El ciclo ¿Y La Educación Sexual Cuándo? en el Cine Universitario.

Cine: ¿Y La Educación Sexual Cuándo?

por Roberto Enrique King — GECU

Dada la buena recepción que han tenido las películas que cubren diversas expresiones de la sexualidad humana, el CINE UNIVERSITARIO de la Universidad de Panamá, extenderá una semana más, del lunes 27 al viernes 31, el ciclo “¿Y LA EDUCACIÓN SEXUAL CUÁNDO?”, con siete filmes que cuentan historias sobre personas que sufren la ignorancia, intolerancia o violencia de sociedades que no enfrentan las problemáticas que engendran sus estructuras y falsos “valores”. En tandas de 2, 5 y 7 pm y con entrada gratis.

Las películas escogidas bien merecen ser vistas por jóvenes y adultos para tomar cuenta de la necesidad de educar y legislar con inteligencia: en “XXY” (Argentina, 2007) una pareja debe decidir qué alternativa tomar para el futuro de su hija hermafrodita de 15 años; en el documental “PARIS IS BURNING” (USA, 1990) se muestra con sinceridad los festejos y concursos de travestis en el Bronx durante el siglo pasado, el filme fue declarado patrimonio audiovisual por el Congreso de Estados Unidos; en la multipremiada “LA VIDA DE ADELE” (Francia, 2013) una chica de pelo azul se cruza en el camino de una adolescente que busca su identidad sexual y el amor.

En “4 MESES, 3 SEMANAS Y 2 DÍAS” (Rumania, 2007), filme ganador de la Palma de Oro en Cannes, una muchacha enfrenta la desidia de funcionarios comunistas cuando intenta abortar; en la impactante cinta “MICHAEL” (Austria, 2011), nadie imagina que un apacible vendedor de seguros abusa de un niño al que mantiene prisionero en el sótano de su casa; en “IRREVERSIBLE” (2002) la violencia criminal afecta trágicamente la vida de un joven matrimonio parisino; y en “EL DESCONOCIDO DEL LAGO” (2013), un paraje tranquilo que varios hombres usan para tener encuentros sexuales se convierte en una zona donde ronda la muerte. CINE U: teléfono 523-5391.


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The Striated Heron sings a gentle song. ~ La Garza Dorsiverde canta una canción suave.

The Striated Heron ~ La Garza Dorsiverde

Photo feature by Kermit Nourse ~ Foto por Kermit Nourse

Today’s bird from Panama is the Striated Heron, one of the 64 recognized species of herons. They are about 18 inches in length and are uncommon in western Panama. I observed this one swimming like a duck and bobbing underwater from time to time.

Hoy la ave de Panamá es la Garza Dorsiverde, una de las 64 especies reconocidas de garzas. Son aproximadamente 18 pulgadas de largo y son poco comunes en el oeste de Panamá. He observado esta nadando como un pato y bamboleándose bajo el agua de vez en cuando.


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And yet they persist. Protesters gather in Washington to defend the Affordable Care Act. Photo by Tom Eytan.

Blame the Democrats

by Tom Perez

Yesterday, after failing to get enough Republicans to support his catastrophic health care bill, Donald Trump held a press conference to blame the defeat of Trumpcare on… Democrats.

According to Donald, the reason his health care bill failed in the House is that no Democrats would vote for it.

You’re damn right we wouldn’t.

Paul Ryan and the House GOP were desperate to jam through a health care bill that would cause 24 million Americans to lose their health insurance. Democrats stood firm and made clear that we wouldn’t let that happen. And Donald Trump, master deal-maker that he supposedly is, couldn’t get the members of his own party to vote for it.

If passing Trumpcare was a task on The Apprentice, I’m pretty sure Donald would be fired.

We’ve seen what happens when Donald Trump loses — he starts looking for new ways to rehash old battles. And after seven years and more than 60 votes to repeal or undermine the Affordable Care Act, you can bet that Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell aren’t giving up for good.

Yesterday, we sent Republicans a message to keep their hands off of Obamacare. Let’s make sure they don’t forget it.


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The new American resistance

Donald Trump and the ugliest elements of his entourage are worse than a lot of people thought. A growing resistance across the USA and in American communities everywhere is making itself felt. The defeat of the Trump health care denial proposal shows that although Trump’s party controls the White House and both houses of Congress, American society is not defenseless against them.

Look at what the GOP leaders just tried to do. See just how bad their intentions are. They meant to kill many Americans by voiding the health insurance of some 24 million people. They would have imposed age taxes wherein the elderly would have to pay up to five times more than the young for health care. They tried to use this nefarious proposal to conceal a $600 billion tax cut for the ultra-rich. It was too reckless a plan for them to keep Republicans who will face the voters in 2018 in line.

These people will be back, and so will the resistance. If you divide up a presidency by months and make a boxing analogy, consider that the resistance just won round one of an 18-rounder against Trump. So should the resistance come out swinging wildly for round two, and risk errors that will get it knocked out? Should it dance around and try to avoid any fisticuffs, in hope that a one-point lead will hold up to give the Democrats a split decision?

Let’s get some concepts right. The Democratic leadership and the resistance are far from one and the same. The Democratic Party played its big role in the defeat of Trump’s proposal, but the people who burned up the congressional telephone lines and delivered the resistance message to Americans everywhere did not do so in the name of Hillary Clinton. In fact many in the Democratic establishment are afraid of the resistance.

At a recent Americas region meeting of Democrats abroad, international DA chair Katie Solon — a Hillary apparatchik trying to steer a constituency that voted more than two to one for Bernie in last year’s primary — opined that it would be against Democrats Abroad rules for DA country chapters to use their mailing lists and Facebook pages to promote things like the Indivisible protests at GOP politicians’ town hall events that were a big part of defeating the Trump health care denial proposal, or the upcoming worldwide April 22 March for Science. She would have Democrats behave like a Marxist-Leninist cult, abstaining from everything that they don’t totally control, supporting worldwide action against stupidity and injustice everywhere except for where it’s actually happening.

Health care was round one, but now Trump’ Supreme Court nomination and the geometrically expanding scandals about Russian manipulation of US politics are upon us. The resistance and the Democratic leadership may be generally on the same side of those things, but the resistance needs to be broader, smarter and more independent than those who would reduce it to a segment of an email spam list.

The DNC might feel the need to tolerate a Democratic senator who breaks the filibuster against the Neil Gorsuch nomination to fill a Supreme Court vacancy. The resistance would and should be far less understanding, now and in the event that such a person ever again face the possibility of a primary challenge.

Some Democrats may use a combination of selectivity and exaggeration in an attempt to channel public indignation over the Trump crowd’s conflicts of interests and lies about these. One great danger in the “Kremlingate” scenario that is being urged is that while images of an overarching Putin conspiracy are overplayed, the much stronger evidence of a fragmented Russian mob that works in both private and public sectors — and of Trump’s many dealings with such mobsters over many years — gets ignored. Another great danger is a sense of US exceptionalism that fails to notice Russian manipulation in other countries’ elections as well, and that fails to notice the attempts of powers other than Russia to manipulate Washington. America can get blind-sided by some very real threats if Americans fail to discern the complexity of the current situation. The truth of the matter is that both Putin and Trump are mobbed-up politicians whose jobs include the management of geopolitical rivalries. The truth of the matter is a long history of both US and Russian manipulations of other countries’ elections. The difference is that Russia has hardly any democratic tradition to respect or defend, while Americans’ democratic traditions are long-standing even if once again threatened.

The resistance need not wear blinders, and shouldn’t. There’s a country to defend, with eyes wide open and minds fully engaged.


he bad?
The president covers “Bad to the Bone.” Photo by the Presidencia.

The maleantes again

2017 has brought us gruesome murder stories, an apparent shift in the routes and venues of international organized crime and consequent spike in gangland hits here, increased public alarm about crime and President Varela’s creation of a new elite police unit with badass uniforms and bigger weapons. For expatriates who have brought US cultural values here and not sunk roots into Panama, the default response may be to move — as if they will find a place where there is no risk of crime.

For everyone else, the advice remains the same. If you don’t want to a visit from a hit man, steer clear of the rackets. Don’t display wealth. Learn enough Spanish to report a crime to police. Join your neighborhood watch group if there is one where you live. Be a helpful, respectful and unpretentious neighbor. Don’t believe in anything that sounds too good to be true. Enjoy this imperfect paradise for what it is.


Bear in mind…

The American people have a right to know if their president is a crook.

Richard Nixon

We don’t pay taxes. Only the little people pay taxes.

Leona Helmsley

There are three ways of doing things — good, bad and like I do them.

Pablo Escobar


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Pedrarias the Cruel, who in 1519 founded Panama City on the site of an existing indigenous settlement.

The Panama City quincentennial: What’s to celebrate?

by Marco A. Gandásegui, hijo

Panama City was founded in 1519 by Spanish conquerors who perceived the potential of the Pacific Ocean. A few years before, in 1513, Vasco Núñez de Balboa declared all of its littoral to be the property of King Carlos of Spain.

The national as well as the municipal authorities are preparing the celebrate the city’s quincentennial. However, they don’t have an agenda to guide them. The first question asked of them — What do we celebrate? — has been left without answer. The second question — Why do we celebrate? — is up in the air, looking for a place to land. The third question — Who are we who celebrate? — is completely ignored.

The Panamanian capital has had its moments of splendor and also those of decay. It was founded by a rising empire and has been coveted by others anxious to establish global domination. Panama City’s geographic location in large part determines its dynamics and its history. It rests on a narrow strip of land that separates the two largest oceans from the earth. It facilitated the maritime trade of the North Atlantic powers of Europe — and later the United States — with the Pacific. In the late twentieth century China and Japan joined in its interoceanic trade.

The Spanish conquerors exported enormous quantitied of silver and gold from the mines of Upper Peru (now Bolivia) to Spain, crossing the barely 80 kilometers of the Isthmus of Panama. The colonial era businessmen and politicians who lived in Panama City prospered in the 16th and 17th centuries. The indigenous population was annihilated early on and the African slaves were brought in. From this epoch the social relations of inequality and discrimination — still with us — developed.

The precious minerals’ loss of value at the end of the 17th century was the starting point of a long period of colonial decline that gave way to the birth of republics at the beginning of the 19th century. The Spanish crown had tried to surmount the contradictions by creating in 1776 the Viceroyalty of New Granada and incorporating Panama within it aegis. The 1809-1924 wars of independence led by Simón Bolívar created the Republic of Colombia, to which Panama City adhered.

However, it was not until the middle of the 19th century that the city recovered some of its old commercial ways, with the discovery of gold in California and the construction of the interoceanic Panama Railway. But Panamanian businessmen were displaced by politicians in Bogota who pulled the strings of power on the isthmus. The businessmen, however, did not stay still, as they were always interested in enhancing the city’s potential in the world of global merchant shipping. In 1903 the Republic of Panama was born and the city was immediately declared to be its political capital.

The 20th century left it mark on the country and the city. Emancipatikno had a price — a very high price. The United States guaranteed the separation of Panama from Bogota. However, the businessmen negotiated a treaty with the United States that turned Panama into a protectorate. The construction of the canal between 1904 and 1914 transformed the city, enclosing it in a “cage” that with time became colonized, militarized and deformed. It produced rapid economic growth but without development. The Liberal politicians’ plans were systematically blocked by the United States. Both Liberal and Conservative politicians bowed before Washington’s power and it was the popular classes, with their student vanguard, who raised the banner of sovereignty. In January of 1964 a popular insurrection against the US occupation bathed the streets and plazas of Panama City in blood.

It was the prelude to the 1977 canal treaties, which put an end to the colonialism and the US military occupation, and in 1999 transferred the administration of the interoceanic waterway to Panama. Since that latter date, Panama City has alleged spectacular economic growth rates. However, there is no development. On the contrary, inequality has increased, poverty has become endemic and families are disintegrating in the city on the eve of its quincentennial. So I urge those who love Panama City to answer the three questions: What do we celebrate? Why do we celebrate? Who are we who celebrate?


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Three challenges for the web, according to its inventor

by Sir Tim Berners-Lee — Web Foundation

March 12 was the world wide web’s 28th birthday. Here’s a message the Web Foundation founder and web inventor Sir Tim Berners-Lee published that day, on how the web has evolved, and what we must do to ensure it fulfills his vision of an equalizing platform that benefits all of humanity.

Today marks 28 years since I submitted my original proposal for the world wide web. I imagined the web as an open platform that would allow everyone, everywhere to share information, access opportunities and collaborate across geographic and cultural boundaries. In many ways, the web has lived up to this vision, though it has been a recurring battle to keep it open. But over the past 12 months, I’ve become increasingly worried about three new trends, which I believe we must tackle in order for the web to fulfill its true potential as a tool which serves all of humanity.

1) We’ve lost control of our personal data

The current business model for many websites offers free content in exchange for personal data. Many of us agree to this — albeit often by accepting long and confusing terms and conditions documents — but fundamentally we do not mind some information being collected in exchange for free services. But, we’re missing a trick. As our data is then held in proprietary silos, out of sight to us, we lose out on the benefits we could realize if we had direct control over this data, and chose when and with whom to share it. What’s more, we often do not have any way of feeding back to companies what data we’d rather not share — especially with third parties — the T&Cs are all or nothing.

This widespread data collection by companies also has other impacts. Through collaboration with — or coercion of — companies, governments are also increasingly watching our every move online, and passing extreme laws that trample on our rights to privacy. In repressive regimes, it’s easy to see the harm that can be caused — bloggers can be arrested or killed, and political opponents can be monitored. But even in countries where we believe governments have citizens’ best interests at heart, watching everyone, all the time is simply going too far. It creates a chilling effect on free speech and stops the web from being used as a space to explore important topics, like sensitive health issues, sexuality or religion.

2) It’s too easy for misinformation to spread on the web

Today, most people find news and information on the web through just a handful of social media sites and search engines. These sites make more money when we click on the links they show us. And, they choose what to show us based on algorithms which learn from our personal data that they are constantly harvesting. The net result is that these sites show us content they think we’ll click on — meaning that misinformation, or ‘fake news’, which is surprising, shocking, or designed to appeal to our biases can spread like wildfire. And through the use of data science and armies of bots, those with bad intentions can game the system to spread misinformation for financial or political gain.

3) Political advertising online needs transparency and understanding

Political advertising online has rapidly become a sophisticated industry. The fact that most people get their information from just a few platforms and the increasing sophistication of algorithms drawing upon rich pools of personal data, means that political campaigns are now building individual adverts targeted directly at users. One source suggests that in the 2016 US election, as many as 50,000 variations of adverts were being served every single day on Facebook, a near-impossible situation to monitor. And there are suggestions that some political adverts — in the US and around the world — are being used in unethical ways — to point voters to fake news sites, for instance, or to keep others away from the polls. Targeted advertising allows a campaign to say completely different, possibly conflicting things to different groups. Is that democratic?


These are complex problems, and the solutions will not be simple. But a few broad paths to progress are already clear. We must work together with web companies to strike a balance that puts a fair level of data control back in the hands of people, including the development of new technology like personal “data pods” if needed and exploring alternative revenue models like subscriptions and micropayments. We must fight against government over-reach in surveillance laws, including through the courts if necessary. We must push back against misinformation by encouraging gatekeepers such as Google and Facebook to continue their efforts to combat the problem, while avoiding the creation of any central bodies to decide what is “true” or not. We need more algorithmic transparency to understand how important decisions that affect our lives are being made, and perhaps a set of common principles to be followed. We urgently need to close the “internet blind spot” in the regulation of political campaigning.

Our team at the Web Foundation will be working on many of these issues as part of our new five year strategy — researching the problems in more detail, coming up with proactive policy solutions and bringing together coalitions to drive progress towards a web that gives equal power and opportunity to all. I urge you to support our work however you can — by spreading the word, keeping up pressure on companies and governments or by making a donation. We’ve also compiled a directory of other digital rights organizations around the world for you to explore and consider supporting too.

I may have invented the web, but all of you have helped to create what it is today. All the blogs, posts, tweets, photos, videos, applications, web pages and more represent the contributions of millions of you around the world building our online community. All kinds of people have helped, from politicians fighting to keep the web open, standards organizations like W3C enhancing the power, accessibility and security of the technology, and people who have protested in the streets. In the past year, we have seen Nigerians stand up to a social media bill that would have hampered free expression online, popular outcry and protests at regional internet shutdowns in Cameroon and great public support for net neutrality in both India and the European Union.

It has taken all of us to build the web we have, and now it is up to all of us to build the web we want — for everyone. If you would like to be more involved, then do join our mailing list, do contribute to us, do join or donate to any of the organizations which are working on these issues around the world.

The Web Foundation is at the forefront of the fight to advance and protect the web for everyone. We believe doing so is essential to reverse growing inequality and empower citizens. You can follow our work by signing up to our newsletter, and find a local digital rights organization to support here on this list. Additions to the list are welcome and may be sent to

Please share this letter on Twitter using the hashtag #HappyBirthdayWWW


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The best of the late great Chuck Berry

Back to work free form

Cienfue & Lilo Sánchez – Panama Verde Panama Red

Stevie Wonder & Ariana Grande – Faith

Buena Fe y Silvio Rodríguez – La tempestad

Joss Stone – I Put a Spell on You

Natalia Lafourcade – Tú sí sabes quererme

David Gilmour – The Girl In The Yellow Dress

Bruce Springsteen – Murder Incorporated

Zacarías Ferreira – Asesina

Mad Professor – Melt Down Dub

Carlos Vives – Al Filo de Tu Amor

Stevie Nicks – Edge of Seventeen

Gondwana – Sentimientos Original

Of Monsters and Men – Little Talks

Jimi Hendrix at the Royal Albert Hall, 1969


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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

Puertos y Logística, ACP descartó planes para la privatización de remolcadores

Marine Link, Meyer’s group orders tugs for new Panama Canal locks

Wired, PanCanal’s new software

Hellenic Shipping News, PanCanal’s new mooring line requirements

Mexico News Daily, Highway will boost competition with Panama Canal

Sports / Deportes

Antigua Oberver, Panama to face Trinidad-Tobago in key showdown

Economy / Economía

Reuters, Fitch says reputational risk is a key problem for Panama’s banks

Barsallo, The battleground of Panamanian corporate behavior

La Estrella, Ahorristas exigen informe de auditoria

IMF, Staff mission statement on Panama’s economy

Prensa Latina, Cuban rum and cigars at Panama’s Expocomer

TVN, Cámara de Turismo dice que Panamá está perdiendo en las redes sociales

Reuters, Mexico cancels sugar export permits for lack of US trade negotiator

EFE, Correa asegura que Odebrecht pide “imposibles” para acuerdo con Ecuador

The Hill: China approves Trump hotel, massage parlor and escort service trademarks

NBC, NY lawmaker and activist team up against human trafficking in hotels

Eyes on Trade, Unhappy fifth anniversary of US-Korea Free Trade Agreement

Reuters: EU consumer authorities to take on Facebook, Google, Twitter

DW, G20 finance ministers drop free trade pledge under US pressure

Science & Technology / Ciencia & Tecnología

Epigenetics Literacy Project, How our view of cancer’s origin has evolved

Mongabay, World’s first fluorescent frog discovered

Wired, The perfect banana is soon to be gone

Ring of Fire, Monsanto forged academic research

KCCI, Cheerios wildflower inititiative to boost global bee population

News / Noticias

TVN, Comisión de diputados que no investigará a sus pares

Telemetro, Corte Suprema anula el decreto de donaciones de la Asamblea

La Prensa, Un código secreto para los diputados

Telemetro, Varela busca regular organizaciones sin fines de lucro

Metro Libre, Residentes de Punta Pacífica piden suspensión de obra

The Intercept, Rogue Twitter accounts fight to preserve government science

Buzzfeed, Group recruiting scientists to run against anti-science GOP lawmakers

EcoWatch, New Zealand river gets status as legal person

The Guardian, Robert Mercer: data billionaire at war with the mainstream media

CNN, Trump supporter arrested for tweet that gives reporter an epileptic seizure

Bershidsky, What the Yahoo hack says about Russian spies

Opinion / Opiniones

Berkowitz, Why Arendt matters

Achtenberg, Argentina’s immigration crackdown rattles Bolivia

Santos, ¿Debe Panamá cerrarse a la inmigración?

Lenzer, Trump’s Panama problem

Gandásegui, Hay alternativas para el puerto en Corozal

Simpson Aguilera, Primera tarea de la Comisión Legislativa

Culture / Cultura

Brin, Looking back at Heinlein’s Future History

Blades, Derek Walcott


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Citizens Against Impunity (CCI) lampoon Comptroller General Federico Humbert for riding horses in parades. Later the high court struck down Humbert’s decree to legalize private contributions to legislator circuit funds. These are often pocketed but are expected to finance cash and goods distributed during election campaigns.

“A prolonged and warned-about institutional crisis”

by Eric Jackson

Whose fault?

PRD secretary general and legislator Pedro Miguel González told La Estrella that there is “a prolonged and warned-about institutional crisis” underway. He blames President Varela and his Panameñista Party for causing it, above all to distract attention from the allegations of Varela’s erstwhile right-hand man, jailed offshore corporate lawyer Ramón Fonseca Mora, that the president took payoffs from the Brazilian construction conglomerate and bribery mill that’s the Odebrecht group of companies.

González’s Panameñista colleague and political adversary in the legislature, Adolfo “Beby” Valderrama, acknowledges that there is a crisis. He blames it on the PRD for bringing up and exaggerating scandals to enhance their own positions in intra-party faction fighting.

Ricardo Martinelli, from his exile in Miami, uses the media whose purchase he financed with government advertising while president to gleefully report all of the nasty things that the PRD and the Panameñistas say about each other and dismiss the many criminal charges against himself and his entourage for their five-year spree as baseless persecution. To add to the crisis atmosphere the ex-president sends in lawyers to jam up the court system and make new claims against Varela in those media that will accept them as possibly credible sources.

A confluence of scandals

We now see mergers of major scandals, affecting all major branches of the national government, with individual players and different institutions pointing fingers at one another.

In the 2014 election campaign a pack of private donors financed vote-buying campaign in which politicians passed out cash, building materials, household appliances, bags of groceries and other valuable in exchange for votes.

A huge sum of money by Panamanian historical standards was siphoned off from government coffers to support the candidates of the then-ruling faction, often under the guise of legislator’s circuit funds to be spent on social projects in their communities — but a current in this stream of illicit campaign funding flowed to politicians who then held no offices and could not pretend that they were circuit funds.

La Prensa ran a series of stories about legislative circuit funds that were just pocketed by the legislators, as in made out in checks to close aides, cashed and thereafter not on any readily documented paper trail. At least, lost without a trace but for extrinsic evidence, some of which is coming out. The daily’s main documentary evidence was from the Martinelli years but its cutting edge of inquiry was about what has gone on since. It turns out that in the Martinelli years more than $403 million in state funds went to legislators to distribute more or less at their discretion. It was not equal, but notoriously used as a tool to get deputies to jump to Martinelli’s Cambio Democratico party or its minor MOLIRENA ally. From a number of cases over the years it appears that private donations — often kicked back from government contractors who had overpriced contracts — were commingled with these funds.

Did Odebrecht money go into this mix? Comptroller General Federico Humbert dramatically announced that the Brazilian combine’s money that went to Panamanians in high places or those in their families or entourages was a lot more than the $59 million and four individuals reported in the US plea bargain. It would have been in keeping with Odebrecht’s modus operandi to have given to legislators of all parties in various fashions. But that we do not yet know, nor have we heard it specifically alleged.

Odebrecht’s presidential bets

There are two lawyers who say that Odebrecht money went into Juan Carlos Varela’s 2014 presidential campaigns — Ramón Fonseca Mora of Mossack Fonseca disrepute (now incarcerated awaiting trial) and Martinelli mouthpiece Sidney Sitton. Neither is a totally trustworthy source but current and former Odebrecht slush fund managers are talking and may corroborate what they say. Meanwhile Odebrecht exec Hilberto Mascarenhas testified to a Brazilian electoral court that the company paid millions of dollars for the services of political consultants João Santana and Mónica Moura — a husband and wife team, now both behind bars — in the presidential election campaigns of six countries, including that of Martinelli’s 2014 stand-in, José Domingo “Mimito” Arias. The PRD’s 2014 presidential candidate, Juan Carlos Navarro, denies taking money from Odebrecht and has released official campaign reports that do not indicate any such funding source. However, many of Navarro’s funders were anonymous corporations with which we would not know if there were an Odebrecht tie. So far none of the reported testimony of Odebrecht people has implicated the Navarro campaign.

Church and state

Among the illicit state funding for political campaigns allegations there is now a spectacular one about the Cambio Democratico mayor of San Miguelito, Evangelical pastor Gerald Cumberbatch. Journalist Jean Marcel Chéry, who was a member of the Templo Hosanna mega-church along with Cumberbatch, briefly worked on the latter’s campaign. He says that he resigned over corruption. Specifically alleged are the diversions of at least $700,000 in state funds, some through local governments in Darien. It allegedly went for items like construction materials and some $150,000 worth of bags of groceries for the Cumberbatch campaign to distribute.

Chéry also alleges that Cumberbatch’s wife got a paid leave of absence from a government job with the Martinelli administration to work on the campaign. Cumberbatch calls that latter charge a lie, claiming that his wife’s paid leave was not to campaign but to study to be an Evangelical pastor.

As to the specific charges of public funds diverted to his 2014 mayoral campaign, Cumberbatch won’t directly answer. He calls it old news and says that Chéry is out to destroy him and his church. Chéry said that he quit the Cumbebatch campaign when he realized what was going on and spoke of the matter with the Hosanna Temple’s Reverend Edwin Álvarez. According to Chéry, Álvarez’s response was to ask him how much money he needed to maintain silence. Unlike the many legislators whose uses of circuit funds are challenged as improper, Cumberbatch held no public office when he ran for mayor and would have no cover story comparable to that of the legislators.

Many investigations, some perhaps to block others

Attorney General Kenia Porcell says that her office is pursuing at least six Odebrecht investigations and is looking into the Cumberbatch matter. As to sitting legislators, the Supreme Court would have jurisdiction in those matters so she could not investigate them. Critics accuse her of dragging her feet on corruption cases in general and are particularly annoyed by an oral agreement she made with Odebrecht about them paying $59 million that’s the amount that the US government said that it paid in bribes to Panamanian officials, as part of a settlement with Panama. The objections are about letting the Brazilians off with a light penalty and the possibility that a deal could be used to argue that any investigation of Odebrecht or the officials they bribed here would be blocked as a form of double jeopardy.

Administrative Prosecutor Rigoberto González is investigating a complaint brought by Cambio Democratico attorney Alejandro Pérez, accusing her of abuse of authority and exceeding her powers in investigations against members of Ricardo Martinelli’s entourage. (She has not been investigating Martinelli himself, over whom the Supreme Court has exclusive jurisdiction.) Pérez brought a motion to disqualify González because en route to their current positions they worked together for many years at the Public Ministry, some of them with González as Porcell’s superior. The Supreme Court rejected that motion.

There are many complaints by anti-corruption activists of Comptroller General Federico Humbert failing to audit, or only incompletely auditing, cases involving public corruption. Now Humbert says that he’s looking into both the Odebrecht contracts — some of which he personally approved — and the matter of legislators’ circuit funds.

Perhaps the most serious of the activists’ complaints against Humbert is a decree he published earlier this year, purporting to legalize and regulate the circuit fund system. Attorney and anti-corruption activist Ernesto Cedeño challenged that decree and the Supreme Court struck it down in a ruling announced on March 16. The vote was 5-1, with three abstentions. But although the comptroller’s decree was thrown out, the system that it attempted to regulate was not.

The National Assembly has refused to look at the conduct of its own members with respect to circuit funds. The legislature’s president, Rubén De León, a PRD deputy, reacted to the La Prensa investigation by creating a numerical code to conceal how much went to which legislator for what in the public records. Ernesto Cedeño has filed criminal charges with the Supreme Court against De León for this maneuver.

The legislature has, however, begun its own investigation of all Odebrecht public works contracts since 2006. But the Public Ministry refuses to cooperate in any way with this. One of the reasons is suspicion that the legislature might give immunity to a witness or purport to make a deal with Odebrecht that would in effect preclude the work that the Attorney General’s office is doing. Great scorn is being heaped on the legislature and the members of its special committee, for one thing because eight of its 11 members are known to have received an aggregate of $47,845,295.00 in circuit funds between 2009 and 2014 and there has been no accounting of these funds nor of any possible private funding that may have been commingled with them. Independent legislator Ana Matilde Gómez, a former attorney general, says that there is ample evidence on the public record to begin an investigation of possible misappropriations of legislators’ circuit funds and questions the National Assembly’s moral authority to investigate Odebrecht under the circumstances.


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Journalist Nabeel Rajab faces years in prison for his reporting on Bahrain’s cybercrime scene. Photo by Hambina.

Predators of press freedom use
fake news as a censorship tool

by Reporters Without Borders — (RSF)

Predators of press freedom have seized on the notion of “fake news” to muzzle the media on the pretext of fighting false information. Nonetheless, many of them have taken recent statements by President Donald Trump as a means of justifying their repressive policies. This dangerous trend is a cause for concern to Reporters Without Borders (RSF). At a Washington news conference in February, Trump said: “We have to talk to find out what’s going on, because the press, honestly, is out of control. The level of dishonesty is out of control.”

By targeting journalists in this manner, the US president ended a longstanding American tradition of promoting freedom of expression and sent a powerful message to media censors. The Washington Post called it “a gift to tyrants everywhere.”

In January, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan endorsed Trump’s latest allegations that the CNN television network was guilty of broadcasting “fake news” in its report on ties between the US president and Russia.

A warning to the media

The Cambodian prime minister, Hun Sen, appeared to have taken his cue from Trump when he said of journalists in February: “Donald Trump understands that they are an anarchic group.”

Two days earlier, his spokesman issued what he called a warning to foreign media outlets, threatening to “crush” those that endanger “peace and stability” and citing Trump’s treatment of the press as a justification for the warning.

“The so-called fight against fake news has become a propaganda tool for the predators of press freedom,” said RSF Secretary-General Christophe Deloire. “Of course, it is more necessary than ever for Internet users to disentangle fact from fiction in the flow of information. However, the fight against fake news should be conducted by promoting free and independent journalism as a source of reliable and high-quality information.”

Russia’s legal ban on the “dissemination of false information”

The Russian telecoms regulator is preparing a draft decree designed purely and simply to block all content that contains false information. Before Trump’s statement, Russia, ranked 148th in RSF’s World Press Freedom Index, had already made it a requirement “not to disseminate false information” for bloggers to operate legally. The fight against “misleading information” has been a classic feature of post-Soviet Russia. The bill, imitated by several countries such as Uzbekistan, has enough leeway to allow for the broadest possible censorship.

Since July 2016, content aggregators are required to verify the veracity of reports that they publish if they do not come from media outlets registered in Russia, and could face harsh penalties.

The Russian Foreign Ministry has posted a new section on its official website dedicated to debunking fake anti-Russian news stories published by international news outlets.

Punishing “fake news” denies journalists the right to make mistakes

In sub-Sahara Africa, the concept of fake news is often abused to put pressure on journalists. Some countries’ laws provide for severe penalties without taking account of the intentions of journalists, who sometimes simply make mistakes.

In any case, the penalty is disproportionate to the seriousness of the news report, even if it is wrong. In Côte d’Ivoire, for example, insulting the head of state or the dissemination of false news reports may be enough for a journalist to be taken into custody, despite the fact that such offenses were meant to be decriminalized under the 2004 press law.

Last month, six senior Ivorian journalists, including three newspaper publishers, were detained and questioned in Abidjan, accused of “publishing false news” about an army mutiny earlier in the month.

In Madagascar, a new communications code has been strongly criticized by journalists for referring to the criminal code in its rulings on press offenses, which could lead to the criminalization of the profession. It provides for heavy fines for infringements ranging from insults to defamation, and refers to the dissemination of “false news,” an imprecise offense which removes the right of journalists to make mistakes.

In Somalia, the Universal TV channel was suspended on 5 March for broadcasting false reports alleged to have threatened the stability and peace of the region after it referred to overseas trips by the president.

Information control is key for those who want to impose their version of events

The South African government plans to impose a system of online control of the media in order to meet the “challenge” of “fake news.” Growing hostility to the media probably has its roots in an unprecedented crisis in President Jacob Zuma’s African National Congress, whose leaders tend increasingly to silence dissident voices.

In Burundi, the control of news and information is a key issue for the ruling authorities. The government fosters the idea that the media are partisan and that there is an international plot against the country.

Since 2015, any report or statement is instantly interpreted as either for, or against, the government and the goal of the authorities is to impose its version of events as the only one.

In Egypt, journalists are frequently accused of disseminating false information whenever they criticize the government, or report on sensitive issues that upset it. This widespread practice leads to self-censorship among journalists in their coverage of events for fear of joining the long list of colleagues who have been prosecuted and imprisoned.

The investigative journalist Ismail Alexandrani, an expert on the Sinai Peninsula, has been held since his arrest at Hurghada airport on the Red Sea in November 2015 on charges of publishing false information and of membership of the Muslim Brotherhood.

In Bahrain, the prominent citizen journalist and human rights campaigner, Nabeel Rajab, was accused last December of publishing false news about the kingdom of Bahrain in a cybercrime case. He could face up to two years’ imprisonment on this latest charge, which arises from interviews he gave in 2014 and 2015 to local and regional TV stations on human rights in Bahrain.

Fake news used by French politicians

The use of fake news to silence media critics is not the unique preserve of authoritarian or countries that are known for undermining press freedom. In France, the National Front, through its vice-president Florian Philippot, who has frequently categorized the work of journalists as “fake news.” During the program “l’Emission Politique” on the TV station France 2 on 9 February, in which National Front leader Marine Le Pen took part, the party set up a “fake news alert team” which posted some 20 real-time alerts online “whenever members of the team believed that France 2 journalists put out fake news.”

Presidential candidate François Fillon earlier this month accused TV news channels of falsely reporting that his wife has committed suicide, before admitting no such reports had been broadcast.

In Italy, Beppe Grillo, the leader of the Five Star movement, accused Italian journalists of “manufacturing false news” designed to harm his party. He called for the creation of “a popular jury to determine the veracity of the news published.”

The FNSI journalists’ union said it amounted to the “lynching of all journalists.” Five Star said journalists themselves were responsible for Italy’s low ranking in the World Press Freedom Index.

The United Nations concerned at growth of fake news

David Kaye, UN Special Rapporteur on the Promotion and Protection of the Right to Freedom of Opinion and Expression, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the Organization of American States, and the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights issued a joint statement on March 3 expressing concern at the use of “fake news” for government propaganda and to curb press freedom. “Criminal defamation laws are unduly restrictive and should be abolished,” the signatories said.

State actors should, in accordance with their domestic and international legal obligations and their public duties, take care to ensure that they disseminate reliable and trustworthy information.


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