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Panama accepts US, UK, Canadian and Australian visa vetting

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Mafia families with roots in the former Soviet Union have established major bases in Brooklyn, Atlanta, South Florida and Southern California. Russian mobsters are also to be found in London and Toronto. — and in Panama. Under Varela’s Decree 591, any member of this criminal underworld who has obtained a residemcy or multiple entry visa for the USA, the UK, Canada or Australia is welcome in Panama, few questions asked. The graphic is an auto sticker seen in the United States.

Panama cedes visa vetting to four countries

by Eric Jackson

On January 13 Executive Decree 591 was published in the Gaceta Oficial, the second change in immigration policies promulgated by the Varela administration in less than a week. It allows those from countries which require a visa to enter Panama to come to this country without a visa and without the need to obtain a tourist visa if they have a resident or multiple entry visa to the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada or Australia. This change in Panama’s immigration regulations has already been misrepresented by some media and at least one foreign embassy. It does NOT waive tourist and residency visa requirements for US, UK, Canadian or Australian citizens — only for citizens of third countries who have been vetted for the right sorts of visas in those countries.

To get this free pass into Panama the visa for one or more of those four countries must have at least one years’ validity left on it and the person must have actually set foot in the country that issued the visa. Colombia and a number of other Latin American countries have reciprocal agreements that waive the requirement to previously obtain a visa before entering Panama, so the new decree does not affect citizens of those countries. Russian and Chinese citizens, and people from most of the Caribbean nations, will come under the protection of the new decree.

In its argument justifying the new decree, the Varela administration pleads that it needs to better direct its immigration control resources and “that friendly nations with which Panama has established strong ties of cooperation with respect to the problems of migration control … have established systems of migratory vigilance and control with elevated standards of security and trustworthiness.” That notion is quite controversial within the United States and the United Kingdom, where anti-immigrant politics are flourishing, often on the basis of fictitious or exaggerated stories but also sometimes fed by tales of the actual admission of foreign criminals into those countries by their immigration authorities.

Canada, it seems, has a foreign policy of often accepting and encouraging the emigration of its own criminal element to Panama. When Canadian career criminal Monte Friesner used the Panamanian courts to strike back at press criticism, the Canadian Embassy here considered that it was not their concern. Similarly, when former British Columbia lawyer Mary Sloane — allowed to resign from the bar when caught stealing from a client — ran a pyramid scheme in Panama whose victims were mostly Canadians living here, Panamanian authorities refused to act because the victims were foreigners and the Canadian Embassy refused to take a position because it was something that happened in Panama. While a hit man for the Montreal chapter of the Hells Angels was extradited from his Coronado refuge, Panama has been a dumping ground for Canadian pedophile priests and stock swindlers without much apparent concern in Ottawa. But Canadians have embraced multicultural ideals to a much greater extent than the British and Americans have, such that anti-immigration agitation is very much a fringe cause there.

The decree makes those foreigners with European Union visas subject to the same sorts of tourist and visa requirements that apply to US citizens — or can be more onerous, depending on the countries of origin of such persons. Cubans, Dominicans and Haitians with US green cards will have easier access to Panama than do American citizens.

Read the decree in its Spanish original here.

 

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Citizens Committee Against Impunity, The Odebrecht “agreement”

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Odebrecht
Odebrecht projects in Panama. Graphic by criminals.

Anti-corruption movement rejects Attorney General Porcell’s deal with Odebrecht

by the Citizens Committee Against Impunity

In consideration of the alarming events that have shaken our nation in the past weeks, we citizens of the Republic of Panama, signatories of this declaration, have constituted the Citizens Committee Against Impunity and hereby:

  1. Denounce the illegitimacy and illegality of the unilateral “agreement” announced by the Attorney General’s office, as there is not a single norm or regulation that supports these forms of “verbal agreements,” as well as the fact that it impedes prosecution fo the crimes committed.
  2. Demand complete adherence and compliance of the Public Ministry and the Comptroller General’s office to the laws ratified by International Anti-corruption Conventions, in regards to any action by Constructora Odebrecht, its representatives and partners.
  3. Demand that the total amount of property losses to the Republic of Panama for each of the construction projects executed and to be executed in the future (as well as the totals amounts related to amendments, overpricing, and over-costs), as well as the names of the persons — natural or juridical — including banks and financial institutions who were and are complicit and involved in such illegal acts against the national treasury, together with Constructora Odebrecht, its local and international affiliates, are made public.
  4. Demand a thorough official investigation of the administrations of Martín Torrijos Espino, Ricardo Martinelli Berrocal and current president Juan Carlos Varela Rodríguez.
  5. Demand that all executive, legislative, judiciary, and municipal officials in service during the years in which Constructora Odebrecht and its affiliates bid for government contracts are thoroughly investigated.
  6. Demand that the Attorney General, the Electoral Tribuna, the Tax Court, the General Revenue Office (DGI), the Financial Analysis Unit (UAF) — and any other entity whose nature and activities can assist in the investigation of those responsible — make public the extent of the damages and the identities of those responsible, and that they immediately take the necessary measures allowed by law to prosecute them.
  7. Demand that the Electoral Tribunal to make public — without further delay and excuses — the names of all the candidates for president, legislator, representante and mayor who received campaign contributinos from Odebrecht, its partners and/or its associates.
  8. Demand that the executive immediately terminate all government contracts with Odebrecht, its affiliates and companies. We demand the immediate and permanent ban of Odebrecht, and any of its companies being allowed to bid for contracts in the Republic of Panama. We demand the confiscation of all of Odebrecht’s assets in Panama.
  9. Demand the Public Ministry designate Odebrecht as an Agent of Corruption, and that they be fined an amount equivalent to 10 percent of the total cost of the all the contracts illicitilly awarded to them during the past three government administrations, just as other nations (Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, and the United States) have done.
  10. Urge citizens to make use of any and all available means to remain alert and denounce the goverment’s blatant involvement with Odebrecht and its efforts to conceal and dismiss what is one of the most alarming cases of local and international corruption. We demand that the millions of dollars stolen and paid in bribes to government officials be returned to the Panamanian people, and that those responsible be criminally charged and brought to justice for crimes against the people and the dignity of this land.
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Comisión de Ciudadanos contra la Impunidad, Exigimos de nuestras autoridades…

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ellos
El gobierno de Varela por Roberto Roy, Odebrecht por Marcos Tepedino.

Contra la impunidad de Odebrecht y sus cómplices

por la Comisión de Ciudadanos contra la Impunidad

Frente a los bochornosos acontecimientos que han conmovido nuestro país en los últimos días, los ciudadanos que nos hemos constituído en Comisión de Ciudadanos contra la Impunidad, firmamos este comunicado y exigimos de nuestras autoridades lo siguiente:

  1. Denunciar la ilegitimidad e ilegalidad del “Acuerdo” anunciado por la Procuraduría General de la Nación, dado que NO existe norma alguna que ampare ese tipo de “acuerdos verbales,” ni que permita prescribir los delitos cometidos.
  2. Exigimos un apego absoluto, por parte del Ministerio Público y la Contraloría General de la República, a lo que establecen las Leyes que han ratificado las Convenciones Internacionales contra la Corrupción, respecto a cualquier acción que pretenda llevar a cabo la empresa Constructora Odebrecht, sus representantes y sus sociedades.
  3. Hacer de conocimiento público, tanto el monto total de la lesión patrimonial a la República de Panamá desglosado en cada uno de los proyectos ejecutados y por ejecutar (Además de las adendas, sobreprecios y sobrecostos), así como los nombres de las personas — naturales o jurídicas — incluyendo los bancos y entidades fnancieras, que hayan participado en actos ilícitos contra el Patrimonio Nacional, con esta empresa y sus filiales locales e internacionales.
  4. Efectuar todas las pesquisas pertinentes durante las administraciones de Martín Torrijos Espino, Ricardo Martinelli Berrocal y Juan Carlos Varela Rodríguez.
  5. Igualmente exigimos que las investigaciones abarquen también a los miembros del Ejecutivo, Legislativo, Judicial y municipal durante los años en que Constructora Odebrecht y sus filiales participaron en licitaciones en nuestro país.
  6. Exigir a la Contraloría General de la República, el Tribunal Electoral, el Tribunal de Cuentas, Dirección General de Ingreso (DGI), Unidad de Análisis Financiero (UAF) – amén de cualquier otra entidad cuya competencia ayude a deslindar responsabilidades – para poder definir el alcance del daño y los responsables de los mismos, como proceder de inmediato con las acciones que establece la Ley.
  7. Exigir al Tribunal Electoral que de a conocer, sin más excusas, todos los nombres de los candidatos presidenciales, Diputados, representantes de Corregimiento, Alcaldes que recibieron apoyo electoral de parte de Odebrecht y/o de sus sociedades o empleados.
  8. Exigir al Ejecutivo la rescisión inmediata de todos los contratos con Odebrecht y sus sociedades, solicitar su salida inmediata del pais, no permitirle a ninguna de sus empresas licitar en Panamá y la cautelación de todos sus bienes localmente.
  9. Exigir al Ministerio Público que lo encause como agente corruptor, que se le imponga una multa del 10% del total del monto que obtuvo por todas las obras realizadas en los últimos tres Gobiernos, como lo hacen Brasil, Colombia, Ecuador, Perú y USA.
  10. Hacer un llamado a la ciudadanía para que utilicemos TODOS los medios a nuestro alcance para mantener la alerta ciudadana y denuniar permanentemente lo que ocurre con Odebrecht, hasta que devuelvan lo miles de millones robados y coimeados y sean condenaos por su agresión a la dignidad nacional.

 

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Avnery, Confessions of a megalomaniac

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Uri
Uri Avnery, 93, is an elder statesman of the Israeli peace movement. A refugee from Nazi Germany, he was wounded in combat during the Israeli war for independence and served in the Knessett from 1964 to 1975 and again from 1979 to 1981. Photo by Gush Shalom.

Confessions of a megalomaniac

by Uri Avnery — Gush Shalom

The Arab taxi driver who brought me to Ramallah had no trouble with the Israeli border posts. He just evaded them.

Saves a lot of trouble.

I was invited by Mahmood Abbas, the President of the Palestinian National Authority (as well as of the PLO and the Fatah movement) to take part in joint Palestinian-Israeli consultations in advance of the international conference in Paris.

Since Binyamin Netanyahu has refused to take part in the Paris event side by side with Mahmood Abbas, the Ramallah meeting was to demonstrate that a large part of Israeli society does support the French initiative.

Simple as it sounds, the Ramallah meeting was not simple at all.

Before the death of Yasser Arafat in 2004, such meetings were almost routine. Since our groundbreaking first meeting in Beirut in 1982, during the Israeli blockade, Arafat met many Israelis.

Arafat had almost absolute moral authority, and even his home-grown rivals accepted his judgment. Since, after our first meeting, he decided that Israeli-Palestinian meetings served the cause of Palestinian-Israeli peace, he encouraged many such events.

After his murder, the opposite trend gained the upper hand. Palestinian extremists held that any meetings with Israelis, whoever they might be, served “normalization” — a terrible, terrible bogeyman.

Abbas has now put an end to this nonsense. Like me, he believes that Palestinian statehood and independence can come about only through a joint struggle of the peace forces on both sides, with the help of international forces.

In this spirit, he invited us to Ramallah, since Palestinians are not normally allowed into Israeli territory.

He seated me next to him on the stage, and so the meeting started.

Mahmood Abbas — or “Abu Mazen.” as he is generally known — was gracious enough to mention that he and I have been friends for 34 years since we first met in Tunis, soon after the PLO had left Beirut and moved there.

Through a number of years, when my friends and I came to Tunis, the same procedure was followed: first we met with Abu Mazen, who was in charge of Israeli affairs, and drew up plans for joint action. Then we all moved to Arafat’s office. Arafat, who had an almost canny capacity for making quick decisions, would decide within minutes “yes” or ‘no.”

There could hardly be two more different characters than Abu-Amar (Arafat) and Abu-Mazen. Arafat was a “warm” type. He embraced and kissed his visitors in the old Arab style — a kiss on each cheek for ordinary visitors, three kisses for preferred ones. After five minutes, you felt as if you had known him all your life.

Mahmood Abbas is a much more reserved person. He embraces and kisses too, but it does not come quite as naturally as with Arafat. He is more withdrawn. He looks more like a high-school principal.

I have a lot of respect for Mahmood Abbas. He needs tremendous courage to do his job — the leader of a people under brutal military occupation, compelled to cooperate with the occupation in some matters, endeavoring to resist in others. The aim of his people is to endure and survive. He is good at that.

When I complimented him on his courage, he laughed and said that it was more courageous of me to enter Beirut during the siege of 1982. Thanks.

The Israeli government succeeded, even before Netanyahu, in splitting the Palestinians in the country into two. By the simple device of refusing to honor their solemn pledge under Oslo to create four “safe passages” between The West Bank and Gaza, they made a split almost inevitable.

Now, while officially treating the moderate Abbas as a friend and the extremist Hamas in Gaza as an enemy, our government behaves exactly the other way. Hamas is tolerated, Abbas is considered an enemy. That seems perverse but is really quite logical: Abbas can sway public opinion throughout the world in favor of a Palestinian state, Hamas cannot.

After the Ramallah meeting, in a private session, I submitted to Abbas a plan for consideration.

It is based on the appreciation that Netanyahu will never agree to real peace negotiations, since these will lead inevitably to the Two-state solution, tut-tut-tut.

I propose to convene a “Popular Peace Conference,” which will meet, say, once a month inside the country. In each session, the conference will deal with one of the paragraphs of the future peace agreement, such as the final location of the borders, the character of the borders (open?), Jerusalem, Gaza, water resources, security arrangements, refugees, and so on.

An equal number of experts and activists from each side will deliberate, put everything on the table and thrash it all out. If agreement can be reached, wonderful. If not, the proposals of both sides will be clearly defined and the item left for later.

In the end, after, say, half a year, the final “popular peace agreement” will be published, even with defined disagreements, for the guidance of the peace movements on both sides. Deliberations on the disagreements will continue until agreement is found.

Abbas listened attentively, as is his wont, and in the end I promised to send him a written memorandum. I just did so, after consulting with some of my colleagues, like Adam Keller, the Gush Shalom spokesman.

Mahmood Abbas is now preparing to attend the Paris conference, the official aim of which is to mobilize the world for the Two-state solution.

Sometimes i wonder how I do not get infected with megalomania. (Some of my friends believe that this cannot happen to me, since I already am a megalomaniac.)

A few weeks after the end of the 1948 war, a tiny group of young people in the new State of Israel met in Haifa to debate a path to peace based on what is now called the two-state solution. One was a Jew (me), one a Muslim and one a Druze. I, just released from hospital, was still wearing my army uniform.

The group was completely ignored by everybody. No takers.

Some ten years later, when I was already a member of the Knesset (as, by the way, were the other two), I went abroad to see who could be convinced. I wandered around Washington DC, met with important people in the White House, the State Department and the UN delegations in New York. On the way home I was received in the Foreign Offices in London, Paris and Berlin.

No takers, anywhere. A Palestinian state? Nonsense. Israel must deal with Egypt, Jordan et al.

I made many dozens of speeches about this proposal in the Knesset. Some powers started to take it up. The first was the Soviet Union, though rather late, under Leonid Brezhnev (1969). Others followed.

Today there is no one around who believes in anything but the two-state solution. Even Netanyahu pretends to believe in it, if only the Palestinians would become Jews or emigrate to Greenland.

Yes, I know that I didn’t do it. History did it. But I might be excused for feeling just a tiny little bit of pride. Or a mini-megalomania.

The two-state solution is neither good nor bad. It is the only.

The only solution there is.

I know that there are a number of good, even admirable people who believe in the so-called one-state solution. I would ask them to consider the details: what it would look like, how it would actually function — the army, the police, the economy, the parliament.

Apartheid? Perpetual civil war?

No. Since 1948 everything has changed, but nothing has changed.

Sorry, the two-state solution is still the only game in town.

 

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Varela moves tourism, residency wait times back to where they were

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decree
A decree signed in late December but published on January 10 changes regulations but not the law.

Varela shortens tourist stays and residency processing period but rejects PRD extremes

by Eric Jackson

In the face of virulent xenophobia and proposals of draconian changes to Panama’s immigration laws, President Varela has tightened up a couple of the regulations that implement the existing laws, without touching the laws themselves. In 2010 the Martinelli administration lengthened the stay on a tourist visa from three months to six months, and the current administration has moved it back to three months. Those applying for resident or pensionado visas used to be able to stay for a year while the paperwork was underway. Now it’s six months and such folks have to pay $50 for the temporary ID card that goes with that status. In the decree adjusting these regulations, the reduction in waiting time for a resident’s or pensioner’s visa it is said that these days it doesn’t take more than six months to process the paperwork.

The decree appears to be at least partly aimed at heading off proposals by PRD legislators Elias Castillo and Zulay Rodríguez, which the deputies have described but which have not been published. They would shorten tourist visas to 30 days and allow only one return, ending legal “permanent tourism” and curbing many other sorts of tourism as well. They would also require tourists to register with and stay at hotels, and if found not to be staying at the hotels where they said that they would stay would subject them to arrest.

Rodríguez is quite open about wanting to prohibit foreigners, tourists or otherwise. She and her followers vilify all foreigners as criminals, spitting special venom at Venezuelans and Colombians but attacking the North Americans and Europeans who come here as well. Will she try to ride this campaign in to the presidency in 2019? Her problem with changing the immigration laws, beyond the damage that they would do to the Panamanian economy, is that her colleagues by and large can’t stand her and hesitate to do anything that would boost her politician fortunes. Although she was recently elected to head the women’s branch of the Democratic Revolutionary Party, many of her fellow PRD deputies also disdain her. For example, Rodríguez has charged another PRD legislator, Javier “Patacón” Ortega, with criminal defamation for describing her as “a person with mental problems, a crazy schizophrenic.” Across the aisle, Panameñista deputy Popi Varela — the president’s brother — said that “what comes from her mouth is trash.” Trash talk does, however, have a substantial following.

Let’s brush away the semantics and the fake news. “Permanent tourists” are a species of residents who live in Panama on tourist visas, leaving every so often and then returning on new visas. This is legal. There may be some who come here to commit crimes — which is illegal — but these are a small minority. The great majority of crimes committed in Panama are committed by Panamanians. Most foreigners in Panama do their best to avoid trouble.

Like standard tourists, the permanent tourists spend money in the Panamanian economy. Many rent or buy or build homes — which is legal. Some start businesses — which is generally legal. Many work for somebody else — which is generally illegal. Many hire Panamanians — which is legal and encouraged.

Why does somebody live the life of a permanent tourist here? Most would get resident or pensionado visas but can’t show enough of the accepted sorts of wealth or income to qualify. Some have criminal records that would bar them from residency. Some are hiding from creditors elsewhere. Generally they have to show a plane ticket back to the country from whence they came to get in as a tourist, such that if they come upon hard times or illness they are sent back to be some other country’s burden.

“Tourism,” whether of a traditional kind or thinly disguised residency, is big business here, more than seven percent of the Panamanian economy. Rich white people staying in expensive hotels? That’s the stereotypical ideal, which, judging from the occupancy rates of hotels that chase that market segment, is except for a few weeks per year a failure. Niche markets — young backpackers without much money, but who may come back in a few years when they have more money to spend, or people of the Panamanian diaspora who come back to visit family and friends and don’t stay in hotels, for two examples of many — are important to the industry as a whole if not to the hotels that bill themselves as five-star. The World Travel and Tourism Council estimated that in 2014 more than 135,000 Panamanian jobs directly depended on tourism.

Restrictive laws, unfriendly statements by public officials and the behavior of belligerent citizens can adversely affect a publicity sensitive industry like tourism. On the other hand, a perception that public policies work for the benefit of foreigners rather than citizens is toxic to the career of any politician who gets blamed for such policies. It appears that President Varela’s decree seeks to balance these concerns, as well has to head Zulay off at the pass. Tourism Minister Gustavo Him, however, avoids the partisan spins. He opposes the sorts of restrictions for which Castillo and Rodríguez call, he said, because “anything that reduces the possibility of tourists coming is worrisome.”

 

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George Scribner: new paintings and workshops

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Scribner 1
“Casco Viejo Conversation” 10 x 13

What Panama’s Disney imagineer George Scribner is up to

paintings and note by George Scribner

Workshops

I’ll be doing a few beginning and intermediate workshops in the next few months in Sonoma, Westlake Village, New Smyrna Beach Florida, and The Art Room in Windermere, FL.

I’m now also offering a workshop on Painting the figure in a Landscape with suggestions on adding people to your landscape paintings.

Here’s a little more information: http://www.scribnerart.com/workshops
 

Scribner 2
“Blaze” 11 x 14 The title comes from the white marking on the horses face.

 

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Videos: Violeta Green y el ámbito de tambo jazz

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Violeta Green y el ámbito de tambo jazz

Violeta Green, a quien se dedica el 14º Festival de Jazz de Panamá, era una cantante versátil cuyo trabajo no podía ser descrito en su totalidad o incluso en su mayor parte como “tambo jazz”. Pero si Víctor Boa era la destacada pianista de esa escena, era la destacada vocalista. Escucha.

 

 

 

 

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Editorials: Day of the Martyrs; and Odebrecht

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flag
La bandera. Photo by Melpanama.

The Day of the Martyrs

Another Day of the Martyrs is upon us on Monday, January 9. It’s a national day of mourning rather than a holiday as such, which means that those who will spend it at the beach need to stock up on alcohol in advance if that’s their vice, because there are no legal liquor sales on that day. Because it falls on a Monday this year it’s another long weekend, with crazy traffic starting back from the Interior on that day but with traffic in the city generally light compared to that of a working day.

But for those Panamanians most deeply concerned with the nation’s fate, it’s something more. To such folks the Day of the Martyrs is a solemn occasion on which people gather to remind themselves and others of the sacrifices that have been made to make Panama one country with at least the formal trappings of sovereignty, and of the long way yet to go before we have the full measure of independence.

It’s the anniversary of rioting that swept the nation in 1964, sparked by a relatively trivial incident but setting into motion historic shifts long in the making. Panamanians, Americans and Puerto Ricans fighting for the United States died in those events. People will make speeches about what the martyrs’ gesture meant, but what the nation meant is that Panama wanted to be master of its own house and that there were people willing to risk death for this cause.

So the American Embassy put out its annual warning, urging people to stay away from the Plaza Cinco de Mayo area, where some of the protesters will gather. Yes, if you are driving and you want to avoid traffic jams caused by people marching in the streets, don’t drive in that area or on Avenida de los Martires on January 9. And if you do get caught in a traffic blockage caused by people in the streets, wait it out with grace and good humor. Don’t be a belligerent jerk. This is Panama.

On this particular Day of the Martyrs, the hazards of being an ugly American appear to be raised for three reasons. We have demagogic Panamanian politicians railing against all foreigners and too many ordinary citizens willing to buy that “you’re poor because they’re rich” variety of anti-American screed. We have a US government demanding the sale of Panama’s oldest newspaper and its largest circulation newspaper — also the major national media with the most independent and eclectic editorial lines — to new owners who meet their approval, and we have a Varela administration that accepts this foreign imposition. And then the USA has just chosen a next president who got to where he is by racist characterizations of Latin Americans, a man whom most Panamanians despise. This is not the time for somebody to pick a fight with people marching to observe the Day of the Martyrs and loudly assert some claimed prerogatives of being a US citizen.

 

Odebrecht

In Panamanian parlance “magna carta” means any constitution. The 1215 English original, written in Latin at the time, is well summarized in one brief sentence, its clause 40, that also states the essential yearning of most Panamanians today: “To no one will we sell, to no one deny or delay right or justice.”

The Panama Papers are about the sale of justice. Alejandro Moncada Luna is in prison for crimes related to the sale of justice. Our public institutions are in disrepute because of the sale of justice. And that’s what the Odebrecht scandal is all about as well.

Clause 50 of the Magna Carta seems so much more obscure and so much less relevant to anything today:

We will remove completely from their offices the kinsmen of Gerard de Athée, and in future they shall hold no offices in England. The people in question are Engelard de Cigogné, Peter, Guy, and Andrew de Chanceaux, Guy de Cigogné, Geoffrey de Martigny and his brothers, Philip Marc and his brothers, with Geoffrey his nephew, and all their followers.

Gerard de Athée was a Norman mercenary knight from Touraine in what is now France, who rose to great prominence under King Richard the Lion Hearted and his corrupt brother and successor, King John. England’s possessions in France had fallen one by one, but one of the last, the castle at Loches, held out under de Athée’s command. King John paid a large ransom to free the knight and brought him and his relatives and top lieutenants over to England, where they were installed in various public offices. Gerard de Athée became the commander of the royal forces in southern Wales, the High Sheriff of Gloucestershire and Herefordshire, and the High Sheriff of Nottinghamshire, Derbyshire and the Royal Forests. The bad guy in the Robin Hood stories is based upon him. Scholars argue about whether he was the scoundrel of legend or just a maligned government official who fell afoul of a rising English nationalism that had low regard for foreign knights in public offices.

In any case, the expulsion of this knight and his entourage from public posts at the behest of the knights and nobles ready to do battle with the king at Runnymeade was an extraordinary constitutional event. They were not directly accused of crimes, thrown into dungeons, exiled, executed or put on trial. They were just the servants and beneficiaries of a predatory system whose abuses were curbed by the Magna Carta. Their disgrace was not about the rule of law, but a matter of revolutionary justice.

And now Panama sinks toward economic stagnation under a president who broke his promise to convene a constitutional convention. The predations of the system we have here are ever more internationally notorious. After the Panama Papers, the abuse of our legal system by foreign career criminals who would cover their tracks by having journalists jailed, Ricardo Martinelli thumbing his nose at the nation from Miami, now we have, by way of other countries, the Odebrecht bribery revelations. But the Electoral Tribunal insists that the Odebrecht contributions to political campaigns of which it knows are to be kept secret, the Comptroller General refuses to audit government contracts with Odebrecht and President Varela and the National Assembly passed a law providing that whatever crimes for which Odebrecht has been found guilty in foreign courts count for nothing in Panama.

The names of all Panamanian public officials who took bribes, campaign contributions or gifts from the corrupt Brazilian-based multinational conglomerate ought to be revealed to the press and public. Like Gerard de Athée et al, these people should forever be barred from all public offices in Panama. They sold right and justice to Odebrecht. Without regard to the niceties of court procedures the Panamanian people should not put up with that.

 

Bear in mind…

 

People say, ‘What a discipline, painting so much.’ I say, ‘No, I love it.’ Nothing amuses me as much as my work. To have discipline would be not to paint.
Fernando Botero

 

You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience by which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, ‘I lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.’
Eleanor Roosevelt

 

We can almost recycle everything now. If we lived within our means, by being prudent, the seven billion people in the world could have everything they needed. Global politics should be moving in that direction. But we think as people and countries, not as a species.
Pepe Mujica

 

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The Panama News blog links, January 7, 2016

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The Panama Jazz Festival, both a series of concerts and a major educational event, is January 10 through 14.

The Panama News blog links

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

Canal / Maritime / Transportation ~ Canal /Marítima / Transporte

JOC, Suez Canal traffic steadily declines

crhoy.com, ¿Será 2017 el año del canal seco interoceánico en Costa Rica?

LAHT, Paraguay and Bolivia eye interoceanic railway

Sports ~ Deportes

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PRD legislators go after tourists, permanent and otherwise

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Zulay
Anti-immigrant demagogue Zulay Rodríguez, a deputy in the National Assembly and head of the PRD Women’s Federation, has announced that she’s piling onto PRD legislator Elias Castillo’s proposal to restrict tourist visas. In a vitriolic speech to the legislature, she attacked all Panamanian tourism, citing the more than a million and a half people who visited this country in the past year as a cause of poverty. Photo by the Asamblea Nacional.

Legislative open season on tourists?

by Eric Jackson

With the new year came word in the rabiblanco media about a new proposal to change Panama’s immigration laws. First attributed to PRD legislator Elias Castillo González, this, it was explained, would eliminate the “permanent tourist” game of people who live here on tourist visas, leaving the country every six month for a little while and then returning on a new tourist visa. Castillo said that tourist visas would be for 30 days, with a possible one-time-only 60-day extension. He also said that to be a tourist one would have to register with a hotel and if, due to a routine police inspection of the hotel registry or a complaint from the hotel management, a tourist was not checked in at the specified hotel, that tourist would become a wanted fugitive from immigration authorities. The problem, Castillo said, is foreigners coming here as tourists and working without work permits.

Given the number of foreigners who live here as “permanent tourists” — lots of Colombians, Venezuelans, Americans, Canadians and Europeans who don’t stay at hotels because they or their families own homes here — it’s an extraordinary proposal. But just how extraordinary, we don’t quite know. See, despite it having been summarized for reporters, and despite speeches in the legislature billed as the proposal’s “presentation,” we have not been able to read the actual proposal — or if the National Assembly’s website is accurate, multiple proposals.

The presentations? If you understand Spanish and can stand it, you can watch the half-hour video of Zulay Rodríguez’s speech that’s called that. In it she played to the militantly ignorant, throwing out scary but unidentified numbers, making insinuations about statistics she can’t cite, mobilizing public anger against foreigners in general. She cited the more than 1.5 million tourists who visited here last year as cause for alarm. There are “thousands, and thousands and thousands of foreigners in Panama…” for whom Zulay blamed an alleged $800 million in capital flight. (People living and working here on tourist visas EXPORTING capital, rather than spending and investing it here?) “Robberies, murders, homicides, drug trafficking…” — these she blamed on foreigners, and blamed the government for not generating the statistics for her to back up this claim. And on Facebook, nearly 40,000 people viewed it, more than 1,400 people shared it and she generated hundreds of comments, mostly ranging from uncritical cheering to hardcore hatred.

On Facebook Rodríguez gave the following introduction to the video of her speech:

The presentation of the proposal that not only eliminates the Crisol de Razas [program of the Martinelli administration], but also imposes migratory controls, visas, taxes to stay here and complements Bill 62 that was presented two years ago and that is in the Government Committee, which is to avoid the uncontrolled immigration that exists. The current situation has caused poverty, increased crime and unfair competition against nationals. And to that Deputy Jose Luis “Popi” Varela responds with threats, vexations, and foul language, calling me ‘trash’ just for denouncing the corruption of the current administration.

Trash talk? Most likely. You decide by whom.

But xenophobia is in the air. Not only foreigners, but those of ethnic groups considered foreign even if they happen to have been born here, are more frequently insulted here in Panama. The notion that foreigners — even the permanent tourists — actually contribute toward the Panamanian economy is not only not considered in the debate, it’s treated by Zulay’s followers as a big insult to Panama to suggest such a thing.

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