Democrats Abroad – Panama board of directors meeting Saturday, August 13 from 1-2 p.m. — socializing afterward at the Balboa Yacht Club on the Amador Causeway
Our board meetings are open and this one is an important opportunity for rank-and-file Democrats who want to get involved in this year’s general election campaign
Meeting Topics (board members can add new business, but we do have a full plate) 1. Our next member sendout for voter registration. 2. Weekly press releases (bilingual) 3. Setting up committees 4. Contact list for visits to schools and debates 5. Outreach to local NGos for voter registration 6. Polo shirts, buttons, etc. 7. Meet with US Ambassador to coordinate our voter registration and support their outreach.
Reminder: Americans vote from abroad by absentee ballot, generally in the place where they last resided in the USA. Each state has different election laws. Some states are still having primaries but getting into September the state deadlines to register to vote and order your ballot start coming up. Federal law now requires voters living abroad to re-register to vote every election year. To look up the deadlines in the state where you vote, click here.
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On August 9 — Lawyers Day, based on the birthday of Panama’s 19th century hero lawyer, politician and diplomat Justo Arosemena — the nation’s main bar association, the Colegio de Abogados, swore in a new commission to organize a process leading the the convening of a new constitutional convention. This was the third constitutional change initiative announced in the past month and a half.
There is the possibility of a constituent assembly — constituyente or constitutional convention — being called by citizens’ petition. However, there has never been any ballot question election by this form of popular demand. It would take more than 517,000 signatures to compel the government to hold elections for delegates to such an assembly. Jaded Panamanians are wary of signing anything, because they are afraid that their signatures may be used for fraudulent purposes or their name on a petition may make them targets of retaliation by some powerful person or organization. Here people typically join political parties to get or keep government jobs and rarely do so to support some ideology or cause. People will take to the streets — often blocking them — to advance an economic interest or as an ephemeral reaction to a community crisis like a prolonged neighborhood water outage. Widespread popular movements do arise in Panama but they are few and far between.
So will the lawyers go the petition route?
In July the Cambio Democratico party announced that it would begin a petition drive this month to collect the more than half-million signatures needed to call an election for constitutional convention delegates. However, that scandal-plagued outfit is at war with itself in large part over a constitutional disagreement. The exiled party boss, former President Ricardo Martinelli, wants to purge 16 of the 25 CD legislators, while much of the party organization in the country wants to get rid of him. The petition drive is not yet underway. The party’s secretary general Rómulo Roux, who has purportedly been stripped of most of his powers by Martinelli, is going around the country campaigning for the 2019 CD presidential nomination but not saying much about the constitution on his campaign swings. It is expected that Martinelli would put top priority on a constitutional change that would allow himself to run for president again in 2019. It’s probably a set of delusions that CD alone could collect the signatures to force a convention, that delegates promising to weaken the restrictions on presidential re-elections would win a majority of such an assembly, and that Martinelli could ever again be elected to any public office in Panama.
What if CD and the lawyers began separate petition drives, and with each falling short on their own, they collected a combination of more than 517,000 signatures? That would be a novel question of law, but maybe a political logjam breaker. Either the president or a majority of the legislature could call for the election of a constituent assembly and more than half a million people who want one might be a force that they wouldn’t want to resist.
The novel questions of law would also give the politicians room to maneuver and manipulate. Would the elections be partisan or nonpartisan? Would the delegates be elected at large in each province or comarca, or would there be districts, perhaps some version of the weird mix of single-member and multi-member districts by which the National Assembly is elected? These would be questions for the Supreme Court, the legislature and the Electoral Tribunal to decide, and perhaps to bicker about among themselves. (Polls have consistently shown for many years that the high court and the assembly are widely detested, while the electoral magistrates have a somewhat better reputation.)
Can the lawyers get the signatures on their own? Bernal is a veteran campaigner, but he has never pulled off such a monumental feat. Then there is that current of popular opinion that holds the legal profession itself responsible for Panama’s constitutional woes. The endless stream of motions that has kept Martinelli from a Panamanian penal court’s defendants’ dock would be seen as one of the proofs by many people of that opinion. (The blockage that’s keeping the extradition request bottled up in the Ministry of Foreign Relations is just gravy for the legal system, but one of the sources of public discontent with Varela’s administration.)
President Juan Carlos Varela ran for office on a pledge to call a constitutional convention, then backed off because he said that there would be no guarantee of the outcome of such a process. In his July 1 speech at the start of the current legislative session, he said that he would work on a “road map” for constitutional change over the next year. However, Varela’s popularity is declining and his party’s 17-member caucus in a 71-member National Assembly is showing signs of disunity, such that his ability to control the outcome of a constitutional process is doubtful.
Both Cambio Democratico and the PRD have called for a constituent assembly, but both of those parties are bitterly divided to the extent that the faction leaders might hesitate to start a contest in which their prospects would be doubtful. Ordinarily, though, the combined PRD and CD caucuses would have the votes to convene a constitutional convention regardless of Varela’s wishes.
“The usual,” done four times before, would be for a compromise package of constitutional changes around the margins to be passed by the current legislature, then ratified by the legislature elected in 2019. Bernal and many others say that another patch will not suffice. If there is any politically viable partial patch it’s neither obvious nor currently a subject of public discussion. Firing the entire Supreme Court, holding early elections for a new president and legislature and curbing the power of the political parties — all of these ideas are being bandied about. Just not by the president, the legislators, the magistrates or the party bosses.
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En tres ciudades se presentará
el Festival ICARO Panamá
El GECU de la Universidad de Panamá y la Fundación pro Artes Escénicas y Audiovisuales (FAE) anuncian que el FESTIVAL DE CINE ICARO PANAMÁ 2016 se realizará este septiembre por primera vez en tres ciudades del país: en Panamá del 21 al 27, en Colón del 26 al 28 y en David del 26 al 30, con los auspicios de la Dirección General de Cine del MICI, la Alcaldía de Panamá y la Autoridad de Turismo y con la colaboración de Casa Comal de Guatemala, el Centro Cultural de España, el Teatro Amador, el Hotel Wyndham Panama Albrook y Alamo.
Buscando llegar a la mayor cantidad de públicos este evento gratuito contará con varios locales de exhibición, siendo ellos, en la capital, el Teatro Amador, el Estudio Multiuso del GECU, el Centro Cultural de España y el Teatro Gladis Vidal del Municipio; en Colón la Biblioteca Mateo Iturralde, en colaboración con la Alcaldía de Colón y el grupo cultural Contrapeso y en David la Universidad Nacional de Chiriquí (UNACHI), gracias a alianza con este centro educativo y la Fundación Montilla.
La programación incluirá una selección de películas centroamericanas premiadas en el pasado Festival Internacional de Cine ICARO en Centroamérica, con sede en Guatemala; una selección de películas de todas partes del mundo también galardonadas en dicho certamen y la presentación de las películas panameñas seleccionadas por un jurado local e internacional para representar al país en dicho encuentro regional en noviembre próximo, de entre las que respondieron a la convocatoria.
El ICARO Panamá contará este año con un programa de actividades formativas mucho más ambicioso, compuesto por talleres, conversatorios y mesas redondas desarrolladas por cineastas extranjeros y nacionales invitados, dirigido a reforzar las capacidades y conocimientos de los cineastas del medio, especialmente de los más jóvenes. Mayor información a email@example.com o al 6398-1875.
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Many of you already know that I’ve endorsed a candidate, Tim Canova, who is challenging the former head of the Democratic Party Debbie Wasserman Schultz in Florida.
This race is very important for Our Revolution because if we can win this tough fight in Florida, it will send a clear message about the power of our grassroots movement that will send shockwaves through the political and media establishments. The latest poll shows us within reach.
July 31 Poll Debbie Wasserman Schultz: 46% Tim Canova: 38% Undecided: 16%
This is going to be close.
Much like in our campaign for president, Tim started off as a major underdog in this race, battling a well-known and well-established person who was the chairwoman of the Democratic Party.
He is running a tough campaign on the kind of progressive platform we need to see in this country: opposing the Trans-Pacific Partnership, backing free tuition at public colleges and universities, reforming a corrupt campaign finance system and raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour. Tim is on the side of working people and that’s why we need to help him win.
The recent emails leaked from Democratic Party staff showed that under Debbie Wasserman Schultz, DNC staff were not exactly fair and even-minded during the presidential primary. What was revealed wasn’t much of a shock to us, because we knew all along that the establishment wasn’t on our side.
But now that Debbie Wasserman Schultz has resigned we have the opportunity to transform the Democratic Party and open up its doors to working people and young people — people who want real change. Democrats must make it crystal clear that their party is prepared to take on Wall Street and the powerful corporate interests whose greed is doing so much harm to our country. We must stand with Americans who are working longer hours for lower wages, the uninsured, students leaving school deeply in debt and all those worried about climate change.
I believe Tim Canova is the kind of candidate whose policies will move the Democratic Party and our country in that direction. Electing Tim will send a strong message to the Democratic establishment about what this party should stand for. That’s why I’m asking you today to help send him to Congress.
This race has been an uphill battle from the very beginning, but the latest poll has us very close. I am confident we can win this fight with your support.
Thank you for being a part of Our Revolution.
To donate money to Tim Canova’s campaign click here
To donate your labor to Tim Canova’s campaign click here
Is US politics getting back to a “The Russians are coming” discourse? If so, does it make any sense at all?
Russians tend not to think like Americans on some key issues, but then a big part of the difference was accentuated in the 20th century by Americans who trace ancestral roots back to the Russian Empire, albeit that they were not ethnic Russians as such.
Geography and history shape the Russian outlook on government. From a Western viewpoint, invading Russia has been the height of folly. Hitler learned it the hard way. So did Napoleon. So did the Teutonic Knights. Each in their turn beat the hell out of the Russians — at first. And what was left of Russia retreated, then retreated some more, and then winter set in and the invaders had impossibly long supply lines to protect. On its western end Russia has no natural boundaries that can be usefully fortified. Its protective barrier is vast open spaces, which throughout its history it has tried to push ever westward via conquests or the establishment of vassal states, protectorates or lesser allies along its periphery.
If you are a Finn, a Pole, a Lithuanian, a Czech or a Ukrainian, you are likely to be less sympathetic to Russian concerns about being naturally defenseless on the western side. Get into the extra added complications of church and state, and how Russia relates to its ethnic minorities, and you will begin to understand the mass exodus to America of Jews living in areas under Russian control or domination in the 19th and 20th centuries. Among this part of the Jewish diaspora were the theater people who by and large founded Hollywood. It’s not just that the Jewish film moguls, screenwriters, directors and actors embraced an American culture that was already anti-authoritarian. (That goes back to the resentments that led the pilgrims to flee the Church of England and later the 13 colonies to resent impositions like the Navigation Acts and the Stamp Tax.) The abuses of the czars, and then of the commissars, and the pogroms that the Russian state would neither prevent nor suppress and occasionally provoked, were part of the collective ethnic memory that went into the foundations of Hollywood culture.
Looking toward the east and south, Russians have another set of fears. They conquered places with some formidable natural barriers — mountains, deserts and the vast expanse of Siberia — but a lot of the Muslim peoples whom they conquered or dominated have long resented the Russians and have periodically risen in rebellion. Before those conquests and the establishment of Cossack settlements to defend them, part of Russia’s formative experience was a quite brutal conquest from the east, by the Mongols.
From the Russian perspective, to have a weak leader is to invite invasions and encourage revolts on the periphery, leading to death and suffering on a massive scale for ordinary Russians. After Mikhail Gorbachev and Boris Yeltsin presided over the loss of an empire and a consequent decline in the average life span of Russians — particularly the men — former KGB man Vladimir Putin looked and acted the part of a strong leader regardless of how strong a hand he actually held. Russians have appreciated that. Putin’s actions are at least partly explained by his political need to look strong. It’s a hard act to keep up these days because Russia has an economy mostly based on resource extraction — oil, gas, metals, timber and so on — at a time when commodity prices are down and countries that rely on such sources of income are hurting.
Are the Western powers going to install a regime subservient to them in the Ukraine, some 350 miles by a highway with no natural choke point from Moscow? Russians expect and demand their leader to take a hard line about that. Put nukes in Estonia, some 85 miles from Russia’s second city, St. Petersburg? Expect Russians, including Putin, to go ballistic about that idea.
What really happened in the last Cold War with greater Russia, the Soviet Union and its Warsaw Pact dependencies? Vast amounts of money and many human lives were expended in proxy wars which the USA and the USSR respectively lost, in Vietnam and then in Afghanistan. Then there was this insanely expensive nuclear weapons race. The Russian economic engine blew up first. Look at it as two teenagers drag racing daddy’s Lada against the other daddy’s Ford. But the Ford engine hasn’t been running very well since then either.
It’s a reasonable US military policy to be ready to fight anyone if the need arises. It’s not a reasonable US policy to pick a fight with the Russians by provoking them along their borders.
Do American voters face a policy choice between neoconservative belligerence toward Russia and a blowhard who has been known to hang out with Russian mobsters and who now — whether seriously or in jest — invites Putin to wage computer warfare against his election opponent? If Russia indeed cares to tip the balance, what is Putin to do?
The choice for the Russian leader is not obvious. Half of Hillary Clinton’s party is in the antiwar camp and will not readily accept a new military adventure. Half of Donald Trump’s party is appalled at the potential effect of his wild foreign policy pronouncements, one of which appears to be a retreat from Western guarantees of the Baltic states’ independence from Russia.
Sure, Putin might like an apparent rusophile in the White House, except that this particular one would be dangerously unpredictable. Having dealt with Napoleon and then Hitler, Russians tend to be particularly wary of maniac adversaries. (They had Ivan the Terrible and the non-Russian Josef Stalin, but generally draw different conclusions about those guys than Americans do.)
Rivals, allies or ever-changing mixes of both — those are all basic US-Russian paradigms with which both countries can live as the need arises. The ruin of both is avoided only if ways are found to limit the mutual damage that can be done by hostilities getting out of hand. In the worst case scenarios the costs of failure are expressed in terms of body counts but it would be foolhardy to discount the economic disasters that can happen without a shot being fired.
The people of the respective countries are not going to agree on things like the practical definitions of freedom, strength and safety. But there is a shared interest in having leaders who understand the math of decisions made or not made. A failed relationship between two major powers is not something that can be easily walked away from, like, say, from a bankrupt casino.
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After a month of internal bickering, the Panameñista Party caucus in the National Assembly decided to make deputy Jorge Ivan Arrocha head of the Budget Committee, the most sought-after post in a legislature that’s set up by the constitution as a political patronage sop to the political caste in a system dominated by a strong national executive. (Back when the constitution was written, that centralized executive power was held by the top military commander, but since the 1989 invasion it’s the president.) In a fragmented and realigned legislature wherein most of the deputies of the two largest party caucuses, the PRD and Cambio Democratico, have thumbed their noses at their respective party bosses, the ruling alliance among Panameñistas, PRD dissidents and CD dissidents assigned the chair of that committee to President Varela’s party, the Panameñistas. Up stepped Panameñista legislator Carlos Santana — almost a caricature of the grasping machine politician with a hyperdeveloped sense of entitlement — who cited a succession deal from last year’s version of the alliance, by which he would be the next chair of that committee. But the thing is, his fellow party members in the legislature despise the guy, and they voted to choose Miguel Salas instead.
With loud protests about betrayal, Santana vowed to take the decision to the assembly’s floor, where the Panameñistas’ decision might get overruled by deputies from both within and outside of the ruling alliance. (What better way to make some mischief if you’re loyal to PRD president Benicio Robinson or exiled CD owner Ricardo Martinelli and thus cut out of influence, than to disrupt the other faction’s control of the Budget Committee?)
Further secret meetings were held, the Panameñistas came up with Arrocha as a third choice and on August 8 National Assembly president Rubén De León swore in the new Budget Committee for a legislative session that began on July 1.
What a mess, you might observe? More than a week into August, and 10 of the legislature’s 15 committees are yet to be installed and functioning. That’s one-tenth of the middle year of Varela’s term with the National Assembly in self-paralysis.
Is this to be Panama’s moment to bask in the sun of worldwide acclaim for the opening of the larger new locks? The Panama Canal Authority’s hired PR hands and the sycophants of the rabiblanco press — whose bosses’ banks, construction companies, PR firms and so on, as well as the media businesses for which they work, have made a lot of money off of the expansion — have been dutifully pumping up that narrative. But there were at least three accidents in the first 55 transits by the bigger ships and notwithstanding efforts to define that problem away, the ACP narrative is ever less accepted by the world press.
Those looking on from afar, however, generally don’t catch the real mess in the ACP: as a business the Panama Canal is hurting. Thus it’s looking to develop new revenue streams, and that has economic interests both within and outside of the organization at war with one another.
Is the ACP going into the ports business? So they say, and steps along that way are well advanced. In the proposed Corozal and Diablo port plan’s earlier iterations, everything was set for a managed bidding process that would give the private concession for that to the Motta family. Resistance was raised in the legislature and elsewhere in Panamanian society, so as the process continued into prior qualifications to submit bids the Mottas were eliminated from consideration. Panama Ports, which has the adjacent Port of Balboa concession, still doesn’t like it. Nor does the Panama Maritime Authority, into whose bailiwick ports traditionally fall. Nor do the canal pilots, who think that a port in the planned place would pose a navigation hazard.
So can the ACP board just brush off those objections and proceed? Not quite. See, the plans for the new port include a sewage treatment facility to serve the ships that call there. It’s the environmentally responsible feature for a major seaport to have in this day and age. The thing is, one of Ricardo Martinelli’s appointees to the ACP board — the overall qualities of whom is another whole set of issues — is Lourdes Castillo. So what, other than being a Martinelli loyalist, was her qualification for the board? Her company does the garbage collection and sewage removal for Panama Ports. As in, she considers herself entitled, if not to get the sewage contract outright, for her company to be allowed to bid on it. As in, no sewage treatment as an integral part of the new port. With some help from colleagues she shut down the board meeting about the bid specifications over that issue.
The National Assembly and the Panama Canal Authority board don’t register on too many screens outside of Panama. But the Panama Papers did, and although the rush of headlines is over it still does. Yes, the Brits are rid of the Prime Minister whose family fortune was in part the product of his father’s tax evasion via a shell game set up by Mossack Fonseca, and the UK parliamentary commission that was set up to look into that and related questions in the wake of the data dump of the law firm’s files appears to be something of a dead letter. Yes, Vladimir Putin brushed aside embarrassments about people close to him — and is now going after lesser Russians who were named. Maltese and Pakistani leaders are still being questioned and calling for an end to the questions. HSBC may have warned that legal consequences from the revelations may yet affect its bottom line, but there were signs that the whole thing was about to blow over.
Then came a preliminary report from an all-star international commission that Varela appointed with the scandal was in full scream, and it wasn’t what the president wanted to see and certainly not what the corporate lawyers and financial services people in his entourage wanted the Panamanian people and the world press to see. The president moved to suppress that preliminary word, and notified the committee that their eventual findings might or might not be published, according to political expediency. The commission’s American chair, Nobel economics laureate Joseph Stiglitz, resigned along with the seven-member panel’s Swiss expert, former OECD anti-bribery task force leader Mark Pieth. The resignations were accompanied by a statement about lack of transparency and the world press did take notice, even as pundits of the rabiblanco media muttered about foreigners manipulating Panama, or being disloyal to their generous boss, or displaying bad manners. Varela, his social class and their caste of mouthpieces appear not to understand that world-class experts with earned reputations need not check their ethics and opinions at the door as their domestic servants are expected to do.
It’s a gaffe that will accelerate international moves against banking and corporate secrecy, in Panama especially but elsewhere as well. Most inconveniently for Varela, that tangle disrupted the plan just as he was getting into trade war mode.
Trade war? Panama’s going to war with anybody, in any fashion, over any matter?
Panama has this trade dispute with Colombia over duties that the latter imposes on textiles and shoes coming through the Colon Free Zone. Mainly it’s about Colombia trying to develop its own apparel industries without competition from cheap Asian good that in this region typically pass through the duty-free import/export zone in Colon. Because of the economic weakness of its traditional customers — particularly the Venezuelans — the Free Zone is seriously hurting these days, and the extra hit of Colombian trade measures aggravates the situation. The dispute has been running for some years, with Bogota insisting that it’s about the money laundering that goes on via the Free Zone and represents a big loss to Colombian tax collectors. The World Trade Organization ruled in Panama’s favor earlier this year, but Colombia isn’t budging. Instead, the Colombians are putting off implementation of a previously agreed bilateral free trade deal and using their influence to keep Panama out of the regional Pacific Alliance trade pact.
The argument with Colombia is atop a growing pile of present or contemplated trade measures that discriminate against Panama, almost all of them said to be due to money laundering, tax evasion and other undesired phenomena arising from Panamanian banking and corporate secrecy laws. Much of the Panama Papers scandal was about a Panama-based law firm setting up financial shell games played in other jurisdictions. That may be conveniently ignored by the British, whose crown dependencies account for several of those “other” places, and by the politicians of other rich countries’ whose financial backers are the sorts of people who comprise the tax havens’ customer bases. The hypocrisy of it may be protested by Mossack Fonseca, which was caught working with some particularly ugly criminals as well as the more genteel international jet set tax cheats. The Varela administration ignored all that and talks about enforcement of previously existing international agreements, and not only in terms of special duties on goods coming from those places, costlier visas for people of those nationalities and bans on certain foreign companies seeking Panamanian government contracts. One of the threats is to bar the passage through Panama of cargoes or persons associated with a nation that imposes financial sanctions on Panama.
As in, we were hearing bluster about highly self-destructive things that Panama might do if other countries don’t leave folks like the Mossacks and the Fonsecas alone when the Stiglitz and Pieth resignations put Panama back into world headlines. You won’t read it that way in La Prensa or see Alvaro Alvarado put it that way on TV, so maybe the incongruity will fly over the Panamanian electorate’s head for now. It will be interesting to see whether it affects Varela’s short-term standing in opinion polls. But if the president is serious about picking any substantial trade war with anybody, that’s a strategy with a low probability of success and a high risk of public indignation in the event of a loss.
Ah, but all news is not negative for Varela. He went to Poland for the Catholic Church’s biennial World Youth Day, lobbying European governments about trade matters while he was on their continent. There is little published word about his talks with government leaders, but Varela did come back with a papal commitment to hold the 2019 World Youth Day here. But where in Panama? The church has yet to say, but if tales of one venue in Anton are accurate, that would be yet another rekindled international controversy.
Varela’s malaise is often portrayed by his critics as tortuguismo, a turtle-like pace at everything that he does. It’s probably more accurately perceived as extreme caution about stepping on long-established prerogatives and ways of doing things among Panama’s economic elites. It sometimes saps his popularity with the general public, and sometimes gets him stalled in squabbles among the lesser figures of the political caste. Most recently, however, it’s making Panama look ridiculous to the rest of the world. Is it a matter of the outside world misunderstanding about the ways that things have always been done here? More likely it’s a rather accurate understanding, coupled with a growing insistence that Panama can’t go on this way.
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Professor Mark Pieth, who these days teaches at the University of Basel and once headed the OECD’s working group on bribery in international transactions, is a well known authority on white collar crime that crosses borders. He was among those hired by the Varela administration to be part of a “transparency commission” to study and report about the Panama Papers revelations and their significance. He and former Nobel economics prize laureate Joseph Stiglitz, another high profile member of that commission, resigned after the Panamanian government delayed — perhaps forever — publication of a preliminary report and backtracked on its commitment to publish its final report.
The Panama News reached Pieth by email, with three brief but broad questions about the Swiss model that was in part as a banking center for the world’s major criminals, allegations of manipulation that are being aired in Panama’s rabiblanco media and the future of countries which base much of their economies on being financial havens for tax evaders or other sorts of criminals. The following was his reply:
Dear Mr Jackson,
Thank you for your pertinent questions.
To take your first and last question together: in fact, the reaction of official Panama to the data-publication reminded me very much of the attitude of Swiss bankers to foreign critique: denial.
It is correct that the opacity and abuses by the company services industry are not a Panamanian speciality. This is a worldwide problem. All the more it is difficult to understand why the Panamanian Government panicked when they realized that the international experts they had called were going to address the issue from a broader perspective.
Going back to the Swiss experience: Switzerland has realized that there is no chance of survival for a financial center without adopting, implementing and above all applying international standards on preventing tax evasion, money laundering and the like. So the rules have been adopted, and they will be implemented. Instead of living off bank secrecy the Swiss banks are in the process of changing their business model. Likewise Panama would be well advised to develop a new role in the world of business.
On manipulation: Well I think the whole action was quite unprofessional by Government: You don’t ask internationally renowned experts to advise, parade them to the media in order to tell them what to write and that you might keep their report confidential.
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