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¿Wappin? Music in both languages ~ Música en ambas lenguas

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Billy Paul
The late great Billy Paul in Tunisia, 2006.

¿Wappin? Music to use to learn a second language ~
Música para usar para aprender una segunda lengua

Billy Paul – Me and Mrs. Jones
https://youtu.be/Hj_2UE09HOw

Romeo Santos – Propuesta Indecente
https://youtu.be/N7RPw6zY440

Carole King – It’s Too Late
https://youtu.be/3KbmbYVHy-o

Carla Morrison – Hasta la Piel
https://youtu.be/SA460t4fTbo

Adele – Set Fire to the Rain
https://youtu.be/-Q6kGgVWmo8

Café Tacvba – Quiero Ver
https://youtu.be/jxh9h9hE5T0

Jerry Garcia – Ruben and Cherise
https://youtu.be/rvlnKc1mfxw

Shakira – Quiero
https://youtu.be/M7vkh9Fm8YA

The Pretenders – Creep
https://youtu.be/z5YbycmxYxc

Sin Bandera – Kilómetros
https://youtu.be/PXE28BW8TBE

REM – Losing My Religion
https://youtu.be/Zyb9GFV9ACo

Atahualpa Yupanqui – Preguntitas Sobre Dios
https://youtu.be/hSvk0gjWnlM

Avril Lavigne – Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door
https://youtu.be/a4o8JlkPQtg

Carlos Vives – La Tierra del Olvido
https://youtu.be/jK2XdXJvSTk

Mark Knopfler – Brothers in Arms
https://youtu.be/a4o8JlkPQtg

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Harrington, Unambiguous transparency?

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Paris
French Minister of Finance Michel Sapin and Panamanian Minister of Economy and Finance Dulcidio De La Guardia met in Paris on April 25. Both governments sounded upbeat about exchanging information but few details were offered. Photo by the Ministry of Foreign Relations.

“Une transparence sans ambigüité”

by Kevin Harrington-Shelton

To an open government activist, it is a perverse godsend that the “Varela Papers” have focused (unprecedented) global coverage on a country whose truly-significant problems have historically been resolved from abroad. As media groups profit from a relationship with government in any closely-knit society, value is added by the flow of information enhanced by foreign journalists on the ground. Thomas Jefferson’s dictum about preferring newspapers to governments simply does not make sense here, because in Panama newspapers ARE governments.

Two years into president Juan Carlos Varela’s five-year term his inability to deliver even the most basic services — those dealing with public health which made the Canal possible in our tropical environment — can be actually seen in the garbage piling up on empty lots and in natural rainwater drainage courses, not to mention the many communities blocking roads all over the country, to draw attention to deficits in drinking water.

What it most evident otherwise is the breakdown of the rule of law. Corruption is rife, and only lip service is paid to the existing sunshine legislation designed to minimize it. That was evident this week. By law, interim progress reports on the Panama Canal expansion should have been submitted on the floor of the National Assembly. It was, nonetheless, delivered to a select committee hearing. The difference is simple but significant: full sessions are broadcast nationwide on live radio and television — the committee hearings are not. The public is thus woefully underinformed as to the workings of its country hallmark asset. Despite existing legislation.

But at least such things are visible. As the French have now found with many other things, the real harm is mostly invisible.

Case in point is US Ambassador John Feeley’s interview in La Prensa on April 24, 2016. Tantamount to a political endorsement, this came hard on the heels of a Dichter & Neira (April 19) poll, documenting a slide in Mr. Varela’s approval rating persistent since February – long before his mismanagement of the offshore fracas. Surprisingly, 78 percent carried a negative opinion about his transparency. The president virtually-assumed ownership of the papers on April 4 (by declaring his close personal relationship to the mentioned law firm). Despite a professional offshore damage control consultancy, Varela’s lack of judgement was highlighted in dissembling about that relationship in The New York Times on April 11. He wrote: “this particular trove of documents came from a single law firm based in Panama.” In the event he overlooked disclosing that Mossack & Fonseca was no run of the mill firm. From the onset of his administration, Mr. Ramón Fonseca had sat in cabinet as a duly appointed minister-without-portfolio — and thus privy to policy debated behind closed doors — to the exclusion of 20,000 other Panamian lawyers, with less colorful client portfolios. And this, without implying any malfeasance whatever, affords at least the appearance of a conflict of interest (which should not have been overlooked on his appointment).

In denial facing mounting international media coverage, the President traveled to receive an orchid named after him (“Dendrobium Juan Carlos and Lorena Varela”) presented by the world-class Singapore Botanical Garden.

During his absence, ambassador Feeley went public. Only recently arrived, Mr. Feeley is attempting to fit the “campechano” persona of an earlier ambassador, Joseph S. Farland, who rolled up his sleeves and left Panama City´s diplomatic circles to make his personality felt in every corner of the country, in implementing John F. Kennedy’s “Alliance for Progress.” It is held that the 1964 riots might not have materialized, had Republican Farland not been hounded out by President Lyndon B. Johnson’s Foggy Bottom. But those were other times, and Feeley’s La Prensa timing was not a good idea. Sensitivities to meddling when Panamanians sort out their problems are reflected in an idiom acknowledging “los verdaderos dueños del circo”. Although Mr. Ambassador is indeed to be congratulated for going out on a limb, calling for the level playing fields amongst corporate services industries in Panama, Nevada, Wyoming, and Delaware (just ahead of the new dump of documents scheduled for May 9). He had hinted at this notion generally in his maiden speech in Panama, so specifying these specific states is welcome. Albeit achieving them is well beyond his remit.

Not so, another tranche on his mission statement: “expandir la prosperidad de Panamá y EU, al explotar nuestros acuerdos del Tratado de Promoción Comercial”. This hard to swallow. Embassy statistics show how in FY 2015 Panama imported 19 times more physical goods by value, than it exported to the United States, and Panama will forego some $300 million in customs revenue annually. That could pick up a lot of garbage.

The ambassador should be wary, not take at face value everything he hears about transparency. And not just from his staff here. Secretary John Kerry´s 2015 Human Rights Report states in error that Panamanian Cabinet papers are secret; in reality the current Transparency Law’s Article 14, section 8 does allow for a material exception regarding government contracts, like FINMECCANICA anti-drug materiele. It´s just that no one pays it no mind; the Torrijos, Martinelli, and Varela administrations simply looked the other way, forgetting Thomas Paine’s common sense: “it is error only — not truth — that shrinks from inquiry.”

The ambassador does no one any favors by repeatedly referring to his “commitment to transparency,” as President Varela has not even approved structuring it, even on his watch. “It’s a fact in the Library of Congress,” that to date our Transparency Law has no implementing bylaws — none whatsoever.

Despite a law has been on the books since 2001, it gave rise recently to two diametrically opposed Supreme Court rulings. Truly mindboggling – even by Panama standards. The one same set of nine magistrates unanimously granted a writ of mandamus on a FOIA request. But they unanimously denied another. Both requests were identical and submitted on the very same dates. The only difference was that one petitioned the Minister of the Presidency, the other the Minister of Public Security. Both ministries had failed to comply within the 30-day timeframe mandated by the Constitution itself. The presidency was left inured. To his credit, Minister of Public Security Rodolfo Aguilera Franceschi complied with the mandamus against him in a proper and timely fashion.

Varela and his offshore crisis will pass. But it is institutions which must endure in order for a country to survive.

 

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Panama’s fraud-friendly information controls

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iForex
Politicans here get livid whenever some fool flies the Panamanian flag backwards. The indignation does not extend to the use of Panama’s flag to promote dubious financial propositions.

In search of Panamanian business information

by Eric Jackson

Last year a private investigator in Arizona for whom I had worked before hired me to look into an apparently Panama-connected organized crime story. I put time and money into the search, for which the guy never paid me. But chalk it up as a learning experience, and one that becomes relevant in the background as the Panama Papers scandals involved.

The complaint was that a client claimed to have been swindled by online currency trading companies, the two in particular being called iForex and bForex, both with a Panama connection, apparently connected to one another, both present in many countries and rumored to have a shadowy Israeli overlord in charge.

Well, OK. First acknowledge and set aside my political biases. I have been a supporter of the cause of an independent Palestinian state for all of my adult life and am a much stronger critic of the Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands than is generally acceptable in the world of US politics. There are folks who say that this makes me some sort of Nazi. It doesn’t, but if I am going to do honest work I really do need to look at things as they come up and avoid playing “gotcha” with Israel, let alone run a research pogrom against Jews.

I never did find a big boss man, Israeli or otherwise. Or maybe I did run across such a person, but could not get the definitive goods that would allow me to ethically identify him or her as such. It appears that the forex racket is disreputable in Israeli popular culture and subject to increasingly severe regulations in Israel.

Time and again the trails of my searches from various angles would lead to Eastern Europe, Russia itself, or to Russian emigre mobsters. A lot of these trails also went through Spain, particularly Barcelona, where Russian gangsters are part of the criminal underworld. The Russian Mob is multi-ethnic, but does reputedly control much of Israel’s organized crime.

The thing is, it’s a misnomer to talk about THE Russian Mob. The phenomenon may be consolidating, but it spread far and wide as the Soviet Union was falling, was fragmented in Russia and its empire from the start and atomized as it spread to other places. (We have Russian mobsters here in Panama and they have taken over much of the prostitution and human trafficking rackets.) Talking about a singular Russian Mob would be analogous to talking about a singular Latin American Drug Cartel — or for that matter, a singular Panamanian legal enterprise that sets up money laundering shells. In each case the reality is scenes in which distinct players rise, fall, merge, split, compete and cooperate, many of which players would like to be the big boss man and some of whom delude themselves into believing that they are such.

Back to the corporate paper trail: are iForex and bForex the same thing? I found some people who had those companies in common — certain cutouts working at Panamanian law firms and certain salespeople representing themselves online as working from a number of different countries stand out — but I never saw an organizational chart connecting the two, nor could I compile the information to truthfully construct such a thing.

However, there is a bigger problem with looking up international companies in Panama. Here you can register a company with the same name as a famous or obscure company elsewhere. In most jurisdictions this is not allowed because it lends itself to fraud and is itself a form of identity theft. Tell that to the Registro Publico.

The so-called “mirror companies” that are allowed in Panama are sometimes even used to run frauds within Panama — a bogus outfit calling run by Canadians and calling itself “London Asset Management” in imitation of the more established “Royal London Asset Management” stole more than $1 million from Canadian and American expats here, and as has been the usual practice was laughed off by prosecutors because the vicims were foreigners.

So when I found that “iFOREX, S.A.” was a registered Panamanian company between 2006 and 2009, was it THE iForex?

Then there was the December 23, 2013 Securities Market Superintendency (SMV) warning — oh so classically timed for when nobody would be paying attention — that “the company named BFOREX LTD, registered before the Public Registry of Companies in the British Virgin Islands, is not registered before the Public Registry of Panama, has not been issued any kind of license by the SMV, nor has been authorized to carry on activities of intermediation, administration, or advisory in securities, financial instruments or forex, in or from the Republic of Panama, within the scope of the Securities Law. But was it THE bForex for which I was supposed to look?

In the registry, the one iFOREX, S.A. dignitary who did not seem to be some legal secretary was hard to trace beyond that. Was it a fictitious name?

As the SMV pointed out, bForex never was registered here. But the registry has things like “B STOCKS, S.A.” and “B DERIVATIVES” that were organized by the same law firm that registered iFOREX, S.A., Troncoso & Asociados. Following these leads you get into rabiblanco personalities related to several Panamanian presidents and major movers and shakers on Panama’s Bolsa de Valores securities exchange.

So, if the SMV put out a warning on BFOREX LTD because they were purporting to do business in Panama, a logical next step in the investigation would be to look at that file, to see who was representing them and from which physical address, telephone number, email address or website. Such things might cross-index with other things.

So I went into the city, went down to the SMV, told the receptionist that I wanted to see the file, or at least find out the address and so on from which the warned-about company was operating, and was told to sit down. Not too much later a man expensively dressed and bejeweled as you would not expect a civil servant to be came out and told me that all SMV investigations are confidential and I couldn’t get any information. Actually, when you look at the law there is wide discretion about which information is public and which is not. You would think that if a public warning was issued, the details about from whence and by whom an illegal operation was being run would be in the public domain.

But this is Panama.

 

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Editorial, A jihad without Americans?

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Aleppo
Forget those slogans about “terror,” against which war might be waged. Real terror is flight amidst death and destruction, with every instinct to scream but with vocal chords frozen by fright. This was yesterday in Aleppo, after a Syrian government airstrike.

What if they gave a jihad and no Americans came?

And they utterly destroyed all that was in the city, both man and woman, young and old, and ox, and sheep, and ass, with the edge of the sword.
Joshua 6:21
Describing the destruction of Jericho, circa 1400 BC

 

I flayed as many nobles as had rebelled against me and draped their skins over the pile of corpses; some I spread out within the pile, some I erected on stakes upon the pile…. I flayed many right through my land and draped their skins over the walls.
Ashurnasirpal II
King of Assyria 883 – 859 BC

 

I saw them take babies from their cots and cut off their feet with knives. They cut their throats. Then they threw them in the air and the babies fell onto their knives. When I saw them do this, I knew I couldn’t help anybody, that I could only try to save myself.
Yepraksi Gevorgyan
Survivor of the 1915 Armenian Genocide

 

I heard whizzing for a moment, then came the explosion. It was a huge explosion inside the yard. The sky turned red. I didn’t realize at that moment it was an airstrike and still now also can’t believe it — it’s like a nightmare that plays before my eyes.
Muhammad Jamal Saleh Ghouba al-Sanabani
Survivor of a 2015 Saudi airstrike on a village in Yemen

 

What sort of fool believes that US forces can implant American values in the Middle East? Yes, the United States might participate in international efforts to punish war criminals and suppress inhuman forces that offend the values of all humanity. No, that region is not going to accept US notions of freedom and democracy — all of which are challenged, disputed and degraded in the USA itself — under the compulsion of drone strikes, clever alliances in the region or the seductions of “soft power.” Americans would be well advised to vote against any candidate for a US federal office who suggests otherwise.

But throughout all of US history there have been people from that region who dreamed the American Dream, and many of them came to the USA to be Americans. Most of these were good citizens who added their muscle and intellect to the building of a great nation.

Is there something to be done about the horrors of the Middle East? Providing refuge from those sorts of nightmares is the traditional American role. With relatively few exceptions it has worked well and still does.

Drone warfare? Special operations units? Mercenaries? Alliances in which America lavishes money and weapons on vicious bigots, pompous dictators and pretentious kleptocrats? Been there, done that and there is little worthwhile to show for it.

Should the likes of the Islamic State leaders be brought to justice? Of course they should be, and one of the things that the United States should do to advance that cause is to submit itself to the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court and insist that all of humanity must do likewise.

Are there human beings who are suffering, to whom Americans owe a moral duty of protection? It’s the world’s duty and the Americans should shoulder a fair part of the burden.

But these are not America’s wars. Whether governments of the Muslim world should be secular, Sunni or Shia is not a US concern. Whether and how Iraq or Syria ought to be partitioned are not decisions that should be made in Washington. This is not a matter of isolationism, but of moral and practical guidelines for a positive US role in the world.

 

Bear in mind…

Women live in a time of transition, of longings and of redemption.
Clara González

 

Useful manual labor, intelligently performed, is the means par excellence for developing the intellect.
Mohandas K. Gandhi

 

We have made the revolution that we could make and not the one that we wished to make.
Fidel Castro

 

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When you are a crime victim in a foreign land…

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Joe
Some persuasion over a land title in Haiti, where a US-led military intervention and long occupation allegedly restored the rule of law.

What US authorities can do is limited, but their form letter prose can be inspiring

by Joe Cross

[Editor’s note: Joe Cross is one of the many occasional contributors to The Panama News whose work has given this publication a broader and more astute outlook. From boxing coverage to tales of smuggling on the Paraguay-Argentina-Brazil Triple Border to violence between Palestinians and Israelis (and among Jews) in the West Bank town of Hebron, to notes from Damascus and Kiev, he has kept the readers and the editor apprised of various situations over the years. He also owns real estate and businesses in Haiti, which notwithstanding a long US-led occupation is sliding ever deeper into chaos. In the confusion a move is on to grab some beachfront property from him, which has led to various legal skirmishes and a severe beating that now has Joe back in New York for surgery over head injuries. Joe was in touch with the American Embassy and consulate in Haiti over the situation and like many Americans who fall victim to crimes overseas learned how little diplomats can actually do. American Citizen Services? The tale which the exchange of messages below first came to my Facebook page with a message that read: “Still in Haiti. Almost killed. American Citizens Services is the most Orwellian modern thing out there. They sent me a form letter that was hilarious under the circumstances.”]

Dear Ambassador Peter Mulrean,

I am hesitant to write to you – but don’t have many options. Subsequent to our being introduced by Richard Morse at my hotel, the Hotel Florita in Jacmel, on Saturday March 26. I was attacked on my beachfront property in Ti-Mouillage, Caye-Jacmel, Sud-Est. My land, 2.13 carreaux, was bought by me in 1999 – from Americans who purchased it in 1973. My ownership was never questioned until 2013 – when the land became valuable. (It’s current value is approximately $500,000).

The current state of affairs is that although it has been seized it cannot be sold. But that is precisely what I am facing now and I cannot delay taking action. It is now being sold.

My former attorney was clearly complicit in this and will not return the Deed or any part of the file and is demanding $100,000 for the return of the documents. Subsequent attempts to regain physical possession had been unsuccessful, although I have been represented by law firms in both Port-au-Prince and Jacmel. Unfortunately it seems to be “bad form” for a Haitian lawyer to go up against a fellow attorney. (I briefly retained a very prominent lawyer – who told me this protocol prevented him from “interfering” in the affairs of another attorney.)

A week ago I went with the manager of the Florita and our carpenter to the property to take down the posts put up to facilitate the sale of the land. We were attacked by four armed men. My head was split open while they decided what to do with us. I was known to them and my nationality seemed not to be a deterrent. I suffered a concussion. I have received death threats and the threatened destruction of my hotel. I am not a fearful person but these are things I cannot entirely disregard. My neighbor had his land and vacation house similarly seized and when he attempted to return to it he was chased off his property with a similar warning not to return. His house was subsequently razed – and the failure of local authorities to intervene has emboldened these people – and there hirelings – to the point that they feel they do as they like without having to concern themselves with repercussions.

Although the perpetrators in the attack have been identified and the police know their whereabouts no arrests have been made. They are considered “armed and dangerous” so it has been indicated that it will be expensive to have them arrested. And even if they are arrested they are only employees of the family (formerly politically connected) that is responsible.

Any assistance that you might be able to provide will be very much appreciated.

My suggesting that the Embassy can help in what is a private matter is perhaps naive but I don’t feel I have many options. I have been in Haiti since 1982 and heard that the American Embassy was occasionally able to involve itself in the affairs of Americans who find themselves victims of crimes of this nature. So I am hoping to hear your suggestions regarding this matter. (Richard Morse told me that he was aided through Vice-President Joe Biden’s office when he felt that he and his family – and the Oloffson – were similarly endangered but I unfortunately have no connection that could possibly assist me.)

My best regards to your family – and hope to see you again in Jacmel at a more tranquil time. I am not usually reduced to having to seek the help of busy people who innocently happened to have stopped in for lunch at my hotel!

Please feel certain that while I will be grateful for any suggestions or assistance I have hesitated in asking you for help and only do so as I feel I have exhausted other available options.

Very sincerely,

Joe Cross

~~

Dear Joe,

I’m very sorry to hear about your troubles and particularly concerned about the potential risk you are running of physical attack. I have copied our Consul General, Bob Hannan, on this message, as he is responsible for American citizen services at our embassy and can follow up with a more detailed message.

Sincerely,

Peter

Peter F. Mulrean
Ambassador
U.S. Embassy Port au Prince

~~

Dear Peter,

Thank you.

We had visitors this morning. Things are going to get quite ugly very quickly. We are being threatened and taunted as “our” lawyer, Maitre Ephesian Joissaint, has the original of the deed and we can therefore do nothing, failing to get us to pay $100,000 is getting a percentage from each sale. There can be no further delay.

This is happening to many people who own beachfront property – including other Americans.

Quite simply: we need help.

Joe

… and things did get worse, leading to this form letter:

ACS form letter

 

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Panama Papers stories ebb, but a tide’s coming in

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PP Spain
A nation’s media running special series with banner headlines like this would generally be toxic to any political party. Spain’s Partido Popular will face a June 26 vote after recent elections produced a parliament too fragmented to form a coalition government. The Partido Popular — former Christian Democrats — had already been battered by scandals and a bad economy, which is why they were not re-elected as the ruling party in the last elections. But for lack of anyone mustering a majority to replace them they remained as a caretaker government. Appearing amidst that tenuous predicament, the Panama Papers leaks revealed that Industry Minister José Manuel Soria has a shell company set up by Mossack Fonseca. He denied any wrongdoing and refused to answer questions, including in the normal legislative question period. His party leader Mariano Rajoy backed him in this stand, arguing that ministers in a caretaker government don’t have to answer questions. That did not go over well with Spaniards and Soria had to resign. But if the revelations hurt the right-hand side of the old two-party paradigm, the naming of the wife of former Socialist prime minister Felipe González as a Mossack Fonseca client may have balanced the damage. Moreover, it’s the Spanish Socialist Workers Party (PSOE) that has been most intransigent in coalition talks, which is usually a recipe for defeat if back-to-back elections become necessary. And might the king have finessed the situation? The problem is, members of the royal family have also been named. Look for the next wave of document releases to further damage both the Populares and the Socialists, and maybe some of the smaller parties as well.

The Panama Papers: ebb tide, busy shredders and the next wave

by Eric Jackson

The International Consortium of Investigative Journnalists says that on the afternoon of May 9 our time it will release most of the information in the 11.5 million documents from the Mossack Fonseca law firm that were given to them about one year ago. The data will be available at this online address. Such personal data as residential addresses, telephone numbers, email addresses and photographs will be withheld, and it’s not entirely clear what sort of search feature will accompany the released documents. So far the documents have only been available to selected reporters from 107 mostly corporate mainstream media in 78 countries, but the release will put the data at the disposal of activists and the small alternative media, who are likely to search for and publish things according to different criteria. Look for another major wave of revelations in the middle of May.

The initial high tide of revelations destroyed several political careers and perhaps compromised others. Iceland’s prime minister was forced to resign. Spain’s industry minister and lesser officials in several countries were also among the early casualties. British Prime Minister David Cameron was caught in evasions about the nature of his inherited fortune. About a dozen other heads of state, most from repressive regimes, were either personally named or implicated by involvements of people close to them.

Not all of the spins applied by news media with access to the documents added up to convincing cases. If Vladimir Putin was the first big name highlighted, clear proof was not shown of the Russian strongman’s personal misconduct. US funding for the stories naming him made the still rather damning suggestions less sticky than they might have been. A clearly hypocritical Icelandic prime minister having been replaced but Iceland’s long-serving president is probably in less jeopardy from revelations that his wife’s parents once owned a shell company set up by Mossack Fonseca.

Then there is the document by which the Panamanian law firm alerted its Guayaquil office that in 2012 then attorney general José Ayú Prado had directed his anti-corruption prosecutors to investigate suspected embezzlement of public funds by Ecuador’s president, Rafael Correa. Had something damaging to Correa been found we surely would have heard about it. Might the fact that such an investigation was undertaken by a character beholden to the disreputable Martinelli administration explain at least in part why the United States is now harboring the fugitive Ricardo Martinelli?

In the former Soviet Union and what was its sphere of influence, opaque regimes, controlled media and jaded electorates are the norm so the leaders outed for their Mossack Fonseca ties apparently don’t outwardly appear to be much affected. The same applies in Saudi Arabia and most of the Arab world.

Authoritarian China, however, is going well out of its way to ban the story, which touches the families of a number of Politburo members. A Hong Kong editor lost his job for a story mentioning several local politicians with Mossack Fonseca dealings, and perhaps worse, such business leaders as Li Ka-shing, whose Hutchison Whampoa ports company runs the ports of Cristobal and Balboa here in Panama. The Chinese Internet is being carefully filtered to exclude any mention of the whole Panama Papers affair. Kevin Harrington, a frequent contributor to The Panama News and once upon a time Panama’s consul in London, perceives a Chinese tie to the UK response as well: “In mainland China one pays for corruption at the wall. The problem is that the British Virgin Islands is where the families of the Beijing Politburo nest their money, which they can’t justify. London doesn’t want to be on the bad side of the Politburo, so it is ensuring that the BVI doesn’t release anything about THESE Chinese.” So Mr. Cameron has rushed to put exceptions into his much publicized offensive against money laundering that would for the most part shield the UK’s overseas possessions. The question is whether London or Beijing will be able to hold the line when the bulk of the Panama Papers database becomes available for public perusal and further agitation.

As the stories dwindled down to the indirect, inconsequential or successfully resisted a few significant smaller waves did break. Based on Panama Papers data, on April 22 police in Montevideo rounded up 11 people thought to be related to the Jalisco New Generation Cartel’s laundering of their Mexcian drug profits in Uruguayan real estate. Five of these individuals are to be charged with money laundering and if the allegations stick then the established line about not touching money or people related to the drug trade has been overstepped by Mossack Fonseca. On the same day at a Mossack Fonseca office in Parque Lefevre, Panamanian prosecutors swooped down on a store room that had its windows blocked with cardboard to secure and seize a huge cache of documents, including 10 jumbo plastic garbage bags of shredded papers. It will take some time and funding to reassemble, read and scan the mutilated papers but if that is done and, for example, the shredded items include documents about dealings with drug cartels, then there could be far-reaching legal consequences both in Panama and abroad. One might expect that the law firm’s offices in Miami and Las Vegas would be shut down by US authorities if those sorts of proofs emerge.

It seems that US political castes and economic plutocrats preferred other Panamanian law firms to set up their money laundering shell games. Law firms featuring partners who has served as diplomats in Washington would have the inside track with American politicians and those firms sporting Anglo surnames would perhaps have been more reassuring to the many unilingual American tax cheats possessed of much more money than brains. Mossack Fonseca is far from the only place in Panama from which money laundering shell corporations and the organizational paraphernalia that go with them can be bought.

However, it is promised that on May 9 a major trove of documents related to Nevada corporations organized by Mossack Fonseca will come into public view. It may thus become an election year political issue, either as a matter of appeals like “We have to cut US ties with sordid foreign kleptocrats,” or accusatory questions like “Where did my opponent get the money to play these Mossack Fonseca shell games?” or the more likely “See the sleazy people who donate to THAT campaign.” There has already been a bit of commentary about the Mossack Fonseca dealings of some of the people distantly tied to the Clintons, but no documents that have come to light so far indicate wrongdoing by members of that family or those in their political inner circle. Still, look for the further releases to generate more bad publicity for the very rich and powerful of US society, stuff that may not topple leading candidates but will further discredit the social circles in which they run.

 

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Hightower, The nation’s most desirable criminals

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Bankster cardCrime can pay if it’s big enough

by Jim Hightower OtherWords.com

Wow, $5 billion.

That’s the stunning amount Goldman Sachs has agreed to pay to settle federal criminal charges over its shameful financial scams, which helped wreck America’s economy in 2008. That’s a lot of gold, even for Goldman.

Yet the Wall Street powerhouse says it’s “pleased” to swallow this sour slug of medicine. Is that because its executives are contrite? Oh, come on — banksters don’t do contrite.

Rather, they’re pleased with the settlement. Thanks to backroom dealing with friendly prosecutors, it’s riddled with loopholes that may eliminate nearly $2 billion from the publicized punishment.

For example, the deal calls for the felonious bank to put a quarter-billion dollars into an affordable housing program. But generous federal negotiators put incentives and credits in the fine print that will let Goldman escape with paying out less than a third of that.

Also, about $2.5 billion of the settlement is to be paid to consumers hurt by the financial crisis. Yet the deal lets the bank deduct almost $1 billion of this payout from its corporate tax. That means you and I will subsidize Goldman’s payment.

As a bank reform advocate told The New York Times, the problem with these settlements “is that they are carefully crafted more to conceal than to reveal to the American public what really happened here.”

One more reason Wall Street bankers privately wink and grin at these seemingly huge punishments is that even paying the full $5 billion would be perfectly manageable. To you and me, it sounds like a crushing sum — but Goldman Sachs raked in over $33 billion in revenue last year alone. For them, it’s a reasonable cost of doing business.

After all, Goldman sold tens of billions of dollars’ worth of fraudulent investment packages leading to the settlement. The bottom line is that crime can pay, if it’s big enough.

 

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PanCanal draft restrictions in effect

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dry
The drought is a regional phenomenon across Central America, northern South America and the Caribbean, part of an El Niño event with different effects elsewhere on the planet. For a canal that operates on fresh water flowing by gravity from reservoirs into locks, it’s a major industrial problem.

PanCanal draft restrictions in effect

by Eric Jackson

Ships passing through the Panama Canal are not allowed to ride as low in the water as they might. On March 26, for the first time in 18 years, canal draft restrictions went into effect. Ships that used to be allowed a 39.5-foot draft may now only take a 39-foot draft, and if nature doesn’t replenish the water in the Panama Canal Watershed the maximum allowable draft will be reduced in six-inch increments. It means that ships designed to use the canal’s ordinary limits will have to carry less cargo in order to ride higher in the water, a substantial economic hit to shipping lines.

It isn’t sudden news, as the canal can’t very well tell a ship already en route that its cargo is too heavy. Or at least, that’s the traditional thinking. It is possible, although it’s costly, for an overloaded ship to offload some of its cargo at one of the ports by the canal, ship it across the isthmus by rail and pick it up again after passing through the waterway. The cost there would be both port and railroad fees and the probably much greater expense of lost time. Thus the warnings about draft restrictions started coming from the ACP months ago and the specific notices weeks ago.

From where these words are written on the morning of April 27 in a dry area of Cocle province, the skies are overcast for the third straight day and in that time the dry season winds have ceased their howling out of the north. However, in this place we have not had any rainstorms yet this year. Other parts of Panama have had rain, but far less than usual.

ACP note
The Panama Canal Authority does give timely notice of draft restrictions. This notice is not for the temporary limit that was imposed on April 26, but of the more severe one that would go into effect two steps from now.

 

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The problem with Panama…

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ACP 1
A recent ACP forum on this country’s future as a logisics hub was these people talking…

Panama’s big problem

as shown by these photos from the ACP magaine, El Faro

These photos come from a logistics forum in January, but now that the discussion has turned toward damage control in the wake of the Panama Papers leaks, we see comparable scenes. Mostly to limit embarrassment but also as a function of Latin America’s concepts of race that are markedly different from those in the USA, the censuses here do not take data on race. Most Panamanians are of mixed race. White people are a small minority, 10 percent or less depending on how one wants to define the concept. But among those who are consulted and who make the decisions regarding our nation’s economic future….

... to this audience. Photos by the ACP / El Faro.
… to this audience. Photos by the ACP / El Faro.

 

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Bernal, Offshore government

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1 for you 19 for me
Her Majesty’s taxman’s warning — but not for the Camerons and their friends.

Offshore government

by Miguel Antonio Bernal

In the past few weeks the president and his cabinet ministers, the party leaders and pundits and the imitation legal analysts have taken it upon themselves to aggravate the offense to national dignity and Panama’s slight international standing.

First of all the difference has been shown between the principles they espouse and understand as national dignity and what these days is considered one of the structural elements of every modern state. Thus it’s important for us to take a moment to summarily consider this subject.

They, forever discarding citizen participation, have been primarily speaking up in defense of the personal interests of those most responsible for the moral damage that has been done to Panama. They’re maintaining the vices of a political system imposed in 1972, originally by the military regime and later adopted by themselves. It’s still in effect.

The problem that concerns and aggrieves us is not one that can be solved by simply applying a more refined legal technique to correct the grossest vices of our weakened public institutions.

If indeed the use of good legal techniques will eventually be necessary, this is not the main thing. The principal problem that we face is that the people who run our government lack a vision of our country. They have even less of a vision of the our country’s place in the world. The only things that our politicians can talk about are the canal, tourism, business and the money that these things mean for their Panama.

But from all these resources that have come into and are coming into Panama, who benefits? If our country is so prosperous, why don’t we invest in education instead of in the masters of spreading corruption? Why we have not developed a country where everyone can build their future while contributing to the development of their community? Consider this not only in terms of money or material goods, but in terms of solidarity, in terms of common identity, as a matter of the development of the individual and collective potentials that our people have.

Panama can’t just be a canal and an offshore government. The Panamanian people are much more than that and for this reason we urgently need an environment that allows a process of dialogue, debate and discussion, which sets aside imposition, autocracy and all the rampant corruption.

 

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