CD anti-Martinelli revolt
by Eric Jackson
On January 5 the Cambio Democratico (CD) legislative caucus met, with the party’s secretary general Rómulo Roux present. When former President Ricardo Martinelli fled the country nearly a year ago, he designated Roux as acting president of the party, which Martinelli founded and always led. In December the fugitive Martinelli designated sub-secretary Alma Cortés as acting president instead, and she in turn issued an ultimatum that by December 31 all CD deputies must sign an oath to follow the party line as ordered by Martinelli. Otherwise, Martinelli and Cortés threatened, they would be removed from their seats in the National Assembly. At the January 5 meeting the CD legislative rejected both that oath and Cortés’s legitimacy as acting party president.
To remove a legislator for failing to observe party discipline is a party boss’s prerogative as provided in Panama’s constitution, but courts have thrown obstacles in the way of that procedure and it has rarely been actually done. For starters, to remove a legislator one has to get the Electoral Tribunal to accept the validity of the charge and the procedure, but the tribunal has yet to recognize Cortés as acting party president. That Martinelli has a warrant out for his arrest does not help his efforts to purge most of his party’s legislative caucus. The Electoral Tribunal might, for example, say that if Martinelli wants to designate Cortés as acting party president, he must do so in person at the tribunal’s headquarters in Curundu.
Roux did not take a position Cortés’s legitimacy and said that he only went to the caucus meeting because he was asked to do so. He did, however, oppose a purge of the party’s legislators. “This isn’t the moment to be asking then to leave the party,” he said.
Meanwhile, Central American Parliament (PARLACEN) deputy Rafael Espada, the body’s former vice president, told TVN news that the regional legislature is awaiting a copy of the Panamanian Supreme Court’s order for Martinelli’s arrest and might on that ground expel Martinelli from its ranks. Generally PARLACEN has needed a final conviction to oust a member in the past, but a number of drug busts of PARLACEN deputies in which those arrested asserted parliamentary immunity has changed the ways that the body operates. Under Panamanian law PARLACEN membership may create immunity from criminal investigation or arrest, but as far as PARLACEN is concerned it no longer does. The Martinelli case could test how far the recent trend will go.
Also pending before Panama’s high court is a motion that was made but not ruled upon in the proceedings to get the arrest warrant against Martinelli on illegal eavesdropping charges. In those court sessions Ángel Alvarez, the attorney for several of Martinelli’s victims, moved for the court to order Martinelli’s passport revoked. Perhaps the matter was not addressed because the Passport Authority was neither a party to nor represented at the hearings. However, the court could call in the authority to make any representations it wishes and take up the passport issue again. A revoked passport would make it hard for Ricardo Martinelli to flee from the United States to a third country.