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Editorials: The water crisis; and It all sounds so reasonable

The ponds from which cattle drink are disappearing. Photo by MIDA.

The water crisis

We have a water crisis caused by a drought that’s worse than any other on record, but also caused by water systems and water policies that are woefully inadequate. However, we also have many fine civil engineers and a lot of people without so much formal education who have built and maintained inexpensive and usually functional local water systems.

We need to have a national dialogue about water — about what we need and how we are going to pay for it. In any discussion that is truly national in scope wrong ideas and impractical dogmas will be advanced. There will be those who can’t conceive of situations or solutions that are different from those which they have seen. But because the water supply is not too advanced a subject for most people to learn, we can make informed democratic choices rather than completely turning our decisions over to supposed technocrats who are likely to have undisclosed interests.

It should be hoped and expected that by the time a national water dialogue gets underway, the rains will have begun and the crisis will be less acute. However, the problems will be back. We need new water sources, some reconfigurations of our delivery systems and some changes in political and economic arrangements to go along with the physical changes.

So to whom should we listen? President Varela campaigned on bringing running water to every household and we should look to him for leadership, but not give up if he disappoints us. The technical people at IDAAN and for the local water systems ought to get a careful hearing, even as we take into account weaknesses in these institutions. Panamanians and foreign residents from all walks of life should be encouraged to weigh in. It’s everybody’s problem.

On the other hand, climate change is driving a lot of the crisis and individuals, companies and public institutions with histories of climate change denial should be identified as such and paid little heed. Those with economic interests which they would conceal should be outed and shamed, even as we listen to those with honestly admitted stakes in the decisions to be made.

Panama’s system of education is and has been abysmal, but Panamanians are not stupid. The water crisis challenges us to educate ourselves and act intelligently. We should do these things for ourselves.


It all sounds so reasonable

Vice President and Foreign Minister Isabel de Saint Malo de Alvarado tells us that:

Panama’s path to financial transparency is irreversible. To that end, we willingly and actively support diplomatic dialogue and domestic reform to address this global challenge.

As Panama has reiterated on multiple occasions to members of the OECD, we are fully and immediately committed to the implementation of bilateral automatic exchange of information consistent with the goals of the Common Reporting Standards.

Further, we are open and willing to engage in ongoing international dialogue with relevant technical teams to evaluate the specific multilateral mechanisms needed to implement these standards.

President Juan Carlos Varela points out that our corporate secrecy laws date back to 1927 and were copied from those of the US state of Delaware. He and many others complain that Panama is unfairly singled out, and faces unreasonable demands that our little country become the tax enforcer for big and rich industrialized countries.

But we have a regional Red Cross disaster relief center here, and a law firm that is deeply embedded in Varela’s party and administration fraudulently used the name of the Red Cross as a purported beneficial owner of shell companies in order to conceal the activities of wealthy interests that have nothing to do with the Red Cross. Yes, it can be argued that Panamanian “mirror companies” with the same or similar names as those of well-known companies elsewhere in the world but with no other connection to the reputable firms are legal here, and that identity theft is not a crime here. So does that make everything proper?

Everything is not right. Even if Panama is being disproportionately singled out because the leak came from one of our “offshore asset protection” law firms, that’s still not an excuse to pretend that nothing is wrong. Yes, there is a lot of money involved, but no, shell games and fraud are not sustainable bases for the Panamanian economy.


Bear in mind…

Evil when we are in its power is not felt as evil but as a necessity, or even a duty.
Simone Weil


Poverty and ignorance are the two great allies of the totalitarian enemies of freedom.
Ricardo J. Alfaro


Indeed I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just.
Thomas Jefferson


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Ben-Meir, Saudi Arabia in retreat


chopSaudi Arabia, a kingdom in retreat

by Alon Ben-Meir

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, which was once at the front and center of the Arab world and a significant player on the global stage due to its oil riches, has been steadily losing its regional influence and prominent role. In recent years, Saudi Arabia has been confronted with multiple challenges simultaneously, including its domestic, social, political, economic and religious trials, its conflict with Iran, its bilateral relations with the United States, the rise of extremism, and the intra-Arab crisis. Saudi Arabia failed to catch up with the rapidly changing developments that engulfed the region, and now it finds itself squeezed from all angles, with little prospect of relief unless the kingdom undertakes sweeping changes.

The challenge for Saudi Arabia is that given its culture, socio-political make up, and the dominant role of religion, it will be extraordinarily difficult for the Saudis to change direction without experiencing great turmoil that could destabilize the country for many years to come. That said, the Saudis have little choice but to begin serious domestic and foreign policy reforms consistent with the changing regional geopolitical environment, and do so gradually to preserve the integrity and stability of the kingdom.

The growing domestic challenges:Since the 2003 Iraq war and especially in the wake of the Arab Spring, the country is going through an identity crisis. There is growing unrest among many youth who no longer tolerate living in servitude and oppression — they want more freedom and civil rights, and refuse to settle for handouts to keep them quiet.

With the eruption of the Arab Spring, the government spent $130 billion to silence the opposition. These top-to-bottom handouts failed to satisfy the nearly 60 percent of the population under the age of twenty-one.

They are unwilling to live in a country where criticism of the government is considered a threat to national security, live fire is used against protesters, secret police are everywhere, freedom of speech is completely stifled, and women are confined to the home.

Any political opposition is quelled by force, and punishments for crimes such as blasphemy, sorcery, and apostasy, are gruesome and carried out publicly. In 2015 alone, 157 people were beheaded, and more than 82 have been executed thus far in 2016, which is twice as many as have been beheaded by ISIS in the same time period.

Moreover, political activists serve long-term sentences and administrative detention is rampant. The opportunities for upward mobility and personal growth are limited, leaving little for which to aspire. This has led many young men to join various terrorist organizations in the search for a new identity.

Although there are women activists struggling for reform, violence against women is symptomatic in Saudi culture and is accepted as a means of controlling their behavior. The state-sanctioned execution of women convicted of adultery (whom are often in reality the victims of rape), and killing of women by male relatives (honor killing) for sexual offences, perceived or otherwise, is acceptable.

Religious oppression: Given that Saudi Arabia is the custodian of Sunni Islam and is the seat of the holiest Muslim shrines in Mecca (the birthplace of Muhammad) and Medina, the Saudis have carved for themselves a special role in the Sunni Muslim world.

The annual Hajj to Mecca further enshrines the Saudis’ religious role and enhances their strict form of Sunni Islam (Wahhabism), which they have been exporting to every Muslim state by building thousands of schools (madrassas) at an exorbitant cost.

The country is run by sharia law, music is not allowed, religious police are given extended authority to use extreme violence, and the religious Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice enforces Islamic law. All Saudis are expected to attend mosque every Friday, and Wahhabism is taught from an early age.

Saudi Arabia uses religion to control the population and teaches to hate those who do not share their Islamic values. The clergy exercises extraordinary power and are free to issue edicts (fatwas) at their pleasure.

The religious system is often run contrary to the social, political, and economic aspirations of the young, and is leading to a growing resentment which is becoming increasingly troublesome for the government.

The looming economic crisis: With estimated oil reserves of 270 billion barrels, the fall of oil prices has had an unprecedented effect on the Saudi economy. The oil crisis has inflicted major economic disruption, forced the government to cut subsidies and curtail many development projects, and reduced its international stature and ability to exert influence over other Arab states.

Although the Saudis have nearly $660 billion in cash reserves, the government has withdrawn roughly $70 billion to make up for shortages in the fiscal 2015 national budget. If the price of oil decreases further in the next few years, the Saudi economy could go bankrupt.

There is massive inequality between the various classes. Nearly one fifth of the population lives in poverty, especially in the predominantly Shiite south where, ironically, much of the oil reservoirs are located. In these areas, sewage runs in the streets, and only crumbs are spent to alleviate the plight of the poor.

While the poor are getting poorer, thousands of princes and princesses live lavishly (mostly in Europe), spending hundreds of millions of dollars and occupying opulent villas, which further drains economic resources.

Being that Saudi Arabia has and continues to be almost completely dependent for revenue on oil exports, which has more than covered its national budget, it had no compelling reason to develop diversified industries.

Moreover, the Saudis became increasingly dependent on millions of foreign laborers, who are subjected to abusive, slave-like conditions, to do the ‘dirty work’ that Saudi citizens are unwilling to undertake.

The hostile rivalry with Iran: The relationship between Sunni Saudi Arabia and Shiite Iran has always been characterized by tension and mistrust. The quiet enmity came to the fore in the wake of the 2003 Iraq war and the growing influence of Tehran over the Shiite Iraqi government.

This was further aggravated with the eruption of the civil war in Syria, where Iran supported the Assad regime with money, military equipment, training, and subsequently foot soldiers, while the Saudis provided similar aid to the rebels opposed to Assad, short of dispatching ground troops.

The enmity between the two countries took another turn for the worse when it was suspected that Iran was pursuing a nuclear weapons program, which Riyadh viewed as a direct threat to its national security. Despite the Iran deal, the Saudis remain deeply skeptical about Tehran’s ultimate intentions.

The Iraq war also ignited the dormant millennium-old religious conflict between Sunnis and Shiites, and Syria and Iraq became the battleground between the two sects, where the bloodshed continues unabated, claiming the lives of thousands each year.

The execution of the Saudi Shiite cleric Sheikh Nimr al Nimr — an icon who called for addressing human rights violations in Saudi Arabia, was charged with incitement and treason, and sentenced to death along with 46 others — further deepened the animosity between the two countries. This caused unrest among Shiites in the country, sparked protests in Tehran, and was condemned by the international community.

To be sure, although Tehran recently called for reconciliation with the Saudis, the latter rejected the Iranian gesture as the Saudis view the conflict with Iran as irreconcilable, mainly due to religious and geopolitical reasons, as both seek to exercise regional hegemony.

Due to the size of the population, its natural resources, and industrial advancement, the Saudis believe that Iran will inevitably become the regional powerhouse, with the ability and resources to intimidate the entire Gulf region (especially once it acquires nuclear weapons), which the Saudis consider their own domain.

The unsettling relations with the United States: athough Saudi Arabia and the Americans have enjoyed decades of close bilateral relations, the relationship has soured over changing US geostrategic interests and its ‘pivot’ to the East, and the manner in which it has tackled the Syrian civil war and the Iran deal.

While the United States continues to support Saudi Arabia militarily and remains the de facto guarantor of its national security, the Saudis remain unconvinced of the US commitment to that end.

Indeed, from the vantage point of regional security, the Obama administration chose to draw a balance between Saudi Arabia and Iran. In a recent interview with the Atlantic, President Obama said that they “need to find an effective way to share the neighborhood.” Moreover, Obama believes that bringing Iran out of its isolation will lead to greater regional stability, from which the Saudis will also benefit.

Another point of contention between the two countries is Obama’s failure to make good on his vow to punish Assad if he crossed the “red line” of using chemical weapons against civilians, which created serious doubts in the minds of the Saudis that the US won’t come to their aid, even if their security is threatened.

Despite repeated efforts by the United States to assure the Saudis of America’s unwavering commitment to their national security, the strained relationship is likely to persist. The Saudis still believe that the nuclear deal will only delay rather than end Iran’s ambition to acquire nuclear weapons, which may lead to regional nuclear proliferation.

The dangerous intra-Arab crisis: due to its riches and ability to provide financial support to several Arab countries including Jordan and Egypt, the Saudis have been able to exert significant influence throughout the region and essentially assume the leadership role of the Arab world, which was traditionally held by Egypt.

With the rise of Egyptian President Sisi to power, however, the pendulum swung back and Egypt reassumed its leadership role, even though the country remains in need of Saudi financial aid. The recent visit of the Saudi monarch attests to the Kingdom’s need of Egypt’s support in confronting Iran, the turmoil in Iraq and Syria, and in its fight against the Houthis in Yemen.

The prognosis for the future does not bode well for Saudi Arabia as the Sunni-Shiite conflict is simply unwinnable, and regardless of how the civil war in Syria comes to an end, Iran will continue to exercise considerable influence in the country. The same can be said about Iraq, which has, in any case, a Shiite majority.

In conclusion, Saudi Arabia must face these challenges head on and avoid what might become an albatross that would choke off its potential to be a significant player in and outside the region.

In dealing with human rights, the current state of affairs is bound to come back and haunt the Saudi government as it would be impossible to silence such a huge segment of the population, even with the use of brutal force.

Young men should be given greater opportunities for growth, and women deserve basic civil rights and freedom from servitude; the Kingdom can accomplish this while still maintaining Islamic tradition along the lines of what other Gulf states have successfully done.

The Saudi government must wake up to this ominous development because it is now only a matter of time when the young will rise and be prepared to die, like many of their brethren in Egypt, Libya, and Syria, for a cause they believe in.

In relation to the practice of religion, the survival of the kingdom may well depend on its ability to ease religious pressure and decisively limit the internal religious police’s prerogatives to use force at their whims without any accountability.

It is about time to modify the criminal justice system and end the public display of beheadings, which does nothing but further alienate the public—instead of spreading fear and awe, it breeds hatred and resentment of the government, which only increases defiance.

The government must heed the public outcry without necessarily compromising the religious principles that guide the county. Being a devout Muslim is one thing, but using religion arbitrarily and as a tool to subjugate the people will no longer be tolerated.

In addition, the government must end draconian legislation in the name of religion. In fact, the more religious laws and edicts are imposed, the greater the youth’s rejection will be.

Economically, the country must now focus on industrial development on a large scale and gradually reduce its dependence on revenue generated from the energy sector. This will provide over time millions of jobs and create a self-sustaining middle class.

In addition, the government should also invest in sustainable development projects that would allow communities to choose their own projects, develop a sense of empowerment while supporting themselves without handouts, and regain their self-respect.

Regarding the Saudi-Iranian conflict, both sides ought to begin a process of reconciliation and restore diplomatic relations, which could also potentially help facilitate a mutually-accepted solution to Syria’s civil war.

With the best of intentions, the bilateral relations between the two countries will continue to experience ups and downs, and hence accepting the inescapable reality of where each stands religiously and geopolitically could ease tensions and lead to improved relations, recognizing that neither of them can win the religious war or dominate the entire region.

In respect to the United States, the Saudis have little choice but to trust the Americans to stand by it, not only because of the US commitment to shield the kingdom from outside threats, but also because the United States continues to have major strategic interests in the region.

The Saudis, however, must also understand that in being a global power, the United States must balance its overall strategic interests with its bilateral relations with countries who are hostile to one another; the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the Iran deal offer good cases in point.

And finally, in connection with intra-Arab relations, Saudi Arabia can still play a leading role, but it must adjust to unfolding events throughout the region while maintaining its leadership role in the Gulf.

Moreover, the Saudis, who have genuine concerns over the security of the entire Arabian Peninsula, should work toward ending the violence between the Houthis and the internationally-recognized government of Yemen.

Saudi Arabia is facing a pivotal crossroad; the kingdom must take a hard look at its internal and external affairs and chart a new course to stave off the otherwise inevitable violent eruption by the country’s youth who are no longer willing to live with the status quo.

The above challenges cannot be overcome unless Saudi Arabia faces reality, as none will be mitigated by wishful thinking or by the use of excessive force and brutal acts in the name of a higher authority, which has long since been universally rejected with revulsion.

Saudi Arabia has the human and natural resources to reclaim its leadership role in the Gulf, and together with other regional powers must embark on a process of reconciliation, which is the only recipe for stability and peace.


Dr. Alon Ben-Meir is a professor of international relations at the Center for Global Affairs at NYU.


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Bernie Sanders at the Vatican

Bernie Sanders addresses the Vatican conference on economic justice. Photo from the Bernie website.

Bernie Sanders in the Vatican

A moral economy: text of remarks at the Vatican conference

Bernie Sanders press conference just outside The Vatican.


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Gandásegui, América Latina y el colapso de Europa

José Martí, retrato en el EEUU en 1885.

América Latina y el colapso de Europa

por Marco A. Gandásegui, hijo

Europa occidental experimentó un resurgimiento espectacular después de la II Guerra Mundial. Económicamente pasó de las ruinas para convertirse en una aparente ‘sociedad del bienestar’ en 25 años. En parte se debió a la locomotora alemana, a la austeridad de los escandinavos y al trabajo de los países mediterráneos. El crecimiento económico alcanzó su máximo esplendor en la década de 1970, momento en que el mercado comenzó a sufrir quebrantos que las inversiones públicas no podían subsanar.

Fue en esa coyuntura que el eje franco-alemán decidió darle al proyecto de una sola Europa un golpe de timón. Crearon el Euro como moneda única, suprimieron fronteras (incluso para la fuerza de trabajo) y montaron un Consejo europeo. El experimento coincidió con el colapso soviético (1991) y el fin del campo socialista europeo. Las ex-repúblicas soviéticas y los países del centro europeo se movieron hacia el proyecto de Comunidad Europea y se embarcaron en el pacto militar norteamericano de la OTAN.

En la década de 1990 la reunificación de Alemania la convirtió en una de las economías más grandes del mundo. La Europa con 28 países miembros superó a EEUU en producción y competía en riqueza. El talón de Aquiles de Europa es su dependencia frente al poderío militar de EEUU y la disminución de su participación en el mercado mundial. Otra de las debilidades del ‘viejo continente’ es su población envejecida, cada vez menos productiva.

En la segunda década del siglo XXI Europa se enfrenta a un mundo que no conoce. Hace apenas un siglo dominaba todos los continentes con sus exportaciones y plazas financieras. Era la potencia militar por excelencia y poseía colonias en los cuatro puntos cardenales. Su competitividad, sin embargo, fue reducida por EEUU y, en el presente, por la China emergente. La rica cultura europea ha sido secuestrada y desfigurada por el populismo mercantil que promueve EEUU.

Políticamente, la Europa del sur se ha rebelado y el centro se ha manifestado partidaria de políticas neo-fascistas que cuestionan las versiones, hasta hace poco hegemónicas, de un orden social-demócrata y demócrata cristiano. Más encima, la política europea que pretendía ‘rejuvenecer’ su población con migrantes del Medio Oriente se convirtió en una bomba que reventó en el corazón del ‘viejo continente’.

La promesa europea se está convirtiendo en una caricatura. América latina podría haber sido su salvación. No aprovechó las oportunidades que se le abrieron al comercio y a la transferencia de tecnología que se pudo lograr con los países de la región. La Comunidad Europea delegó en España las relaciones con sus antiguas colonias y Brasil. Los resultados fueron catastróficos. Madrid regresó a América con sus velas desplegadas con la idea de reeditar la conquista.

En el lugar de los europeos aparecieron los chinos, estableciendo campamentos mineros a lo largo de los Andes, haciendas agrícolas sobre las costas del Atlántico así como nuevas relaciones comerciales en la América meridional. Europa fue expulsada de su posición privilegiada en la región.

Europa está económica y políticamente en quiebra. La crisis griega puso fin al proyecto alemán de convertirse en potencia hegemónica. Los ingleses están poniendo a prueba el liderazgo teutón amenazando con su retirada. El proyecto europeo aparentemente sólo tiene una carta que puede jugar en esta coyuntura: China.

La carta china, sin embargo, pasa por Rusia y una región asiática convulsionada por las guerras interminables por el control de los yacimientos petrolíferos de Medio Oriente. La creación de un eje euro-asiático entre Pekín y Berlín que pase por Moscú puede devolverle a Europa el oxígeno que necesita la economía alemana y de paso a los demás países de esa región.

Un eje de este tipo dejaría por fuera a EEUU y, de paso, a América latina. EEUU dejaría de ser el centro del mundo moderno y de las enormes ganancias que generan las inversiones que se realizan a escala global. Sería el vuelco más significativo de la historia después de la emergencia del capitalismo mercantil en Europa occidental hace 250 años.

América latina regresa al dilema planteado por Bolívar hace dos siglos: ‘Somos uno o no somos’. A pesar de que hemos logrado levantar una identidad propia — América Latina — pareciera ser que es insuficiente. Lo entendieron Martí y Hugo Chávez. La crítica a la dependencia y las teorías de la ‘decolonialidad’ son caminos que pueden representar nuevas oportunidades. Hay que romper con ‘nuestro eurocentrismo’ y construir una nueva identidad.


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The Panama News blog links, April 14, 2016


The Panama News blog links, April 14, 2016

Seatrade Maritime News, Second PanCanal draft restriction

Video, Transit in the new PanCanal locks

Hellenic Shipping News, Iran can now use Panama’s canal and ship registry

The Guardian, Nicaragua rejects bill to block the canal project

International Cry, Ngabe communities facing eviction

Reuters, Inside a Panamanian prison: a flawed legal system

The Intercept, Lawsuit over system that put a baby on the US no-fly list

BBC, Why Rousseff faces impeachment calls

Página 12, Cristina se presenta en el juzgado

AFP, Cristina: puede encarcelarme pero no voy a callar

Washington Post, Trump threatened to sue AP over Panama condo story

Forbes, Brazil charges world’s richest banker with bribery

Tico Times, Cuban migrants storm Costa Rica-Panama border demanding to pass

EFE, Costa Rica devolverá a Panamá a cubanos ilegales

Miami Herald, Costa Rica closes its doors to Cubans

Xinhua, Panamá pedirá a vecinos no impedir la migración cubana

Prensa Latina, Tico minister says US laws behind Cuban migration

Tico Times, Costa Rica seeks regional accord on illegal migrants

Sentinel-Tribune, US wind industry record

La Estrella, Potabilizadora de Penonomé está fuera de servicio

27east.com, Sag Harbor surfers to distrubute water filters in Bocas

Mongabay, Climate change is drying up small islands

Playa Community, Yellow bellied sea snakes coming onto Pedasi beaches

Christian Science Monitor, Red crabs swarm off Panama

STRI, What were Caribbean coral reefs like before humans?

Science Friday, The search for Peru’s “Boiling River”

Ancel, The lethal arms of the US drug war in Honduras

Zibechi, Building new worlds in Brazil’s favelas

Boff, What kind of Brazil do we want?

María & Romero, Chavismo from below

Bolton, Venezuela’s power outages and western press bias

Sánchez, Colombian civil society is the best bet for peace

Levy, Taking sides in the war within Islam

Stiglitz, What’s wrong with negative rates?

Varoufakis, Interview with The Economist

Springsteen, About North Carolina

US State Department, Annual human rights report on countries other than the USA

Variety, Latin American film distribution issues discussed at Panama film festival

Hollywood Reporter, Salsipuedes review

Variety, Guido Bilbao’s “El Bosque de las Paradoxas”

Variety, Panama International Film Festival kicks off with “Viva”

IFF Panama, People’s Choice Awards 2016 (Spanish & English)


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Mossack Fonseca blog links


Mossack Fonseca blog links

And nobody says anything about the multiple breaches of the Lawyers’ Code of Ethics perpetrated by M&F.
law professor Miguel Antonio Bernal


ICIJ, The Panama Papers

AP, Panama firm usurped name of Red Cross to hide money

de la Serna, Macri y los Panama Papers

Blades, “Mossack-Fonseca Papers”

EFE, Parlamento ecuatoriano llamará a funcionarios por caso Mossack Fonseca

Sader, Tax havens: the brothels of capitalism

Corrado, ¿Qué hay detrás de Panamá Papers y las offshore?

Yao, Los Papeles Mossack-Fonseca y más allá

Beluche, Los papeles de Panamá y el capitalismo putrefacto

Cassidy, Panama Papers: why aren’t there more American names?

USA Today, Mossack Fonseca linked to more than 1,000 US companies

Ha’aretz, Hundreds of Israeli companies used Mossack Fonseca

El Confidencial, La infanta Pilar mantuvo una SA opaca en Panamá

Winship, Panama Papers offer more evidence that free trade isn’t really free

Blades, Sobre “The Panama Papers”

The Raw Story, CIA and other spies used Mossack Fonseca

Daily Mail, UBS whistleblower thinks CIA is behind Panama Papers leak

Reuters, Societe Generale headquarters searched

Radio New Zealand, Mossack Fonseca had NZ investment application

CNBC, Did “smart” people avoid the Panama Papers?

Reuters, Colombia y Panamá hablan sobre el intercambio de datos financieros”

Silber, Panama Papers lob “atomic bomb” on Brazil’s political class

Wilson, Why you can’t Google “Panama Papers” in China

La Estrella, Cinco países piden ayuda judicial a Panamá


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Harrington, Los Papeles Panamá


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The Panama Papers

por Kevin Harrington Shelton
De la rosa de ayer, solo perdura el nombre;
nos atenemos a palabras huecas de significado

Umberto Eco (“El Nombre de la Rosa”)


Cuando finalmente se escriba la (verdadera) historia de Panamá, se hará en términos de oportunidades-perdidas. Los grandes cambios en Panamá provienen desde el exterior. Después de la Invasión, perdimos la oportunidad de hacer borrón y cuenta nueva del cesarismo de 1968. Hoy vamos por igual camino. La oportunidad presentada por los “Papeles de Panamá” para diagnosticar nuestros problemas de impunidad, no la aprovechamos. Se pierde tiempo en minucias (el nombre del esfuerzo, billones de megabytes, colaboración de un montón de medios, sensacionalismo sobre personalidades de relieve internacional, etc), pero no se enfoca sobre el fallo de raíz que tiene esta campaña que ha indignado artificialmente a demasiados patriotas panameños. Para que las bases no se sobrepongan a la dirigencia, al conocer la raíz del problema.

En la legalidad tributaria territorial panameña los impuestos se pagan donde se generan las utilidades. Lo demás son maromas contables. Lo recalca el profesor Thomas Piketty, especialista en la distribución de riquezas tanto en la École des hautes etudes en sciences sociales de París, como en el London School of Economics. La inclusión de Panamá en la lista negra francesa sin duda obedece a su lógica expuesta en The Guardian.

No hay riesgo de oposición masiva, puesto que generacionalmente en el panameño se le viene cultivando lo opuesto a la democracia, mediante lo que el sicólogo Martín Seligman tildó de “indefensión aprendida“. Apatía colectiva que Demetrio Herrera Sevillano inmortalizó así: “Paisano mío panameño, tú siempre respondes “sí”, Pero no para luchar, Que no para protestar, Cuando te ultrajan a tí.”

El gobierno actual intentó inocularse contra respuestas a esta realidad cuando afecte a sus allegados, sacando de los medios masivos a comprobados forjadores de opinión como Miguel Antonio Bernal, Julio Miller, Candelario Santana, José Blandón Castillo, entre otros.

Pero el talón de Aquiles de la organización que fijará la agenda de tantos medios mundiales fue al seleccionar a La Prensa como participante en Panamá, en el en el ojo de la tormenta, donde está ubicada la caja de Pandora que constituye su piedra angular. Ahora que transita por dificultades económicas. Porque más que un periódico, La Prensa es un partido político. Su profesionalismo (e independencia) ha sido muy cuestionado. Con razón. Muchos de su entorno están hoy emplanillados en el gobierno. Al inicio de cualquier gestión de gobierno le brinda un cheque en blanco de 6-12 meses, aunque se trate de un asunto sumamente grave como el que consignó en su autobiografía su ex-director. Al renunciar un subdirector hace algunos años, informó de la existencia de un listado de temas y personalidades que tenía vedados mencionar. Tampoco da seguimiento a primicias que involucren a accionistas, bonohabientes y/o anunciantes. Su derecho a réplica es selectivo. Hasta pagado un emitido no lo publican; sin embargo sí publican a diario anuncios de protitutos(as). Sin mencionar el lapidario caso del soborno atribuido por La Prensa a un ex-Procurador General de la República, que ilustra el grado de impunidad otorgado a nuestro periódico de referencia.

No ha rectificado rumbo, a juzgar por recientes declaraciones del ministro de Gobierno que parecieran echarle kerosene al fuego. E indicar un poco importa de Panamá a la raíz del problema, que es tan sólo una manifestación más de lo inepto del gobierno actual. Tituló así El Mundo: “Milton Henríquez: ‘No entiendo por qué la evasión fiscal tiene que ser delito en mi país'”. Se observará que dentro del artículo el Premier dice de viva voz: “No entiendo por que Panamá tiene que convertir en delito todo aquello que los demás países quieren o no hacer delito”. El hecho de que el principal aliado del gobierno en el poder haya dicho semejante burrada de por sí es noticioso (aunque fuera tan sólo para negar lo dicho….). Esa entrevista presumiblemente tuvo lugar en nuestra sede diplomática en Madrid, por lo que le habría sido (extraordinariamente ) fácil para La Prensa corroborar lo que constituye un hecho noticioso relevante (que inclusive La Estrella de Panamá pasó por alto).

Mañana ese mismo diario español publicará otro elemento de alto valor noticioso: “El Gobierno español firmó en 2013 con Panamá un convenio para la lucha contra la delincuencia cuyo listado de delitos a perseguir ‘en particular’ omite la delincuencia económica y en especial el de blanqueo….”. Cabrá ver cómo trata La Prensa esta faceta relevante: a saber cuantos de los demás convenios atribuidos como triunfos en las salidas de diversas listas adolecen de similares “omisiones”….

Además de la falta de voluntad de demasiados panameños (incluida toda la clase politica) de someterse a la ley, el meollo del problema involucra una falta generalizada de transparencia. Pese a que el gobierno cimenta la defensa de sus aliados en la transparencia, en Panamá esta es más lírica que real. En parte atribuible a La Prensa. Ejemplo. Existen documentos que comprueban cómo, en dos habeas data identicos, contra dos ministros por separado, nuestra Corte Suprema ha concedido uno y negado el otro. Pero ese hecho noticioso no lo ha difundido.

Tenemos la obligación de dar a comer a cuatro millones de panameños. Y para eso, como un pequeño país en un mundo de rápidos cambios, debemos asegurarnos que Panamá funcione transparentemente y con la mejor información posible — para “desfazer entuertos”. En esto, todos sí debemos poner nuestro granito de arena.

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Who is and who isn’t touched by the Panama Papers


Nowhere to hide?Those who are (or who are not) sheltered from the Panama Papers



On April 3, the Panama Papers hit media outlets around the world, and the fallout was swift. A prime minister lost his job, and other global leaders are under mounting pressure to account for their actions. But the effects of the leaks are not evenly spread; the documents contained far more information about the offshore activities of individuals in the developing world than in the developed world. Whatever the reasons for the imbalance, it will likely limit the papers’ impact. In the developing world, long histories of corruption have dulled the public’s sensitivity to scandal, and repressive governments leave little room for popular backlash.

So although less information was released on Western leaders, it is already doing more damage. Iceland’s leader has left his post, and relatively minor revelations have had a disporportionately large impact in the United Kingdom and France. Meanwhile, in the developing world, the Panama Papers’ effects have been most strongly felt in the former Soviet Union, a region in which political tensions were already high. The leaks’ results have been more mixed in China, where they have provided new targets for the anti-corruption drive already underway but have also implicated figures close to the administration’s upper ranks.

This is only the beginning. The Panama Papers are the largest information dump of their kind, and the information that has been released so far appears to be just the tip of the iceberg. They are also the latest in a string of public leaks that seem to be happening more and more frequently. As revelations continue to surface, calls for greater global transparency will only get louder.


Former Soviet Union

The publication of the Panama Papers has drawn leaders and elites from five former Soviet states into corruption scandals. In Ukraine, Russia, Kazakhstan, Georgia and Azerbaijan, politicians — or their family members or friends — have been accused of having ties to offshore accounts or corruption. This will be worse news for some leaders than for others.


As in Russia and Kazakhstan, corruption charges are a perennial feature of Azerbaijani politics. President Ilham Aliyev, the son of Azerbaijan’s third president, and his wife, Mehriban, both come from influential families with extensive business connections at home and abroad. Several members of the president’s family, including his wife, children and sister, have now been linked to secret offshore companies.

Nonetheless, little will come of the reports in Azerbaijan. The political opposition is too weak to challenge the Aliyevs, and the media have already begun to spin the accusations as Western propaganda. Given the country’s poor economic conditions, the scandal could spark protests, which Baku can quickly quell.


Former Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili’s foreign business dealings are also included in the Panama Papers. Allegations of corruption have plagued Ivanishvili ever since he threw his hat into the political arena in 2011. But until now, the accusations had centered on his activities in Russia.

Ivanishvili’s power in Georgia has been steady for the past four years. In Tbilisi, he remains a kingmaker, planting his followers in all the country’s top positions. His Georgian Dream coalition is fracturing, however, holding only a slight majority in the legislature. With parliamentary elections set for this fall, accusations are already flying between Georgia’s various political parties. Although most of the country’s population has ignored the news so far, the Panama Papers will fuel the opposition’s politicking. Moreover, if it gains more traction among the people, the scandal could erode Ivanishvili’s influence at a time when his ruling coalition is already falling apart.


Allegations of corruption, particularly concerning President Nursultan Nazarbayev and his family and friends, are constant and widespread in Kazakhstan. But because the country is on the verge of both economic recession and a succession of power, the fresh accusations could have greater impact than usual.

Nazarbayev’s grandson Nurali Aliyev is accused of ties to offshore accounts. Just two weeks ago, Aliyev stepped down as deputy mayor of Astana to return to business, inviting speculation within the Kazakh media over his motives. Aliyev has long been considered a possible eventual successor to the presidency, although he is still too young to take a top government position.

On the other hand, his mother, Dariga, is a viable successor and already one of the most powerful figures in Kazakh politics. Following the March 20 parliamentary elections, she unexpectedly did not take a position in the legislature. This has led to speculation that she is jockeying for a more influential position before the formal succession commences. As the power struggle in Kazakhstan begins in earnest, rival political elites could use corruption charges provided by the Panama Papers against Aliyev or his mother.


In Russia, the loudest corruption allegations concern President Vladimir Putin. Although the president’s name does not appear in any of the 11.5 million documents published, those of three of his closest friends — Sergei Roldugin, Arkady Rotenberg and Boris Rotenberg — do.

Longtime intermediaries for Putin’s business, the Rotenberg brothers are unsurprising inclusions in the Panama Papers. Among Russia’s elite, the brothers are not decision-makers. Nonetheless, they are considered to be some of the country’s highest-ranked loyalists, trusted to handle Putin’s furtive financial and business affairs. Roldugin, a cellist, is also outside of Russian politics. But he, too, is a loyalist and one of Putin’s trusted associates; in fact, he is godfather to Putin’s eldest daughter. Following the Panama Papers leaks, Roldugin stands accused of moving more than $2 billion for the president.

The Kremlin’s reaction to the Panama Papers actually anticipated their release. Nearly two weeks ago, presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov warned journalists that a Western “information attack” on Putin was forthcoming but that it would not be factually accurate. On April 5, two days after the release, Peskov went a step further, denouncing the Panama Papers as a demonstration of “Putinphobia” and claiming that the journalists’ allegations were nothing new. Indeed, corruption charges against Putin and his close friends predate the president’s rise to power. By now, they have been assimilated into the Russian people’s mindset.

Peskov also called the papers an attempt to undermine Russia before its elections in September. In this, too, there is a hint of truth. Putin’s administration has been concerned about the possibility of protests after the elections, on a scale comparable to — or perhaps worse than — the mass demonstrations that followed the 2011 parliamentary elections. In the 2011 protests, corruption in the Kremlin was a central theme. Renewed corruption accusations could compound public resentment over the weak economy in Russia, fueling larger protests.

To reduce the risk of protest, the Kremlin is trying to turn the Panama Papers into a rallying point. Russian media and the government continually highlight this as another attack on the country and its president. After the West imposed sanctions on Russia, similar rhetoric was used successfully, reviving nationalism across the country.


Of all the former Soviet states, Ukraine will likely see the greatest fallout from the Panama Papers, which allege that President Petro Poroshenko holds accounts offshore. In response to the revelations, Ukrainian politicians are already calling for an investigation into Poroshenko’s hidden funds. The head of the Radical Party has even pushed for the president’s impeachment. But Ukraine’s Office of the Prosecutor General said the papers contain no evidence that Poroshenko committed any crimes. For his part, Poroshenko has gone on the defensive. In a string of tweets, the president called himself the first of Ukraine’s leaders to take corruption seriously. At the same time, he has skirted the issue of his culpability, claiming that he handed management of his assets over to a consulting firm upon taking office.

The papers’ publication came at an inconvenient time for Poroshenko. Over the past week, the president had been close to a deal on a parliamentary coalition between his party, Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk’s People’s Front and a group of independent lawmakers. In light of the scandal, Poroshenko’s faction now believes the deal may not come through after all. Poroshenko had been lobbying for the new government, a prerequisite for Ukraine to receive its next tranche of money from the International Monetary Fund and increased financial assistance from the United States. Poroshenko’s mention in the Panama Papers could not only further destabilize the fragile government, but it may also weaken the president’s rule.



In France, the fallout from the papers has landed mostly on the National Front, a right-wing party that has found some electoral success of late. They implicate former party adviser Frederic Chatillon, who was previously charged with electoral fraud related to the 2012 election. The National Front has already distanced itself from Chatillon. Evidence of offshore financing would be particularly detrimental if it was linked to party leaders, who have crafted an image of their party as honorable alternatives to their corrupt establishment counterparts.


The Panama Papers have had the biggest impact in one of Europe’s smallest countries: Iceland. The papers revealed that Prime Minister Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson made suspicious transactions of some bank shares before the global financial crisis of 2008. Icelanders took to the streets in protest, and the prime minister resigned. (He would later say he had merely “stepped aside for an unknown period.”) His coalition in parliament now appears insecure. A snap election could bring to power the Pirate Party, an anti-establishment party that currently leads in polls and advocates a system of direct democracy.

United Kingdom

In the United Kingdom, Prime Minister David Cameron has borne the brunt of the anger over the papers. His father was listed among those who held offshore accounts, and Cameron has now had to admit to owning a tax-efficient product before his premiership began. The media have begun to question actions he took in 2013 that appeared to hinder the process of increasing the transparency of offshore havens. Cameron’s interference might have been in Britain’s interest, since the United Kingdom could be said to have benefited from the global tax avoidance industry. Regardless of Cameron’s intentions, the subject has added fire to an already heated atmosphere surrounding the Brexit referendum. Though the latest leaks are unlikely to unseat Cameron on their own, further revelations could, and any damage done to the British prime minister’s reputation will hurt his campaign to remain in the European Union as well.

Latin America


In Argentina, the Panama Papers linked President Mauricio Macri to an offshore company, although he has since denied being a shareholder in the company. An Argentine prosecutor has already requested the opening of an investigation into Macri’s involvement with the company. The opposition Front for Victory, which has been dealing with internal divisions, is eager to keep the spotlight on the Macri offshore company scandal ahead of legislative elections in 2017, and the opposition would use the investigation against the Macri administration.


Brazil has enough political turmoil going on already that revelations in the Panama Papers will probably have minimal effect. The leaks have linked lower house leader Eduardo Cunha to an offshore company, but Cunha and other Brazilian politicians are already tied up in the graft scandal at state-owned energy firm Petrobras. Ongoing criminal investigations against members of the ruling Workers’ Party, such as former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, and the impeachment attempt against President Dilma Rousseff will probably have a more immediate political effect than the Panama Papers will.


In Guatemala, the release of information through the leaked documents will draw greater scrutiny from the government investigative commission known as the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG). The United Nations-sponsored body announced it would investigate the documents for evidence of wrongdoing. A CICIG investigation led to the indictment of former President Otto Perez Molina on corruption charges in 2015, and further evidence of Guatemalan officials’ corruption, if found, could kick off additional investigations by CICIG in the country.


The fallout from the Panama Papers leaks in Venezuela is likely to be minimal. None of the key individuals in the ruling United Socialist Party of Venezuela are named in the leaks. The ongoing political standoff between the government and opposition, growing divisions in the ruling party, and the country’s extreme inflation are all likely to more immediately influence the country’s political future than corruption allegations.



Beijing imposed an almost total media blackout on the Panama Papers: The only state media coverage on the subject was a print edition of Global Times claiming that the Panama Papers were a way for the West to attack its enemies.

The papers uncovered at least eight cases of family members of current or serving Politburo members who have done business with Mossack Fonseca. These include President Xi Jinping’s brother-in-law (though his accounts have been inactive since before Xi took power), family members of current Politburo Standing Committee members Liu Yunshan and Zhang Gaoli, the daughter of former Premier Li Peng, a granddaughter of former Standing Committee member Jia Qinglin, and a business partner of purged Politburo member Bo Xilai.

The papers are unlikely to affect the Politburo, whose members are all from the ruling class and are aware that other members of the same class tend to be wealthy (with some possessing ill-gotten gains). Given the pervasive anti-corruption campaign and the intense political struggle as Xi Jinping ascended to the presidency, there was incentive for factions to dig up any dirt on each other long ago. As a result, much of the political effect of any of the revelations is likely already tapped out. The revelations might, however, spotlight some lower-level or midlevel officials who have not yet become targets of anti-corruption investigations.

Chinese law enforcement and anti-graft authorities have shown a fair amount of skill in tracking down illegal capital flows abroad as part of fugitive hunting campaigns such as Operation Fox Hunt and Operation Skynet, uprooting Chinese underground banks that handled upward of $100 billion in transactions from April to November last year. These were domestic operations; whether Chinese law enforcement is good at tracing shell companies in offshore accounts remains unclear. Presumably, though, investigators have encountered the problem while handling the assets of fugitives — generally Party members and their families who flee China, bringing with them large amounts of embezzled or otherwise illegal wealth.

Chinese intelligence and anti-graft services will sift through the documents to identify potential new targets. To the extent that the papers shed light on how Chinese citizens like to hide their wealth, they may be able to seal off further escape options for fugitives and their assets. More interesting is the question of how much the Chinese already knew but never shared, both in terms of dirt on perpetrators and in understanding their tactics.

Middle East and North Africa

In many countries in the Middle East and North Africa, corruption charges will not create much of a stir because of media restrictions and because it is widely known that wealth often primarily benefits the royal family or ruling elite. Given the lenient tax structures in those countries, the kinds of things described in the Panama Papers may not even be considered crimes. In countries such as Iraq, Jordan, Syria and Egypt, however, the charges against prominent former politicians will fuel distrust of the establishment.


In Egypt, the papers indicate that Mossack Fonseca did not conduct due diligence in identifying and cutting ties with Alaa Mubarak, the son of deposed President Hosni Mubarak, quickly enough after the 2011 Egyptian revolution. (Alaa used the firm to hold cash in a British Virgin Islands firm.)

Gulf States

While Saudi King Salman and UAE President Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed al-Nuhayyan were both implicated in Virgin Island shell companies, Gulf media coverage has focused on how the Panama Papers affect other places, such as Iran, and has not touched on domestic implications. It is unlikely that the revelations will instigate a serious challenge to the Saudi or UAE governments.


In Iran, the papers revealed that Mossack Fonseca conducted business for Iranian oil companies such as Petropars despite US sanctions, a revelation more damning for Mossack Fonseca than for Iran.


In Iraq, former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi’s name surfaced in the Panama Papers in connection to various London properties. Allawi was removed from office in August 2015 when Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi abolished the vice presidencies in a bid to stem protests. The leaks could undermine any attempt by Allawi to re-enter the government in the event that al-Abadi’s government collapsed. Iraq’s central government has already been overwhelmed by protests demanding a purge of corrupt officials, though recent reshufflings to install technocrats are more likely to deepen Iran’s influence in Baghdad than defuse anger at the government.

Israel, Palestinian Territories

In Israel, the papers implicated some major banks that have been linked to corruption before. Idan Ofer, the majority shareholder in Israel Corp., the largest private joint stock company on Tel Aviv’s stock exchange, was also named in the papers. Moreover, Tareq Abbas, the son of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, held shares worth nearly $1 million in a company associated with the Palestinian Authority.


In Jordan, it was revealed that former Prime Minister and Defense Minister Ali Abu al-Ragheb became the director of an offshore British Virgin Islands firm before leaving office.


In Syria, Mossack Fonseca cut ties in 2011 with the Makhlouf brothers — cousins of President Bashar al Assad — after nearly 15 years of using offshore entities to invest in the brothers’ Syrian tech firms.

Sub-Saharan Africa

Though several prominent politicians of African countries or their close associates have been linked to the scandal, it will have little effect on the continent’s governments. The threshold of corruption in many places in Africa, whose history is littered with elites who engaged in egregious acts of self-enrichment, is higher than in other places in the world. More important, many of those mentioned in the leaks are either no longer in office or are related to former leaders. Moreover, some of the people named with links to current rulers likely used offshore companies with their governments’ blessing.


Angola Minister of Petroleum Jose Maria Botelho de Vasconcelos, a former president of the OPEC, held interest in an offshore company that was deactivated in 2009. The revelation may damage his career in the image-sensitive country. He likely had implicit or explicit sanction from the regime.

Republic of the Congo

The Republic of the Congo’s current minister of science research and former energy minister, Bruno Jean-Richard Itoua, requested that Mossack Fonseca create an offshore company in the British Virgin Islands. In a 2003 lawsuit, Itoua was accused of diverting oil revenues, but the case was dismissed. Itoua has close ties to President Denis Sassou-Nguesso, so any blowback on Itoua will likely be limited.


General Emmanuel Ndahiro, Rwanda’s former head of intelligence, is listed as the director of an offshore company owned by a former military colleague. Ndahiro is a close confidant of President Paul Kagame.

South Africa

Clive Khulubuse Zuma, the nephew of President Jacob Zuma, was linked to a company involved in acquisitions of oil fields in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. He has a reputation for being involved in shady business deals, and claims against him go back at least five years. He has denied any wrongdoing.

South Asia


Some 500 Indians and 200 Pakistanis were implicated in the Panama Papers, the most prominent of them being three of Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s children. Although Sharif himself was not implicated, he went so far as to give a televised national address on April 5 to exonerate his family and announce the launch of a judicial probe to investigate the matter. But opposition lawmaker Imran Khan of the Tehreek-e-Insaf party quickly demanded that the prime minister allow the National Accountability Bureau, which leads Pakistan’s anti-corruption efforts, to take charge of the probe. The leak is unlikely to lead to Sharif’s resignation, but opposition parties will make political gains at the expense of the premier’s Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz party.

Those Who Are (and Are Not) Sheltered From the Panama Papers is republished with permission of Stratfor.


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¿Wappin? Bound and determined…

Joss Stone.

Music for the bound and determined

Led Zeppelin – No Quarter

Peter Gabriel – The Rhythm of the Heat

Aswad – Warrior Charge

Sinéad O’Connor – This is a Rebel Song

Dixie Chicks – Travelin’ Soldier

Linda Ronstadt, Emmylou Harris & Neil Young – Across the Border

Los Ángeles Azules & Denise Gutiérrez – El Listón de Tu Pelo

Grupo La Meta – El Quemazón

Enrique Bunbury & León Larregui – La Chispa Adecuada

Shakira & Mercedes Sosa – La Maza

Luci & The Soul Brokers – Surprise

Johnny Cash – I Won’t Back Down

Eric Clapton, Roger Waters & Nick Mason – Get Up, Stand Up

Joss Stone – Karma

Bruce Springsteen – The Promised Land


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