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Obama names Feeley as the next US ambassador to Panama

John D. Feeley testifying before the US House of Representatives Western Hemisphere Subcommittee in defense of US policies in Mexico. Photo by the US House of Rerpresentatives
John D. Feeley testifying at a May 2013 hearing of the US House of Representatives Western Hemisphere Subcommittee, for the most part in defense of US drug war policies in Mexico. Click this link to read the transcript of what he said. Photo by the US House of Rerpresentatives

Panama gets another careeer diplomat as US ambassador at a time when many of the policies he has implemented and defended are increasingly questioned in the hemisphere

Drug War veteran to head the American embassy here

by Eric Jackson

On July 28 US President Barack Obama named John D. Feeley as he next American ambassador in Panama. He will have to be approved by the US Senate to take up the post, and while these days in Washington the Republicans who control the senate would grab at most excuses to block an Obama appointment they would probably have to contrive some excuse if they intend to block Feeley. The man is identified with the “War on Drugs” and free trade on the NAFTA template as the centerpieces of US policy toward Latin America and there are few Republican senators who oppose those basic premises of American foreign policy in the region. US critics of these policies, mostly on the left but also including libertarians like Rand Paul on the right are likely to be less impressed, but those who are not grandstanding will understand that their argument is with presidential policies rather than the diplomats appointed to carry them out.

On the Panamanian left the tendency is to ignore the intricacies and subtleties of US policy and presume that any American ambassador is the representative of a hostile imperial power and any man or woman of this country’s left who meets with such a person is a traitor. Much of the Panamanian left also doesn’t openly question militarized anti-drug policies advocated and financed by Washington. Were Panamanians on that end of the spectrum to pay attention they might find Feeley’s characterization of Mexican concerns about national sovereignty as “tired shibboleths” to be an issue for Panama. But as the US State Department’s luck would have it, such matters tend to be treated as deviations from the more important struggle over which faction is the vanguard of a Panamanian revolution that doesn’t seem to be happening at the moment.

Feeley came to the US Foreign Service after service with the US Marine Corps as a helicopter pilot and graduate of Georgetown University and later — as a diplomat rather than as an active duty military man — of the National War College. He was an aide to Secretaries of State Colin Powell and Condoleeza Rice. He has served in two assignments in Mexico, one as chargé d’affaires n 2011 and 2012. He has also been posted to Colombia and the Dominican Republic and in Washington has run the El Salvador desk, been Deputy Director of Caribbean Affairs and Director of Central American Affairs and worked with the State Department’s Operations Center. Since 2012 he has been Foggy Bottom’s Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs.

Feeley is married to another diplomat, Cherie Feeley, with whom he has two sons. We may be getting another power couple at the American Embassy.

Are the diplomatic issues of the day between Panama and the United States readily apparent? Perhaps not. There is discretion in the business and perhaps the most important thing that could be learned from the WikiLeaks cables from Panama was the difference between what was said in public and the actual concerns at the time. For example, at the moment we might surmise that Ricardo Martinelli’s presence in the United States would be an issue, given that the State Department could pull his visa at any moment for just about any reason or for no reason with very little legal recourse — but we don’t know if President Varela has told the Americans that he’s just as soon have Martinelli somewhere other than in Panama. Colombia’s civil conflict and law enforcement concerns with international criminals whose businesses include but go beyond drugs would seem to be parts of the beat to which Feeley is being assigned. Increasingly, American ambassadors are also functional advocates for US-based multinational corporations and there are a number of those with significant operations here.

Beer and Coca-Cola workers suspend strike, file for arbitration

Striking Coca-Cola workers march and with their partners from the beer industry union showed remarkable unity. But SABMiller never responded to the unions' proposals nor submitted any of their own. The South African based multinational's only position was to object to dealing with two unions representing of the company's workers in Panama in one contract. The unions has public support, but neither that nor the strike funds they had were enough to pay their members' rent and electric bills throughout a  prolonged struggle.  Photo from the SITRAFCOREBGASCELIS Facebook page
Striking Coca-Cola workers march and with their partners from the beer industry union showed remarkable unity. However, during a month of negotiations and then n 18-day strike SABMiller never responded to the unions’ proposals nor submitted any of their own. The South African based multinational’s only position was to object to dealing with two unions representing of the company’s workers in Panama in one contract. The unions has public support, but neither that nor the strike funds they had were enough to pay their members’ rent and electric bills throughout a prolonged struggle. Photo from the SITRAFCOREBGASCELIS Facebook page

A setback for Panama’s labor movement, but it may be a matter of intact unions retreating to buy time for their next moves rather than fighting on and suffering a crushing defeat

18-day beer and Coca-Cola strike suspended for arbitration

by Eric Jackson

On July 28 unionized workers at the Cerveceria Nacional and its related FEMSA Coca-Cola company went back to work without a contract after an 18-day strike. The companies, subsidiaries of the South Africa based SABMiller, had met with union representatives some 30 times over more than a month and a half but had never responded to union proposals nor submitted any proposals of their own. By all appearances the global giant — the world’s second-largest beer brewing combine and holder of many countries’ Coca-Cola bottling concessions — seemed intent on destroying the Beer Industry Workers Union (STICP) and the Coca-Cola workers’ union with the long acronym (SITRAFCOREBGASCELIS). However, when the unions filed with he Ministry of Labor Development for arbitration the companies agreed and no reprisals against strikers is ordinarily one of the requirements for such government intervention. The outcome of a government arbitration process, however, won’t be binding on a party that thinks that it has lost.

On the US campaign trail: Six Republican presidential hopefuls, at length

Declared or possible GOP presidential contenders.
You may want to bookmark this and take it in several sittings, as it will take about five hours to get through it all — or you may only be interested in what one or some of the candidates have to say. An extra problem on the GOP side is that there are so many candidates that it is not practical to include even most of them on one page. The editor has his opinion, but The Panama News is going to try very hard to give the primary candidates of both major parties — and along the way the most noteworthy of the minor candidates — time and space to state their cases.

What Republicans are saying

Donald Trump

Jeb Bush

Scott Walker

Marco Rubio

Ted Cruz

Rand Paul

On the US campaign trail: The Democratic presidential hopefuls, at length

da dems
The five Democratic presdential candidates in Iowa
You may want to bookmark this and take it in several sittings, as it will take about four hours to get through it all — or you may only be interested in what one or some of the candidates have to say. The editor has his opinion, but The Panama News is going to try very hard to give the primary candidates of both major parties — and along the way the most noteworthy of the minor candidates — time and space to state their cases

What Democrats are saying

Hillary Clinton

Bernie Sanders

Jim Webb

Martin O’Malley

Lincoln Chafee

Cutting child support: beyond the Varela administration’s pale

Hermes Ortega
Hermes Ortega urinated on one of the third rails of Panamanian politics. Photo by MIDES

Cutting child support is a nonstarter with the Panamanian political party most identified with women’s suffrage, but beyond the merits of the issue, with Juan Carlos Varela perhaps the most mortal sin of all is looking foolish

What was he thinking?

by Eric Jackson

Hermes Ortega is out as secretary general of the Ministry of Social Development. Last January he submitted a proposal to modify Panama’s child support law, which was last changed in 2012. It would cut off child support payments by non-custodial parents in January and February when school is out, and at times when the children are visiting with the parent who does not have custody. On July 27 Minister of Social Development Alcibiades Vásquez fired Ortega specifically because of this proposal, which had languished in the legislative hopper until coming to the attention of the National Assembly’s Children, Women, Youth and Families Committee — now presided over by CD deputy Marilyn Vallarino — and of various women’s groups. Vásquez said that the proposal was made without consulting anyone, does not represent the Varela administration’s thinking and is not in the best interests of children.

Varela’s Panameñista Party was founded by Dr. Arnulfo Arias, under whose administration Panamanian women — at least those not of races whose citizenship he revoked — got the rights to vote and hold public office. Arias’s widow, Mireya Moscoso, was the first and so far has been the only female Panamanian president.

Vallarino led the legislative effort for the 2012 changes to strengthen enforcement of child support laws. The modifications eventually passed, but they were weakened in committee on first reading and on the assembly floor on second reading. Non-custodial parents who have been ordered by the family courts to pay child support — in most instances these are men — and who fail to pay the ordered child support can get 30 days in jail for it. Vallarino would have stripped child support deadbeats of their drivers’ licenses, but that provision was taken out of her proposal amid many protests from male colleagues from across the partisan spectrum. The 2012 changes also in certain cases look to grandparents to pay support.

The 2012 modifications were originally proposed in 2011 by the Supreme Court, then presided over by magistrate Harley Mitchell. For the courts child support orders are not only a matter of respect for judicial institutions. Kids who grow up destitute often end up before the courts on criminal matters. But despite the high court’s reasons, for the better part of a year legislative leaders of Vallarino’s Cambio Democratico party buried the proposal in the National Assembly’s agenda to keep it from coming up for votes in the body’s plenary sessions. But as male deputies in their various ways jeered and inserted amendments to weaken the original proposal, women’s groups weighed in and it became apparent to all astute political observers that defense of child support scofflaws is not a winning political platform in this country.

Hermes Ortega apparently didn’t notice.

Harrington, Los suplentes cobrarán “legalmente”

La Asamblea Nacional. Foto por el Órgano Judicial

Con tales sinverguenzuras, ¡con razón que la OECD nos mantiene en toditas sus listas!

Los suplentes cobrarán “legalmente”

por Kevin Harrington-Shelton

No hay bellaco, donde no hay soquete.

Los padawanes parlamentarios no tienen por qué preocuparse: nuestra Corte Suprema es tan corrupta, que sin bendecirá el pago de sus salarios — “por factores imponderables extra-jurídicos”. Y eso hasta lo consignó –textualmente– como explicación de un fallo irracional sobre otro texto constitucional distinto, que resultaba diáfano para el resto de los mortales (no-interesados) en 1993.

Hoy es similarmente diáfano su artículo 156: “…no podrán ACEPTAR ningún empleo público remunerado”. No dice “COBRAR”. No obstante, un diputado suplente aereó airado un papel que (según él dijera en el Pleno) era un precedente en que la Corte definiría lo que RECIBÍAN en 2011 a título de “gasolina” en la Asamblea no era “salario”, sino “emolumentos”. De ser así, los cínicos de la Corte sin duda aprovecharán para reiterar su propia versión de seguridad jurídica….

Este tipo de bellaquerías propicia la pérdida de confianza en las instituciones.

Recuerda un caso en Inglaterra. A inicios de 2014, la policía anunció que “Se revisan partes noticiosos de cobros ilícitos de prestaciones en la Cámara de los Lores. Podemos confirmar que un varón de 73 años asistió a una convocatoria en una subestación policial del éste de Londres, a ser indagado respecto de una alegación de fraude.” Una presunción de inocencia ausente en los juicios promovidos en los medios –selectivamente– por el presidente Juan Carlos Varela, aunque a ello “obliga” nuestra legislación vigente. El par del reino inglés resultó condenado por algo que, aunque en Panamá no es ilegal, bien podría interesar a nuestros Padres de la Patria. Un tabloide había seguido a Lord Hanningfield, documentando que cobraba las dietas de $500 diariamente, aunque permaneciera pocos minutos en el sitio de trabajo. En Panamá los principales Y los suplentes cobran igual, si se pavean (cosa MUY frecuente).

Nuestra Asamblea tiene un Código de Ética por hacer ver que lo tienen; aunque no compara en lo moral ni en detalle con las 23 páginas digitales del británico, que allá sí se cumple. En poder adquisitivo, allá ganan la tercera parte de lo que perciben los nuestros, no tienen carros exonerados, y su blindaje sólo alcanza lo dicho dentro del Pleno.

Y les podrá interesar, que a los ingleses no los pueden botar jamás, sin la necedad de re-elegirse….

Historia panameña: La batalla del puente de Calidonia

Puente de Calidonia
El Puente de Calidonia

La batalla del puente de Calidonia

por Olmedo Beluche

En julio se conmemoran 115 años de la histórica Batalla del Puente de Calidonia, en que los liberales panameño-colombianos fueron masacrados en la Guerra de los Mil Días.

Quisiera aportar a la reflexión sobre la famosa batalla del Puente de Calidonia, ocurrida el 26 de julio de 1900, en la que fueron aniquiladas las fuerzas liberales a las puertas de la ciudad de Panamá.

Cabe preguntarse: ¿Por qué, después de los contundentes éxitos de las tropas liberales en el interior, el general Emiliano Herrera se lanzó a un ataque suicida, enviando a sus tropas a través del puente desguarnecido frente a los parapetos de ametralladoras de los conservadores, ubicadas en las proximidades de lo que hoy es la Plaza 5 de Mayo?

La respuesta la encuentro en el papel activo que tuvieron los cónsules de las potencias representadas en Panamá: Francia, Inglaterra y muy especialemente el de Estados Unidos. Según se desprende del libro “El Panamá Colombiano”, de Araúz y Pizzurno, estos cónsules exigieron tanto a conservadores como liberales que no fueran afectados por el combate, ni la ciudad, ni el ferrocarril. Por supuesto, la amenaza subyacente era la intervención militar extranjera contra quien pusiera en peligro esos intereses extranjeros, apelando a la manera como EEUU entendía el Tratado Mallarino-Bidlack.

El 21 de julio forzaron al general Albán, conservador, a presentar batalla en Corozal, donde fue derrotado por Herrera. Teniendo que retirarse el primero a la ciudad de Panamá donde montó sus barricadas.

Con la complicidad de la Compañía del Ferrocarril, y de su gerente, el coronel Shaller, que jugaría un papel central en la Separación de 1903, se trasladan tropas conservadores desde Colón para reforzar a Albán. La Compañía y el cónsul norteamericano, lejos de ser neutrales como pretendían, jugaron un papel activo apoyando a los conservadores.

Previo al asalto liberal de la ciudad, el cónsul norteamericano se reunió en Perrys Hill (Perejil) con Emiliano Herrera, reiterándole la exigencia de no afectar la ciudad.

A mi juicio son estas presiones del cónsul norteamericano las que llevan a Herrera a presentar el nefasto esquema de ataque, que en pocas horas aniquiló a las huestes liberales (200 bajas entre muertos y heridos).

Esta me parece es la razón por la que, en 1901-1902, cuando las tropas liberales se recuperaron, gracias al papel de Victoriano Lorenzo, que transformó la guerra política en guerra social, campesino-indígena, llevando a los liberals a controlar todas las provincias del Istmo, menos la capital, tampoco intentaron nunca tomar la ciudad de Panamá.

El problema para la cabal comprensión de este acontecimiento es que la historia oficial panameña deja por fuera el papel jugado por las potencias imperialistas y reduce toda la explicación a una simplista contradicción entre “panameños’ y “colombianos”.

No hay duda de que hubo una lucha por el mando liberal entre Belisario Porrras y Emiliano Herrera, y posteriormente, Benjamín Herrera. Pero en este caso el factor determinante es la intervención norteamericana en toda la Guerra de los Mil Días.

New Panama paintings by George Scribner

Mar Carive
Mar Caribe

New Panama paintings by George Scribner


Expansion work
Expansion work


net mending
Net mending in Santa Clara


Miraflores Lake approach
Into Miraflores Lake


upcoming events

Suspensions, fines and outrage over ref’s Gold Cup gift to Mexico

The soccer world is close to unanimous that the American referee’s penalty kick and red card calls — which swung the CONCACAF Gold Cup semifinal game in which Panama had dominated to Mexico — were completely outrageous.

Penedo and Tejada suspended for two games each, Panama’s soccer federation and Mexico’s coach fined — but the popular opinion here is that it’s one more case of the soccer establishment’s corruption

Mexico 2, Panama 1 on worse than bad calls

by Eric Jackson

A Gold Cup run in which Panama beat nobody in regulation time but in which nobody could beat Panama ended in a July 22 semifinal game against Mexico in the Georgia Dome. But the widespread opinion of the soccer world is that Mexico didn’t beat Panama either, but rather that American referee Mark Geiger gave the game to Mexico.

In the 24th minute Panamanian striker Luis Tejada was sent off with a red card for elbowing Mexican defender Paul Aguilar. Whether or not there was actually any elbow contact is debatable, but its treatment as an intentional foul was called by sportswriter Simon Rice of the British daily The Independent a reaction to “arguably the most ridiculous dive of all time.”

Short-handed, Román Torres headed a corner kick into the net at the 56th minute, putting Panama ahead. The Mexican fans showered the Panamanian team with beer as the scenes on and off the field became increasingly chaotic, with both Mexican and Panamanian fans throwing things onto the field.

Both of Mexico’s goals came on penalty kicks, the first in the 89th minute for Panamanian defender allegedly handling the ball (which does not show up as such on video replays) as he fell after being fouled (which clearly does show.) That gave Mexico the tying goal against a short-handed Panama. After the game Mexican coach Miguel Herrera opined that this “was not a penalty” and that his team didn’t deserve to win but took advantage of referee mistakes.

As the match ended on a Mexican penalty kick in overtime — this time it was a pretty clear penalty, after other clear penalties that just as well could have been called to give Panama a penalty shot were not — there were rowdy confrontations between the teams and Geiger had to be escorted off of the field by CONCACAF bodyguards.

Panama issued its protests about Geiger, and CONCACAF issued its penalties: for Tejada, in addition to the one-game suspension on the red card, another game for not leaving the field promptly. For goalie Jaime Penedo, the heart and soul of Panama’s Gold Cup run, a two-game suspension for physical contact with an assistant referee after the game.  A fine for Panama’s FEPAFUT soccer federation. A fine for Mexico’s coach for criticizing Geiger’s performance after the game.

Panama plays the United States for third place on Saturday the 25th at 3 p.m. Panama time in Philadelphia.

FEPAFUT president Pedro Chaluja told reporters that the semifinal game had been fixed. With two former CONCACAF presidents facing US bribery charges and a clear financial incentive for CONCACAF to prefer Mexico and its large television market over Panama’s much smaller audience in the final, a lot of Panamanians believe Chaluja.