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Jackson, It’s not OK

Comments that follow an El Siglo story about a Venezuelan woman who was stabbed to death in David.

It’s not OK

by Eric Jackson

Panama has been down this road before. Back in the 1920s a group called Accion Comunal — a splinter group from the Liberal Party of Colombian roots — used to dress up in Ku Klux Klan robes and agitate for the deportation of all residents of Panama of ancestry from the non-Hispanic Caribbean lands, all Asians, all Arabs and all Sephardic Jews. This movement came to power in the 1930s under the leadership of the Arias Madrid brothers. The younger of them, Dr. Arnulfo Arias, served just long enough as public health director to recommend, for Panama’s purported racial “health,” the sterilization of members of these racial groups. After having served as Panama’s ambassador to Mussolini’s Italy and Hitler’s Germany, Arnulfo came back to succeed his brother Harmodio as president and to sponsor the constitution of 1941, which stripped all Panamanians of the races he hated — it didn’t matter if they, their parents and their grandparents were all born here — of their citizenship. That racial experiment lasted but a few months, because the United States was edging toward entry into World War II by sending Lend-Lease aid to the British. This was often carried on ships coming through the Panama Canal from the US West Coast, to then run a gauntlet of Nazi u-boats lurking right off of the Colon breakwall. Franklin D. Roosevelt decided that he couldn’t tolerate one of Hitler’s friends as president of Panama and so organized an October 1941 coup to overthrow Arnulfo Arias.

Now we have a member of the legislature — whose maternal grandparents Arnulfo wanted to sterilize — railing against foreigners. Oh, is it just the criminals? Actually, she smears whole nations with her broad brush. Never mind that Zulay Rodríguez Lu was kicked off of the bench at the behest of the US Drug Enforcement Administration when she was a judge, for letting some suspected Colombian drug runners walk after they got nabbed in a DEA-assisted operation. Now that she’s a politician, she calls all Colombians “scum.”

Ah, what a nationalist. She copies Donald Trump. Like pitches of neofascists all across Europe, it gets couched in oh so reasonable arguments for immigration “reform.” But it’s all demagoguery, an appeal to base tribal hatreds of “the other” for political gain.

Now she, and an even more strident little xenophobe group, may show up at protests against the wholesale corruption of our government by Odebrecht. A foreign company bribing the president, so it is alleged, and those who want to ignore the falling out between President Varela and MOVIN can and do also blame it on “the Jews,” or at least the Mottas, Panama’s wealthiest family of Jewish extraction.

So when a xenophobe shows up with a few supporters carrying hate banners and waving a hangman’s noose in front of the door to the El Carmen Church, why did the overwhelmingly decent organizers of the anti-corruption protest hand the guy the microphone? They say it was to allow young people a “catharsis.” And Jim Crow laws and lynching were a catharsis for white people in the former Confederate states of the US South. Hitler was Germany’s catharsis. South African apartheid was an Afrikaner catharsis. The brutal occupation of the Palestinian lands is an Israeli catharsis. The Islamic State is the catharsis of a certain segment of Sunni Muslims.

Nobody should stand idly by when a hate monger waves a hangman’s noose in front of the door of a Catholic church, let along clap for the guy. Xenophobes should be obliged to organize their own events rather than glom onto those of other people who are pursuing honorable causes.

Enough of this. Enough of them. Hate groups are indeed gaining traction in Panama, including in some of our news media. But those people are them, not us.


them 1
Above, and below, hatred on display in front of the door to the El Carmen Church.

them 2


insulting Catherin Johannet
Ricardo Martinelli’s tabloid gets in the act with an insulting diminutive treatment of an American woman — an adult — who was strangled to death in Bocas. The people waving the hangman’s noose at the church complained on Facebook about the attention that this unsolved murder has been given.


It may have been a reasonable policy decision to exclude this young man from Panama, although it seems that he neither committed any crime here nor was wanted for a specific offense in his native El Salvador. But notice how Zulay uses the story and the image to cast aspersions upon all foreigners.


Was the guy a smuggler? Did he pay a bribe? Notice how the worst thing to this group was not some Panamanian official selling his or her country, nor even that the alleged payer was a criminal. It was that the guy was Venezuelan.


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A day of simmering anti-corruption protests

the truth is a right
In the “civil society” protest crowd at the Iglesia del Carmen. Photo by Eric Jackson.

A day of protests

by Eric Jackson

Is President Varela weathering the storm generated by jailed lawyer Ramón Fonseca Mora’s allegation that he took money from the Brazil-based multinational construction conglomerate and criminal organization Odebrecht? On February 16 he might have looked at the situation, taken heart in the many divisions among anti-corruption protesters, and figured that the worst is over.

Perhaps, but extrinsic evidence to either corroborate or refute Fonseca’s incendiary charge is surely out there and the president will not be in full control of such evidence. Figure that anything that showed up in an electronic bank transfer, was the subject of an email or figured in a telephone conversation is in the US National Security Agency’s archives and any encryption could eventually be deciphered. Barring the possibility of some hack, whether that comes to public light is a political judgment to be made in Washington. Figure that several other lesser world powers have comparable abilities and probably have the same data. Courts and prosecutors in Brazil, probably in Switzerland and the United States, and possibly in other countries would have confessions by Odebrecht executives that would probably address the subject. And we don’t know what Panama’s Attorney General Kenia Porcell has and whether that would go beyond her office. (She has no jurisdiction to investigate the president — it would be up to the National Assembly to investigate, bring formal charges, try the case and render a verdict and any sentence were it to come to that.)

As it turned out, the labor and left groups that had attended the January 25 march called by the Committee Against Impunity — whose most noteworthy figure is Miguel Antonio Bernal — didn’t attend the second march on February 16. But meanwhile, earlier in the day a large contingent of workers from the SUNTRACS construction workers’ union swelled the ranks of an anti-corruption protest called by the leftist National Front for the Defense of Economic and Social Rights (FRENADESO), making that demonstration much the larger of the day’s marches.

Figure that Juan Carlos Varela is seriously hurt by the Odebrecht scandal, but so is most of the political caste that would judge him if an impeachment trial came to pass. The politicians’ malaise is surely simmering away and has probably reached the point where any hope of beating the odds and retaining the president’s Panameñista Party in power in the 2019 elections is gone and is seen as such by their most viable possible candidates. The discontent is unlikely to boil over without some stunning new revelation, which could be confirmation of something already part of the public discourse. But then, as now, the expected survival strategy would be to play on the divisions among those who would oust the president.

The historic divisions of the left will not be readily healed, but that’s on the margins of Panamanian political life anyway. Right now the split that’s most likely to put a damper on public discontent is a call for an international commission under effective control of Donald Trump — either by way of the Organization of American States, which the United States controls, or the United Nations, over which the United States holds veto power — as the traditional facile Panamanian response of letting the gringos solve Panama’s problems. Then there are various groups promoting their particular causes via the anti-corruption movements, the two most noteworthy being “vote for me” by whatever politicians can say truthfully or not that they are clean, and anti-foreigner agitation by xenophobic groups. In some cases the politicians and those who bash foreigners can be one and the same.

Union construction workers, who could shut down work on the projects where Odebrecht is the contractor in an instant if they wish to do so march against that employer’s corrupt dealings with politicians. Photo by SUNTRACS.


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Odebrecht: a reader’s and editor’s Q&A


public enemy

Odebrecht: what do we know
and will we know more?

a conversation between a reader and editor

Donor lists — is there a link to those that have been published?

Varela is saying that he will post his stuff on the Panameñista Party website. But it includes all of these opaquely anonymous corporations whose principals are by and large not readily identifiable.

Jované says he will release his when he gets the data back from the Electoral Tribunal. But didn’t he give them that information in the first place?

Juan Carlos Navarro says that he will release his data only after everyone else does, which probably means that he won’t. Haven’t heard from FAD or CD, or the smaller parties like MOLIRENA or the Partido Popular. Or anything about who backed Martinelli’s ringer independents, or Gerardo Solís when he was running as an independent.

Also the norm is many of the same donors will donate to all candidates so it’s win-win for them later when they need favors.

Well, there are nasty things that one might truthfully say about Pedro Miguel González and the party that he leads, but he’s absolutely in tune with the nation’s interests about banning all corporate campaign contributions.


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MOVADUP, La unidad para la movilización

“Toda unidad debe basarse primero en la confianza…”

Ante la corrupción, crítica y unidad popular constituyente

por el Movimiento de Adecentamiento de la Universidad de Panamá (MOVADUP)

La corrupción es algo consustancial a las élites sociales y a la dirigencia política venal que de antiguo se les ha asociado. Pero ahora, lo que antes eran secretos que todo el mundo sabía, pero nadie confesaba, ahora son gritos de exhibición de desvergüenza. Antes observaban escrúpulos entre los ladrones de cuello blanco; ahora, las disputas entre ellos los hacen delatarse mutuamente mientras arrojan sus inmundicias al público.

En los años 60, la gente se levantó por la bandera mancillada en la Zona del Canal; ahora, un sobrecosto de 5 mil millones pende sobre la reciente ampliación de la Vía Interoceánica para beneficio de un consorcio dirigido por Sacyr, famoso por sus coimas internacionales. En los 80, el pueblo se indignó por el escándalo hipotecario del Seguro Social; ahora, la Junta Directiva de esa institución perdona las deudas a los que les roban las cuotas a los trabajadores; en los 90, impedimos la privatización del IDAAN; ahora, “100% agua potable” es una vacua ilusión y nos aguantamos los servicios más caros y deficientes. Hace algunos años, durante la administración de Martinelli, impedimos que nos metieran la “Ley Chorizo”, se apoderaran de las tierras indígenas y privatizaran la Zona Libre de Colón; ahora parecemos mudos ante los más graves escándalos de corrupción como los de Odebrecht y Mossack-Fonseca, en donde la oligarquía, con dos ejemplos de los abundantes casos que la caracterizan, exhibe con descaro la impunidad y la guerra verbal es más para entretener que para conducir a procesos de justicia confiables.

Así fue antes y así es ahora. Las victorias populares siempre han logrado avances, pero no han significado arrebatar las estructuras de poder a quienes las han monopolizado. Esas aguas ahora refluyen para dejar al descubierto la carroña que contamina la playa de la sociedad. Otrora, la nación cerró filas detrás de los pendones de estudiantes, gremios y sindicatos, movimientos cívicos y partidos opositores. Pero ahora, puesto que vastas dirigencias de estas organizaciones han participado o encubierto actos de corrupción y ahora se rasgan las vestiduras, ¿en qué o en quién puede confiar la población? La desconfianza popular es evidente en la baja asistencia a las protestas. La ciudadanía detecta, con razón, que las estructuras del Estado no son lo único podrido. Sospechan que hay, entre quienes los convocan, muchos elementos carentes de moral, con intereses mezquinos. En sentido contrario, ni siquiera el Consejo Académico actual de la Universidad de Panamá, institución llamada a ello por su liderazgo natural en nuestra sociedad, ha tenido valor para hacer lo correcto pronunciándose contra esta tragedia nacional de la corrupción.

En el MOVADUP, no obstante, somos optimistas, pues el mismo pueblo panameño que exhibe momentos estelares en sus luchas históricas sabrá poner en cuestión e incluso rebasar a los que pretenden hablar en su nombre, lo mismo que execrar a los que no se atreven a hacerlo, aun teniendo ese deber. Es ahí donde está el comienzo de la liberación. Toda unidad debe basarse primero en la confianza, y el MOVADUP estimulará un proceso pacífico en que sea el propio pueblo (no los actores políticos conocidos y cuestionados ni menos “comisiones investigadoras” de afuera) el que se dé los mecanismos para su propia regeneración. Como todo problema grave conlleva una solución radical, MOVADUP fomentará la unidad para la movilización en aras de la conformación de un proceso constituyente de la más amplia base originaria y popular que dé al traste con las prácticas viciosas y caducas y arrebate el poder a quienes siempre han abusado de él e inicie la regeneración nacional.

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Sáez, ¿Quienes pescan?



Los tres poderes del Estado en acciones comprometedoras

por Olimpo A. Sáez M.

La crisis que vive el país por los sobreprecios, que sabemos y no conocemos en cifras concretas, como tampoco las coimas repartidas a unos y otros por la constructora Odebrecht, se ha afiebrado con las declaraciones del abogado Ramón Fonseca Mora. Las mismas llegan a los tres poderes del Estado en acciones comprometedoras:

  1. El Presidente recibió dineros de Odebrecht.
  2. El Presidente impuso al Magistrado Ayu Prado como Presidente de la Corte Suprema de Justicia por ser manejable.
  3. Popi Varela y Beby Valderrama, diputados oficialistas, conocen de las intervenciones del Ejecutivo en el Judicial y en el Legislativo.

Estas declaraciones tormentosas, tienen a su favor las delaciones premiadas en Brasil, Suiza y USA, por las cuales conocemos de las coimas millonarias entregadas a panameños, de los cuales solo se conocen unos nombres, porque el Ministerio Público camina a pasos de selectividad y muchos creemos que de complicidad con muchos de los que deben estar presos y sus bienes cautelados, por el robo descarado de los dineros del pueblo.

A raíz del problema de Odebrecht que crece y se agiganta en Brasil, Colombia y Perú, con posibilidades de tumbar gobiernos, siguen provocando indignación en la ciudadanía de estos países. Panamá no es el único que está en el ojo de la tormenta, pero si es el que va más despacio en las averiguaciones con respecto a los responsables del robo millonario por las coimas entregadas.

Esta tormenta y sus fuertes remezones hacen crisis en el Gobierno Nacional y es lógico que los políticos, gremios, sociedad civil y ciudadanos en general empiecen a buscar soluciones políticas a la misma, si ella se sigue agravando y la ciudadanía sale de sus mecedoras y hamacas y se decide a reclamar sus derechos y a ejercer sus deberes. A raíz de esas voces legítimas que aparecen en la sociedad, se ha iniciado igualmente por algunos medios de comunicación y entre algunos ciudadanos, la especie, mal informada, confusa y quizás dirigida por el Gobierno de que esas propuestas, se prestan para que los “pescadores políticos pesquen en esas aguas turbias”. Se inicia pues, una campaña de desinformación, a mi parecer, de buena o mala fe, en señalar que los movimientos cívicos de protestas o las propuestas de algunos ciudadanos con respecto a la crisis que estamos viviendo son para “pescar en río revuelto”.

Creo que los políticos, sean del signo que sean, lo mismo que los ciudadanos tienen la responsabilidad de pensar y actuar frente a la crisis con valor, con coraje pensando en el país. Los oportunistas políticos del pelaje que sean, se les conocerá en el camino. El pueblo no es tonto, por no decir pendejo.

Entre las opciones o sugerencias que han aparecido para enfrentar la crisis están las siguientes:

  1. La renuncia del Presidente.
  2. El Juicio del Presidente por la Asamblea de Diputados.
  3. La Vicepresidenta debe asumir la Presidencia por los dos años y medio que faltan del período constitucional.
  4. Renuncia del Presidente y la formación de una Junta de Gobierno.
  5. El llamado a la Constituyente Originaria.
  6. El asalto al poder por parte del SUNTRACS, FRENADESO y el FAD.
  7. Esperar el 2019 para ir nuevamente a las urnas y sacarnos el clavo.

¿Cuál es el pecado de estas fórmulas? ¿Cuál es el Golpe de Estado? ¿Cuál es la revolución? ¿Cuál de ellas acabará con el país y con los negocios en Panamá? Eso lo debe decidir la ciudadania y los panameños en su conjunto.

Creo que estamos lejos todavía de encontrar en la ciudadanía en general alguna fórmula viable a la crisis. Creo que debemos trabajar en alguna fórmula posible, viable, cierta y unitaria para estar presente en la profundización de la crisis. Creo que solo la unidad en la diversidad podrá ayudar a resolver la crisis. Sin sectarismo político ni ideológico. Lejos está el Asalto al Cuartel Moncada, la toma del Palacio de Invierno, la Gran Marcha y que decir de la “revolución bolivariana de Hugo Chávez” para Panamá.

Por ahora, la ciudadania debe protestar una y otra vez, aquí y por allá, para exigirle al Gobierno transparencia y al Ministerio Publico que la justicia sea igual para todos, CAIGA QUIEN CAIGA.

A estas alturas del juego, ya nadie se engaña ni lo engañan y todos queremos:

  1. Justicia igual para todos. Caiga quien Caiga!
  2. Los ladrones coimeros y coimeados a la cárcel.
  3. Devolución de todos los dineros robados, que son millones de millones.

Los fantasmas del desastre, los augurios de la ruina nacional, los profetas del caos y el desorden, los voceros del miedo, deben ser rechazados por los ciudadanos pensantes. Los “pescadores en río revuelto” es una campaña para crear miedo y parálisis entre la ciudadanía. Otras crisis se han vivido y sufrido y Panamá la ha superado.

Llegó la hora de la ciudadania, de la vergüenza cívica, de la vergüenza nacional. Solo las calles nos salvarán.


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Taking an old dispute to the streets

Kermit 1
Blocking Via España, much to the consternation of morning drivers.

The Panamanian way of arguing with the government

photos by Kermit Nourse

February 15 was a payday, with added numbers of people driving downtown to do banking or shopping. It was also the 25th anniversary of a dispute that began shortly before the 1989 US invasion. Workers for the old state-owned IRHE electric company and INTEL phone company were not paid their 13th month salaries back then — the Panamanian wage system gives workers an extra month’s pay per year, in two semi-annual installments — and after the invesion many were fired and others told that they would be eventually paid. They never were and in the late 1990s the utilities were privatized, leading to more job losses. The privatization laws had it that the new buyers would assume the obligations of the old government companies but by and large they never did. They didn’t pay the 13th month arrears, and sent both current but mostly former workers to the government to collect — which sent them to the companies to collect. Now it’s a quarter century after the last IRHE and INTEL arrears were accrued and the former employees want their money. Everyone points in a different direction or tells them to just accept their loss, but in the Panamanian political culture that’s an invitation to block the street unless and until some solution, or promise of a solution, is forthcoming.

As you may see, the inconvenienced drivers were not amused.


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The Panama News blog links, February 15, 2017


Yes, it’s Dominican-American stuff, but very popular in Panama

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

AP, Expanded Panama Canal still faces challenges

AP, Panama Canal Authority assures safety after report on wear

Splash 24/7, One in 50 ships has a fender bender in the new locks

Video, New PanCanal locks aren’t big enough

La Estrella, La actividad portuaria de Panamá cayó 9.1% en 2016

Fresh Plaza, Mexico renews old interoceanic corridor idea

Seatrade, Maersk and MSC add Asia – Europe and trans-Pacific services

Economy / Economía

EFE, Panamá pide a OMC sanciones por $210 millones a Colombia

ANP, Panamá será centro de distribución regional de Hewlett Packard

Caribbean News Now!, Regulator moves against Odebrecht’s bank in Antigua

Bloomberg, EU probe finds that UK is becoming a prime tax haven

Science & Technology / Ciencia & Tecnología

Scientific American, Record lows for sea ice at both poles

Washington Post, Ethicists advise caution with gene editing tool’s use on humans

ReliefWeb, Building a better Zika response strategy

Mongabay, LatAm palm oil planting doubled without much increase in deforestation

El País (Colombia), Cali también tiene su propia ‘escuela de hackers’

Spaceflight Now, India lofts 104 spacecraft with one rocket

News / Noticias

La Estrella, Fallece Ricardo Arias Calderón

NY Daily News, Family remembers Columbia grad slain in Panama

The Washington Post, Panama seeks arrest of Martinelli sons

TVN, Ana Matilde: “Decisión política puede tumbar a Juan Carlos Varela”

Telemetro, La defensa es que Riaño seguía instrucciones de Mossack Fonseca

La Estrella, Antai no investigará por las declaraciones de Fonseca Mora

The Washington Post, Brazil’s scandal spreads to the rest of Latin America

Dunya News, Pakistan Supreme Court resumes Panama Papers hearings

BBC, Mexicans march against Trump

Mongabay: Honduran politicians, US aid implicated in killings of environmentalists

AP: Con inmigrantes, empresa de cárceles de EEUU ve oportunidad

Daily Mail, Florida man shares photo of aide who carries nuke codes for Trump

NPR, US spies intercepted calls between Trump staff and Russians

Opinion / Opiniones

Ramsey & Bernal, Colombia’s ELN peace talks

Weisbrot, NAFTA has harmed Mexico a lot more than any wall could do

Sader, Why is neoliberalism surviving?

Maass, Dark essays by White House staffer are source code for Trumpism

Karon, Trump and the rebirth of press freedom

Greenwald, Leaks outing Flynn are serious and justified crimes

Gandásegui, Western terrorism

Blades, Otra tormenta perfecta

Sagel, Ignominia y vergüenza

Simpson, ¿Debe renunciar el presidente Varela?

Culture / Cultura

Vatican Radio, Pope writes preface to book by victim of clerical sex abuse

Chronicle of Higher Education, Otherness philosopher dies when needed most

NPR, DJ Betto Arcos shares his musical finds from the Panama Jazz Festival


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Editorials: Up to us; and Demagogues and dumb jocks


haasta la victoria

On our own, as we should be

Show a Panamanian who wants Donald Trump to solve the Odebrecht scandal for Panama and you will have pointed out somebody who does not want to see justice done for Panamanians.

The United States has and uses a veto in the United Nations. The United States dominates the Organization of American States. Handing the problem to either of those organizations is to hand it to the United States.

The president of the United States is a vicious white racist with a long history of mafia ties. He ran for office on a platform of contempt for all Latin Americans. At present he is harboring in the United States Ricardo Martinelli and Alejandro Toledo, both former Latin American presidents who each took huge bribes from Odebrecht. President Trump has his presence in Florida, where Odebrecht paid off such politicians as Jeb Bush and Xavier Suarez and received huge public works contracts, but we have never heard one peep from Trump about that situation.

Yes, there are Americans inside and outside of Panama, dual citizens and those whose sole nationality is US, who would be able and willing to help. Yes, much of Latin America is similarly caught in this pervasive international scandal and many sincere and capable people in Panama and our sister republics in the region who would work together to address the many problems created by this monumental criminal enterprise.

When it’s useful and it doesn’t compromise our national interests, Panama should accept help from its friends, and likewise lend assistance to our friends in need. Unfortunately, the spirit of mutual assistance among neighbors in search of justice has been lacking in our government.

But this is our problem. Panamanians from all walks of life need to make the sacrifices, do the work and run the risks to cure the evils that have given us the Odebrecht scandal. The facile solution of letting the Americans take care of it is no solution at all. Panama is an independent nation and it’s time for Panamanians to act according to that principle.

Uuuuh — foo-BALL!

The military officer who carries “the football” — the satchel from which a world-ending nuclear war might be launched — for President Trump has been photographed and identified in the world press. Perhaps that will require his replacement.

It was a security gaffe, every bit as serious as Hillary Clinton’s celebrated private email server. It’s the sort of thing that’s forthcoming from an administration of demagogues and dumb jocks.

Bear in mind…

I used to dread getting older because I thought I would not be able to do all the things I wanted to do, but now that I am older I find that I don’t want to do them.

Nancy Astor

It is better to die on your feet than live on your knees.

Emiliano Zapata

The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds new discoveries, is not “Eureka!” (I found it!) but “That’s funny …”

Isaac Asimov


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MIREN, Get rid of corruption without foreign intervention

MIREN secretary general Juan Jované talks to the non-corporate press. Archive photo by MIREN.

We have to eradicate corruption
without foreign intervention

by the Independent Movement for National Refoundation (MIREN)

Panama is a sovereign country, such that we, its citizens, are obliged to fight tenaciously to combat corruption that’s caused by a system that puts lucre and rapine before the welfare of the population. Our problems should be resolved by Panamanians. We can’t pretend that institutions that have offended our country, like the OAS, or with their rigged dialogues have deceived our population, like the UN Development Program has, can now appear as our means of salvation.

We need to unite our people to refound the nation — this is our only road to a decent country. An independent commission of Panamanians of probity who are committed to national sovereignty should be constituted, and they might use international assistance.


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