Scenes from the Panama Jazz Festival’s Saturday free concert
photos by Victor Brown
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Cuando finalmente se pueda escribir la (verdadera) historia de Panamá, habrá de hacerse en términos de oportunidades perdidas — porque no sabemos aprovecharlas.
No siempre fue así. En medio del espíritu de desarrollo sostenible que orientó durante los 1960 don Roberto F. Chiari –“el Presidente de la Dignidad”– sí hubo un héroe anónimo que tuvo una visión de irrigar los Llanos de Coclé y aprovechar la mecanización de la agricultura que para entonces incursionaba en Centroamérica.
Don Roberto Healy Quelquejeu inspiró un Plan de Desarrollo Regional, para recabar aguas en la serranía tras El Copé e irrigar –por gravedad– el área que hoy ocupan equipos que generarán electricidad cosechando el viento. La idea progresó, hasta el punto de atraer la cooperación del Reino Unido en sus detalles técnicos.
Pero sobrevino el golpe de estado del 11 de octubre.
Aquellos militares desleales tanto al estado de derecho como a la voluntad popular expresada en las urnas de 1968, pronto se vieron tan faltos de apoyo (fuera de Washington…), que sucumbieron a los consejos interesados de una izquierda pancista. Y las partidas presupuestarias destinadas a dicho Plan fueron desviadas, hacia el establecimiento de asentamientos campesinos –por razones netamente ideológicas– los que no contaron con la asesoría técnica requerida para su desarrollo sostenible. Como resultado, se malbarataron sus propios proyectos comunitarios, se comieron el capital estatal, y poco después tuvieron que ser abandonados por ese mismo gobierno militar.
Tan sólo se podría especular sobre el efecto-demostrativo que habría tenido ese Plan sobre el resto del agro panameño.
Porque, así como hoy sucede hasta en los barrios menos-privilegiados cuando ún primer vecino instala la primera antena de televisión satelital, al rato estas brotan cual hongos en las demás casas, los viajeros que vieran funcionando dicho sistema de irrigación lo habrían replicado (en la medida de su peculio) en sus propias fincas en otras provincias. Desencadenando ese indomable espíritu emprendedor de nuestros campesinos, el Interior no presentaría un panorama tan desolador.
A nine-judge plenum of the Supreme Court voted in December to order the arrest of former President Ricardo Martinelli. That warrant has yet to be issued and a number of excuses, beginning with a large photocopying job, have been proffered. But sitting atop the court administration is the newly re-elected presiding magistrate, José Ayú Prado. Now that former magistrate Alejandro Moncada Luna is in prison, Ayú Prado is the most complained-about Supreme Court jurist, and all criminal complaints against high court magistrates go through the National Assembly’s Credentials Committee, which last year convicted Moncada Luna and forced the resignation of a second magistrate, Víctor Benavides. Like Moncada Luna, Ayú Prado is a Martinelli appointee who began his days in government service back in Noriega times. One of the allegations against Ayú Prado is that he obstructed justice when he was Martinelli’s attorney general by forcing a key witness to recant her testimony implicating the former president in an international insider stock trading and money laundering scheme. (‘Getcha, wuxtry! Petaquilla Minerals — shares in that gold mine are going up, up, UP!‘)
In April of 2015, after several other cases against Ayú Prado had been dismissed, the Credentials Committee gave the remaining complaints, some of which had been provisionally consolidated, to deputy Zulay Rodríguez to analyze and report on to the committee. On July 1 there was a struggle for control of the National Assembly, with an alliance of the followers of PRD president Benicio Robinson and the Martinelli loyalists among the Cambio Democratico party falling short in a bid for power that set them against dissident members of their own parties and the legislature’s minor party and independent deputies. Rodríguez sided with Robinson and Martinelli. The platform of that failed alliance was to end investigations against Martinelli and his followers and to bring impeachment charges against President Juan Carlos Varela on some pretext or another. Rodríguez remained a member of the Credentials Committee, but part of the legislative minority both in the National Assembly as a whole and on the committee. But she also remained in possession of the committee’s only copies of the Ayú Prado files, and she sat on them.
The situation has become more complicated of late with the filing of several new complaints against magistrates, including new ones against Ayú Prado. Rodríguez is claiming dibs on all Ayú Prado files but committee chair Jorge Iván Arrocha — apparently with the backing of most of the committee — maintains that there is no obligation to assign any file to Rodríguez.
She would put the dispute in a different light. Several of the complaints are about how Ayú Prado allegedly abused his powers by ousting Colon juvenile court judge Domingo Ibarra Esquivel. There were accusations that Ibarra had taken payoffs to let juvenile suspects off, and had made files disappear. But he never got his day in court and some of the documents related to some of the charges are not in the file that the Credentials Committee has. Rodríguez says that she can’t proceed without those documents, but the committee finally imposed a January 30, 2016 deadline for her to report on the cases. A few days before that deadline came and went she made public statements about another matter, Ayú Prado’s order as attorney general to destroy computer files in a case about alleged hacking into the email account of then Minister of the Presidency Jimmy Papadimitriu, suggesting that she would be for proceeding against the presiding magistrate for abuse of authority on that case.
There were suggestions by Rodríguez’s critics that such statements are improper publicity about a matter under investigation. Those are probably not well supported, as there will formally be no investigation unless and until the committee votes to open one. Rodríguez called on the committee to defer to the procedural judgment of Administrative Prosecutor Rigoberto González, a nonstarter because it would mean a committee of the legislative branch ceding some of its constitutional powers to an autonomous agency of the executive branch.
To jaded observers of the Panamanian judicial scene, what’s it really about? It’s about a long established corrupt practice of deep-sixing court cases, and a legislator who was a key judicial operative, a de facto high court clerk at a time when such corrupt practices flourished. The dozens of files of cases frozen in similar fashion by Alejandro Moncada Luna have not yet been addressed, a year after his criminal conviction and ouster. Then there are the circumstances of the legislator’ exit from the judiciary, her removal after a decision to release some Colombian drug suspects and an ensuing controversy in which she told of her partipation in moves to oust fellow legislator Ana Matilde Gómez from the latter’s then position as attorney general. However genuine or fake the professed intentions, Rodríguez is not trusted by her colleagues in a situation where such games might be imported from the courts to the legislature.
There does seem to be some sort of a showdown brewing between the committee and Rodríguez, but by all accounts this will have to wait until at least the week after Carnival.
Carnival, traditionally a time of heavy water usage, approaches with much of Panama in the grip of a profound water crisis. There is an El Niño effect ongoing worldwide — they measure such things by the water temperature in the middle of the Pacific Ocean — and the hotter planetary temperatures can have widely varying effects in the local climates of different places. In most of Panama it’s a drought.
In the Panama metro area, San Miguelilto’s mayor, Gerald Cumberbatch — an Evangelical reverend who can be reasonably suspected of not much liking drunken Carnival revelry for starters — has proposed a ban on culecos. It’s a mere suggestion but it’s causing a firestorm of debate.
In Colon province’s Nueva Providencia — close enough to Gatun Lake to draw water from there, except that the Panama Canal Authority jealously guards the liquid that’s essential for the canal’s operation — neighbors without water have taken their protest to the Transisitmica. They have elicited a call for patience from the Varela administration, which says that it’s in the process of tripling the capacity of the Sabanitas plant from which the community gets its potable water.
On the Azuero Peninsula, the dryest part of Panama in ordinary times, cattle are dying and people are moving out. Some 70 percent of the wells have gone dry, and a Ministry of Agricultural Development program to drill new, deeper wells is finding no water in nearly one-third of the holes it drills. The town of Las Tablas in the heart of the Azuereo is the traditional center of Carnival festivities, which use a lot of water for the cistern cars in the culecos that spray water on daytime revelers. Talk of canceling Carnival, or at least banning culecos, is a political nonstarter because of the party’s economic importance to Panamanian tourism, both national and international. (If you care to take a conspiratorial view of things, you might start by noting that Carnival is also of great importance to President Varela’s family business, which distills the Ron Abuelo and Seco Herrerano that are consumed in mass quantities over the five-day celebration.) Panamanians are neither so carefree nor party spirited that culecos in the middle of an area that’s dying of thirst goes without critical comment, and the government has responded by stepping up its rural well drilling in the region and by restricting water usage for the culecos and barring the cistern cars from drawing water for several of the very low rivers from which towns drink.
In Chiriqui existing water problems created by human activity — hydroelectric dams that in the scheme of Panama’s energy needs make little sense but as businesses get international carbon bond revenue and seek to cash in on real estate development around artificial lakes — are aggravated by the drought. In that province authorities have called for restraint in water usage but have left the Chiriqui, Escarrea y San Felix rivers open to the cistern cars for the culecos without specific restrictions.
Panama Oeste’s population centers of Arraijan and La Chorrera have water problems that are more often created by crumbling infrastructures that are inadequate to handle the ongoing urban sprawl than they are by supply shortages. Crossing over the ridge under Cerro Campana one gets to the eastern end of Panama’s Dry Arc that runs along the western littoral of the Gulf of Panama. The water shortages are more often of natural origin there. Panama Oeste’s main Carnival locale, Capira, has reduced culecos from last year’s 10 to six this time, forbidden the cistern cars’ refills over the course of a day and restricted culeco hours to between 11 a.m. and 5 p.m.
The next province over, Cocle, is severely hit. The water parade that’s the center of Carnival revelry in Penonome is still on, but the Zarati River on which it is held is very low and had to be dammed upstream from the Carnival site to make it deep enough for the city’s drinking water intake to function. Water can only be drawn for culecos in three of the province’s rivers — 14 cistern cars per day from the Zarati River in Penonome, 14 from the Chico River in Nata and 13 per day from the Rio Grande to supply festivities in El Valle, Rio Hato and Anton. Most of the province’s creeks have been dry since December and now many of the larger rivers are dry or down to a trickle. Several of the province’s rural aqueducts, both those that take surface water and those fed by wells, are in serious crisis. It’s likely to affect Carnival tourism as people in the city may decide not to escape to their cottages in the Interior at which there is no water. The problem with a number of the rural aqueducts is that these are jury-rigged contraptions that have not been expanded to deal with growing populations that depend on them, such that they may keep water coming to areas along their principal mains but no longer have pressure to get water out to neighborhoods at the ends of their lines. One can get into some interesting social, historical and political analyses about that, but meanwhile some people are leaving waterless areas to stay with family or friends who do have running water, while others are adjusting their lifestyles to include the hauling of water from community spigots as part of their daily routines.
Hellenic Shipping News, New PanCanal tanker deck cooling rules
Splash 24/7, AMP investigates sinking of cargo vessel off Panama
The Straits Times, Chinpo fined $180K over illegal arms case
Hellenic Shipping News, Can Egypt dredge up support for the new Suez Canal?
Havana Times, Poll shows declining expectations on a Nicaragua Canal
Travel Weekly, Elegance and adventure on Northwest Passage cruise
La Estrella: $1 millón, único pago de PPC en 18 años
Port Technology, Container trade rates to decline in 2016
Miami Herald, 2016 will see a bonanza of new cruise ships
Lloyd’s List, Panama raises ballast water rules concerns
Slowtwitch, Sanders and Haskins win Panama Ironman race
MLSoccer, Roberto Chen moving from Malaga to USA?
La Estrella, Lista de GAFI impactó el sector bancario del país
Ugarteche & Luna, The yuan’s conversion into an international reserve currency
World Bank, Lower 2016 projections for 37 of 46 commodities
Latin American Herald Tribune, Panama’s corn fields dry up under blazing sun
Telemetro, Ríos secos y escasez de agua en Azuero
Undercurrent, Eastern Pacific tuna catches up
The New York Times, WHO declares Zika emergency
Xinhua, 42 Zika cases in Guna Yala
Discovery News, Elusive bush dogs caught on camera in Panama
Foreign Policy, The espionage economy
Remezcla, Cinema Tropical awards for 2015
Catholic Culture, Panama’s bishops lament moral crisis
Gandásegui, La descomposición del sistema político panameño
Bernal, Renovemos la esperanza
Blades, Will Smith’s Oscars boycott
Eyes on Trade, Actual text of TPP study vs press hype about it
Fischer, Welcome to the Twenty-First Century
Brooklyn, by way of Africa and Colon, by way of Boston, met at The Crossroads of the World, in the City of Knowledge Ateneo on January 14. In part it was a fusion of fusions, Randy Weston’s African-influenced jazz and Joshue Ashby’s mixture of classical, jazz and Panamanian folk influences. The two acts did mix it up a bit but it was Joshue Ashby and his Colonenses warming up for Randy Weston and his African Rhythms band — Weston on piano, Alex Blake playing the bass, Neil Clarke’s percussion, Talib Kibwe on sax and flute and Robert Trowers blowing the Trombone. Weston, an elder statesman and a son of the Afro-Antillean diaspora, was the festival’s featured atist. Ashby was the featured example of the talent that jazz festivals past and the Danilo Pérez Foundation in general has developed.
At a little after 5 p.m. on Janauary 29 a fire broke out in a home in Icandi, a village on Lake Bayano in the Guna comarca of Madungandi. As often happens in Guna villages, which tend to be made of wood and thatch houses and community buildings that are crowded close together, the fire quickly spread. Nobody was hurt or killed, but more than 30 homes were destroyed in this fire, the second such devastation for Icandi. Now the questions are where and how to rebuild, and what resources will be available for reconstruction.
In an October 2014 interview with La Prensa — for which he is now being accused of a crime — Supreme Court magistrate had this exchange with the newspaper’s Flor Mizrachi:
LP: In general, what are the magistrates’ bad practices?
HD: Hiding files and selling judgments.
LP: What purpose do the magistrates’ trips serve?
HD: Supposedly they are for work.
LP: When is the court going to collapse?
HD: Now. It has been for some time.
LP: What’s missing?
HD: That people come and shut us down. That’s the only thing.
Díaz was talking about a court over which José Ayú Prado presided at the time. With the new year came an election in which Díaz opposed Ayú Prado for the court’s presidency for the next two years, but the latter was re-elected. Most court reformer advocates found Ayú Prado’s re-election repugnant. Then Díaz made angry statements, mixing personal disappointment, more specific charges of misconduct by Ayú Prado from before he was on the court and serving as Ricardo Martinelli’s attorney general, and lurid gossip about how one former colleage called a current one a pedophile.
As to Díaz’s tales of corruption, it was said that he was either complicit or silent until moved by a personal grudge not to be. But he had been talking about the general problem for more than a year before that election among magistates. The pedophilia rumors that Diáz publicized may indeed be about criminal activity but they are the sorts of things that Panamanian culture does not accept as subjects of public discussion, especially when unaccompanied by ironclad proofs. The complaints about the high court leadership election were both an expression of widely held public concerns and crybaby talk by someone who lost an election.
Díaz has now been charged with crimes by fellow magistrates, under Panama’s benighted criminal defamation laws. But the embattled magistrate has picked up the gauntlet, volunteered to testify before the legislature’s Credentials Committee and issued a five-page open letter to the nation.
The open letter is partly self-serving, partly civic-minded. Díaz points out some faults with the way that the court is run and offers some suggested solutions. Some of these would be positive administrative rules to deter judicial corruption. Some are based on naive notions that law can be separated from politics or that the selection of ideal magistrates can somehow approach an exact science.
A lot of the wrath that has come Harry Díaz’s way is the typical lot of whistle blowers everywhere. People whose real complaint is that they don’t want their own misconduct discussed at any time or in any manner insincerely ask “Why didn’t you say something before?” People attack the person with guilty knowledge and urge that such knowledge be categorically discounted because of the character of the person who reveals it.
Harry Díaz is not going to be a perfect witness. The serious charges that he makes should not be taken at face value without any attempt to corroborate them with extrinsic proofs. But there is already a body of independent evidence about the sorts of things that Dáiz alleges on the public record — witnesses to judicial misconduct, documentary evidence of files that have gone missing in the high court, financial records of third parties that suggest bribery in that institution, circumstances like courthouse security videos “gone missing” in order to “disprove” charges that Martinelli’s man Salo Shamah made frequent visits to the court when he had no proper business there.
Harry Díaz may not come out of the process smelling like a rose, but his allegations deserve a complete and serious investigaton.
People can try — and have tried — to read tea leaves or construct conspiracy theories about delays in the release of emails from Hillary Clinton’s private Internet server. However, on the afternoon of the Friday before the Monday of hotly contested Iowa caucuses, the Obama administration said that notwithstanding Mrs. Clinton’s earlier denials, her home server contained government secrets that were supposed to be carefully guarded. That private Internet server was vulnerable to prying by hackers, although we don’t know if its security was actually breached. Compounding Hillary’s problem was an announcement that 22 emails were so sensitive that they could not be released, and that State Department investigators would now look into whether any of the material in those emails was classified at the time they went through the unofficial server. It looks bad, and comes at a bad time for her presidential campaign.
Let us understand certain GOP screeds and distinguish those from proper thinking. Many Republicans will scream treason, but this is not treason. Treason is narrowly defined in US law as making war against the United States — like, arguably, that Bundy crowd — or adhering to and giving material aid to America’s enemies in times of declared war. The ultra-right likes to scream treason a lot because they are vicious totalitarians and treason is a death penalty offense. These people are the spiritual heirs ot the people who lynched Schwerner, Chaney and Goodman. Hillary’s critics on the Democratic side may momentarily have some adversaries in common, but have hardly anything in common with the far right or with what they think and say.
So did Hillary commit a crime? That’s debatable. Even if the material in those 22 emails was classified at the time, liability largely would hinge around knowledge and intent. We should leave those arguments to lawyers in judicial settings. The issue before the voters is not who is a criminal but the relative qualities of the judgment of those who would be president of the United States.
Hillary Clinton showed dangerously bad judgment. For starters, the main purpose of that private server was to evade the Freedom of Information act and hide non-classified public business from public view. She’s neither careful about protecting the nation’s secrets nor forthcoming with information that it’s the public’s right to have. Sure, she has all this international experience. But in the course of it she has never done very well. Hillary’s experiences are not qualifications and this is but one more example of his.
Paul Kantner murió ayer en su natal San Francisco. Para entender la generación de estadounidenses que se resistió a la guerra de Vietnam, y para entender la campaña de Bernie Sanders de hoy, ayuda a entender lo que Pablo Kantner representaba.
“Wooden Ships” –buques de madera– es uno de los himnos clásicos contra la guerra. Paul Kantner era el autor de las letras. Se trata de un encuentro entre dos soldados en las secuelas de una guerra atroz que dejó la tierra envenenado y todo de metal con un brillo radiactivo.
Si me sonríes, sabes lo entenderé
Porque eso es algo que todos en todas partes se hacen en la misma lengua
Puedo ver por tu abrigo, mi amigo, que estás del otro lado
Sólo hay una cosa que tengo que saber –¿Me puede decir por favor, quién ganó la guerra?
Paul Kantner y su esposa y compañero de banda en el momento, Grace Slick, estaban allí para la lucha, prestando asistencia cuando estábamos encarcelados, impulsándonos hacia adelante con su música.
Vaya con Dios, Paul Kantner.