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Avnery, President-elect Trump

Soon to have a soul brother in the White House? It’s hard to say what will change in US relations with Israel. Obama generally said that he opposed what Avigdor Lieberman stood for, but never withheld any financial or political support for it. But right after Trump’s election the Israeli government took the opportunity to  “legalize” all of the informal seizures of Arab-owned land on the West Bank and in East Jerusalem to build segregated Jews-only housing projects.

The President-elect

by Uri Avnery

The first shock has passed. President-elect Donald Trump. I am gradually getting used to the sound of these words.

We are entering an era of complete uncertainty. We Israelis and the entire world. From shoe-shine boy to head of state.

Nobody knows.

But first we must say goodbye to Barack Obama.

Frankly, I like the guy. There is something noble about him. Upright. Honest. Idealistic.

When the cameras showed him this week sitting together with Donald Trump, the contrast could not have been greater. Obama is the anti-Trump. Trump is the anti-Obama.

And yet….

Yet in all the eight long years of his presidency, President Obama has done nothing, nothing at all, for peace in our region.

In these eight years, the Israeli ulra-right has flourished. Settlements in the occupied territories have multiplied and grown larger. After every new settlement expansion, the State Department has dutifully condemned it. And then given Binyamin Netanyahu another few billions. And the latest gift was the biggest ever.

When he came into office, Obama made some very beautiful speeches in Cairo and Jerusalem. Many exquisite words. And they were just that: mere words.

Some people believe that now, when Obama is free of all obligations, he will use his last two months in power to atone for his sins and do something meaningful for Israeli-Palestinian peace. I doubt it.

(Years ago, at some European congress, I accused the Spanish Diplomat Miguel Moratinos of doing nothing for Israeli-Palestinian peace. In his aggressive reply, he accused me of sheer impertinence. Why should anyone do anything for the Israeli peace forces, if these forces themselves do nothing to achieve peace?)

Have we heard the last of the Obama family? I am not sure. Somehow I have the idea that after four or eight years we will see another Obama running for president: Michelle Obama, the wildly and rightly popular first lady, who has all the qualities needed: She is black. She is a woman. She is highly intelligent. She has a sterling character. (Unless in the New America, these are all negative qualities.)

There was some comfort in the election results. Hillary Clinton got more votes than Donald Trump. She lost in the electoral college.

To a foreigner, this institution looks as obsolete as a dinosaur. It may have had its uses when the United States of America (in the plural) were really a federation of diverse and different local entities.

These days are long past. We now used the term “United States” in the singular. The US does. The US thinks. The US votes.

What is the profound difference between a voter in Arizona and a voter in Montana? Why should the vote of a citizen in Oregon weight more that the vote of a citizen in New York or California?

The electoral college is undemocratic. It should have been done away with a long time ago. But political institutions die slowly, if at all. Somebody always profits from them. This time it is Trump.

A similar antiquated system is the appointing of Supreme Court judges.

The Supreme Court has immense power, cutting deep into the private life of every US citizen. Enough to mention abortions and same-sex marriages. It also influences international relations and much more.

Yet the power to appoint new judges rests solely in the hands of the president. A new president changes the composition of the court, and lo and behold, the entire legal and political situation changes.

In Israel, the very opposite prevails. Years ago, new judges were practically appointed by the old judges, “a friend brings a friend,” as popular humor had it.

Later this system was changed a bit — Supreme Court judges are now chosen by a committee of nine, three of which are sitting judges, two others are politicians from the Knesset (one each from the government coalition and from the opposition), two are government ministers and two represent the bar association.

Five of the members of the committee must be women. One of the judges on the committee is an Arab, appointed by seniority.

But the decisive point of the law is that any appointment must be made by a majority of seven members –- seven of nine. This means in practice that the three sitting judges on the committee have a veto power on any appointment. So have the politicians. A judge can only be appointed by compromise.

Until now, this system has worked very well. No complaints have been registered. But the new Minister of Justice, a rabid ultra-nationalist woman, wants to change the system: no more majority of seven, but a simple majority of five. This would give decisive power to the right-wing politicians and abolish the power of the three judges to block political appointments.

This proposal has aroused very strong opposition, and the debate is still going on.

How to describe the incoming president, less than two weeks after his election?

The first word that springs to mind is: erratic.

We saw this during the election campaign. He would say two contradictory things in the same breath. Say something and deny it. Flatter one section of the voters and then their enemies.

OK, OK some people would say. So what. A candidate will say anything to get elected.

True, but this particular candidate overdid it. He presented a very nasty personality, devoid of civility, propagating hatred of blacks, Hispanics, and gays, denigrating women, not rejecting outright anti-Semites and neo-Nazis.

But it worked, right? It got him where he wanted to be, didn’t it? It does not compel him to go on in the same vein, now that he has reached his goal. So, forget it.

Some people are now dreaming of a completely new Trump, a person who abandons all his old slogans and declaration and turns out to be a sensible politician, using his proven talent for deal-making in order to achieve the things necessary to make America great again.

As a candidate he did the things necessary to get elected. Once in office he will do the things necessary to govern.

Other people pour cold water on these hopes. Trump is Trump, they say. He will be as nasty a president as he was a nasty candidate. A far-right hate-monger. His every step will be dictated by his ugly world of ideas. Look, his first major appointment was of a rabid anti-Semite as his closest advisor.

WELL, I don’t know. Nobody does. I tend to believe that he himself does not either.

I think that we are in for four years of uncertainty. Faced with a problem he knows nothing about, he will act according to his mood of the moment. He will take advice from nobody, and nobody will know in advance what will be his decision. I feel fairly certain about this.

Some of his decisions may be very good. Some may be very bad. Some intelligent. Some idiotic.

As I said: erratic.

The world will have to live with this. It will be highly risky. It may turn out right. It may also lead to catastrophe.

People have compared Trump to Adolf Hitler. But the comparison is quite erroneous.

Apart from their German-Austrian descent, they have nothing in common. Hitler was no billionaire. He was a real man from the people –- an unemployed nobody, who lived for some time in a public shelter.

Hitler did have a Weltanschauung, a fixed world-view. He was a fanatic. When he came to power, people deceived themselves into believing that he would soon give up his demagogic, rabble-rousing ideas. He did not. Until the day of his suicide, Hitler did not change his ideology one iota. Tens of millions of victims, including the millions of Jews, testify to that.

Trump is no Hitler. He is no Mussolini. Nor even a Franco. He is a Trump.

And that may be bad enough. Maybe.

So do up your safety belt and hold on tight for the roller-coaster ride.


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Editorials, A civil rights leader Americans need; and Guns in Panama

King Christian X of Denmark, who stayed in his country and retained his title during the German occupation. There is a legend that he wore a yellow star in solidarity with Danish Jews, which is is not actually true. What is true is that under the king's moral leadership and with the assistance of cops, fishing boat owners and Danes from all walks of life, when the Nazis came to round up Denmark's 7,000 or so Jews nobody would turn them in and most were able to flee to neutral and unoccupied Sweden. Only about 500 Danish Jews were caught and sent to concentration camps.
King Christian X of Denmark, who stayed in his country and retained his title during the German occupation. There is a legend that he wore a yellow star in solidarity with Danish Jews, which is is not actually true. What is true is that under the king’s moral leadership and with the assistance of police officers, fishing boat owners and Danes from all walks of life, when the Nazis came to round up Denmark’s 7,000 or so Jews nobody would turn them in and most were able to flee to neutral and unoccupied Sweden. Only about 500 Danish Jews were caught and sent to concentration camps.

A civil rights leader for our times

The days when African-American and Jewish leaders marched together for civil rights came and went. One of the oldest civil rights groups in the United States, the Anti-Defamation League, was founded in 1913 after the Ku Klux Klan lynching of a Jewish businessman in Atlanta. It’s now an international organization, with a small presence in Panama. The ADL mainly defends Jews against defamation, discrimination and violence but also speaks out against all sorts of bigotry and racism.

Both Jews and Gentiles can and do argue about the ADL’s stands with respect to the human rights policies of Israel. However, we should recall that back in 1985 when Palstinian-American activists Alex Odeh was killed in a bombing of the American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee office in Los Angeles, the ADL was one of the first non-Arab organizations in the United States to call for the perpetrators to be brought to justice — something that has yet to happen.

Now, to the cheers of racists and bigots, including some who are Jewish, Donald Trump calls for a registry of all Muslims in the USA. But Jonathan Greenblatt, who heads the Anti-Defamation League, stood up before a meeting called to fight anti-Semitism and said: “I pledge to you right here and now, because I care about the fight against anti-Semitism, that if one day in these United States, if one day Muslim-Americans will be forced to register their identities, then that is the day that this proud Jew will register as a Muslim.”

A USA that is in dark times that will get darker needs civil rights leaders to avoid such a registry and many other threatened affronts to human dignity and equality. Greenblatt advises well on which way Americans of good will, regardless of their faith or lack thereof, ought to go in the face of injustice. Let us hope that if such a registry is created by the Trump administration, there will be a long line of Americans at the US Embassy here, demanding inclusion on that list.


Panama’s own constitutional gun issues

Did President Varela get rid of a minister who repeated US gun sellers’ false advertising and tried to make it Panamanian government policy? Good for him. Here the constitution says that weapons of war may not be privately possessed and that citizens’ and foreign residents’ rights to keep other sorts of firearms are subject to regulation by law. The US Second Amendment does not apply here.

But Panama’s constitution also, but a 1994 amendment, says that we have no army and that our national defense is to call civilians up to a militia commanded by the National Police in times of emergency. The constitution provides that Panamanians must take up arms in case of war, and allows no exceptions for religious or other sorts of pacifists.

The reality is that our National Frontier Service (SENAFRONT), our National Aeronaval Service (SENAN) and parts of our National Police have become de facto military forces under the tutelage of US forces whose presence here is protected under secret agreements and rarely acknowledged. Whether we want to openly have a military again is a proper subject to debate when drafting a new constitution. With Donald Trump coming to power in the USA, whether we want to continue this military relationship with the United States or look instead to our Latin American neighbors for training and expertise is something to look into regardless of any constitutional considerations.

But what if we keep the presently prescribed scheme, and try to make it something more than a dead letter? That will, as a practical matter, require every citizen to acquire military skills. Pacifists who will not make war ought to have the other skills needed to be called up as paramedics, firefighters or so on in the event of a national emergency. The ordinary Panamanian adult would need to have undergone basic military training and know how to fire, clean, disassemble and assemble an assault rifle. Warfare would have to be studied in the schools.

There are good reasons for a nation that’s not very warlike to reject the requirements of a working militia system and instead rely on a small military caste. There are also good reasons not to have a military force, and even better ones not to be subject to a foreign army. Panama has suffered too much under men in uniform, both foreign and domestic. Surely there is no perfect answer, but there can be no acceptable one without addressing some realities that are omitted in the present constitution’s passages about arms.


Bear in mind…

We have only the people’s hearts and minds to depend upon. If we cast them aside and lose the people’s hearts, what can we use to sustain the country?

Empress Dowager Cixi

The people have made their decision — the bastards!

Dick Tuck

Property-owners are the most energetic flag-waggers and patriots in every country, but only so long as they enjoy their possessions: to safeguard those they desert God, King and Country in a twinkling.

C.L.R. James


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High court to consider same-sex marriage

Panama's main Evangelical organization, the Alianza Evangelica de Panama, which has marched against gay marriage in the past and puts out messages like this, promises vigils and protests over this court case. The Evangelicals are a minority in this mostly Catholic country. The Catholic Church also opposes same-sex marriages but is also a bit more wary about being seen as grossly intolerant than the Evangelicals who published this graphic are.
Panama’s main Evangelical organization, the Alianza Evangelica de Panama, which has marched against gay marriage in the past and puts out messages like this, promises vigils and protests over this court case. The Evangelicals are a minority in this mostly Catholic country. The Catholic Church also opposes same-sex marriages but is also a bit more wary about being seen as grossly intolerant than the Evangelicals who published this graphic are.

Supreme Court to hear constitutional challenge to same-sex marriage ban

by Eric Jackson

Polls would suggest that most Panamanians don’t want to hear it, but the Supreme Court has agreed that it will. In October Panamanian lawyer Enrique Jelenszky and British businessman John Winstanley, represented by the expensive law firm Morgan & Morgan, challenged the constitutionality of Article 26 of Panama’s Family Code, which defines marriage as a union between a man and a woman. Panama’s constitution states some lofty principles that tend to get defined into meaninglessness. Arguably the challenged part of our family law violates Article 19 of the Constitution because it entails prohibited privileges, immunities and discrimination on grounds of sex and social class; or violates Article 26 guarantees of the inviolability of the home. But Article 35 of the Constitution, while providing for religious freedom, also demands “respect for Christian morals” and acknowledges Catholicism as the majority religion.

Jelenszky and Winstanly have lived together for 17 years and about eight years ago they registered a civil union under British law at the UK Embassy here. Since then the United Kingdom has provided that such unions are or can be marriages. In September they tried to record their marriage in the Panamanian Registro Civil, were turned away, and then filed their legal challenge.

The Alianza Evangelica de Panama accuses the couple of intending to destroy Panamanian families and says that they will be holding protests. The Asociacion de Hombres y Mujeres Nuevos de Panama (AMNP), the nation’s main organization that advocates for the civil rights of gay men, lesbians, bisexuals and transgendered persons, is rallying behind Jelenszky and Winstanley. “We will fight until everyone is equal before the law,” AHMNP leader Ricardo Beteta Bond declared on his Facebook page.


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Gandásegui, Panama and Donald Trump


Chump Ocean Club at left

Panama and Donald Trump

by Marco A. Gandásegui, hijo

Panama and the United States have had a difficult relationship for more than a century and a half. To an increasing extent the Isthmus of Panama was turned into a fundamental piece in the expansion plans of North American capitalists. The construction of the trans-isthmian railroad (1850-1855) and the Panama Canal (1904-1914) were strategic in the consolidation of an empire that extended over a continent and into the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. Later Panama was turned into an enormous military base for the US wars against Japan (1941-1945) and later, Korea and Vietnam (1951-1975). The bases of the old Canal Zone also served to intervene in and invade all of the countries of Latin America, turning it into the US “back yard.”

Over the course of more than 175 years Panama has done battle with dozens of governments and their executives. The cousins Teddy and Franklin Roosevelt, the Bushes (father and son), Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan are some of the best remembered, for good and bad. Presidents of the United States have masterminded invasions, coups d’etat, assassination conspiracies and mockeries of the Panamanian people.

The US president-elect, Donald Trump, appears on the horizon as a novel and unpredictable political phenomenon. For the financial world the businessman is a question mark — his rhetoric against the misnamed “free trade” has shaken stock markets on all continents. President Juan Carlos Varela, answering a question about Trump’s election, failed to come up with a coherent answer. The Panamanian government still has no policy to deal with the next White House tenant.

Washington has had a very clear policy about Panama since the 1989 invasion. How to collate this US position on Panama with Trump’s ideas? It is a question whose answer we will come to know, as they begin to square (if they fit) the foreign policy objectives of the new administration.

US foreign policy has had three objectives in Panama since the 1989 invasion. First, to assure that traffic through the canal is not interrupted. Second, for Panama to serve as a launching pad for its militaristic policy on the regional level. At the same time this is useful in its “War on Drugs” policy. Finally, for Panama to develop along the neo-liberal guidelines of “the Washington Consensus” that were specified in the free trade treaty that was signed by both countries. Politically, the United States has delegated the responsibility to govern the country to a small Panamanian elite. That elite has done very poorly, speculating with the extraordinary income that running the Panama Canal generates, running up a growing debt and destabilizing the political regime with a growing corruption that’s a product of militarization. In 20 years they have ruined agriculture and industry, destroyed the health and education systems and allowed the system of representative government to fall into the hands of an insatiable mafia.

President-elect Donald Trump has no personal interests in Panama, only his name on one of the hotel towers that adorn’s the capital’s skyline. Five years ago Trump did opine about the Panama Canal and the way that the 1977 negotiations that allowed its turnover to the Panamanian government turned out.

In a 2011 business visit to Panama City, Trump said that “Panama is doing very well with the canal, there are so many workers, there is so much employment — to think that the United States stupidly gave up the canal in exchange for nothing.” Trump does no more than to insistently repeat what President Reagan said after the Torrijos-Carter treaties were signed in 1977 until the day he died. A Panamanian government minister predicted (with great skill) in 2011 that what Trump intended with his statements was to launch his candidacy for the presidency of his country. Incidentally, the city council declared him persona non grata for those remarks.

Following the logic of his campaign, Trump could ask Panama to contribute part of its income, based on canal tolls, to the “War on Drugs” (increasing arms purchases from the United States, building more air and naval bases with US materials and training more repressive forces at the still-existing School of the Americas. He could also demand that Panama eliminate its few remaining tariffs so as to inundate its market with imported farm products, definitively destroying Panamanian agriculture.


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Panama’s financial reputation in the dumps with pressures mounting

Stiglitz & Pieth Report
Click here to read the entire 25-page report.

Varela’s damage control collapses before an international outcry

by Eric Jackson

The complaint that leaks from the Mossack Fonseca law firm are unfairly called “The Panama Papers” by a president whose right-hand man was Ramón Fonseca has failed to change international rhetoric. The Public Ministry’s vow to get the bottom of it that turned out to be a bungled investigation of who leaked the documents with no inquiry at all into the criminal activities indicated in the papers themselves made the attorney general a global laughingstock. The appointment of a high profile commission and then the imposition of restrictions that drove its two most prominent members to quit made it worse.

Now come the secondary scandals — 85 tax fraud investigations in Canada, 415 tax fraud investigations in India, 22 tax fraud investigations in the UK and the arrests of three British bankers who laundered their insider trading proceeds through a Mossack Fonseca shell game. The president of Argentina under investigation for undeclared holdings discovered through the Panama Papers. The Russian economy minister under arrest. The Pakistani prime minister on trial for his political life before his country’s supreme court.

Most likely Panama Papers revelations about the family fortune of the British prime minister at the time contributed to the narrow “Leave” victory in the Brexit referendum. Two Icelandic prime ministers were run out of public life in disgrace due to the revelations. Spain’s minister of industry fell, and a subsequent attempt to kick him upstairs to the World Bank was withdrawn in amidst a chorus of great indignation. In other places like Malta, the former Soviet Georgia and China, governments have survived the embarrassment of high-ranking officials or former leaders, but there are likely to be consequences down the road in their much different political systems. Were the Americans barely mentioned? Mossack Fonseca files may have mentioned few US political leaders, but among the handful of oligarchs were friends of Bill and Hillary and friends of The Donald.

It’s not just the Panama Papers now, either. In late September there was a lead of 1.3 million confidential files from the Bahamian corporate registry and these documents are just beginning to have an effect similar to that of the Mossack Fonseca documents. Two officers of Odebrecht Panama have just turned states evidence in Brazil’s massive corruption scandal and the company’s jailed former CEO tells of bribes paid and evidence concealed in Panama. Even if politicians here have passed a law to officially ignore the findings of courts in other countries, it’s likely that Panamanian votes won’t be so understanding.

The OECD has branded Panama’s moves in the wake of the Panama Papers release as unsatisfactory. The European Parliament is talking about a public beneficial ownership registry for all corporations and measures against jurisdictions that don’t have such a thing.

This is the context in which the two experts who resigned from Varela’s Panama Papers commission — Nobel laureate economist Joseph Stiglitz and anti-corruption scholar Mark Pieth — have released their “minority report” ahead of Varela’s official one, the latter which may or may not be put on the public record. Stiglitz and Pieth are calling for stern measures against tax havens and money laundering centers, akin to those used against countries and institutions that handle the financial transactions of those terrorists whom the United States and the European Union don’t like.

These sorts of sanctions have already begun on a small scale — Panamanian banks now have a hard time finding US banks that are willing to have corresponding bank relationships and it’s making check clearance more difficult and might make ATM machine transactions problematic. The Varela administration is considering the placement of a branch of the Banco Nacional de Panama in New York to be the US corresponding bank for this country’s private banks — if the Americans allow that to be done.

Figure that Donald Trump has business interests in Panama and that the Republicans have been talking about repealing FATCA and other measures against money laundering. But also figure that within both major US political parties there are conflicts over this, and that whatever the politicians might say, the financial system may not be willing to assume the growing risks of doing business with Panama.


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Video: Mientras tanto en la frontera ~ Meanwhile on the border


Mientras tanto en la frontera

advertencia: hay algunos groseros en el video


Meanwhile on the border

warning: there is some off-color language in the video


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Germanos, TPP’s “cardiac arrest”

An anti-TPP message is displayed in Seattle. Photo by Backbone Campaign (cc)

TPP’s “cardiac arrest” — a lesson for the challenges of the Trump years ahead

by Andrea Germanos — Common Dreams

The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) — the corporate-friendly trade deal between the US and 11 Pacific Rim nations that sparked progressive outcry over its threats to everything from democracy to digital rights to climate goals — now appears to be “in full-blown cardiac arrest.”

Not only is there the fact that President-elect Donald Trump campaigned against the deal that President Barack Obama vigorously pushed, multiple news sources reported Friday that the White House has now given up on its efforts to get approval during the “lame-duck” session of Congress.

The Wall Street Journal, for example, reported that the deal “effectively died Friday, as Republican and Democratic leaders in Congress told the White House they won’t advance it in the election’s aftermath, and Obama administration officials acknowledged it has no way forward now.” Reuters reported that the administration said “Friday that the fate of the free trade pact was up to Trump and Republican lawmakers.”

The Hill also reported:

“We have worked closely with Congress to resolve outstanding issues and are ready to move forward, but this is a legislative process and it’s up to congressional leaders as to whether and when this moves forward,” said Matt McAlvanah, a spokesman for the Office of the US trade representative, in an email to The Hill.

A White House official acknowledged on Friday the difficultly of pressing Congress to pass the TPP because Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said this week that “it’s something that he’s going to work with the president-elect to figure out where they go in terms of trade agreements in the future,” according to reports.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell had already signaled in August that the US Senate would not vote on TPP this year.

The political newspaper added a statement issued Friday by TPP foe Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), who said that “a strong coalition of members of Congress and labor, environmental, faith, and human rights organizations and activists worked diligently to stop this agreement.”

That’s exactly what some advocacy groups are saying — that the deal’s apparent death should not be chalked up to Trump’s victory this week but to the grassroots’ effort.

“Let’s make one thing clear,” said Evan Greer, campaign director for digital rights group Fight for the Future. “Donald Trump didn’t kill the TPP. We did.”

The deal, she continued, would have “globalized Internet censorship, undermined civil liberties, and devastated our economy and our planet.”

Instead, “[a]n unprecedented grassroots movement of people and organizations from across the political spectrum came together to spark an uprising that stopped what would have been nothing less than an outright corporate takeover of our democratic process. Together we sounded the alarm, and made the TPP so politically toxic that no presidential candidate who wanted to be elected could support it.”

“As we enter a new stage in history, let the movement that stopped the TPP serve as a reminder to the powerful: we are many, and you are few,” she continued.

Offering a similar observation on Saturday, Maude Barlow, national chairperson of the Council of Canadians, said in statement: “The TPP is in full-blown cardiac arrest, thanks to years of international campaigning against this toxic deal, including turning Senate and House elections into contests over rejecting the TPP.”

But, according to Barlow, as well as Arthur Stamoulis, executive director at Citizens Trade Campaign, continued vigilance is necessary.

Barlow said that her experience “from watching trade agreements is that free trade proponents always try to resuscitate these deals under different names — CETA, TiSA, and others. We need to put a ‘do not resuscitate’ order on these corporate deals once and for all.”

Stamoulis also acknowledged the “the cross-border, cross-sector, progressive ‘movement of movements'” that brought the deal to what could be its very end.

And with the Trump administration — with its “cabinet of horrors” — approaching, Stamoulis writes that “people need to be reminded of their power.”

“This victory,” he writes, “will be one of the biggest wins against concentrated corporate power in our lifetimes, and it holds lessons we should internalize as we steel ourselves for the many challenges we face heading into the Trump years.”

“Trump’s vision of internationalism is not one of human rights, worker rights, sustainability, and improving standards of living. The President-elect is a man who, among other things, thinks that workers are overpaid, is hostile to unions, denies climate science, and embraces authoritarian regimes.”

“We’ve all got a lot of work to do,” he concludes.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License


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The Panama News blog links, November 13, 2016


The Panama News blog links

a Panama-centric selection of other people’s work
una selección Panamá-céntrica de las obras de otras personas

The Maritime Executive, Clean ships will go to the head of the PanCanal line

GCaptain, US Navy littoral combat ship cracked in PanCanal locks

The Maritime Executive, Canal Wars

JOC, Trans-Pacific spot rates down

Hellenic Shipping News, Seaborne shipping grows at slowest pace since 2009

WorkBoat, Workboats confront post-Panamax era

Once a Metro, Panama beats Honduras to start CONCACAF hexagonal

ESPN FC: Guardado, Vela, Salcedo out for Mexico’s Panama match

Los Angeles Times, Dodgers trade Carlos Ruiz to Mariners

La Estrella, Panamá con calificación ‘no satisfactoria’ por parte de la OCDE

The Guardian, Three bank employees outed in the Panama Papers arrested

El Tiempo, Colombia remplaza aranceles a Panamá

La Estrella, Standard & Poor’s advierte sobre banca panameña

ANP, Trece bancos están interesados en comprar Balboa Bank

El Tiempo, Wingstop anuncia 30 tiendas en Colombia y Panamá

The Press, UK fraudsters get prison sentences for Panama land scam

ALAI, La Argentina offshore

The News, Pakistan moves against offshore company owners

BBC, Mexico willing to talk about NAFTA

Nature, Ant genomes rewrite history of Panama land bridge

STRI, Why did the bacterium cross the road?

LiveScience, Boys’ and girls’ brains may show opposite effects after trauma

The Intercept, When the FBI has a phone it can’t crack it calls Israeli hackers

Mongabay, Trump election leaves COP22 climate delegates aghast

Huffington Post, Sea stars disappear from Bocas beach

The Intercept, 25 years later Texas admits junk science arson conviction

La Estrella, Minseg destruye más de mil armas de fuego

TVN, Fiscalía pide alerta roja a Interpol para detener a Clare y Valdés

La Estrella, Caso de Vanessa Rodríguez será llevado a la CIDH

Colombia Reports, Government and FARC peace deal version 2.0

Sputnik News, Gobierno chino dona a Colombia ayuda militar

AFP, Denuncian a Honduras por negarse a cumplir sentencia de CIDH

WOLA, Uruguay’s historic cannabis initiative

AFP, Ex ministro de finanzas guatemalteco muere en confuso allanamiento

Caribbean News Now!, Aristide accused of inciting election violence

Lumsden, Japan’s new era of Caribbean investment

BBC, Clinton blames her defeat on the FBI director

Baker, Inequality as policy

Carlsen, Remembering Tom Hayden

Duhm, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton: two figures in a derailed world

Reich, The whole DNC should resign

Tharoor, The end of US soft power?

Blades, Sobre el triunfo de Trump

The Guilfordian, Art exhibit showcases Panama culture


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The American Society’s scholarship kids


The American Society of Panama’s scholars





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Marcelo Odebrecht admits “Operation Panama”

crime in high places
Marcelo Odebrecht, before his arrest. Photo by Worldsteel.

Brazil’s Lava Jato scandal deepens with “Operation Panama” admission and more

by Eric Jackson

[Editor’s note: Before getting into this, and without getting into loaded jargon like “lawfare” or “technicalities,” let’s remember some basic principles. One is presumed innocent unless proven guilty. Somebody who is guilty of one thing is not necessarily guilty of another thing. Police, prosecutors and judges will often enough lie or distort the truth, just like someone who is accused of wrongdoing might.]

A series of court and police files, most of them leaked in violation of various laws or ethical rules, has expanded, deepened and fed new fire to a series of scandals known collectively as Lava Jato — “Car Wash,” from the Portuguese name of a police investigation aimed at bribery and kickbacks in contracts with the Brazilian state-owned Petrobras oil company. The legal fallout has spread to other economic sectors and several other countries. Evidence suggests that Panama ought to be one of them but authorities here have invented various purportedly nationalist principles to avoid that. One of the latest revelations is that Marcelo Odebrecht, former CEO and major shareholder of the giant multinational Norberto Odebrecht construction firm, has admitted that when he was arrested in June of 2015 “Operation Panama” rather automatically went into effect. This plan was to scan all company computers for incriminating files and to transfer those computers and those files to Panama, beyond the reach of Brazilian authorities.

Word of this confession comes from a leaked court file — a Brazilian Federal Police report — that made its way into the hands of the Brazilian magazine Istoe. Police, prosecution, defense and judicial participants in the case would all have access to that information. Testimony by other people about Operation Panama had leaked months ago. Brazilian prosecutors have complained that they have sought Panamanian authorities’ assistance in the case but received very little of it. Panama’s prosecutors say that they have cooperated but asserted barriers like banking and corporate secrecy here, only being able to investigate or assist if crimes against Panamanian law have been committed and so on. Were there to be full cooperation with Brazilian authorities, one would expect that there would have been raids in Panama in search of Odebrecht computers and files. If there have been such things, they have not been reported to the public.

Istoe reports that among the things hidden in Panama were payments of about $8 million in cash to former Brazilian President Lula da Silva. These payments, it is alleged, were made after he left the presidency and were purportedly for work helping to secure contracts for Odebrecht in Brazil and abroad. His political adversaries are calling it a simple bribery case, but Lula denies it: “I did not commit any crime before, during or after serving as the President of the Republic,” he said.

Judge Sergio Moro, who is handling the Lava Jato cases, has leaked files on a selective basis to media organizations, including data from illegal wiretaps of Lula. Lula and his supporters also complain that police planted bugs in the offices of the former president’s lawyers, also quite illegal in Brazil.

Following on the removal of leftist President Dilma Rousseff for the non-criminal offense of manipulating the release of official economic data ahead of the 2014 election, supporters of Lula’s and Rousseff’s Workers Party claim a right-wing legislative coup and continuing persecution. Rousseff’s removal did bring her erstwhile right-wing running mate, Michel Temer, to the presidency and with him an all-male, all-white far to the right cabinet. But Temer has been convicted of election law violations that happened before he was vice president and the sentence precludes him from running for office in the next elections. A number of right-wing politicians have also fallen in the series of scandals. Now Brazil’s Electoral Court is investigating whether the Rousseff – Temer ticket received illegal campaign contributions, which could lead to a decision nullifying the 2014 election and calling for a new vote. In that election law case, it was alleged that Otavio Azevedo, former CEO of the Andrade Gutierrez construction company, gave Rousseff a $295,000 donation. She denies it and her lawyers have come up with documents showing that a contribution to Temer’s Brazilian Democratic Movement (PMDB) was made in exactly that amount through Temer. If the Rousseff defense version of that is found to be true, that could also annul the 2014 election and remove Temer from office.

Marcelo Odebrecht is getting his 19-year prison sentence reduced to about two and one-half years for giving his testimony to police and prosecutors. The man is a convicted criminal who gave lots of many to lots of politicians in Brazil and elsewhere, and might have reason to feel betrayed by some of them. One of the reported subjects of Mr. Odebrecht’s interrogation in Brazil is suspected payoffs to former Panamanian President Ricardo Martinelli. Panama’s Public Ministry is reportedly looking at bribes paid in Panama to Panamanians by Odebrecht, but if word comes from a Brazilian source that there is testimony implicating Martinelli the ordinary prosecutors lose jurisdiction and must turn the matter over to the Supreme Court as to Martinelli only. The Varela administration, which has given new contracts to the Norberto Odebrecht company, takes the position that the company’s criminal convictions in other countries don’t count against it for public contracting here.

But Odebrecht’s criminal activities in other countries do get taken seriously in other jurisdictions. In the works is a plea bargain by some 70 Odebrecht executives with prosecutors in the United States, Switzerland and Brazil for a plethora of financial crimes including money laundering. As part of that plea bargain it is reported that the company will pay a record $1.9 billion fine to the three jurisdictions.

There may be a continuing US angle, as Odebrecht was a long-time backer of Jeb Bush, through a private foundation that Bush used to promote his political ambitions, and of Miami Democratic politician Xavier Suarez. Neither of these two men are particularly favored by Donald Trump so there may be some Odebrecht fallout to come in the USA. If actual crimes are discovered in Odebrecht’s relationship to Florida politics there may be statute of limitations bars to prosecutions.


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