove — unless one of the parties to the transaction comes clean about it. The possibility of this happening from the Odebrecht end should not be discounted, but so far there is no public evidence of it.

Part of the information that is on the public record about the Odebrecht scandal derives from a plea bargain in a Foreign Corrupt Practices Act case that the US Department of Justice brought against Odebrecht and Braskem. Some $59 million in corrupt payments to Panamanian public officials are alleged in that case. The documents released suggest $4 million in bribes paid to former President Ricardo Martinelli via his two sons. But the attachments to those documents that contain the specific details of Odebrecht execs are being withheld from the public and the United States continues to harbor the Martinellis, fugitives from Panamanian and Swiss justice as they are. There can be various explanations of why this Martinellis continue to enjoy US protection.

Odebrecht’s economic implosion

When the Lava Jato scandal began to break in Brazil, Odebrecht had more than 128,000 people working for it. Now there are 75,000 to 80,000 and that number is rapidly shrinking. In Peru the government has seized some $61.5 million from eight companies implicated in Lava Jato, including Odebrecht and some probable Odebrecht fronts. Venezuela has frozen all of Odebrecht’s assets there. Three Colombian banks have taken the initiative to freeze Odebrecht assets in their country. Across the more than two dozen countries where the company does business, orders have been canceled, work has been halted and lines of credit have been withdrawn. Nowadays almost nobody wants to sign a new contract with Odebrecht and few banks want to be known for doing business with them.

In Panama Odebrecht, in a consortium with Spain’s FCC, got the contract for Line 2 of the Metro commuter train system in a controversial bidding process, and that work is underway. But its lines of credit, required under the contract with the government, were withdrawn. The suggestion that the state-owned Banco Nacional de Panama step in was not received and for several weeks Odebrecht continued work while failing to comply with the financing requirement. Now, however, it has been announced that two foreign banks have stepped in to provide the mandatory backing — but those financial institutions have not been identified. Odebrecht cites a confidentiality agreement and neither the Metro authority nor the Varela administration are objecting. Nor are any opposition politicians demanding the information. Now Panama has the precedent of private confidentiality agreements shielding the identity of those with whom the government does business from the public.

There are widespread expectations among anti-corruption protesters that Odebrecht will sign an agreement with Porcell, one of the effects of that being that the identities of those who took money from the company will remain secret. If that comes to pass the government may not fall — or it might — but there would be more political volatility and instability going into the next elections in a little more than two years’ time. Porcell is promising transparency and accountability, but at the moment she is in any case bound by laws that make the details of ongoing criminal investigations confidential.

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vote final

Comments that follow an El Siglo story about a Venezuelan woman who was stabbed to death in David.

It’s not OK

by Eric Jackson

Panama has been down this road before. Back in the 1920s a group called Accion Comunal — a splinter group from the Liberal Party of Colombian roots — used to dress up in Ku Klux Klan robes and agitate for the deportation of all residents of Panama of ancestry from the non-Hispanic Caribbean lands, all Asians, all Arabs and all Sephardic Jews. This movement came to power in the 1930s under the leadership of the Arias Madrid brothers. The younger of them, Dr. Arnulfo Arias, served just long enough as public health director to recommend, for Panama’s purported racial “health,” the sterilization of members of these racial groups. After having served as Panama’s ambassador to Mussolini’s Italy and Hitler’s Germany, Arnulfo came back to succeed his brother Harmodio as president and to sponsor the constitution of 1941, which stripped all Panamanians of the races he hated — it didn’t matter if they, their parents and their grandparents were all born here — of their citizenship. That racial experiment lasted but a few months, because the United States was edging toward entry into World War II by sending Lend-Lease aid to the British. This was often carried on ships coming through the Panama Canal from the US West Coast, to then run a gauntlet of Nazi u-boats lurking right off of the Colon breakwall. Franklin D. Roosevelt decided that he couldn’t tolerate one of Hitler’s friends as president of Panama and so organized an October 1941 coup to overthrow Arnulfo Arias.

Now we have a member of the legislature — whose maternal grandparents Arnulfo wanted to sterilize — railing against foreigners. Oh, is it just the criminals? Actually, she smears whole nations with her broad brush. Never mind that Zulay Rodríguez Lu was kicked off of the bench at the behest of the US Drug Enforcement Administration when she was a judge, for letting some suspected Colombian drug runners walk after they got nabbed in a DEA-assisted operation. Now that she’s a politician, she calls all Colombians “scum.”

Ah, what a nationalist. She copies Donald Trump. Like pitches of neofascists all across Europe, it gets couched in oh so reasonable arguments for immigration “reform.” But it’s all demagoguery, an appeal to base tribal hatreds of “the other” for political gain.

Now she, and an even more strident little xenophobe group, may show up at protests against the wholesale corruption of our government by Odebrecht. A foreign company bribing the president, so it is alleged, and those who want to ignore the falling out between President Varela and MOVIN can and do also blame it on “the Jews,” or at least the Mottas, Panama’s wealthiest family of Jewish extraction.

So when a xenophobe shows up with a few supporters carrying hate banners and waving a hangman’s noose in front of the door to the El Carmen Church, why did the overwhelmingly decent organizers of the anti-corruption protest hand the guy the microphone? They say it was to allow young people a “catharsis.” And Jim Crow laws and lynching were a catharsis for white people in the former Confederate states of the US South. Hitler was Germany’s catharsis. South African apartheid was an Afrikaner catharsis. The brutal occupation of the Palestinian lands is an Israeli catharsis. The Islamic State is the catharsis of a certain segment of Sunni Muslims.

Nobody should stand idly by when a hate monger waves a hangman’s noose in front of the door of a Catholic church, let along clap for the guy. Xenophobes should be obliged to organize their own events rather than glom onto those of other people who are pursuing honorable causes.

Enough of this. Enough of them. Hate groups are indeed gaining traction in Panama, including in some of our news media. But those people are them, not us.


them 1
Above, and below, hatred on display in front of the door to the El Carmen Church.

them 2


insulting Catherin Johannet
Ricardo Martinelli’s tabloid gets in the act with an insulting diminutive treatment of an American woman — an adult — who was strangled to death in Bocas. The people waving the hangman’s noose at the church complained on Facebook about the attention that this unsolved murder has been given.


It may have been a reasonable policy decision to exclude this young man from Panama, although it seems that he neither committed any crime here nor was wanted for a specific offense in his native El Salvador. But notice how Zulay uses the story and the image to cast aspersions upon all foreigners.


Was the guy a smuggler? Did he pay a bribe? Notice how the worst thing to this group was not some Panamanian official selling his or her country, nor even that the alleged payer was a criminal. It was that the guy was Venezuelan.


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vote final

the truth is a right
In the “civil society” protest crowd at the Iglesia del Carmen. Photo by Eric Jackson.

A day of protests

by Eric Jackson

Is President Varela weathering the storm generated by jailed lawyer Ramón Fonseca Mora’s allegation that he took money from the Brazil-based multinational construction conglomerate and criminal organization Odebrecht? On February 16 he might have looked at the situation, taken heart in the many divisions among anti-corruption protesters, and figured that the worst is over.

Perhaps, but extrinsic evidence to either corroborate or refute Fonseca’s incendiary charge is surely out there and the president will not be in full control of such evidence. Figure that anything that showed up in an electronic bank transfer, was the subject of an email or figured in a telephone conversation is in the US National Security Agency’s archives and any encryption could eventually be deciphered. Barring the possibility of some hack, whether that comes to public light is a political judgment to be made in Washington. Figure that several other lesser world powers have comparable abilities and probably have the same data. Courts and prosecutors in Brazil, probably in Switzerland and the United States, and possibly in other countries would have confessions by Odebrecht executives that would probably address the subject. And we don’t know what Panama’s Attorney General Kenia Porcell has and whether that would go beyond her office. (She has no jurisdiction to investigate the president — it would be up to the National Assembly to investigate, bring formal charges, try the case and render a verdict and any sentence were it to come to that.)

As it turned out, the labor and left groups that had attended the January 25 march called by the Committee Against Impunity — whose most noteworthy figure is Miguel Antonio Bernal — didn’t attend the second march on February 16. But meanwhile, earlier in the day a large contingent of workers from the SUNTRACS construction workers’ union swelled the ranks of an anti-corruption protest called by the leftist National Front for the Defense of Economic and Social Rights (FRENADESO), making that demonstration much the larger of the day’s marches.

Figure that Juan Carlos Varela is seriously hurt by the Odebrecht scandal, but so is most of the political caste that would judge him if an impeachment trial came to pass. The politicians’ malaise is surely simmering away and has probably reached the point where any hope of beating the odds and retaining the president’s Panameñista Party in power in the 2019 elections is gone and is seen as such by their most viable possible candidates. The discontent is unlikely to boil over without some stunning new revelation, which could be confirmation of something already part of the public discourse. But then, as now, the expected survival strategy would be to play on the divisions among those who would oust the president.

The historic divisions of the left will not be readily healed, but that’s on the margins of Panamanian political life anyway. Right now the split that’s most likely to put a damper on public discontent is a call for an international commission under effective control of Donald Trump — either by way of the Organization of American States, which the United States controls, or the United Nations, over which the United States holds veto power — as the traditional facile Panamanian response of letting the gringos solve Panama’s problems. Then there are various groups promoting their particular causes via the anti-corruption movements, the two most noteworthy being “vote for me” by whatever politicians can say truthfully or not that they are clean, and anti-foreigner agitation by xenophobic groups. In some cases the politicians and those who bash foreigners can be one and the same.

Union construction workers, who could shut down work on the projects where Odebrecht is the contractor in an instant if they wish to do so march against that employer’s corrupt dealings with politicians. Photo by SUNTRACS.


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vote final


public enemy

Odebrecht: what do we know
and will we know more?

a conversation between a reader and editor

Donor lists — is there a link to those that have been published?

Varela is saying that he will post his stuff on the Panameñista Party website. But it includes all of these opaquely anonymous corporations whose principals are by and large not readily identifiable.

Jované says he will release his when he gets the data back from the Electoral Tribunal. But didn’t he give them that information in the first place?

Juan Carlos Navarro says that he will release his data only after everyone else does, which probably means that he won’t. Haven’t heard from FAD or CD, or the smaller parties like MOLIRENA or the Partido Popular. Or anything about who backed Martinelli’s ringer independents, or Gerardo Solís when he was running as an independent.

Also the norm is many of the same donors will donate to all candidates so it’s win-win for them later when they need favors.

Well, there are nasty things that one might truthfully say about Pedro Miguel González and the party that he leads, but he’s absolutely in tune with the nation’s interests about banning all corporate campaign contributions.


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vote final

“Toda unidad debe basarse primero en la confianza…”

Ante la corrupción, crítica y unidad popular constituyente

por el Movimiento de Adecentamiento de la Universidad de Panamá (MOVADUP)

La corrupción es algo consustancial a las élites sociales y a la dirigencia política venal que de antiguo se les ha asociado. Pero ahora, lo que antes eran secretos que todo el mundo sabía, pero nadie confesaba, ahora son gritos de exhibición de desvergüenza. Antes observaban escrúpulos entre los ladrones de cuello blanco; ahora, las disputas entre ellos los hacen delatarse mutuamente mientras arrojan sus inmundicias al público.

En los años 60, la gente se levantó por la bandera mancillada en la Zona del Canal; ahora, un sobrecosto de 5 mil millones pende sobre la reciente ampliación de la Vía Interoceánica para beneficio de un consorcio dirigido por Sacyr, famoso por sus coimas internacionales. En los 80, el pueblo se indignó por el escándalo hipotecario del Seguro Social; ahora, la Junta Directiva de esa institución perdona las deudas a los que les roban las cuotas a los trabajadores; en los 90, impedimos la privatización del IDAAN; ahora, “100% agua potable” es una vacua ilusión y nos aguantamos los servicios más caros y deficientes. Hace algunos años, durante la administración de Martinelli, impedimos que nos metieran la “Ley Chorizo”, se apoderaran de las tierras indígenas y privatizaran la Zona Libre de Colón; ahora parecemos mudos ante los más graves escándalos de corrupción como los de Odebrecht y Mossack-Fonseca, en donde la oligarquía, con dos ejemplos de los abundantes casos que la caracterizan, exhibe con descaro la impunidad y la guerra verbal es más para entretener que para conducir a procesos de justicia confiables.

Así fue antes y así es ahora. Las victorias populares siempre han logrado avances, pero no han significado arrebatar las estructuras de poder a quienes las han monopolizado. Esas aguas ahora refluyen para dejar al descubierto la carroña que contamina la playa de la sociedad. Otrora, la nación cerró filas detrás de los pendones de estudiantes, gremios y sindicatos, movimientos cívicos y partidos opositores. Pero ahora, puesto que vastas dirigencias de estas organizaciones han participado o encubierto actos de corrupción y ahora se rasgan las vestiduras, ¿en qué o en quién puede confiar la población? La desconfianza popular es evidente en la baja asistencia a las protestas. La ciudadanía detecta, con razón, que las estructuras del Estado no son lo único podrido. Sospechan que hay, entre quienes los convocan, muchos elementos carentes de moral, con intereses mezquinos. En sentido contrario, ni siquiera el Consejo Académico actual de la Universidad de Panamá, institución llamada a ello por su liderazgo natural en nuestra sociedad, ha tenido valor para hacer lo correcto pronunciándose contra esta tragedia nacional de la corrupción.

En el MOVADUP, no obstante, somos optimistas, pues el mismo pueblo panameño que exhibe momentos estelares en sus luchas históricas sabrá poner en cuestión e incluso rebasar a los que pretenden hablar en su nombre, lo mismo que execrar a los que no se atreven a hacerlo, aun teniendo ese deber. Es ahí donde está el comienzo de la liberación. Toda unidad debe basarse primero en la confianza, y el MOVADUP estimulará un proceso pacífico en que sea el propio pueblo (no los actores políticos conocidos y cuestionados ni menos “comisiones investigadoras” de afuera) el que se dé los mecanismos para su propia regeneración. Como todo problema grave conlleva una solución radical, MOVADUP fomentará la unidad para la movilización en aras de la conformación de un proceso constituyente de la más amplia base originaria y popular que dé al traste con las prácticas viciosas y caducas y arrebate el poder a quienes siempre han abusado de él e inicie la regeneración nacional.

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Los tres poderes del Estado en acciones comprometedoras

por Olimpo A. Sáez M.

La crisis que vive el país por los sobreprecios, que sabemos y no conocemos en cifras concretas, como tampoco las coimas repartidas a unos y otros por la constructora Odebrecht, se ha afiebrado con las declaraciones del abogado Ramón Fonseca Mora. Las mismas llegan a los tres poderes del Estado en acciones comprometedoras:

  1. El Presidente recibió dineros de Odebrecht.
  2. El Presidente impuso al Magistrado Ayu Prado como Presidente de la Corte Suprema de Justicia por ser manejable.
  3. Popi Varela y Beby Valderrama, diputados oficialistas, conocen de las intervenciones del Ejecutivo en el Judicial y en el Legislativo.

Estas declaraciones tormentosas, tienen a su favor las delaciones premiadas en Brasil, Suiza y USA, por las cuales conocemos de las coimas millonarias entregadas a panameños, de los cuales solo se conocen unos nombres, porque el Ministerio Público camina a pasos de selectividad y muchos creemos que de complicidad con muchos de los que deben estar presos y sus bienes cautelados, por el robo descarado de los dineros del pueblo.

A raíz del problema de Odebrecht que crece y se agiganta en Brasil, Colombia y Perú, con posibilidades de tumbar gobiernos, siguen provocando indignación en la ciudadanía de estos países. Panamá no es el único que está en el ojo de la tormenta, pero si es el que va más despacio en las averiguaciones con respecto a los responsables del robo millonario por las coimas entregadas.

Esta tormenta y sus fuertes remezones hacen crisis en el Gobierno Nacional y es lógico que los políticos, gremios, sociedad civil y ciudadanos en general empiecen a buscar soluciones políticas a la misma, si ella se sigue agravando y la ciudadanía sale de sus mecedoras y hamacas y se decide a reclamar sus derechos y a ejercer sus deberes. A raíz de esas voces legítimas que aparecen en la sociedad, se ha iniciado igualmente por algunos medios de comunicación y entre algunos ciudadanos, la especie, mal informada, confusa y quizás dirigida por el Gobierno de que esas propuestas, se prestan para que los “pescadores políticos pesquen en esas aguas turbias”. Se inicia pues, una campaña de desinformación, a mi parecer, de buena o mala fe, en señalar que los movimientos cívicos de protestas o las propuestas de algunos ciudadanos con respecto a la crisis que estamos viviendo son para “pescar en río revuelto”.

Creo que los políticos, sean del signo que sean, lo mismo que los ciudadanos tienen la responsabilidad de pensar y actuar frente a la crisis con valor, con coraje pensando en el país. Los oportunistas políticos del pelaje que sean, se les conocerá en el camino. El pueblo no es tonto, por no decir pendejo.

Entre las opciones o sugerencias que han aparecido para enfrentar la crisis están las siguientes:

  1. La renuncia del Presidente.
  2. El Juicio del Presidente por la Asamblea de Diputados.
  3. La Vicepresidenta debe asumir la Presidencia por los dos años y medio que faltan del período constitucional.
  4. Renuncia del Presidente y la formación de una Junta de Gobierno.
  5. El llamado a la Constituyente Originaria.
  6. El asalto al poder por parte del SUNTRACS, FRENADESO y el FAD.
  7. Esperar el 2019 para ir nuevamente a las urnas y sacarnos el clavo.

¿Cuál es el pecado de estas fórmulas? ¿Cuál es el Golpe de Estado? ¿Cuál es la revolución? ¿Cuál de ellas acabará con el país y con los negocios en Panamá? Eso lo debe decidir la ciudadania y los panameños en su conjunto.

Creo que estamos lejos todavía de encontrar en la ciudadanía en general alguna fórmula viable a la crisis. Creo que debemos trabajar en alguna fórmula posible, viable, cierta y unitaria para estar presente en la profundización de la crisis. Creo que solo la unidad en la diversidad podrá ayudar a resolver la crisis. Sin sectarismo político ni ideológico. Lejos está el Asalto al Cuartel Moncada, la toma del Palacio de Invierno, la Gran Marcha y que decir de la “revolución bolivariana de Hugo Chávez” para Panamá.

Por ahora, la ciudadania debe protestar una y otra vez, aquí y por allá, para exigirle al Gobierno transparencia y al Ministerio Publico que la justicia sea igual para todos, CAIGA QUIEN CAIGA.

A estas alturas del juego, ya nadie se engaña ni lo engañan y todos queremos:

  1. Justicia igual para todos. Caiga quien Caiga!
  2. Los ladrones coimeros y coimeados a la cárcel.
  3. Devolución de todos los dineros robados, que son millones de millones.

Los fantasmas del desastre, los augurios de la ruina nacional, los profetas del caos y el desorden, los voceros del miedo, deben ser rechazados por los ciudadanos pensantes. Los “pescadores en río revuelto” es una campaña para crear miedo y parálisis entre la ciudadanía. Otras crisis se han vivido y sufrido y Panamá la ha superado.

Llegó la hora de la ciudadania, de la vergüenza cívica, de la vergüenza nacional. Solo las calles nos salvarán.


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Blocking Via España, much to the consternation of morning drivers.

The Panamanian way of arguing with the government

photos by Kermit Nourse

February 15 was a payday, with added numbers of people driving downtown to do banking or shopping. It was also the 25th anniversary of a dispute that began shortly before the 1989 US invasion. Workers for the old state-owned IRHE electric company and INTEL phone company were not paid their 13th month salaries back then — the Panamanian wage system gives workers an extra month’s pay per year, in two semi-annual installments — and after the invesion many were fired and others told that they would be eventually paid. They never were and in the late 1990s the utilities were privatized, leading to more job losses. The privatization laws had it that the new buyers would assume the obligations of the old government companies but by and large they never did. They didn’t pay the 13th month arrears, and sent both current but mostly former workers to the government to collect — which sent them to the companies to collect. Now it’s a quarter century after the last IRHE and INTEL arrears were accrued and the former employees want their money. Everyone points in a different direction or tells them to just accept their loss, but in the Panamanian political culture that’s an invitation to block the street unless and until some solution, or promise of a solution, is forthcoming.

As you may see, the inconvenienced drivers were not amused.


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