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Panameñista Juncá picked for Electoral Tribunal as legislative alliances shift

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Juncá
Alfredo Juncá signs in as the newest election magistrate. Photo by the Asamblea Nacional.

Alfredo Juncá joins the Electoral Tribunal

by Eric Jackson

Panameñista activist Alfredo Juncá Wendehake, an attorney educated in the Philippines and political science wonk who has long worked in behind-the-scenes political posts, was elected on January 3 by a 40 to 26 to 3 vote to a 10-year term as a magistrate on the Electoral Tribunal. On his accession to the post he made a rather standard declaration that he’s not a party member now and he owes nothing to anybody.

Juncá’s most recent job was as the director of plenary affairs at the National Assembly, where his main task was arranging the agendas of the entire legislature when it sat as a whole to consider proposed legislation on second and third readings or to pass on major appointments. He came to that position as a political patronage hireling, having previously served in the Panameñista Party post of executive secretary of parliamentary affairs.

One might look at the results and say that it means that President juan Carlos Varela maintains a working majority of support in the National Assembly. Varela would protest that this was a legislative decision in which he played no part. But looking beyond the result it appears that the PRD role in the legislature is very different now and the future of the Cambio Democratico role is still up in the air.

Since the 1989 US invasion Panamanian voters have always defeated the re-election hopes of whatever party has been in power. It’s early yet but polls suggest that in 2019 it will be no different. So who succeeds the Panameñista? The scandal-wracked Cambio Democratico party and its fugitive leader trying to run the show from Miami, or the Democratic Revolutionary Party, now under the leadership of legislator Pedro Miguel González, who has a US terrorism warrant out for his arrest? In the past two elections of the legislature’s officers, both CD and the PRD split, with PRD member Rúben De Leon getting the top spot on the strength of an alliance of factions of PRD and CD dissidents with the Panameñista caucus, the latter with only 17 seats in the 71-member National Assembly. The opposition to that in July of 2015 and 2016 was a proposed alliance of PRD party president and legislator Benicio Robinson and a CD loyal to Ricardo Martinelli. But neither Robinson nor Martinelli could control their parties’ deputies and the public at large generally despised any alliance which would give the former president any hooks into the present government.

That paradigm at least partially lingers on until the next set of National Assembly officers is chosen on July 1 but old arrangements have been superseded, at least from the PRD side. Under González’s leadership they will be in opposition to the Panameñistas and take their licks in the assembly in order to be a more credible alternative in 2019. González says that he will not run for any public office in that year and there is as yet no obvious PRD nominee. It might be the foreigner-bashing Zulay Rodríguez, the more social democratic Laurentino Cortizo, one of the rabiblancos in the party who has a lot of money to run a campaign or somebody coming out of the blue. But whatever they may in the end stand for, between now and the next national elections they don’t plan to stand with President Varela.

While the power struggle in the PRD essentially played itself out, in CD there are party elections yet to come. Most of the CD deputies voted for Juncá and perhaps the consolation prize was that earlier in the day Martinelli appointee Heriberto Araúz became the Electoral Tribunal’s presiding magistrate. (That post, filled by election among the three members of the tribunal, more or less rotates anyway, though.) Three CD caucus members voted for fellow party member Arturo Vallarino, former vice president of Panama, former deputy and the brother of one of the legislators who voted for him. Some of the former Martinelli cabinet members who are out on bail as corruption cases continue, former economy and finance minister Frank De Lima and former security minister José Raúl Mulino, criticized the CD deputies who voted for the Panameñistas. US policies may change, but it seems that the one big thing that Cambio Democratico has going for it as the 2019 elections approach is that Uncle Sam hates Pedro Miguel González and sees fomer canal affairs mininster, corporate lawyer Rómulo Roux, as its preferred next president of Panama. But then US backing may not be such a wonderful asset in the coming Trump times. Already there is talk from at least one CD deputy of starting a new political party and there will probably be some elected officials jumping over to other parties as the outlines of the 2019 contests take shape.

 

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Juicio del año: Los maleantes de GENISA vs. La gente de Tabasará Libre

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Dem v Us

 

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Okke Ornstein: the trial, the back story, prospects moving forward

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OO perp walk
The “about to be released anyway” perp walk. Photo by Eric Jackson.

A trial like we may never see again, what they left unsaid and looking ahead

by Eric Jackson

If you keep driving that way the mean old judge is going to take your license away.

admonition, long ago, by a law student working his way through law school in a day care center
wherein the nexes of judicial temperament were impressed on the minds of kids riding hot wheels

 

So did Judge Yorlenis Fruto pass the test? Was she mean? Was she old?

Actually, it was fun watching her expressions at the December 23 municipal court trial of Okke Ornstein, accused of years ago defaming a man now deceased. It was also interesting to this reporter, as it may have been one of the last, or even the very last, trials for alleged violations of Panama’s criminal defamation laws held under the old inquisitorial system of criminal procedure. These days the newer accusatory system applies, but this charge dates back to when the old system was in effect. That meant no oral testimony, no cross-examinations, nobody asking “Hey — where’s the alleged victim and complaining witness?” No shocking courtroom confessions either.

On this day a file, about three inches thick, was passed around among judge, prosecutor and defense counsel, with arguments based on papers therein.

“The file” was by no means the only one in the little courtroom. There were hundreds of thick paper files stacked up along the walls, making it an unpleasant and indecorous place to work and also a terrible fire hazard.

So did the judge laugh, or did she smile? Actually she did, but not in the courtroom. After it was all over she met someone outside the courthouse and she did smile and did laugh. I was not so intrusive as to try to figure out why or who.

First up in the trial, however, was the defense motion to dismiss the case because it had been filed in 2007 and it was only now getting to trial. As in, dismissed under the statute of limitations. For this the judge modified her courtroom poker face into an ever so slight scowl. She blamed Ornstein’s own disregard for developments in his case for court dates scheduled, for which he was never personally served of any notice, and not held because he was unavailable. Motion denied.

Then, the argument about the case at hand, between young prosecutor Pamela González and veteran defense counsel Manuel Succari. Gone was the hint of a scowl. The judge resumed her poker face. González emphasized that the complaint was about Ornstein calling one Clyde Jenkins a pedophile. Succari noticed that the complaint was not translated into Spanish, nor was it signed or otherwise verified.

Panama’s criminal defamation law is actually two laws, calumnia and injuria. The former is like libel or slander in the Common Law systems, and is about false and defamatory statements. Truth is a defense to calumnia. The latter is about injury to a reputation. Truth is not a defense to injuria. Succari went after the injuria charge. Where was the claim of a job or contract lost? Where was the testimony about any harm whatsoever?

The judge, when it was her turn, droned on in a monotone, noting that the police couldn’t verify that the pedophilia allegation had actually been published, that the complaint was not in any proper form to be admitted into evidence, that there were no proofs of injury. Ornstein was thus absolved. Her expression did not change.

Judge Fruto is not old, except maybe to a toddler on a hot wheel. Had she been more of a meanie she could have ignored all laws and proofs and come up with a conviction and a severe sentence. Precedent hardly means anything in Panamanian law, but there are lots of examples of judgments contrary to law and evidence. But a mean old judge she turned out not to be on this day. Perhaps as she continues in the job and gets wrinkled and jaded and bitter, she will meet the two nexes of judicial temperament.

Not at all mentioned in this proceeding was the identity of the real complainant. Back in 2008 one Donald K. Winner, in a screed where he also threatened to set people up on drug charges, admitted what it was: “I filed a criminal complaint against Okke Ornstein when he published his slanderous article calling Clyde Jenkins a pedophile.” That Winner had no standing to do this and tried to file a complaint in English without verification meant that years down the pike a morning was wasted for several people.

Does somebody want to allege a fraud upon the court? In the scheme of things there were worse ones from that quarter. For example, being the shill in a pump and dump gold mining stock swindle, in which former President Martinelli was, according to witnesses, making money on insider trades. Martinelli avoided legal consequences when that came out because one of Mr. Winner’s “inside sources” in the legal system — one Alejandro Moncada Luna — was by then the presiding magistrate of the Supreme Court and ruled that insider trading is not a crime in Panama if the shares are not traded on Panama’s little Bolsa de Valores stock and bond market. About the time that Moncada Luna was placed under house arrest for corruption — nowadays he lives in El Renacer Penitentiary, where Ornstein was held, but is kept away from the mainline prisoners because he has gone somewhat crazy in confinement — Winner fled Panama. He now sells cars in upstate New York.

(Did the Hillary Clinton campaign just learn about the “alt-right” and its outlandish claims, attempts to muzzle the press, fake news and abuses of legal processes over this past year? It’s really old in the gringo community here.)

This reporter was a participant in efforts to defend Ornstein. If someone in the corporate mainstream wants to complain about compromised objectivity, she or he may do so. The blackout of this case by most of those media hardly qualifies as impartiality. Meanwhile, the accuser in the case that ended up with Okke Ornstein being thrown in jail for six weeks before learning the day before the trial reported here that he would be on President Varela’s sentence commutation list, one Monte Freisner, had a mouthpiece named Ken Rijock — a guy with a money laundering conviction on his record — spewing fake news derogatory to Ornstein. You might have read about fraud convictions, child molesting or other fiction. Ornstein was jailed for criminal defamation, for writing stuff about Friesner that governments in four countries have written about him. (See, e.g., what the Ontario Securities Commission in his native Canada said about him on pages 20 and 21.) The September 23 trial came after the president announced that the sentence that Ornstein was serving would be commuted. A conviction might have kept him in jail anyway.

The fight remains in Europe to get Ornstein’s Bananama Republic website unfrozen, and the journalist is headed back to Holland shortly. We may see that publication again, but even before it was shut down by a Dutch court order based on a Panamanian court ruling, Ornstein was paying little attention to updating it. Lately he has been reporting on Middle Eastern wars that spill over into European refugee crises, for media that pay like Al Jazeera.

Ornstein just got a sentence commutation rather than a full pardon, so possibilities remain for appeals up to the Inter-American Human Rights Court. It’s a matter of time and resources, but perhaps a chance to get a ruling that not only was the law abused, but that any criminal defamation law is a violation of fundamental freedoms and cannot stand. Because the conviction remains on the record, Panama could make an immigration case of it — but that’s doubtful because Ornstein has a daughter who is a minor and a Panamanian citizen living here. Plus there are other Friesner and Winner complaints seemingly lost in the system. We shall see.

 

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Varela, Informe a la nación

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JCV
Que dijo Presidente Varela

 

 


 

Discurso en PDF

 

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¿Wappin? Old stuff and newer stuff as 2016 becomes 2017

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Dan Reynolds - Imagine Dragons
Dan Reynolds of Imagine Dragons, in Nuremberg. Photo by Sven-Sebastian Sajak.

Old and new things / Cosas viejas y nuevas

Jefferson Airplane – Have You Seen the Saucers?
https://youtu.be/jSJemA-eviU

Javiera Mena – Sincronía, Pegaso
https://youtu.be/FGfY0aIvIZg

Shekhinah & Kyle Deustch – Back To The Beach
https://youtu.be/Exfp_dYjVZo

Café Tacvba – Un Par de Lugares
https://youtu.be/8JrJX_ctOtU

The Beach Boys – Catch a Wave
https://youtu.be/K0fGi3tjpjA

Kinks – Sunny Afternoon
https://youtu.be/VLs09J_x6-c

Metric – The Shade
https://youtu.be/laVWyQnIicU

Imagine Dragons – Shots
https://youtu.be/qQrgto184Tk

Cienfue – Medio Alcohólico Melancólico
https://youtu.be/UiAzrzPEJgw

Peter Tosh – Whatcha Gonna Do
https://youtu.be/wGpJbD9h-J0

Adele – Hello
https://youtu.be/YQHsXMglC9A

Stevie Wonder & Ariana Grande – Faith
https://youtu.be/hNMMN46uFCc

Lord Kitty – Rum
https://youtu.be/cGREzfwEU3s

Cream – Spoonful
https://youtu.be/hH_YhoULx4A

David Bowie Glass Spider tour live full concert 87
https://youtu.be/l9fQTQ6z324

 

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MIREN, El comunicado deshonesto y entreguista del gobierno

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dem
La gente de Varela pronuncian sobre Odebrecht. Foto por la Presidencia.

Rechazamos declaraciones del gobierno Varela en torno al Grupo Odebrecht

por el Movimiento Independiente de Refundación Nacional (MIREN)

El pueblo panameño fue informado por el gobierno norteamericano, a través de los medios de comunicación, que gobernantes panameños, desde hace más de diez años, han cometido actos de corrupción en asociación con la empresa constructora brasileña, Grupo Odebrecht. Un total de 59 millones de dólares fueron pagados ilegalmente por este grupo a funcionarios panameños para favorecer sus intereses en contratos, acuerdos y adendas.

En una conferencia de prensa improvisada, varios ministros del actual gobierno del señor Juan Carlos Varela, mostraron su sorpresa por la noticia. Leyeron un comunicado preparado por el consejo de gabinete pidiéndole al Grupo Odebrecht desistir de participar en futuras licitaciones si no colabora con la justicia panameña.

El Movimiento Independiente de Refundación Nacional (MIREN) rechaza categóricamente el comunicado por considerarlo deshonesto y entreguista.

Es deshonesto porque, en forma deliberada, el gobierno pretende engañar a los panameños señalando que no tiene responsabilidad alguna con delitos cometidos por este Grupo en el país. Es engañosa por pretender que el Grupo Odebrecht termine las actuales obras pactadas con el gobierno por 10 mil millones de dólares sin considerar los casos que se estarán ventilando en el sistema judicial.

El MIREN declara:

1. Que el Grupo Odebrecht ha sido imputado de actos de soborno a funcionarios gubernamentales panameños por espacio de 10 años, por lo que esta acusación toca a varios gobiernos.. Los ejecutivos del grupo Odebrecht y los funcionarios panameños involucrados deben ser procesados penalmente por sus actuaciones, por lo que el gobierno no debe pedirle al grupo que “acepte su culpabilidad.”

2. Que el gobierno panameño debe prohibir la participación del Grupo Odebrecht en futuras licitaciones y no esperar que el mismo “desista” de hacerlo o “demuestre una colaboración efectiva con las investigaciones” que realiza el Ministerio Público.

3. Que el contrato del Grupo Odebrecht para la construcción de la hidroeléctrica Chan 2 (en Bocas del Toro) debe ser intervenida para determinar el nivel de corrupción que se está dando en esa obra que tantas vidas ha arruinado.

4. Que el gobierno investigue al Grupo Odebrecht y asegure que todas las obras que inició y se encuentran en construcción se “cumplan a cabalidad con los términos pactados”.

5. Que lamenta que tanto el Ejecutivo como el órgano Judicial se encuentran en un estado de corrupción irreconciliable que posiblemente genere más corrupción en este proceso que se le seguirá al Grupo Odebrecht.

6. Qué el pueblo debe ser vigilante para evitar que continúen los desmanes de la partidocracia que cada 5 años se ha venido sucediendo en el poder. Hay que organizarse para desplazar de sus posiciones de poder en la estructura política del país a los que desde allí han sojuzgado a las grandes mayorías a través del despojo, la rapiña y la corrupción generalizada.

7. Que el MIREN continuará en sus esfuerzos por construir, junto a otras fuerzas, una alternativa al pueblo panameño en el 2019 para poner fin a la corrupción sin control y presentar un plan de desarrollo nacional que entre otras cosas, erradique la inseguridad, garantice una educación pertinente, una salud adecuada y genere empleos decentes para todos los panameños.

 

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Benjamin, Selling weapons to a country that’s killing a child every 10 minutes

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Yemeni hunger
On poverty rations in war-torn Yemen. Photo by IRIN.

No more holiday gifts for repressive regimes

by Medea Benjamin — OtherWords

While the world has been transfixed on the epic tragedy in Syria, another tragedy — a hidden one — has been consuming the children of Yemen.

Battered by the twin evils of war and hunger, every 10 minutes a child in Yemen dies from malnutrition, diarrhea, or respiratory-tract infections, UNICEF reports. And without immediate medical attention, over 400,000 kids suffering from severe acute malnutrition could die, too.

Why are so many of Yemen’s children going hungry and dying?

Since 2014, Yemen has been wracked by a civil war — a war that’s been exacerbated by intervention from Saudi Arabia, a US ally. Since 2015, the Saudis have been pounding this nation, the poorest in the Middle East, with cluster bombs and explosives.

And the United States has been helping, selling the Saudis advanced weapons and providing intelligence and logistical support.

This nearly two-year-old bombing campaign has killed thousands of innocent Yemenis and sparked a severe humanitarian crisis. A desert country, Yemen imports 90 percent of its food. But thanks to a Saudi naval blockade and the bombing of the country’s main port, imports have dried up.

Subsequent shortages have led food prices to soar. Meanwhile, the war has left millions of people unemployed and displaced. Unable to buy the high-priced food, they’re forced to depend on humanitarian aid for their survival.

UN and private relief organizations have been mobilizing to respond to the crisis, but a staggering 18.8 million people — out of a population of 25 million — need assistance. The situation is only getting worse as the war drags on and the winter cold sets in.

At the same time, the UN Refugee Agency has received less than half the funds it needs.

The nation’s health system is also on the verge of collapse. Less than a third of the country’s population has access to medical care, and only half of its health facilities are functional. Diseases such as cholera and measles are spreading, taking a heavy toll on children.

The only way to end the humanitarian crisis is to end the conflict. That means pushing harder for a political solution and calling for an immediate ceasefire. Until that happens, the United States should stop its military support for the Saudi regime.

Despite the repressive nature of the Saudi regime, for decades US administrations have supported the Saudi government both diplomatically and militarily. Under Obama alone, weapons sales to the Saudis reached a whopping $115 billion.

Concerned over the high rate of civilian casualties, on December 12 the White House took the rare step of stopping the sale of 16,000 guided munition kits. This is a great step forward, but it represents only a small fraction of total US weapons sales to the Saudi regime.

In fact, at the same time the White House announced it was blocking this $350 million deal, the State Department announced plans to sell 48 Chinook cargo helicopters and other equipment worth 10 times as much.

Moreover, the coming Trump administration might well restore all sales. That’s why it’s important for Congress, which has the authority to block weapons sales but seldom actually does, to step forward and take a stand.

Selling weapons to a repressive regime should never be allowed. And today, when these weapons are leading to the death of a Yemeni child every 10 minutes, the sales are simply unconscionable. The time to stop them is now.

 

Medea Benjamin, cofounder of CODEPINK for Peace, is the author of The Kingdom of the Unjust: Behind the US-Saudi Connection.

 

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A New Year tradition in the Interior

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munecos
Men of the year: Panamanian President Juan Calos Varela, US President-elect Donald Trump, Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto and the late Cuban strongman Fidel Castro, in effigy in Bejuco.

Personae and phenomena:
the muñeco measure

photos by Sivio Sirias, notes by Eric Jackson

Take a drive west on the Pan-American Highway these next few days — Sunday will be too late — and you will see these dummies of varying quality along the roadsides. They are muñecos, symbols of the outgoing year to be burned on New Year’s bonfires. The norm is that muñecos get stuffed full of firecrackers before getting tossed into the fire, and if to a colonense saril is a tea made from brewing the petals of a red flower of an annual hibiscus species with a bit of ginger, then perhaps flavoring it with a bit of sugar and maybe some lime juice, allspice or pineapple juice, around the New Years bonfires of the Interior saril is brewed straight, chilled and then mixed with an ample amount of seco. Who and what get represented in muñecos tend to be the famous, the infamous, and the cultural sensations of the old year. Taking a count of who and how many of each is a good way to estimate the year’s top news story. The depictions are often quite irreverent and the most outrageous ones often reflect a quite accurate public estimation of the person or thing represented.

 

Silvio2
Final orders from The Comandante: ‘Nevertheless, comrade, you WILL infiltrate their high schools and writers’ circles….’

 

Silvio3
The Ugly Gringo: a very Latin American way of looking at the US president-elect.

 

Silvio4
Was the US election the piñata that saves his presidency from the taint of scandals and violence?

 

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Varela backs off — just a little — from his Odebrecht impunity law

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Rob Roy
Minister of Canal Affairs Roberto Roy, who is also secretary of the Metro. In those posts he oversees some large public works contracts, including some with Odebrecht. The contract for Metro Line 2 was steered to Odebrecht, which was not the low bidder, on his watch. A Chinese-led consortium with much experience and a good reputation lost on the basis of a questionable and arbitrary set of technical points formulated by a committee that included a former Odebrecht consultant. There are no allegations that Roy was bribed and even if he was, the way that this is usually done is that a lower level person or outside party takes the bribe from the company and redistributes it. Unless the one or more bag people can be persuaded to turn state’s evidence such bribery becomes difficult to prove. But it’s much easier to say, when you have an admission by the party that paid the bribe, that the person in charge of the institution whose decision was affected by corruption has been disgraced by it having happened on his or her watch regardless of personal guilt or innocence in the crime itself. Photo by the Presidencia.

Odebrecht kicked out of Metro Line 3 and fourth canal bridge bidding after US corruption admissions

Varela edges away from his Odebrecht impunity law

by Eric Jackson

On the evening of December 27 the Varela administration, at a press conference that President Varela himself did not attend, issued a communique about Odebrecht, the large and notoriously corrupt Brazilian-based multinational conglomerate that centers around a construction company. The seven points of the statement include a lot of conditional things that will probably amount to no net change, a demand for compensation for the $59 million in bribes which Odebrecht admitted to the US Department of Justice that it had paid to politically connected Panamanians and a few noteworthy items.

Both the serious measures and the fluff, however, represent a retreat from the “Odebrecht Law” proposed and signed by the president and passed by the National Assembly earlier this year. That law bars the government from making contracts by companies convicted of bribery by the Panamanian courts, while refusing to recognize judgments by foreign legal systems in public works bidding here. The corrupt and dysfunctional Panamanian courts largely run on bribery and rarely convict anybody of engaging in it. The non-recogntion of foreign judgments was necessary for Odbrecht’s purposes because that group of companies has been at the center of many Brazilian bribery scandals going back many years and ongoing today, and has picked up a number of convictions along the way.

The administration’s statement was made at a press conference at the Ministry of the Presidency at which a number of lower-level officials whose departments deal with Odebrecht were on the dais. The statement includes a point that the government will “Adopt the necessary measures so that the Odebrecht Goup desists from the prequalification process for the bidding for the design and consrtuction of the 4th bridge over the Panama Canal and Line 3 of the Metro.” Perhaps this would not require repeal or amendment of the recent law designed for politicians to look tough on corruption in government contracting while in reality designing the system to bar penalties for such crimes.

The statement also expresses support for Public Ministry investigations of the bribes detailed by the US Justice Department and demands that Odebrecht compensate Panama for its losses, cooperate with prosecutors and admit its guilt. An admission might trigger the government contracting law passed earlier this year, were it in the form of a guilty plea applicable to the entirety of Odebrecht rather than just a subsidiary or one of the conglomerate’s executives.

The communique’s conditional language comes into play again when it bars future government contracts for Odebrecht UNTIL it shows that it has cooperated with prosecutors and compensated Panama. No measures are specified to judge those things, and compensation may matter a great deal to the Panamanian treasury. Did Odebrecht win a contract because it bribed somebody to rig the bidding process? Paying an amount equal to the bribe would not cover the costs of defending or settling a lawsuit by the companies that lost the contract due to the corrupted process. Nor would it cover the government’s legal expenses when it goes after Martinelli apparatchiki or relatives and faces phalanxes of lawyers interposing frivolous motions to delay and dismiss.

The administration also said that it would move to end the partnership agreement with Odebrecht to run the Chan 2 hydroelectric dam project in Bocas del Toro. The administration says that it expects and demands proper performance on the many public works contracts with Odebrecht on which construction is already underway. The most noteworthy of these are Line 2 of the Metro, which will take the commuter rail system out to Tocumen and the Colon City renovation project. Panama City also has some large municipal contracts with Odebrecht, about which Mayor Blandón is being pestered with questions and critiques.

 

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Democrats Abroad by-laws question 4: meetings

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us4

By-laws Question 4

Proposed amendment to Article XVII of the
Democrats Abroad Panama by-laws (meetings)

Add two new sections, to read:

17.9 Democrats Abroad Panama shall acquire its own Skype address, which shall be made known to the membership and be shall used at our meetings to make it easier for members who cannot attend in person to participate and to avoid the technical and scheduling problems that have been experienced using the Democrats Abroad international WebX account.

17.10 Democrats Abroad Panama shall establish a fund to help defray the travel costs:

  1. . of officers and board members who in order to participate in meetings must travel into Panama City from homes outside the metro area or to places with usable Internet service from homes with unusable connections; and

  2. . of those who must travel physically or incur special costs to participate electronically while representing Democrats Abroad Panama at regional or international Democrats Abroad meetings.

 

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