The new Defensor del Pueblo, Eduardo Leblanc, addresses the legislature. Photo by the Asamblea Nacional.
Banking law specialist picked to
head the Defensoría del Pueblo
by Eric Jackson
On Wednesday August 26, attorney Eduardo Leblanc got 56 votes to be the next national ombudsman, or Defensor del Pueblo. That was 20 votes more than he needed in the 71-member legislature. It was a foregone conclusion once the PRD chose him as its candidates, as that party plus its MOLIRENA junior partners hold 40 votes. There were three votes cast for other candidates, two formal abstentions and 10 absences.
This is only a seven-month appointment. Last October, after a bizarre debate, 60 members of the National Assembly voted to remove Alfredo Castillero Hoyos in the midst of his 2016-2021 term on allegations of sexual harassment and neglect of his duties.
It was a political rather than a court proceeding. The sexual harassment charge was without a complaining witness. Castillero Hoyos did not deny that he had an affair with a woman at the office, but she never complained. That was left to a shrieking Zulay Rodríguez (PRD – San Miguelito).
Then there was deputy Mayín Correa’s complaint that former president Ricardo Martinelli, in jail at the time, was not being allowed to sleep in his jail cell — someone put a snake in his bed to keep him awake and the ombudsman wouldn’t loot in to it. At the time Martinelli was avoiding trial by claiming mental illness. His bipolar condition is well enough known to the general public, and one common symptom is irregular sleep patterns. So was declining to investigate the claims of a man who ran for office on a platform of being crazy that he’s got a snake in his bed neglect of duty?
In any case Castillero Hoyos was not a very active defender of citizens’ rights and had carefully avoided getting into the scandals of the Varela administration. The politics drove him out, but not until after veteran PRD activist Maribel Coco had been appointed to the vacant number two spot. But an old plagiarism scandal prevented her rise above acting status.
So now this brief appointment. Upon his election by the legislature, though, Leblanc talked about both short and long term changes. We should not be shocked if he runs for a full term next year.
From labor unions and the left, the main complaint about Leblanc was the opinion that he has little background as human rights defender.
Leblanc is a specialist in banking law. He was head of the legal departments at Banco Nacional de Panama and Caja de Ahorros, manager at Citibank, a junior member of the legal staff at Banistmo, He was a member of the legal committee of the Banking Association of Panama.
He’s a founding partner of Signature Regional Law Group, which represents a variety of business clients, not just banks. Some of them have been government contractors or those hoping to be such. Leblanc is winding up his private law practice to clear away those sorts of potential conflicts of interest.
The new ombudsman actually does have human rights advocacy experience. He was an observer and coordinator with Panama’s Catholic human rights group, the Comisión de Justicia y Paz. He’s also a lieutenant in the Bomberos.
In his address to the legislature, he questioned the legality and wisdom of the many arrests for violating the emergency health regulations, opining that a presidential decree should not have the same effect as a duly passed law. He advocated administrative sanctions rather than criminal penalties in these cases.
Leblanc also decried the insufficient government protections offered children and senior citizens, especially the lax standards for day care centers and nursing homes.
The new ombudsman is 45 years old, a Panama City native and possessed of a licenciatura degree in law from ULACIT.
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