The corruption revelations keep on coming and
public disgust grows — but will anything change?
by Eric Jackson
The rabiblanco power brokers had their early favorites, and perhaps those have not changed. The media here are for the most part not openly party-aligned — Ricardo Martinelli’s ill-gotten empire of newspapers, NexTV and radio stations the big exception — but generally they do have recognizable editorial slants. TVN is the Motta family line. Medcom is more or less PRD. La Prensa straddles factions, except without the left or the Martinelistas. It can no longer live up to a former reputation as Panama’s “newspaper of record,” but from those times it still retains the strong influence of former publisher Bobby Eisenmann’s strain of libertarianism. La Estrella and El Siglo just underwent a Washington-forced change of ownership, with the new publishers vetted by Uncle Sam and with solidly rabiblanco credentials leaning somewhat toward the PRD — but they haven’t purged the leftists or independents from their cast of contributors as of this writing.
So what are they to report when what appears to be an extract of a Spanish prosecutor’s deposition of the Spanish-Brazilian lawyer who set up Odebrecht’s system of bank accounts to launder bribes indicates that former President Martín Torrijos was also bribed by Odebrecht? Ricardo Martinelli’s necro-porn tabloid, La Critica, did acknowledge the recording with a ‘look who this loose cannon is accusing now!’ approach. Otherwise, silence from that quarter.
How did that video get into the social media? Perhaps an elaborate hoax, but given the other parts of Tacla’s long interrogation have been published, it would be expensive to credibly fake. A Spanish connection? Perhaps. A Brazilian connection? That would also be possible. And then there is the somewhat more likely possibility that this was a leak from the Panamanian Public Ministry, perhaps some maneuver from the top but perhaps some individual working in that institution for whatever his or her reason recognized a time for a document that Attorney General Kenia Porcell and her minions would have had in their possession for months now.
So is the Public Ministry’s cohesion crumbling? It would not be the only thing.
The Electoral Tribunal has cut off polling ahead of the May 2019 elections, so we must deduct from various circumstances, like the rise in PRD membership against declines in those of the other two major parties, Cambio Democratico and the Panameñistas. We can see the highly partisan Martinelista Electoral Prosecutor’s move against PRD candidate and former agriculture minister Laurentino “Nito” Cortizo, one of the leading hopefuls for the PRD nomination, and see if there are fear factors to be deduced from that or whether it really is about enforcing a ban on too-early campaigning. We can read the call center crap in the comments below political articles in the daily newspapers and try to weigh and interpret fears and loathings.
And then there’s Tuesday’s anti-corruption rally on the Cinta Costera. Called on The Day of The Martyrs — January 9 — by television personality and lowbrow satirist Ubaldo Davis Sr., it immediately brought forth slams of the “anti-values” found in the adolescent male humor and occasional racism of his La Cascara television show. That the show airs on TVN and that NexTV made a bid to acquire it are pointed out to prove something or the other. (The Mottas’ TVN? OBVIOUSLY a sinister Jewish plot. Martinelli’s network wanted it? CLEAR proof that Davis is an amoral mercenary, ever ready to sell his soul to the highest bidder but at the moment launching a personal political career. No recognition of the November 29th National Liberation Movement as the workers’ vanguard and the only true opposition to corruption? That BOURGEOIS PIG!)
What is more likely is a youthful reinforcement of long-running protests that were drawing mostly an over-40 middle class “good government” crowd, and perhaps an eclipse of the slightly larger anti-corruption protests that FRENADESO / SUNTRACS / MLN-29 have been separately sponsoring.
The nation’s principal bar association, the Colegio Nacional de Abogados, has taken the unusual step of endorsing the Cinta Costera protest. Mainstream media which generally ignore protests have been panning this one in advance. Will Varela squeeze off bus traffic from the Interior, close or slow the Metro trains, make a show of riot squad force or seed the clouds to reduce the turnout? Or will incredulous or lazy Panamanians just take the holiday off at the beach and wait for the gringos or the chinos to solve Panama’s problem?
And it IS a problem. Institutionally, as it appears that Varela’s high court nominees are now dead letters. Also in the legislature, as Ricardo Martinelli calls for his party’s deputies to form an alliance with the PRD caucus, and nobody other than the usual sycophants will say in public that this might be a good idea. In the business community, as the Chamber of Commerce issues a statement reminding Varela that there is or ought to be a separation of powers in the Panamanian constitutional order and warns him not to make any rash power grabs in his last year and a half in office. In the justice system, as prosecutors and courts just made a deal with Martinelli crony Cristobal Salerno, who got an exclusive tax collecting contract with the former administration, which the comptroller general says cheated the public out of more than $29 million, but Salerno cops a plea, agrees to pay a $300,000 fine and forfeit a bit more than $20 million, then goes on his merry way with the difference, without a prison sentence disrupting his life.
It’s all rigged, the rigging is coming loose, but this reporter should not be confused with a prophet. Who knows what will happen? Things are just unstable.
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