Snake oil that doesn’t sell
President Varela made his proposal for a constitutional reform process on May 5 and it was rather immediately rejected by the PRD and Cambio Democratico. Since he would need two-thirds of the National Assembly to proceed, figure that it’s dead on arrival, but perhaps might be made to walk zombie-style by some sort of deal.
The president began his consultations — not with the unknowns of the general public but with those he selected as relevant.
First he talked to one of the small parties whose business plan is to sell itself in exchange for jobs or contracts, the Liberal Republican Nationalist Movement (MOLIRENA). They went away without committing to anything, nor having much positive to say.
He talked the Chamber of Commerce and they flatly rejected his maneuver, saying that Panama does need a new constitution but election of delegates a year from now on the same ballot as everyone else and with a limited agenda of things to be discussed is a nonstarter to them. Perhaps the president will get “business backing” from government contractors but it’s unlikely to go much beyond that.
He’s scheduled to talk to the most militant of the labor radicals but not only will they disagree, they would lose ground to their rivals on the left if the come to aqree.
Meanwhile, through his minister of the presidency and his legislator brother, Juan Carlos Varela has stated his agenda for constitutional change. He wants fewer legislators elected at large on a national or provincial basis. He wants an unspecified new way of choosing judges and magistrates. He wants to devolve some powers of the presidency to elected provincial governors.
At large elections of legislators drives up the cost of running for office. The TV station owners would love it. It would be good for the bribery and kickback business. It would allow most of the legislators to live in a few upscale neighborhoods and exclude representation of poor neighborhoods.
Nondescript changes in the judiciary merit an equally generic rejection. Which is not to say that the justice system isn’t broken.
In a country of four million, does it make sense to create 13 or more executive branches for the 10 existing provinces and three or more comarcas? (There are three Guna comarcas: Guna Yala, Madugandi and Wargandi. The Guna General Congress claims to speak for all of these, plus the Guna communities outside the comarcas.) Excluding the comarcas, the provinces range in population from barely 50,000 to a million and a half. Do we want to insert another layer of political fiefdoms into our system? Perhaps we do but Varela just gives us the slogan of “decentralization” rather than any coherent argument for why.
Selective consultations, a limited agenda and a reform package that doesn’t address structural incentives for corruption, our failed education system, national security and foreign relations policies that have never even been admitted to the Panamanian people, grotesque economic and social inequalities — those are off the agenda because snottier families than yours say so?
Such particulars as have been revealed of the Varela constitutional reform proposal deeply offend.
Thumbs down on the war racket
Notice what Donald Trump did in his drive for war with Iran. He put out a bogus intelligence study which he compiled not through US government intelligence agencies, not even through American mercenary corporations, but by contracting a shady Israeli outfit. As in, just like going to the Russians for campaign assistance, he once again brings in foreign interests to meddle in the gravest of US political decisions.
Like Donald Trump, Binyamin Netanyahu is up to his nose in scandals and the sewage is rising, not receding. So he ordered his planes to attack Syrian and allied forces in Syria and in effect declared that if anyone shoots back that’s terrorism that would oblige the United States to go to war with Iran.
There are decent individuals in all camps, perhaps the Kurds have the most justified claims of them all and the Kingdom of Jordan seems to be doing the right sorts of things as best it can. However, there really aren’t any good guys among the important contenders in Syria.
Should the United States go to war to support a corrupt Israeli prime minister’s bid to distract attention, or to distract attention from a corrupt US president? Should Americans get behind the Saudi and Emiraiti Sunni jihad against Iranian, Iraqi, Syrian, Lebanese and Yemeni Shiites? If the Middle Eastern map that the French and British drew a century ago has proven impractical, is the redrawing of that map by Americans anything worth fighting for?
And what about Panama? Should the Panamanian government take sides, and if so which side? Should Panama go with the Russians, or the Americans? Should this country’s Jews all be presumed to support the Israeli government, and be balanced against Panama’s Arabs, or against this country’s anti-Semites?
An expanded war in the Middle East is madness, except perhaps for arms merchants. The last thing that any country outside the region should do is to mimic or feed the insanity.
To the extent that we can afford it, Panama should be taking in some of the displaced and dispossessed. Choices of who gets to resettle here should be made without much regard to any allegiances beyond loyalty to the human race. That is what this traditionally neutral isthmus has done in its better moments.
The United States has to look farther back into its traditions to come up with the right approach. However, at the outset founders of that nation warned against entanglement in any of the Old World’s holy wars. It’s still good advice.
Bear in mind…