bad guys' work
Expensive and often ill-advised public works projects, undertaken with overcharges and kickbacks built in, for the purpose making a few corrupt individuals rich. Graphic by Odebrecht.

Yet more impunity accords

by Miguel Antonio Bernal

There is still an absolute lack of determination on the part of the Panamanian authorities — mainly the Executive, the Public Prosecutor’s Office and the Comptroller’s Office — to proceed in the case of Odebrecht, that Brazilian mega-criminal enterprise.

This they maintain, mistakenly, with a growing lack of will and interest in the citizens’ inalienable right to know the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth about this scandal, which has done irreparable moral damage to our people, our national identity and our international standing.

It’s a notorious public fact that Odebrecht continues to operate with impunity in Panama, with the blessing and sponsorship of national provincial and municipal officials. Their overcharges and bribes have gone uninterrupted for the past 10 years, while the authorities, especially the Public Ministry, attempts to manipulate the citizenry with fallacies, falsehoods and deceptions.

They continue with this stuff about a “formal oral agreement” between the prosecutor’s office and the criminal conglomerate Odebrecht, in which they “agreed to agree” rather than to duly investigate and impose neither fines nor sanctions for the bribes and other crimes perpetrated. The Attorney General and the Comptroller General, with the prosecutors and auditors under them, happily trample on the Constitution, the anti-corruption treaties and our national dignity.

As I have been saying, bribe givers and bribe takers tread with impunity through our national territory, continue in the public and private positions, while to date Panamanian officials have undertaken all kinds of juggling acts and political and diplomatic maneuvers in Brazil and Washington with that aim of concealing what has been done in Panama.

And again I quote Professor Pizzurno: “Within this scenario those who denounce acts of corruption and demand justice are turned ipso facto into enemies of the state, political opportunists and despicable anti-patriots who end up socially discredited and expelled. This in a way so that, in order to avoid worse things and be turned into social pariahs, they opt for silence.”


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Margaret Chan
“Scientific evidence is the bedrock of policy. Protect it. No one knows whether evidence will retain its persuasive power in what many now describe as a post-truth world.” Photo by the WHO.

Address to the 70th World Health Assembly

by Dr. Margaret Chan

Madame President, Excellencies, honorable ministers, ambassadors, distinguished delegates, friends and colleagues, ladies and gentlemen,

I thank Member States for the trust shown when you appointed me as your Director-General more than ten years ago. I promised to work tirelessly, and have done so, but never got tired of the job, in the best and worst of times.

When I took office, I also promised that I would hold myself accountable for the Organization’s performance. This month, I have issued a report tracking how public health evolved during the ten years of my administration.

The report sets out the facts and assesses the trends, but makes no effort to promote my administration. The report goes some way towards dispelling the frequent criticism that WHO has lost its relevance. The facts tell a different story.

The report covers setbacks as well as successes and some landmark events. Above all, it is a tribute to the power of partnerships and the capacity of public health to take solutions found for one problem and apply them to others.

As just one example, it took nearly a decade to get the prices for antiretroviral treatments for HIV down. In contrast, thanks to teamwork and collaboration, prices for the new drugs that cure hepatitis C plummeted within two years.

This is the culture of evidence-based learning that improves efficiency, gives health efforts their remarkable resilience, and keeps us irrepressibly optimistic.

We falter sometimes, but we never give up.

Excellencies, ladies, and gentlemen,

As I speak to you, the political and economic outlook is much less optimistic than it was when I took office in 2007.

That was before the 2008 financial crisis changed the economic outlook from prosperity to austerity almost overnight, with effects on economies and health budgets that are still being felt.

That was before acts of international terrorism and violent extremism became commonplace, before the word “mega-disaster” entered the humanitarian vocabulary, before seemingly endless armed conflicts caused the largest population displacements and flights of refugees seen since the end of World War II.

That was before the alarming frequency of attacks on health facilities and aid convoys made a mockery of international humanitarian law. We condemn all these attacks on health care facilities and workers. According to reports consolidated by WHO, more than 300 attacks on health care facilities occurred in 2016 in 20 countries, with the majority documented in the Syrian Arab Republic.

We are also seeing how a world full of threats can toss out deadly combinations, like the dual threats from drought and armed conflict that have brought famine to parts of Africa and the Middle East on a scale never experienced since the United Nations was founded in 1945.

The world was fortunate that the 2009 influenza pandemic was so mild. The world is fortunate that the new viruses that emerged to cause MERS in 2012 and human cases of H7N9 avian influenza in 2013 are not yet spreading easily from person to person. But they have the potential to do so and we dare not let down our guard.

The world was less fortunate with Zika, an outbreak that WHO continues to monitor closely. The world was not at all fortunate with the 2014 Ebola outbreak that utterly devastated the populations of Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone. This was West Africa’s first experience with Ebola, and the outbreak took everyone, including WHO, by surprise.

WHO was too slow to recognize that the virus, during its first appearance in West Africa, would behave very differently than during past outbreaks in central Africa, where the virus was rare but familiar and containment measures were well-rehearsed.

But WHO made quick course corrections, brought the three outbreaks under control, and gave the world its first Ebola vaccine that confers substantial protection. This happened on my watch, and I am personally accountable.

I saw it as my duty, as your Director-General, to do everything possible to ensure that a tragedy on this scale will not happen again. History will judge whether the new emergencies program has given the world a stronger level of protection.

Ultimately, health systems with International Health Regulations core capacities must be strengthened in your countries to detect unexplained deaths much earlier. This is critical for improving global health security to protect our common vulnerability.

Last week, the Democratic Republic of Congo confirmed a new Ebola outbreak near the border with the Central African Republic. This is the country’s eighth Ebola outbreak. In its last outbreak, which coincided with the West Africa outbreak, DRC interrupted transmission within six weeks. Despite enormous logistical challenges, discussions engaging DRC continue about possible use of the new vaccine to augment the response.

The Ebola outbreak in West Africa had a number of spillover effects which can be judged more immediately. During the outbreak, WHO acquired extensive experience in facilitating R&D for new medical products, but poor coordination lost too much time. To speed things up, WHO and its partners finalized an R&D blueprint in 2016.

By setting up collaborative models, standardized protocols for clinical trials, and pathways for accelerated regulatory approval in advance, the blueprint cut the time needed to develop and manufacture candidate products from years to months.

The expert consultations that designed the blueprint led to the establishment of the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, announced in January 2017 with initial funding of nearly $500 million.

The Coalition is building a new system to develop affordable vaccines for priority pathogens, identified by WHO, as a head-start for responding to the next inevitable outbreak.

The world is better prepared but not nearly well enough.

Excellencies, ladies, and gentlemen,

The relevance of WHO’s work is demonstrated in many ways, some more visible than others.

The chronology of the HIV, tuberculosis, and malaria epidemics shows direct links between WHO changes in technical strategies and turning points in the disease situation.

WHO also made scientific breakthroughs more democratic by translating findings into a public health approach that works everywhere, even in extremely resource-constrained settings.

Relevance is readily apparent when WHO endorses a new medical product, and partners find ways to fund it, or issues a position paper on a new vaccine.

Many national immunization programs will not introduce a new vaccine until WHO has issued its formal seal of approval. Such approval triggers actions by Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, to scale up access dramatically.

The prequalification program is now firmly established as a mechanism for ensuring that the quality, safety, and efficacy of low-cost generic products match those of originator products. For example, by the end of 2016, WHO had prequalified more than 250 finished pharmaceutical products for treating HIV-related conditions. This stretches the impact of funding agencies, like the Global Fund, in significant ways.

The relevance of WHO was most dramatically demonstrated during last month’s global partners meeting on the neglected tropical diseases.

Participants assessed, and celebrated, ten years of record-breaking progress that promises to eliminate many of these ancient diseases in the very near future. This is one of the most effective global partnerships, also with industry, in the modern history of public health.

The fact that, in 2015, nearly one billion people received free treatments that protect them from diseases that blind, maim, deform, and debilitate has little impact on the world’s geopolitical situation.

The people being protected are among the poorest in the world. But judging from the massive amount of media coverage, which included entry into the Guinness World Records for the most medication donated, this was a success story that the world was hungry to hear.

Less visible relevance comes from the way WHO has built a safety net that encircles the globe in the form of thousands of laboratories specialized in the surveillance and diagnosis of priority pathogens, hundreds of collaborating centres, and a vast network of scientific boards and strategic advisory groups. I thank the scientific institutions in your countries for contributing to the work of WHO.

No other health agency has this degree of technical expertise ready-to-hand.


The resolutions you adopt also shape the health situation, especially by raising the profile of neglected problems. For example, the comprehensive mental health action plan, adopted in 2013, definitively took mental health out of the shadows and into the spotlight.

Likewise, beginning in 2010, viral hepatitis appeared as a stand-alone agenda item at three sessions of the World Health Assembly, contributing greatly to the international priority now given to this disease.

But the strongest call for action comes from high-level political commitment. This happened in 2011, when the United Nations General Assembly adopted a political declaration on noncommunicable diseases and again in 2016, when a political declaration gave full attention to antimicrobial resistance.

Both political declarations responded to a crisis in ways that triggered broad-based urgent action to find solutions.

Excellencies, ladies, and gentlemen,

I regard the 2010 World Health Report, on Health systems financing: the path to universal coverage, as the most influential publication issued during my administration.

It launched what is now a movement towards universal health coverage and inspired the 2012 UN General Assembly resolution that paved the way for inclusion of UHC in the Sustainable Development Goals. Our actions under the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development must be guided by the 5 Ps: people, planet, peace, prosperity, and partnership.

The recommendations that I most want to see implemented are those made by the Commission on Ending Childhood Obesity.

Childhood obesity is the most visible, and arguably the most tragic, expression of the forces that are driving the rise of NCDs. It is the warning signal that bad trouble, in the form of more heart disease, cancer, and diabetes, is on its way.

The initiatives we all most want to succeed are those for the eradication of polio and guinea worm disease. For both, the world has never been so close. We must keep up our efforts to make eradication a reality.

The trend that most profoundly reshaped the mind-set of public health was the rise of chronic noncommunicable diseases. This shift in the disease burden called for a move away from the biomedical model of health and its emphasis on curing diseases to a much broader approach based on prevention.

I regard Every Woman Every Child as the most game-changing strategy during my administration.

Its adoption by the UN in 2010 captured financial support in the billions of dollars and launched a number of initiatives aimed at implementing its recommendations. Maternal and child deaths dropped dramatically.

The related WHO Commission on information and accountability for women’s and children’s health added greatly to the culture of measurement and accountability. As set out in this year’s World Health Statistics report, nearly half of all deaths worldwide now have a recorded cause of death. This is huge progress. I thank all countries that have made a special effort on this front.

The most contentious issue was access to medicines, especially when intellectual property and the patent system were perceived as barriers to both affordable prices and the development of new products for diseases of the poor.

The negotiations that led to the establishment of the Pandemic Influenza Preparedness Framework were tense, to say the least, but ultimately successful, as were those that led to the Global Strategy and Plan of Action on Public Health, Innovation and Intellectual Property.

Fortunately, several new initiative and public-private partnerships are contributing to both objectives. One example is the new Global antibiotic research and development partnership, launched last year by WHO and the Drugs for neglected diseases initiative (DNDi).

This is a needs-driven R&D initiative initially focused on the development of new antibiotics for treating sepsis and sexually transmitted infections, most notably gonorrhoea. The partnership aims to promote access and to ensure that prices are affordable.

Earlier this month, WHO announced the launch of a pilot project for prequalifying biosimilar medicines, a step towards making expensive cancer treatments more widely available.

WHO is also working with partners on a model for the fair pricing of pharmaceuticals. The rationale is obvious: universal health coverage depends on affordable medicines. No country on this planet can hope to treat its way out of all the diseases affecting their populations.

Excellencies, ladies, and gentlemen,

I will conclude with some brief advice that you may wish to consider as you continue to shape the future of this Organization.

WHO stands for fairness. Continue to make reductions in inequalities a guiding ethical principle.

What gets measured gets done. Continue to strengthen systems for civil registration and vital statistics and continue to make accountability frameworks an integral part of global health strategies.

Scientific evidence is the bedrock of policy. Protect it. No one knows whether evidence will retain its persuasive power in what many now describe as a post-truth world.

Vaccine refusals are at least one reason why the tremendous potential of vaccines is not yet fully realized. The current measles outbreaks in Europe and North America should never have happened.

Push for innovation. Meeting the ambitious health targets in the Sustainable Development Goals depends on innovation. Innovation that uses country experiences can be frugal and transformative. For example, the R&D partnership that gave Africa its meningitis A vaccine has transformed the lives of millions of people.

Safeguard WHO’s integrity in all stakeholder engagements. The Framework for engagement with non-state actors is a prime instrument for doing so. Many other UN agencies are following WHO’s lead with this framework.

While ministries of health are our principle partners, the multiple determinants of health demand engagement with non-health sectors, communities, and partners, businesses, and civil society organizations.

Listen to civil society. Civil society organizations are society’s conscience. They are best placed to hold governments and businesses, like the tobacco, food, and alcohol industries, accountable. They are the ones who can give the people who suffer the most a face and a voice.

Above all, remember the people. Behind every number is a person who defines our common humanity and deserves our compassion, especially when suffering or premature death can be prevented.

Excellencies, ladies, and gentlemen,

This is the last time I will address the World Health Assembly. I thank Member States for the privilege and honor of serving this Organization. I have done so with humility, but also with great pride.

I thank my Regional Directors for their wise counsel and their support for WHO reform, and my wonderful staff at headquarters, in the regional offices, and in countries, where the impact of our work matters most.

Last but not least, I thank my husband, David, and my family for love and support. David, thank you for listening.

Thank you.


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Violence and blame assignments in Caracas (video in Spanish). There appears
to be a general Panamanian consensus against bringing that sort of stuff here.

Vene politics don’t go over well here

by Eric Jackson

Two recent Venezuelan gaffes — an anti-Chavista one, then a pro-government one — have caused discomforts in both official bilateral relations and the status of Venezuela’s diaspora community here.

In the backdrop we might notice Panama’s ever-shrinking “newspaper of record,” La Prensa. It still folds, but its dimensions are down to a size approaching those of a tabloid and it isn’t nearly as thick as it was. This is primordially a function of the revenue crises of print newspapers almost everywhere, but other than the physical downsizing another of La Prensa’s survival strategy appears to be accelerating its decline. In a country with corporate secrecy and business and media cultures to match, the gossip mill can take on added powers, and the bochinche is that La Prensa’s economic problems have shifted control from the mostly Panamanian shareholders — none of whom are allowed more than a one percent stake — to mostly Venezuelan bondholders. Whether it’s that, or just a play to the mostly upscale new Venezuelan immigrant community, La Prensa has taken on the appearance of a sensationalist Caracas opposition rag. Perhaps there are wealthy benefactors in the United States or elsewhere backing up this editorial stance, in which day by day La Prensa’s lead stories tend to come from Caracas. The problem with this, however, is that for a variety of reasons Venezuelans are not particularly popular in Panama.

The Chavistas? They have few supporters among the Venezuelan community here, and only modest Panamanian backing. The warm embrace is mainly a leftist fringe thing. Panama is a commercial crossroads with a strong bias toward capitalism. However, we are also one of the Bolivarian republics, with a traditional current in our political thinking that has called itself Bolivarian since long before the rise of Hugo Chávez. “Bolivarian” as in upholding the Great Liberator’s ideal of Latin American unity and greater insulation against control by powers from outside the region. While only a few Panamanians want the sorts of political and economic policies that the late Fidel Castro brought to Cuba, a lot of people here nevertheless lamented his passing as that of a man to be admired for standing up to tremendous US pressures for all of those decades. Similarly, there are Panamanians who would not embrace his policies who still admired Hugo Chávez for his defiant resistance against foreign manipulations.

Venezuela’s opposition? Those who ask a local Venezuelan are likely to hear their narrative. Those who rely on mainstream corporate news corporations for their information about events in and around Caracas will also have heard that version. Home-grown libertarians and those Panamanians who follow US right-wing political thinkers will tell you about how Venezuela’s crisis proves the failure of socialism. Many of those who recognize the economic squeeze that’s strangling the Chavista regime as a function of an economy entirely dependent on oil in times of low prices are nevertheless annoyed with Venezuela — insolvency in Caracas has left many Panamanian businesses, particularly Colon Free Zone merchants and Copa Airlines, holding the bag. On the other hand the opposition to the Chavistas is led by white oligarchs, some palpably racist, some palpably manipulative of the news. To many Panamanians, it’s bad enough that we have the rabiblancos in positions of economic, political and cultural hegemony who are like that. Another social layer that replicates such attitudes and behaviors coming from Venezuela the Panamanians who resent that aspect of Panama’s elites will not readily accept. A few well publicized incidents have stamped that image on the Venezuelan community here, even if it’s unfair to cast all or most of Panama’s Venes in that light.

Both defending the current government of Venezuela and promoting its opposition are fringe causes here. Given the mainstream news coverage and his own clumsy moves, Nicolás Maduro probably gets the worst of that competition. Far more powerful in Panama than either of those poles, however, is support for the notion that all Venezuelans ought to be expelled from Panama. It appears that support for or opposition to this species of intolerance will be one of the major issues of the 2019 PRD presidential primary.

Most Venezuelans in Panama are of a well educated but ruined middle class. The oligarchs tend to get into Miami or Madrid. Some look to return once things have settled down in their country of origin, some flit back and forth between here and there, but the whole Venezuelans who have come here in the 21st century look to establish new lives in Panama. They notice public fears and resentments and try to avoid stirring those. However, Panamanians of the right, both the libertarians and the thuggish authoritarian Martinelistas, have been wooing the Venes for years. Hence the La Prensa editorial line. Hence the 2014 election season Martinelli solidarity with Venezuela rally, which was actually more of a matter of Venes for the former president’s proxy ticket event.

On May 10, leftist groups on the University of Panama campus were holding a solidarity with the Venezuelan government event in the Humanities Department faculty lounge. Several dozen students, faculty members and administrators were there. About 20 young Venezuelans came onto the campus to register their objections to the meeting, and when a few tried to enter the room with their anti-Maduro signs fisticuffs ensued. Campus security was called in and the Venes were escorted off of the campus. Afterward Minister of the Presidency Álvaro Alemán blamed the incident on Venezuelan opposition supporters trying to provoke a confrontation and President Juan Carlos Varela ordered an increased police presence at all events in Panama related to Venezuela, from whichever side.

Venezuela’s ambassador to Panama, Jorge Duran Centeno, then weighed in on Twitter. He said that his diplomatic mission had “evaluated the aggressive conduct among social media users” and urged that “they have to be identified.” Vice President and Foreign Minister Isabel De Saint Malo took umbrage at that: “Mr. Ambassador, as a diplomat you have my respect, but it’s good to know that in Panama we respect freedom of expression and the right to dissent.”

Similar flaps have been ongoing in other countries, as Venezuelan emigres of the opposition camp have staged disruptions at events sponsored or attended by Venezuelan diplomatic missions, and the Maduro administration has pushed back with complaints and calls for crackdowns. In Madrid it took the form of an opposition demonstration at the Venezuelan Cultural Diversity Center, prompting Venezuela’s ambassador there to complain of “a campaign to incite hatred on an international level” that’s marked by “a streak of fascism.”

Varela was clear and even-handed about his policy in a statement on Telemetro: “It is unacceptable and we will not permit the conflict to cross these borders.” About the university incident he said that “if they insist on this behavior then Migracion will have to play its role.” In keeping with the opinions of most Latin American leaders, Varela reiterated his plea for Maduro to meet with his opponents and negotiate a settlement to Venezuela’s crisis.


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neutral net
From a White House vigil. Photo by by Stephen D. Melkisethian

We must stop Trump’s attempt to auction off
the Internet to the highest corporate bidder

by Bernie Sanders

Today [May 19], the FCC voted to start undoing the progress we’ve made toward making the Internet a space for the open exchange of ideas and information, free of discrimination and corporate control. What the telcom industry and their friends, including FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, want to do is change the fundamental architecture of the internet — to divide the Internet into slow and fast lanes, and to restrict information and content. They want to allow big corporations like Comcast, AT&T, and Verizon to control content online. At this moment when our democratic institutions are in peril, ending net neutrality protections would be devastating. Now is the time to stand together and stop this attempt to auction off the internet to the highest corporate bidder.


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Baile Congo en Portobelo, desde Río Cuango. Foto por Gustavo Araujo / Almanaque Azul

¿Wappin? Afrodescendiente

Sam & Dave – Soul Man

Yomira John – Mama Congo

Randy Weston & Pharoah Sanders – Blue Moses

John Coltrane – Dakar

Beachers – Africa Caliente

Sandra de Sá – Olhos Coloridos

Aisha Davis – Trouble

David Gilmour & Mica Paris – I Put a Spell On You

Mighty Sparrow – Obeah Wedding

Koko Taylor – Voodoo Woman

Todos Tus Muertos – Rasta Vive

Peter Tosh – Mystic Man

Stevie Wonder – A Wonder Summer’s Night Concert


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San Juan de Dios
While the US Congress was working on how many millions of Americans to deny health care, Panama’s socialized medical sector — we also have private practices here — was reaching out to determine the unmet needs of people 40 and over. Photo by Eric Jackson.

The editor’s sore left wing

by Eric Jackson

About a week before, two men appeared in front of the house in El Bajito, with leaflets announcing a free health fair, with transportation, breakfast and lunch thrown in. So, was it part of President Varela’s back stretch goodies distribution campaign in the province, touted by the Twitter hashtag #CocléProgresa? Perhaps, but officially not. This was part of a national health care census for those over 40, with blood work, measurements of body dimensions and weight, blood pressure checks, oral examinations, medical history, inoculations, health analysis and whatever medicines might be prescribed.

It had been irresponsible years since my last checkup, at which I was found just under the line of being diabetic. Then, the doc ordered me to cut the sugar and lose weight. I did both, but then I gained the weight back, lost it again, picked it up again and… so far about a 30-pound net loss. Not enough, and if the sugar has largely been cut out of the diet, sugary fruits and especially greasy and salty stuff remained a concern. Was I going to have to start shooting insulin? Was I a stroke waiting to happen?

The leaflets said to bring vaccination records — but I didn’t have any. I had not taken any such shots for more than 25 years, since before I moved back here from the USA.

I did not feel faint when they were taking blood. Sometimes I do. Then to the height, weight and waist size measurements, which reminded me that even if my belt is down to the skinniest hole, it’s still an ultra-gordo-sized belt which I didn’t find the first few places I looked. Then, to the inoculation room. The two women interrogated me, not about the little wound on my hand, but how ANYONE could be without shot records. Was I one of these organic hippie anti-vaccine guys? (Organic hippie, I try to be. Anti-vaccine I am not, although I am quite conservative about which medicines I will take. Sensible shots, yes, some pharmaceutical company’s new experiment, not unless absolutely necessary.) So it was the flu, etc., in the right arm, and a tetanus shot said good for 10 years in the left arm. Your editor still has leftist politics, but the tetanus shot left him with an aching left wing — even a couple of days later as this was written.

On to breakfast. Breakfast was ham and cheese on white bread, Panamanian white cheese, sugary fruit cocktail and sugary fruit drink. Ever the balance — many folks would not eat healthier fare, with which they would be unfamiliar.

Then to the blood pressure lady, then to the oral examination lady. The latter session was embarrassing. I need some dental work, including extractions, fillings, dentures and a good cleaning. She recorded all of this and advised me of where to go for inexpensive work in Anton district.

Then another wait, and lunch. The event, in the school in San Juan de Dios, brought in about 150 people from the Anton district neighborhoods of Juan Diaz (mine), Jaguito, El Jobo, La Colorada, La Tortuguilla, El Corotu, La Chapa, El Salado, El Chumical, Las Peñitas and Santa Elena. Among this overwhelmingly cholo crowd I was one of two fulos and there were a couple of afrodescendientes as well. Lunch was rice with guandu, stewed pollo de patio, a bit of plantain and a piece of corn cake, with bottled water.

A bunch of neighborhood dogs, who looked healthy and were wandering freely around the school, got wise. I was one of the first to give my chicken bones to one of the dogs, and people started to give those, and that part of the rice that they did not care to eat, for the doggie feast. Then they started calling numbers again — I was one of the last — and when mine came up I fell in line to see the doctor.

It’s a demographic trend that I have known about for a long time, but it was on striking display. By gender, there was close to parity among the senior physicians. The younger doctors were overwhelmingly female. It’s part of a national trend in which our politics and economy are oppressively male dominated, but women are much better educated on the whole than men and are coming to dominate almost all of the learned professions.

So the middle aged woman who examined my case asked more medical history questions, said that my blood sugar was fine, well below the diabetes threshold. However, cholesterol was now a problem. She prescribed a month’s course of fenofibrate, which was given to me for free in the form of a box of 30 tablets of 250 milligrams each, made by Abbott Laboratories. Looking it up online, the US list price for this medication runs over $100, although the generic versions are much cheaper.

Yep. Isn’t socialized medicine horrible? No wonder they have gated communities for the rich.

The thing is, Panama’s parallel socialized medical systems, the Ministry of Health and the Social Security Fund, drive down the prices of private health care. A lot of the professionals work in the public system but have private practices on the side. Is there gringo pricing for obvious foreigners? That does exist, particularly in the upscale hospitals.

We have problems in both our public and private health care systems. If we don’t have pervasive and often frivolous malpractice litigation and high insurance for that, we also have little accountability for injuries caused by health care mistakes. The Americans get way too exercised about the rule of law, while Panama hardly has such a thing. We are a poor country. Our public institutions, including in the health care sector, are prone to corruption and the inefficiencies of a political patronage system. All that said, however, Panama has a decent and caring system presided over by decent and caring professionals. At some point I will have a health crisis and die — all of us do. Death in the care of the Panamanian health care system is not something about which I lose sleep.

Gracias, doctoras.


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vote final

Nina’s 1955 Balboa High graduation photo.

Nina Brown Kosik (1937-2017)

as remembered by Eric Jackson

Nina Brown Kosik, after a battle with cancer and a series of strokes, passed to the other side on May 6. A scathing critic she often was, but Nina Brown Kosik was a friend of and contributor to The Panama News, even if you never saw her byline. Way back when she made some financial contributions that kept us afloat through a difficult times. Until almost the end she kept up her support by sending news tips, links to stories and critiques of what was published here.

Nina and the editor first met at gatherings of the Panama Historical Society. She was one of the folks who knew and helped to preserve the history of the Canal Zone. She maintained an interest in Panama’s natural history as well. That legacy survives her and long will. Punch up her name in a Google advanced image search and you will see historical photos that she collected and passed on, or which others donated to the Panama Canal Museum about which she commented.

Nina was one of those proud — and should we say staunch — Zonians who didn’t fully assimilate into a life in Spanish or into the Panamanian culture, except that as much as many Zonians would never admit it, Canal Zone culture was a phenomenon largely shaped and influenced by Panama, its expressions and its mores. Nina was one of those individuals who maintained that strong American identity along with her Panamanian cedula, but never left in the mass exodus after the 1977 Panama Canal Treaties.

The following is an obituary that Nina’s daughter Laura Kosik wrote:

Kosik (Brown), Nina Marie, 79, Panama City, Panama, passed away on May 6th, 2017 in the land that she loved, Panama. Nina was born to John and Emma (Van Clief) Brown, on November 16th, 1937 in Colon, Panama and never left the country. She lived in Colon then moved to Red Tank, Pedro Miguel, and Gamboa in her childhood life. When she married August (Gus) Kosik, they were living in Rousseau then Cardenas where her children (Kyle and Laura) were born. Then she took her children to live in Ft. Clayton as she was a civilian working for the Army. She worked at the Civil Engineers for a few years in Corozal then retired out of Building 519 in Ft. Clayton. During this time, we moved to Panama City but when her children grew up and left the nest she remained in the City. Mom was a graduate of Balboa High School 1955 and was well loved by her classmates and many other Zonians. She loved her horses at the saddle club in Pedro Miguel, and loved bowling at the Balboa Bowling at least four nights a week.


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The hidden bombshell in the Comey-Trump story

by Peter Certo — OtherWords

How can you tell an authoritarian when you see one? We know the 20th century hallmarks — brown shirts, street rallies, and the like. But there’s an autocratic attitude, some historians suggest, that can easily be traced across the centuries.

To put it simply, New York University professor Ruth Ben-Ghiat told Democracy Now recently, “authoritarians believe that institutions should serve them, and not the other way around.”

Just ask Jim Comey — who, as recently as October, might’ve been Donald Trump’s favorite person.

Less than two weeks before the November vote, the now-former FBI director announced that he was reopening an investigation into one of Trump’s favorite subjects: Hillary Clinton’s emails. For that, Trump praised Comey’s “guts,” while Clinton now blames Comey’s announcement for costing her the election.

Trump seemed happy to accept that help. But in a twist, Comey also found the guts to investigate whether Trump accepted help from the Russians, too. For that, he was fired this month. “This Russia thing” was “a made-up story,” Trump complained by way of explanation.

All that’s explosive enough. Even more so was a subsequent revelation: That Trump had called on Comey to “let go” of an investigation into Michael Flynn, Trump’s national security adviser who’d been ousted for lying about his own contacts with the Russians.

That little bombshell is now headline news all over. But buried in the New York Times story about that memo was another, less noticed bomblet: “Alone in the Oval Office,” the paper reported, Trump said “Comey should consider putting reporters in prison for publishing classified information.”

That’s right: In addition to asking Comey to stop investigating his friend Flynn, the president called on the FBI director to arrest journalists who published things Trump found unflattering. Perhaps including stories like this one.

Was this an impulsive request? Not likely. In fact, the administration appears to have been laying the groundwork for this for some time.

Take WikiLeaks. Trump once said he “loved” the group for publishing leaked Clinton campaign emails. But then it earned the White House’s enmity by also publishing details about CIA hacking.

Trump’s CIA director has since described WikiLeaks as “a hostile foreign intelligence service” and warned that “America’s First Amendment freedoms” will not “shield them from justice.” Attorney General Jeff Sessions is now trying to bring a case against the group’s founder, Julian Assange.

While leaking classified information may be a crime, publishing it most certainly isn’t — that’s been protected by the Supreme Court since the early 1970s. In this respect, any charges brought against WikiLeaks could equally be brought against virtually every newspaper and TV station in the country.

Which, by all appearances, is the idea. When CNN asked if the WikiLeaks case could lead to charges against other outlets, Sessions didn’t bother to deny it.

Of course, this is all under the auspices of a candidate who called journalists “lying, disgusting people” and even wondered aloud about whether he’d kill them as president. (He ultimately said no, but seemed reluctant.) And it’s the same White House that wants to sue journalists whose reporting it disputes.

But consider that Michael S. Schmidt, the Times reporter who broke the Comey memo story, happens to be the very same person who reported on Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server. Has anyone benefited more from that reporting than Trump?

It all depends on the headlines that come next, apparently.

They’ve surely been spotty about it, but in a democracy public institutions — from law enforcement to the free press — are supposed to serve the public, not the president. If Trump can’t accept that, maybe he’s the one who should be fired.


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A co-author of this hit song is Panamanian musician and composer Erika Ender

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

La Estrella, Prácticos del Canal de Panamá presentan habeas data contra la ACP

Berger, The Chinpo shipping case implodes

MarineLink, Maersk: shipping recovery coming

Maritime Professional, New generation of carrier alliances

Costa Rica News, Nicaragua Canal is paralyzed or about to die

EFE, Posibilidades para comercio marítimo boliviano

Post-Gazette, Copa talks with airport authority about Pittsburgh-Panama flights

Sports / Deportes

Telemetro, Boxeo en decadencia

Once a Metro, Michael Amir Murillo wears #62 for the New York Red Bulls

TVN, Panamá gana seis medallas de Jiu Jitsu en República Dominicana

Economy / Economía

TVN, Panamá Bilingüe se convierte en ley de la República

E&N: Panama prohibe Uber en hoteles, aeropuertos y centros comerciales

South Centre, The financial crisis and the Global South

Expansión, El bitcoin pulveriza sus récords

Reuters, Warren Buffett comments on healthcare, trade, buyback

Science & Technology / Ciencia & Tecnología

EurekAlert!, Tectonic changes may have shaped Panama Canal rocks

Science Recorder, New crack in Antarctica ice shelf could signal coming break

La Vanguardia, Analizan el aumento de contaminación acústica en océanos

STRI, The Earth sank twice, flooding the Western Amazon

Mongabay, Howler monkeys booming 25 years after translocation

WHO, Noncommunicable diseases: the slow motion disaster

NPR: Microsoft’s president reflects on cyberattack, pirates and the NSA

News / Noticias

Radio Panamá, Ministro culpa venezolanos sobre incidente en la U de P

Colombia Reports, Panama-Colombia spat over peace process and crime

Telemetro, Porcell: al menos de 10 delaciones sobre Odebrecht en Panamá

La Estrella, Rescinde contrato a consorcio español investigado por pago de coimas

The Costa Rica Star, SPI agent charged for shooting US tourist

Telemetro, Conceden prórroga por caso de pérdida de armas del SPI

The New York Times, Hillary Clinton’s new political organization

E&N, Trump propone nuevas trabas para visas

The Hill, Kushner family touts US visas for wealthy Chinese

Huffington Post, GOP lawmaker would hand non-English-speaking kids to ICE

Opinion / Opiniones

Varoufakis, Congratulations, President Macron – now we oppose you

James, Twelve reasons to oppose rules on digital commerce in the WTO

Baker, Trump family and friends in your pockets

Navarro & Bessi, The US Southern Command in Costa Rica

Beltrán, What’s in the Fiscal Year 2017 spending package for Central America?

Bosquet, Venezuela’s friends hoping for the best but fearing the worst

Gandásegui, “Al calor de un pretexto, como una chispa estallará”

Simpson Aguilera, “Formación Política e Ideológica”

Beluche, ¿Por qué luchó Victoriano Lorenzo?

Sagel, Comunicación desde el Gobierno

Culture / Cultura

The Plantain, Miami Lakes to build wall and vows to make Hialeah pay for it

BBC, Remote island has ‘world’s worst’ plastic rubbish density

Frank Zappa, Plastic People


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Odebrecht fleet

The Bribe Route

by Miguel Antonio Bernal

Bribes come and go, but nobody and nothing stops those who take bribes. It’s like that because we are dealing with a bribery state and not the constitutional state that should prevail.

“Government business” has enabled the greed power brokers’ greed to hijack the mechanisms of citizens’ power and overall control, to the detriment of the functions inherent in state institutions and their dependencies.

Thus, both the Comptroller’s Office and the Office of the Attorney General are no more than cover-up instruments — not investigators of the multiple crimes that occur along the Breibe Route. This has increased and accelerated the decomposition of our societyl leaving the citizens defenseless in all areas of daily life.

Those involved who, by action or omission, have participated in the orgy of corruption are strutting from their luxurious offices and residences, so confident that nothing will happen here.

The unpunished mega-scandal swirling around the Odebrecht criminal enterprise has jammed up and immobilized all of the obligatory avenues of investigation by all of the entities called upon to comply with and enforce compliance of the international treaties against corruption, as well as the constitution and laws that their agents have sworn to uphold.

Odebrecht’s Bribe Route, we found, in our country is more than a Royal Highway — it’s an expanded canal for illicit acts committed with impunity by encysted crooks from the four corners of the Earth.

Neither “rewarded cooperation” nor “formal oral agreements” will serve to properly sanction all of those who, since 2006, took shelter in Marcelo’s Dolce Vita. Only the determined civic will to demand and advance institutional changes will allow us to prevent these people from ending the our burning hopes of better days, for a higher standard of living.

The time has come to shut down the Bribe Route. If we don’t act, if we give in to the executioners of our liberties, we are condemning our nation to be just a place where some people live.


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