On March 11 Supreme Court magistrate Jerónimo Mejía, acting as the judge in the high court trial of Ricardo Martinelli on illegal electronic eavesdropping charges, made a two-pronged formal request for the former president’s extradition from the United States. The ex-president lives in self-imposed exile in Miami’s Brickell district. One referral was directly to INTERPOL. By the time you read these words it is likely that the closest thing to an international arrest warrant, an INTERPOL red note, will have been issued. The other referral was to Panama’s Ministry of Foreign Relations, which would likely start a diplomatic process by which, starting through the US Embassy here and the Panamanian Embassy in Washington, the United States would be formally asked to hand Martinelli over to Panamanian authorities.
The decisions now are for US authorities to make, and there are complicated legal and political factors involved. It may be a prolonged process, but rather quickly a decision will have to be made on whether to honor the INTERPOL red note, which will essentially ask that Martinelli be jailed pending extradition proceedings. It is rare that bail is granted in extradition cases before the US legal system. If Martinelli is locked up over many months the case is likely to change and grow in the interim, as the invasion of privacy charge is but one of about a dozen matters pending and in various stages against him. In the first instance, however, accepting or rejecting the INTERPOL request will be a political decision by the Obama administration via the State Department. It if goes along with the red note request, aspects of that decision could be reviewed by the courts.
There are three main legal routes by which the United States may extradite a foreign citizen. The main one is by treaty law, in this case based on the1904 US-Panama extradition treaty. Then there are extraditions granted without treaty authorization, based on a history of reciprocity between governments. There have also been extraditions based upon but not specifically authorized by mutual agreements to act against certain crimes. There are also possibilities of expulsions, with the United States summarily sending Martinelli back to Panama without recourse to the courts, a procedure for which there are also precedents with respect to Panama by which such action might be said to be cloaked in reciprocity.
There is a problem with this case and the 1904 treaty. That document applies to only certain specified crimes and illegal electronic spying is not one of them. An interpretation might be twisted and stretched out of that document to say that it does, but the legal histories of both countries show that in 1904 neither were too concerned about invasions of privacy. However, some of the other cases against Martinelli are about overpriced public contracts with kickbacks to Martinelli, or more often by indirect routes to the campaign coffers of Martinelli’s political party with the public officials involved in these schemes taking their percentages. Those would be matters sounding like embezzlement, larceny or fraud, which are specified in the extradition treaty.
For formal extradition based on reciprocity, there are precedents about money laundering crimes for which non-Panamanians have been extradited from Panama to the United States. There were no money laundering laws in 1904, in either country. And then, not exactly analogous, there are a number of cases in which US authorities have grabbed Panamanians without extradition proceedings of any sort to take them to the United States for trial. The most notorious of these was the removal from Panama of one Manuel Antonio Noriega. There have been less publicized US kidnappings of Panamanians for the purpose of bringing them before American courts, most often from third countries or from aircraft in transit.
There are mutual assistance treaties stemming from the “War on Drugs” that encompass money laundering crimes that are not necessarily about drugs, and one might argue a public policy reason for extradition based up on these. There is plenty of precedent for the United States using the “War on Drugs” as a pretext to pursue other policy aims. One aspect of the wiretapping case has been the concealment of financial transactions related to it, to which today’s broad interpretations of money laundering laws might be applied. Some of the other allegations against Martinelli now being processed in Panama’s high court more squarely involve money laundering as contemplated by US law, and Italian authorities allege a Panamanian government contract scheme by which kickbacks were to be diverted to Martinelli via the accounts of a company in Miami.
Money laundering through Miami? Illegal financial transactions using cables or satellites controlled by the United States? If Obama cares to get hard-nosed about it, he could have Martinelli arrested on US charges and tell Panama to wait for US justice to take its course before authorities here lay hands on the former president. Or Martinelli might be persuaded not to fight extradition in the face of such a threat.
On the other hand, given the revelations about US electronic spying on foreign governments, political leaders and companies, might the Obama administration for that reason balk at any consideration of illegal eavesdropping as an extraditable offense? Or might Washington consider that it owes Martinelli favors for this or that known or unknown action or policy, and on that basis protect him? The USA has traditionally been a refuge for some of the criminal element of Latin America’s political castes.
So there will be a US political decision about Martinelli, or one may have already been made. That gets to the legal considerations. There are relevant facts about that which are unknown. What, for example, is Ricardo Martinelli’s visa status in the United States? What sort of documents did he show when last he entered that country? Has he already filed for political asylum? Might he be treated as someone who overstayed a visa, or as someone who presented a diplomatic passport being summarily expelled as persona non grata, or as a garden variety criminal without any political complications to his case?
It has been reported, apparently based on a presumption, that Martinelli has filed for asylum, alleging that he would face political persecution if returned to Panama. Ordinarily one has to make such a request within one year of arrival in the United States and, although there are some claims to the contrary, it seems that Martinelli has been in Miami since late January of 2015. If such a request has been made, the State Department would make a political decision about it but a denial could be appealed to the courts. If a request has not been made and Martinelli is arrested pending extradition proceedings, he would be able to interpose a claim of reasonable fear of political persecution as a defense.
Figure that Ricardo Martinelli could prolong things in the USA if it suits him. However, there is likely to be a rather quick US political decision about whether he plays his delaying games while living in a jail cell or living in a luxury condo.
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Varela shouldn’t leave all things Odebrecht to the courts
When Odebrecht got the contract for the Metro’s next line, it was not the low bidder. In May of last year a consortium led by that Brazilian group of companies won the contract on a weighted set of “technical points” that were pretty obscure. It wasn’t that the Chinese-led competition offering the lower price didn’t have vast experience in building such things, nor that it had a horrible safety record, nor that its engineers are unqualified, nor that there are terrible failures on its record, nor that the lower bid was a corrupt lowball. Some of the technical points in the Metro bidding were given numerical values but were so nebulous and subjective as to be recognized as fudge factors. The it turned out that a member of the committee that wrote the technical specifications that gave Odebrecht the contract had worked as a consultant for Odebrecht.
It was administratively held — not but the courts, but by part of the executive branch that President Varela heads and by the Comptroller General whom Varela appointed — that there was no conflict of interest and that there was no problem with Odebrecht getting that $1.857 billion contract for a higher price. By the time that the Metro Line 2 contract had been formally awarded, drafted and signed, Odebrecht’s now former president, Marcelo Odebrecht, was behind bars in Brazil on charges that he oversaw multiple bribery, kickback and money laundering schemes by which his companies rigged bids and paid off public officials in exchange. The other day Marcelo Odebrecht was sentenced to more than 19 years in prison after conviction on some of these charges.
In the days before Marcelo Odebrecht’s sentencing, a Brazilian couple, João Santana and Mônica Moura, were indicted. This power team is an internationally famous set of campaign managers who work for parties and governments of the left and right and usually win their campaigns. Brazilian prosecutors say that they were paid by Odebrecht through money laundering shells to perform services for politicians and ruling parties as a way for Odebrecht to pay bribes without any readily discernible money trail showing. The power couple came back to Brazil from the Dominican Republic, where they had been managing that country’s ruling party’s re-election campaign, and surrendered to police there. Under questioning by Brazilian prosecutors, Ms. Moura admitted that she and her husband were paid by parties other than their ostensible clients to manage political campaigns in Angola, Venezuela and Panama. In Panama, some private party other than the candidate or the Cambio Democratico party paid João Santana to run the 2014 presidential campaign of Ricardo Martinell’s front man José Dominngo Arias and the latter’s running mate, then first lady Marta Linares de Martinelli. Although the power couple say that they don’t know of any Odebrecht bribery and kickback scheme behind the financing they received Brazilian authorities say that they do have the documents and witnesses to prove the connection to Odebrecht. As in, Odebrecht, with large public works contracts in Panama, paid a major expense for the 2014 Martinelista election campaign.
Surely everyone involved in the hiring of Santana and Moura to run Martinelli’s proxy campaign will protest that it wasn’t bribery and maybe even that it amounts to criminal defamation to describe it as such because the quid pro quo can’t be definitively proven. Are we about to hear a backup argument that the hiring of Santana and Moura wasn’t a violation of Panamanian election laws barring foreign financing of our political campaigns because corporations are people too and the power couple was paid through a Panamanian subsidiary of the Brazilian construction company? No doubt. But we are not a nation of slow-witted children.
The Brazilian prosecutors have a problem with their investigation. Marcelo Odebrecht kept his emails on a server in Panama, and his company says that they are, for some dubious technical reason, “unavailable.” Also in Panama, Brazilian prosecutors say, were some of the money laundering shell companies and bank accounts used for Odebrecht financial crimes in Brazil and around the world. These corporate shell games involving multiple companies in multiple jurisdictions? By and large organized by Panamanian law firms, Brazilian authorities say. Reports from Brazil are that Panamanian authorities have not been helping out with the investigation there, and meanwhile Panamanian prosecutors appear to be less than curious to find out out what evidence their Brazilian counterparts have of crimes committed against the Panamanian people.
When asked about it, President Varela said that while people should be held accountable for their actions, that’s the job of the courts and not the executive branch that he heads. His role, he told reporters following him at a campaign event in Nata, is to see that public works contracts are in the public interest and are properly entered into.
But is it in the public interest for Panama to do business with a company with a long and notorious reputation for bribery and the purchase of influence in manycountries and locales, including acting as a clearinghouse for Brazilian public works big rigging in a scandal that brought down the administration of then President Fernando Collor de Mello in 1992? Are Panamanians protected when foreign interests are rewarded for interfering in our democratic processes?
Yes, there are roles for the courts to play, in which presidents should not interfere. Most Panamanians have not known this concept of judicial independence so will not believe it if they see it, but give Varela credit for defending the principle. However, guarding the public interest against corruption is also an administrative duty. Are there going to be “technical points” in administrative decisions about to whom public works contracts should be awarded? Right at the top of these should be a rule that a company known to engage in corrupt practices is disqualified from doing business with Panamanian government entities. In an administrative proceeding, the standard of proof about what is known is not the same as in a criminal case, in which all elements of a crime must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt. If Odebrecht paid the fee to manage the 2014 Martinelista campaign for the Panamanian presidency, forget all of the hair-splitting about specific intent and who knew what and when. As a matter of administrative policy Panama should not be doing business with those people.
Guest opinion, with a comment:
The Young Turks have been run out of the corporate mainstream but persist online. In this election year, in an era in which the norm is unlimited campaign spending to sway US elections — and to fill the coffers of television networks and other large corporate media — the financial biases of the billionaire class and the pecuniary interests of the big news organizations are being displayed in most flagrant fashion in what passes for news and expert commentary. By and large, the Cenk Uygers of the profession are being expelled from the mainstream and vilified for not going with the corporate program.
So, what to do? Unless and until net neutrality is abolished and all dissenting voices are driven off of the Internet, small online media — including The Young Turks now, and including The Panama News — need to pick up the cudgel for the public interest. Given our lack of resources to cover everything that we should cover in the first place, and given public weariness with a US campaign season that hasn’t even reached the halfway point in the nomination process, this can be downright annoying to the readers and viewers. But then, when the futures and freedoms of nations are on the line, it very often is inconvenient and annoying when people rise to their defense.
Bear in mind…
The good and honorable men should be the ones who set public opinion. Talent without probity is a scourge.
Fables should be taught as fables, myths as myths, and miracles as poetic fantasies. To teach superstitions as truths is a most terrible thing. The child’s mind accepts and believes them, and only through great pain and perhaps tragedy can he be in after years relieved of them.
Hypatia of Alexandria
Sometimes it falls upon a generation to be great. You can be that great generation.
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Berta Cáceres is not alone. The brutal death squad regime that was installed in 2009 — with US backing — has killed 58 journalists and at least 111 environmental activists. Its highly praised within the Washington Beltway economic program is to grant mining concessions over nearly one-third of the land, and hydroelectric dam concessions on most of the rivers, directly and indirectly displacing much of the rural population, particularly indigenous people, for the most irrisory compensation when there is any at all. Might Americans be alarmed about all of the Honduran children coming across the border? This is why.
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La Comisión Interamericana de Derechos Humanos no tendría que visitarla, para constatar irregularidades en Punta Coco —algunas de las cualesle habrán hecho llegar organizaciones no-gubernamentales especializadas.
Y además en el dominio público local obran suficientes hechos:
1. Sobre su cara es falso que su mera ubicación serviría para interrumpir la comunicación con personas no-encarceladas. No hay prueba alguna que el contrabando de celulares a través del perímetro externo de cualquier centro de reclusión panameño –que en todos los casos está a cargo de la Fuerza Pública– no se daría igualmente en Punta Coco. Pero no existe la voluntad política, de ponerle el cascabel a ese lince.
2. Como en México, la corrupción policial es la causa del problema: “No hay general capaz de resistir un cañonazo de un millón de pesos”. Entrar en negación de esa realidad y hacerse de la vista gorda no favorece al bien común.
3. Siguiendo la tesis hasta su conclusión lógica, la (ilegal) comunicación extra-muros se daría por igual en Pacora, que en Las Perlas.
Por ende Panamá debiera solicitar la asistencia de las diversas entidades civiles y militares norteamericanas que vienen logrando impresionantes avances tecnológicos en ese campo, para proceder a INTERCEPTAR comunicaciones, ya no sólo en Punta Coco, sino en todo penal panameño. Si acaso no lo hacen ya… El adquirir inteligencia sobre coordinación entre bandas resultaría más provechoso para controlar (y prevenir) su actividad criminal –y la de nuestras autoridades corruptas.
4. Es falso que no hubiera otro sitio para aislar a reclusos peligrosos. En la Gran Joya invertimos una fortuna en un pabellón de extrema-seguridad –que hoy permanece vacío.
5. Es patente que el añadir instalaciones a una aislada base aero-naval representa un retroceso en nuestra política penitenciaria oficial, que ya ha sido divulgada a la comunidad internacional. Esta postula eliminar la presencia de cárceles dentro de instalaciones policiales –que hasta el Pentágono tiene por “militares en todo concepto, salvo en nombre”– para paulatinamente ir colocándolos bajo control exclusivamente civil. No es sano para Panamá, re-editar una concepción que mantiene a la población penal (y sus familiares) como mercado-cautivo para una corrupción atávica.
6. Almacenar seres humanos formalmente condenados en tales celdas (que son seis, por ahora…) hace mentís del anuncio oficial que serían instalaciones “transitorias”. O sea, sitios donde pernoctarían sospechosos capturados, rumbo hacia el Órgano Judicial al término de la distancia.
7. El señor Presidente, al menos titularmente Jefe de la Fuerza Pública, aún no ha reglamentado la frecuencia de inspecciones que efectuarían las autoridades civiles del Sistema Penitenciario en el ejercicio de sus funciones regulares, dentro de un sitio de defensa militar designado para operaciones internacionales conjuntas. Como se demuestra en Guantánamo, en el esquema legal norteamericano no cabría tal posibilidad. En el panameño –al menos teóricamente– sí.
8. El almacenar bajo el control (ilegal) de la Fuerza Pública a seres humanos no-procesados judicialmente, no solo lesiona la imagen democrática de un país donde las leyes las modificaría sólo el Órgano Legislativo –sino que deja en el mundo que nos mira el sinsabor que Punta Coco sería una re-edición de la infame Isla del Diablo francesa.
9. El haber consignado a cumplir su condena formal de 6 años al jefe de la banda “Calor-Calor” en la misma Punta Coco a la que también se transfirió a quien encabeza su rival banda “Bagdad” propicia una plausible “solución”, como la que dio muerte hace varios años en La Joya al “Decapitador de Coiba”. Quien también fue evasor-frecuente de las cárceles panameñas. En su caso, a varios años aún no se ha determinado cómo ingresó a La Joya, el arma que lo ultimó en su propia celda.
“Dead men tell no tales”.
Como re-incidente en varias evasiones de la justicia panameña, al condenado José Cossio le corresponde en derecho –conforme al Protocolo oficial– ser recluido en una instalación de alta-seguridad. Punta Coco no lo es.
Particularmente a la luz de lo manifestado al arribar a Panamá tras su deportación de Costa Rica: “En una breve declaración José Cossio expresó lo siguiente: “Hay muchas cosas que decir”. El 15 de agosto de 2005, se le asoció al hurto de $2.5 millones del banco Internacional (sic) Comercial Bank of China, en la Zona Libre de Colón, por este delito fue condenado en ausencia a seis años de prisión”. “Hay que destacar que nunca se encontró el dinero.”
“Ya que una sociedad, una familia, que no sabe sufrir los dolores de sus hijos, que no los toma con seriedad, que los naturaliza y los asume como normales y esperables, es una sociedad que está «condenada» a quedar presa de sí misma, presa de todo lo que la hace sufrir.” —Papa Francisco (cárcel de Filadelfia –27 Sept 2015).
Panamá subió al puesto NUMERO UNO –del país con más gente presa (sin juicio) en TODO el mundo.
Pero, todo cuesta y aunque estamos obligados a una justicia “pronta y cumplida”, carecemos de la voluntad política de pagar costos que en la práctica implica esa “garantía constitucional”. El (tan-vilipendiado) presidente de la Corte Suprema fue claro: el ciudadano promedio espera que se aplique todo el rigor del debido proceso a sí –pero no necesariamente a su prójimo.
El horror actual de nuestras cárceles sólo puede empeorar en términos de detenciones preventivas, con el ingreso de 100 nuevos reclusos cada semana. Si ponderamos todos los costos anuales de mantener humanamente a cada reo, nos saldría más barato becarlo al colegio más caro de Costa del Este.
Pero dicho lastre económico es tan sólo es la punta (visible) del iceberg, que representa un sistema judicial fallido. No podría esperarse que políticos parásitos interesados sólo en el abordaje de la planilla estatal y cuya idea del largo-plazo es a finales de quincena se ocupen de éste (o tantos otros) problemas nacionales. Y, lamentablemente, en vez de informar y forjar opinión sobre sus causas-ultimas, los medios prefieren difundir periódicamente el sensacionalismo, y acaban aupando el encarcelamiento que el panameño intuye como “solución” a la inseguridad. En vez de poner a la población a pensar qué pasaría tras el encarcelamiento: el abuso a una libertad otorgada por Dios que inculcaría en el preso un resentimiento contra la sociedad que le infligió tal ordalía. Sobre todo si resultarara inocente en un eventual juicio.
No podemos seguir construyendo más y más cárceles –sin dotarlas del presupuesto para que funcionen. Nuestras cárceles son hoy un crimen que clama al Cielo por venganza.
Verbigracia, el Centro Femenino de Rehabilitación “Cecilia Orillac de Chiari” en el suburbano San Miguelito. Cuando en 1964 se construyó era considerada de avanzada, en cuanto a la rehabilitación. Su capacidad para 400 reclusas ¡alberga a más de 900! En cuanto se accede a ella le impacta el hedor de vetustas tuberías de aguas-negras que (finalmente) están siendo reemplazadas. Y, aunque gracias al apoyo de Naciones Unidas en torno a infraestructura que no ha recibido el mantenimiento apropiado desde hace décadas, y pese a que se nota el esfuerzo en equipo de funcionarias que trabajan con las uñas para transmitir cariño y comprensión a sus acudidas, hoy constituye una verguenza nacional.
Pero es un paraíso, comparado con el más distante complejo carcelario de La Joya, ubicado más allá del aeropuerto Tocumen. Ambos el Centro Femenino y el de La Joya ilustran el principal problema del Sistema Carcelario: la enorme dificultad de reclutar y retener funcionarios debidamente adiestrados en suficiente cantidad para trabajar en condiciones tan difíciles, al nivel de emolumentos disponibles. Ejemplo: la Gran Joya, costosa mega-cárcel de 5,500 plazas ubicada a hora y media de la capital, requiere 900 funcionarios para operarla. Hoy tiene 200.
Quienes comemos tres veces al día tenemos una obligación a quienes no comen. Y la mejor forma de cumplirla es perseverando en la vocación profética de promover un Estado de derecho que funcione como debe –con una justicia pronta y cumplida, para que nuestra sociedad no quede “presa de si misma”.
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A small protest against corruption and impunity gathers Martinelli’s victims
photos by Eric Jackson except as noted
The March 1 demonstration called by Miguel Antonio Bernal and others didn’t attract a lot of people and at first glance the mix might have seemed surprising. As expected, communist factions that don’t participate in anything that they don’t control were not there. And what do La Prensa founder Bobby Eisenmann, PRD legislator Zulay Rodríguez, struggling little labor unions, the people who have led the defense of the Ngabe-Bugle Comarca against strip mining and hydroelectric dam land and water grabs and those who organized the protests against Ricardo Martinelli’s attempt to force the sale of the Colon Free Zone’s land all have in common? Ricardo Martinelli had their phones and computers tapped and turned into bugging devices, or sent tax auditors after them over bogus claims, or sent police to arrest them or beat them up or shoot them, or recorded their most intimate conversations and made crass YouTube attack videos out of them. A high percentage of the 150 people known to have had their electronic conversations monitored by Ricardo Martinelli showed up at the protest.
Th small crowd was easily 10 times the size of those that Martinelli supporters have mustered to object to his multiple prosecutions. But if the truth is to be told, most Panamanians are annoyed by the impunity enjoyed by the political caste but don’t think that they can do much about it and are far more concerned about whether there will be clean water coming out of their tap on any given day. According to the Dichter & Neira polling firm, the backdrop for this protest was a decline in President Varela’s support that for the first time shows more Panamanians disapproving than approving of the job that he’s doing. Nobody is in a mood to riot in the streets about it, but on a number of fronts the public’s patience is starting to wear thin.
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