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SENAFRONT firefight with Colombian paramilitary

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Alto Limon
The Panamanian side of a Colombian-Panamanian border outpost at Alto Limon. Photo by SENAFRONT.

Firefight on the Colombian border

by Eric Jackson

On the morning of March 31 a National Frontier Service (SENAFRONT) outpost on the Colombian border was fired upon with rifles, mortars and grenades from the Colombian side. The Panamanian border forces returned the fire with rifles and nearby Colombian forces pursued the attackers. The clash lasted about 15 minutes and on the Panamanian side at least nobody was hurt. The incident took place at Alto Limon, a spot of the border where both Panama and Colombia station guards on their respective sides.

It was part of a day of violence accompanying an “armed strike” by Colombia’s Clan Usuga, an offshoot of the right-wing paramilitary movement that has long had a presence in the area. Literature calling for the strike cited political and economic complaints against the Colombian government in Bogota, but the official narrative of both the Panamanian and Colombian governments is that the Clan Usuga is merely a criminal gang without political motives. The Clan Usuga, which emerged out of the earlier Urabeños and before that the AUC and ACCU paramilitaries, does engage in drug trafficking, illegal gold mining and illegal logging, mostly on the Colombian side of the border but also in Panama. Panamanian police have shot it out with them on the Costa Arriba of Colon and rounded up some of their smugglers and money laundering operatives in the Panama City metro area. The politics of the organization aren’t so much about ideology as about rural warlords carving out turf on the Colombian periphery, a chronic problem for the Bogota government ever since Colombia’s independence from Spain. This challenge to central authority comes as Colombia’s Santos administration is moving to conclude peace talks with one leftist manifestation of rural wardlordism, the FARC guerrillas, and beginning talks with another leftist rebel band, the ELN guerrillas.

The armed strike shut down transportation, businesses and public services in several parts of eastern Colombia. Two police officers were killed. On the Panamanian side President Varela sent two National Aeronaval Service (SENAN) to the border area to strengthen defenses there.

Darien
Where the incident took place.

 

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Gandásegui, El crecimiento y la desigualdad

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desigualdadEl crecimiento de “la desigualdad se está acelerando”

por Marco A. Gandásegui, hijo

Hace apenas seis años, en 2010, sólo 388 personas poseían la misma riqueza que la mitad más pobre de la población mundial. La mitad más pobre representa más de 3.5 mil millones de habitantes. Lo que es aún más increíble es que el año pasado –2015– sólo 65 personas concentraban la mitad de todas las riquezas en el mundo. Vivimos en un sistema concentrador y excluyente.

Según Winnie Byanyima, de Oxfam Internacional, “no podemos aceptar que la mitad más pobre de la población mundial posea la misma riqueza que un puñado de personas ricas que cabrían sin problemas en un autobús”. Señala que “la tendencia ascendente de la desigualdad se está acelerando. No podemos seguir permitiendo que cientos de millones de personas padezcan hambre mientras que las élites económicas absorben los recursos que podrían ayudar a estas personas”.

En el caso de Panamá, la situación es igual o peor. Según cifras gubernamentales, desde la invasión militar norteamericana de 1989, las remuneraciones de los trabajadores, profesionales y asalariados, en general, se duplicaron. En cambio, las ganancias de los empresarios se multiplicaron quince veces. Si un trabajador tenía un salario de 250 dólares al mes en 1990, era probable que en 2015 su salario podía ser era igual a 500 dólares. En cambio, si un empresario mediano tenía ganancias de 50 mil dólares al año en 1990, su ingreso sería 750 mil dólares en 2015.

Si incorporamos la inflación al cálculo, el trabajador estaría recibiendo, en la actualidad, un salario inferior al que tenía en 1989. Lo que las cifras no dicen en forma clara es que gracias a las políticas neoliberales (flexibilización, desregulación y tratados comerciales), el número de trabajadores ha disminuido significativamente. Mientras que en 1989 sólo el 10 por ciento de los trabajadores asalariados (incluyendo profesionales) eran informales (sin seguridad social o contrato de trabajo), en 2015 la cifra superaba el 40 por ciento. Es decir, conseguir un empleo formal remunerado en Panamá es muy difícil. Especialmente, si el que busca el empleo es un joven… y mujer.

La situación afecta también a los pequeños y medianos empresarios. Según cifras gubernamentales, cada vez hay menos panameños que incursionan en el mundo de la producción u otras actividades empresariales. Muchos emprendedores son expulsados del mercado por falta de crédito o por leyes que los desfavorecen. Sólo teniendo en cuenta el sector agropecuario, son miles de pequeños y medianos agricultores panameños que han tenido que abandonar sus fincas -incluyendo tierras, máquinas e infraestructura– por competencia desleal promovida por los gobiernos de turno.

El actual gobierno neoliberal cree, al igual que los anteriores, que con paliativos como “120 para 65” reducirá la pobreza y la creciente desigualdad. El equipo que trabaja con el presidente Varela conoce muy bien las cifras de la pauperización pero continúa aplicando medidas que sólo favorecen a los inversionistas más ricos del país y extranjeros. Ahora anuncia que pretende aumentar nuevamente la edad de jubilación, reducir el número de beneficiarios por asegurado y reducir los beneficios de los programas de salud. Obviamente los incrementos de las cuotas del Seguro y las medidas de austeridad beneficiarán directamente al 1 por ciento de los más ricos que ya se apropian sin trabajar del 30 por ciento de las riquezas del país.

La solución para estos problemas es técnicamente sencilla. Sin embargo, hay una estructura social que impide que se tomen las medidas políticas necesarias. Los más ricos son quienes controlan los resortes gubernamentales, son también quienes hacen y ejecutan las leyes. La primera medida consiste en que el 1 por ciento más rico, pague sus impuestos. En la actualidad, no pagan impuestos sobre la renta, sobre las ganancias, sobre las propiedades que poseen ni sobre el patrimonio que declaran.

En segundo lugar, los miles de millones de dólares que recibe el fisco panameño en concepto de rentas que el mundo paga por el uso de nuestra posición geográfica tiene que invertirse en actividades productivas, tanto en la industria como en el agro. El modelo de desarrollo productivo generaría un desarrollo generalizado a lo largo del país. El crecimiento económico tendría un impacto sobre todas las regiones.

Por último, lo más importante, se crearía una fuerza de trabajo (‘capital humano’) altamente calificada que sería empleada formalmente, produciendo enormes riquezas, y consolidando familias y comunidades, capaces de aplastar el crimen organizado (corrupción) y el ‘pandillerismo’ (clientelismo).

 

El autor es profesor de sociología de la Universidad de Panamá e investigador asociado del CELA.

 

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Greco, Belgian awful

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Bendib
The latest European terrorist attacks redefined nuclear security. Cartoon by Khalil Bendib.

Belgian awful

by Emily Schwartz Greco — OtherWords

The ISIS supporters who attacked Brussels killed more than 30 people and injured hundreds more. Bombings at the city’s airport and a subway station blew up the notion that measures taken after the Paris siege were keeping Europe safe.

The scariest part of this story is something that hasn’t happened yet and hopefully never will: an act of nuclear terrorism.

World leaders and the experts who track the whereabouts of fissile material should see Belgium’s ordeal as a wakeup call. Nuclear reactors — as the Fukushima disaster proved five years ago in Japan — aren’t worth the risks they pose based on operational safety considerations alone. But security questions also render them unacceptably perilous.

Consider this news out of Europe that you may have missed.

Didier Prospero, a security guard at a Belgian reactor, was murdered in his own home two days after the March attacks. The killers shot the slain man’s dog too. After Prospero’s children found his body, authorities determined that his security pass was missing.

This gut-wrenching tragedy is even more troubling than it sounds.

Belgian authorities discovered hours of secretly recorded video footage of a nuclear scientist during a raid on a suspected terrorist late last year. Khalid and Ibrahim El Bakraoui, two brothers believed to have participated in the Brussels attacks, planted a camera in the bushes outside that scientist’s home.

Perhaps the suspected terrorists intended to sabotage one of Belgium’s aging nuclear reactors, turning it into a weapon of mass destruction — a tactic our government says the 9/11 attackers contemplated.

Or the suspected terrorists may have aimed to steal radioactive material for a “dirty bomb,” a conventional explosive that contaminates the area where it detonates with radiation. Either way, they’ve raised the bar for guaranteeing security at nuclear power plants.

Even before the attacks on Brussels and Prospero’s murder, Belgium was under pressure from Germany, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg to address lapses at the 11 aging nuclear reactors that generate half its electricity.

There were good reasons to be alarmed. The Belgian nuclear agency’s computer system has been hacked, intruders have stolen and sabotaged equipment, and two employees at a Belgian reactor joined ISIS after quitting their jobs.

Hundreds of thousands of Europeans had signed a petition calling for independent inspections of Belgium’s worrisome reactors weeks by late January. Their goal was to “avoid the next Chernobyl,” based on reports of leaks and cracks, along with assorted sabotage attempts.

Fifteen years after 9/11, how are reactor safety and security on our side of the pond? Not so hot, as seven engineers employed by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission recently made clear.

Upon finding the NRC unresponsive to their concerns about a dangerous design flaw at all but one US nuclear reactor, they filed a public complaint using the same channels available to all private citizens.

It’s not clear who has the power to do something about this problem.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo apparently doesn’t. He wants the Indian Point power plant located 30 miles north of the Bronx closed. That’s easier said than done, even though its two active reactors — rife with security and safety issues — are so near our country’s biggest city.

Plant operator Entergy downplayed one recent outage after blaming it on — get this — bird droppings.

If the company can’t protect Indian Point’s equipment against natural threats like avian excrement, how well would it handle terrorists?

Columnist Emily Schwartz Greco is the managing editor of OtherWords, a non-profit national editorial service run by the Institute for Policy Studies. OtherWords.org.

 

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American Fair, April 9 on the US Embassy grounds

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Fair 1
Archive photo by Eric Jackson.

2016 American Fair

Saturday, April 9 from 8 am until noon

American Embassy grounds in Clayton

American Fair 2
Archive photo by Eric Jackson.

Although we have yet to get the details on this, the rule at past American Fairs is that they want to see some sort of ID to get through the gate, preferably a US passport. If you are not a US citizen they will still want to see ID and may ask you with which group that has a stand at the fair you are affiliated. It’s a fair for Americans and friends, and for community organizations which may or may not be “American” per se but seek to involve US citizens.

 

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What Democrats are saying about Israel

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HRC - AIPACHillary Clinton

[Editor’s note: This the transcript of her remarks to the AIPAC conference.]

It is wonderful to be here and see so many friends. I’ve spoken at a lot of AIPAC conferences in the past, but this has to be one of the biggest yet, and there are so many young people here, thousands of college students…

(APPLAUSE) … from hundreds of campuses around the country. I think we should all give them a hand for being here and beginning their commitment to this important cause.

(APPLAUSE)

You will keep the US-Israel relationship going strong. You know, as a senator from New York and secretary of State…

(APPLAUSE)

I’ve had the privilege of working closely with AIPAC members to strengthen and deepen America’s ties with Israel. Now, we may not have always agreed on every detail, but we’ve always shared an unwavering, unshakable commitment to our alliance and to Israel’s future as a secure and democratic homeland for the Jewish people.

(APPLAUSE)

And your support helped us expand security and intelligence cooperation, developed the Iron Dome missile defense system, build a global coalition to impose the toughest sanctions in history on Iran and so much more.

Since my first visit to Israel 35 years ago, I have returned many times and made many friends. I have worked with and learned from some of Israel’s great leaders — although I don’t think Yitzhak Rabin ever forgave me for banishing him to the White House balcony when he wanted to smoke.

(LAUGHTER)

Now I am here as a candidate for president, and…

(APPLAUSE)

I know that all of you understand what’s at stake in this election. Our next president will walk into the Oval Office next January and immediately face a world of both perils we must meet with strength and skill, and opportunities we must seize and build on.

The next president will sit down at that desk and start making decisions that will affect both the lives and livelihoods of every American, and the security of our friends around the world. So we have to get this right.

As AIPAC members, you understand that while the turmoil of the Middle East presents enormous challenge and complexity, walking away is not an option.

(APPLAUSE)

Candidates for president who think the United States can outsource Middle East security to dictators, or that America no longer has vital national interests at stake in this region are dangerously wrong.

(APPLAUSE)

It would be a serious mistake for the United States to abandon our responsibilities, or cede the mantle of leadership for global peace and security to anyone else.

(APPLAUSE)

As we gather here, three evolving threats — Iran’s continued aggression, a rising tide of extremism across a wide arc of instability, and the growing effort to de-legitimize Israel on the world stage — are converging to make the US-Israel alliance more indispensable than ever.

(APPLAUSE)

We have to combat all these trends with even more intense security and diplomatic cooperation. The United States and Israel must be closer than ever, stronger than ever and more determined than ever to prevail against our common adversaries and to advance our shared values.

(APPLAUSE)

This is especially true at a time when Israel faces brutal terrorist stabbings, shootings and vehicle attacks at home. Parents worry about letting their children walk down the street. Families live in fear. Just a few weeks ago, a young American veteran and West Point graduate named Taylor Force was murdered by a Palestinian terrorist near the Jaffa Port. These attacks must end immediately…

(APPLAUSE)

And Palestinian leaders need to stop inciting violence, stop celebrating terrorists as martyrs and stop paying rewards to their families.

(APPLAUSE)

Because we understand the threat Israel faces we know we can never take for granted the strength of our alliance or the success of our efforts. Today, Americans and Israelis face momentous choices that will shape the future of our relationship and of both our nations. The first choice is this: are we prepared to take the US-Israel alliance to the next level?

This relationship has always been stronger and deeper than the headlines might lead you to believe. Our work together to develop the Iron Dome saved many Israeli lives when Hamas rockets began to fly.

(APPLAUSE)

I saw its effectiveness firsthand in 2012 when I worked with Prime Minister Netanyahu to negotiate a cease fire in Gaza. And if I’m fortunate enough to be elected president, the United States will reaffirm we have a strong and enduring national interest in Israel’s security.

(APPLAUSE)

And we will never allow Israel’s adversaries to think a wedge can be driven between us.

(APPLAUSE)

As we have differences, as any friends do, we will work to resolve them quickly and respectfully. We will also be clear that the United States has an enduring interest in and commitment to a more peaceful, more stable, more secure Middle East. And we will step up our efforts to achieve that outcome.

(APPLAUSE)

Indeed, at a time of unprecedented chaos and conflict in the region, America needs an Israel strong enough to deter and defend against its enemies, strong enough to work with us to tackle shared challenges and strong enough to take bold steps in the pursuit of peace.

(APPLAUSE)

That’s why I believe we must take our alliance to the next level. I hope a new 10-year defense memorandum of understanding is concluded as soon as possible to meet Israel’s security needs far into the future.

(APPLAUSE)

That will also send a clear message to Israel’s enemies that the United States and Israel stand together united.

It’s also why, as president, I will make a firm commitment to ensure Israel maintains its qualitative military edge.

(APPLAUSE)

The United States should provide Israel with the most sophisticated defense technology so it can deter and stop any threats. That includes bolstering Israeli missile defenses with new systems like the Arrow Three and David’s Sling. And we should work together to develop better tunnel detection, technology to prevent armed smuggling, kidnapping and terrorist attacks.

(APPLAUSE)

One of the first things I’ll do in office is invite the Israeli prime minister to visit the White House.

(APPLAUSE)

And I will send a delegation from the Pentagon and the joint chiefs to Israel for early consultations. Let’s also expand our collaboration beyond security. Together, we can build an even more vibrant culture of innovation that tightens the links between Silicon Valley and Israeli tech companies and entrepreneurs.

(APPLAUSE)

There is much Americans can learn from Israel, from cybersecurity to energy security to water security and just on an everyday people-to-people level. And it’s especially important to continue fostering relationships between American and Israeli young people who may not always remember our shared past. They are the future of our relationship and we have to do more to promote that.

Many of the young people here today are on the front lines of the battle to oppose the alarming boycott, divestment and sanctions movement known as BDS.

(APPLAUSE)

Particularly at a time when anti-Semitism is on the rise across the world, especially in Europe, we must repudiate all efforts to malign, isolate and undermine Israel and the Jewish people.

(APPLAUSE)

I’ve been sounding the alarm for a while now. As I wrote last year in a letter to the heads of major American Jewish organizations, we have to be united in fighting back against BDS. Many of its proponents have demonized Israeli scientists and intellectuals, even students.

To all the college students who may have encountered this on campus, I hope you stay strong. Keep speaking out. Don’t let anyone silence you, bully you or try to shut down debate, especially in places of learning like colleges and universities.

(APPLAUSE)

Anti-Semitism has no place in any civilized society, not in America, not in Europe, not anywhere.

(APPLAUSE)

Now, all of this work defending Israel’s legitimacy, expanding security and economic ties, taking our alliance to the next level depends on electing a president with a deep, personal commitment to Israel’s future as a secure, Democratic Jewish state, and to America’s responsibilities as a global leader.

Tonight, you’ll hear from candidates with very different visions of American leadership in the region and around the world. You’ll get a glimpse of a potential US foreign policy that would insult our allies, not engage them, and embolden our adversaries, not defeat them.

For the security of Israel and the world, we need America to remain a respected global leader, committed to defending and advancing the international order.

(APPLAUSE)

An America able to block efforts to isolate or attack Israel. The alternative is unthinkable.

(APPLAUSE)

Yes, we need steady hands, not a president who says he’s neutral on Monday, pro-Israel on Tuesday, and who knows what on Wednesday, because everything’s negotiable.

(APPLAUSE)

Well, my friends, Israel’s security is non-negotiable.

(APPLAUSE)

I have sat in Israeli hospital rooms holding the hands of men and women whose bodies and lives were torn apart by terrorist bombs. I’ve listened to doctors describe the shrapnel left in a leg, an arm or even a head.

That’s why I feel so strongly that America can’t ever be neutral when it comes to Israel’s security or survival. We can’t be neutral when rockets rain down on residential neighborhoods, when civilians are stabbed in the street, when suicide bombers target the innocent. Some things aren’t negotiable.

(APPLAUSE)

And anyone who doesn’t understand that has no business being our president.

(APPLAUSE)

CLINTON: The second choice we face is whether we will have the strength and commitment to confront the adversaries that threaten us, especially Iran. For many years, we’ve all been rightly focused on the existential danger of Iran acquiring a nuclear weapon. After all, this remains an extremist regime that threatens to annihilate Israel. That’s why I led the diplomacy to impose crippling sanctions and force Iran to the negotiating table, and why I ultimately supported the agreement that has put a lid on its nuclear program.

(APPLAUSE)

Today Iran’s enriched uranium is all but gone, thousands of centrifuges have stopped spinning, Iran’s potential breakout time has increased and new verification measures are in place to help us deter and detect any cheating. I really believe the United States, Israel and the world are safer as a result.

But still, as I laid out at a speech at the Brookings Institution last year, it’s not good enough to trust and verify. Our approach must be distrust and verify.

(APPLAUSE)

This deal must come with vigorous enforcement, strong monitoring, clear consequences for any violations and a broader strategy to confront Iran’s aggression across the region. We cannot forget that Tehran’s fingerprints are on nearly every conflict across the Middle East, from Syria to Lebanon to Yemen.

The Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps and its proxies are attempting to establish a position on the Golan from which to threaten Israel, and they continue to fund Palestinian terrorists. In Lebanon, Hezbollah is amassing an arsenal of increasingly sophisticated rockets and artillery that well may be able to hit every city in Israel.

Tonight, you will hear a lot of rhetoric from the other candidates about Iran, but there’s a big difference between talking about holding Tehran accountable and actually doing it. Our next president has to be able to hold together our global coalition and impose real consequences for even the smallest violations of this agreement.

(APPLAUSE)

We must maintain the legal and diplomatic architecture to turn all the sanctions back on if need. If I’m elected the leaders of Iran will have no doubt that if we see any indication that they are violating their commitment not to seek, develop or acquire nuclear weapons, the United States will act to stop it, and that we will do so with force if necessary.

(APPLAUSE)

Iranian provocations, like the recent ballistic missile tests, are also unacceptable and should be answered firmly and quickly including with more sanctions.

(APPLAUSE)

Those missiles were stamped with words declaring, and I quote, “Israel should be wiped from the pages of history.” We know they could reach Israel or hit the tens of thousands of American troops stationed in the Middle East. This is a serious danger and it demands a serious response.

(APPLAUSE)

The United States must also continue to enforce existing sanctions and impose additional sanctions as needed on Iran and the Revolutionary Guard for their sponsorship of terrorism, illegal arms transfers, human rights violations and other illicit behaviors like cyber attacks. We should continue to demand the safe return of Robert Levinson and all American citizens unjustly held in Iranian prisons.

(APPLAUSE)

And we must work closely with Israel and other partners to cut off the flow of money and arms from Iran to Hezbollah. If the Arab League can designate all of Hezbollah as a terrorist organization, surely it is time for our friends in Europe and the rest of the international community to do so as well and to do that now.

(APPLAUSE)

At the same time, America should always stand with those voices inside Iran calling for more openness. Now look, we know the supreme leader still calls the shots and that the hard-liners are intent on keeping their grip on power. But the Iranian people themselves deserve a better future, and they are trying to make their voices heard. They should know that America is not their enemy, they should know we will support their efforts to bring positive change to Iran.

(APPLAUSE)

Now, of course, Iran is not the only threat we and Israel face. The United States and Israel also have to stand together against the threat from ISIS and other radical jihadists. An ISIS affiliate in the Sinai is reportedly stepping up attempts to make inroads in Gaza and partner with Hamas. On Saturday, a number of Israelis and other foreigners were injured or killed in a bombing in Istanbul that may well be linked to ISIS. Two of the dead are US-Israeli dual nationals.

This is a threat that knows no borders. That’s why I’ve laid out a plan to take the fight to ISIS from the air, on the ground with local forces and online where they recruit and inspire. Our goal cannot be to contain ISIS, we must defeat ISIS.

(APPLAUSE) And here is a third choice. Will we keep working toward a negotiated peace or lose forever the goal of two states for two peoples? Despite many setbacks, I remain convinced that peace with security is possible and that it is the only way to guarantee Israel’s long-term survival as a strong Jewish and democratic state.

(APPLAUSE)

CLINTON: It may be difficult to imagine progress in this current climate when many Israelis doubt that a willing and capable partner for peace even exists. But inaction cannot be an option. Israelis deserve a secure homeland for the Jewish people. Palestinians should be able to govern themselves in their own state, in peace and dignity. And only a negotiated two-state agreement can survive those outcomes.

(APPLAUSE)

If we look at the broader regional context, converging interests between Israel and key Arab states could make it possible to promote progress on the Israeli-Palestinian issue. Israelis and Palestinians could contribute toward greater cooperation between Israel and Arabs.

I know how hard all of this is. I remember what it took just to convene Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Abbas for the three sessions of direct face-to-face talks in 2010 that I presided over. But Israelis and Palestinians cannot give up on the hope of peace. That will only make it harder later.

All of us need to look for opportunities to create the conditions for progress, including by taking positive actions that can rebuild trust — like the recent constructive meetings between the Israeli and Palestinian finance ministers aiming to help bolster the Palestinian economy, or the daily on-the-ground security cooperation between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

But at the same time, all of us must condemn actions that set back the cause of peace. Terrorism should never be encouraged or celebrated, and children should not be taught to hate in schools. That poisons the future.

(APPLAUSE)

Everyone has to do their part by avoiding damaging actions, including with respect to settlements. Now, America has an important role to play in supporting peace efforts. And as president, I would continue the pursuit of direct negotiations. And let me be clear — I would vigorously oppose any attempt by outside parties to impose a solution, including by the UN Security Council.

(APPLAUSE)

There is one more choice that we face together, and in some ways, it may be the most important of all. Will we, as Americans and as Israelis, stay true to the shared democratic values that have always been at the heart of our relationship? We are both nations built by immigrants and exiles seeking to live and worship in freedom, nations built on principles of equality, tolerance and pluralism.

(APPLAUSE)

At our best, both Israel and America are seen as a light unto the nations because of those values.

(APPLAUSE)

This is the real foundation of our alliance, and I think it’s why so many Americans feel such a deep emotional connection with Israel. I know that I do. And it’s why we cannot be neutral about Israel and Israel’s future, because in Israel’s story, we see our own, and the story of all people who struggle for freedom and self-determination. There’s so many examples. You know, we look at the pride parade in Tel Aviv, one of the biggest and most prominent in the world.

(APPLAUSE)

And we marvel that such a bastion of liberty exists in a region so plagued by intolerance. We see the vigorous, even raucous debate in Israeli politics and feel right at home.

(LAUGHTER)

And, of course, some of us remember a woman, Golda Meir, leading Israel’s government decades ago and wonder what’s taking us so long here in America?

(APPLAUSE)

But we cannot rest on what previous generations have accomplished. Every generation has to renew our values. And, yes, even fight for them. Today, Americans and Israelis face currents of intolerance and extremism that threaten the moral foundations of our societies.

Now in a democracy, we’re going to have differences. But what Americans are hearing on the campaign trail this year is something else entirely: encouraging violence, playing coy with white supremacists, calling for 12 million immigrants to be rounded up and deported, demanding we turn away refugees because of their religion, and proposing a ban on all Muslims entering the United States.

Now, we’ve had dark chapters in our history before. We remember the nearly 1,000 Jews aboard the St. Louis who were refused entry in 1939 and sent back to Europe. But America should be better than this. And I believe it’s our responsibility as citizens to say so.

(APPLAUSE)

If you see bigotry, oppose it. If you see violence, condemn it. If you see a bully, stand up to him.

(APPLAUSE)

On Wednesday evening, Jews around the world will celebrate the Festival of Purim, and children will learn the story of Esther, who refused to stay silent in the face of evil. It wasn’t easy. She had a good life. And by speaking out, she risked everything.

But as Mordecai reminded her, we all have an obligation to do our part when danger gathers. And those of us with power or influence have a special responsibility to do what’s right. As Elie Wiesel said when accepting the Nobel Peace Prize, “Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.”

So, my friends, let us never be neutral or silent in the face of bigotry. Together let’s defend the shared values that already make America and Israel great.

(APPLAUSE)

CLINTON: Let us do the hard work necessary to keep building our friendship and reach out to the next generation of Americans and Israelis so the bonds between our nations grow even deeper and stronger. We are stronger together, and if we face the future side by side, I know for both Israel and America, our best days are still ahead.

Thank you so much.

Bernie on IsraelBernie Sanders

[Editor’s note: In past years, major speakers invited by AIPAC have been given the option of speaking to the event on a t.v. hook up, but when Senator Sanders requested that this year, his request was denied. So he gave this speech where he was compaigning but the 20,000 people attending the AIPAC conference did not get to hear him.]

I was invited along with other presidential candidates to be at the AIPAC conference in Washington, but obviously I could not make it because we are here.

The issues that AIPAC is dealing with are very important issues and I wanted to give the same speech here as I would have given if we were at that conference.

Let me begin by saying that I think I am probably the only candidate for president who has personal ties with Israel. I spent a number of months there when I was a young man on a kibbutz, so I know a little bit about Israel.

Clearly, the United States and Israel are united by historical ties. We are united by culture. We are united by our values, including a deep commitment to democratic principles, civil rights and the rule of law.

Israel is one of America’s closest allies, and we – as a nation – are committed not just to guaranteeing Israel’s survival, but also to make sure that its people have a right to live in peace and security.

To my mind, as friends – long term friends with Israel – we are obligated to speak the truth as we see it. That is what real friendship demands, especially in difficult times.

Our disagreements will come and go, and we must weather them constructively.

But it is important among friends to be honest and truthful about differences that we may have.

America and Israel have faced great challenges together. We have supported each other, and we will continue to do just that as we face a very daunting challenge and that is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

I am here to tell the American people that, if elected president, I will work tirelessly to advance the cause of peace as a partner and as a friend to Israel.

But to be successful, we have also got to be a friend not only to Israel, but to the Palestinian people, where in Gaza unemployment today is 44 percent and we have there a poverty rate which is almost as high.

So when we talk about Israel and Palestinian areas, it is important to understand that today there is a whole lot of among Palestinians and that cannot be ignored. You can’t have good policy that results in peace if you ignore one side.

The road toward peace will be difficult. Wonderful people, well-intentioned people have tried decade after decade to achieve that and it will not be easy. I cannot tell you exactly how it will look – I do not believe anyone can – but I firmly believe that the only prospect for peace is the successful negotiation of a two-state solution.

The first step in that road ahead is to set the stage for resuming the peace process through direct negotiations.

Progress is never made unless people are prepared to sit down and talk to each other. This is no small thing. It means building confidence on both sides, offering some signs of good faith, and then proceeding to talks when conditions permit them to be constructive. Again, this is not easy, but that is the direction we’ve got to go.

This will require compromises on both sides, but I believe it can be done. I believe that Israel, the Palestinians, and the international community can, must, and will rise to the ocassion and do what needs to be done to achieve a lasting peace in a region of the world that has seen so much war, so much conflict and so much suffering.

Peace will require the unconditional recognition by all people of Israel’s right to exist. It will require an end to attacks of all kinds against Israel.

Peace will require that organizations like Hamas and Hezbollah renounce their efforts to undermine the security of Israel. It will require the entire world to recognize Israel.

Peace has to mean security for every Israeli from violence and terrorism.

But peace also means security for every Palestinian. It means achieving self-determination, civil rights, and economic well-being for the Palestinian people.

Peace will mean ending what amounts to the occupation of Palestinian territory, establishing mutually agreed upon borders, and pulling back settlements in the West Bank, just as Israel did in Gaza – once considered an unthinkable move on Israel’s part.

That is why I join much of the international community, including the US State Department and European Union, in voicing my concern that Israel’s recent expropriation of an additional 579 acres of land in the West Bank undermines the peace process and, ultimately, Israeli security as well.

It is absurd for elements within the Netanyahu government to suggest that building more settlements in the West Bank is the appropriate response to the most recent violence. It is also not acceptable that the Netanyahu government decided to withhold hundreds of millions of Shekels in tax revenue from the Palestinians, which it is supposed to collect on their behalf.

But, by the same token, it is also unacceptable for President Abbas to call for the abrogation of the Oslo Agreement when the goal should be the ending of violence.

Peace will also mean ending the economic blockade of Gaza. And it will mean a sustainable and equitable distribution of precious water resources so that Israel and Palestine can both thrive as neighbors.

Right now, Israel controls 80 percent of the water reserves in the West Bank. Inadequate water supply has contributed to the degradation and desertification of Palestinian land. A lasting a peace will have to recognize Palestinians are entitled to control their own lives and there is nothing human life needs more than water.

Peace will require strict adherence by both sides to the tenets of international humanitarian law. This includes Israeli ending disproportionate responses to being attacked – even though any attack on Israel is unacceptable.

We recently saw a dramatic example of just how important this concept is. In 2014, the decades-old conflict escalated once more as Israel launched a major military campaign against Hamas in the Gaza Strip. The Israeli offensive came after weeks of indiscriminate rocket fire into its territory and the kidnapping of Israeli citizens.

Of course, I strongly object to Hamas’ long held position that Israel does not have the right to exist – that is unacceptable. Of course, I strongly condemn indiscriminate rocket fire by Hamas into Israeli territory, and Hamas’ use of civilian neighborhoods to launch those attacks. I condemn the fact that Hamas diverted funds and materials for much-needed construction projects designed to improve the quality of life of the Palestinian people, and instead used those funds to construct a network of tunnels for military purposes.

However, let me also be very clear: I – along with many supporters of Israel – spoke out strongly against the Israeli counter attacks that killed nearly 1,500 civilians and wounded thousands more. I condemned the bombing of hospitals, schools and refugee camps.

Today, Gaza is still largely in ruins. The international community must come together to help Gaza recover. That doesn’t mean rebuilding factories that produce bombs and missiles – but it does mean rebuilding schools, homes and
hospitals that are vital to the future of the Palestinian people.

These are difficult subjects. They are hard to talk about both for many Americans and for Israelis. I recognize that, but it is clear to me that the path toward peace will require tapping into our shared humanity to make hard but just decisions.

Nobody can tell you when peace will be achieved between Israel and the Palestinians. No one knows the exact order that compromises will have to be made to reach a viable two-state solution. But as we undertake that work together, the United States will continue its unwavering commitment to the safety of Israeli citizens and the country of Israel.

Let me just say a word about an overall agenda for the Middle East.

Of course, beyond the Palestinian question, Israel finds itself in the midst of a region in severe upheaval.

First, the so-called Islamic State – ISIS – threatens the security of the entire region and beyond, including our own country and our allies. Secretary of State Kerry was right to say that ISIS is committing genocide, and there is no doubt in my mind that the United States must continue to participate in an international coalition to destroy this barbaric organization.

While obviously much needs to be done, so far our effort has had some important progress, as airstrikes have degraded ISIS’ military capacity, and the group has lost more than 20 percent of its territory in the past year.
So we are making some progress.

But we are entering a difficult period in the campaign against ISIS.

The government in Baghdad has yet to achieve a sustainable political order that unites Iraq’s various ethnic and sectarian factions, which has limited its ability to sustain military victories against ISIS. Unless there is a united government, it’s going to be hard to be effective in destroying ISIS.

More inclusive, stable governance in Iraq will be vital to inflict a lasting defeat on ISIS. Otherwise, ISIS could regain its influence or another, similar organization may spring up in its place.

In Syria, the challenges are even more difficult. The fractured nature of the civil war there has often diluted the fight against ISIS – exemplified by the Russian airstrikes that prioritized hitting anti-Assad fighters rather than ISIS. And, just like in Iraq, ISIS cannot be defeated until the groups that take territory from ISIS can responsibly govern the areas they take back. Ultimately, this will require a political framework for all of Syria.

The US must also play a greater role disrupting the financing of ISIS and efforts on the Internet to turn disaffected youth into a new generation of terrorists.

While the US has an important role to play in defeating ISIS, that struggle must be led by the Muslim countries themselves on the ground. I agree with King Abdullah of Jordan who a number of months ago that what is going on there right now is nothing less than a battle for the soul of Islam and the only people who will effectively destroy ISIS there will be Muslim troops on the ground.

So what we need is a coalition of those countries.

Now, I am not suggesting that Saudi Arabia or any other states in the region invade other countries, nor unilaterally intervene in conflicts driven in part by sectarian tensions.

What I am saying is that the major powers in the region – especially the Gulf States – have to take greater responsibility for the future of the Middle East and the defeat of ISIS.

What I am saying is that countries like Qatar – which intends to spend up to $200 billion to host the 2022 World Cup – Qatar which per capita is the wealthiest nation in the world – Qatar can do more to contribute to the fight Against ISIS. If they are prepared to spend $200 billion for a soccer tournament, then they have got to spend a lot spend a lot more against a barbaric organization.

What I am also saying is that other countries in the region – like Saudi Arabia, which has the 4th largest defense budget in the world – has to dedicate itself more fully to the destruction of ISIS, instead of other military adventures like the one it is pursuing right now in Yemen.

And keep in mind that while ISIS is obviously a dangerous and formidable enemy, ISIS has only 30,000 fighters on the ground. So when we ask the nations in the region to stand up to do more against ISIS – nations in the region which have millions of men and women under arms – we know it is surely within their capability to destroy ISIS.

Now the United States has every right in the world to insist on these points. Remember – I want everybody to remember – that not so many years ago it was the United States and our troops that reinstalled the royal family in Kuwait after Saddam Hussein’s invasion in 1990. We put these people back on the throne. Now they have the obligation to work with us and other countries to destroy ISIS.

The very wealthy – and some of these countries are extraordinarily wealthy from oil money or gas money – these very wealthy and powerful nations in the region can no longer expect the United States to do their work for them. Uncle Sam cannot and should not do it all. We are not the policeman of the world.

As we continue a strongly coordinated effort against ISIS, the United States and other western nations should be supportive of efforts to fight ISIS and al-Qaeda. But it is the countries in the region that have to stand up against these violently extremist and brutal organizations.

Now I realize that given the geopolitics of the region this is not going to be easy. I realize that there are very strong and historical disagreements between different countries in the region about how ISIS should be dealt with.

I realize different countries have different priorities. But we can help set the agenda and mobilize stronger collective action to defeat ISIS in a lasting way.

Bottom line is the countries in the region – countries which by the way are most threatened by ISIS – they’re going to have to come together, they’re going to have to work out their compromises, they are going to have to lead the effort with the support of the United States and other major powers in destroying ISIS.

Another major challenge in the region, of course, is the Syrian Civil War itself – one of the worst humanitarian disasters in recent history.

After five years of brutal conflict, the only solution in Syria will be, in my view, a negotiated political settlement. Those who advocate for stronger military involvement by the US to oust Assad from power have not paid close enough attention to history. That would simply prolong the war and increase the chaos in Syria, not end it.

In other words, we all recognize that Assad is a brutal dictator. But I think that our priorities right now have got to be destroy ISIS, work out a political settlement with Russia and Iran to get Assad out of power.

I applaud Secretary Kerry and the Obama administration for negotiating a partial ceasefire between the Assad regime and most opposition forces. The ceasefire shows the value of American-led diplomacy, rather than escalating violence. It may not seem like a lot, but it is. Diplomacy in this instance has had some real success.

Let me also say what I think most Americans now understand, that for a great military power like the United States it is easy to use a war to remove a tyrant from power, but it is much more difficult to comprehend the day after that tyrant is removed from power and a political vacuum occurs.

All of us know what has occurred in Iraq. We got rid of Saddam Hussein, a brutal, brutal murderer and a tyrant. And yet we created massive instability in that region which led to the creation of ISIS. I am very proud to have been one of the members in Congress to vote against that disastrous war.

And the situation is not totally dissimilar from what has happened in Libya. We got rid of a terrible dictator there, Colonel Gaddafi, but right now chaos has erupted and ISIS now has a foothold in that area.

Bottom line is that regime change for a major power like us is not hard. But understanding what happens afterward is something that always has got to be taken into consideration.

In my view, the military option for a powerful nation like ours – the most powerful nation in the world – should always be on the table. That’s why we have the most powerful military in the world. But it should always be the last resort not the first resort.

Another major challenge in the region is Iran, which routinely destabilizes the Middle East and threatens the security of Israel.

Now, I think all of us agree that Iran must not be able to acquire a nuclear weapon. That would just destabilize the entire region and create disastrous consequences.

Where we may disagree is how to achieve that goal. I personally strongly supported the nuclear deal with the United States, France, China, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom and Iran because I believe it is the best hope to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon.

I want to thank the Obama administration for doing a very good job under very, very difficult circumstances.

I believe we have an obligation to pursue diplomatic solutions before resorting to military intervention.

You know it is very easy for politicians to go before the people and talk about how tough we are, and we want to wipe out everybody else. But I think if we have learned anything from history is that we pursue every diplomatic option before we resort to military intervention.

And interestingly enough, more often than not, diplomacy can achieve goals that military intervention cannot achieve. And that is why I supported the sanctions that brought Iran to the negotiating table and allowed us to reach an agreement.

But let me tell you what I firmly believe. The bottom line is this: if successfully implemented – and I think it can be – the nuclear deal will prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. And preventing Iran from getting the bomb makes the world a safer place.

Does the agreement achieve everything I would like? Of course not.

But to my mind, it is far better than the path we were on with Iran developing nuclear weapons and the potential for military intervention by the United States and Israel growing greater by the day.

I do not accept the idea that the “pro-Israel” position was to oppose the deal.
Preventing Iran from getting a nuclear weapon will strengthen not only the United States’ security, but Israel’s security as well.

And I am not alone in that idea. While Prime Minister Netanyahu is vocally opposed to the accord, his is hardly a consensus opinion in Israel and it’s important that everyone understand that. Dozens of former security officials, including retired Army generals and chiefs of the Shin Bet and Mossad intelligence agencies support the agreement. Netanyahu may not, but many others in Israel do.

But let me be clear: if Iran does not live up to the agreement, we should re-impose sanctions and all options are back on the table.

Moreover, the deal does not mean we let Iran’s aggressive acts go unchecked. The world must stand united in condemning Iran’s recent ballistic missile tests as well as its continued support for terrorism through groups like Hezbollah.

Going forward, I believe we need a longer-term vision for dealing with Iran that balances two important objectives.

First, we must counter the destabilizing behavior of Iran’s leaders.

But secondly we must also leave the door open to more diplomacy to encourage Iranian moderates and the segments of the Iranian people – especially the younger generations – who want a better relationship with the West. While only a small step in the right direction, I was heartened by the results of the recent parliamentary elections in which Iranian voters elected moderates in what was, in part, a referendum on the nuclear deal.

I know that some say there is just no dealing with Iran – in any way at all – for the foreseeable future. And that is the position of some. After all, Iran is in a competition with Saudi Arabia and its allies for influences over that region.

But a more balanced approach toward Iran that serves our national security interests should hardly be a radical idea. We have serious concerns about the nature of the Iranian government, but we have to honest enough, and sometimes we are not, to admit that Saudi Arabia – a repressive regime in its own right – is hardly an example of Jeffersonian democracy.

Balancing firmness with willingness to engage with diplomacy in dealing with Iran will not be easy. But it is the wisest course of action to help improve the long-term prospects of stability and peace in the Middle East – and to keep us safe.

Lastly, these are but some – not all – of the major issues where the interests of Israel intersect with those of the United States. I would address these issues and challenges as I would most issues and that is by having an honest discussion and by bringing people together.

The truth is there are good people on both sides who want peace, And the other truth is there despots and liars on both sides who benefit from continued antagonism.

I would conclude by saying there has a disturbing trend among some of the Republicans in this presidential election that take a very, very different approach. And their approach I think would be a disaster for this country. The Republican front-runner, Donald Trump, suggested limiting immigration according to religion and creating a national database based on religion – something unprecedented in our country’s history.

Now this would not only go against everything we stand for as a nation, but also – in terms of our relationship to the rest of the world – it would be a disaster.

Let me just conclude by saying this: the issues that I’ve discussed today are not going to be easily solved.

Everybody knows that. But I think the United States has the opportunity, as the the most powerful nation on earth, to play an extraordinary role in trying to bring to people together – to try to put together coalitions in the region to destroy ISIS.

And that is a responsibility that I, if elected president, would accept in a very, very serious way. We have seen too many wars, too much killing, too much suffering. And let us all together – people of good faith – do everything we can to finally, finally bring peace and stability to that region.

Thank you all very much.

 

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Editorials, The rector should go now; and Justice for Vanessa

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MOVADUP
Valid then, even more so now. Photo by MOVADUP.

The Rector Magnifico should go now

With the Comptroller General’s audit about to be released, the University of Panama’s rector with the fake doctorate, Mr. Gustavo García de Paredes, convened an urgent and unpublicized meeting to confer civil service protection on hundreds of his political patronage hirees before his term in office ends. Then the Comptroller General issued his report and sent it to the Attorney General for criminal investigation. The “private” University of Panama Foundation that García de Paredes created to receive university funds has at least $490,000 missing, and the audit is just of recent years rather than all the way back to the foundation’s establishment.

The self-proclaimed “Rector Magnifico” presents a grave risk that yet more evidence will be destroyed or concealed so long as he remains in office. Among the nearly two dozen people named by the comptroller’s report there are two candidates in the crowded field of those who hope to succeed García de Paredes as rector. They, too, should be suspended from the university and barred from its campuses pending further investigations.

 

pro Vanessa
Not to be forgotten, not to be defamed: law student Vanessa Rodríguez’s family and friends, and Panama’s women’s organizations, were dignified in their insistence. Photo by Eric Jackson.

Justice done, but questions left

Omar Vélez has been found guilty of the second degree murder of Vanessa Rodríguez. It’s an awful tragedy, the stuff of which good true crime writing is done. But it’s also a just and accurate verdict by the court-martial jury at Fort Bragg, which upheld the truth, the Uniform Code of Military Justice and the reputation of the US Armed Forces.

The young law student’s slaying by the US Army master sergeant does, however, leave questions that Panama’s powers-that-be will surely ignore but the Panamanian people just as surely ought to ask. What benefit is it to Panama to have our lince rapid-response motorcycle police trained in military tactics? What are the specific terms of the Status of Forces Agreement with the United States that gave diplomatic immunity to Vélez — whom does it cover and how many such covered people are in Panama? Why is Panama so doggedly pursuing made-in-the-USA “War on Drugs” policies when at almost every opportunity US voters are rejecting that failed set of laws, practices and expenditures?

A “roid rage” murder by a US anti-drug warrior sent to Panama under cover of diplomatic immunity might be just a sad curiosity were there not a serious steroids problem in the US Armed Forces. That problem is one of the symptoms of the endless wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and so many other places around the world. It’s not unpatriotic to acknowledge it, and it’s not patriotic to just write it off as a matter of a few undisciplined soldiers and treat it only as a criminal justice issue. It is an urgent matter of US national security to address the many social problems among the weary and demoralized forces who have been sent on open-ended missions to fight inanimate concepts, among their many dependents, and among the veterans who have come back from these wars on terror, drugs and so on. Yes, the Vélez case was a garden variety murder that rightly had to be addressed by a criminal court, but it was also an alarm about more widespread problems that should not be ignored.

Bear in mind…

 

A woman is like a tea bag — you can’t tell how strong she is until you put her in hot water.
Eleanor Roosevelt

 

The descent to Hell is easy.
Virgil

 

Of course I am not worried about intimidating men. The type of man who will be intimidated by me is exactly the type of man I have no interest in.
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

 

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Odebrecht’s fortune in free fall, but maybe not here

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Lava Jato
Brazilian federal police carry away a cache of documents in a series of simultaneous searches in eight Brazilian states. The raids, which largely concentrated on the homes and offices of Odebrecht executives and employees, netted among other things spread sheets about the construction company’s systematic payoffs to at least 200 Brazilian politicians of most parties. The Lava Jato (car wash in Portuguese) investigation has also led down a number of international trails, some of them running through Panama. Photo in dozens of places online, believed to be in the public domain.

Odebrecht, its fortunes collapsing, gets another public contract in Panama

by Eric Jackson

Panama City has gone through some unusual gymnastics to revise a points system for awarding a $100 million sidewalk, street and lighting project when the purportedly objective analysis indicated a Colombian-led consortium as the winner. But after the mayor ordered a revision of the points system, the data were run through once more and the “more objective” winner was, to the surprise of only the most uninformed, the Brazilian construction giant Norberto Odebrecht. The contract has yet to be signed and reaction is building, but it’s a good bet that this is not going to go down well even if Panamanians are jaded about such things.

Roberto Brenes, the founder of Panama’s Bolsa de Valores securities exchange, looks askance at the $782 million that was paid by hte Martinelli administration to Odebrecht to build the third phase of the Cinta Costera. That works out to some $250,000 per square meter and he says that it can’t be justified. He and the local chapter of Transparency International are among the business sector people who have joined with the usual church, civic and labor anti-corruption leaders to demand an audit of all public works contracts that Odebrecht has had in Panama in recent years. Administrative Prosecutor (Procurador de la Administracion) Rigoberto González concurs, and has asked Comptroller General Federico Humbert to audit both current and recent Odebrecht contracts with Panamanian governmental entities. González’s stated reason is a bit different. He cites reports from Brazil (and other countries) about Panamanian involvement in a series of scandals that may have its epicenter in overpriced contracts with kickbacks between Brazil’s state-owned Petrobras oil company and Odebrecht and other construction firms, but now goes way beyond that and way beyond Brazil.

The scandals get to Panama because:

  • documentary evidence and a confession indicate that Odebrecht’s former CEO, Marcelo Odebrecht, who is now serving a prison sentence of just more than 19 years, paid political operative João Santana to manage the 2014 presidential campaign of Ricardo Martinelli’s Cambio Democratico party;
  • Mr. Odebreecht’s emails were kept on a server in Panama but these are “unavailable” to Brazilian prosecutors; and
  • Odebrecht bribes for Petrobras officials were laundered through an international chain of corporate shells, some of them Panamanian, designed by the Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca, one of whose partners was until recently an official in the Varela administration.

Just in themselves these things add up to enough to raise eyebrows, except perhaps those of President Varela. To him, these are all proceedings before foreign courts and none of Panama’s concern. Attorney General Kenia Porcell hasn’t disparaged the Brazilian prosecutors’ investigation, but she appears not to be cooperating with her Brazilian counterparts either by asking for information that might indicate crimes in Panama or by sharing information. In a gesture to the fight against corruption, Varela has sent a revision of the public contracting law to the legislature, which would bar companies convicted of certain corrupt practices from doing business with the Panamanian government — but only if those convictions are by a Panamanian court.

Somebody might be favorably impressed, but according to the Dichter & Neira polling firm Varela’s popularity rating for the second straight month registers at just 46 percent. He’s not hated, but the honeymoon is over. An overwhelming 75 percent of those surveyed found little or no transparency in government. It’s not an explosive issue, though — by far insecurity against garden variety crimes, rising unemployment and problems with the water supply top the list of public concerns, with corruption way down the list.

In Brazil the leaks and court rulings are often crudely partisan, but the Lava Jato (car wash) investigations are so deep and widespread and involve so many investigators and judges with their own opinions that it’s hard for any side to be protected. The revelations from the most recent raids, however, are spectacular.

Is President Dilma Rousseff, who was the minister in charge of Petrobras when most of the bribery took place, in danger of impeachment? The truly damning direct evidence implicating her has yet to be produced, but it’s hard to believe that she was unaware and few Brazilians do believe that. But a spreadsheet of payoffs to some 200 politicians of 24 different parties that was leaked to the press shows that the members of the Brazilian Congress listed include those leading the impeachment drive against the president. Was Dilma’s boss at the time, former President Lula da Silva, on the take? So far the allegations are not that he accepted money while president, but as an ex-president he clearly took money for a foundation he controlled and large speaking fees from Odebrecht and other major construction companies, and served as an intermediary for Odebrecht to secure contracts in other countries.

Prosecutors say that Odebrecht paid renowned campaign manager João Santana and his wife and business partner Mônica Moura to run the campaigns of not only Martinelli in Panama, but of the ruling leftist MPLA party in Angola and Hugo Chávez and Nicolás Maduro in Venezuela. When rightist Álvaro Uribe was president of Colombia — and afterward — he may have been railing against the Chavistas next door who were on Odebrecht’s payroll, but the Brazilian construction company had Uribe’s eldest son on its payroll as a high-priced corporate representative. Do the United States and Cuba have conflicted relations that are starting to get resolved? Odebrecht has massive contracts in Cuba, but also donated money to foundations controlled by the Clintons and by Jeb Bush. And the presidents of Peru and the Dominican Republic, both men who put on leftist airs to get elected but have been far to the center once in office? Odebrecht may have been paying for Santana and Moura to run Dominican President Danilo Medina’s re-election campaign — a job cut short by arrest warrants issued in late February — and other documents suggest the Peruvian President Ollanta Humala received payoffs from the company. Other tangents of the case have Odebrecht making payments to a former Argentine transportation minister and paying bribes to get the contract to build the mass transit system for the upcoming Rio de Janeiro Olympics.

Should it be any big shock that Brazilian authorities allege that Marcelo Odebrecht has been overseeing payoffs to politicians from the prison where currently resides? Consider that Odebrecht was a central player — a bid-rigging clearinghouse of sorts — in the 1992 scandal that led to the impeachment proceedings and resignation of the Brazilian president at the time Fernando Collor de Mello. There is not a politician who has been named who can say that she or he did not know about the company’s reputation. Certainly the investment world does — Odebrecht shares are way down and securities analysts give them a negative outlook.

Maribel Jaén of the Catholic Church’s Justice and Peace commission had already warned that contracts with Odebrecht — currently working on the construction of the Metro’s Line 2 and renovation of the Colon city center — are “suspicious.” So now comes the city contract to renovate the sidewalks and lighting in the Parque Porras area, parts of Via Expaña and Avenida Balboa and from Plaza Cinco de Mayo up the peatonal to the park in Santa Ana, roughly an $100 million job. The Colombian-led Centralvías EP consortium came in first with 95.9 points in the arcane numerical ratings that the bid evaluation committee had set up, as against Odebrecht’s 93.86. The mayor was unhappy with that and ordered the committee to tinker with its rating system. As revised, Odebrecht won the “competition” with 98.76 points to Centralvías EP’s 87.38. Now it still may work with some Panamanians to confer “objectivity” on a subjective process by assigning numerical values to it, but in the current climate it looks like Odebrecht won on another rigged bid. Mayor José Isabel Blandón may yet advance his reputation and career when all is done and he can point to all this rebuilt brick and mortar. The infrastructures involved are in fact crumbling. For now, however, Blandón has stepped into a controversy that was not his, picking up suspicions as he goes.

Will Humbert audit, and if so in anything more than a pro forma way? When Odebrecht won the Metro Line 2 contract, it was not the low bidder but an evaluation committee, unbeknownst to the public and most of the participants until after the fact including a man who had worked as a consultant for Odebrecht, gave the Brazilians the contract over the Chinese competition on the basis of some dubious points. Humbert ruled not that there was a harmless error, but that there was no conflict of interest at all. However, to be seen to favor Odebrecht now would look worse than it did back then because the backrop against which it would be viewed is worse today.

 

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MOVADUP, La carrera administrativa

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rector st.
El auto-denominado “Magnífico” –con su doctorado comprado sin tesis. Foto por Eric Jackson.

El reglamento de carrera administrativa
de la Universidad De Panamá

por el Movimiento de Adecentamiento de la Universidad de Panamá (MOVADUP)

El 23 de febrero de 2016, el Consejo General Universitario (CGU) de la Universidad de Panamá aprobó un nuevo Reglamento de Carrera Administrativa, el cual aún no ha entrado en vigencia, pues no ha sido publicado en Gaceta Oficial.

Gran preocupación genera al MOVADUP tanto el contenido como la forma en que fue aprobado (madrugonazo) y el papel de la dirigencia de la Asociación de Empleados (ASEUPA) en su elaboración y discusión en las bases gremiales y en el CGU.

En cuanto a su contenido, lo que se ha hecho es fortalecer la capacidad de la Rectoría universitaria de disponer de personal a su antojo a través de una Dirección General de Recursos Humanos (DGRH) que controla directamente; y de utilizar a la Comisión de Personal, donde cuenta con una mayoría de 3 a 2, para perseguir a los administrativos a través de procesos disciplinarios.

La DGRH se burocratiza al poner bajo su égida 10 Subsistemas y Oficinas de Enlace en todas las unidades académicas y administrativas. La Comisión de Personal investiga la comisión de faltas por el personal administrativo, ya no sólo por denuncia del jefe inmediato, sino también de oficio, por queja de cualquier persona o por haber sido sorprendido en flagrancia (fomenta la sapería). Aunque la DGRH hace su Recomendación respectiva, es el Rector quien finalmente decide si sanciona o absuelve.

Igualmente, el Rector puede “movilizar” personal sin límite de tiempo (nueva figura introducida) a través de la DGRH; o trasladarlo por “necesidad del servicio” sin su consentimiento, cuando la Ley No 9 de 1994, que establece la carrera administrativa en el sector público, exige que el servidor público acepte el traslado, para que sea válido y no contempla la figura de la movilización.

A los administrativos también se les pueden asignar “funciones extraordinarias” que no correspondan a sus condiciones de trabajo pactadas en el contrato inicial, sin limitación alguna, legalizando la llamada movilidad funcional y geográfica, tan repudiada históricamente por el movimiento obrero, pues coloca al trabajador en una situación de “cuasi esclavitud” al servicio del empleador, inconcebible en una institución pública de educación superior.

Resulta totalmente deplorable el papel de la dirigencia de la ASEUPA, pues, en vez de garantizar los derechos de los administrativos en la mesa de negociaciones, se ha prestado para que sean conculcados, sin dar oportunidad a una discusión amplia y democrática de todo el contenido del Reglamento, en las bases gremiales y en el propio CGU. Todo esto a cambio de lograr la permanencia momentánea de 800 funcionarios según se ha venido practicando con fines electoreros en detrimento de los concursos formales; y de que las autoridades universitarias la reconozcan como única interlocutora válida entre los más de 4000 administrativos y la Administración, en detrimento del principio de libertad de asociación y/o libertad sindical, pues no se puede ignorar a otras expresiones independientes del funcionariado universitario.

Gana el Rector, fortalece su poder. Ganan su permanencia momentánea 800 administrativos. Pierden más de 4000 administrativos sometidos a movilidad funcional y geográfica, movilizaciones y traslados sin su consentimiento y a persecución por discrepar políticamente del Rector en coyuntura electoral. Pierde la institución, sorprendida por la aprobación de un Reglamento represivo que prácticamente desconoce, que desdice totalmente de su tradición libertaria y democrática.

 

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SPSP, Frente a la emergencia del virus Zika

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Zika
El virus Zika. Foto por el Departamento de Salud de la Ciudad de Nueva York.

Comunicado al país frente a la emergencia del virus Zika

por la Sociedad Panameña de Salud Pública (SPSP)

Antecedentes

La OMS ha declarado una Emergencia de Salud Pública de Importancia Internacional (ESPII) en respuesta a conglomerados de casos de microcefalia y de síndrome de Guillain-Barré en Brasil, Polinesia Francesa, El Salvador, Venezuela, Colombia, y Suriname, que se han asociado temporalmente con la transmisión del virus del Zika.1 La comunidad científica internacional está intensamente dedicada a buscar evidencias sobre qué está causando el aumento inusual de casos de microcefalia y Síndrome de Guillain Barré y otros desórdenes neurológicos y cómo este aumento puede estar relacionado con los brotes de Zika,2 ya sea para confirmar o descartar el vínculo con el virus.

El Zika es una enfermedad causada por un virus, de la misma familia de los virus Dengue, que es transmitido por el mosquito Aedes aegypti. El virus Zika fue descrito por primera vez en 1952, aislado de un mono Rhesus en la floresta Zika de Uganda, recibiendo de allí su nombre. En 1954 el virus Zika fue aislado de un humano en Nigeria. Desde su descubrimiento hasta 2007, casos confirmados de Zika fueron raros y limitados al continente africano y al sudeste asiático. Del 2007 hasta el 12 de febrero del 2016 el virus Zika ha estado presente en 46 países y territorios. En 2015 y lo que va del 2016, el virus ha estado circulando en 26 países. Se estima que en Brasil han ocurrido 1.5 millones de casos de Zika, seguido de Colombia con 25,000 casos sospechosos y 1,331 casos confirmados y Cabo Verde con 7,000 casos sospechosos de Zika.

El Ministerio de Salud (MINSA) informó, según nota noticiosa,3 que los casos del virus Zika en el país aumentaron a 91 este viernes, 26 de febrero. En Guna Yala se concentran 81 casos, mientras que en sectores de la capital ya se reportan 10. Cinco de estos casos se registran en Tocumen, 1 en el área de Bella Vista, 1 en Las Cumbres, 1 en Paitilla, 1 en San Francisco y otro en Juan Díaz. Mientras persista en casi todo el territorio nacional elevados índices de infestación del vector, el mosquito Aedes aegypti, la transmisión masiva del virus Zika a casi todos los rincones del país es prácticamente inevitable.

Eliminación del mosquito que transmite el virus Zika

El mosquito Aedes aegypti transmite cuatro enfermedades virales:

(1) el Dengue,

(2) el virus Chikungunya,

(3) el virus de Fiebre Amarilla y

(4) el virus Zika.

El Aedes aegypti también es un vector potencial para el virus de la Encefalitis Equina Venezolana y del virus del Oeste del Nilo (West Nile virus).4 Por lo tanto, aún si el virus Zika no resultara ser el responsable de microcefalia u otra afección neurológica, hay razones de sobra para redoblar y multiplicar los esfuerzos nacionales para eliminar del territorio nacional el mosquito Aedes aegypti, tal como fue hecho entre 1971 y 1985.

Panamá ha cambiado mucho desde 1985. La población ha aumentado, hay mayor concentración de la población en las zonas urbanas, se ha generalizado la cultura de “usa y descarta”, donde son lanzados al medio ambiente cantidades masivas de productos plásticos, llantas, y muchos otros que se convierten fácilmente en criaderos de mosquitos Aedes. La crisis en la Autoridad Nacional de Aseo, con graves deficiencias en la recolección y disposición sanitaria de desechos sólidos, deberá ser atendida como un tema de emergencia nacional.

Para reducir a cero los índices de infestación del mosquito es clave eliminar los criaderos del mosquito Aedes aegypti. Dichos criaderos son cualquier recipiente donde se puede acumular agua, desde los más pequeños, como puede ser una tapa de botella, hasta los más grandes y obvios como, llantas y chatarras a la intemperie.

Nuestros paisajes están inundados de productos descartables plásticos, latas, botellas, juguetes, tetra pack, etc., etc., que se venden masivamente, sin responsabilidad empresarial alguna sobre medidas para descartar los envoltorios o envases de forma segura y sanitaria. ¿Qué queremos decir con esto?

Toda empresa que distribuya y venda productos con envases que pueden convertirse en criaderos de mosquitos, debería colocar en cada envase o paquete una clara ADVERTENCIA, indicando el RIESGO de convertirse en un reservorio del vector del DENGUE, CHICUNGUNYA, Zika y FIEBRE AMARILLA; acompañado de indicaciones para su recolección y descarte adecuado y sanitario. A parte de la ADVERTENCIA al consumidor, toda empresa con responsabilidad social debería sumarse a los esfuerzos gubernamentales y comunitarios, creando centros de acopio y unidades de recolección de envases y paquetes descartables de sus productos, además, apoyar campañas masivas en medios de comunicación, así como educación sanitaria en escuelas públicas y privadas.

Por otro lado, se debe aprovechar nuestra estructura político administrativa para educar a la comunidad y fortalecer la organización de esta, que permita acciones más efectivas contra el mosquito, casa por casa, calle por calle, barrio por barrio, corregimiento por corregimiento, distrito por distrito y cada una de las provincias. Con participación intersectorial coordinada y con presencia de la sociedad civil, clubes de padres de familia, Iglesias, etc.

La recientemente promulgada Ley de Emergencia por el virus Zika que, entre otras cosas, garantiza asignación presupuestaria, debe además constituirse en una herramienta para lograr la articulación efectiva todos los actores sociales, tanto públicos como privados, en un gran haz de voluntades y acciones que lleven a la “eliminación” del mosquito Aedes aegypti del territorio nacional.

Lo hicimos una vez. ¡Hagámoslo otra vez!

Dr. Claude D. Betts, Presidente, SPSP
Dr. Carlos Cupas, Secretario General, SPSP
Elaborado con aportes de miembros de la SPSP

Notas:

1. # Maurice J. WHO reveals its shopping list for weapons against Zika. The Lancet 2016; 387: 733

2. # Heymann DL, Hodgson A, et al. Zika virus and microcephaly: why is this situation a PHEIC? The Lancet 2016; 387: 719-21

3. http://www.tvn-2.com/nacionales/Aumentan-casos-Zika-Panama_0_4424557545.html; acceso el 27 de febrero, 2016

4. http://ecdc.europa.eu/en/healthtopics/vectors/mosquitoes/Pages/aedes-aegypti.aspx; acceso el 21 de febrero, 2016.

http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/Zika/es/

 

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The Panama News blog links, March 26, 2016

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The Brand New Testament will be showing at the Panama International Film Festival

The Panama News blog links, March 26, 2016

American Journal of Transportation, PanCanal opens scale model training facility

Logistics Management, June 26 opening set for canal expansion

ANP, Sorteo para el primer buque que transitará por las nuevas esclusas

Taipei Times, President-elect to give Panama Canal invitation priority

Business Insider, Beijing’s unhappy about invitation to China and Taiwan

Vice News, Ships bypassing both Suez and Panama due to cheap oil

Scout, Colombia ousts Panama in World Baseball Classic qualifier

Telemetro, Panamá rescata empate frente a Haití en Puerto Príncipe

Telemetro, ¿En qué consiste el Proyecto Colón Puerto Libre?

La Estrella, FMI recomienda reformar el fondo de pensiones

Fayetteville Observer, Vélez testifies about death of Panamanian woman

STRI, New golden frog species discovered in Colombia

Reuters, CDC urges waiting period before conception after Zika infection

Prensa Latina, Panamá: crecimiento económico vs muertes por tuberculosis

Toronto.com, Ancient Panamanian treasures at a Toronto museum

Mongabay, Conservation dogs

Aumann, Beyond the Beaches of Bocas del Toro

Penn State News, Nursing and medical students in Panama medical brigade

Greenwald, Brazil engulfed by corruption — and a subversion of democracy

ABC, Portugal makes arrest in major Brazilian corruption probe

The Guardian, Massive raids in Petrobras / Odebrecht case in Brazil

COHA, Brazil’s compounding crisis

AFP: Políticos recibieron donaciones de Odebrecht, según planillas incautadas

Gulf News, Odebrecht may have damaging secrets to tell

TVN, Procurador solicita a Humbert que audite las obras de Odebrecht

Prensa Latina, Lawyer says Panama needs a new immigration law now

Right Wing Watch, Former GOP congressman threatens to move here

Stiglitz, The new generation gap

The Guardian, Che Guevara’s son on Obama in Cuba

Blades, Obama en Cuba

Indiewire, Panama: the next big country for Latin American films?

Video: How to make Jamaican Easter bun

 

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