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Pope Francis in Cuba: “Small signs of God’s presence in our neighborhoods”

Pope Francis in Havana. Photo by Granma.

“Small signs of God’s presence in our neighborhoods”

Pope Francis in Holguín’s Plaza de la Revolucion

an official Vatican transcript of his homily during his Cuba visit

We are celebrating the feast of the apostle and evangelist Saint Matthew. We are celebrating the story of a conversion. Matthew himself, in his Gospel, tell us what it was like, this encounter which changed his life. He shows us an “exchange of glances” capable of changing history.

On a day like any other, as Matthew, the tax collector, was seated at his table, Jesus passed by, saw him, came up to him and said: “Follow me.” Matthew got up and followed him.

Jesus looked at him. How strong was the love in that look of Jesus, which moved Matthew to do what he did! What power must have been in his eyes to make Matthew get up from his table! We know that Matthew was a publican: he collected taxes from the Jews to give to the Romans. Publicans were looked down upon and considered sinners; as such, they lived apart and were despised by others. One could hardly eat, speak or pray with the likes of these. For the people, they were traitors: they extorted from their own to give to others. Publicans belonged to this social class.

Jesus, on the other hand, stopped; he did not quickly take his distance. He looked at Matthew calmly, peacefully. He looked at him with eyes of mercy; he looked at him as no one had ever looked at him before. And this look unlocked Matthew’s heart; it set him free, it healed him, it gave him hope, a new life, as it did to Zacchaeus, to Bartimaeus, to Mary Magdalene, to Peter, and to each of us. Even if we do not dare raise our eyes to the Lord, he looks at us first. This is our story, and it is like that of so many others. Each of us can say: “I, too, am a sinner, whom Jesus has looked upon.” I ask you, in your homes or in the Church, to be still for a moment and to recall with gratitude and happiness those situations, that moment, when the merciful gaze of God was felt in our lives.

Jesus’s love goes before us, his look anticipates our needs. He can see beyond appearances, beyond sin, beyond failures and unworthiness. He sees beyond our rank in society. He sees beyond this, to our dignity as sons and daughters, a dignity at times sullied by sin, but one which endures in the depth of our soul. He came precisely to seek out all those who feel unworthy of God, unworthy of others. Let us allow Jesus to look at us. Let us allow his gaze to run over our streets. Let us allow that look to become our joy, our hope.

After the Lord looked upon him with mercy, he said to Matthew: “Follow me.” Matthew got up and followed him. After the look, a word. After love, the mission. Matthew is no longer the same; he is changed inside. The encounter with Jesus and his loving mercy has transformed him. He leaves behind his table, his money, his exclusion. Before, he had sat waiting to collect his taxes, to take from others; now, with Jesus he must get up and give, give himself to others. Jesus looks at him and Matthew encounters the joy of service. For Matthew and for all who have felt the gaze of Jesus, other people are no longer to be “lived off,” used and abused. The gaze of Jesus gives rise to missionary activity, service, self-giving. Jesus’s love heals our short-sightedness and pushes us to look beyond, not to be satisfied with appearances or with what is politically correct.

Jesus goes before us, he precedes us; he opens the way and invites us to follow him. He invites us slowly to overcome our preconceptions and our reluctance to think that others, much less ourselves, can change. He challenges us daily with the question: “Do you believe? Do you believe it is possible that a tax collector can become a servant? Do you believe it is possible that a traitor can become a friend? Do you believe is possible that the son of a carpenter can be the Son of God?” His gaze transforms our way of seeing things, his heart transforms our hearts. God is a Father who seeks the salvation of each of his sons and daughters.

Let us gaze upon the Lord in prayer, in the Eucharist, in Confession, in our brothers and sisters, especially those who feel excluded or abandoned. May we learn to see them as Jesus sees us. Let us share his tenderness and mercy with the sick, prisoners, the elderly and families in difficulty. Again and again we are called to learn from Jesus, who always sees what is most authentic in every person, which is the image of his Father.

I know the efforts and the sacrifices being made by the Church in Cuba to bring Christ’s word and presence to all, even in the most remote areas. Here I would mention especially the “mission houses” which, given the shortage of churches and priests, provide for many people a place for prayer, for listening to the word of God, for catechesis and community life. They are small signs of God’s presence in our neighborhoods and a daily aid in our effort to respond to the plea of the apostle Paul: “I beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all lowliness and meekness, forbearing one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (cf. Eph 4:1-3).

I now turn my eyes to the Virgin Mary, Our Lady of Charity of El Cobre, whom Cuba embraced and to whom it opened its doors forever. I ask Our Lady to look with maternal love on all her children in this noble country. May her “eyes of mercy” ever keep watch over each of you, your homes, your families, and all those who feel that they have no place. In her love, may she protect us all as she once cared for Jesus.


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Harrington, Descentralización: un cambio para nada cambiar

El presidented presenta su Proyecto de Descentralización a alcaldes, representantes, diputados, ministros y directores de entidades. Foto por la Presidencia.
Juan Carlos Varela presenta su proyecto de descentralización ante alcaldes, representantes, diputados, ministros y directores de entidades. Foto por la Presidencia.

La pereza de periodismo panameño en investigar no informa que se puede “descentralizar”, sin la propuesta en ciernes

Un cambio para nada cambiar

por Kevin Harrington-Shelton
Sin ideología — ¿qué son los partidos sino meros colectivos de atracadores?
San Agustín

Los administradores de la antigua Roma tenían como norma iniciar sus mandatos, especificando cuáles leyes iban a hacer cumplir. Lamentablemente, acá no heredamos tan sana costumbre, para que los administrados supieramos a qué atenernos. Ejemplo. Como podrá corroborarse en su transcripción a continuación, nuestra Constitución “manda” que el Presupuesto de Inversiones lo prepare –y fiscalice– no el municipio –ni los diputados– sino un poco conocido “Concejo Provincial de Coordinación”.

Tal contradicción no mortifica a nuestros políticos, con pánico de abrir a una constituyente para democratizar una Carta Magna heredada del golpe militar. Hoy los militares sin casaca prefieren convocar a conversaciones sobre (solamente) una propuesta que riñe con el marco constitucional supuestamente vigente — porque así no arriesgan que el pueblo les limite sus blindajes ni prebendas. Pero lo más curioso es que, ni uno sólo de los 450 MIL ADHERENTES del Partido Democrático Revolucionario (quienes se vanaglorian de ser herederos espirituales del general Omar Torrijos) haya dicho ni pío contra esta violación de esa institución que el propio PRD innovó en 1972 y que mantuvo “vigente” en todos sus reformas aprobadas desde entonces.

La actual propuesta debilita el control contra una corrupción endémica en nuestro clima tropical.

La ilustra el reciente amago de permutar el terreno de la escuela en mero centro de Paso Canoa (que vale $4 millones) por un terreno de $53 mil distante a 7 kilómetros — con la bendición del Ministerio de Educación y el voto favorable del señor alcalde y los 5 ediles, por casualidad, todos Panameñistas. (Allí está la documentación). Luego que en marzo 2015 la televisión mostró cómo los indignados moradores cerraran durante 4 días la frontera con Costa Rica, en su Consulta C-54-15 de 23 de junio 2015, el Procurador de la Administración encontró ONCE fallas en los procedimientos. Si tal “inversión” la hubiera decidido los 110 integrantes del Concejo Provincial de Chiriquí, sería (menos) probable que prosperara semejante atraco. Y, desde un punto de vista menos teórico, en la práctica a una Contraloría de por sí ya recargada le resultará mucho más difícil vigilar a 95 municipios, que a 10 concejos provinciales.

Porque al escurrir el bulto la oligarquía política en la capital, desconoce la realidad que “con la bóveda del banco abierta, ningún hombre es honrado”.

ARTICULO 253. Las Provincias tendrán el número de Distritos que la Ley disponga.

ARTICULO 254. En cada Provincia funcionará un Concejo Provincial, integrado por todos los Representantes de Corregimientos de la respectiva Provincia y los demás miembros que la Ley determine al reglamentar su organización y funcionamiento, teniendo estos últimos únicamente derecho a voz. Cada Concejo Provincial elegirá su Presidente y su Junta Directiva, dentro de los respectivos Representantes de Corregimientos y dictará su reglamento interno. El Gobernador de la Provincia y los Alcaldes de Distritos asistirán con derecho a voz a las reuniones del Concejo Provincial.

ARTICULO 255. Son funciones del Concejo Provincial, sin perjuicio de otras que la Ley señale, las siguientes:

1. Actuar como órgano de consulta del Gobernador de la Provincia, de las autoridades provinciales y de las autoridades nacionales en general.

2. Requerir informes de los funcionarios nacionales, provinciales y municipales en relación con asuntos concernientes a la Provincia. Para estos efectos, los funcionarios provinciales y municipales están obligados, cuando los Concejos Provinciales así lo soliciten, a comparecer personalmente ante éstos a rendir informes verbales. Los funcionarios nacionales pueden rendir sus informes por escrito.

3. Preparar cada año, para la consideración del Órgano Ejecutivo, el plan de obras públicas, de inversiones y de servicios de la Provincia y fiscalizar su ejecución.

4. Supervisar la marcha de los servicios públicos que se presten en su respectiva Provincia.

5. Recomendar a la Asamblea Nacional los cambios que estime convenientes en las divisiones políticas de la Provincia.

6. Solicitar a las autoridades nacionales y provinciales estudios y programas de interés provincial.


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The Panama News blog links, September 22, 2015


The Panama News blog links, September 22, 2015

Reuters, Risk of delay to PanCanal expansion finish

Splash 24/7, Locks maintenance to halve PanCanal capacity in coming week

Big News Network, Canal rivalry between Panama and Suez to increase

Cruising World, Guo Chuan sets sailing record for Northeast Passage

World Maritime News, CMES to invest in five Arctic LNG carriers

The Maritime Executive, Arctic cruise ship first for France

AFP, Warming Arctic ice cap

The Diplomat: China, South America and regional integration

PR, Copa woos American business travelers

Prensa Latina, Panama-Cuba agricultural agreement

DFN, BNP Paribas lowers First Quantum Minerals limited price target

Investing.com, Copper prices fall on China fears

The Inertia, Exploring Panamanian surfing

MLS Soccer, Panama calls up Godoy and Torres for October friendlies

Caribbean News Now!, Trinidad to proceed in Warner extradition

Reuters, Petrobras graft scheme origin tied to Lula’s ex-chief of staff

Video, Volkswagen admits cheating on US diesel emissions tests

BU Today, Embryonic frogs can exit eggs early in times of danger

STRI, 72-year-old Boy Scout relives fossil discovery

Mechi Cri, Los ríos de Chiriquí en concesión

Reuters, Solar powered mobile phones for disaster situations

Khor, When so many lives are at stake

Ring of Fire, The CEO who raised AIDS drug from $13 to $750

Baker, Will President Obama stand up to the drug thugs?

El Mundo, Acuerdos entre Venezuela y Colombia para normalizar relaciones

EFE, Uribe se muestra crítico con la reunión entre Santos y Maduro

Reuters, Haitian-Dominican border crisis grows

Martínez, Guatemala celebrates the resignation of Otto Pérez Molina

Hetland, The truth about Hugo Chávez

Video, Bernie Sanders: DNC’s debates rigged

Infobae.com, “Todos somos mexicanos”: artistas latinos responden a Trump

Atwood, We are double-plus unfree

Cordero, La mujer del bate y el eterno mito de los roles de género


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Editorials, Accountability for an illegal campaign; and War loses — sort of

Sexual Buffalo
Legislator Sergio Gálvez, who notoriously proclaimed that “He who doesn’t give doesn’t go,” distributing gifts to voters at public expense. He now faces proceedings in the Supreme Court for an alleged role in overpriced food purchases with kickbacks, a part of his and Ricardo Martinelli’s strategy of buying the 2014 elections using public funds. Photo by the Asamblea Nacional.

Accountability for a flagrantly illegal campaign: slow and in a major case absent

How can we say that the campaign that Ricardo Martinelli and his followers waged in 2014 was “flagrantly illegal?” Isn’t there much to be determined? Isn’t there a presumption of innocence?

Yes, we have heard all that, incessantly, from the former president’s phalanxes of lawyers, even if mostly what they argue is that as a specially privileged person Martinelli himself is not accountable before the law.

Now his erstwhile president of the National Assembly is also facing charges before the Supreme Court, this time over clearly overpriced no-bid government purchases of rice, beans and lentils, allegedly with kickbacks that went toward funding the Martinelista shower of gifts on the voters.

Just an allegation? Can’t prove any intent? Can’t get a witness to a specific agreement that “you get this bag of groceries and in return we get your vote?” Can’t show what Gálvez knew and when he knew it? It’s up to a magistrate appointed as prosecutor to prove the details, but much of this work has been done before other tribunals.

In a by-election for representante in the Tonosi corregimiento of El Bebedero, there was a massive distribution of gifts to voters to buy the election for Martinelli’s candidate. The money for that vote-buying campaign came from a man who got overpriced no-bid highway construction contracts. The Electoral Tribunal held a trial about the matter, determined that in reality it amounted to the use of government funds to sway the electorate and ordered new elections.

At the time Gálvez said that El Bebedero was the model of how the 2014 election would be contested, and infamously declared that “He who doesn’t give doesn’t go.” Then the entire nation saw that kind of campaign waved in all of our faces. The nature of what happened was demonstrated in more than a dozen more Electoral Tribunal trials. There are many adjectives properly applied to Sergio Gálvez, but “subtle” is not one of them.

In any case, the charges now before the Supreme Court are about one small part of the enormous crime, the legislators’s alleged role in some corrupt purchases. The court should really investigate the context and bring further charges for the larger crime.

The infamous 2014 Martinelista campaign went on in large part because Martinelli’s appointee as Electoral Prosecutor, Eduardo Peñaloza, refused to enforce the election laws. He taunted the nation about it. Now a criminal complaint against him for malfeasance in office has been discounted by Attorney General Kenia Porcell. Was the complaint, for some reason or another, technically deficient? Perhaps, but it did have the backing of the nation’s principal bar association, the Colegio Nacional de Abogados. Let us hope that Porcell’s ruling is not the end of the matter.

Peñaloza’s role as a key operative in the illegal 2014 Martinelista campaign should not go uninvestigated and unpunished. We can’t have a truly fair election with him in charge of enforcing election laws. We won’t have much respect for our election laws until Panamanians see Peñaloza taken away to jail in handcuffs.


Syrian war
Bombed-out Syria. Photo by Peter Stevens

War loses — sort of

The extension of the filibuster power to the point that now a large enough minority in the US Senate can block any measure from even coming before the body in a formal debate is unfortunate, and all the more so because greed and extreme partisanship have a stranglehold on Congress in particular and US politics in general. But the bad system worked well enough when enough senators banded together to block an Israeli government attempt to nullify an agreement that Barack Obama and the leaders of several other major powers made with the government of Iran with respect to nuclear development that could lead to an Iranian nuclear arsenal.

Do we hear howls about what an anti-Semitic thing it is to allege such a thing about the government of Israel? The Panama News is on a bunch of Israeli email lists, and the editor reads what they write. He also from time to time peruses Ha’aretz and The Jerusalem Post online. Then there was the online exchange in which an Israeli citizen — and not a US-Israeli dual citizen — chortled that “We control Congress.” Mr. Netanyahu, who wants a war with Iran that would certainly follow on the heels of the Iranian nuclear proliferation agreement’s failure, was told by his own military and intelligence establishment that Israel could not succeed in an attack on Iran, so he tried to browbeat the Americans into partaking of that disaster instead. But a large segment of American Jews, including many of the Jews in Congress, spurned the Israeli government’s appeals. We shall see what the political fallout will bring, both in Washington and Tel Aviv.

So a roadblock was interposed along the way to a US war with Iran. It was a victory for peace, to be sure, but do we have peace?

Millions of refugees streaming out of war-torn Syria answer that question. So do the thousands of people killed in the Yemeni civil war, in which the Saudis and other Gulf Arab states are directly intervening with US support. So does the unresolved 14-year war in Afghanistan.

Calls from the Republican base to remove the millions of American Muslims, “constitutional theories” that would cancel the citizenship of US-born children of immigrants (except for Donald Trump), and hideous misrepresentions of people fleeing wars as invaders bent on conquest — aren’t these, after all, arguments in favor of provoking new wars? Moreover, when an Australian billionaire who — along with his Saudi partners — likes to play kingmaker in US politics through his media empire slams proposals to rebuild America’s infrastructure, educational system and standard of living as prohibitively expensive, isn’t the unstated number beneath his dubious calculations the cost of the United States fighting never-ending wars all over the planet?

War has lost a round in the US Senate. That’s no reason for antiwar voters to stay home and shut up.


Bear in mind…

Some men look at constitutions with sanctimonious reverence and deem them like the ark of the covenant, too sacred to be touched. They ascribe to the men of the preceding age a wisdom more than human, and suppose what they did to be beyond amendment. I knew that age well; I belonged to it, and labored with it. It deserved well of the country. It was very like the present, but without the experience of the present.
Thomas Jefferson


Let the authority of the people be the only power that exists in the world! And let the name of tyranny itself be erased and forgotten from the language of the nations!
Simón Bolívar


If it is the function of the public realm to throw light on the affairs of men by providing a space of appearances in which they can show in deed and word, for better or worse, who they are and what they can do, then darkness has come when this light is extinguished by “credibility gaps” and “invisible government,” by speech that does not disclose what it sweeps under the carpet, by exhortations, moral and otherwise, that under the pretext of upholding old truths, degrade all truth to meaningless triviality.
  Hannah Arendt


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Chittister, A letter to Pope Francis


Sister JoanA letter to Pope Francis

by Sister Joan Chittister

Dear Pope Francis,

Your visit to the United States is important to us all. We have watched you make the papacy a model of pastoral listening. You have become for us a powerful reminder of the Jesus who walked among the crowds listening to them, loving them — healing them.

Your commitment to poverty and mercy, to the lives of the poor and the spiritual suffering of many — however secure they may feel materially — gives us new hope in the integrity and holiness of the Church itself. A church that is more about sin than the suffering of those who bear the burdens of the world is a puny church, indeed. In the face of the Jesus who consorted with the most wounded, the most outcast of society, all the time judging only the judgers, your insistence is the lesson of a lifetime for the self-righteous and the professionally religious.

It is with this awareness that we raise two issues here:

The first is the dire poverty to which you draw our attention ceaselessly. You refuse to allow us to forget the inhumanity of the barrios everywhere, the homeless on bank steps in our own society, the overworked, the underpaid, the enslaved, the migrant, the vulnerable and those invisible to the mighty of this era.

You make the world see what we have forgotten. You call us to do more, to do something, to provide the jobs, the food, the homes, the education, the voice, the visibility that bring dignity, decency and full development.

But there is a second issue lurking under the first that you yourself may need to give new and serious attention to as well. The truth is that women are the poorest of the poor. Men have paid jobs; few women in the world do. Men have clear civil, legal and religious rights in marriage; few women in the world do. Men take education for granted; few women in the world can expect the same. Men are allowed positions of power and authority outside the home; few women in the world can hope for the same. Men have the right to ownership and property; most of the women of the world are denied these things by law, by custom, by religious tradition. Women are owned, beaten, raped and enslaved regularly simply because they are female. And worst of all, perhaps, they are ignored — rejected — as full human beings, as genuine disciples, by their churches, including our own.

It is impossible, Holy Father, to be serious about doing anything for the poor and at the same time do little or nothing for women.

I implore you to do for the women of the world and the church what Jesus did for Mary who bore him, for the women of Jerusalem who made his ministry possible, for Mary of Bethany and Martha to whom he taught theology, for the Samaritan Woman who was the first to recognize Jesus as the Messiah, for Mary of Magdala who is called the Apostle to the Apostles, and for the deaconesses and leaders of the house churches of the early church.

Until then, Holy Father, nothing can really change for their hungry children and their inhuman living conditions.

We’re glad you are here to speak to these things. We trust you to change them, starting with the Church itself.

Sister Joan Chittister, OSB


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Beluche, El jarabe de la muerte


jarabeEl jarabe de la muerte y las víctimas del capitalismo neoliberal

por Olmedo Beluche

El amigo y colega Pablo Asís Navarro Icaza ha publicado recientemente su última novela: “El Jarabe de la Muerte o los inconvenientes de no saber chino”, en la que aborda de una manera amena el drama vivido por cientos, tal vez miles, de familias panameñas envenenadas por un “jarabe para la tos sin azúcar”, elaborado con refrigerante industrial. Como un Sherlock Holmes criollo, el periodista Luis Quintero, principal personaje de la obra y personificación del propio Pablo Navarro, va indagando y reconstruyendo la verdad de esta tragedia nacional.

Como explicara Pablo Navarro en la presentación de la novela, en el Salón de Profesores de Humanidades de la Universidad de Panamá, el impacto emocional que le causara el destape de este absurdo asesinato masivo, lo llevó a realizar una investigación exhaustiva, como buen sociólogo, que incluyó entrevistarse con muchas de las víctimas y sus familias, trabajo del que surgió esta versión novelística de la investigación. Así que, a los futuros lectores, a quienes recomiendo la novela de Pablo Asís, sepan que aunque el género es ficción, lo que se describe es cruda realidad.

¿Cómo es posible que una licitación para la compra de glicerina para la elaboración de medicinas del laboratorio de la Caja de Seguro Social, que pasó por tres empresas y tres países, acabe transmutada en “Dietileneglicol”, refrigerante de automóviles y veneno para las personas? La respuesta más simple e individualista es: la avaricia, combinada con ineptitud.

Pero esa interpretación, que focaliza en un par de individuos la responsabilidad por tamaño “genocidio” (como señala uno de los personajes), satisface a las autoridades del sistema, pero no a la sociedad, menos a las víctimas y muchos menos a quienes deseamos que nunca se vuelva a repetir. Porque en pocos años, vemos multiplicarse los crímenes masivos en la salud pública panameña que pudieron evitarse, en los casos de: dietileneglicol, poco después en las víctimas de la bacteria KPC y en los niños envenenados con heparina.

Es la avaricia, pero no la individual, aunque individuos concretos son los responsables ante la ley, si es que esta funciona alguna vez. Es la avaricia sistémica del capitalismo decadente en su fase neoliberal para el cual sólo importa el mercado y el lucro privado, a los que debe supeditarse incluso la vida humana. Es la aplicación de 30 a 40 años de políticas neoliberales que promueven el “libre comercio”, pero no el libre tránsito de personas. Esas políticas económicas, para facilitar la ganancia privada, han ido eliminando los controles aduaneros, fitosanitarios y de salud.

¿Cómo un producto que pasó por empresas de Panamá, España y China nunca nadie cotejó que lo dicho en la factura coincidiera con el contenido de los bidones? ¿Cómo es posible que la Caja de Seguro Social panameña no verificó la veracidad del producto que recibía en sus bodegas? ¿Por qué no se enviaron muestras al Instituto Especializado de Análisis antes de elaborarse el jarabe? La única respuesta a tanta negligencia es el neoliberalismo, que ha removido todas las trabas posibles al comercio.

La otra pregunta que la novela plantea muy bien: ¿Cómo es posible que un jarabe cuya distribución pertenecía exclusivamente a la Caja de Seguro Social envenenó personas que compraron en farmacias privadas? ¿Qué mafia a lo interno de la institución lucraba robándose los medicamentos y revendiéndolos en qué farmacias cómplices? La única respuesta posible e la corrupción generalizada que corroe al sistema capitalista panameño, de la que participan no solo los grandes funcionarios al servicio de los grandes capitalistas, sino también funcionarios de mediano y bajo rango.

Corrupción también es la manipulación y el ocultamiento de la verdad que practicaron tanto los directivos de la CSS, como del Ministro de Salud y del gobierno de Martín Torrijos, desde que se empezó a conocer la magnitud de las muertes esparcidas por todo el país. La novela de Pablo Navarro describe cómo se cambió el diagnóstico de muchas defunciones para atribuirlos a otras causas y reducir el número de víctimas admitidas.

También describe la novela cómo la CSS le pidió a las víctimas que devolvieran los frascos de jarabe dejándolas sin evidencia de haber sido envenenadas. Incluso en casos de defunciones ocurridas en los hospitales se ha denegado la solicitud de informar los tratamientos que se suministraron a los pacientes.

Incluso la novela de Pablo Navarro nos lleva a analizar la responsabilidad del Ministerio Público que, más de un lustro después, no aclara dudas como las siguientes: si se elaboraron hasta 260 mil frascos de jarabe y se admite haber distribuido 60 mil frascos, ¿Cuántos se recuperaron de verdad? ¿Cuántos siguen por ahí? ¿Cómo es posible que solo se admiten 300 afectados con tantos jarabe suelto por las calles, si con dos o tres cucharadas basta para matar a una persona? La única respuesta posible: más corrupción neoliberal.

La novela, que maneja muy bien la ironía, nos advierte desde el título una realidad absurda: en China, un irresponsable sastre, Wang Guiping, siguiendo la consigna “socialista” de “enriqueceos”, descubrió que era buen negocio suplantar la glicerina por el refrigerante industrial, pues le permitía ganar unos yuanes o dólares más. El hombre alega que lo probó y que vio que no hacía daño, por lo que procedió a venderlo, envenenando a decenas de personas en su país. Por lo cual fue juzgado y ejecutado.

Pero, aquí la ironía, en el caso del veneno enviado a Panamá “no hay delito”, pues la etiqueta exterior de los bidones tenía claramente las letras “T.D.”, cuyo significado nadie entendía por acá, pero que en chino significan “tidai”, o sea, “sustituto” (de la glicerina). Así estamos: avaricia capitalista, enriquecimiento rápido, libre comercio, eliminación de conroles, envenenamiento masivo, denegación de justicia, corrupción generalizada, en fin, el funcionamiento “normal” de este capitalismo neoliberal que nos acerca a la barbarie.

Finalizamos recomendando al público panameño leer “El Jarabe de la Muerte o los inconvenientes de no saber chino”, de Pablo Navarro, que nos hará reflexionar sobre la época trágica que nos ha tocado vivir en este Panamá y, ojalá, la novela nos impulse a la acción política, la única capaz de barrer esta basura genocida que gobierna al mundo.


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Waiting for the bus that never stopped

The light at the end of the tunnel: walking under the Rio Hato airport to Santa Clara.

Sunday bus service can be bad,
but this was truly ridiculous

Running ever so slightly late to be in Santa Clara for a 3 p.m. appointment — out the door at about 1:20 and no wait at all for the mini-bus to the highway. At the bus stop on the Pan-American Highway at 1:30, and then the wait begins. As 3 p.m. approaches, a call to the person I was to meet — but insane traffic and crowds at the bus terminal make her late, too. Coming out from the city, there were several bad accidents slowing things down. But the heavy traffic going toward the city, with buses all packed and even those that weren’t refusing to take a passenger who wasn’t going all the way into the city? It was the sort of thing that one expects on a Sunday at the end of a holiday weekend, buy why this Sunday?

As 5 p.m. approached, your editor did what he could have done hours earlier — got on a Penonome to Farallon minibus, got off at the entrada, and walked the couple of miles or so to the designated place in Santa Clara. That stroll was instructive about Martinelli-era construction work. Yes, there is a pedestrian walkway on one side of the tunnel under the airport — but between the bus stop and the walkway one must walk either on the road or in a ditch that’s perilously close to the road and is likely to be the stuff of which traffic fatalities are made. Just past the seafood market — closed on a high-traffic Sunday when a lot of folks might be interested in picking up something for dinner on their way home — there is a bridge over the little stream that separates Rio Hato from Santa Clara, with a safety walk on one side. The other side of the road from the walkway in the tunnel. There is no pedestrian bridge and the highway is divided by a deep ditch that’s overgrown with weeds. Thus, the walk across the unprotected side of the bridge, with maybe a foot and a half between the pedestrian and traffic. Perfect design, if the goal is to build as much as possible as quickly as possible and skim as much as possible from the transactions. Typical design, in a country where those who use public transportation and pedestrian walkways are not those who make the decisions and those who do decide have utter disdain for those unlike themselves.


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Growing demand to bring Martinelli to justice

All grovel before Il Duce!
Ricardo Martinelli in one of his uniforms. Photo by the Presidencia.

One might dismiss the latest pronouncement as the usual stuff from the usual ineffectual civil society groups — but by and large these are people who were behind Varela’s upset victory in the 2014 presidential election

In the face of sneers from the Scarface set, calls to bring Martinelli back in handcuffs

by Eric Jackson
They are so afraid of my tweets. Look what happened in the Arab Spring.
Ricardo Martinelli, to Bloomberg
Do something. Do not allow these acts to remain unpunished.
Magaly Castillo, to the Supreme Court

The Supreme Court, having rejected magistrate Hernán De León’s move to throw out the complaint against Ricardo Martinelli in the Financial Pacific case, now has a dozen separate criminal matters concerning Ricardo Martinelli before it. With the acceptance of a case against Martinelli and legislators Sergio Gálvez and Vidal García arising from overpriced government contracts to buy rice, beans and lentils with kickbacks going to the politicians, four cases against the ex-president have reached the formal investigation phase. (On the latest one the three men named will be tried separately if the matter comes to trial, as their interests and alleged roles were different.) But all of the Martinelli cases are bogged down in the face of endless defense motions from teams of lawyers, many of them quite frivolous in a legal system that provides no penalties for vexatious motions interposed in order to delay. The former president is trying to run out the calendar for the investigation process or for the statute of limitations, both of which he shortened for his own crimes before leaving office. Those shorter windows of criminal liability are now under constitutional challenge before the high court, which is taking its time deciding the issue.

Martinelli appointed a majority of the magistrates and suplentes (alternates) on the Supreme Court of Justice. As two magistrates have been removed — Martinelli appointee Alejandro Moncada Luna was impeached and sent to prison for a small sample of his corrupt acts and Martín Torrijos appointee Víctor Benavides was forced to resign in the face of wealth whose provenance he could not explain — President Juan Carlos Varela could appoint replacements for both the magistates and their suplentes at any time. Were such nominations to be approved by the fragmented National Assembly, that would numerically end Ricardo Martinelli’s high court majority. At the end of December a third vacancy will be created as the 10-year term of Torrijos appointee Harley Mitchell ends.

The math is not that simple and the mood swings in Martinelli’s incessant Twitter tweets about the court reflect the complications of both the court and his mind. At some points Martinelli, who is reportedly holed up in a condo on Brickell in Miami that was used as a set in the gangster movie “Scarface,” boasts about how everything is under his control, how he will never be tried or convicted of anything. At other times Martinelli tweets about how Varela has the entire court bribed or browbeaten to the point that he wouldn’t have a chance before Panamanian justice even if he’s innocent. And then, through Twitter, through his television station NexTV, through his newspapers La Critica and El Panama America and by way of a small entourage of rented voices still on his payroll, Martinelli continues to play party boss and even tends to put on airs like a revolutionary.

Enough is enough, say the great majority of Panamanians who do not have a personally vested interest in politicians getting away with whatever heists they pull off. But Panama’s system is designed to minimize public influence over public policy in the five-year spans between elections. So what if 26 civic organizations, many themselves umbrella groups of multiple organizations, call for an end to impunity? So what if Magaly Castillo, an attorney and veteran anti-corruption activist with close working ties to the Catholic Church, calls for an end to the mockery? She, and they, have been ignored before.

This time, though, the call is directed in many ways toward the president and this one is not the object of their wrath. And this time it’s not only unaligned independent activists who have been around forever, it’s precisely those sorts of people who were long against Martinelli but only late in the 2014 presidential contest threw their support to Varela. Most notably, it’s the voice of that part of the business community that decisively intervened for Varela when it looked as if Martinelli would continue to rule by proxy on the strength of having bought the election with stolen public funds. (Isn’t it journalistically correct to say “alleged” here? Actually, this crime spree was waved in everybody’s faces and whomever Martinelli might convince to certify otherwise would not change the facts of the matter.)

Business turned against Martinelli. We can see where some of the exceptions like Nicolás Corcione and Aaron Mizrachi have fled, and where a bunch of others are in big trouble with prosecutors for their dealings with Martinelli. The American Chamber of Commerce would not criticize Martinelli then and the guy who was urging American business owners to donate to Martinelli? He has fled the country. But by and large business found the conditions that Martinelli created intolerable, and at the head of the capitalist revolt against the former president was the country’s richest family, the Mottas. Because of Panama’s campaign finance secrecy we don’t know how much they gave to the Varela campaign but it was reputedly a considerable sum and Alfredo Motta very notably led an independent campaign for Varela. And there at the press conference, sitting beside Magaly Castillo and calling for Varela to appoint replacements for the disgraced former magistrates and their suplentes, to veto legislation that would increase politicians’ privileges and immunities, to speed up the legal system and to bring Ricardo Martinelli before the bar of justice, was Alfredo Motta.

The Mottas have their interests and their critics. If you follow La Estrella closely enough, you will notice many allegations and arguments in favor of the proposition that they have too much influence over the Varela administration. But there you have it. The president isn’t just dealing with the usual pesky good government advocates that his predecessors have successfully blown off. This crowd includes key supporters of his. To the extent that Varela’s Catholicism is a big part of what makes him tick — something that is by most accounts the case — and to the extent that Castillo unofficially but authoritatively speaks for the church, the call matters. This was not the usual civil society pronouncement.

Cynics might dismiss Alfredo Motta by arguing that what his family wants is a port concession on the Pacific Side, but it that may well be true, bugging the president about a sensitive matter might not be the way to lobby for it. On his Facebook page, Motta put it this way: “We have come to the time to change the country’s direction and to take the path of transparency and honesty.” Look at where Panama has just been and where we are headed in the near future, and it sounds more like a business argument than a moral one.


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State of emergency continues in parts of the metro area

A landslide in San Miguelito. Photo by SINAPROC.
A landslide in San Miguelito. Photo by SINAPROC.

A president with a reputation for going slowly with almost everything quickly gets Panama into a state of emergency disaster response mode, before we start talking about death tolls

Quick reactions to storm damage as the height of the rainy season approaches

by Eric Jackson

On September 16 the Cabinet Council issued a decree declaring an emergency in the San Miguelito corregimiento of Belisario Porras and the Panama City corregimiento of Juan Diaz, both affected by flooding and other storm damage, the former the scene of landslides that have affected about 90 homes in the hillside neighborhood of Samaria. A few days earlier the government took similar measures in the Colon neighborhood of Nueva Italia, where homes began to slide down the hill on which they were built.

For some years now there has been a mantra heard among international agencies and public safety first responders’s that maintains that there is no such thing as a natural disaster. There is, of course, but it’s neither the creator’s devout advocates nor those so irreligious as to want to take divine references out of the language who are behind the objections to the concept of an “Act of God.” While it is acknowledged that elemental forces beyond our control may send us floods or drought, destructive winds or damaging earthquakes, the argument goes that most of the property losses, deaths and suffering are due to human errors that put people in the way of reasonably foreseeable natural events. That sort of consciousness has been taking Latin America by storm for years now, and it’s why hurricanes tend to destroy dysfunctional and unprepared Haiti worse than their poor but prepared neighbors in Cuba. It’s why Chile had a September 16 earthquake that registered 8.3 on the Richter Scale and set off tsunami waves but only about a dozen people died — Chile may have billions in property losses and some human tragedies to address, but they also have building codes that mean something and coastal evacuation plans that work in an instant.

Panama’s President Juan Carlos Varela may be an industrial rather than a civil engineer by training, but he seems to know about such things. It doesn’t mean that everything is under control or that all of the problems that make Panama more disaster-prone were inherited from prior administrations. (Surely the devoutly Catholic president will have heard about people who build on the sand, but has he figured it out that the same thing applies to those who would build on the mangrove swamps of Coco del Mar?)

In any case, Varela inherited the leadership of a country in which houses have been built on steep and unstable hillsides and on flood plains. He’s president of a country in which a lot of his constituents see a storm drain as a place to dispose of plastic grocery bags. His office gets complaints from voters who say that their houses flood because of things that people did to nearby rivers.

What Varela may eventually do about building and zoning codes or the solid wastes that clog the metro area’s storm sewers remains to be seen. However, on his watch the SINAPROC disaster relief agency has been quick to respond. When houses started to crack and slide away in places like Colon’s Nueva Italia and San Miguelito’s Samaria, inspectors were quick condemn not only the obviously broken houses but whole neighborhood built atop unstable slide zones. We will surely hear complaints in the days ahead, but the Varela cabinet has authorized emergency contracts and housing grants to get the dozens of displaced families back in livable homes again. The Ministry of Housing and Land Management (MIVIOT) has been put in charge of coordinating a disaster response effort on several fronts.

MIVIOT engineers, and perhaps consultants hired under the decree that dispenses with the usual bidding process, are studying the causes of the floods and landslides and in the affected areas they have been given something approaching a blank check to demolish problem structures and build drains, slabs and other public works that might alleviate the local problems. The ministry has also been put in charge of acquiring land and building permanent new homes for those left homeless, and to rent temporary shelter for them in the meantime.

The emergency resolution also puts the Ministry of Public Works (MOP) to work on dredging and changing the channel of the Matias Hernandez River, from whence the flood waters that routed many Juan Diaz residents from their homes arose. The initial appropriation of $10 million that was included in the decree will only start to get the work done.

Meanwhile the SINAPROC disaster relief agency and the bomberos have been putting in overtime hours to respond not only to flooding and landslides, but to roads blocked and homes damaged by blown-over trees. Varela himself isn’t saying much about fast responses, but the agencies that are moving in to handle the problems are pointing that out.


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On the 2016 campaign trail: what Republicans are saying


On the campaign trail with Republicans


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