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Editorial: Welcome, President Tsai

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Warring States
China circa 500 BC.

Tsai Ing-wen is coming to town

Taiwan’s new president, Tsai Ing-wen, is coming to Panama for the inauguration of the new Panama Canal locks. Will it set off negative reactions from the People’s Republic of China, with which Panama has no formal diplomatic relations but has strong economic ties? That would be unfortunate, but not a surprise.

Tsai’s Democratic Progressive Party does not recognize that Taiwan is a part of China. The Communist Party leaders in Beijing are not amused. Most of the world recognizes China and not Taiwan, because that’s Beijing’s price of recognition and the People’s Republic of China is a great power in every sense, while Taiwan is a much smaller, if on the whole more prosperous, island nation.

Panama should not gratuitously annoy China, as it did when Ricardo Martinelli endorsed Japan’s claims to some rocks in the East China Sea that have been the subject of a Sino-Japanese dispute for centuries. As a maritime nation dedicated to maintaining a universally recognized law of the sea, Panama may well have a reason to take a position on China’s construction and militarization of artificial islands in a disputed area of the South China Sea, but we have no reason to fall in behind the provocative US naval challenge to that.

Panama has a substantial Chinese ethnic minority, which has ties to the mainland, Taiwan and the various overseas Chinese communities. If most Chinese-Panamanians have stronger ties to the mainland, it’s also true that Taiwan has long been one of Panama’s closest friends. It’s a basic matter of honor — you don’t ditch an old and loyal friend just to latch onto someone richer and more powerful.

And what about the geopolitics of this issue? Is it reasonable to say, as the leaders in Beijing say, that China — including the People’s Republic, Taiwan, places with special status like Hong Kong and Macao and the Overseas Chinese communities — is one civilization? Reasonable enough, although we should understand how this attitude has been turned around to stoke anti-Chinese racism in various places at various times.

In reality, the Chinese civilization has usually been split into more than one country. Theoretically the sage Lao Tzu and the younger Confucius both lived in a China with an emperor of the Eastern Chou dynasty. But that dynasty’s emperors were figureheads and as a practical matter Lao Tzu was said to be the royal librarian of the small state of Chou while Confucius was born and died in the kingdom of Lu. That Warring States Period may have been one of China’s more fragmented times but a Chinese civilization with two countries that each claim to be sovereign is historically rather ordinary.

Panama should welcome President Tsai, hope for closer relations with China and advocate peaceful relations within the Chinese civilization, however its component parts decide to configure it at any given time.

 
Bear in mind…

 

Our greatest glory is not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.
Confucius

 

I learned to make my mind large, as the universe is large, so that there is room for contradictions.
Maxine Hong Kingston

 

When I let go of what I am, I become what I might be.
Lao Tzu

 

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The Panama News blog links, May 31, 2016

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The Panama News blog links

Hellenic Shipping News, At least five weeks to repair Miraflores Locks

The Maritime Executive, Cyclical weather patterns and the Panama Canal

Gorraiz López, El Canal de Panamá y la navegación marítima del siglo XXI

GCaptain, Ship scrapping accelerates ahead of PanCanal expansion opening

Arctic Deeply, Arctic sea routes won’t be the top shipping choice

Foreign Policy, United States falls behind in the Arctic

AFP, Brazil downs Panama in soccer friendly

The Guardian, Mossack Fonseca still under investigation in British Virgin Islands

The Guardian, Mossack Fonseca to close Jersey, Isle of Man and Gibraltar offices

Prensa Latina, Protests fuel crisis over hydroelectric plant in Panama

Latin American Herald Tribune, Colon gas-fired power plant to open in 2018

Canadian Mining Journal, First Quantum gets new loan terms for Panama mine

San Fernando Valley Business Journal, IHOP expanding here

BBC, Cuba legalizes small and mid-sized private businesses

Dichter & Neira, Encuesta de opinión pública panameña de mayo 2016

La Estrella, Robinson: “Alianza PRD-CD es posible”

TVN, Fiscalía de Suiza investiga a Martinelli y sus hijos por el caso ‘Lava Jato’

InSight Crime, Panama Supreme Court seeks extradition of Ricardo Martinelli

Telemetro, Ritter: proceso para extradición de Martinelli en Cancillería debe ser corto

Military.com, Brimager gets 26 years for Bocas slaying of Yvonne Baldelli

AP, Panama’s honorary consul in El Salvador found dead

AFP, Panamá deportará a migrantes cubanos ilegales

Xinhua, Colombia y Panamá se comprometen a mayor cooperación en seguridad

STRI, Mangrove decline through the ages in Central and South America

Mongabay, Study suggests trees sleep at night

USA Today, Harvard researchers unveil new Alzheimer’s theory

Xinhua, 125,000 snakebite deaths per year worldwide

CSS, Casos de influenza AH1N1 en el Complejo Hospitalario se mantienen

Telemetro, CSS restringe visitas en Complejo Hospitalario ante casos de AH1N1

BBC, Chavista military architect turns against Maduro

The Independent, Argentina’s last dictator gets 20 more years for Operation Condor

Caribbean News Now!, St. Kitts-Nevis revokes alleged fraudsters’ citizenship

BBC, Haitian election officials call for a first round rerun

The Hill, Dems discuss dropping Wasserman Schultz

Ornstein: Bye bye, Sean Hammerle!

Reich, Advice for divided Democrats

COHA et al, Open letter to OAS Secretary General Almagro

Vernengo, A brief note on Venezuela and Latin America’s right turn

Monteagudo, Looking for the left in Argentina

Pierce, It’s time to stop the Saudis

Fischer, Sykes-Picot dead at 100

 

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A section of the Miraflores Locks collapses

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Miraflores
PanCanal management genius. Photo by the Panama Canal Authority.

Miraflores Locks collapse won’t much affect shipping

This collapsed section of the more than a century-old concrete structure that is the Miraflores Locks — the extreme southeast corner — is not a part that would cause a leak or obstruct the movement of ships. It is, however, cause for concern and will probably prompt testing in other, more critical, parts of the structure. There will be repairs or reconstruction and those might interfere with the locks’ operation, but the Panama Canal is fairly used to working around such things during its periodic overhauls.

 

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Stratfor, Retaking Raqqa

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RaqqaRetaking Raqqa from the Islamic State

by Stratfor

Summary

The battle for Raqqa, the Islamic State’s self-declared capital in Syria, has begun. The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) are advancing toward the city, engaging the jihadist group in the villages of al-Hisha, Tal Samen and Mutamshirij along the way. Because of Raqqa’s strategic importance, the Islamic State will do everything in its power to keep the city within its grasp. Driving the militants from their stronghold will not be easy or cheap, but if the SDF is successful, it will greatly accelerate the Islamic State’s defeat in Syria.

Analysis

For months, the SDF, backed by the United States, has been positioned on the front lines roughly 40 kilometers (25 miles) north of Raqqa. Videos have emerged showing large convoys, including tank transporters carrying armored vehicles, moving throughout the area as the group prepared to retake the city from the Islamic State fighters who captured it in 2013. Over the past week, the United States began dropping leaflets on Raqqa urging its citizens to leave, proclaiming, “The time you have awaited has arrived. It’s time to leave Raqqa.” Then on May 21-22, US General Joseph Votel — the top US Central Command general and the highest-ranking US official to travel to Syria during the conflict — visited SDF fighters in the country’s north. As the signs of impending battle mounted, the Islamic State began making preparations of its own, ramping up its defenses throughout Raqqa. And on May 24, the SDF made its move, announcing the start of its long-awaited advance.

But just how close the group is able to get to the heart of the city will be determined by one thing: its ethnic composition. Raqqa is a city with an Arab majority. Because the SDF and its backers want to not only retake the city but also to hold and govern it, they will need a sizable Arab force if they hope to achieve their objectives with local support. However, the SDF is currently dominated by the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), which have been effective against the Islamic State in territory they are familiar with in the north and northeast but are less inclined to spearhead operations farther south toward Raqqa. Moreover, the deeper the Kurds push into overwhelmingly Arab territory, the more they risk cementing local populations’ suspicions of the rebels and support for the Islamic State.

Still, Arab fighters have been joining the SDF’s ranks in droves. In fact, training these Syrian Arab Coalition fighters is one of the core purposes of the 250 US special operations forces deployed to Syria in April, and Votel was likely checking up on their progress during his visit to the country. (The general subsequently traveled to Turkey to reassure Turkish officials of US support for the SDF.)

Once the Syrian Arab Coalition grows to the ideal size and strength, and final preparations are complete, the SDF will shift its offensive to a direct attack on Raqqa. Because the Islamic State will not give up the city without a fight, the ensuing battle will likely be expensive and lengthy, easily lasting weeks if not months.

Stretching Islamic State resources

The first and simplest phase of the operation will be the SDF’s advance from its current position on the front line south of Ayn Issa toward the outskirts of Raqqa. This part of the offensive has already begun, and on May 24, the group captured the town of Fatisa, around 35 kilometers (22 miles) from Raqqa.

Once the SDF closes the distance between itself and the Islamic State’s dug-in posts in and around Raqqa, the pace of the battle will slow considerably. In what will become a grinding and methodical advance, the SDF will have to contend with improvised explosive devices, mines, booby traps, suicide bombers, local counterattacks and indirect fire from mortars and artillery in the city. It will also have to rely on US air support to take out the Islamic State’s strongest positions, and despite efforts to minimize civilian casualties, the Islamic State’s tendency to use human shields will probably lead to a high death toll. The effort to seize Raqqa, much like Iraq’s endeavor to retake Ramadi, will come at a terrible cost, all but guaranteeing the city’s destruction.

For the Islamic State, the loss of Raqqa would be a devastating blow. The city not only has symbolic value as the capital of the group’s so-called caliphate, but it is also an important hub for transporting people and supplies. Raqqa sits on the Euphrates River and is the key to controlling several critical highways in Syria. Without it, the Islamic State would have a much harder time moving fighters and goods from Aleppo province to eastern Syria and beyond. Instead it would be forced to rely on the Resafa-Ash Shola road, which is increasingly threatened by the Syrian government’s advances toward Deir el-Zour.

Given the city’s significance to Islamic State operations in Syria, the group can be expected to funnel substantial resources and reinforcements toward its defense. In addition to sending more fighters to Raqqa, the Islamic State will likely launch counterattacks along the SDF’s other front lines, including al-Hasaka, in an effort to distract its foe. However, the Islamic State will be at a disadvantage: While the SDF is focusing most of its attention on attacking the jihadist group, the Islamic State has to contend with the Syrian rebels, Syrian government troops, Kurdish peshmerga and Iraqi forces. Devoting additional attention and resources to Raqqa when it is already overstretched will inevitably hurt the extremist group elsewhere on the battlefield.

 

Retaking Raqqa From the Islamic State is republished with permission of Stratfor.

 

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The old and new Gatun Locks seen from space

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Locks-smallThe new Panama Canal from on high

To the left is Gatun Lake, to the right the Caribbean Sea. Notice two related bits of construction: above and to the left of the locks with the lower Chagres River flowing beyond, the work around the Spillway to raise the level of Gatun Lake. On the center right of the photo, work to build the new Atlantic Side bridge, a costly part of the canal expansion that has been kept “off of the project” so as to misrepresent the expansion’s true cost.

 

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Muchos panameños pueden votar para el presidente del EEUU

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voto hispano
Personas con su cédula panameña y también su pasaporte del EEUU tienen su voz para decidir si Donald Trump será presidente de los Estados Unidos.

¿Tiene nacionalidad y cultura panameña, pero nacido en el EEUU? Puede votar para presidente de los Estados Unidos

 

“Toda persona nacida o naturalizada en los Estados Unidos… es ciudadana de los Estados Unidos….”
Enmienda XIV a la Constitución del EEUU

 

Para la mayoría, personas adultas nacidas en los EEUU pero viviendo en Panamá tienen el derecho a votar en los comicios de los Estados Unidos. Para hacerlo, hay que inscribirse.

Igualmente, en la mayoría de los casos, los hijos y las hijas de madres o padres con nacionalidad estadounidiense — si la madre o el padre como adultos fueron residentes de los EEUU — tienen el derecho a la nacionalidad estadounidiense, y con ésta el derecho a votar.

Una prueba breve: si tiene pasaporte de los EEUU, puede votar en las elecciones presidenciales de los EEUU.

Estadounidienses viviendo fuera del EEUU usualmente pueden votar por correo en el estado de su última residencia, o si jamás vivieron en los EEUU, en el estado de la última residencia de uno de sus padres estadounidienses.

En español, páginas de web con orientación a gente adentro del EEUU:

http://www.telemundo.com/noticias/yo-decido-2016/comunidad

http://veyvota.yaeshora.info/preguntas?id=0003

http://www.eac.gov/translations/spanish/inscrbase_para_votar.aspx

En inglés, páginas que ayudan su inscripción para votar fuera del EEUU:

https://www.fvap.gov/

https://www.overseasvotefoundation.org/vote/home.htm

https://www.votefromabroad.org/vote/home.htm

https://travel.state.gov/content/passports/en/abroad/legal-matters/benefits/voting.html

anchor babies
¡Jamás otro racista en la Casa Blanca! Es 2016, no 1816.

 

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Martinelli’s legal woes are still growing

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Ricky
Swiss authorities are now investigating him and his two sons. Were he to leave Miami for the Vatican the Swiss Guards would probably not arrest him but he’d have other problems en route. Photo from Ricardo Martinelli’s Twitter feed.

Ex-president’s woes still grow

by Eric Jackson

The Supreme Court put out a warrant for Ricardo Martinelli’s arrest this past December, but just now got around to sending the matter to the Ministry of Foreign Relations for a formal extradition request to the US government. That would be needed to bring Martinelli before the court because for more than one year he has been living in Miami. The case for which the request will be made, one of 15 pending here against the former president, is about illegal wiretapping. A US administration questioned about its own electronic surveillance programs may not want to touch the issue.

Meanwhile in Switzerland, prosecutors are investigating an alleged role that the ex-president and his two sons had in the laundering of Odebrecht bribe money in the international Lava Jato scandal. Panama’s attorney general has sent a prosecutor to Europe to look at the files that mention the Martinellis.

 

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Democrats Abroad FATCA seminar

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DA forum
Speaker Joel Davids, left, and moderator Phyllis So. Photo by Eric Jackson.

A tax accountant’s take on FATCA and the FBAR

by Eric Jackson

It’s approaching that time of the year again. US income tax filers living abroad get a two-month automatic extension on the filing date — that would make a June 15 deadline — although they can get a further extension just by asking. Thus another Democrats Abroad seminar on the controversial Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA) and the much older and separate — but potentially more frightening — Foreign Bank Account Report. The resident expert who spoke about these subjects at a May 21 seminar at CELI on Via Expaña, tax accountant Joel Davids, is busy and travels quite a bit but is often to be found in Coronado these days.

FATCA was passed in 2009 and supposed to go into effect the following year, but it has become something of a political football and still hasn’t been entirely implemented. Its application to foreign banks, which sometimes reject American customers to avoid the overhead of reporting or the possibilities of sanctions that could lose them the ability to have corresponding bank relationships with banks in the United States, may be more consequence to US citizens abroad than are the provisions personally applicable to those citizens.

Democrats Abroad, with chapters around the world, has led the charge for a “safe harbor” provision for the need to file the Form 8938 FATCA disclosures. “Safe harbor” in its purest form would be that FATCA applies to the accounts of Americans who have assets in Panama but don’t live here, while the law would not apply to the accounts of Americans who actually live here. But the reporting thresholds approach that. People living in the USA with specifically covered assets don’t have to report unless, if filing as singles they had $50,000 in such assets on the last day of the year or $75,000 on any day of that year. (For married couples in the USA the figures are $100,000 and $150,000 respectively.) If you are an American living in Panama, however, filing singly you must have possessed $200,000 worth of specified assets on the last day of the year or $300,000 at any time in that year, with those figures double for those filing as married couples.

There are all sorts of distinctions to determine which foreign assets are covered by FATCA but an important one for residents of Panama to understand is that owning a home in one’s name does not make that asset reportable under FATCA but owning that same home in the name of a foundation or corporation does. Under Panamanian laws and customs there are good reasons why real estate is held in the name of a company or foundation — die with a house in one’s name and it’s likely that heirs will not receive it but rather it will have to be sold to pay the lawyer bills of a probate process. The important thing to know is that for an American living here on a certain economic level interactions between US and Panamanian laws can cause complications in his or her life. Proper professional advice is a good idea if you have that sort of wealth.

The FBAR, a Treasury form that’s basically a measure against money laundering and is separate from the tax system, applies to the foreign bank, brokerage and certain other accounts of US citizens if on any day in a given tax year the aggregate value of all those accounts was $10,000 or more. The penalties for failure to file can be severe.

 

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WHO advice on Zika and the Rio Olympics

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Advice on the Olympics and the Zika virus

by the World Health Organization

Based on current assessment, canceling or changing the location of the 2016 Olympics will not significantly alter the international spread of Zika virus. Brazil is one of almost 60 countries and territories which to date report continuing transmission of Zika by mosquitoes. People continue to travel between these countries and territories for a variety of reasons. The best way to reduce risk of disease is to follow public health travel advice.

WHO advises pregnant women not to travel to areas with ongoing Zika virus transmission. This includes Rio de Janeiro. Pregnant women’s sex partners returning from areas with circulating virus should be counseled to practice safer sex or abstain throughout the pregnancy.

Anyone considering travel to the Olympics should:

  • follow the travel advice provided by their countries’ health authorities, and consult a health worker before traveling.
  • whenever possible, during the day, protect themselves from mosquito bites by using insect repellents and by wearing clothing — preferably light-colored — that covers as much of the body as possible.
  • practice safer sex (e.g. use condoms correctly and consistently) or abstain from sex during their stay and for at least four weeks after their return, particularly if they have had or are experiencing symptoms of Zika virus.
  • choose air-conditioned accommodation (windows and doors are usually kept closed to prevent the cool air from escaping, and mosquitoes cannot enter the rooms).
  • avoid visiting areas in cities and towns with no piped water and poor sanitation (ideal breeding grounds of mosquitoes) where the risk of being bitten is higher.

The World Health Organization and its Pan American Health Organization affiliate are providing public health advice to the government of Brazil and the Rio 2016 Organizing Committee on ways to further mitigate the risk of athletes and visitors contracting Zika virus during the Games. An important focus of WHO advice revolves around measures to reduce populations of Aedes mosquitoes which transmit chikungunya, dengue and yellow fever in addition to Zika virus.

Based on the current assessment of Zika virus circulating in almost 60 countries globally and 39 in the Americas, there is no public health justification for postponing or canceling the games. WHO will continue to monitor the situation and update our advice as necessary.

 

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Unusual fraud trial in San Carlos

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SC courthouse
Supporters of Diane Maxwell in front of the San Carlos municipal courthouse. Photo by Bob Jensen.

A most unusual trial in San Carlos

by Eric Jackson

No perp walks and a bunch of Spanish legalese that a lot of interested parties just barely understood, even with translation. Television was not there. But the May 20 fraud trial of Rose Bourgeois and Peter Vermeltfoort in the San Carlos Municipal Court was quite remarkable. In Panama there is a long-standing practice, not anywhere written in the law, that when a foreigner is defrauded by either a Panamanian or another foreigner, this is a matter for prosecutorial laughter rather than action. The few exceptions to this over the years tend to have the aroma of bribery to get prosecutors to break from the norm. But here were Bourgeois and Vermeltfoort, accused of cheating Diane Maxwell out of some $100,000 for a house for which she paid and didn’t really get. There are also claims for outrages and anguish along the way.

If the claims for compensation and the criminal charge confuse you, in the Civil Code legal systems it is common enough to include monetary damages or restitution of property as part of a criminal judgment. And if people accused of stealing $100 grand walk to court from their cars instead of being transported from jail or house arrest by police, welcome to the class bias of Panamanian justice.

One of the reasons why this case may have gone to court at all is that Maxwell’s claim is one of at least eight — all with different details but all about how people paid money for houses they didn’t get or from which they were driven shortly after getting — against Bourgeois and Vermeltfoort. It has been going of for years, through changes in government and of shifting balances of public opinion that enduring politicians have had to contend. Does someone think she or he is untouchable? What’s that aristocratic Panamanian surname? Error number one, to think that influence will necessarily last forever.

These are disputes among Canadian expatriates, and at the heart of some of them is an offer common enough in parts of Canada but out of synch with Panamanian law, the idea that one might own a house that is separate from any other dwelling but not the land on which it sits. Yes, there are condominiums and the sort of land tenure that the defendants were selling may not be specifically illegal. However, nobody seems to know how to do the paperwork for it, such that a proper deed (escritura) might be issued. Especially so when there has been neither a survey nor a subdivision of the land. Now people might at least know to run as fast as possible away from any such real estate offer in Panama. However, a lot of intelligent North Americans didn’t and some of their errors were compounded by the mistaken notion that dealings with fellow expats from the same country are more trustworthy than dealings with Panamanians.

A typical scenario, according to Maxwell’s supporters, was that someone would have paid a large part of the price for a house built by Buorgeois and Vermelfoort, then there would be an attempted closing scene in which the buyer would demand a deed that was not forthcoming and refuse to pay the balance. So Bourgeois and Vermelfoort would say that the buyers defaulted and don’t get any refund.

Maxwell’s case was different, in that she actually got a house, actually lived in it, but was driven off. To hear the sellers’ side of it, Maxwell didn’t pay maintenance fees. Maxwell said that the sellers refused to accept her payments of these, which she then made through the corregiduria. In her claim and others, there are tales of hassles great and petty, a big one being getting locked out, either for entry and egress of cars or from the home itself. There are back and forth charges of harassment and intimidation by various parties, some of them so unspecified as to be reasonably presumed false. But there were instances in which the police or people from the corregiduria had been called in to be present for angry scenes and this might be one reason for the unusual trial — these endless disputes were disturbing the peace.

In court the defendants’ lawyer began with a motion to quash, some of its on procedural things like a translation allegedly not being properly certified, some of it on vague allegations that witnesses had been intimidated, some of it about allegedly bad arithmetic but most fundamentally that this was a contract dispute and should be a civil rather than a criminal case. The judge found that there were sufficient allegations of fraud to continue the case as a criminal matter and denied the motion to quash.

After a day of arguments over which testimony was relevant and in proper form and then closing arguments by the prosecutor, Maxwell’s private prosecutor and defense counsel, the case was adjourned with a verdict to be handed down in two or three weeks. If there is a criminal conviction, any prison sentence of four years or less can be avoided by the payment of a fine. But even then, in the event of a conviction Panamanian immigration authorities could move to expel the foreign convict from the country. Bourgeois, however, is the mother of a Panamanian child and in those sorts of cases deportations are unusual. Whether or not books get thrown, a conviction would very likely shut the Bourgeois and Vermelfoort business down and send them elsewhere.

This case comes at a time when some foreigners stand to lose condos for which they have in some cases fully paid in the beach communities of Panama Oeste and Cocle, as part of the bankruptcy and alleged fraud matters of the Gálvez family. It is a time when there are a lot of mostly empty condo towers along the beach — some of them built to abominable standards — and there are more towers under construction. So this in the scheme of things small case in a small courthouse on a side street of the small town of San Carlos could have some big consequences for Panama’s real estate sector. Whatever the decision, up in Canada there will be people who are thinking about moving here to live — or about coming here to swindle people — who hear about what happens in this case.

 

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