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Chan, Address to the World Health Assembly

WHO spray
Spraying for mosquitoes to contain a Zika outbreak. Photo by the World Health Organization.

Address to the World Health Assembly

by Dr. Margaret Chan

Mister President, Excellencies, honorable ministers, ambassadors, distinguished delegates, ladies and gentlemen,

Public health constantly struggles to hold infectious diseases at bay, to change lifestyle behaviours, and to find enough money to do these and many other jobs.

But sometimes we need to step back and celebrate.

Commitment to the Millennium Development Goals brought focus, energy, creative innovation, and above all money to bear on some of the biggest health challenges that marred the start of this century.

We can celebrate the 19,000 fewer children dying every day, the 44% drop in maternal mortality, and the 85% of tuberculosis cases that are successfully cured.

Africa in particular can celebrate the 60% decline in malaria mortality, especially since the African Leaders Malaria Alliance did so much to make this happen.

We can celebrate the fastest scale-up of a life-saving treatment in history. More than 15 million people living with HIV are now receiving antiretroviral therapy, up from just 690,000 in 2000.

A culture of measurement and accountability evolved to make aid more effective. Greater transparency brought the voice of civil society to bear in holding governments and donors accountable for their promises.

The profile of health changed, from a drain on resources to an investment that builds stable, prosperous, and equitable societies.

Everyone in this room can be proud of these achievements.

You have saved many millions of lives. Your strategic and technical innovations have left us well-prepared to set our sights even higher. You deserve an applause.

Ladies and gentlemen,

In an interconnected world characterized by profound mobility of people and goods, few threats to health are local anymore.

Air pollution is a transboundary hazard that affects the global atmosphere and contributes to climate change.

Drug-resistant pathogens, including the growing number of “superbugs,” travel well internationally in people, animals, and food.

The marketing of unhealthy foods and beverages, especially to children, is now a global phenomenon.

Safeguarding the quality of pharmaceutical products has become much harder, with complex manufacturing procedures and supply chains spanning multiple companies and countries.

Ensuring the quality of the food supply is also much harder when a single meal can contain ingredients from all around the world, including some potentially contaminated with exotic pathogens.

The refugee crisis in Europe taught the world that armed conflicts in faraway places will not stay remote.

The Ebola outbreak in three small countries paralyzed the world with fear and travel constraints.

Last year, a business traveller returning home to the Republic of Korea, infected with the MERS coronavirus, disrupted the country’s economy as well as its health system.

The rapidly evolving outbreak of Zika warns us that an old disease that slumbered for six decades in Africa and Asia can suddenly wake up on a new continent to cause a global health emergency.

This year’s long-feared appearance of urban yellow fever in Africa, now confirmed in the capital cities of Angola and the Democratic Republic of Congo, is yet another serious event with potential for further international spread.

Ladies and gentlemen,

For infectious diseases, you cannot trust the past when planning for the future.

Changes in the way humanity inhabits the planet have given the volatile microbial world multiple new opportunities to exploit. There will always be surprises.

The possibility that a mosquito bite during pregnancy could be linked to severe brain abnormalities in newborns alarmed the public and astonished scientists.

Confirmation of a causal link between infection and microcephaly has transformed the profile of Zika from a mild disease to a devastating diagnosis for pregnant women and a significant threat to global health.

Outbreaks that become emergencies always reveal specific weaknesses in affected countries and illuminate the fault lines in our collective preparedness.

For Ebola, it was the absence of even the most basic infrastructures and capacities for surveillance, diagnosis, infection control, and clinical care, unaided by any vaccines or specific treatments.

For Zika, we are again taken by surprise, with no vaccines and no reliable and widely available diagnostic tests. To protect women of childbearing age, all we can offer is advice. Avoid mosquito bites. Delay pregnancy. Do not travel to areas with ongoing transmission.

Zika reveals an extreme consequence of the failure to provide universal access to sexual and family planning services. Latin America and the Caribbean have the highest proportion of unintended pregnancies anywhere in the world.

Above all, the spread of Zika, the resurgence of dengue, and the emerging threat from chikungunya are the price being paid for a massive policy failure that dropped the ball on mosquito control in the 1970s.

The lesson from yellow fever is especially brutal. The world failed to use an excellent preventive tool to its full strategic advantage.

For more than a decade, WHO has been warning that changes in demography and land use patterns in Africa have created ideal conditions for explosive outbreaks of urban yellow fever. Africa’s urbanization has been rapid and rampant, showing the fastest growth rates anywhere in the world.

Migrants from rural areas, and workers from mining and construction sites, can now carry the virus into urban areas with powder-keg conditions: dense populations of non-immune people, heavy infestations with mosquitoes exquisitely adapted to urban life, and the flimsy infrastructures that make mosquito control nearly impossible.

The world has had a safe, low-cost, and effective vaccine that confers life-long protection against yellow fever since 1937. That’s nearly 80 years. Yellow fever vaccines should be used more widely to protect people living in endemic countries. Yellow fever is not a mild disease.

Let me give you a stern warning. What we are seeing now looks more and more like a dramatic resurgence of the threat from emerging and re-emerging infectious diseases. The world is not prepared to cope.

High-level assessments of the Ebola response have consistently called for more resilient health systems as a first line of defence. This is also the position taken at the G7 summit being held later this week in Japan.

I welcome the current joint external evaluations that are looking at preparedness and response capacities in several countries. The evaluations need to continue with the utmost urgency, as a tool under WHO authority and coordination.

WHO is the organization with universal legitimacy to implement the International Health Regulations. The evaluations must be accompanied by well-resourced efforts to fill the gaps.

Given what we face right now, and the next surprises that are sure to come, the item on your agenda with the most sweeping consequences, for a danger that can quickly sweep around the world, is the one on the reform of WHO’s work in health emergency management.

The Secretariat’s report gives you an overview of the design, oversight, implementation plan, and financing requirements of the new health emergencies program.

Setting this up marks a fundamental change for WHO, in which our traditional technical and normative functions are augmented by operational capacities needed to respond to outbreaks and humanitarian emergencies. Implementation of this change has moved forward quickly.

The program’s design is aligned with the principles of a single program, with one clear line of authority, one workforce, one budget, one set of rules and processes, and one set of standard performance metrics.

In March, I established an Independent Oversight and Advisory Committee. This eight-member committee is monitoring the development and performance of the program. The Committee will report its findings through the Executive Board to the Health Assembly.

I urge you to give this item the serious consideration it deserves. Anything short of full political and financial support for the program will handicap the WHO response, right now and into the future.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Few health threats are local anymore. And few health threats can be managed by the health sector acting alone.

As the international community enters the era of sustainable development, the global health landscape is being shaped by three slow-motion disasters: a changing climate, the failure of more and more mainstay antimicrobials, and the rise of chronic noncommunicable diseases as the leading killers worldwide.

These are not natural disasters. They are man-made disasters created by policies that place economic interests above concerns about the well-being of human lives and the planet that sustains them.

This is the way the world works. The burning of fossil fuels powers economies.

Medicines for treating chronic conditions are more profitable than a short course of antibiotics. Highly processed foods that are cheap, convenient, and tasty gain a bigger market share than fresh fruits and vegetables.

Unchecked, these slow-motion disasters will eventually reach a tipping point where the harm done is irreversible.

This is best documented by the 20 C limit for catastrophic climate change. For antimicrobial resistance, we are on the verge of a post-antibiotic era in which common infectious diseases will once again kill. If you want to know the future consequences of markets saturated with unhealthy foods and beverages, read the report of the Commission on Ending Childhood Obesity.

The 2030 agenda for sustainable development wants to make sure these and many other disasters are averted. The agenda aims to do nothing less than transform the way the world, and the international systems that govern it, work.

The goals and targets are broad, visionary, and supremely ambitious. They have been criticized by some as utopian, unaffordable, out of touch, and out of reach.

I disagree. The vision inspires optimism and hope, but it is also firmly anchored in the realities of a world that desperately needs to change.

The ambition of the agenda is to tackle the root causes of the world’s many woes, from the degrading misery to poverty to the consequences of terrorism and violence, in an integrated and interactive way.

The agenda puts the people left behind first. We know what this implies.

R&D market failures punish the poor. User fees punish the poor. User fees discourage people from seeking care until a condition is severe and far more difficult and costly to manage. Diabetes is a prime example. User fees waste resources as well as lives.

The agenda is indeed broad, but so are the social, economic, and environmental determinants of health. The advantage of addressing these broad determinants is well-reflected in the operational framework for implementing the Global strategy for women’s, children’s and adolescents’ health.

Health holds a prominent and central place that benefits the entire agenda. In the final analysis, the ultimate objective of all development activities, whether concerning the design of urban environments or the provision of modern energy to rural areas, is to sustain human lives in good health.

In an interactive agenda, the broad determinants of health, coupled with methodologies that let us track progress with confidence, make improvements in health a reliable marker of overall progress.

Member States have approved roadmaps of strategic actions for taking forward work on individual health targets. Nearly all these strategies and plans map out priority R&D innovations that will boost the prospects of reaching ambitious goals.

Innovations help, but ambitious goals are feasible and affordable only if we cut out waste and inefficiency.

We do so through integrated, people-centred care that spans the life course, from pre-conception through ageing, and brings prevention to the fore. The target for universal health coverage moves us in that direction.

UHC is the target that underpins all others. It is the ultimate expression of fairness that leaves no one behind. It also has the best chance of meetings people’s expectations for comprehensive care that does not drive them below the poverty line.

And we have other resources to tap. The Women Deliver conference, held last week in Copenhagen, provides evidence of the energy unleashed when women are freed from the constraints of violence, discrimination, and unintended pregnancies.

It also falls to the health sector to show some principled ethical backbone in a world that, for all practical appearances, has lost its moral compass. We must express outrage at the recent bombings of hospitals and refugee camps in Syria and Yemen, the use of rape and starvation as weapons of war, and the killing of innocent civilians in the pursuit of terrorist goals.

Ladies and gentlemen,

We need to celebrate not only the wealth of achievements and lessons learned during the MDG era, but also every victory that permanently eliminates a health threat.

Earlier this month, WHO declared that India has eliminated yaws from its vast population. Last year, human cases of sleeping sickness reached the lowest level seen since data collection began 75 years ago. This year, only two cases of guinea worm disease have been detected, both in Chad.

After Cuba was validated as the first country in the world to eliminate mother-to-child transmission of HIV and syphilis, a second wave of countries will be considered by the global validation committee this week.

Polio eradication has never been so close to the finish line, with Africa now free of wild poliovirus for nearly two years.

During the short span of two weeks in April, 155 countries successfully switched from trivalent to bivalent oral polio vaccine, marking the largest coordinated vaccine withdrawal in history. This is another milestone towards a world permanently free of a crippling disease.

We have victories on other fronts. More countries are exercising their legal right to mandate plain packaging for tobacco products, with the UK being the latest. These are critical victories. No country can hope to bring down the burden of noncommunicable diseases in the absence of strong legislation for tobacco control.

World leaders are fully aware of the major challenges affecting health in general and this Organization in particular.

Many recent meetings have focused on the crisis caused by antimicrobial resistance. I thank Member States for taking this crisis so seriously, including the pressing need for incentives to get new products into the pipeline.

World leaders are concerned about the world drug problem and the need to broaden and balance the response by adopting a public health approach. They are concerned about a humanitarian system that is overwhelmed and badly needs reform.

They are concerned about the costs, to economies as well as to health, incurred by noncommunicable diseases. Thanks to last year’s successful event in Paris, the world now has a climate treaty.

I thank Member States for recognizing the critical importance of strengthening health systems and embracing the vision of universal health coverage. You have approved many resolutions that contribute to this end.

You are also on the verge of delivering a solid framework for engagement with non-state actors that will mainstream a major area of reform.

This Health Assembly, with its record-breaking number of agenda items and participants, tells me how much you expect from WHO.

We have entered an ambitious new era for health development. We have a solid foundation of success to build on.

WHO, together with its multiple partners, is poised to save many more millions of lives. I ask you to remember this purpose as we go through an agenda that can mean so much for the future.

Thank you.


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They have yet to entirely eliminate bus art…

bus art
At the bus terminal in Albrook. Photo by Eric Jackson.

Bus art lives, for now

During the Torrijos and Martinelli administrations the owner operated diablo rojo buses — generally used school buses from North America, imported and repainted according to Panamanian traditions — were eliminated from routes within Panama City and San Miguelito. More recently the importation of used buses has been prohibited. But in Arraijan, La Chorrera, Chepo, Colon and some parts of the Interior, the tradition persists.


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Bernal, A crisis of values

Dr. Bernal and his supporters, when the corrupt “Rector Magnifico” tried to kick him out of his teaching position at the University of Panama law school. Archive photo by José F. Ponce.

A crisis of values

by Miguel Antonio Bernal V.

Since the military dictatorship’s sinking, Panama has lived in a prolonged crisis of values. This keeps us from determining which are the most important values that we should institutionalize.

“Panama’s fundamental problem,” as the economist Rubén Lachman well recalled recently, “is of a political nature.” The successive governments that have gone in and out of power these past 27 years, in their zeal to achieve “the normal and routine” functioning of the government, have venerated the Political Constitution of 1972, the symbol of authoritarianism and totalitarianism, which people fought with cries for “Democracy, Justice and Freedom.”

On the bottom line, what happens to us is that we have been blocked — by different mechanisms — from institutionalizing political freedom. We are taking about the need to institute a real, effective and transparent political freedom that eliminates the endless quantity of obstacles that exist in our midst which impede citizens from acting according to their responsible will.

Let me clarify. I identify with Fernando Savater when he teaches us that: “In speaking of freedom I mean nothing particularly mystical, but the autonomy of individuals in the community to establish and revoke laws, elect and depose rulers, enjoy legal safeguards and have the possibility to explore by whatever means that do not harm others the fullness of their individuality.”

We should consolidate the steps, mechanisms and procedures favorable to political freedoms. We are called today more than ever to emancipate ourselves from misery, the tyranny of structural poverty, of inequality, of ignorance. We cannot allow these to continue reducing the roles of public institutions and public services to the defense and protection of the privileged ones and their privileges.

In the coming days and months the crisis of values will no doubt become more accentuated, and this will increase the peril to our political liberties. We ought to renounce the role of financial shelter and rescue our trampled national dignity.


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Lamrani, Avoiding a war in space

space is the place
The Chinese, the Russians and other powers also have their miltary space programs and we can’t be entirely certain who has what capability.

Avoiding a war in space

by Omar Lamrani — STRATFOR

Space is becoming more congested, contested and competitive. Since the Soviet Union put the first satellite, Sputnik I, into space in 1957, no nation has deliberately destroyed another’s satellite in orbit. But there is a growing possibility that battles may soon be waged in space.

Although the militarization of space started long ago, a number of technological developments and tests over the past decade show that the race toward its weaponization is accelerating. Driven by Washington’s dominance of and strategic dependence on space, US rivals are working to develop and deploy anti-satellite weapons (widely known as ASATs). The technology, which began to be developed during the Cold War, has become an area of intense competition for the world’s most capable militaries over the past decade.

For the United States, being the leader in military space technologies provides immense advantages. At the same time, its outsize reliance on those technologies entails risks. The current unequal dependence on space, the United States fears, could give adversaries incentive to attack its infrastructure in orbit. Washington is therefore pushing to bolster its capabilities and is preparing for the possibility that a future conflict could escalate into space. As the militarized space race continues, the United States will stay focused on deterrence. A war in space would be devastating to all, and preventing it, rather than finding ways to fight it, will likely remain the goal.

An unequal dependence

Washington’s dependence on space infrastructure reflects the United States’ dominance in space. The tyranny of time and distance inherently hinders the United States’ ability to deploy its military across the globe. But the space domain effectively helps the country to overcome the limitations, allowing for enhanced force projection. As a result, the US military relies heavily on its orbital assets for navigation, intelligence collection, precision targeting, communication, early warning and several other crucial activities.

The great advantages that space assets afford the United States have not gone unnoticed by its potential rivals. Though China and Russia, for instance, also rely on space, they are less dependent on their space assets than the United States is. First, neither nation has as much in orbit. In addition, because both put greater focus on their immediate geographic regions, they can use more conventional tools to achieve their objectives. For instance, Beijing, by virtue of geographic proximity, could rely on its ground-based radars and sensors in a conflict in the Taiwan Strait. The United States, on the other hand, would have to lean on its satellites to support a response in the same area.

Despite the United States’ superior ability to strike at enemy space constellations — groups of similar kinds of satellites — competitors may determine that the resulting loss of space access would be worthwhile if they could severely degrade US space access. And while the United States is the most proficient nation in space-based warfare, there are limits to its abilities. Satellites in orbit follow predictable movements, have restricted maneuverability and are difficult to defend from an attack.

There is little doubt that a full kinetic strike on US satellites, which would inflict physical damage, would invite a devastating response. But tactics designed to degrade the satellites’ abilities, rather than to destroy their hardware, could be deemed less escalatory and therefore perhaps worth the risk. These include jamming signals, hacking operational software and dazzling (temporarily blinding) or permanently disabling sensors. Calculating the risk of nonkinetic strikes, which would create little physical damage and could even be reversed, a potential foe would take into account the United States’ hesitance to escalate a conflict in space, given its heavy dependence on orbital technology.

Reinforcing deterrence

If the United States wants to preserve its primacy in the face of increasing threats to its strength in space, Washington will need to invest in strategies to deter attacks on its orbital assets. The first step in strengthening space deterrence is to ensure proper attribution: The United States cannot hold its enemies accountable for attacks if it does not know who initiated them. But the vastness of space, along with the difficulty of obtaining physical evidence from attacked satellites, can make responsibility hard to prove.

To that end, the United States is investing in a second-generation surveillance system, known as Space Fence, to track satellites and orbital debris. Slated to begin operating in 2018, Space Fence uses ground-based radars that give it 10 times the detection capability of its predecessor, the Air Force Space Surveillance System. In addition, the United States has been working with a classified satellite defense technology called the Self-Awareness Space Situational Awareness system, which reportedly will be able to pinpoint the source of a laser fired at a satellite.

Redundancy and shielding can also deter limited attacks against satellites. The innate redundancy of large satellite constellations could make attacking them too risky; such an assault would fail to significantly impair US space control while still inviting retaliation. Meanwhile, more widespread use of resistant antenna designs, filters, surge arresters and fiber-optic components, which are less vulnerable to attack, is already being explored to further shield satellites from jamming, dazzling and blinding.

Finally, the United States can work alongside its global partners and allies to convey the idea that a full-blown battle that would destroy orbiting satellites would be bad for all of humanity. Reinforcing this message and openly tying it to a powerful US response could further bolster deterrence.

Preventing a war in space

While the United States works to discourage hostilities in space, in no small part to ensure its enduring advantage there, Washington is also taking more steps to plan for the contingency of a war in space. The Department of Defense has nominated the secretary of the US Air Force as the initiative’s principal adviser, tasked with coordinating space-related efforts across the military. Late last year, the United States also established the Joint Interagency Combined Space Operations Center at Colorado’s Schriever Air Force Base. The center facilitates information sharing across the national security space enterprise and has already run a number of wargame scenarios to simulate conflict in orbit.

Furthermore, the Pentagon has added $5 billion to its space programs budget in 2016, pushing the total to about $27 billion. The budget provides for spending on technologies and tactics that can help the United States mitigate and recover from a space attack. One effort, spearheaded by the Operationally Responsive Space Office, aims to develop small satellites and associated launch systems that can be built and deployed quickly and cheaply. (For the most part, the current US fleet consists of large, sophisticated and expensive satellites, some of which cost billions of dollars and take years to construct.)

As part of this endeavor, the office has directed the development of a standardized but modular satellite chassis that allows for multiple payload variations. The result is increased flexibility, as well as lower costs and quicker turnaround in production. Developing a less expensive and more efficient way to launch replacements for destroyed or disabled systems is the next step. With that in mind, the Operationally Responsive Space Office is funding the development of the Spaceborne Payload Assist Rocket-Kauai (SPARK) launch system, designed to send miniaturized satellites into low-Earth and sun-synchronous orbits. In its efforts to rapidly launch swarms of miniaturized satellites on the cheap, the US military is also looking to leverage the private sector. Companies such as Virgin Galactic (with the LauncherOne) and the Rocket Lab (with the Electron Vehicle) have expressed keen interest in the initiative.

The small satellite revolution promises the speedy replacement of disabled satellites in the event of attack — theoretically securing the US military’s use of space constellations in support of operations during a conflict. Small satellites are not a magic bullet, however; key satellite functions will still depend on bulkier and more complex systems, such as the large but critically important nuclear-hardened command-and-control mission satellites. Many of these systems involve hefty antennas and considerable power sources.

Given that access to orbit may not be guaranteed during a war in space, the United States has also been exploring alternative ways to perform some of the core functions that satellites now provide. At this stage, high-flying unmanned aerial vehicles with satellite-like payloads offer the most advanced alternative. But considering the vehicles’ vulnerability to sophisticated air defenses, their lower altitude and endurance relative to orbital satellites, and their limited global reach, this remains a tentative solution at best.

Overall, the United States is getting far more serious about the threat of space warfare. Investment in new technologies is increasing, and the organizational architecture to deal with such a contingency is being put in place. In the race between shield and sword, however, there is no guarantee that offensive ASAT capabilities will not have the advantage, potentially denying critical access to space during a catastrophic celestial war.
The High Cost of a War in Space

Increased competition in space is reviving fears of a war there, one with devastating consequences. Humanity depends on space systems for communication, exploration, navigation and a host of other functions integral to modern life. Moreover, future breakthroughs may await in space, including solar energy improvements, nuclear waste disposal and extraterrestrial mining.

A war in space would disable a number of key satellites, and the resulting debris would place vital orbital regions at risk. The damage to the world economy could also be disastrous. In severity, the consequences of space warfare could be comparable to those of nuclear war. What’s more, disabling key constellations that give early launch warnings could be seen as the opening salvo in a nuclear attack, driving the threat of a wider conflagration.

While the United States and other nations are taking measures to better prepare for a potential war in space, their emphasis will likely remain on deterrence. This is an important notion to understand, not only for potential US enemies but also for the United States itself. For instance, it is conceivable that technological advancements in the coming decades could allow the United States to recover militarily from a space clash more quickly than the ever-more space dependent China or Russia. In such a scenario, the costs that a space war would have for the world as a whole might be enough to dissuade Washington from launching its own space attack.


Avoiding a War in Space is republished with permission of Stratfor.


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¿Wappin? A seven-concert Sunday music festival

The Godfather of Soul, James Brown. Photo by Erik K. Veland.

¿Wappin? A seven-concert Sunday music festival

Lou Rawls Live Concert at BET

Julieta Venegas en Paris 2012

Ian Hunter Band with Mick Ronson Live Rockpalast

Romeo Santos – Festival de Viña del Mar 2015

The Rolling Stones in Glastonbury 2013

Heroes del Silencio MTV Unplugged

James Brown at the House of Blues


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Editorials: Noriega and us; and Investigating phonies

Manuel Antonio Noriega, two years ago. Photo by SERTV.
Manuel Antonio Noriega, two years ago. Photo by SERTV.

Noriega: the important question
is more about us than about him

Former dictator Manuel Antonio Noriega, once the strutting strongman but now a frail old man who has lived behind bars for more than a quarter century, has a brain tumor. It’s apparently not an immediate threat to his life as such, except that it’s causing him to have convulsions that might conceivably kill him. It reportedly can be removed by surgeons, but with the risks enhanced and the results in additional doubt because the patient is elderly and has had a stroke.

Noriega’s family and lawyers have requested that the courts change his conditions of confinement from prison to house arrest. President Varela can and probably will wash his hands of the matter, but he also has the power to issue a partial commutation of a sort similar to what is being asked from the courts.

Immediately there is a hue and cry against any clemency, any mercy, any consideration for Noriega. Some of the voices are downright sadistic, but there are some valid arguments for keeping the ex-dictator locked up. For one thing, he has never been tried for many of the worst of his crimes. For another, we have never received his full statement about the crimes for which he has been convicted, let alone those for which he is accused. There are suspicions that some of his ill-gotten fortune is still squirreled away somewhere. There is no cruelty barbarous enough to match the suffering that Noriega caused to others, nothing that we can do to bring back those who died at his hands.

But the more important questions are about us as human beings, about Panama as a civilization, about the dream of a sovereign Panamanian state with the rule of law.

At the time that Noriega held power, the maximum legal sentence for any crime was 20 years in prison, with no stacking of sentences to be served consecutively for separate crimes. Since the invasion — which was accompanied by disgraceful looting that Panamanians don’t like to remember, explain or address in any way other than by some blaming the Americans — crime has been a persistent and frightening problem. As a response to that banal politicians have borrowed the failed US answer of more people in prison for longer sentences under more brutal conditions. That answer, enacted here in longer maximum prison terms, has not worked in the United States and it hasn’t worked here. Crime goes up and down, largely according to the demographics of how many teenage boys and young men are living in poverty and despair. (The latter — despair for any honorable future place in society — is far more dangerous than poverty itself.) Increasing the severity of punishment just hardens individuals and drains public budgets.

Panama has long been a country without the death penalty. Public revulsion at the execution of the Liberal guerrilla general Victoriano Lorenzo was one of the reasons why Liberals accepted Panama’s separation from Colombia. The revulsion of the Panama Defense Forces of Noriega’s executions of some of its members was one of the reasons why that demoralized army put up little resistance during the invasion. We are a country with freedom of religion, with Evangelical, Muslim and Jehovah’s Witness denominations that are growing along with the number of people who express atheist or agnostic beliefs, but Panama has a large Catholic majority and our attitudes about capital punishment and cruelty in the name of the law are largely shaped by the Catholic faith.

So who are WE? Are we a nation that makes long-imprisoned inmates serve their sentences to the last day, even when they are dying or old and frail? Or are we a nation that follows the Christian and Muslim belief that the greatness of Jesus Christ was in large part due to his teaching that the rule of law should be tempered by a spirit of mercy?

Don’t let Noriega out into society at large. Don’t accept any revision of history’s verdict that excuses what he did. But when, after his brain surgery, he is well enough to be released from the prison ward at Santo Tomas Hospital, send him home to serve the rest of his sentence under house arrest. That would be the decent thing to do, and the Panamanian thing to do.

Investigating phony people who come here

Everybody has conceits about himself or herself, which is one reason why autobiographies and “authorized” biographies are mostly awful.

There are so very many people who come to Panama with made-up stories about themselves who, if the whole truth is known, are still not newsworthy. It’s even that way with criminals. Somebody who is living here under a false identity who does that because some jurisdiction has a warrant out about selling marijuana? Not newsworthy. Somebody who is living here under a false identity who does that because there is a warrant listing a dozen murders allegedly committed by the person? Newsworthy. Was the guy who says he was a colonel to people in the Coronado social circle actually a sergeant? Unless the government of Panama is considering him as a police consultant, not newsworthy. The person who falsely claims membership in a licensed profession in another place? Generally not newsworthy, until the moment comes when she or he uses that bogus credential to attract investors, get a job or obtain a position of influence in the community.

When somebody flaunts a résumé in this land where many public officials proffer false credentials, there are things at which to look:

  • Is this person’s set of claims all couched in terms of “I was” rather than “I did?”
  • Does this person claim leadership roles in many groups, but none of them lasting very long?
  • Does this person say that she or he “attended” a university, or is an alumnus of a fraternity or sorority there, rather than specifying a year of graduation, the sort of degree received and in what major or majors?
  • Does this person claim association with a corporation, and if you look up the corporation you find it is the “mirror” of one or more other, older and perhaps more renowned corporations with the same or a very similar name?
  • Does this person claim association with a corporation that’s real enough, but has been immersed in scandal?
  • Does the person make claims that can’t be verified and seem improbable?

If those sorts of red flags are raised, it’s time to dig more deeply. That is, if you are a journalist looking into a newsworthy situation, if you are someone being accused of something, if this person is after your job or some post you hold in the community or if you are an officer of an organization in which this person is attempting to gain a position of influence.

What you find will then probably call for judgment and restraint. Do you want to out a narc, or someone in a witness protection program, and put that person’s life in danger? Do you want to make somebody’s life miserable about some inconsequential incongruity? Are you a vicious blackmailing punk? Is there a reason why the community or one of its organizations ought to be warned? Does your personal stake in a matter cloud your judgment?

The Dick the Bruiser Philosophy — “Integrity? What’s THAT?” — is a good joke, except too many people in positions of power or influence great and small actually operate on that principle. It may be the norm in a totally commercial world in which everything is cutthroat competition, but it’s no way to live in a population of human beings.

The Panama News is published by neither a saint nor a messiah, but this guy who is 63 years old and who has been practicing journalism off and on since age 17 and  covering Panama full-time since 1994. Plenty of errors have been made along the way, but there are no judgments or convictions for libel or slander even though such sorts of accusations have been hurled his way over the years.

Bear in mind…

The moment we begin to fear the opinions of others and hesitate to tell the truth that is in us, and from motives of policy are silent when we should speak, the divine floods of light and life no longer flow into our souls.
Elizabeth Cady Stanton


The quality of mercy is not strain’d
It droppeth as the gentle rain from Heaven
William Shakespeare


When the man who feeds the world by toiling in the fields is himself deprived of the basic rights of feeding, sheltering and caring for his own family, the whole community of man is sick.
Cesar Chavez


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The Panama News blog links, May 21, 2016


The Panama News blog links

Container Management, PanCanal to use up to five tugs per ship in new locks

ACP Advisory, Draft restricted to 42 feet on new locks that are designed for 50 feet

ANP, Así se ven las nuevas esclusas del Canal de Panamá

Hellenic Shipping News, Chinese to build Colon’s new port for the bigger ships

Daily Beast, Will Nicaragua ever get its Grand Canal?

Hellenic Shipping News, New PanCanal competition from Costa Rican dry route?

MLS Soccer, Columbus Crew adds Panama’s Cristian Martínez

World Boxing News, WBA orders Concepción – Kono title bout

European Supermarket Magazine, Atlas and Balboa beer brands traded to Brazilians

Video, Protesta en contra de Barro Blanco frente la Gobernación en David

Telemetro, Licencias del EEUU en caso Waked vigentes hasta el 14 de junio

Balboa Bank & Trust, Board of Directors

Stanford’s Forgotten Victims, US judge OKs Stanford assets’ sale to Waked group

Prensa Latina, Japan reaches tax data deal with Panama

AFP, Panamá necesita más tiempo para investigar a Mossack Fonseca

Portland Business Journal, Senator Wyden calls Panama Papers a wake-up call

EFE, Experto ruso: la filtración de documentos de Mossack Fonseca fue interna

VICE, Why the Panama Papers are a women’s rights issue

Página 12, Con la lupa sobre los negocios de Macri

Reuters, Police widen investigation of Odebrecht corruption in Angola

Main, MACCIH makes its first apperance

Bananama Republic, Identity thief heads Democrats Abroad Panama

TVN, Robo y suplantación de identidad en internet no están delitos en Panamá

Newsroom Panama, Noriega seeks house arrest

La Estrella, Rector será investigado bajo el sistema penal acusatorio

Sputnik International, Russian Duma OKs extradition pact with Panama

Caribbean News Now!, Suriname approves Islamic Charter

IHU/Adital, Temer fue informante de la inteligencia de EEUU

BBC, Volcano ash covers Costa Rica towns

Fish Update, Canada approves genetically modified salmon

EFE, Centroamérica ante la peor sequía en 30 años

Seattle P-I, Washington AG rebukes congressional climate change deniers

Miami Herald, Researchers help Miami plan for sea rise and climate change

Forbes, How birds became red

WHO, Emergency Committee meets on Angola yellow fever outbreak

Mongabay: TTIP unfriendly to environment, consumers and democracy

Greenwald, First interview with Dilma Rousseff after her suspension

WOLA, Money laundering and Peru’s presidential elections

Stiglitz, Monopoly’s new era

Chomsky, La crisis de los refugiados

Taibbi, Trump isn’t the campaign media’s first mistake

Vivas, ¿Qué queda de tanta indignación?

Goett, Nicaragua’s zombie megaproject

Boff: Madre, arquetipo fundamental de la psique humana

Jansen, Maksoud was a great Arab ambassador to the world

Blades, Morley Safer

The Hollywood Reporter, “Hands of Stone” at Cannes review


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Avnery, I was there

“Death to the Arabs!” Martinelli and Varela pose with Israeli racist leader Avigdor Liebernan, something that Barack Obama, Joe Biden, Hillary Clinton and John Kerry have all refused to do. Photo by the Presidencia.

I was there

by Uri Avnery

“Please don’t write about Ya’ir Golan!” a friend begged me, “Anything a leftist like you writes will only harm him!”

So I abstained for some weeks. But I can’t keep quiet any longer.

General Ya’ir Golan, the deputy Chief of Staff of the Israeli army, made a speech on Holocaust Memorial Day. Wearing his uniform, he read a prepared, well-considered text that triggered an uproar which has not yet died down.

Dozens of articles have been published in its wake, some condemning him, some lauding him. Seems that nobody could stay indifferent.

The main sentence was: “If there is something that frightens me about the memories of the Holocaust, it is the knowledge of the awful processes which happened in Europe in general, and in Germany in particular, 70, 80, 90 years ago, and finding traces of them here in our midst, today, in 2016.”

All hell broke loose. What!!! Traces of Nazism in Israel? A resemblance between what the Nazis did to us with what we are doing to the Palestinians?

90 years ago was 1926, one of the last years of the German republic. 80 years ago was 1936, three years after the Nazis came to power. 70 years ago was 1946, on the morrow of Hitler’s suicide and the end of the Nazi Reich.

I feel compelled to write about the general’s speech after all, because I was there.

As a child I was an eye-witness to the last years of the Weimar Republic (so called because its constitution was shaped in Weimar, the town of Goethe and Schiller). As a politically alert boy I witnessed the Nazi Machtergreifung (“taking power”) and the first half a year of Nazi rule.

I know what Golan was speaking about. Though we belong to two different generations, we share the same background. Both our families come from small towns in Western Germany. His father and I must have had a lot in common.

There is a strict moral commandment in Israel: nothing can be compared to the Holocaust. The Holocaust is unique. It happened to us, the Jews, because we are unique. (Religious Jews would add: “Because God has chosen us.”)

I have broken this commandment. Just before Golan was born, I published (in Hebrew) a book called “The Swastika,” in which I recounted my childhood memories and tried to draw conclusions from them. It was on the eve of the Eichmann trial, and I was shocked by the lack of knowledge about the Nazi era among young Israelis then.

My book did not deal with the Holocaust, which took place when I was already living in Palestine, but with a question which troubled me throughout the years, and even today: how could it happen that Germany, perhaps the most cultured nation on earth at the time, the homeland of Goethe, Beethoven and Kant, could democratically elect a raving psychopath like Adolf Hitler as its leader?

The last chapter of the book was entitled “It Can Happen Here!” The title was drawn from a book by the American novelist Sinclair Lewis, called ironically “It Can’t Happen Here,” in which he described a Nazi take-over of the United States.

In this chapter I discussed the possibility of a Jewish Nazi-like party coming to power in Israel. My conclusion was that a Nazi party can come to power in any country on earth, if the conditions are right. Yes, in Israel, too.

The book was largely ignored by the Israeli public, which at the time was overwhelmed by the storm of emotions evoked by the terrible disclosures of the Eichmann trial.

Now comes General Golan, an esteemed professional soldier, and says the same thing.

And not as an improvised remark, but on an official occasion, wearing his general’s uniform, reading from a prepared, well thought-out text.

The storm broke out, and has not passed yet.

Israelis have a self-protective habit: when confronted with inconvenient truths, they evade its essence and deal with a secondary, unimportant aspect. Of all the dozens and dozens of reactions in the written press, on TV and on political platforms, almost none confronted the general’s painful contention.

No, the furious debate that broke out concerns the questions: Is a high-ranking army officer allowed to voice an opinion about matters that concern the civilian establishment? And do so in army uniform? On an official occasion?

Should an army officer keep quiet about his political convictions? Or voice them only in closed sessions — “in relevant forums,” as a furious Binyamin Netanyahu phrased it?

General Golan enjoys a very high degree of respect in the army. As Deputy Chief of Staff he was until now almost certainly a candidate for Chief of Staff, when the incumbent leaves the office after the customary four years.

The fulfillment of this dream shared by every General Staff officer is now very remote. In practice, Golan has sacrificed his further advancement in order to utter his warning and giving it the widest possible resonance.

One can only respect such courage. I have never met General Golan, I believe, and I don’t know his political views. But I admire his act.

(Somehow I recall an article published by the British magazine Punch before World War I, when a group of junior army officers issued a statement opposing the government’s policy in Ireland. The magazine said that while disapproving the opinion expressed by the mutinous officers, it took pride in the fact that such youthful officers were ready to sacrifice their careers for their convictions.)

The Nazi march to power started in 1929, when a terrible world-wide economic crisis hit Germany. A tiny, ridiculous far-right party suddenly became a political force to be reckoned with. From there it took them four years to become the largest party in the country and to take over power (though it still needed a coalition).

I was there when it happened, a boy in a family in which politics became the main topic at the dinner table. I saw how the republic broke down, gradually, slowly, step by step. I saw our family friends hoisting the swastika flag. I saw my high-school teacher raising his arm when entering the class and saying “Heil Hitler” for the first time (and then reassuring me in private that nothing had changed).

I was the only Jew in the entire gymnasium (high school). When the hundreds of boys – all taller than I – raised their arms to sing the Nazi anthem, and I did not, they threatened to break my bones if it happened again. A few days later we left Germany for good.

General Golan was accused of comparing Israel to Nazi Germany. Nothing of the sort. A careful reading of his text shows that he compared developments in Israel to the events that led to the disintegration of the Weimar Republic. And that is a valid comparison.

Things happening in Israel, especially since the last election, bear a frightening similarity to those events. True, the process is quite different. German fascism arose from the humiliation of surrender in World War I, the occupation of the Ruhr by France and Belgium from 1923-25, the terrible economic crisis of 1929, the misery of millions of unemployed. Israel is victorious in its frequent military actions, we live comfortable lives. The dangers threatening us are of a quite different nature. They stem from our victories, not from our defeats.

Indeed, the differences between Israel today and Germany then are far greater than the similarities. But those similarities do exist, and the general was right to point them out.

The discrimination against the Palestinians in practically all spheres of life can be compared to the treatment of the Jews in the first phase of Nazi Germany. (The oppression of the Palestinians in the occupied territories resembles more the treatment of the Czechs in the “protectorate” after the Munich betrayal.)

The rain of racist bills in the Knesset, those already adopted and those in the works, strongly resembles the laws adopted by the Reichstag in the early days of the Nazi regime. Some rabbis call for a boycott of Arab shops. Like then. The call “Death to the Arabs” (“Judah verrecke?”) is regularly heard at soccer matches. A member of parliament has called for the separation between Jewish and Arab newborns in hospital. A Chief Rabbi has declared that Goyim (non-Jews) were created by God to serve the Jews. Our Ministers of Education and Culture are busy subduing the schools, theater and arts to the extreme rightist line, something known in German as Gleichschaltung. The Supreme Court, the pride of Israel, is being relentlessly attacked by the Minister of Justice. The Gaza Strip is a huge ghetto.

Of course, no one in their right mind would even remotely compare Netanyahu to the Fuehrer, but there are political parties here which do 0 emit a strong fascist smell. The political riffraff peopling the present Netanyahu government could easily have found their place in the first Nazi government.

One of the main slogans of our present government is to replace the “old elite,” considered too liberal, with a new one. One of the main Nazi slogans was to replace “das System.”

By the way, when the Nazis came to power, almost all high-ranking officers of the German army were staunch anti-Nazis. They were even considering a putsch against Hitler. Their political leader was summarily executed a year later, when Hitler liquidated his opponents in his own party. We are told that General Golan is now protected by a personal bodyguard, something that has never happened to a general in the annals of Israel.

The general did not mention the occupation and the settlements, which are under army rule. But he did mention the episode which occurred shortly before he gave this speech, and which is still shaking Israel now: in occupied Hebron, under army rule, a soldier saw a seriously wounded Palestinian lying helplessly on the ground, approached him and killed him with a shot to the head. The victim had tried to attack some soldiers with a knife, but did not constitute a threat to anyone any more. This was a clear contravention of army standing orders, and the soldier has been hauled before a court martial.

A cry went up around the country: the soldier is a hero! He should be decorated! Netanyahu called his father to assure him of his support. Avigdor Lieberman entered the crowded courtroom in order to express his solidarity with the soldier. A few days later Netanyahu appointed Lieberman as Minister of Defense, the second most important office in Israel.

Before that, General Golan received robust support both from the Minister of Defense, Moshe Ya’alon, and the Chief of Staff, Gadi Eisenkot. Probably this was the immediate reason for the kicking out of Ya’alon and the appointment of Lieberman in his place. It resembled a putsch.

It seems that Golan is not only a courageous officer, but a prophet, too. The inclusion of Lieberman’s party in the government coalition confirms Golan’s blackest fears. This is another fatal blow to the Israeli democracy.

Am I condemned to witness the same process for the second time in my life?


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La primera puerco de monte con collar en Panamá

In a nation ruled by swine...
Serafina y Ric. Foto por STRI.

Serafina, una puerco de monte
con radio-collar en Panamá

por Sonia Tejada — STRI

El 10 de mayo Ricardo Moreno, Investigador Asociado del Instituto Smithsonian de Investigaciones Tropicales y fundador de Yaguará Panamá –junto a Ninon Meyer de Yaguará Panamá, el Colegio de la Frontera Sur, el equipo de Yaguará Panamá y los amigos del Pueblo de Pijibasal en Darién– capturaron y colocaron un collar transmisor a un puerco de monte por primera vez en la historia de Panamá.

La hembra a la que nombraron Serafina en honor al padre del asistente principal del grupo, Tilson Contreras (Serafín) de la Comunidad de Pijibasal en Darién, fue capturada cerca de la Estación del Ministerio de Ambiente en Rancho Frío.

Los puercos de monte (Tayassu pecari) en Panamá han sido poco estudiados y en la década de los 40 fueron cazados hasta ser eliminados en los bosques que existen en los alrededores de la cuenca del Canal de Panamá. Esta especie de puerco silvestre viaja en grandes grupos de entre 50 a 150 (o más) individuos si está en lugares prístinos, poco perturbados. Además es considerado como un arquitecto del bosque ya que remueven todo lo que está a su paso, “casi como el efecto que tiene un bulldozer en nuestros campos de agricultura,” comentó Moreno.

Los puercos de monte a su vez son una de las principales presas del jaguar y de los humanos, tienen amplias áreas de actividad y se ha encontrado en otras investigaciones que mucho de esto depende de la disponibilidad de alimento y el número de individuos de la manada “entre más individuos hay, necesitan más área para poder satisfacer las necesidades de todos. Es una nueva y gran aventura el poder rastrear en tierra y por satélite los movimientos de Serafina y su manada,” agregó Moreno.

La Fundación Yaguará Panamá y el Colegio de la Frontera Sur lideran el proyecto llamado “Evaluando la conectividad del Corredor Biológico Mesoamericano a través del uso de mamíferos clave en Panamá” con el apoyo financiero de SENACYT y la colaboración de Fundación Natura, GEMAS/Fondo Darién, Cat Heaven, Idea Wild y el Ministerio de Ambiente de Panamá, iniciaron la colocación de collares GPS para monitorear los movimientos reales y espaciales de los puercos de monte, jaguares, pumas y tapires en Darién.

Moreno espera con este proyecto, comenzar a llenar los vacíos de información y lograr convencer a los tomadores de decisiones para restablecer el corredor biológico panameño que ya está fracturado.


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