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The Panama News blog links, September 23, 2017


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

TVN, El reclamo de un trabajador del Canal a la ACP que se hizo viral

Splash 24/7, Malware spreading fast through the merchant fleet

Maritime Executive, Hapag-Lloyd orders 7,700 new reefers

Splash 24/7, CMA CGM confirms orders for 22,000 teu ships

gCaptain, McCain blames US Navy for lack of training

AP: Flights canceled, delayed after blackout at Panama airport

Sports / Deportes

FIFA.com, Panama’s men’s soccer team up to 60 in FIFA rankings

La Estrella, Gimnastas de Panamá brillan en el torneo Suramericano

Video, Remembering Jake LaMotta

La Estrella, Mariano Rivera Jr. lanzará en el torneo profesional local

Economy / Economía

La Estrella, SBP multa a tres bancos por violar ley sobre blanqueo

AFP, China busca expandir su influencia en América Latina a través de Panamá

Reuters, AT&T weighs divestiture of Latin American TV assets

Bloomberg, Asian funds buying into Latin America

Reuters, Venezuela’s new plan to beat hunger: Breed rabbits

Science & Technology / Ciencia & Tecnología

STRI, Scientists edit butterfly wing spots and stripes

Phys.org, Winter restricts innovation

Hindustan Times, Oldest recorded zero is centuries older than initially thought

AFP, Calentamiento global pone en peligro producción de café

Christian Science Monitor, A need to rethink US flood management?

The Real News, How Florida’s Native Americans predicted and survived hurricanes

Ecoportal, Las islas del Caribe perdieron el verde tras Irma

News / Noticias

La Estrella, Brigada panameña localiza a víctimas del terremoto en México

AFP, Panama entrega a Cuba $5,7 millones para afectados por Irma

The Costa Rica Star, Dominican arrested in Costa Rica for Panama killings

Mexico News Daily, Panama court rules Borge a flight risk

TVN, Ayú Prado habla de ‘falta de ética’

ClaraMENTE, Alcalde de Chorrera participa en sacrificio de especie protegida

La Estrella, Bosco Vallarino pretende anular su proceso judicial

TVN, Juzgado ordena concluir investigación contra ‘Chichi’ De Obarrio

El País, Juez cierra la causa contra el periodista venezolano Teodoro Petkoff

La Prensa, Honduras aprueba castiga hasta con 20 años las protestas

AP, Moreno accuses Correa of planting spy camera

EFE, Correa no descarta pedir una constituyente en Ecuador

Reuters, Kuczinsky installs new cabinet after opposition forces ouster of old one

InSight Crime, How the Dark Web has empowered LatAm organized crime

Opinion / Opiniones

Greenberg, How she lost

Brin, “Sovereignty” and a worldwide rush toward Putin-ism

Wallerstein, Chaotic uncertainty

Sanders, What Ike said then is even more true today

Paul, Saudi War in Yemen is not in the US interest

Guzman & Stiglitz, PROMESA’s dangerous premises

Silva, US-Colombian relations continue to sour

Willies, Americans are gullible

Karg, Topolansky y Mujica

Thornton, Solidarity vs the state in Mexico

Gómez Romero, Twin earthquakes expose Mexico’s deep inequality

ALAI, El comercio electrónico en la OMC perjudicaría a América Latina

Wiebel, El Salvador’s ban on abortion

López, ¿Quién paga el costo?

Gamboa Arosemena, Distracción con la ACP

Jované, El verdadero camino hacia la constituyente

Sagel, El comienzo del fin

Culture / Cultura

La Estrella, “Panamá” — nuestra ave nacional — cumple ocho años

Remezcla, DJ Bembona is spinning the soundtrack to Latinx social movements

Godin, Dominican-American women conflicted over quest for straight hair

Embree, Sex and socialism


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¿Wappin? Caribbean Influences / Influencias Caribeñas

Olga Tañón. Wikimedia photo.

Caribbean Influences / Influencias Caribeñas

Third World – 96° in the Shade

Cultura Profética – La Espera

I-Threes – Many Are Called

Mad Professor & Jah Shaka – Ecological Dub

Yomira John – Mama Congo

Lord Invader – Reincarnation

Rubén Blades – West Indian Man

Gringo de la Bachata – Gringo Muere de Dolor

Miriam Cruz – Juana la cubana

Hermanos Duncan – Sin Embargo

Olga Tañón Super Mix


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Gladstone, Retirement doesn’t pay so well for this ex-outfielder


he gets the fat end

The MLB Players Association is inclusive — except
when it comes to its retired persons of color

by Doug Gladstone — @GLADSTONEWRITER

There are 500 retired baseball players who are currently being shafted by Major League Baseball (MLB). Panama City, Panama’s Dave Roberts is one of them.

The 84-year-old Mr. Roberts played for the Houston Colt 45s in 1962 and 1964 then played for the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1966 and Overall, in 91 career games, Mr. Roberts came to the plate 194 times and collected 38 hits, including eight doubles, one triple and two home runs. He scored 15 runs and drove in an additional 17.

What he doesn’t have is an MLB pension.

Mr. Roberts — who reportedly was a teammate of Hall of Famer Brooks Robinson in Double A ball when he was a member of the Baltimore Orioles organization playing for the San Antonio Missions in the Texas League in 1955 — has seen his fair share of discrimination. According to a published account, Roberts was demoted to Single A ball in 1957 when another Texas League team refused to play against any team with black players.

Roberts doesn’t receive a traditional pension from MLB because the rules for receiving MLB pensions changed in 1980. Roberts and the other men do not get pensions because they didn’t accrue four years of service credit. That was what ballplayers who played between 1947 – 1979 needed to be eligible for the pension plan.

Instead, they all receive nonqualified retirement payments based on a complicated formula that had to have been calculated by an actuary.

In brief, for every quarter of service a man had accrued, he’d get $625. Four quarters (one year) totaled $2,500. Sixteen quarters (four years) amounts to the maximum, $10,000.

Meanwhile, a vested retiree can earn a pension of as much as $210,000, according to the IRS. Even the minimum pension for 43 game days of credit after 1980 is a reported $34,000.

The union representing the current players, the Major League Baseball Players Association (MLBPA), doesn’t have to be their legal advocates, the league doesn’t have to negotiate about this matter and the alumni association is too busy putting on golf outings. What’s more, the payment cannot be passed on to a surviving spouse or designated beneficiary. So none of Mr. Roberts’s loved ones will receive that payment when he dies. These men are also not eligible to be covered under the league’s health coverage plan.

To date, the MLBPA has been loathe to divvy up anymore of the collective pie. Even though Forbes recently reported that the current players’ pension and welfare fund is valued at $2.7 billion, MLBPA Executive Director Tony Clark has never commented about these non-vested retirees, many of whom are filing for bankruptcy at advanced ages, having banks foreclose on their homes and are so sickly and poor that they cannot afford adequate health care coverage.

What’s particularly disturbing is that Mr. Clark received the Jackie Robinson Lifetime Achievement Award from the Negro Leagues Museum in 2016. Yet is he trying to do anything for Aaron Pointer? Or Wayne Cage, of the Cleveland Indians? Or Tom Murphy, who played for the New York Mets? Or Cuban-American Cuno Barragan, who played for the Cubs?

Or Mr. Roberts?

Although MLB, which has launched youth programs that include Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities, has been praised for its increases in minority hiring, Clark told the Associated Press last year the union would like to see opportunities expanded to include senior club administration.

That’s fine, Mr. Clark. I also understand in December 2016, MLBPA and MLB made a $30 million commitment to help grow the game through the MLBPA-MLB Youth Development Foundation.

But what about the retirees who grew the game? Specifically, all the retired persons of color. Are you saying they didn’t grow the game? You know, the same men like Pointer and Murphy and Cage and Barragan and Roberts who stood on picket lines and endured labor stoppages and went without paychecks so Los Angeles Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen could command a five-year $85 million contract last year?

Seems a little hypocritical to receive an award named to honor arguably the greatest pioneer in race relations this country has ever known, than hose a man like Roberts.


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What Panama’s next-door neighbors said at the UN

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos Calderón. United Nations photo.

What Colombia’s President Santos said


Video with English-language translation

Official UN statement summary

JUAN MANUEL SANTOS CALDERÓN, President of Colombia, said his address before the General Assembly today was his eighth and final one as a President. — He recalled several developments that had taken place since his first address in 2010, noting that Colombia had undergone a positive change and that the world had seen both improvements and setbacks. — “We were all witnesses, victims or protagonists,” he said. — Indeed, Colombian armed forces had defeated the military chief of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). — The peace process with FARC had not only culminated with an agreement but with something more important: — the saving of thousands of lives. — The news he brought from Colombia was not of death, but indeed, of life.

That Colombia had ended a conflict that had killed thousands and left millions displaced should offer hope for other conflicts around the world, he said.

  • Ending war, and overcoming hate and fear, required a complex process of dialogue and concessions.
  • Colombia had succeeded thanks to political will and an awareness that peace was a necessary condition for both progress and happiness.
  • Paying tribute to the United Nations, he said a special mission had been established by the Security Council to verify and monitor the disarmament of FARC, as well as the ceasefire between the guerrillas and the Government.
  • More than 900,000 weapons had been destroyed and members of the former guerrilla groups had created a political movement to defend their ideas in a democratic manner.
  • “This is what a peace process is all about,” he exclaimed, “replacing bullets with votes and ending the use of weapons as a means for political pressure.”

In the coming days, another mission recently authorized by the Security Council would be established to reintegrate guerrillas into civil life, he said, and ensure security to both the former combatants and communities that had suffered from armed conflict. — From 1 October, the United Nations would help ensure compliance with the ceasefire and temporary cessation of hostilities achieved with the National Liberation Army, with whom Colombia was negotiating to restore complete peace.

He said building peace was a lengthy process entailing political, economic and social dimensions for which innovative programs in education, health and infrastructure were needed to close the deep social gaps in Colombia.

  • The Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) highlighted the progress Colombia had achieved in reducing poverty, and in seven years, more than 5 million Colombians had been taken out of economic hardship.
  • However, the air of hope in Colombia had not made them blind to the difficult situations for peace and democracy in other parts of the world.
  • He condemned the launch of nuclear missiles and tests by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea that constituted a global threat to peace and security, also expressing concern for Venezuela and the gradual dismantling of its democracy.
  • He called upon the Secretary‑General and the international community to support the Venezuelan people.

Turning to terrorism, he said it should be tackled with every means possible — military, political, intelligence and international cooperation — while its roots of fear, exclusion and hate must be replaced with love, compassion and respect for difference.

  • More broadly, the war on drugs had not yet been won and new strategies were needed, he said, pressing States to include human rights in their policies against drugs.
  • Colombia’s vulnerability to climate change had paved the way for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.

With that, he offered with humility and gratitude the model of peace that Colombia had built and was happy to share with the world as an example of the strength of love, life and unity.


Costa Rican President Luis Guillermo Solís Rivera. United Nations photo.

What Costa Rica’s President Solís said

Link to English translation audio track

Complete speech transcript in English (PDF)

Official UN statement summary

LUIS GUILLERMO SOLÍS RIVERA, President of Costa Rica, recalled that his country in September 2016 became the first one to establish a national agreement to meet the Sustainable Development Goals, and that it reduced poverty for the first time in the last seven years. “Leaving no one behind” was a State and government responsibility, but the entities should act along with all sectors in society, he said. He emphasized the importance of rethinking the concept of per capita income to determine a country’s development and called on the Secretary-General to promote spaces that would implement working strategies to strengthen the capabilities of developing countries and allow more efficiency when cooperating with middle-income and least developed nations.

On development, he stressed the need to pay special attention to productive sectors like family farming, which represented the main source of income for 70 percent of the poor population worldwide. He mentioned that Costa Rica, along with other countries, would present during the session a resolution on “the decade of family farming 2019-2028.”

Calling on women’s empowerment, he expressed support for the International Gender Champions proposal which aimed at reversing gender inequality within the United Nations. Speaking about women’s domestic work and unpaid care, he stressed that the unpaid work of women is equivalent to 13 percent of the world’s gross domestic product (GDP) and pointed to the gender pay gap, with the salary of a woman being 25 percent lower than that of a man for the same post. Highlighting the need to address the barriers to women’s economic empowerment, he said Costa Rica had a public policy that guaranteed employability on an equal basis.

Stressing that the fight against climate change required ambitious positions, he said the leadership of Chile and Costa Rica had caused Latin America to move towards establishing a regional instrument on the rights of access to participation and justice on environmental matters. He reaffirmed his country’s determination to direct its economy towards carbon neutrality as part of the pre-2020 voluntary action and decarbonize the economy.


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President Varela at the UN / Presidente Varela en la ONU

In front of the General Assembly / Frente a la Asamblea General. Photo by the Presidencia / Foto por la Presidencia.

Juan Carlos Varela at the UN / Juan Carlos Varela en la ONU


Video en Español


Download UN English-language translation audio track

UN statement summary in English:

JUAN CARLOS VARELA RODRÍGUEZ, President of Panama, expressed condolences to Cuba, Mexico, United States and Caribbean nations suffering the effects of recent natural disasters. Noting that those events signaled the need for solidarity, he said the world stood at a juncture marked by terrorism, organized crime and the increase in forced migration caused by war, poverty and inequality. “Peace is a human construct” and the fruit of negotiations, he said, adding that the most appropriate way to confront the world’s challenges was by placing the human being at the heart of all decision-making. That had been the strategy of his own administration, he said, adding that democracy was more than just the simple exercise of casting a ballot. Indeed, elected leaders must understand that they bore responsibilities to their people.

Recalling the historic rapprochement between Cuba and the United States during a summit held in Panama in 2015, he said countries of the Americas must pursue the path of peace. Welcoming progress in Colombia in that regard, he called on that country to consolidate its national peace process. The region faced the threat of drug trafficking, he said, warning that “we cannot stand idly by” and allow that phenomenon to condemn people to poverty and challenge the authority of Governments. Stressing that Panama would not relent in that fight, he appealed to production and consumer countries to “come to our aid” and help eliminate the “blood money” that drove the phenomenon. Turning to Venezuela, he said it would be a serious miscalculation for that country’s Government to try to impose a single-party political model. Among other things, such an action would increase outward migration. Amid such challenges, he vowed to remain “on the front line” of efforts to strengthen unity among countries of the Americas and called on Panama’s neighbors to do to the same.

“We do not have time and space to waste in squabbling among ourselves,” he said as he turned to global challenges. Condemning all acts of terrorism, he called on the Security Council to strengthen measures to foster lasting peace in such places as Syria and Iraq, and condemned the irresponsible leadership of such Governments as that in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, which sought to destabilize regions. He also voiced support for the Secretary-General’s reform efforts to create a United Nations that would more nimbly respond to the world’s peoples. Such reforms must center around enhancing connections between nations, he said, stressing that multilateral cooperation was critical. Middle-income countries such as Panama were well placed to transfer technology to developing nations, he said, adding that Panama had been central to regional responses to recent natural disasters.

Among his national goals, he underscored the need to ensure that politics was seen as service. Panama was working to recuperate hundreds of millions of previously misappropriated dollars, and to reform corrupt systems. As a result, it had improved living standards without increasing a single tax. It was also making progress towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals and was bound by a sense of fairness and equality. Governments were obliged to root out tax evasion, which fostered chasms of inequality, he said, calling on them to distribute wealth in a manner that supported the poorest and most vulnerable. The fight against corruption should not be measured by the number of people prosecuted by the judicial system, but rather, by the lives that were improved. “This planet has enough wealth for all of humankind to be able to live decently,” he concluded.


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3D printers: A revolutionary frontier for medicine

Igor, bring me the brain bottle!
3D printed brain for deep brain stimulation (DBS) surgical planning. University of Saskatchewan, Department of Surgery.

3D printers: A revolutionary frontier for medicine

by Ivar Mendez — The Conversation

Mission control on earth receives an urgent communication from Mars that an astronaut has fractured his shinbone. Using a handheld scanning device, the crew takes images of his damaged tibia and transmits them to earth.

Orthopedic surgeons then use a 3D printer to create an exact replica of the astronaut’s leg from medical imaging files obtained before the voyage. Surgeons on earth use a robot to stabilize the bone with a metal plate on the 3D replica. The data is transmitted back to Mars, where surgical instruments, a personalized plate and screws are 3D printed. Finally, a surgical robot operates on the injured astronaut.

As a neurosurgeon and a researcher in remote presence robotics, I offer you this vision of the future. I am also a member of the Expert Group on the Potential Healthcare and Biomedical Roles for Deep Space Human Spaceflight of the Canadian Space Agency. Though 3D printing in space is still in early development, a revolution in 3D printing is already occurring closer to home. And it has transformative implications for the future of health care.

What is 3D printing?

Additive manufacturing, or 3D printing, uses a digital model to build an object of any size or shape — by adding successive layers of material in a single continuous run. This layering capability allows the manufacturing of complex shapes, such as the intricate structure of bones or vascular channels, that would be impossible to create by other methods.

Advances in computer design and the ability to translate medical imaging — such as X-rays, computerized tomography (CT), magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or ultrasound — to digital models that can be read by 3D printers are expanding its applications in health care. 3D printing is opening a horizon of amazing possibilities, such as bioprinting living tissues with “biological ink.”

An advantage of 3D printing technology is that it allows for personalization of health care — customized prostheses and tailor-made drugs and organs, for example. This technology may also decrease costs by disrupting supply chains and lowering the production costs of medical devices, surgical instruments and other health-care products.

Hearing aids and dentures

At present, 3D printing is being widely used in the manufacture of hearing aids and in dentistry.

In 2013, there were 10 million 3D-printed hearing aids in circulation worldwide. This huge impact in the hearing aid industry has been called the “quiet revolution” as it has gone almost unnoticed. Before 3D printing, it took one week to manufacture a hearing aid; now it takes only a few hours.

The development of sophisticated and accurate 3D oral scanners and new 3D printing dental materials has also catapulted 3D printing as a disruptive technology in dentistry.

In 2016, the Food and Drug Administration Agency (FDA) approved 3D printing denture material and this set the stage for dentists to introduce 3D-printing manufacturing laboratories into their offices. The idea of producing crowns, orthodontic appliances or removable dentures with a push of a button in your dentist’s office is not far from reality.

Prostheses for land-mine victims

Perhaps the biggest impact of 3D printing globally could be in helping to narrow inequality in health-care delivery by producing inexpensive health-care products for low income regions. Prostheses for landmine victims is a good example.

Landmines in conflict zones in Africa and Asia have devastating consequences for the populations living in those areas. Inexpensive 3D-printed prostheses, customized to the person and printed in one day, have greatly benefited landmine amputees. Networks of volunteers such as e-NABLE and NotImpossible working with open source collaborations have had a positive impact on the design and provision of affordable 3D-printed prostheses.

In 2017 alone, these projects have created 300 prosthetic hands that have directly benefited war victims and the disabled poor.

Face transplants and spine surgery

Surgical applications of 3D printing are evolving rapidly from the production of models for surgical planning to biological active implants for craniofacial reconstruction.

At the University of Saskatchewan, we have 3D-printed a human brain replica from MRI data. And we use it to plan complex neurosurgical procedures for treating patients with movement disorders. The surgery involves implanting electrodes that target pea-sized structures in the depths of the brain.

Surgeons have used similar 3D printed models to plan complex surgeries ranging from a full-face transplant to spine surgery. Implantable surgical devices such as the recently FDA-approved and 3D-printed titanium bone implant coated with bioactive agents that promote bone growth are also starting to reach the clinic.

Printing living organs

An exciting area with huge potential for the future is the manufacturing of 3D-printed drugs. The first 3D-printed drug approved by the FDA is the anti-seizure medication Sprintam. The 3D printing process enables the creation of a highly porous structure that can load a large dosage of the active compound into a rapidly dissolvable pill.

This possibility of highly personalized drugs, which optimize beneficial effects while reducing side effects, made in real-time using digital recipes could radically change the pharmaceutical industry.

One of the most promising 3D printing technological advances is the bioprinting of living tissue. Great strides have been made in manufacturing tissue constructs that could eventually be used for organ transplants.

The clinical manufacturing of biologically active complex structures such as functional skeletal muscle or liver tissue is promising. The recent commercialization of functional human liver or kidney constructs — the so-called “lab on a chip organ” — will have a huge impact on medical research, drug discovery and toxicology. It could possibly reduce the need to use experimental animal models.

Although we may be far away from surgery in Mars using 3D printing technology, the advances on earth are already changing health care.

Ivar Mendez is the Fred H. Wigmore Professor and Unified Head of the Department of Surgery, University of Saskatchewan

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


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Libertad Ciudadana (TI), Casos de corrupción que terminan impunes


no like thuggee

Otra oportunidad desperdiciada para luchar contra la corrupción

por Libertad Ciudadana (TI Panamá)

La solicitud de sobreseimiento provisional que recomienda el Ministerio Público en relación a la denuncia presentada por nuestra Fundación contra seis funcionarios de la Asamblea
Legislativa, el pasado 22 de abril de 2017, por el delito de peculado a través de la figura de donaciones, según pruebas presentadas por el diario La Prensa, y que pudieran ascender a 14 millones de dólares, es una oportunidad desperdiciada de parte de la Procuradora y sus Fiscales de demostrar su empeño en luchar contra la corrupción. La corrupción surge donde existe la inclinación y la oportunidad. La Asamblea ha sido ejemplo de este binomio. Es deber del Ministerio Público ayudar a minimizar las oportunidades para el comportamiento corrupto y posibilitar que aquéllos que son corruptos puedan ser investigados y sancionados debidamente.

La petición del fiscal Javier Mitre Burgos se sustenta en la falta de información clave para las pesquisas, información que no le ha sido proporcionada por la propia Asamblea, que una vez más se pone por encima de la Ley. Un fiscal que genuinamente quiere obtener información, no la solicita amablemente. La obtiene mediante todos los mecanismos legales disponibles. Es una burla a la ciudadanía pretender que la información sobre actos delictivos se obtendrá a las buenas y que si no se obtiene de esa manera, debemos conformarnos.

La falta de voluntad del Ministerio Público de utilizar todas las herramientas investigativas que le concede la Ley y la complicidad de la Asamblea en proteger a sus funcionarios, son la combinación perfecta que consigue un solo resultado: la impunidad.

Llamamos al Fiscal a seguir investigando con independencia y sin dejarse llevar por presiones, internas o externas. Como denunciantes buscaremos todas las herramientas que nos brinde el Código Procesal para que esta investigación no engrose las filas de los casos de corrupción que terminan impunes.


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Gandásegui, La corrupción y las elites políticas


al cepo
La corrupción y las elites políticas

por Marco A. Gandásegui, hijo

Los gobiernos (o regímenes) se tambalean por causas internas. A menudo estas son abanicadas por intereses de otros países, especialmente potencias militares. Al contrario, también están los casos de gobiernos apoyados por potencias extranjeras que no logran sostenerse y caen estrepitosamente. (Casos de Batista en Cuba, 1959, y Somoza en Nicaragua, 1979, entre otros). Quizás el elemento que se asocia más con el desmoronamiento de un régimen es la corrupción. Quienes ocupan el poder una vez asociados con la corrupción se des-legitiman y pierden toda base de apoyo para sostenerse.

Quienes han escrito sobre la corrupción tienden a relacionar el problema con tres causas. Por un lado, señalan — equivocadamente — que es propio de la ‘naturaleza humana-‘. En otras palabras, así somos y no hay algo que pueda corregirlo. Por el otro, es una desviación en la conducta de quienes vivimos en sociedades que normalmente rechazan este tipo de comportamiento. Un planteamiento sin fundamento. Por último, hay quienes argumentan que la corrupción es el resultado del sistema en que vivimos y su necesidad de reproducirse.

Mario Unda, sociólogo ecuatoriano, señala que el sistema económico en que vivimos es corrupto por definición. Unda apunta a cinco causas de corrupción asociadas a la economía. Primero, el enriquecimiento por medio de los sobornos en “un período de recambio de elites políticos”.

Popularmente se habla de ‘los nuevos ricos’. Segundo, se puede hablar de los ‘ricos’ tradicionales que corrompen todo lo que encuentran a su alrededor. La riqueza generada queda en manos de la empresa que corrompe (mediante los sobreprecios) y ‘la coima va al funcionario’.

En tercer lugar, “cuando una empresa paga un soborno para obtener un contrato, ese pago se convierte en una inversión destinada a desplazar y a sacar del juego a sus competidores”. Cuarto, “la corrupción es uno de los mecanismos de la afirmación y reproducción de las relaciones de dependencia”. En quinto lugar, la corrupción es uno de los mecanismos más recurridos para asegurar el reparto del plusvalor social entre el Estado y el capital privado.

La corrupción es igualmente importante entenderla como un arma política. Mantiene unida a la elite de la sociedad, la que controla los medios de poder que van desde el gobierno, los aparatos represivos (policía y militares), el sistema educativo, los medios de comunicación y las iglesias. Según Unda, la función política de la corrupción “está relacionada con la formación, la ampliación y la reproducción de las elites políticas en la medida en que permite o facilita el establecimiento y el mantenimiento de redes verticales y horizontales que necesariamente se encuentran como sustrato de cualquier elite política. En su funcionamiento se mezclan con relaciones de clientela que ofician de intermediarias para el intercambio de beneficios (como el empleo, por ejemplo) por respaldo político. En conjunto con otros mecanismos (mejora de sueldos, etc.), la corrupción permite que la nueva elite se levante sobre su antigua posición social y adquiera nuevas posiciones de privilegio”.

Según Unda, “bien miradas las cosas, la corrupción es un mecanismo de mucha utilidad en el establecimiento de las relaciones de cercanía cotidiana que se requieren para la estabilización del bloque en el poder.” Se trata de la presencia de lazos invisibles a los ojos del común de los mortales. Otra función política de la corrupción es prestarse para ser usada prácticamente en cualquier momento por cualquier actor interesado. En tanto arma ampliamente disponible, la corrupción ofrece — en momentos de crisis — chivos expiatorios fácilmente identificables por la ira popular.

La corrupción es parte de la lucha entre capitalistas y entre estos y otros sectores de la sociedad por apropiarse de las riquezas que se producen en una sociedad. En el caso de Panamá, es obvio que la enorme riqueza que generaron los Tratados del Canal (Torrijos-Carter) de 1977, desató una lucha entre los sectores productivos y rentistas del capital por el control de los aparatos de gobierno (represión y reproducción). Cuando el Canal de Panamá se traspasó al Estado panameño en 2000, la corrupción se hizo exponencial. Sin controles ni regulaciones, la corrupción se convirtió en la herramienta para definir nuevas alianzas entre los sectores dominantes. Los partidos políticos son las máscaras que utilizan para presentarse en público y celebrar elecciones.

El bloque en el poder (como lo llama UNDA) en Panamá ya no es el mismo que hace 25 años. ¿Podrá sostenerse o caerá des-legitimado?


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Editorials: Another high court disgrace; and Rally the antiwar movement

Harry and Jose
Supreme Court magistrates Harry Díaz and José Ayú Prado. By most accounts these two men dislike one another. Photo by the Ministerio Publico.

Judicial ethics in dark times

Some time ago, Supreme Court magistrate Harry Díaz gave a series of interviews on television and in newspapers in which he accused Ricardo Martinelli of manipulating the votes on the Supreme Court to make now-imprisoned former magistrate Alejandro Moncada Luna the presiding magistrate. Immediately law professor, radio show host and anti-corruption activist Miguel Antonio Bernal, joined by several others, filed a complaint against Martinelli in the Supreme Court. On September 22 this complaint was summarily dismissed without investigation, but with much recrimination among the members of the high court.

The 6-2 majority decision, by alternate magistrate Efraín Tello, rejected the complaint because it characterized the interference with the separation of constitutional powers a crime of which none of the complainants can be called a victim with standing to complain. The high court just told us that their corruption is none of the public’s business.

A dissent by presiding magistrate José Ayú Prado got most attention for its questioning of Harry Díaz’s ethics for making the public statements that he did, in the way that he did. Certainly it was a huge deviation from ordinary judicial demeanor. But Ayú Prado went on to opine that an accusation of this nature is a grave allegation of a crime, one that should be investigated.

In fact, there were prior allegations by others about Martinelli’s interference with the courts, several alleging that now fugitive former tourism minister Salomón Shamah was the bag man who came around to the courts with orders about how Martinelli wanted things decided. Whatever Díaz’s motives, he was not the only relevant witness to question, and that’s not even getting into the many documents that would have to be examined in any serious probe.

As to the long-running feud between Ayú Prado and Díaz, both of them Martinelli appointees, perhaps time will tell. This was the seventh criminal case against Martinelli that the Supreme Court has dismissed, with nine case accepted and pending, six complaints awaiting preliminary decisions on whether they should be accepted and an Argentine request for Panamanian judicial assistance in a case against Martinelli there all in line. At the time that Díaz made his complaint the game of constant delays to run out the calendar on cases, prosecutors taking dives instead of fighting public corruption as they should have and the former president’s mocking tweets from Miami had been well established. Under such circumstances the duty of public disclosure should outweigh the rules of judicial decorum.

As to the majority decision that judicial corruption is not the business of every Panamanian, that’s a compelling reason for a constitutional convention that replaces the entire Supreme Court. It should not be an argument about procedure and presumptions of innocence. It should be done without any litigation about who is to blame for what. What Panama needs is a revolutionary act by which the nation says that we won’t have this sort of mentality in high places anymore and embeds this decision in a new set of institutions.


Time to mobilize the antiwar movement

Barack Obama promised to get US forces out of Afghanistan. Over eight years, he didn’t. Donald Trump promised to get US forces out of Afghanistan. It took him only a few months to explicitly break that promise. That’s now America’s longest war, with a stalemate on the battlefield and no realistic possibility of a US victory.

Donald Trump, in his first days in office, gave the head of the US Africa Command permission to make war on any person, nation or political force anywhere on the continent of Africa without any prior authorization by any other authority. The US constitutional proviso that only Congress can declare war had already been turned into something close to a dead letter by a long line of presidential power grabs. Trump’s move went a long step beyond and was met with relatively little complaint from the political and economic power elites and the media that do their bidding.

Donald Trump went before the UN and threatened North Korea with nuclear obliteration. All of America’s traditionally closest allies backed away from this. Of course. Were Trump to do that, even if the North Koreans could not land any retaliatory blow at all the dust, smoke and radioactive fallout sent up into the atmosphere would kill millions of people — including a lot of Americans — and disrupt agriculture, fisheries and environmental niches all around the world. Trump’s was the ranting of a dangerous maniac.

It’s time to mobilize the antiwar movement in the United States and worldwide. We have many old and tested leaders, and let new ones emerge.

There are Republicans who as always are eager for the opportunity to call peace activists traitors. There are Democrats who reasonably fear that any success for an antiwar movement brings out the troglodytes to blame those unlike themselves for losing whatever war or place to whatever foe. But Hillary Clinton lost for many reasons, one of which was that antiwar voters who usually vote for Democrats stayed home rather than endorse her hawkish politics. And the many Americans concerned about the Trump entourage’s ties with Russia? It’s a terrible misreading of the situation to suppose that all or most of these folks are for a Cold War II with the Russians, even if they want accountability for anyone who brought foreign interference into the US electoral process.

War is bad for business. It’s worse now because the United States is not the economic powerhouse that it once was. America’s lead as a scientific and industrial power has been frittered away by spending for wars over nothing of much consequence to the United States. The “War on Drugs” violence at home and abroad has given the USA one of the world’s highest incarceration rates and this has added to the expense and the problem. These wars, and all of this mass imprisonment, have been in part paid for by neglecting education, research and civilian infrastructures.

The left is always a big part of the peace movement and will continue to be, but this time around those capitalists whose business is neither weapons nor private prisons ought to have more of a role to play. That one of the strongest antiwar voices in Washington belongs to Republican Senator Rand Paul should be no surprise

It’s really not a time of the peace movement’s choice. What’s going on now can’t continue. Peace is the break that Americans and the rest of the world need.


Bear in mind…


Like the mind-set that places men above women, whites above blacks, and rich above poor, the mentality that places humans above nature is a dysfunctional delusion.

Petra Kelly


The history of great deeds was the history of men who had the courage to stand alone against the world.

Mohandas K. Gandhi


Power doesn’t corrupt — it will unmask.

Thelma King


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National Assembly can’t pass budgets by the rules

Yanibel Ábrego, who presides over the legislature this year. Photo by the Asamblea Nacional.

Budget failures highlight legislature’s disarray

by Eric Jackson

The 2018 fiscal year begins on October 1 for the Panama Canal Authority and next January 1 for the rest of the Panamanian government. The National Assembly’s legislative session ends on October 31. It’s getting down to crunch times for the legislature’s Budget Committee.

The president of the National Assembly, Yanibel Ábrego, silent about the Comptroller General’s report that she took $20,000 from a government contractor, is a bit more vocal about money for the legislature. She wants $26.6 million more — just under $117 million in all — for the legislature in fiscal 2018. At the top of her wish lists are more security guards — traditionally political patronage jobs — and new computer software. However, the budget sent to the legislature by the Ministry of Economy and Finance provides only $81.5 million for the National Assembly, a cut of about 8 percent from the 2017 budget.

What’s the legislature’s Budget Committee to do? On September 18 we learned in La Prensa that committee chair Luis Barría has sent the entire proposal back to the cabinet. He said that the committee hopes to get a new proposal about which it can begin new hearings sometime in October.

On this point Panama does not get into US-style panic. In the absence of a new budget — at either the national or the local level — the previous year’s provisions remain in effect. So no government shutdown panic. On the bright side for some points of view, it’s a deputy’s wonderful excuse for a broken promise.

It’s more complicated for municipal governments, most of whose income derives from the national government’s appropriations. These can be cut regardless of what the mayors and representantes want, so it’s more common for local governments to go a year without passing a budget than it is for the national government. Complicating this situation for this year in particular, some previously legislated government decentralization is about to go into effect and the cabinet’s budget provides $203.2 million for this. No new budget, no money for decentralization.

On September 19 the Budget Committee did approve a budget to send up to the entire legislature to be voted up or down. That was the separately considered and accounted Panama Canal Authority budget. But the committee took $200 million out of canal operations funding — granted, “canal operations” can include frills that don’t directly have much to do with moving ships through the waterway — and put it into contributions to the national government’s general fund.

So will that Budget Committee act, rather than the rampant public corruption that has ensnared the National Assembly’s president and a number of her colleagues, spark the constitutional crisis that so many Panamanians have been fearing or hoping to see? The ACP budget decision has that potential because as a matter of Panamanian constitutional law the legislature might approve or might reject a proposed canal authority budget, but may not modify it.

Yanibel Ábrego may be stumbling into a crisis rather than leading the way into one. She’s a dissident Cambio Democratico deputy from Capira who was elected to preside over the legislature with the support of the deputies from President Juan Carlos Varela’s Panameñista Party along with other CD deputies who defied Ricardo Martinelli’s orders from Miami and a half-dozen PRD deputies who likewise deviated from their party’s line.

Perhaps more notably, Ábrego’s a crook. Elected in 2009 as an independent, she was among the first deputies to switch to Martinelli’s party. Shortly thereafter she was allowed to purchase a large state-owned river front lot in Capira district’s Ciri Grande — 93,509 square meters — for $60. In 2014 she was one of the deputies who received illegal state funding for her re-election campaign, but had the advantage of a Martinelli-appointed Electoral Prosecutor who sat on the investigations of all such abuses until the statute of limitations ran out. Now she is named by the Comptroller general as the recipient of $20,000 from highway contractor TCT, along with deputies Elias Castillo, Carlos Afú, Mariela Vega, Héctor Aparicio and Juan Manuel Poveda. Ricardo Martinelli’s company Ricamar also received questionable payments from TCT along with several other companies in which politicians may have had interests and the 28 TCT checks to legislative secretary Migdalia Sánchez in the aggregate amount of $142,000 were surely payoffs to more than a couple of dozen deputies who didn’t want to be so easily traced as Ábrego was.

The National Assembly’s president has never been convicted of a crime and perhaps never will be. Her upcoming trial is about whether she will be purged from CD on Ricky Martinelli’s orders. It’s not about bribes or peculation, but about her and several other party dissidents not following the orders he sends from Miami.

The bottom line about the legislature is that it’s the Panameñistas in alliance with dregs of the rest, now confronted with some harsh budget realities in light of an economy that has been slowing and debts from feeding frenzies of yesteryear. Neither Yanibel Ábrego nor the Budget Committee seem willing or able to rise to the challenge, or even admit that there is such a thing.


UPDATE: Within a few hours of this story’s publication, and surely unrelated, the leaders of the legislature’s three main party caucuses agreed to send the improperly amended ACP budget back to the Budget Committee without a debate on it before the full National Assembly.


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