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Martinelli squirms

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Eeeeew!
So Ricardo Martinelli shows his support in Panama by tweeting a copy of an ad in a newspaper he owns, said to be a statement by the Cambio Democratico caucus in the legislature. But the CD deputies, most of whom now ignore Martinelli, never actually met to issue this statement.

Martinelli dodges, pretends and delays as his world closes in on him

by Eric Jackson

He still has some newspapers, radio stations, websites, NexTV and his Twitter account in his media empire. That gives Ricardo Martinelli room to spin. As in, putting out the call for an October 14 demonstration in front of the Public Ministry. Few party leaders or elected officials of Martinelli’s Cambio Democratico party showed up, but they did hire or otherwise moblize a couple of dozen people to hold the signs and banners objecting to alleged persecution of Martinelli and a number of officials of his former administration. About 15 Panameñista counter-protesters showed up across the street, with signs of the “lock him up” genre and a small squad of riot cops moved in between the two groups, just in case. There were insults but no objects hurled and nobody was punched or arrested. But the way that Martinelli played it, the scene was a throwback to Noriega’s Doberman riot squad and CODEPADI goon beating on brave pro-democracy demonstrators.

It’s not a show that moves the masses, but it’s one of the few moves left in the former president’s playbook. The world is closing in on Ricardo Martinelli. Even if for whatever reason Washington lets him stay indefinitely or permanently in the United States, the Martinelli brand is toxic here. It’s likely that by this time next month there will be an international arrest warrant out for the illegal electronic surveillance that Martinelli ordered, and that would be but one of many legal troubles.

Consider the gyrations:

  • With prosecuting magistrate Harry Díaz asking for a trial before the Supreme Court and a 21-year prison sentence, magistrate Jerónimo Mejía has about two weeks to rule on that motion. But Martinelli’s lawyers moved down another avenue to delay the case, by trying to get Díaz removed as prosecuting magistrate. The full court immediately heard that motion and unanimously rejected it.
  •  There is talk that to avoid this high court trial and reset the calendar on the spying case, Martinelli will resign from the Central American Parliament, thus devolving the Supreme Court’s jurisdiction over him and sending this and a dozen other cases to ordinary courts and prosecutors.
  • Meanwhile, the gears of Italian criminal justice grind against Martinelli, who has recently retained an Italian criminal defense lawyer to handle those cases.
  • All of Panama’s corporate mainstream media that Martinelli does not own are in a frenzied competition to discover and report new details of how the former president and his two sons became silent partners in the hydroelectric dam business and used the government to feather their nests. The cast of characters overlaps with those of other matters under criminal investigation and the money trails from various scandals are merging and diverging here, as is common in a racketeering conspiracy case. But Martinelli isn’t denying any of the specific allegations anymore — he’s just attacking La Prensa and the Motta family that controls TVN in general derogatory terms.
  • So where is Martinelli? By most credible accounts he’s in Miami. The ones that had him in Paraguay — coming from a single convicted money launderer and notoriously unreliable source — may have been disinformation for which the former president paid. In any case, now the man’s talking about moving to Spain or Puerto Rico. There is also talk of him formally applying for refugee status in the USA, which even if the Obama administration opposes that could start years of litigation in the US courts to delay any deportation or expulsion.
  • About one-quarter of those who were Cambio Democratico members at the time of the 2014 elections have quit the party and now a majority of CD deputies ignore what Martinelli has to say. He is, however, still leader of that party and as such retains some useful to him immunities from investigation and prosecution that can be lifted but only after time-consuming proceedings before the Electoral Tribunal. The party has internal elections set for October 25, but moves are afoot to move that voting back to next January. Why? Because that would extend Martinelli’s extra-special election season immunity as party boss.

Because the US government has not stated a position on Martinelli’s legal woes or the desirability of his presence in the United States, we can’t tell with much certainty the probability of Ricardo Martinelli taking up residence in a concrete and steel cage. But it looks possible enough and imminent enough to him that he’s visibly squirming.

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Toro Guapo Festival this weekend in Anton

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TG
Here we don’t have the blood sport of bullfighting as in Spain or Mexico — but we do have the Toro Guapo.

Such a handsome little bull!

The parties and ceremonies are already underway as the sun goes down on Thursday, October 15 in Anton. Friday at noon there is the first parade, the diablos de espejos, a uniquely Interiorano sort of folklore.

The partying and parades turn up to full blast on Saturday and Sunday, the 17th and 18th. If you can only make it to Anton for part of the party, be there on Sunday for the oxcart parade.

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Gandásegui, El Comando Sur y la base de Punta Coco

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Punta Coco
¡COMPRA AHORA!

El Comando Sur y la base de Punta Coco

por Marco A. Gandásegui, hijo

La base aéreo-naval en Punta Coco (en el Golfo de Panamá), en la actualidad, tiene dos misiones. Por un lado, según el Comando Sur de EEUU, forma parte de la red logística que tiene Washington en torno a Colombia. Según informan los boletines del Comando, la base tiene la responsabilidad de detectar las rutas que utilizan los traficantes de drogas ilícitas que salen de Colombia con dirección hacia EEUU. Por el otro, la base de Punta Coco, según los asesores del presidente Juan C. Varela, también tiene la tarea de alojar a ‘criminales de alto perfil’ que son enviados a la isla.

Según otras fuentes no oficiales, la base en Punta Coco podría tener otros propósitos.

Hay quienes especulan que EEUU podría utilizarla para encarcelar a prisioneros políticos de sus guerras globales que son detenidos sin acusaciones por largos períodos de tiempo. Las agencias de inteligencia que operan desde Washington podrían traer ciudadanos de otros países a Punta Coco, “al estilo de los procesos extrajudiciales que aplica EEUU (rendición extraordinaria) donde sospechosos son secuestrados y enviados a cárceles clandestinas en otros países”. Según documentos oficiales que describen las operaciones de estos centros clandestinos, los prisioneros son sometidos a torturas y tratos crueles.

El centro carcelario insular podría tener otro objetivo: servir de prisión para trasladar a los privados de libertad, o algunos de ellos, actualmente detenidos en la base militar de EEUU en Guantánamo. Hace ocho años el presidente de EEUU, Barack Obama, prometió en su campaña electoral que cerraría la prisión en la base de Guantánamo. Sin embargo, la complicada legislación que creó la nefasta mazmorra en el extremo oriente de la isla de Cuba le ha impedido obtener su objetivo. Hay quienes especulan con la posibilidad de que el gobierno panameño, para obtener el beneplácito de Washington, se preste para alojar a los prisioneros políticos de origen árabe, afgano y paquistaní en Punta Coco.

La base de Punta Coco, a 107 kilómetros de la ciudad de Panamá, fue construida por el Comando Sur de EEUU hace seis años a un costo de $73.5 millones. La cárcel es administrada por el Servicio Aeronaval (SENAN), una institución creada por decreto ejecutivo hace 15 años. La Constitución Política de Panamá señala, expresamente, que no se crearán fuerzas armadas en el país. Sin embargo, por insistencia de EEUU, se creó el SENAN e, igualmente, el Servicio Nacional de Fronteras (SENAFRONT). Ambas fuerzas operan independientemente de la Policía Nacional. El Sistema Penitenciario Nacional, del Ministerio de Gobierno, encargado de todos los centros carcelarios del país, fue excluido de Punta Coco.

La cárcel de Punta Coco también es responsabilidad del SENAN, que depende del Ministerio de Seguridad Pública. Esta dependencia también fue creada hace un par de lustros por insistencia de Washington. Se supone que centraliza todas las actividades asociadas con las políticas de ‘seguridad nacional’ que forman parte de la política global de EEUU.

En julio de este año, la avioneta en que una delegación militar norteamericana que regresaba de Punta Coco se estrelló cuando llegaba a un aeropuerto de vuelos domésticos en la ciudad de Panamá. Los 6 militares norteamericanos, entre ellos el jefe de la Oficina de Cooperación de Defensa de la Embajada, un colombiano no identificado y el piloto panameño salieron ilesos del accidente.

Según la información que se filtró del incidente, el grupo de militares “fueron a inspeccionar el radar que Panamá está construyendo en la base de Punta Coco”. Según fuentes norteamericanas, el gobierno panameño está instalando un total de 19 radares en diferentes bases aéreo navales distribuidos en ambas costas del país.

Según la misma fuente, el gobierno del presidente Varela mantiene un silencio total sobre las bases y los radares. En el caso de Punta Coco, el Grupo HSC, que trabaja para el Comando Sur, ha construido –a un costo de $5 millones– una instalación eléctrica con capacidad para generar 40KW. La página de internet del Comando Sur informa que la instalación fue construida para su uso. El Comando también invirtió casi $4 millones en la construcción de unas barracas y un muelle. EEUU justifica estos gastos señalando que Punta Coco “se encuentra en una zona peligrosa de tráfico de drogas (ilícitas)”. Además, la base es parte del “plan estratégico del Comando Sur para mejorar la capacidad de su socio (Panamá) en la captura (de sospechosos) en un ambiente marítimo”.

El autor es profesor de sociología de la Universidad de Panamá e investigador asociado del CELA

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Two potential buyers for Banco Universal

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FP - Banco Universal
How much has the taint from the Financial Pacific brokerage house and the Banco Universal spread into Panama’s banking and securities sectors?

Who gets Banco Universal — oligarchs with Martinelli ties or Miami Nicaraguan exiles?

by Eric Jackson

Are the powers that be annoyed with the way that the process of finding a new owner for Banco Universal is going? On October 12 the Banking Superintendency’s secretary, Gustavo Villa, held a bid reception ceremony from which reporters were excluded and after which he quickly left without answering questions. The appointed interim manager for the intervened bank, Jaime De Gamboa, was a bit more responsive. He said that of 49 entities invited to bid for the scandal-plagued bank, only two had submitted offers, that a committee would be reviewing the proposals and that a decision would be made by October 28. The two potential buyers are Panama’s relatively new Canal Bank and the Miami-based Nicaraguan-American company Latin American Financial Services Group (LAFISE). Both were invited to bid, neither is on its face a mob operation, but both raise distinct sets of nagging questions.

Canal Bank was chartered in late December of 2013, the waning days of the Martinelli administration. It’s a project of the NASE insurance and reinsurance group, which on its website boasts of its outstanding clients:

…large projects related to the Panama Canal expansion, the nationwide road infrastructure network, government development projects of great magnitude; as well as big energy works and major companies such as Claro Panama, Constructora Santa Fe Limited, the Metro Bus consortium, FCC, Acciona, Conalvías, CUSA and Transcaribe Trading, among others….

The road construction company that blockaded La Prensa to retaliate for unflattering news coverage? The controversial hydroelectric dam industry? One of the companies in the problematic GUPC consortium that got the new locks contract on a lowball bid? The bus company that was recently kicked off of the job after many problems? Businesses that were showered with the Martinelli administration’s largess? Maybe big business has to deal with big business and those are the insurance clients NASE has to claim. And besides, Canal Bank has aimed at the micro-finance sector so far.

But are we to be impressed by surnames? Capital Bank is headed by former diplomat Roberto Alfaro, and notice the Alfaro surname on the Banco Universal board of directors, Eloy Alfaro. And should the Financial Pacific scandal and a Bolsa de Valores securities market in which there seems not to be much relationship between the underlying value of things and prices make a warning flag out of a securities industry tie? NASE’s treasurer, Roberto Brenes, until recently headed the Bolsa de Valores.

Indignant as people who trade on them might get about such a notion, associations work in both positive and negative directions. The illustrious families associated with Banco Universal — the Virzis, the Pérez Balladareses, the Alfaros and the rest — may be in denial now, but that connection was once waved around as an in-crowd credential. The banking authorities are going to have to look carefully at both the reality and the appearance of the Capital Bank bid.

LAFISE, essentially run by the Nicaraguan Zamora family, is more straightforward and more at arm’s length in its connections. Founded by Nicaraguans who fled the 1979 Sandinista Revolution, they offer a variety of financial services in Central America, the Dominican Republic, Venezuela, Mexico and the United States. Its president, Roberto J. Zamora, is a US citizen and a substantial contributor to the Republican Party. A move into Panama’s banking sector would seem to be a natural expansion for this group of companies.

The LAFISE interest that could raise some Panamanian eyebrows has to do with the Zamoras’ eventual peace with the Sandinistas from whom they had fled, which dates back to the first Ortega administration’s re-legalization of private banking in 1985. Actually, the association of possible concern isn’t with Ortega and his party per se, but with a big project of theirs. In December of 2014 Mr. Zamora and a delegation from his companies met with a delegation headed by a Mr. Li of the HKND Group, the latter the Chinese consortium with a concession to build a Nicaragua Canal. In a press release put out by LAFISE, at whose behest the meeting was held, it was stated that “Mr. Roberto Zamora, President of Grupo LAFISE, said his group can offer a broad portfolio of products and quality services that will contribute to the successful development of the Grand Canal Project.”

There is nothing too sinister about Nicaraguan banking and insurance people wanting their part of what could be a major part of the Nicaraguan economy if the project does go ahead. But to Panama that would be “the competition.” In the ordinary course of business having such folks on the Panamanian banking scene would make sense both for them and for Panama. But in the Panama Canal Authority the Nicaraguan canal project is looked at with much fear and suspicion. Panama’s banking sector is well represented on the ACP board and it would be interesting to see how contagious the wary PanCanal attitudes might be within the Panamanian government.

So is the Banking Superintendency disappointed that it only has two potential buyers for Banco Universal? Or is it not the number, but that it’s these two, that’s cause for concern?

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Editorials: Rude questions; and The debate

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US Treasury
The alleged Honduran money laundering kingpins, who are accused of running their corporate HQ out of Panama. US Department of Treasury graphic.

Rude questions

The US government, with President Obama and former Secretary of State Clinton saying one thing while doing another and the Republicans baiting them for not being militant enough about it, supported a coup against an elected Honduran president. Since then death squads have stalked that country, in particular silencing critical journalists and in general sending many people fleeing the country for their lives, including children who without adults accompanying them have slipped across the US border. There have been “elections” held under that thuggish regime, duly certified by Washington as “free.” The US-sponsored Honduran regime has been a staunch ally in the “War on Drugs,” allowing the country to be turned into a DEA free fire zone in which soldiers in helicopters shoot people in little boats first and suppress all reasonable questions later. And until June, as Minister of Investment in that death squad regime, there was Yankel Rosenthal, one of the suspects shown above. He’s now in jail in the USA, charged with being one of the world’s principal drug kingpins.

The alleged corporate money laundering mill is said to have been run out of Panama City’s banking district. The Rosenthals’ Panamanian business structures were set up by the same rabiblanco law firm that set up another Panamanian company run by another well connected family in Honduras. That’s the Khafie family and their company is GENISA, of Barro Blanco Dam infamy. One of GENISA’s directors is behind bars in Honduras on allegations of a huge theft from the Honduran public health care system.

So now Washington takes a stand for the rule of law.

Why should anyone believe that US politicians have anything useful to tell Latin America? Why should Panama be a participant in the US drug wars? Why should Panamanians, or Hondurans, show any deference at all to the families with the illustrious surnames?

The debate

Debates, like wars, are properly judged on the basis of their political effects. It’s not like a contest between university debate teams in which points are added or subtracted, any more than a war is determined by body counts. In the US Civil War the Union side took considerably more casualties than their Confederate foes, yet decisively crushed the Old South and its social and economic structures.

It will take a few days and some scientific random polling to get a better idea of who won and who lost the October 13 Democratic presidential candidates’ debate. At first glance, although there were some points scored for and against each candidate, the showdown in Las Vegas saw no huge gaffes and confirmed that the contest is essentially a two-candidate race between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders. Unless events intervene, there seems to be no opening for Joe Biden to step into the race with much hope of success. Martin O’Malley, Lincoln Chafee and Jim Webb were all confirmed as serious men with some interesting things to say, but non-contenders at this point.

Democratic National Committee chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz probably succeeded in reducing the audience for the debate. It seems that the audience was skewed a bit toward fervent Sanders supporters, while Wasserman Schultz is trying to rig the race into a Hillary Clinton coronation. Would a low-turnout primary and caucus season populated by Bernie’s enthusiastic legions work to Hillary’s advantage? That’s a dubious calculation. The whole exercise is driving many Democrats to ignore those increasingly shrill DNC fundraising emails.

Anderson Cooper was an insufferable moderator, both for trying to dumb down the debate into a food fight over contrived Republican narratives about Benghazi and Hillary’s email server and for his shallow ideological baiting of Bernie’s democratic socialism and skepticism about the dominant forms of capitalism currently practiced. On the latter score, count him as a corporate representative for a business that stands to lose billions in ad revenue if unlimited campaign spending is curbed.

On the issues the candidates voiced different views on inequality, war versus peace issues and guns, with Bernie having shifted his opinions a bit about the last of these and Hillary about the first, but a lot of details to be debated in future encounters. Hillary is a hawk, something of a neoconservative lite who does not acknowledge the connections between interventions in Iraq, Libya and Syria and the nightmarish consequences that followed. None of the other candidates are that reckless, but it may be that given the situations that have arisen there isn’t a great deal of difference among the candidates about what they would do now in those specific instances. Mrs. Clinton’s special animosity toward the Iranians and the Russians, however, doesn’t leave her in a very good position to confront the Islamic State in a way that’s coordinated with others who live in the same neighborhood with that brand of Sunni fanatics.

When Bernie jumped in to dismiss the fuss over Hillary’s emails as a tiresome and scarcely relevant distraction, some pundits figured that he blew it by conceding a potential avenue of attack that he could have used aganist his opponent. Let us see whether Democratic primary voters consider petty and vicious to be “strong,” as opposed to being fair and honest as “weak.” It seems that as part of the degradation of public discourse in the United States a strain of media personalities has become so blinded by its own “gotcha” style of reporting and commentary as to lose the sense of proportion.

So who won? Soon enough some good polling will suggest how this round should be scored. But there is a long campaign for the nomination ahead and nobody is yet a certain winner.

Bear in mind…

This country has socialism for the rich, rugged individualism for the poor.
Martin Luther King Jr.

 

There are also as many Eastern European immigrants coming who have relationships to a German grandfather, uncle, or whatever, and of course that gives them the right to German citizenship because of this strange law which says that only by blood are you German. It’s an antique, and one of the most repressive laws I can think of, dating back to the Hitler days. So the people who can prove any German descent whatever suddenly are German, while a foreign worker who might have lived thirty years in Germany with his family, has paid taxes, contributing to society, may not get German citizenship. Yet, a person coming from Poland can become German overnight. The situation is rather ridiculous.
Petra Kelly

 

I know not with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones.
Albert Einstein
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The Democrats’ first debate (podcast)

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debate
It is generally bad manners to republish an unofficial copy of a network broadcast within a few hours of its creation. We could argue about media law and to what extent Panama’s public interest exception to copyright applies. But this debate is a matter of compelling public interest, and for whatever reason CNN’s streaming video crashed, thus blacking out the debate to many people who get their news online. We posted the video of the whole debate as a public service, especially the many American Democrats who don’t get cable or satellite TV. Evenually CNN asserted copyright and Google took it down from YouTube, but we inserted CNN’s highlights in its place.

The Democrats debate

 

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The Panama News blog links, October 13, 2015

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The Panama News blog links, October 13, 2015

Ship & Bunker, Panama Canal mulls legal action over construction troubles

Ramos, La verdad sobre las filtraciones en el Canal

American Journal of Transportation, New PanCanal tonnage record

Stuff, New route from New Zealand to North America and Euope via Panama

CorpWatch, Nicaragua Grand Canal project hits obstacles

AFP, Ricardo Martinelli compara acusaciones en su contra con una violación

Reuters, Panamá pide que Interpol ubique al ex presidente Martinelli

Slate, Utley suspended for slide that broke Tejada’s leg

Goal.com, Mexico set for victory lap in Panama friendly

Daily Express, Soca Warriors edge Panama in friendly

MLS Soccer, Jaime Penedo’s regrets

Photo, Panama’s young surfers — Go Kai!

Reuters, Panama slips into deflation

Vida del Copy, Así será la Linea 3 del Metro

TVN, Estacionamiento: Cámara de Comercio cuestiona nueva ley

ICTSD, WTO rules for Panama in financial services dispute with Argentina

AP, Panama building saga offers insight into Trump practices

Reuters, Panama bonds road show

US DOJ, Cash wash charges against Hondurans includes company in Panama

STRI, El Niño tests coral survival limits

US News & World Report, Homosexuality gene?

Science World Report, Lianas may strangle tropical forests’ carbon storage

Video, BBC’s Edward Snowden interview

Castro, ¿Es el “progresismo” un fenómeno cíclico?

Serrano, Brazil’s sudden neoliberal U-turn

Oppenheimer, The demographic revolution in Latin America

Ben-Ami, AIPAC in decline

Muchhala, UN moves toward rules for nations’ debt restructuring

The PC Graveyard, Wikileaks: only 5 of 29 TPP chapters about trade

St. John, World Court accepts jurisdiction in Bolivia-Chile dispute

Detroit Free Press, Activist Grace Lee Boggs dies at 100

El Universal, Mexican-Americans despise Mexico

Willies, Epic intra-Republican fight on Meet the Press

El Confidencial, El autoexilio de Miguel Bosé a Panamá

Simpson, Golpe al turismo en Kuna Yala

Video, Panama parade in Brooklyn

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Zonians exhibit at the Museo de Arte Contemporaneo

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Zonians invitation
Zonians: exploring an identity — October 14 at the MAC, as part of the exhibition “Zonians, by Matias Costa, moderated by Raúl Altamar Arias.

“Zonians” exhibition and forum at the Museum of Contemporary Art

The Museo de Arte Contemporaneo is having an expo titled “Zonians” by Argentinean photographer Matias Costa. His pictures depict places and peoples of this community, and the expo is scheduled from early September to mid October.

In complement to the show we’re organizing a forum or talk on the zonian identity. For this we’ve contacted three representatives from the community to talk about different themes surrounding it:
► Architect Patrick Dillon will talk about the spaces themselves within the canal zone, the uniqueness of its architecture, and the relationship with nature.
► Actress Lisa Palm (and maybe HB as well!) would talk about being from the last generation of zonians and how different groups interacted within the community.
► We’re hoping to get the Gibson Family from Gamboa to join in and provide a perspective from a different generation.

It would be lovely if you could join us! Raul

raúl altamar arias
servicios editoriales + comunicaciones
507 + 6635-1776

¿Wappin? This Saturday night…

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Legendary bluesman John Lee Hooker. Photo by Sumori.
Legendary bluesman John Lee Hooker. Photo by Sumori.

¿Wappin? This Saturday night…

Mad Professor & Anansi – Culture Vulture
https://youtu.be/wt-5dXg8Ark

Los Silvertones – Old Buzzard
https://youtu.be/txBn_MF6SC0

The Corrs – Little Wing
https://youtu.be/HhsacepElvA

La Resistencia – Misterio
https://youtu.be/_0uGPFyFQk8

Dweezil Zappa & Ella Ferguson – Peaches En Regalia
https://youtu.be/TOywUUqDuBE

Lost Frequencies – Are You With Me
https://youtu.be/VjHMDlAPMUw

Carla Morrison – Una Salida
https://youtu.be/5J01-oWqWEM

Bruce Springsteen – Darkness on the Edge of Town
https://youtu.be/SUTPsRJ6e2k

Papa John Creach – Bumble Bee Blues
https://youtu.be/ZfrpQ-edx_Y

Zoé & Anni B Sweet – Poli
https://youtu.be/3FWtkd9OfXw

Neil Young – Cowgirl In The Sand
https://youtu.be/N96sdokN5Rc

John Lee Hooker & Bonnie Raitt – I’m In The Mood
https://youtu.be/rT-FoZt95D4

John Mellencamp – Troubled Man
https://youtu.be/3oEquZwvG0k

Adele – Set Fire to the Rain
https://youtu.be/Ri7-vnrJD3k

Cultura Profética – Festival de Viña del Mar 2015
https://youtu.be/pmOETqV78qE

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Díaz moves to try Martinelli, asks for 21-year sentence

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Martinellis and Obamas
Key questions at this point will be whether and to what extent Ricardo Martinelli will continue to enjoy the protection of the US government. Regardless of his legal status in Panama, the United States has and has had the option of revoking Martinelli’s visa and enforcing it in ways ranging from ordering him to leave to wherever he can go, summarily putting him on a plane and delivering him to authorities in Panama, or, if the Supreme Court here accepts the charges filed by magistrate and acting prosecutor Harry Díaz, starting extradition procedures. In the face of any of that the former president might interpose a claim that he’s a refugee fleeing from political persecution with US immigration officials or in the US courts. For the United States to accept Martinelli as a refugee, however, would probably strain already troubled US relations with much of Latin America. Archive photo by the White House, the Martinellis and the Obamas.

Magistrate Harry Díaz moves to try Martinelli on four counts

Motion to bring Martinelli to trial, send him to prison for 21 years

by Eric Jackson

In the first of a dozen cases filed against Ricardo Martinelli in the Supreme Court to get to this stage Harry Díaz, the magistrate acting as prosecutor, has filed a 30-page motion to bring former President Ricardo Martinelli to trial. The motion was filed on the afternoon of October 9, the day after the statutory time for the high court to investigate a member of the Central America Parliament expired. Díaz would have the ex-president tried for spying and theft before a nine-member panel of high court magistrates and alternates, with magistrate Jerónimo Mejía acting as judge. Mejía has 20 days to hold a hearing on that motion, at which he could proceed with or throw out the formal charges requested by Díaz. In the motion Díaz seeks a trial on four counts. Each of these encompasses multiple acts, against multiple individual victims on the illegal wiretapping and following without a court order counts, against the Panamanian people on the theft and private use of public property counts. At a trial Díaz would represent the Panamanian state but would also be joined by private prosecutors representing 10 of the at least 150 targets of Martinelli’s spying against politicians, journalists, civic activists, labor leaders, prominent businesspeople, lawyers and judges. Díaz has asked for a 21-year prison sentence.

According to the accusation Ricardo Martinelli separated the spy operation from the National Security Council and the Ministry of the Presidency by 2012, and kicked most of the people who had worked at the security center in Building 150 of Quarry Heights. The electronic part of the surveillance was carried on from there until shortly after Ricardo Martinelli’s proxies lost the May 2014 elections. The routine until that defeat would be that every morning agent Rony Rodríguez — now a fugitive — would visit Martinelli and give him a manila envelope, said to contain the results of the previous day’s spying. After the Martinelistas lost the elections, the servers in Building 150 were moved to a Super 99 office in Monte Oscuro and then went missing from there. But remnants of at least some of the files, concerning about 150 people, went through a National Security Council laptop and despite a post-election attempt to erase them were recovered. Three Israeli-made sets of surveillance devices and the Italian programs that they used are also missing.

Upon whom is Martinelli accused of illegally spying? President Juan Carlos Varela, then vice president, for one. His brother, legislator Popi Varela, was also a target. So were other members of their family. So were all of the opposition presidential candidates. So was the Electoral Tribunal’s presiding magistrate, Erasmo Pinilla. So were businessman Stanley Motta and labor leader Genaro López. So were two former presidents, Ernesto Pérez Balladares and Martín Torrijos. What has been recovered may be only a fraction of the list of those spied upon, some 150 principal targets but also relatives and associates of these people.

The accusation lists more than 70 witnesses, including a number of current and former members of various security, law enforcement and prosecutorial agencies. There is no mention of a code of silence as prevailed among such people in the wake of the dictatorship’s fall. Most probably broader inferences can be made from this circumstance, that Martinelli had intended to steal the 2014 elections and had amassed a riot control arsenal to enforce that, but that at some point late in the game he realized or had it pointed out to him that he had alienated the nation’s security forces and could not count on them in a bid to retain power.

Perhaps the next order of business is the color of the INTERPOL notice. Díaz has filed a request for a blue notice, which if the international law enforcement agency agrees and issues it would identify Martinelli as a person of interest in a criminal investigation and ask police agencies in all member jurisdictions to help ascertain Martinelli’s whereabouts and to provide information relevant to the case. A blue notice is not a search warrant but it would be an interesting question under US law whether that plus an affidavit from someone who knows of one of the stolen surveillance devices being present in the United States would suffice for the issuance of a US court’s search and seizure order. But attorneys for constitutional law professor Miguel Antonio Bernal and several other surveillance victims have asked the court to seek a red notice from INTERPOL. Those color notices are something like an international arrest warrant in they request that member jurisdictions detain people named in them for extradition proceedings to ensue. If Díaz’s complaint is accepted by Mejía, perhaps a red notice would be requested and issued by INTERPOL. However, even if that happens it is not mandatory for a country in which a person so named is present to arrest or bring extradition proceedings against that person. It becomes a political decision.

 

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