by Marco A. Gandásegui, hijo
It’s a month since the incarceration of President Ricardo Martinelli (2009-2014) in Miami. Martinelli is not alone in his cell at the Federal Detention Center in Miami. Along with him are the consciences of the Panamanian rulers of the last 25 years. The difference between the former president and his counterparts is a question of degree. Martinelli, according to his friends, celebrated with great fanfare the day he announced that he was a “billionaire.”
Martinelli is in detention awaiting the order of an extradition trial requested by the Panamanian authorities. Documents were presented to the US government that involved Martinelli in tapping the telephones of his political opponents while he was ruling.
If the judge rules that Martinelli must return to Panama to face justice, his expulsion is not automatic. The US president and his secretary of state have the last word. If they consider that it is not convenient — for reasons of “national security” — then they can dismiss the verdict of justice and Martinelli stays in the United States. There has been an extradition agreement between the two countries since 1904.
Politics prevail over justice. How likely is it that President Trump would decide to ignore a court decision contrary to Martinelli’s interests? Not much chance.
Martinelli is the epitome of Panamanian society in the 21st century. Without doubt, it is a society that should radically change. After the American military invasion of 1989, the defeat of the national project created the conditions for an oligarchy to seize the state apparatuses. Under the mantle of the “Washington Consensus” and with the guidance of the US Embassy, the government machinery at the service of its enrichment. The oligarchs privatized the most profitable public enterprises, eliminated jobs and reduced wages, increased subsidies for the rich, and abandoned the education system, health services, and public safety.
In 2000, the Panamanian government assumed the administration of the Panama Canal. This has been a source of previously unimaginable income. At this juncture, Martinelli proved his political fate in the government allying himself with the Panameñista Party, having previously served in a Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD) administration. The experience served to found his own party — Democratic Change (CD) — and to launch his candidacy in 2004, which was unsuccessful. Like the other oligarchic parties, its only objective was to arrive at the political power to assault the public coffers.
In 2009 Martinelli returned to throw his hat in the ring. With the open intervention of the US Embassy, he had better luck. His alliance with the Panameñistas gave him the victory. With growth rates of the Gross Domestic Product on the average of about eight percent a year, the Martinelli team put its hands to work. It appears that there was no governmental initiative that was not turned into a business.
To neutralize the political opposition, from the Presidential Palace he asked the US Embassy to tap the phones of his enemies. The requests were documented in electronic cables that WikiLeaks published, along with other materials that exposed the American Embassy’s interference.
Now his fate depends on the decision of a judge in Miami? Is there sufficient evidence to order his handover to Panamanian authorities?
Justice is not “blind” in the USA. There are many political interests, including economic ones, that are in play. The American prosecutors have gathered evidence that associates Martinelli with crimes that can be prosecuted in the United States. If Washington is interested in using Martinelli as a piece for some political move, they can accuse him and bring him to trial in that country. The longer the decision by the South Florida federal judge to extradite him is delayed, the more time US prosecutors have to file a case against the former Panamanian president.
Martinelli has a political card that he might play as the result of his incarceration in the United States. The supermarket magnate has announced that he will try to come back to Panama to run for mayor of the capital city in 2019. That candidacy would serve as a trampoline for his to compete in the 2024 elections for president of the republic.
His adventure in Florida can be used to present himself as a victim of low blows suffered in the USA and shock the voters with his version of the injustices he saw in the “entrails of the monster,” so that he could win.
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