Respect Panama, respect yourself
Will we be told that nothing ever changes, that in Panama nothing CAN change?
Will the English-speaking community, citizens and foreign residents alike, stand accused of being a hostile fifth column in Panamanian society if we say anything?
Will we be told that the whole banking and corporate secrecy game was something Panama learned from Switzerland and the United Kingdom, but nobody ever picks on them?
Will we be urged to accept Vladimir Putin’s opinion that the Panama Papers were the product of a US hacking operation aimed at his country, and that it’s a terrible injustice for Panama to be caught in the cyber-crossfire of American and Russian rivalry?
Should we buy the argument that those in power in Washington are hypocrites who took in the formerly ruling kleptocrat Ricardo Martinelli and his stolen millions while denigrating Panama as a money laundering center and refuge for international criminals?
Should we point to the Odebrecht contributions to Jeb Bush’s foundation, and to Miami Democrat Xavier Suarez’s PAC, which were followed by the awarding of huge public works contracts to Odebrecht by the State of Florida and Miami-Dade County when those men were running those jurisdictions?
Should be point to the American domestic money laundering centers of Delaware and Wyoming, and to the US foreign policy of attracting foreign hoodlums who bring a lot of money to the USA?
We could do all of that and more. We could even reasonably talk about Brazilian imperialism and how Panama shouldn’t have to pay the price for its offenses.
But Panamanian public officials of three administrations took bribes and kickbacks from Odebrecht. That’s against the law, but the Electoral Tribunal says that the law keeps Odebrecht’s spending on Panamanian politicians’ campaigns secret, the legislature is in the process of passing a law that would set up a generous plea bargain with Odebrecht as a bar to investigations or prosecutions of those public officials who took their bribes, and President Varela signed a law that said that whatever foreign courts find out about Odebrecht doesn’t matter here. The political caste’s response to demands for full transparency and full accountability range from sneering put-downs to nationalistic posturing to pleas for the “rule of law.”
The people who took these bribes committed theft on a grand scale. They rigged bidding processes so that Panamanians were overcharged for public works, with a portion of the proceeds of their crimes lining their pockets. They cheated bidders of many nations out of fair participation in public bidding. They short-changed our schools, our roads, our public health care system, our police and fire protection and more.
Might some of the politicians who took campaign money from Odebrecht plead that they shared it around at election time? What they mean is that they corrupted our public institutions by purchasing votes from those Panamanians so unpatriotic as to sell their country for small amounts of cash, building materials, household appliances or other merchandise.
Panama does need to take the world economy and international sensibilities into account, but those things and the wrongs of other places are of secondary importance. What matters now is that Panama has been the victim of crimes on a scale much larger than those that get Panamanians thrown into hellish prisons for long years. We need to identify all of the criminals and bring them to justice. If the system can’t handle it, we need a new system.
Be there on Wednesday, and for the next thing after that. Don’t expect justice to come quickly and easily — but demand it. Demand it if you are a citizen, for sure. And if you are a non-citizen resident, don’t go excusing it because that would ge the essence of disrespecting Panama — and yourself, because you live here and you were also affected by these crimes.
The sticky fingers want you to believe that Panama can never change. But it has, it does and it can. The country used to be a battleground for Colombia’s internal conflicts. The country used to be divided by a US enclave. The country used to have an abusive military dictator. We can argue about whether the ways that we got out of those situations were the best, but Panama can change. It’s better if Panamanians change things rather than waiting for other countries with their own priorities to impose changes upon us.
Bear in mind
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