Going down ugly
Who knows? Perhaps this time next year there will be a Cambio Democratico president and Ricardo Martinelli will be double dipping as a legislator and mayor of Panama City. At the moment, however, indications look bad.
The former president’s trial before the Supreme Court is now underway and into its main phases, with delaying tactics interposed by the defense now being quickly brushed off. Did a spelling error in one of the private prosecutor’s documents mean that the whole case should be thrown out? Both to that alleged victim’s claim and to the case as a whole, the error was insignificant, magistrate and acting judge Jerónimo Mejía ruled. Did the defense need time to read a 48-page document that was served on them? Mejía gave them a day. Should all of the private prosecutions be dismissed? Mejía severed one lawyer who had been fired by one of the private plaintiffs from the case, but let the private prosecutions continue.
Mejía denied a defense motion to reveal the identity of a protected witness or turn over seven notebooks which it is said would make it possible to identify this person or entity. Is it an individual who could face retaliation, either personally or via his or her family? Is it a foreign government or one of its agents, the exposure of which would cause political complications for Panama? Those details are not revealed.
The formal charges made and read, some of the private plaintiffs are making their demands for monetary damages. PRD activist Balbina Herrera, whom Martinelli beat in a landslide in 2009, is asking for $30 million. Another PRD stalwart, Mitchell Doens, wants $20 million. A couple of others make demands adding up to about another $6 million. However, most of those who have hired private prosecutors say that they will seek any money damages in separate civil cases.
The state’s prosecutor, magistrate Harry Díaz? He’s asking for a 21-year prison sentence: four years for illegal eavesdropping, four years for stalking people without a warrant, three years for misappropriating the use of government spy equipment for private use and 10 years for stealing the equipment and programs. The hardware was last seen in his Super 99 offices in Paitilla.
Between prison authorities and court guards, Martinelli’s antics have been reduced. We get the book waving poses on the entries of a man who does not read books but he does not get to stop the proceedings by malingering anymore.
There have been altercations between private complainants and their lawers on the one side and Martinelli lawyers on the other. This brought in court security officers to prevent fisticuffs and a closed door meeting with Mejía the resulted in a reported non-aggression agreement.
Meanwhile, Martinelli’s Cambio Democratico party is choosing its slate of candidates. The former president himself says that he wants to run for mayor of Panama City, but the party has set aside that nomination to be negotiated in a possible alliance with one or more other parties. Martinelli did file to run for a seat in the legislature. That puts him in a crowd of CD criminal defendants who will be expected to assert immunity from prosecution as candidates for public office.
There are major defections. Mimito Arias, the party’s 2014 presidential candidate and also a criminal defendant, has left for a new splinter party and wants to run for president next year as its nominee. Reverend Cumberbatch, the CD mayor of San Miguelito, says he’s going to seek re-election as an independent.
Then there are ever unfolding scandals. The comptroller general has referred charges against legislator Marilyn Vallarino for diverting public funds to a foundation she controls, with her defense in lieu of denial consisting of a protest that it’s HER company. Now CD presidential front runner Rómulo Roux is being called in to answer questions about an Odebrecht contract he signed.
The one thing that Cambio Democratico may have going for it is the sorry state of all other political parties. However, there are some independents waiting in the wings who might, with rabiblanco financial backing, upset all of the calculations of the legislators and Electoral Tribunal. Or there might be an even more radical voter revolt than that.
But most likely, color Ricardo Martinelli and his political project in pastels — fading fast.
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