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Scenes from Panama’s 2016 Pride march

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Pieces of the rainbow cake — this year there were multinational businesses, foreign diplomats and a proliferation of local activist groups all making their claims.

Panama Pride 2016: into the mainstream

photos and note by Eric Jackson

The most noteworthy novel feature of this year’s Pride march was the proliferation of participants who were there as part of their job. As in years past, there was a large US Embassy contingent, which this year was also joined by a contingent of Canadian diplomats and some other foreign emissaries on their own personal accounts. As before, the Joint United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) was present, this time passing out T-shirts bearing in tiny print on the back the imprimatur of Panama’s first lady’s office. But the corporate presence we hadn’t really seen before. There were contingents from Dell, which runs a call center and sells computers here; Proctor & Gamble, which moved its regional headquarters here from Venezuela a few years back; the Uber transportation service that so annoys the taxi syndicates and Caterpillar, which has a regional sales office here and did really well at the business of providing equipment for the canal expansion.

The originator of Panama’s Pride celebrations, the Association of New Men and Women of Panama (AHMNP), had pride of place with its banner out front but its most recognizable leader, Ricardo Beteta Bond, kept himself out of the spotlight as the marchers were gathering and several other activist and community contingents seemed larger than the AHMNP’s. The commie radicals from FAD marched and the National Strategic Alliance had a banner, but the day’s most noteworthy militant faction was that of the atheists and agnostics.

This year we didn’t see the mayor carrying a rainbow flag, but we may well chalk up the absence of elected officials to an enhanced and generalized public annoyance with the political caste at the moment, which keeps politicians of all factions from showing their faces at all sorts of public events. As in past years the Balboa Union Church was there, along with the APLAFA family planning group. All of the queens were not transgendered persons or men in drag: leading the contingent of “straight” beauty queens was Her Majesty Rosario Mayela from Calle Arriba in Las Tablas.

There were fewer stares of shock, hatred, fear or bewilderment than in years past, and this reporter heard no taunts and saw no overt expressions of opposition. A policewoman in the contingent protecting the march pulled out a cell phone to take a snapshot as the march was about to begin, and it seemed far more likely to be a personal record to show family and friends how she spent that Saturday afternoon than a datum destined for a National Police subversives file. See, Panama is beginning to get it. What was once seen as a freak show is now given its due as a civil rights march, and is seen by business interests as an important part of the Panamanian market.

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Grayson, Declaration 2.0



Declaration 2.0

by Alan Grayson

The original Declaration of Independence, declared 240 years ago, was a philippic against King George and his tyranny. I am no fan of King George. But the Declaration of Independence and the US Constitution laid most of his tyranny to rest, and what remained was then laid to rest with him.

We need a new declaration of independence. FDR took a stab at this, with his “Four Freedoms.” Freedom of speech. Freedom of worship. Freedom from want. Freedom from fear. That’s a good start.

But now, eight decades later, we need to declare our independence from other forms of oppression.

We hereby declare our independence from bigotry, in all its evil forms. We declare our independence from racism, sexism, homophobia, language discrimination and chauvinism. Everyone has equal rights, no matter where you’re from, what you look like, what language you speak, and whom you love. Everyone deserves respect.

We hereby declare our independence from narrow-minded, extremist or violent religious fundamentalism. We live in a land where church and state are separate. Religious belief, no matter how sincere, is no license to dictate to others whether to terminate a pregnancy, whether to use contraception, or whom to marry. Earlier this year, I placed my hand on the Bible and swore to uphold the Constitution; I didn’t place my hand on the Constitution and swear to uphold the Bible.

We hereby declare our independence from the greedy. Malefactors of great wealth have no right to buy and sell elected officials thorough the legalized bribery of “independent expenditures.” They have no right to despoil our land and our water, the air we breathe and the food we eat. They have no right to manipulate or gut our laws in order to increase their lucre. They have no right to jack up the price of what we buy, or determine what we see on TV or on our computer screens.

We hereby declare our independence from 1984-style surveillance. Neither the Government nor a private company has any reason to monitor the activities of innocent people, without their express, informed and freely given consent. Who I’m with, what I say, what I buy, what I read; that’s none of anyone else’s business. Privacy — the fundamental right to be left alone — is an essential part of what it means to be a human being.

We hereby declare our independence from exploitation. Bad bosses are today’s King George. They want to work employees as hard as they can, and pay them as little as possible in return. They call the difference profit. If workers are organized, they can fight back. But if not, then they need legal protection from exploitation. If you have a job, you should have a living wage, and time-and-a-half for overtime. If you have a job, you should have health coverage. If you have a job, you should have paid sick leave. If you have a job, you should have a pension. As John Mellencamp would say, “Ain’t that America?”

We hereby declare our independence from misinformation. Fox News is a lie factory. Special interests used to lie to us about the dangers of smoking; now they lie to us about the dangers of pollution and climate disruption. They claim a right to “free speech,” but we have a right to honest speech. We have to be part of what a Reagan aide once dismissed as the “reality-based community.”

We hereby declare our independence from hubris. No, we can’t bring peace through war. No, we can’t force our way of life or our way of thinking on seven billion other people. No, we aren’t going to end the 1200-year-old civil war between the Sunnis and the Shia. No, we aren’t going to go and kill everyone everywhere in the world who harbors some harsh views of us. And no, they won’t greet our soldiers with flowers, bake apple pies for them, and salute the American flag with a hand on their hearts. They want to be them, not us. We can care for victims, protect ourselves and help our friends without sticking our nose into everyone else’s business.

We hereby declare our independence from a rigged system of fake trade. We buy their stuff, creating tens of millions of jobs in other countries. But they don’t buy an equal amount of our stuff. Instead, they buy our assets — $11,000,000,000,000 of our assets. They not only rob us of our jobs, but they drive us deeper and deeper into debt. When did Uncle Sam become Uncle Sap? If we don’t declare independence, the endgame is national bankruptcy.

And me? I hereby declare my independence from the corrupt system of campaign finance. I will not carve up the law into little pieces, and sell it to the highest bidder. I will not make “friends” with lobbyists and special interests and the minions of multinational corporations, and then “help” those “friends.” I will not forsake my real job – doing something good for the 700,000 people who chose me to be their Congressman — in favor of begging millionaires and billionaires for a few crumbs from their tables.

We declare our independence. We are not cattle. We are not sheep. We are human beings.

Happy birthday, America. Let Freedom Ring.


Alan Grayson

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¿Wappin? Fourth of July weekend at a halfway house for the weird

From I Was a Teenage Werewolf
In these days of political illiteracy, shouldn’t the character that Whit Bissell played in this movie be shown to kids as an example of a reactionary?

Fourth of July weekend at a halfway house for the weird

Alice Cooper – Ballad of Dwight Fry

Marianne Faithfull – Crazy Love

Los Chabelos – El Beso Negro

Warren Zevon – Excitable Boy

Frank Zappa – Mother People

The Boomtown Rats – I Don’t Like Mondays

Hello Seahorse! – Algún Día

Lord Kitty – Neighbor Neighbor

Shakira – Loba

The Stooges – I Wanna Be Your Dog

Paul Kantner & Grace Slick – When I Was a Boy I Watched the Wolves

Sinead O’Connor – Vampire

Tears For Fears – Everybody Wants To Rule The World

Nina Simone – Obeah Woman

Velvet Underground – Venus in Furs

The B-52s – Live In Dortmund 1983

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Varela, Informe a la nación

El Presidente frente a la Asamblea Nacional. Foto por la Presidencia.
El Presidente frente a la Asamblea Nacional. Foto por la Presidencia.

Informe a la nación

por Juan Carlos Varela

Hace dos años fui instalado por esta Asamblea como Presidente de la República en el mismo estadio donde todos los panameños unidos soñamos, reímos, celebramos nuestras victorias y lloramos nuestras derrotas. El tiempo ha pasado rápido pero se los digo hoy: Panamá ha cambiado y seguirá cambiando para el bien de todos.

De la misma forma que hace 27 años pasamos de una dictadura a una democracia, durante los últimos dos años hemos pasado de una democracia a una democracia funcional donde el poder se usa exclusivamente para servir y no para hacer negocios.

La diferencia es que quienes fueron parte de la dictadura terminaron aceptando la democracia y le enseñaron a sus hijos a vivir en ella, pero ahora algunos que fueron parte de la democracia al servicio de los negocios, la política partidista y el clientelismo, se niegan a aceptar el mandato que recibimos del pueblo panameño para consolidar una democracia funcional, en la que los fondos públicos tienen que administrarse con transparencia para beneficio de todos los ciudadanos, donde el Gobierno respeta la separación de poderes, los derechos humanos y el Estado de Derecho, pero sobretodo, donde nadie está por encima de la ley y los servidores públicos tenemos la obligación de rendir cuentas.

Los invito a que acepten esta nueva etapa porque de la misma forma que Panamá no regresará jamás a la dictadura, los panameños no permitiremos más nunca que el poder político se use de manera arbitraria para hacer fortunas.

Todos los gobiernos construyen obras. Este va a construir muchas y con transparencia incluso terminará todas las que heredamos con sus dificultades. La construcción de todos los hospitales y del Centro de Convenciones se ha reactivado. Hemos iniciado obras por ocho mil millones de dólares y reactivado proyectos por más de mil millones en las 10 provincias y comarcas del país.

Pero nuestra principal obra será devolverle al pueblo una democracia funcional donde los recursos del Estado y del Canal interoceánico que le pertenecen a todos los panameños se administran con eficiencia y equidad para desarrollar las obras que hacen falta para mejorar la calidad de vida del pueblo panameño.

Que orgullo sentí este domingo cuando fui a Colón y vi las esclusas de Agua Clara de nuestro nuevo Canal Ampliado, pero créanme que igual orgullo sentí cuando luego del evento, le pude enseñar al Administrador del Canal, Jorge Quijano, las siete mil nuevas viviendas que estamos construyendo para los dueños del Canal, el pueblo de Colón, que a pesar de vivir a escasos kilómetros de la vía interoceánica, cohabitan en casas condenadas y muchas familias se ven obligadas a compartir un sólo servicio higiénico. Eso lo estamos cambiando juntos.

Nuestros planes de Gobierno están avanzando y estamos desarrollando grandes obras y proyectos en nuestro país. La Línea 2 del metro progresa a buen ritmo. Con el Gobierno de Japón cerramos un financiamiento de 2,600 millones de dólares para la construcción de la Línea 3 y la contratación de la gerencia de este monumental Proyecto, el cual pronto iniciará junto con las obras del Cuarto Puente sobre el Canal.

La empresa MIBUS ya le pertenece al Estado y es operada por una de las empresas con más experiencia en el mundo para dar paso a una integración efectiva del Sistema de Buses con las Líneas del Metro de Panamá. Ahora, que contamos con un nuevo operador, la flota de buses se está renovando, los conductores se están capacitando y las frecuencias están aumentando. Estamos dando pasos importantes en la dirección correcta y el aumento del número de usuarios del sistema de transporte público nos indica que estamos recuperando la confianza de la población.

La construcción de la nueva terminal del Aeropuerto de Tocumen progresa bien y nuestra posición como Centro Logístico de las Américas crece. Más de 500 kilómetros de carreteras nuevas están en construcción y 400 kilómetros en proceso de licitación.

El mes pasado, se inició la construcción de la primera planta de generación de energía a base de gas natural licuado en toda Centroamérica.

Esta planta de energía es un catalizador hacia el futuro en materia de energía y nos brindará la posibilidad de convertir a Panamá en el centro de distribución de Gas Natural Licuado para toda la región.

Miles de estudiantes iniciaron el año escolar en aulas y escuelas nuevas y renovadas gracias al programa “Mi Escuela primero”. La Beca Universal se aumentó y ahora se paga a tiempo.

Reconozco que seguir renovando las escuelas y capacitando a nuestros docentes sigue siendo un gran reto y somos conscientes que aún falta mucho por hacer.

La economía continúa creciendo, los precios de canasta básica se encuentran estables, la producción de alimentos está aumentando y los índices de delincuencia están bajando. La renovación de la Ciudad de Colón avanza, ¡Colón volverá a ser una vez más la joya del Caribe que siempre debió ser!

Pero lo que más me alegra, son los proyectos que no necesariamente vemos todos los días, pero que están cambiando profundamente la vida de miles de familias panameñas a lo largo y ancho de todo el país.

Yo no he venido aquí a contar mi historia sino a compartirles como a través de los Programas de nuestro Plan de Gobierno estamos impactando la vida de la población y con la ayuda de Dios, la siembra que estamos haciendo hoy, la van a cosechar miles de panameños.

Techos de Esperanza, Barrios Seguros y el Programa 100% Agua Potable y Sanidad Básica, están transformando nuestro país en formas que algunos no comprenden, pero les aseguro,
que tienen un impacto y un significado humano de valor incalculable para el futuro de la nación panameña.

En este momento, quiero compartir con ustedes la historia de la familia de Ovidio Mendoza y su hija Zuleika, a quienes les dotamos de acceso al agua potable y le construimos un baño higiénico en su casa.

Los Mendoza son una de las 70 mil familias que ya están siendo beneficiadas de nuestra meta de impactar 300 mil hogares a través del Programa “100-CERO”, mejorándoles su salud y calidad de vida.

A la familia de Manuel González, también le impactamos su calidad vida y ahora es una de las 30 mil familias que ya están siendo beneficiadas y ahora cuentan con una vivienda digna y segura, con servicios básicos para su esposa y sus tres hijos gracias al programa “Techos de Esperanza”. Antes su casa era de Zinc y piso de tierra.

Como parte de este Programa, continuaremos trabajando muy duro para beneficiar a 100 mil familias durante nuestro mandato de Gobierno.

Emanuel Anderson y Yahira Pinto son de Colón. Ellos viven en un cuarto con sus cinco hijos y comparten un solo baño para todo el edificio.

Los Anderson son una de las miles de familias que serán beneficiadas con la Renovación Urbana de Colón. Ahora se mudarán a un apartamento de tres recámaras con un baño, donde todos podrán vivir y crecer en familia.

Issac Castillo ya había perdido cinco amigos cuando aceptó cambiar su vida.

Issac quería ver a sus hijos crecer y ahora trabaja en la Empresa Ford. Él es uno de los más de 2,500 jóvenes en riesgo social que ya han sido incorporados al programa “Barrios Seguros” para prevenir y combatir la delincuencia creando más oportunidades.

La joven Diana Chavez, es cuadro de honor de la escuela Cristóbal Adán Urriola, la cual fue totalmente renovada y la docente Yaritzel Aviles, una de los más de 2500 profesores de escuelas públicas que han tenido la oportunidad de viajar a los Estados Unidos, Canadá y Reino Unido, para ser capacitados en el Inglés como segundo idioma.

Gracias a los programas “Mi Escuela Primero” y “Panamá Bilingüe”, la joven Diana y la profesora Yaritzel, serán parte de una nueva generación de más de 500 mil estudiantes y más de 10 mil docentes capacitados en el idioma Inglés, que contarán con nuevas aulas de clases, laboratorios e instalaciones deportivas y recreativas, adecuadas y suficientemente equipadas para impartir y recibir una enseñanza de calidad “100% bilingüe”.

Todos estos programas están siendo manejados con transparencia pero lo más importante para mí, es que a los Mendoza, los González, los Anderson, Issac, Yaritzel y los padres de Diana, nunca se les preguntó a qué partido pertenecen, ya que todos los programas de nuestra Administración han sido concebidos con visión de Estado, criterio social, y sin distinciones político-partidistas o de ninguna otra índole.

Como resultados de los diálogos iniciados con los gremios y la clase política del país, se están dando cambios importantes para fortalecer nuestros sistemas de salud educación y gobiernos locales.

Elevar los acuerdos resultantes de estos diálogos a nivel constitucional es clave para garantizar que los mismos no sólo sean logros de un gobierno sino de todo el país.

Por lo tanto, durante el próximo año trabajaremos una hoja de ruta de forma y de fondo para hacer las reformas necesarias a nuestra Constitución Nacional.

En el marco del actual período de sesiones de la Asamblea, introduciremos iniciativas legislativas importantes para fortalecer la institucionalidad del país, incluyendo el Proyecto de Ley de Carrera Penitenciaria y el Proyecto de Ley que crea el Centro Nacional de Medicamentos, que facilitará las compras conjuntas de medicamentos e insumos médicos, por parte de la Caja del Seguro Social y el MINSA, lo que nos permitirá ahorrar dinero y reinvertirlo en el sistema de salud pública.

Con la ampliación del Canal culminada, tal y como lo había prometido, iniciaremos un diálogo, en el marco de la Concertación Nacional para el Desarrollo, a fin de encontrar alternativas que nos permitan hacerle frente al déficit del Programa de Invalidez, Vejez y Muerte de la Caja del Seguro Social.

En materia de política exterior, mantendremos una posición firme ante los países que insistan en incluir a Panamá en listas que afectan la imagen de nuestro país.

Reconozco, que corregir las irregularidades del pasado, ha tomado más tiempo de lo esperado, pero hoy Panamá es testigo de grandes proyectos que se llevan a cabo de manera honesta y transparente, con más proyectos en camino para este año.

Algunos podrán cuestionarme por esto pero les aseguro, nunca me disculparé por haber tomado el tiempo necesario para defender los intereses del Pueblo y continuaré asegurándome que los impuestos del arduo trabajo de nuestros hombres y mujeres en todo el país, sean invertidos por el gobierno en obras que mejoren su calidad de vida.

A mis ministros, ustedes son gente honesta seria y capaz: Comuniquen mejor los logros de nuestra gestión y redoblen esfuerzos para avanzar en la ejecución de las obras de gobierno. Tenemos que continuar fortaleciendo la institucionalidad del país pero agilizar el paso para cumplir con el pueblo panameño.

A la Corte y los funcionarios del Órgano Judicial: No permitan que jueces empañen la imagen del sistema de administración de justicia dejando en libertad a peligrosos criminales que amenazan la imagen del país e inclusive amenazan nuestras propias vidas.

A los miembros de esta Asamblea Nacional: Bajo mi Administración hemos demostrado que los respetamos a todos y estamos dispuestos a trabajar con los 71 Diputados, con criterio social y visión de Estado por el bien de sus comunidades.

A las autoridades locales, representantes y alcaldes: Ya hemos puesto a su disposición más de 180 millones a través de la descentralización. Ahora con estos fondos les toca acompañar al Gobierno Central para resolver los problemas de sus comunidades con transparencia.

La clase política debe evitar el contacto con personas que puedan andar en pasos equivocados. Tengo que compartir con ustedes mi preocupación, porque durante los últimos meses hemos visto a miembros de la clase política y personas allegadas a estos en situaciones muy delicadas.

De la misma forma que los panameños nos logramos reconciliar durante la transición de la dictadura a la democracia, donde se cometieron graves violaciones de los derechos humanos, podemos reconciliarnos para consolidar una democracia funcional. Pero para que haya reconciliación también tiene que haber el arrepentimiento y el reconocimiento de las faltas cometidas. Vamos a cerrar ese capítulo oscuro de nuestra historia y avanzar unidos como un solo país.

Cuando asisto al mismo estadio donde fui juramentado como Presidente a ver a nuestra selección, apenas empieza el partido, en las gradas comenzamos a opinar sobre cambios de jugadores y de estrategia.

Así somos nosotros los panameños, así actuamos en los deportes y en nuestra vida diaria y
eso se respeta.

La mayoría de ustedes me escogieron como su capitán. Para los que me escogieron y para los que no, yo soy el capitán de esta selección.

Me toca dirigir un equipo de más de 200 mil funcionarios públicos para servir a 4 millones de panameños y estoy en el campo todos los días trabajando muy duro por ustedes.

Desde donde estoy, escucho sus aplausos y sus críticas, pero estoy totalmente enfocado en ganar el partido, cumpliendo con todos los compromisos que hice en campaña.

Mi gobierno va a ser muy parecido a mi campaña política y mi vida pública llena de luchas y sacrificios. Yo no heredé capital político, lo gané recorriendo los barrios y comunidades de mi hermoso país, al cual no le voy a fallar.

Entiendo que nadie celebra las derrotas, sólo se celebran las victorias, pero en el campo, no se celebran las batallas, sólo se lucha para ganar.

Eso es lo que estamos haciendo y se los digo hoy: al final, vamos a ganar el partido, y ese día vamos a celebrar todos juntos, porque nuestra victoria no será mía o de mi gobierno, será de Panamá.

Les aseguro, que las líneas 2 y 3 del Metro serán construidas y el Proyecto de Renovación Colón será culminado con su puerto libre;

Les aseguro, que las 100 mil casas de Techos de Esperanza y las 300 mil soluciones de sanidad básica de 100-CERO serán entregadas;

Y les aseguro, que las más de tres mil escuelas del país serán renovadas y nuestros sistemas de educación, salud y transporte público serán de primer mundo. Ese es mi compromiso y lo estamos cumpliendo.

Entiendo y comparto las frustraciones de los ciudadanos respecto al sistema de administración de justicia.

Confío en que la entrada en vigencia del sistema penal acusatorio en el mes de septiembre representará una oportunidad para cualquier ciudadano o servidor público, que habiendo actuado al margen de la ley, acepte sus faltas y asuma su responsabilidad.
Sus familias y el país se lo agradecerán.

He venido a fortalecer y respetar las instituciones pero pueden tener la certeza que usaré el poder que me atribuye la Constitución y la Ley para que las cosas funcionen y se haga justicia.

Estamos en un punto crucial en la historia de nuestro país y nos enfrentamos a un gran reto como gobierno y como ciudadanos.

¿Qué tipo de país queremos? ¿El país que se movía sin planificación ni transparencia, donde los políticos y allegados al poder abusaban de la autoridad y el Tesoro Nacional se utilizaba como caja registradora para retirar fondos a discreción en beneficio propio? Como era antes.

O una democracia funcional, con un gobierno honesto que implementa proyectos con transparencia, visión de Estado y criterio social para transformar la vida de su gente de manera trascendental y fortalecer nuestra democracia. Un gobierno que no les pone etiquetas políticas a sus ciudadanos.

No fue fácil poner la casa en orden pero lo hemos logrado, las finanzas del Estado están sólidas y hemos sentado las bases para mantener nuestro crecimiento económico y garantizar un desarrollo sostenible y planificado.

Nada, ni nadie me van a impedir que ponga los intereses de Panamá primero y les aseguro que continuaré luchando con cada gota de energía que tenga para asegurarme que los próximos Presidentes de la República que acudan a rendir cuentas ante esta Asamblea, vengan a representar y defender los intereses de la nación panameña por encima de todo.

Desde lo más profundo del pulmón de nuestros niños y jóvenes ya soplan aires de cambio y renovación que traerán a nuestro país una nueva época de prosperidad con transparencia y equidad para todos los panameños.

Nadie nos va a detener. Les invito a que sigamos trabajando juntos para hacer realidad el sueño panameño. Que Dios Bendiga a Panamá y a su noble pueblo.
Muchas gracias.


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Varela starts his third year

Rubén De León, a PRD deputy who doesn’t pay much attention to what his party’s titular leader Benicio Robinson says, begins a second one-year term as president of the National Assembly. Photo by the Asamblea Nacional.

Varela begins his third year with stronger institutional support but less public backing

by Eric Jackson

First, a president must know if he or she will have a National Assembly that responds well to little old ladies knitting in code and cackling about the guillotine.

This time last year former President Ricardo Martinelli and PRD president Benicio Robinson had cooked up an alliance to take control of the 71-member National Assembly, with a program of stopping the criminal investigations of corruption during the Martinelli years, impeaching President Juan Carlos Varela for something or the other and dividing the political patronage spoils between their Cambio Democratico (CD) and Democratic Revolutionary (PRD) parties.

On paper, the PRD’s 26 deputies plus CD’s 25 were more than enough to get the 36 votes needed to pull off this maneuver. But which PRD deputies trusted Martinelli to deliver anything at all? Or for that matter, which of them believed in Robinson’s promises? Over in the CD caucus, Ricardo Martinelli’s inner circle seemed headed for prison and the big boss man had fled the country, but before he flew off to Miami Martinelli told the legislators of his caucus that his spies had compiled a dossier on each of them and they’d better do what he told them to do. So how many wanted to hitch their wagon to THAT fallen star? Half of the CD caucus and about one-quarter of the PRD caucus defied their party leaders and joined with the 17 members of the Varela’s Panameñista Party and independent Ana Matilde Gómez to beat back the coup attempt. The alliance of Panameñistas and rebels against party discipline garnered 39 votes. Robinson and Martinelli vowed to be back in one year’s time.

Robinson and Martinelli did come back, and on July 1 they were even more soundly trounced. This time Gómez broke with the alliance and voted for herself, but the intra-party rebellions against Martinelli and Robinson grew and this year the two wannabe bosses ran separate candidates. Martinelli only got nine votes for his man Fernando Carrillo, while Robinson only mustered 12 votes for the “official” PRD candidate, Jaime Pedrol. With the Electoral Tribunal increasingly rejecting Martinelli’s moves to run CD from abroad and the PRD moving inexorably toward dumping Robinson as its leader. That left De León with 49 votes for a new term running the legislature, some insufferable opportunists retaining their patronage jobs with the National Assembly and President Varela with few problems in sight from the legislative branch.

With the 2015 removals of two high court magistrates and some replacements of those whose terms ended with that year, Varela may not be in a position to order the Supreme Court to do what he wants even if he were inclined to do so, but the judiciary is not causing him any big problems and seems unlikely to do so. The president’s big legal troubles are coming from the USA, and it’s not clear that the harboring of Ricardo Martinelli in Miami is seen as one of these. (Varela might actually prefer Martinelli far away from Panama, although he is careful not to say any such thing.) The Waked bust, however, is a US government initiative that’s causing economic headaches for a delicate Panamanian economy and in relation to that this country has not seen such an aggressive US Embassy since Noriega times. The international uproar and talk of enhanced sanctions arising from the Mossack Fonseca leaks is just gravy, whether or not made in the USA as some allege.

With only 17 of 71 legislators and courts not controlled by his appointees, Varela is doing pretty well when his situation is viewed from an institutional perspective. (Not so! Robinson and Martinelli might argue — the 1972 dictatorship’s constitution under which Panama’s government still runs makes the political parties into important and honored institutions. But the parties are by and large detested, as is the constitution. Varela had promised a process to draft a new constitution, but has backed off of that because he can’t be sure that it would turn out the way he wants it.)

After the legislature was done electing its new officers — Panameñista Luis Eduardo Quirós is this year’s first vice president and CD deputy Yanibel Abrego is second VP — Varela came to give his report and pleas to the assembly and the nation. It was fairly tepid stuff. He warned of politicians and people in their entourages caught in “delicate” situations. He asked the Supreme Court to do a better job of riding herd over lower court judges that are unduly persuaded in high-profile and obscure cases alike. He pointed out things that his government has done and the he wants to do, and pleaded with his ministers to do a better job of explaining these things to the public. “We must continue to strengthen the country’s institutions, but we must speed up our pace to deliver to the Panamanian people,” he said.

Not good enough, most Panamanians think. The mid-June Dichter & Neira poll showed Varela with an approval rating of only 37 percent, an eight percent drop in one month and down 20 points since the beginning of the year. It’s about many complaints. Although violent crime is down, public safety tops the list of concerns and economic worries are rising. Lack of transparency and the perception that Varela controls the courts and legislature — of which people disapprove more severely than they do the president — are big public relations problems for the president. So, too, is Ricardo Martinelli’s taunt about “tortuguismo,” a slow and plodding Varela style that especially contrasts with the manic ways in which his predecessor acted.

Look for a year in which things like water service and education about which people care don’t advance very much, but in which the institutional needs of deputies and magistrates are looked after with greater diligence. We may well see a continuation of what we have seen so far this year, in which events in Panama are driven from without, for example by the actions of foreign governments against this country’s reputation for a money laundering economy.

But where is his holding company?
Bro? He wants you to know that he’s watching. From Ricardo Martinelli’s Twitter feed.

Correction: In an earlier version of this story we said “Varela” a couple of times when we meant to say “Martinelli.” Thanks for pointing out the errors, Donna.

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Gandásegui, La gestión de Varela



Un balance de la gestión de Varela

por Marco A. Gandásegui, hijo

La gestión del presidente Juan Carlos Varela, al cumplir dos años frente a la Presidencia de la República, (mañana, 1 de julio) merece un balance. Hace poco más de dos años la ciudadanía sorprendió a todos dándole una mayoría relativa en las elecciones. Se decía que, entre los candidatos de los partidos tradicionales de la oligarquía panameña, era el menos malo.

El pueblo panameño no espera mucho del ocupante del Palacio de las Garzas. Le pide tres cosas al nuevo mandatario: Primero, respeto para los sectores sociales reprimidos. Segundo, erradicar la corrupción que corroe el país. En tercer lugar, promover una política exterior favorable para los intereses de todos los panameños.

Los sectores que dominan la economía del país, en cambio, si esperan mucho del presidente Varela. Para comenzar, mantener un ritmo de acumulación de riquezas basado en el despojo de los trabajadores. Además, organizar una alianza entre gobierno y empresa privada que le permita a esta última apropiarse de los contratos y concesiones más apetecibles. Por último, consolidar las relaciones entre la economía del país y los intereses de EEUU en el istmo.

Las encuestas que miden el desempeño de los políticos indican que el presidente Varela ha fracasado. Según éstas, sólo el 37 por ciento de los panameños consideran que el primer mandatario está haciendo un buen papel.

Las relaciones del gobierno con los sectores populares se iniciaron con malos augurios. El conflicto con el pueblo Ngobe-Buglé se agudizó con la ambigüedad mostrada en torno a la represa de Barro Blanco. Por otro lado, el Ministerio Público abrió expedientes contra varios ministros del gobierno anterior por delitos contra la cosa pública. Aún no se ven los resultados. El expresidente Ricardo Martinelli se auto-exilió en EEUU donde espera que se inicie un recurso de extradición.

Mientras que los imputados salían de sus encierros, por tecnicismos, comenzaron a producirse casos de corrupción en las propias filas del actual gobierno. A la falta de transparencia, se suman los tratados comerciales internacionales que arruinaron el agro y acabaron con la industria. Los sindicatos y gremios han denunciado las políticas erradas del gobierno y exigen correctivos.

Los banqueros y rentistas tampoco le han dado buenas notas al gobierno panameño después de dos años de trabajo. La tasa de crecimiento anual de la economía ha disminuido significativamente. EEUU ha lanzado una campaña mediática de desprestigio contra Panamá promoviendo escándalos que van desde los papeles de Mossack y Fonseca, hasta las fallas de la recién inaugurada ampliación del Canal de Panamá.

En resumen durante los primeros dos años de gobierno, el presidente Varela ha demostrado que no tenía un plan de trabajo cuando llegó al poder. Su equipo tampoco ha demostrado imaginación para enfrentar los retos tanto internos como externos. La falta de transparencia, la corrupción y la inseguridad siguen siendo problemas sin soluciones.

El presidente Varela puede sacar a relucir algunos logros importantes: La inauguración de las esclusas ampliadas, el inicio de los trabajos en la línea 2 del Metro y algunos otros proyectos iniciados por gobiernos anteriores. Sus fracasos son más notorios: El Canal de Panamá no se integra a un plan de desarrollo del país. El agro se encuentra en una crisis terminal. Tanto el sector educativo como los servicios de salud pública han colapsado sin perspectivas para una recuperación ni a largo plazo.

Mientras que Buenaventura (Colombia), Limón (Costa Rica), Mariel (Cuba) y otros puertos se preparan para servir de terminales de trasbordo para las mercancías que llegan al Canal de Panamá, las autoridades locales se pelean en torno al proyecto del puerto de Corozal en la entrada de la vía interoceánica. Panamá tiene condiciones para construir varios puertos de alto calado a lo largo de sus costas en dos océanos. Durante los dos últimos años no se ha trabajado en proyectos para el futuro del país. Sólo hay interés en las rentas que pueden generar las concesiones a corto plazo.

Las perspectivas son grises, especialmente si analizamos la nueva política de EEUU hacia Panamá. La correlación de fuerzas sociales en el país continúa favoreciendo a los rentistas y especuladores, en detrimento de los sectores productivos. Según estadísticas del gobierno, con Varela el 70 por ciento de las riquezas que se producen en el país se distribuyen entre unos pocos propietarios y sólo el 30 por ciento llega a la masa de los trabajadores asalariados.


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Flores leads in early returns for rector

Physicist Eduardo Flores Castro on the campaign trail in Chitre, where early returns show that he won.

With just 10% of the vote in, Flores seems to be the next U of P rector

by Eric Jackson, from other media

Physics professor and former Sciences Faculty dean Eduardo Flores Castro appears to have routed the ruling political machine at the University of Panama. Early returns — only about 10 percent of the vote — have Flores carrying just a bit more than 60 percent in a six-way race, with the next highest vote-getter, VP for Academic Affairs Justo Medrano, garnering just under 28 percent. The percentage that Flores is winning is much like what he got when challenging scandal-tainted Gustavo García de Paredes five years ago, but this time the machine with which the self-proclaimed “Rector Magnifico” ruled the university for a generation appears to have fragmented in the face of multiple criminal investigations and international scorn for the institution’s academic qualities as well as Panamanian education as a whole. One of Flores’s opponents, Dr. Argentina Ying, has already conceded victory to the dissident physics prof.

Final results will not be in until about noon on Thursday, and there will also be results to tally for 15 faculty deans and the directors of nine regional university centers. Those races down the ticket could determine whether a new rector will start out with a team with which he can work or in the face of sullen opposition. Although the campaign was by and large an anti-intellectual bandwagon, insults and pass out the goodies affair like the run-ups to recent national elections, there was a general sense that the university could not continue operating as it has been. If Flores is confirmed as the winner he will come into office having made few hard-and-fast promises, but with expectations that the nomenklatura of the old machine will be scattered rather than confirmed in their positions.


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Bolton, Venezuela and the OAS Democratic Charter

OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro, who served in Uruguayan President Pepe Mujica’s cabinet but is at odds with his former boss over Venezuela these days.

The ongoing Democratic Charter saga exposes deep hypocrisy

by Peter Bolton — Council on Hemispheric Affairs

A meeting of foreign ministers and ambassadors of the Organization of American States (OAS) convened last week to discuss the ongoing efforts of OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro to use the Inter-American Democratic Charter against the government of President Nicolás Maduro in Venezuela. Though there was no vote on whether to apply the Charter,[1] which provides for diplomatic intervention for any member that has experienced a “rupture in the democratic order,” the meeting at the OAS’s downtown Washington headquarters provided Almagro with another opportunity to voice his strong criticism of the Maduro government.[2]

The meeting had been scheduled so that Almagro, a former foreign minister in the José Mujica government in Uruguay, could read from a 132-page report articulating his claims that Venezuela has suffered a democratic break. Venezuelan Foreign Minister Delcy Rodríguez, speaking to the gathering on behalf of the Maduro government, argued that the agenda should be rejected on the grounds that it constituted an inappropriate attack on a member state and could serve as a ruse for interventionism.[3] She said that Almagro was using the OAS “to harass and delegitimize the government of Venezuela.”[4] Her proposal was rejected by a vote of 20 to 12 with two abstentions, meaning that Almagro was able to proceed with reading the summary.[5]

Though the meeting was for foreign ministers and ambassadors from member states, Venezuelan opposition figures also showed up at the event in the hopes of speaking in favor of the Charter’s application. President of the opposition-controlled National Assembly, Henry Ramos Allup, met with Almagro prior to the session starting, but did not address the gathering.[6] Since the OAS is a forum for governments, not parliaments, any opposition representative would have needed an invitation from a member state government representative to address the session. There are conflicting accounts of what took place: according to one report, Ramos Allup was unable to deliver his message because no country provided him with the opportunity to make a statement, though another source claims that he voluntarily decided not to speak.[7] He instead watched the proceedings from a monitor in a side room before addressing a crowd of opposition demonstrators who were protesting out front. There was, however, a discussion inside the chamber of an opposition-prepared summary about the situation in Venezuela.

As expected, Almagro issued harsh words about the beleaguered Maduro administration, accusing his government of being responsible for resisting offers for humanitarian help, jeopardizing the welfare of the Venezuelan public, and using authoritarian tactics to maintain power.[8] Paraguay was the most vocal critic of Venezuela amongst the Latin American contingent in attendance. The US representative unsurprisingly also issued a strong condemnation of the Maduro government while posing as the hemispher’’s champion of human rights and international standards.

These sentiments were praised by Ramos Allup outside the OAS. He said through a bullhorn to the gathered opposition supporters: “We are convinced that we must fight to change our current administration; otherwise things will escalate and get worse. We want to use the democratic, constitutional and electoral methods to change our government.” In addition, Ramos Allup continued his media campaign later in the day at a speaking event at Georgetown University.

But in a further setback for the opposition faction, the session ended without any declaration or announcement of a follow-up meeting to consider applying the Charter. Almost all ministers expressed support for the UNASUR-sponsored dialogue between the Maduro government and the opposition to resolve the economic crisis, which is being accompanied by a former Spanish prime minister and two former Latin American heads of state (both of whom were also present at the OAS). Perhaps most damaging of all for the opposition, several of the countries who had expressed support for the reading of Almagro’s summary, including Suriname and the Bahamas, nonetheless made clear that they are opposed to application of the Charter.

Last week’s gathering has furthermore come in the midst of a surprise meeting between Rodríguez and US Secretary of State John Kerry on the fringes of an OAS summit in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, in which Kerry agreed to a dialogue to reestablish full diplomatic relations between the two countries. During the meeting, Kerry lent his support to the UNASUR dialogue and also appeared to distance himself from Almagro’s aggressive posturing. He stated: “At this moment, I think it’s more constructive to have dialogue than to isolate.”[9]

But neither Almgro nor the Venezuelan opposition appear to be deterred by the failure of last week’s meeting to bring about an application of the Charter or this unexpected about-face on the part of the US State Department.

Almagro’s isolation and silence on Brazil

The outcome of the session exposes Almagro’s considerable isolation in his stance on Venezuela, at least in terms of the views of OAS member states, who technically speaking are his employers. No action was taken to endorse the proposals that his report suggested, far less to make any moves toward applying the Charter. The meeting did provide significant opportunity for the opposition to create a press circus, however, and without an unequivocal repudiation from member states the prospect of the Charter still hangs in the air. This fact will serve as an excuse for opposition leaders to continue to stall on entering into the UNASUR-sponsored talks with the government and will also embolden them in their attempts to oust Maduro from office.

Their argument that a push for the Charter is consistent with support for the dialogue, therefore, is simply absurd. Whereas Maduro has been promoting the talks for several months, opposition figures have largely failed to show up for scheduled meetings.[10]. So rather than incentivizing them to participate in a spirit of good faith, having the Charter hanging in the balance will encourage further intransigence and, worse, could provide political cover for extreme elements to engage in violent attempts to destabilize the government. What’s more, despite opposition claims that it is acting on behalf of the Venezuelan people, internal polling suggests that the majority of Venezuelans do not support application of the Charter, and also that a majority does support the UNASUR dialogue.[11]

But such considerations hardly even merit discussion when the entire Democratic Charter saga is taken in the wider context of the region. Whereas the democratic credentials of Venezuela are on display for all to see with the recall effort that is currently being launched by the opposition, whose victory in last year’s legislative election exploded claims of chronic vote rigging, the OAS has done nothing to denounce the flagrantly obvious coup that has taken place against the democratically-elected government of Dilma Rousseff in Brazil. Despite being one of the few leading politicians who is not facing corruption charges for personal enrichment, Rousseff was indicted on vague accusations of fiscal irregularities; charges which analysts in the Brazilian Senate subsequently found to be completely false.[12] This development adds to a long list of revelations that have served to undermine the legitimacy of her removal from the presidency.[13] Leaked audio files have now made it beyond doubt that Rousseff’s impeachment was a deliberate political calculation to derail corruption investigations against several of Rouseff’s rivals. The leaks revealed that then-Senator (and now planning minister) Romero Jucá, and former oil executive Sergio Machado, both of whom are targets in the “Car Wash” probe, conspired to oust Rousseff in order to kill the investigation once she was out of office.[14]

The hypocrisy of talk about human rights abuses from the opposition and its US backers is even more shocking when one considers that there has been no kind of condemnation of the Mexican government for the killing of eight people by state actors in Oaxaca this month, or countless other human rights violations across the region. When looked at in an evenhanded manner, the singling out of Venezuela is just the latest chapter in the long history of the United States and its internal allies attempting to oust the Chavista government in order to install an administration filled with friendlier actors who will do its bidding and reopen the country to neoliberalism, US imperialism, corporate profiteering and multinational dominance. Almagro has apparently become the latest US pawn in this in this long destabilization campaign, and has shamelessly abused his position as Secretary General in order to do the empire’s dirty bidding. The contrast between his apparent obsession with what is happening in Venezuela with his conspicuous silence about the coup Brazil and continued state violence Mexico has disgraced his office and delivered a fatal blow to whatever shreds might have been left of the OAS’s credibility.


[1] Franco Ordoñez, Angry talk as OAS debates Venezuelan democracy, McClatchy, June 23, 2016. Accessed June 29, 2016: http://www.mcclatchydc.com/news/nation-world/national/article85588442.html

[2] Carlos Morello, OAS head calls for recall of Maduro to restore democracy in spiraling Venezuela, The Washington Post, June 23. Accessed June 27, 2016: https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/oas-head-calls-for-recall-of-maduro-to-restore-democracy-in-spiraling-venezuela/2016/06/23/1568edcc-3974-11e6-a254-2b336e293a3c_story.html

[3] Ibid.

[4] TeleSur, OAS Permanent Council Files Almagro’s Attack Against Venezuela, June 23, 2016. Accessed June 27, 2016: http://www.telesurtv.net/english/news/OAS-Permanent-Council-Files-Alagros-Attack-Against-Venezuela–20160623-0015.html

[5] Ibid.

[6] Franco Ordoñez, Angry talk as OAS debates Venezuelan democracy, McClatchy, June 23, 2016. Accessed June 29, 2016: http://www.mcclatchydc.com/news/nation-world/national/article85588442.html

[7] ¿Por qué Ramos Allup no habló durante la sesión extraordinaria de la OEA?, El Nacional, June 23, 2016. Accessed June 29, 2016: http://www.el-nacional.com/politica/Ramos-Allup-sesion-extraordinaria-OEA_0_871713068.html

[8] Carlos Morello, OAS head calls for recall of Maduro to restore democracy in spiraling Venezuela, The Washington Post, June 23. Accessed June 27, 2016: https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/oas-head-calls-for-recall-of-maduro-to-restore-democracy-in-spiraling-venezuela/2016/06/23/1568edcc-3974-11e6-a254-2b336e293a3c_story.html

[9] Latin America Daily Briefing, Updates on OAS, Venezuela and Brazil (June 15, 2016). Accessed June 29, 2016: http://latinamericadailybriefing.blogspot.com/2016/06/updates-on-oas-venezuela-and-brazil.html

[10] TeleSur, Venezuelan Right Wing ‘No Show’ at UNASUR Mediated Talks, June 7, 2016. Accessed June 29, 2016: http://www.telesurtv.net/english/news/Venezuelan-Right-Wing-No-Show-at-UNASUR-Mediated-Talks-20160607-0020.html

[11] Hinderlaces Poll: http://www.hinterlaces.com/monitor-pais/67-en-desacuerdo-con-intervencion-internacional-para-sacar-a-maduro

[12] TeleSur, Senate Report Clears Rousseff of Budget Manipulation, June 27, 2016. Accessed June 27, 2016: http://www.telesurtv.net/english/news/Senate-Report-Clears-Rousseff-of-Budget-Manipulation–20160627-0023.html

[13] Glenn Greenwald, Andrew Fishman, and David Miranda, New Political Earthquake in Brazil: Is It Now Time for Media Outlets to Call This a “Coup”?, The Intercept, May 23, 2016. Accessed June 29, 2016: https://theintercept.com/2016/05/23/new-political-earthquake-in-brazil-is-it-now-time-for-media-outlets-to-call-this-a-coup/

[14] Aline Piva, Leaked Audios Reveal Plot to Oust Dilma Rousseff, Council on Hemispheric Affairs, June 6, 2016. Accessed June 29, 2016: http://www.coha.org/leaked-audios-reveal-plot-to-oust-dilma-rousseff/


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Naureckas, The huge media blind spot on terrorism

Jo Cox
Jo Cox, a British Labour Party MP slain by a fascist constituent with US ultra-right ties.

Corporate media aren’t interested in reporting on the violent far right

by Jim Naureckas

Shortly before the United Kingdom’s “Brexit” vote, the shocking murder of Jo Cox — a member of parliament and a vocal Remain supporter — exposed the racist roots of elements in the victorious Leave campaign.

That much you may have heard.

What you might not have heard about were the suspect’s ties to a neo-Nazi organization based here in the United States. Accused shooter Thomas Mair, The Washington Post reported, “was a longtime supporter of the National Alliance, a once-prominent white supremacist group.”

According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, the Post explained, “Mair bought a manual from the organization that included instructions on how to build a pistol.” Cox, it adds, “was shot by a weapon that witnesses described as either homemade or antique.”

The National Alliance was founded in 1974 by William Pierce. The group was a reorganization of the National Youth Alliance, which was itself an outgrowth of an organization that supported the 1968 presidential campaign of segregationist George Wallace.

Pierce turned the group, in the words of the SPLC, into “the most dangerous and best organized neo-Nazi formation in America.”

While head of the National Alliance, Pierce published The Turner Diaries, a novel that gleefully imagines a guerrilla race war and the mass murder of Jews, gays, and interracial couples. A chapter that depicts the bombing of an FBI building helped inspire Timothy McVeig’’s 1995 bombing of a government building in Oklahoma City, which killed 168 people.

When he was arrested, McVeigh had photocopied pages of the novel with him in his car. And phone records revealed that McVeigh had called a National Alliance number seven times the day before the bombing.

In the days after, feverish speculation abounded that the attack might’ve been the work of international Islamic terrorists. Yet once it became clear that domestic right-wing extremists were responsible, journalists seemed to lose interest. Few spent any time examining the National Alliance connection.

Yet the group turned up in another more recent terrorism story, when Kevin Harpham planted a bomb filled with shrapnel and rat poison at the 2011 Martin Luther King Day parade in Spokane. Harpham, a one-time National Alliance member, is currently serving a 32-year prison sentence for the attempted bombing.

If you don’t remember this story, that’s probably because it got very little coverage. It was mentioned only three times on the nightly news in the 10 weeks that followed.

By comparison, the much less sophisticated “Times Square bomb,” which failed to go off a year earlier, got 49 mentions in the same time frame. It’s a classic example of how the US corporate media treat acts of political violence by Muslims as inherently more newsworthy than others.

In fact, some corporate media outlets have allowed their personalities to promote the National Alliance directly. Bob Grant, a popular and influential radio talk show host who broadcast on WABC in New York — the flagship of the ABC radio network — frequently let callers promote the group on his show, saying he didn’t “have any problem” with it.

Grant was eventually fired by Disney, which was then WABC’s owner, for gloating over the death of Commerce Secretary Ron Brown, who was African-American. But even then, his connection to the neo-Nazi National Alliance didn’t become an issue.

This lack of curiosity about the influence of the violent far right is a long tradition in US corporate media. Even the murder of Jo Cox, a member of parliament campaigning in a closely watched vote, seems unlikely to change that.

Jim Naureckas is the editor of FAIR.org, where an earlier version of this op-ed appeared. Distributed by OtherWords.org.


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School of the Americas Watch, End US security aid to Honduras

SOAW on Capitol Hill, protesting against a US-backed regime that has killed dozens of journalists, more than 100 environmentalists, many indigenous leaders and scores of opposition activists.

After seven years of terror in Honduras…

by the School of the Americas Watch

Tuesday, June 28th marked seven years since the US-backed military coup in Honduras. It’s been nearly four months since Berta Cáceres was assassinated in her home for the powerful organizing she carried out with COPINH to protect Indigenous territories. And two weeks ago, HR5474, the “Berta Cáceres Human Rights in Honduras Act,” was introduced in the US House of Representatives.

TAKE ACTION TODAY! Ask your member of Congress to support HR5474, which calls for an immediate suspension of US security assistance to Honduras “until such time as human rights violations by Honduran security forces cease and their perpetrators are brought to justice.”

Click on: http://org.salsalabs.com/o/727/p/dia/action3/common/public/?action_KEY=19923

a deadly embarrassment


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