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Teachers win a week-long strike

Over its week-long duration, the teachers’ strike not only didn’t dwindle, but took on aspects of a broader social movement that prompted some expressions of concern from private schools and from the business sector. Photo by El Kolectivo.

A decade after a major defeat, the teachers’ unions win big

by Eric Jackson

After a six-hour July 23 negotiating session between a special government committee and representatives of the nation’s teacher unions, an agreement granting an across-the-board $300 per month raise in teachers’ base pay and a government commitment to dedicate six percent of Panama’s Gross Domestic Product to education was reached. That met the unions’ core demands and will be good enough to end the strike, although the unions’ ratification processes were still underway as this story was written. It was a big victory that followed years of defeats for the teachers’ organizations.

Back in 2006 the PRD administration of Martín Torrijos divided and ruled, using organizations dominated by members of his party to accept a “settlement” that most educators and their unions rejected and using that sweetheart deal to smash that year’s strike. By defeating and demoralizing the teachers Torrijos opened the way for his Ministry of Education apparatchiki — most notably people from Balbina Herrera’s entourage — to loot the schools with bogus contracts for work that was not needed and in many cases not done. After that Ricardo Martinelli came in and appointed a television star as minister, the looting via overpriced contracts with apparent kickbacks continued and the government wouldn’t even talk to the teachers’ unions.

On July 18, the members of 17 teachers’ unions — some 42,000 of the nation’s 45,000 public school teachers — walked off the job. The National Executive Committee of the PRD, conflicted and out of power, met and most probably fought behind closed doors, issuing a strange statement over nobody’s signature that expressed solidarity with the striking teachers and urged them to stop their strike and go back to work. Anti-union parents’ groups predictably issued their statements opposing the strike and called for stern government action to end the walkout and punish the strikers.

This time, however, there was no ruling party with the clout among teachers to play divide and rule games, nor was President Varela eager to escalate a conflict he could not be sure of winning. He said all of the usual things that management says about a strike, complaining that the walkout just hurt kids. But he sent his negotiators to the bargaining table and parents didn’t send their kids to school. On some of the buses kids rode as their fathers drove, but working parents having to stay home to watch the kids became a difficult to quantify if annoyingly real phenomenon rippling through the national economy. The national mood appeared to put settling the strike and getting about the business of improving a notoriously horrible school system far above the list of priorities than humiliating and punishing teachers. So a settlement was reached after a week-long strike, largely on the teachers’ terms.

During the course of the strike the cabinet approved the budget allocation for the teachers’ pay raises and that should have no problem in the legislative budget process. However, the commitment to dedicate six percent of GDP to education may be harder to maintain and enforce. For one thing, the economy for almost all of Latin America is hurting and Panama is slowing down because of that. The battles among people with very worthy but conflicting national budget priorities are likely to increase. Then there is the time-honored political practice of changing the definitions by which GDP is calculated to suit a government’s purposes. The unions will stay atop such developments, but the bottom line will be what the general electorate understands and is willing to tolerate.


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Two slates head contest for control over the PRD

PRD lawmaker Rubén De León, president of the National Assembly and legislative ally of Pedro Miguel González, who is not running for a party leadership post. Photo by the Asamblea Nacional
PRD lawmaker Rubén De León, president of the National Assembly and legislative ally of Pedro Miguel González. De León is not running for a party leadership post. Photo by the Asamblea Nacional.

Two slates contest control over the PRD

by Eric Jackson

Is it true, as if often said, that the PRD and its factions have no ideologies, only interests? To the extent that this is true — or false — the phenomenon goes right back to the party’s foundation by Omar Torrijos, who seized power in 1968 with no particular plan for the nation but rather an objection to Arnulfo Arias’s intention to alter the schedule of promotions at the upper reaches of the old Guardia Nacional. Now there is a battle for control of Panama’s largest political party, which has lost two national elections in a row and is badly split in the legislature. There is a huge issue dividing the major contenders — do they form an alliance with Ricardo Martinelli’s Cambio Democratico loyalists or do they not? But for the two leading slates, the question is tactical and not particularly a matter of either belief systems or public policy.

The sitting party president, Bocas del Toro legislator Benicio Robinson, has enhanced the powers of that office at the expense of the secretary general, but lost control of his party’s caucus in the National Assembly. He’s running for re-election and alongside him former President Ernesto “Toro” Pérez Balladares is seeking to be secretary general, a position he used as a stepping stone for his 1994 election to the presidency. Toro and Balbina Herrera led the cast of characters who rebuilt the PRD into a strong opposition force in the wake of 1989 US invasion that ousted it along with the military dictatorship that founded it.

The current secretary general? Carlos Pérez Herrera, who is also the representante for Panama City’s corregimiento of San Francisco, is running in a three-way race for first vice president.

The major slate opposing Robinson and Pérez Balladares is former health minister Camilo Alleyne for president and legislator Pedro Miguel González for secretary general. González is one of the majority of PRD deputies that has broken with Robinson and allied with Cambio Democratico rebels and Varela’s Panameñistas to take control of the legislature. More than anything the contest is between González and Alleyne who want to exclude Ricardo Martinelli from all political influence on the one hand and on the other hand Pérez Balladares and Robinson who would like to share power with Martinelli, at least in the legislature.

Each of the main slates will have its problems with the American Embassy.

There is a US terrorism warrant out for González, carrying a potential death penalty. He is accused of the 1992 drive-by shooting that killed US Army Sergeant Zak Hernández, an attack that coincided with then US President George H. W. Bush’s visit, which was intended as an election-year victory lap after the invasion earlier in his term. While that happened in Chilibre, Bush’s public appearance in Parque Porras ran into a rowdy protest led by Balbina Herrera, at which cops fired tear gas that the wind blew back onto the stage to rout Bush. https://youtu.be/ujVVf-JQLLQ González was tried and acquitted in Panama on that murder charge, a verdict that Washington has never accepted. The key piece of evidence, an assault rifle that was found buried at the González family’s farm, was identified as the weapon used to kill Hernández by the FBI forensic witness and ruled out as the death instrument by the Panamanian forensic analyst, while the ballistics specialist from Scotland Yard said that it wasn’t possible to tell whether it was the gun with which the American soldier was shot. González presented alibi witnesses who said that he was at the University of Panama when the shooting took place, and evidence and arguments that would not be allowed in a US court — for example, about the FBI’s history of falsifying evidence in politically charged cases — were heard by the jury. In Panama jury trials are before panels of public employees, which Washington argued made them subject to pressures to conform their findings to the wishes of those in power. At the time Pérez Balladares was president, having arrived at that office with more than a little help from the defendant’s father, then a PRD legislator.

Toro had his US visa revoked shortly after he left office. The State Department never comments to the press or the public about visa denials, but Washington had two major problems with Toro. The first, which was the subject of many press reports at the time, was an allegation that he was selling Panamanian visas, and in some cases passports (including diplomatic passports) to Chinese citizens intending to migrate to the United States without following US immigration laws. There were tales — never proven in any court — of people showing up in the United States with papers showing them to be Panamanian diplomats but not speaking a word of Spanish. Later came the tale of PECC, supposedly an American company that won a contract to maintain Panama’s non-canal lighthouses and sea buoys. US prosecutors said that the company was owned behind the scenes by Toro and payoffs were shown to some of the figures in his government, though never directly to the former president himself. An American businessman went to prison under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act over that case, and apparently got a lighter sentence for pointing the finger at Pérez Balladares. Toro has always denied the PECC allegations and has steadfastly maintained that it is Panama’s sovereign right to issue a visa or a passport to whomever it wishes. In the present campaign he is claiming that he lost his visa for defending Panama in this fashion.

Alleyne and Robinson also have their embarrassing histories. Alleyne was health minister during the Martín Torrijos administration, when hundreds of people were poisoned by cough syrup mixed in the Social Security Fund’s medicine lab, using lethal dethylene glycol that was mislabled as glycerin. While Dr. Alleyne could rightly claim that his ministry did not produce that toxic brew, shared of the blame for failures to properly test that and other medicines and a coverup rather than a zealous effort to help the victims after the mass poisoning became known were properly laid on the Ministry of Health doorstep. Robinson is a rather stereotypical political patronage politician from Bocas del Toro, which has a sordid reputation for corruption compared to most other provinces. He has never been caught at the sort of thing that should get someone sent to prison, but he does advocate an opposition alliance with former President Ricardo Martinelli. Power plays against Varela and a division of the patronage spoils were among the reported details of the agreement that Robinson and Martinelli had in 2015, but in any case they both saw revolts in their respective party caucuses and thus failed to muster the votes to take over the legislature.

A living symbol of Martinelli sleaze, former Vice President Felipe “Pipo” Virzi, is running for fifth undersecretary. Virzi is under house arrest for a series of scandals and his candidacy gives him electoral immunity that has disrupted his trial for accepting some $10.2 million for a Tonosi irrigation project that never happened. Virzi and the Banco Universal that he controlled functioned as a racketeering clearing house during the administration of Ricardo Martinelli, with whom Virzi is related by intermarriage among their extended families and by business ties. The Moncada Luna bribery and inexplicable enrichment cases, kickbacks on construction contracts, the criminal activities of the Financial Pacific brokerage house and sundry alleged computer and telecommunications schemes run through that connection. Members of a couple of party factions have challenged Virzi’s right to run on the radical and never before accepted if obvious ground that it’s just ploy to block or delay criminal proceedings and also because Virzi’s Martinelli ties and activities take him outside of the universe of PRD membership. The challenges will probably be rejected, but in the meantime prosecutors will probably move get Virzi’s electoral immunity lifted.

All up and down the ballot for the many party offices at stake are well known names in search of state-financed sinecures along with the immunity that comes with such party offices.

It’s an intra-party affair, but what does the public think? Running at the head of the pack of those whom people consider the right person to lead the PRD — but not running for any position in these party elections — is former legislator and agriculture minister Laurentino “Nito” Cortizo. He represented Colon’s rural coastal district, first as a member of the old Solidaridad party that was aligned with the Lewis Galindo brothers’ interests and perspectives. The July Dichter & Neira poll showed Nito with 17 percent public support, tied with don’t know / won’t say and four points ahead of Toro. Cortizo resigned as agriculture minister during the Martín Torrijos administration in protest of the US-Panama Trade Promotion Agreement, which he predicted would be a disaster for Panamanian agriculture. There are surely folks on the left who would dispute the claim, but Cortizo, who wants to be the PRD’s 2019 presidential nominee — as does Toro — would represent those party factions that oppose the neoliberal policies of globalization on corporate terms.

Public support for Robinson and González as functional leaders of the PRD is roughly tied in the low single digits, according to Dichter & Neira. Running slightly ahead of them, still very unpopular overall, is current National Assembly president Rubén De León.

So who represents the “Torrijista ideology?” Omar Torrijos was a military man with some nationalist politics that went along with his history of serving US interests, the son of a Veraguas school administrator of Colombian origin who cared about his reputation and historical legacy and a pragmatist who muddled along in the situations in which he was presented. Coming to power along with Boris Martínez, his first orders of business were to suppress those who opposed the coup and then to rid himself of Martínez. He then set his sights on a new canal treaty, a project that had been underway before he seized power. For this purpose he made several moves, bringing many intellectuals and diplomats into his entourage, convincing most labor activists and most business leaders to accept a national truce of sorts while the treaty negotiations were underway. Part of the left was brought into positions of influence and those who didn’t accept the deal were ruthlessly hunted down. The Colon Free Zone flourished and a new business class arose through the cracks of old elites that were partly displaced. A new constitution, the one we have today albeit with a few patches, was passed in 1972 and gave most power to the executive but gave the legislators and local officials access to funds to spread around in their districts and among their supporters. So is the PRD just a “political patronage party?” That would befit the arrangement of General Torrijos’s constitution. Is it a national liberation party, with a leftist tinge? That would befit the drive for the canal treaties. Is it a party aligned with national and international business interests? That would befit the growth of commercial and financial sectors during the dictatorship, and the policies of the Pérez Balladares and Martín Torrijos administrations. A struggle for the party’s “soul” would put different strains of the general’s legacy into play against one another — but the main contestants are thinking of far more worldly concepts.


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Gandásegui, La revista TAREAS enfoca la crisis



La revista TAREAS enfoca la crisis

por Marco A. Gandásegui, hijo

Panamá fue sacudida en abril de 2016 por la revelación de 11.5 millones documentos de la firma forense local Mossack Fonseca. La divulgación de los ‘papeles’

sacó a la luz pública numerosas sociedades anónimas que existían con el propósito de esconder dineros mal habidos de importantes personajes del mundo entero. La legislación panameña creó la figura de la sociedad anónima en 1927 para servirle a capitalistas, rentistas y gobernantes, tanto de EEUU como de Gran Bretaña. La legislación era copia de la existente en el estado de Delaware (en EEUU) y algunas jurisdicciones “off-shore’ de Gran Bretaña. El des-cubrimiento de los documentos fue financiado por un grupo de fundaciones de EEUU y Europa, con apoyo de la USAID, agencia gubernamental norteamericana. El grupo de ‘Think-Tanks’ creó un Consorcio mediático en Washington con una red de 150 periódicos en todo el mundo. La revelación de las sociedades anónimas creadas por abogados panameños en los paraísos fiscales de EEUU y jurisdicciones británicas, forma parte de una campaña norteamericana de atraer a su sistema bancario las fortunas más grandes del mundo.

Según fuentes del mundo financiero, se están buscando sumas de dinero escondidas que fluctúan entre 3 y 25 millones de millones de dólares. Para tener una idea del monto involucrado, el producto interno bruto de EEUU fue de 18 millones de millones de dólares en 2015. Ese mismo año, el PIB mundial estaba cerca de 80 millones de millones. (El PIB de Panamá superó los 50 mil millones de dólares en 2015).

El diario La Prensa de la capital panameña, miembro de la red del consorcio, no ha dado a conocer los nombres de los panameños ni de sus bienes en las sociedades anónimas creadas fuera de Panamá, especialmente en Europa y EEUU. En las listas dadas a conocer sólo aparecen 100 norteamericanos, cuyas fortunas son relativamente pequeñas.

En el número 153 de TAREAS, el economista colombiano Salomón Kalmanovitz publica la tercera parte de un trabajo que aborda la política fiscal de Panamá en la primera mitad del siglo XX. Es precisamente en esta época en que Panamá creó la legislación para que empresarios norteamericanos y europeos escondieran sus ‘tesoros’ mal habidos en las llamadas ‘sociedades anónimas’. Para aquel entonces fue un acierto para el fisco panameño que estaba en necesidad de más recursos. Pocos años después Panamá complementó las sociedades anónimas con legislación que convirtió la bandera nacional en una mercancía que podía ser adquirida por dueños de flotas marítimas para evadir los impuestos en sus países.

La revista trae como tema central ‘La teoría de la clase media’. Encabezan las contribuciones un trabajo del historiador panameño Enrique Avilés, quien aborda la década de 1920 y el papel de ‘Acción Comunal’, grupo opuesto a las políticas oligarcas y, sobre todo, a la presencia colonial de EEUU en la Zona del Canal.

Enseguida se presenta el artículo del sociólogo chileno, Ricardo Yocelevsky, quien ubica a las clases sociales como actores colectivos privilegiados en los procesos históricos. La entrevista de Nahuel Placanica a Natalia Milanesio es muy revelador de cómo el aumento de los ingresos de sectores de la clase obrera puede hacerlos sentirse como miembros de la clase media. Entre los temores más grandes de las clases medias es no poder distinguirse de los sectores populares. Paúl Krugman, Premio Nobel de Economía, plantea como las políticas neo-liberales están contribuyendo a la desaparición de la clase media en EEUU. Por último, una nota de Antonio Gramsci, fundador del Partido Comunista italiano, muerto en las mazmorras de Mussolini, se refiere a la clase media en una formación social capitalista.

TAREAS también publica dos artículos teóricos sobre la ‘de-colonización’. Uno de Richard Morales, politólogo panameño, quien citando a Aníbal Quijano plantea que ‘seguimos siendo lo que no somos’. El otro, del sociólogo peruano César Germaná, plantea que “el patrón de poder colonial/moderno ha entrado en una crisis estructural”.

Cierra este número los artículos de Osman López y Emilio Pantojas. El primero analiza la coyuntura hondureña que refleja el ’empate catastrófico’ de la correlación de fuerzas sociales que convierte a la oligarquía en una máquina indiscriminada de violencia, incluyendo asesinatos selectivos y golpes de Estado. El segundo anuncia una posible solución final al status colonial de Puerto Rico, como consecuencia de la bancarrota de la oligarquía de la isla y la negativa del Congreso de EEUU de encontrarle una solución a la crisis fiscal.

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Bernal, The ravings of the bajocre



The ravings of the bajocre

by Miguel Antonio Bernal

It was far from the minds of the Thought Engineers that the mediocrity of the human condition that was analyzed in “The Mediocre Man” would be emulated by those less than mediocre — shall we coin a term and call the condition of the latter “bajocrity?”

It should thus serve, in the face of the daily delirium in which the power brokers live, to update certain insights in order to better understand the bajocrity that has taken center stage in our country’s political, social and economic development — for the purpose of gagging dignity.

  • These exponents of bajocrity have chosen, at any cost, to finish the job of disrupting the social balance, in their favor.
  • Those who go along with the bajocre program — ministers, deputies, magistrates, etc. — foster a growing delirium, weaken ideals, reject any zeal for perfection and strip dignity away from their spaces.
  • Emulating the mediocre, the bajocre ignore the proper balances, never make judgments on themselves, ignore criticism and remain in their comfortable refuges.
  • The bajocre shun debate with those who think differently, lead lives of insecurity and excuses, and always support themselves by disqualifying others.


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The Panama News blog links, July 20, 2016


The Panama News blog links

Splash 24/7, Expanded Panama Canal retakes market share

Miami Herald, Arbitration on canal dispute to begin in Miami

Ship & Bunker: Low box rates, new alliances temper carrier shift to US East Coast

La Estrella, Deuda pública crece $4,022 millones en dos años

ASEP, Tarifas eléctricas mantienen el mismo pero algunos subsidios se reducirán

TeleSur English, Panama’s teachers strike over wages and school funding

TVN, Guía para entender la huelga de docentes

La Estrella, Ocupación hotelera por debajo de 50%

Tire Business, China’s Maxam Tire opens regional branch in Panama

Eyes on Trade, Uruguay won but corporations gained against small countries

The Scotsman, Panama ‘tax-dodge’ papers still to be released to UK crime agency

The Japan Times, Panama Papers link Japan’s shady online brokers to tax havens

Caribbean News Now!, Major international bank fraud case in the Cayman Islands

Bloomberg, OECD delays statistics due to Brexit

Wise, Seed sovereignty and climate adaptation in Malawi

Video, Panama Canal watershed management

Mongabay, Experts say sustainable logging is impossible in rainforests

Phys.org, After the age of dinosaurs came the age of ant farmers

Science News, As many as 24 new species of assassin bugs

D&N, Encuesta de opinión pública panameña en Julio de 2016

Video, ¿Qué saben los que marchan en contra de la educación sexual?

La Estrella, Fallece excontralora Gioconda Torres de Bianchini

WOLA, El Salvador’s amnesty law overturned

Mongabay, Heavy toll for green and indigenous activists in Colombia

BBC, WhatsApp temporarily suspended in Brazil

Greenwald & Dau, Brazil’s largest newspaper commits fraud to boost Temer

The New York Times, World Court rejects China’s South China Sea claims

The Intercept, US military sees enemies everywhere in Africa

Khrushcheva, The strongman’s power trap

Salgado, El rol esclavizador de los medios Centroaméricanos

El-Erian, Unburdening the Facebook Generation

Coppins, Confessions of a dishonest slob

Vitale, Giuliani’s convention speech got everything wrong about policing

Baker, Is Trump serious about trade — or anything?

AEVE, Una constituyente educativa

Blades, No es solo el clima lo que está cambiando

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The global south loses big on commodities exports due to bad invoicing



South loses up to two-thirds of the value of its commodity exports due to misinvoicing

by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD)

Some commodity dependent developing countries are losing as much as 67% of their exports worth billions of dollars to trade misinvoicing, according to a fresh study by UNCTAD, which for the first time analyses this issue for specific commodities and countries.

Trade misinvoicing is thought to be one of the largest drivers of illicit financial flows from developing countries, so that the countries lose precious foreign exchange earnings, tax, and income that might otherwise be spent on development.

Released during UNCTAD’s Global Commodities Forum, the study uses data from up to two decades covering exports of commodities such as cocoa, copper, gold, and oil from Chile, Cote d’Ivoire, Nigeria, South Africa, and Zambia.

“This research provides new detail on the magnitude of this issue, made even worse by the fact that some developing countries depend on just a handful of commodities for their health and education budgets,” UNCTAD’s Secretary-General, Mukhisa Kituyi, said.

Commodity exports may account for up to 90 percent of a developing country’s total export earnings, he said, adding that the study generated fresh lines of enquiry to understand the problem of illicit trade flows.

“Importing countries and companies, which want to protect their reputations, should get ahead of the transparency game and partner with us to further research these issues,” Dr. Kituyi said.

The analysis shows patterns of trade misinvoicing on exports to China, Germany, Hong Kong (China), India, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Spain, Switzerland, the UK, US, and more.

Findings of the report include:

  • Between 2000 and 2014, underinvoicing of gold exports from South Africa amounted to $78.2 billion, or 67% of total gold exports. Trade with the leading partners exhibited the highest amounts: India ($40 billion), Germany ($18.4 billion), Italy ($15.5 billion), and the UK ($13.7 billion).
  • Between 1996 and 2014, underinvoicing of oil exports from Nigeria to the United States was worth $69.8 billion, or 24.9% of all oil exports to the United States.
  • Between 1995 and 2014, Zambia recorded $28.9 billion of copper exports to Switzerland, more than half of all its copper exports, but these exports did not show up in Switzerland’s books.
  • Between 1990 and 2014, Chile recorded $16.0 billion of copper exports to the Netherlands, but these exports did not show up in the Netherlands’ books.
  • Between 1995 and 2014, Cote d’Ivoire recorded $17.2 billion of cocoa exports to the Netherlands, of which $5.0 billion (31.3%) did not show up in the Netherlands’ books.
  • Between 2000 and 2014, underinvoicing of iron ore exports from South Africa to China was worth $3 billion.


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Castro, Change in Puerto Rico

Don Pedro
Monument to Puerto Rican Nationalist leader and martyr Pedro Albizu Campos in a park in Mayaguez, Puerto Rico. Photo by davsot.

Change in Puerto Rico

by Nils Castro, translated for ALAI by Jordan Bishop

There are times when it looks as if nothing is happening and then suddenly new events are unleashed; but while the in-depth situation makes a turn-around, even the best analysts may take time to notice it. And when their appreciations are absorbed by routine, even the left fails to escape from this trend. This is the case of what is happening with Puerto Rico now, where reality has created a dynamic that is entirely new in quality, but which even certain anti-colonialists have yet to notice.

This is reflected in the declaration of the recent 22nd meeting of such a worthy organization as the Forum of São Paulo, celebrated in San Salvador at the end of June. A usual, they repeated that “we support the heroic struggle of the Puerto Rican people for its independence and the just claim of Argentina for their sovereignty over the Malvinas Islands.” In spite of the good faith of this phrase, its scantiness makes for deficiencies. The most simple is that between the immobility of the Malvinas and the present situation of Puerto Rico there is no similarity beyond the geographical accident that both are islands. If it is related to being colonial regimes, then Aruba, Martinique and other possessions in the Caribbean should have been included.

The second error is that in the case of the Malvinas there is a question of territorial integrity, but not of self-determination of peoples. Great Britain took this land from Argentina and replaced its small population with some colonists brought from England. If their descendants were to vote on sovereignty, their choice would be for London. Puerto Rico, on the contrary, is a historic nation, where some four million people defend their own culture, which is of a purely Hispanic-American and Caribbean strain. The question here is to recover the conditions necessary in order for this people to freely decide their own destiny. This is radically distinct from the case of the Malvinas. So to put them side-by-side –- while omitting the other Antillean colonies -– creates more confusion than solidarity.

But the main problem is elsewhere. It is the omission of that fact that ten years of recession and an unpayable debt has made Puerto Rico a headache for the US government as well. This has created a crisis within the colonial political system and its parties. In face of Puerto Rican non-conformity and complaints, and the pressure of Wall Street creditors, the US authorities arrived at two definitive decisions that have annulled the regime of the so-called Associated Free State (AFS).

The first is that the US Supreme Court decreed that the island has no sovereignty, and that this pertains exclusively to the Congress in Washington. The second is that the Congress then agreed to create a Fiscal Control Board whose members will be named by the White House, which will not only manage the fiscal affairs and budget of Puerto Rico, but will reorganize the administration of the country over and above the government elected by the Puerto Ricans, in order to ensure that the vultures of Wall Street collect the enormous debt, at the expense of the people who live on the island. This converts the governor of Puerto Rico into a simple ceremonial rag doll.

The two parties that defend the colonial system — one annexationist and the other autonomist — whose inefficiency and corruption as governors of the country accumulated this debt, have lost their capacity to neutralize the population politically. In order to defend their worn-out privileges they direct their complaints and claims against the new board, but the greater part of the population already sees clearly that the cause of their social and economic drama, their unemployment and poverty, and of the discredit of the political regime, is the colonial system. The same one that, faced with the deterioration of the panorama, calls for creating this new instrument of authoritarian domination.

This in turn has brought the pro-independence party and organizations not only to their moment of greatest political growth, but also to that of the greatest progress in the construction of their unity. This means that Latin American solidarity with the independence of Puerto Rico — and the support for its actors and struggles -– needs to go beyond the usual phrases and calls for new analyses and initiatives in tune with the present demands and possibilities of the situation.


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Democrats Abroad Panama, As the GOP convenes (1)

Trump's flood
Getting through the flood waters to the July 2011 opening of the Trump Ocean Club in Panama City, a sure sign that even as a private investor Donald J. Trump is incapable of defending his own interests — let alone those of a great nation — against changing elemental forces. Photo by ElCuara.com.

A Trump presidency: what it would mean for the USA and for Panama, part 1

Climate change

In Cleveland this week, Republicans gather for their national convention in air-conditioned splendor while across much of the country people sweat out a severe heat wave. Inside the convention hall a bizarre discourse will unfold, one part of which is an argument promoted by oil and coal companies that climate change is a politically motivated hoax. It’s an argument that permeates US society and the social media. It even makes its way into high places in Panamanian public institutions.

Think of the enhanced climate change disaster that a Trump presidency would be for the United States. The national embarrassment of having the only leader of an industrialized country who denies that the climate is changing would be the smaller part of it. The US status as a leading scientific power, nurtured by the polymath geniuses Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson from the time that the republic was founded, developed since 1846 by the Smithsonian Institution, popularized among the middle class by the middle and late 19th century legislation that established free public schools and the land grant universities, mobilized for US industry in times of war and peace, bolstered by generations of noteworthy scientists immigrating from other lands, shared with the rest of the world via the Fulbright grants — all of that would be diminished and endangered. The nation’s public infrastructure defenses against rising seas, devastating storms and severe droughts would be compromised. Weird religion and greedy business practices would appear together in US courts when liability for foreseeable environmental damage that could have been reduced or prevented is attributed to God. All of the social dislocations, wars and mass migrations that climate change is already causing and which will get worse would be explained by crude ethnic and religious stereotypes, and the world would see Washington engaged in immigrant-bashing instead of joining in a well informed and well coordinated international response.

Also, think of what climate change denial in a Republican White House that’s supported by a Republican Congress would mean for Panama. Surely there would be less funding and more political interference for that leading outpost of international academia on the isthmus, the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute. When people are forced by rising seas to abandon their homes on low-lying islands in Guna Yala or Bocas del Toro, or when traditional agricultural uses of parts of Panama become untenable, or when Panamanian water systems become even more dysfunctional, Panamanians could expect lots of derision rather than much in the way of US technical help. A US government that deserts the front lines of climate change response means US citizens living in Panama being blamed by some of their neighbors for policies coming from Washington.

The American people, including those of us living in Panama, don’t need this nonsense.

For more information on Democrats Abroad Panama — the local branch here of the Democratic Party in the USA — including about our stands on issues and our efforts to register and mobilize US citizens (including Panamanian-US dual nationals) to vote in November’s US elections, contact our interim acting chair, Phil Edmonston, by email at lemonaid@earthlink.net.

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Slate for the Democrats Abroad Panama special board of directors election


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Democrats Abroad Panama invites you
to a special general membership meeting
on July 23, 2016 at 2-3 p.m.
at the Balboa Union Church
to elect a new board of directors
and to organize our part of a
Democratic victory in November

All members of Democrats Abroad can vote and participate, either by attending the meeting or by sending in your vote by email to lemonaid@earthlink.net.

(Are you a member? If you voted in the Democrats Abroad primary you surely are. If you get this email directly from Democrats Abroad you surely are. If somebody forwards you this email there may be some question — and please feel free to pass this on to fellow Democrats in Panama. If you are unsure, join Democrats Abroad before the meeting through the international level’s website, at htttp://www.democratsabroad.org/join.)

There is a slate recommended by the Nominations Committee, but nominations from the floor are proper under our bylaws.

The slate of nominees, and their brief biographies are as follows:

Board Candidates (7)

Democrats Abroad Panama Chair
Phil Edmonston, lemonaid@earthlink.net

Army Infantry Medic (1961-64) in Panama attached to the 193rd Infantry Brigade and 508th Airborne; ambulance driver transported wounded during the January 9th 1964 Panama protests, freshman graduate of Canal Zone College (1964); graduate, Bowie State College, Bowie, Maryland (1968); founder and President of the national, non-profit, Canadian Automobile Protection Association (1970-87); elected Member of the Canadian Parliament in Ottawa as MP for Quebec (1990-93); Member, Constitution Reform Committee; former Board Member of the Quebec Bar, Consumers Union; and The American Society of Panama. Board Member—Director of Missions, Balboa Union Church (2008-13) and five-year Board member of Democrats Abroad (2010-16). More details at Google “Phil Edmonston”. A writer, teacher, and broadcaster. “I believe the best leadership is teaching others to do your job, and then you move on.”

Democrats Abroad Panama Vice-Chair
Ligia Burkett, (donaldburkett59@gmail.com)

Currently, I am the Senior Financial Analyst for the Caribbean Region with The International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC). I am presently working with the Ecuadorian people to give aid to the many persons devastated by the recent earthquake. I have worked for over 20 years in the finance field, mostly for non-profits in Phoenix, Arizona. I believe that voting is a right and a duty and I would like to help with my capacity to build and administer a strong and transparent organization.

Democrats Abroad Panama Secretary
José Bonilla, bonilla.360@hotmail.com

Jose started his major education in the University of Louisville Panama Campus, where he belonged to the student government association serving as Class President. Transferred to Louisville’s main campus to pursue his bachelor in business administration emphasizing in Marketing. Thanks to his permanent resident status Jose successfully worked and studied all his time in the US. He worked in different areas: from restaurants, student housing, to website sales and banking. His last job as international debt collector. Jose became a US citizen on 2015 right before he returned to Panama to try something new. Jose is currently one of the three national team administrators at the Panama Soccer Federation where he handles all the administrative side of the national soccer teams and represents the country internationally as head of delegation.

Democrats Abroad Panama Treasurer
Eunice A. Greaves (panaeac@gmail.com)

I was born in the Republic of Panama. In 1956 I migrated to the United States to join my husband who was a member of the US Military. EDUCATION: Primary Studies Panama Rep of Panama; Secondary/High School Panama Rep of Panama; New York University Business School, Computer Sciences; and Canal Zone College Computer Programming (COBOL). ORGANIZATIONS: I have been a very active member of the American Society of Panama (AMSOC) since June 1986. I have served on the

Board of Directors as Secretary, Treasurer, and Events Coordinator. I also worked on John F. Kennedy School and Escuela Estados Unidos projects, acquiring office, kitchen and school supplies. I also chaired the Publicity and Membership Committees. A few years later, I resumed my community involvements, adding the senior citizen’s organization: “3a Edad de Betania” where I served 2 years as Treasurer. Subsequently, I was Treasurer of AMSOC for about 5 years, until 2010, then again in 2012. ACCOMPLISHMENTS: The American Society of Panama being legally recognized as a non-profit organization by two Panamanian government agencies. I currently work very closely with our accountant to ensure we are updated in the DGI.

I am an accomplished Administrator having served over 35 years as a civilian employee with the US Army in various capacities such as Statistical Analyst, Systems Analyst, Computer Programmer, Computer Technician, and several other positions. Working in these capacities, I received numerous awards, commendations and certificates of accomplishment. I am currently serving on the Membership Committee of the American Society of Panama and have been involved with Democrats Abroad Panama for almost nine years.

Democrats Abroad Panama Board Member-at-Large, Chiriqui
James Audlin, jaudlin@gmail.com

I’m a retired pastor of churches and university professor and career journalist (most notably Opinion page editor for the Poughkeepsie Journal), and here in Panama I work full-time on writing more books carefully designed never to sell enough copies to make a profit. If it’s useful, I speak Spanish fluently, live in the Volcan, Chiriqui region, and am married to a monolingual Panamanian. I admit to being a Sanders supporter, but if y’all put me on the board I would exercise that position with utter disinterest between Bernie and Hillary as candidates. And, to be frank, I have so many publishing deadlines that I need to be on the board like a hole in the head. By the way, they are incorporating our local village of Paso Ancho, and I got elected to the first government thereof, as secretary. So you can mention if you wish that I am technically now a Panamanian government bureaucrat, with incredible power and influence over my pet cat.

Democrats Abroad Panama Board Member-at-Large
Jan Woolford Carles, jan_woolford@hotmail.com

I am a young Panamanian/American who believes in bridges, not walls. Truth, not talking points, and transparency in all things. VISION: To increase value and maximize efficiency and profit by improving operational efficiencies and maximum utilization of available resources. OBJECTIVE: To obtain a position where my analytical, technical and bilingual skills can lead to success and enhance my abilities to meet any challenge. KEY FOR SUCCESS: I believe in: Personal integrity and strong leadership through training, teamwork, sharing, and recognizing the worth of others. I realize this requires continual improvement and enhanced communication skills. EDUCATION; Law and political science 2015

USMA, Panama City Panama, Ramos Generales, Insurance course 2014; INTEC, Panama City Panama; Bachelor of Arts, Communications. 2013 University of Louisville, Louisville, KY; Bachelor of Arts and science 1996-2008; Colegio de la Salle, Panama city; EXPERIENCE: Grupo Melo (094) 2014-2015. New projects: Executive, Loteria Nacional, Panama City, Panama 2010-2013, Information technology/ Web management IMA Panama City, Panama 2009, information technology support; Grupo PRO, Panama City, Panama 2008. Construction Assistant; Bicicletas Rali, Panama City, Panama 2008

Sales Associate; Empresas Carretero,Panama City, Panama Summer 2007

Manager Assistant; Rali Sports , Panama City, Panama Summer 2006, Sales Associate: HONORS & ACTIVITIEs: WTO Ministerial Conference 2007

Panama International Forum; Speed-Reading & Comprehension Course 2003

Panama City, Panama; LANGUAGES: Spanish (native speaker), English (fluent); SKILLS: Marketing, Communications, professional sales, consumer behavior , Microsoft Office Proficiency, technology, and strong leadership

Democrats Abroad Board Member-at-Large
Donald Burkett, donaldburkett59@gmail.com

Retail Sales Administrator. Ten years of retail sales experience demonstrating track record of outstanding sales, merchandising and customer service results. Equally strong qualifications in all areas of convenient store: inventory control, training, security and other functions. Effective communicator, leader and problem solver who builds teamwork and possesses the initiative to exceed goals. Able to perform well under stress.

Substitute Teacher/Teacher. Followed the instructions left by the teachers or alert the administrator if there are no plans to follow. Carried out the instructions of the regular teacher, including grading daily papers and leaving a summary of work covered. Maintain a positive learning atmosphere in the classroom. Employed kinesthetic (tactile learning), visual, and auditory approach to make lessons interesting and interactive. Utilized relevant equipment and organized student-led group sharing. Enhanced student academic and social growth by using varied teaching strategies and techniques to provide solid academic foundation.

Assistant Camp Director. Responsible for camp operations and scheduled camp instructors during session. Taught and develop a lesson plan on daily living and financial responsibilities. Facilitated reality therapy counseling in wilderness program for serious juvenile delinquents. Coordinated instructions on outdoor skills such as overnight backpacking and wilderness survival. Coordinated and facilitated the logistics of extra-curricular activities, such as boot camp training, rock climbing, swimming, paintballing, arts and crafts. Coordinated counseling/problem-solving session for adolescent issues. Mediator for camp personnel disagreements. Coordinated camp emergencies.

Child Support Enforcement Officer. Analyzed and interpreted financial data used to calculate debts owed and payments applied; interpret court orders and worked independently.

Examined new and existing data for accuracy; made financial adjustments as needed for maintenance of fiscal records and assist to ensure accurate disbursement and distribution of child support payments.

Applied law, policy, procedures, regulations and rules to work assignments, built and maintained interpersonal relationships.

Master in Arts /Elementary Education – Partially completed, University of Phoenix, Phoenix AZ;

Bachelor of Science, Business Administration, University of Phoenix, Phoenix AZ;

Substitute Teaching Certificate, AZ Department of Education;

Accredited Foster Family Home, AZ Department of Economic Security.

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Deliver the word, fellow Democrats — so many of our neighbors here in Latin America would see it as a rare privilege to be able to vote against Donald Trump. It’s our job to get the American citizens, including the dual US-Panamanian nationals, to register and vote.


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Editorials: End the churches’ veto on sex education; and Today’s Republicans


What do those who marched against it know about the Law 61 sex education proposal?
A Spanish-language video report by Mauricio Valenzuela and Hugo Vera.


Time to take away the churches’ veto on sex education

Astroturf is imitation grassroots. Astroturf is a march against sex education in the public schools, largely composed of religious school students and their marching bands whom religious authorities have drafted into the cause. Astroturf is the draftees and the true believers marching through the drizzle and the reverends of would be mega-churches that they hope will pay very high salaries riding in an SUV. Astroturf is a political campaign that, notwithstanding the Bible’s injunctions about about bearing false witness, is founded upon lies about the sex education programs that are contemplated. Astroturf is about a significant but relatively small minority of the population insisting on a “consensus” that allows them to veto any public policy reaction to the on average 32 teenage girls who get pregnant every day.

Sex education in the schools is a no-brainer, and proposed Law 61 is a modest and way overdue step in that direction — a giant stride for Panama in the face of bad faith objections and scare tactics that have worked here for many years. But then, followers possessed of faith without brains is a lucrative business for some.


Trump is a symptom, but the problem is the GOP

I’d much rather find out whether or not anchor babies are citizens because a lot of people don’t think they are. We’re going to test it out.
Donald Trump


Donald Trump has “moved toward the middle” — of the Republican Party — with his choice of Indiana Governor Mike Pence as his running mate. That’s a problem for America, because Mr. Lincoln’s party is way off the deep end these days.

In the first two Republican administrations, between 1861 and 1865, Americans fought a terrible Civil War in which more than 600,000 people were killed. In the aftermath of that war, a republic that was Republican-dominated at the time passed the 13th, 14th and 15th amendments to the US Constitution. The 13th banned slavery and the 15th banned discrimination against former slaves. The most far-reaching of the post-Civil War amendments protected people from punishment by the states without due process of law, extended federal concepts of equal protection under the law to states and provided that every person born in the United States is a citizen of both the United States and any state in which she or he might reside.

Donald Trump promises to defy the constitutional principle of birthright citizenship, using racist slurs to justify it. Mike Pence also sponsored legislation while he was a member of Congress to define away that right.

In Congress, and repeatedly as governor of Indiana, Pence has promoted unconstitutional measures to establish his personal religious views — he’s a convert to a particularly hardcore sort of Evangelical Protestantism — that bar business dealings with homosexuals, insurance companies covering birth control services, and of course, abortion under any circumstances.

The old conservatism of avoiding anything too novel, paying for government programs as one goes rather than running up debts, maintaining the rule of law and paying attention to the traditional views of the broad mainstream of “Middle America” are out the GOP window these days. Today’s Republicans are the party of mass imprisonment, race baiting, gay bashing and female servitude. Their latest platform plank, a gesture to the Bundy family and the “sovereign citizen” and “patriot” militias who outright reject the validity of the 13th, 14th and 15th amendments, is to privatize most of the federal lands in the western part of the country — including the national parks that were set up by a Republican president of yesteryear, Teddy Roosevelt.

It promises to be an ugly presidential race between two unpopular major party nominees, but there is and will be a difference. The United States might muddle along by making a few changes around the margins to a corrupt and dysfunctional system that many American, probably most Americans, dislike. The Republican alternative is a return to the plantation economy.


Bear in mind…

It may be necessary temporarily to accept a lesser evil, but one must never label a necessary evil as good.
Margaret Mead


The best means to prepare citizens to satisfy their future responsibilities as those who are governed or those who govern is to make use of the right to an education.
Ricardo J. Alfaro


Every new opinion, at its starting, is precisely in a minority of one
Thomas Carlyle


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