Blue Apple emerges from the shadows
to suggest systemic corruption
by Eric Jackson
So, what is this Blue Apple mentioned in some of Panama’s news media and carefully avoided by others? Blue Apple Services Inc is a corporation organized in 2003 by attorney Federico Antonio Barrios. Under Panamanian corporate secrecy laws its beneficial ownership isn’t public knowledge. Barrios is reportedly under investigation in the case but seems not to have been formally charged with anything and may not have had anything to do with running the company. It’s business, on the face of it, was factoring, buying accounts receivable from companies at a discount. In this endeavor it is said to have done business with several of Panama City’s largest banks. Customers, it seems, were construction companies, domestic and foreign, which did business with the Panamanian government.
President Varela acknowledges that there is an ongoing criminal investigation. Attorney General Kenia Porcell does likewise but declines further comment because it’s an ongoing investigation. Such details as have been suggested to the public largely come from the National Front for the Defense of Economic and Social Rights (FRENADESO), a hard left coalition led by the semi-underground communist November 29th National Liberation Movement (MLN-29) and whose leaders also include the top people in the SUNTRACS construction workers union.
There are many people who disagree with FRENADESO politics — they were a small fringe as a 2014 participant in electoral politics via the Broad Front for Democracy (FAD) — and for that reason will discount what they say. It’s common belief-reinforcing selectivity, but there are a couple of reasons not to engage in it with respect to these people in this case.
First of all there is the SUNTRACS record. For a generation the union’s leaders have made few mistakes with respect to the construction industry. They are well informed, not only from reading the newspapers and industry publications, not only from having a brain trust of sorts in academia, not only from carefully preserving memories of their dealings with people and companies in their industry, but also most probably from what some might call industrial espionage and others opposition research — surely they have some confidential sources that help them to make very accurate assessments of with whom they deal and what the Panamanian economy will bear for their union at any given time. If FRENADESO or SUNTRACS says something about the operations of the construction industry and associated financial transactions, it is usually accurate. It may not be the entire story, but it is unlikely to be an error or a lie.
Second, although the allegation that SUNTRACS leaders have sold out and are secretly rich seems to be eternally recycling, it has never been demonstrated. Labor leaders Genaro López and Saúl Méndez receive good salaries but do not live in ostentatious luxury, are not known to be business partners with anyone in the local or international business elites and — very important in Panama — are not related to the rabiblanco families. The bonds of family loyalties and business ties that kill many an important story in Panama’s corporate mainstream media just don’t apply to FRENDADESO.
The gist of the FRENADESO allegation is that virtually all construction companies doing business with the Panamanian government, foreign and domestic, with the large exception of Odebrecht, used Blue Apple’s services. There were allegedly not factoring in any usual sense, but rather that the construction companies would deposit 10 percent of the amount of their contracts into Blue Apple, and these funds would be laundered and paid out to people in the government or members of their families or to companies controlled by such as kickbacks from the contracts.
A number that has been reported by various media is of $39.6 million having been traced through Blue Apple. If the scheme is on the scale and involving the cast of characters that FRENADESO suggests, the number is way low and we would be dealing with a partial figure.
From whence the money went into Blue Apple, if FRENADESO is right, implicates a number of the wealthiest people in Panama and indeed a company now controlled by one of the world’s richest men. The payout, FRENADESO alleges, implicate all of the parties of Panama’s political caste, including figures in the Torrijos, Martinell and Varela administrations.
So into what and where did the money that passed through Blue Apple go? Mansions on the beaches are on the list, as are expensive cars. Also, investments in entertainment, gambling and consulting businesses, the former which may be linked to the news media and all three of which are apt for money laundering purposes. In any case people who control the construction and financial businesses suggested would also own stakes in Panama’s large media, or be closely related to people who do.
The Blue Apple affair intersects, by some of the individuals or institutions involved, with the Financial Pacific plethora of scandals, jailed former Supreme Court presiding magistrate Alejandro Moncada Luna’s scheme with corrupt courthouse construction and remodeling contracts and the laundering of the proceeds from them, and former Vice President Felipe “Pipo” Virzi’s manipulations via the old Banco Universal and otherwise.
Another scandal in the orbit of overpriced public works projects with laundered kickbacks Two noteworthy that is in the news of late and on the attorney general’s docket sits on the Panama Canal Authority board of directors in the persons of Nicolas Corcione Pérez Balladares and Henri Mizrachi Kohen. There, through a company named New Business, laundered kickbacks from government contracts were allegedly used by former President Ricardo Martinelli to buy news media properties, most notably the parent company for El Panama America and La Critica. Corcione and Mizrachi have been missing from ACP board meetings for months and there are suggestions of sealed INTERPOL warrants on money laundering charges outstanding. With Corcione it’s not the first time that the ACP and President Varela have done a dance about whether anyone has the power to remove a member of the ACP board who is implicated in public corruption.
The basic design of rigged government contract awards with about a 10 percent kickback was the scheme of the Martinelli administration’s dealings with the Italian state-controlled Finmeccanica companies for helicopters, patrol boats, radar installations and digital mapping services. At the time Silvio Berlusconi was running Italy and this sort of transaction was how he funded his political campaigns. But if the Blue Apple scheme is as FRENADESO suggests, then it would not be be a modus operandi that naive Panamanians learned from wily Italians, nor would it be a monument to Ricardo Martinelli’s creativity.
~ ~ ~
These announcements are interactive. Click on them for more information.
Since the 2009 coup in Honduras, they kill journalists there. There have been 59 journalists slain over these past eight years, and if it is true that Honduran society is a violent one, these were not random acts nor were they the private acts of persons without protection of the government. It’s a death squad regime, one that’s even deadlier for indigenous land rights and environmental activists. The country’s LGBT communities have also been special targets for the death squads. Thus it should come as little surprise that few media organizations that go beyond publishing government press releases were operating in open fashion in Honduras when the voters took the incumbent National Party and a president trying to perpetuate himself by surprise.
But the fraud was pretty flagrant, the country erupted in protests and ordinary citizens and unregistered freelancers stepped into the void where major news organizations might have been. People were shot down, and more people kept up the pressure on the streets. Then the police refused to put down the riots and protests anymore, about one-fifth of the national force gathered at the headquarters of the US-trained COBRA riot squad and under international pressure the Electoral Tribunal backed away from their sneeringly obvious vote count fraud.
Now things are at a pause, or in limbo, with two men claiming to be president-elect and no agreed way forward.
What follow are documents and scenes that have been by and large ignored by corporate news outlets in the United States and Panama. As the crisis has unfolded The Panama News, which has nobody on the scene in Honduras, has been reposting things, mainly by freelancers of the Nasralla camp, on its Twitter feed and Facebook page. This has been enough to scoop the main Panamanian media.
Lenca people demand Juan Orlando Hernandez (JOH) step down immediately!
by the Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH)
For over a week, the people have defended in the streets the will that they expressed at the polls. The flagrant theft that they want to carry out through fraud is undeniable. The people know it and the international community should understand that the narrow interests of Juan Orlando Hernández (JOH) and the elite powers that he represents alone are maintaining the crisis by refusing to accept defeat.
It has been clearly demonstrated how the leadership of the National Party, which includes the President of the Supreme Electoral Council David Matamoros, have committed fraud in the presidential elections in order to illegally keep themselves power. Therefore, results from this institution are not and will not be reliable nor in any way credible, and the people have shown as much in the streets.
COPINH is clear that the hundreds of mobilizations, highway blockades, peaceful protests and expressions of resistance go beyond this electoral process. They represent a cry of the people as a whole to move beyond the hatred, violence and submissiveness that have characterized the years of JOH’s government and his other coup-supporting predecessors, years inundated with corruption, impunity, assassinations, approval of spurious laws, handing over of territories, illegal concessions, and poverty and hunger for the majority.
The struggle in the territories and in the streets is the key action in these moments and must continue. The dignity and strength of the people’s struggle in the streets is what has led the National Police and the COBRA forces to set down the arms they were using against the people. We salute this dignified action and call on the armed forces and other repressive state bodies to understand their role as part of the people and respect the actions of that people.
It is clear that the call in the streets is not just about recognizing the obvious electoral victory of Salvador Nasralla, but is above all the cry of the Honduran people to say JOH MUST GO! It is no longer about him recognizing the victory, it is about him stepping down from the presidency and thereby ending the crisis to which our Honduras has been subjected.
COPINH calls on the international community to take all pertinent measures to ensure that JOH’s desperation to maintain power does not lead to more spilling of blood by the Honduran people.
As such, the Lenca people, organized in COPINH demand that:
JOH’s government immediately hand over the presidency to a temporary government of national consensus until January 27th, 2018, the day in which Salvador Nasralla will be seated as President.
The resistance in favor of recognition of the people’s will as expressed at the polls strengthen and consolidate through territorial organization.
That the international community take a side and activate the pertinent mechanisms so that JOH’s desperation to maintain power does not lead to further spilling of blood by the Honduran people.
For the blood shed by Berta Cáceres and all of our ancestors, we demand justice! We demand that end of this killer regime!
With the ancestral strength of Berta, Iselaca, Etempica and Mota we raise our voices full of Life, Justice and Peace.
Statement by the Spokesperson of the EU High Representative on the situation in Honduras
issued in Brussels, December 5, 2017
One week after the holding of elections in Honduras, the EU calls for calm and restraint. We expect parties to express their concerns peacefully, using the legal mechanisms available to them. It is essential that the electoral authorities remain open and responsive to possible appeals, including to a transparent re-counting process, if requested by candidates.
The right to peaceful association and demonstration should be safeguarded, while violence needs to be avoided at all times. We deplore the loss of human lives and our thoughts are with the families of the victims. It is imperative that all sides act responsibly and avoid actions that further fuel tensions.
The EU Election Observation Mission (EU EOM) will continue its work to closely observe the next stages of the elections, until the process is concluded, including possible appeals.
Declaration of the OAS General Secretariat
regarding the Presidential Elections in Honduras
issued in Washington, December 6, 2017
The Electoral Observation Mission (EOM) of the Organization of American States (OAS) to the elections in Honduras has informed the OAS General Secretariat about the lack of guarantees and transparency, as well as the accumulation of irregularities, mistakes and systemic problems that have surrounded this electoral process during the pre-electoral phase, election day, and the post-electoral phase, that as a corollary do not allow the Mission to have certainty about the results.
Moreover, it is clear that it is not possible, without an exhaustive and meticulous process of verification that determines the existence or not of an electoral fraud — as has been denounced by the opposition — to restore the confidence of the population in the process.
This lack of trust and polarization have generated unsustainable incidents of violence. The public calls for mutiny and military insurrection made in the post-electoral context are are irresponsible and incompatible with democracy.
With equal force, the OAS General Secretariat deplores the reckless calls for violence and the use of assault rifles in private hands by party leaders.
The OAS General Secretariat also condemns the deaths that have taken place and demands their immediate investigation, while also expressing its condolences and expressing solidarity with the families of the victims.
The suspension of the constitutional rights related to the Decree of December 1, 2017 issued by the Government of Honduras has been justified according to the Constitution cited in the decree considered in extreme situations, such as “the invasion of the national territory, the serious disturbance of the peace, an epidemic, or any other general calamity.” Therefore the OAS General Secretariat considers disproportionate the application of these measures in the face of demonstrations that took place following the already denounced irregularities of the electoral act carried out on November 26, 2017 and requests the immediate lifting of these measures.
The electoral process is the ultimate expression of the popular will, and democracy cannot and should not be undermined by serious irregularities, repression and deaths.
It is imperative that sufficient guarantees be given so that violence can be stopped immediately.
Looking forward, the report of the EOM has demanded a series of actions to reestablish trust, generate certainty and provide guarantees.
Therefore, we endorse the recommendations and conclusions contained in the preliminary report of the EOM. These conclusions have determined, based on technical criteria derived from international standards, the stages that must be completed.
We will move forward with all the steps indicated in the report and provide the essential follow-up.
The presidential candidate Juan Orlando Hernández Alvarado has accepted the conclusions and recommendations of the EOM report, and has expressed his commitment to submit the results of the elections to international scrutiny with the accompaniment of international observers.
Unfortunately, despite the technical and scientific basis of the recommendations of the EOM, it has not been possible to reach a signed agreement.
The OAS General Secretariat reiterates that the electoral process in the Republic of Honduras has not concluded, as the full implementation of the following recommendations remain to be carried out:
A comparison of the 1,006 records/minutes subjected to special scrutiny with the originals received in order to ascertain whether they formed part of those that were transmitted on-line or those that were processed once they had arrived at INFOP.
Verification of the 5,174 TSE records that were not transmitted on the night of the election, along with a recount of the votes in the records showing inconsistencies.
Review of the participation in the vote in the departments of Lempira, Intibucá, and La Paz, checking 100% of the polling stations in each of those departments.
The establishment of a reasonable deadline for challenging findings. Due to the delays in both the regular and special tallies, the Mission urges the Supreme Electoral Tribunal to be flexible about receiving these challenges and in resolving them with all due procedural guarantees, one by one, after careful and duly substantiated analysis.
The publication of the lists of members of the polling stations in the departments of Atlántida, Colón, Cortés, Francisco Morazán, and Yoro.Verification of the soundness/integrity of the Integrated Electoral Vote Counting and Dissemination System (SIEDE) and its components.
If the existing irregularities prove to be of such an extent that it makes it impossible for the process to provide certainty and security in the recount, the Mission reserves the right to make any additional recommendations it deems pertinent on any aspect thereof, without ruling out the possibility of recommending a new call for elections with guarantees that they correct all the identified weaknesses that led to the serious irregularities detected.
The OAS General Secretariat will not abandon the Honduran people and reaffirms its complete commitment to contribute to resolving the differences surrounding the election. For this reason, the EOM remains in place to continue providing technical-political support.
Statement of the Ministry of Foreign Relations of the Government of Panama
issued in Panama, December 4, 2017
The Government of the Republic of Panama has closely followed the presidential elections in Honduras and is concerned about the unrest that has arisen.
Panama calls on the Supreme Electoral Tribunal to complete the vote count and guarantee the Honduran population a transparent process.
It also calls on the population and the political force to maintain calm and promote social peace and tranquility in the country.
~ ~ ~
These announcements are interactive. Click on them for more information.
The Trump speech will not change the reality of Jerusalem. West Jerusalem will remain an Israeli city, where Israel’s government is located since 1949. East Jerusalem will remain an occupied Palestinian city, which is not and cannot be a part of Israel. Believers of Judaism, Christianity and Islam will continue clinging to their holy sites in Jerusalem.
Nevertheless, this is a historic day. In the person of President Donald Trump, the United States today officially, ceremoniously and with a bang abdicated its role as the mediator between Israel and the Arabs.
This mediating role had endured for more than forty years. Henry Kissinger created it with his “shuttle diplomacy” of the 1970s. All later Presidents and Secretaries of State strove to maintain it. All later Presidents and Secretaries of State were jealous of the American monopoly over Middle East mediation, even to forcibly grabbing hold of negotiations processes started without them — between Israel and Egypt in 1978, between Israel and the Palestinians in 1993. Until Donald Trump came along and in typical Trumpian style decided to spectacularly smash up this mediation role.
In fact, the US mediation role had always been a curious anomaly. In no commercial dispute would it be conceivable to have as arbiter the business partner of one of the contending parties. But in the world of Middle East diplomacy, it was accepted almost without question that the role of impartial honest broker be given to Israel’s closest ally, the provider of billions in financial aid and state of the art weapons systems and an almost automatic veto in the UN Security Council.
Obama and Kerry did make some belated and half-hearted efforts to appear impartial. But Trump decided to tear off America’s face any mask of impartiality and trample it underfoot.
What now? Well, for some time there will be no mediator in the Middle East, and hence no kind of Peace Process. But sooner or later, the vacuum is going to be filled. Who might fill it? One name which comes to mind is of Russia’s Vladimir Putin, who had just shown himself able to play a highly effective and energetic — though quite brutal — role in Syria. Russia has long-standing cordial relations with the Palestinians, in the past decade Putin has built up intensive relations with Netanyahu as well. Taking up the abandoned mediation role between Israel and the Palestinians would fit nicely within Putin’s project of restoring Russia’s global power.
Then, the European Union — even though beset by many crises — might take up a more assertive role in the Middle East. Especially France, which has traditionally tended to take its own independent initiatives. Or even China, which not so long ago appointed its own Middle East representative.
Altogether, there might eventually emerge a mediator or mediators who would be a bit more impartial than we had so far. And if so, there might be an ironical reason to feel grateful to Donald Trump.
~ ~ ~
These announcements are interactive. Click on them for more information.
Aves de Panamá / Birds of Panama El Martín Pescador Grande / The Ringed Kingfisher
foto y nota por Kermit Nourse / photo and note by Kermit Nourse
This is Panama’s Ringed Kingfisher, the largest of all of the kingfishers, reaching a length of 15.5 to 17 inches. They are water birds found along lakes and rivers whose main diet is mostly fish. They do no not spearfish with their sharp beaks, but rather use them for burrowing holes in which they live. I had over a year of failed attempts at trying to photograph this spectacular bird.
Esto es el Martín Pescador Grande, el más grande de todos los martines pescadores en Panamá, que alcanza una longitud de 15.5 a 17 pulgadas. Son aves acuáticas encontradas a lo largo de lagos y ríos cuya dieta principal es generalmente el pescado. No hacen no el pescado de la lanza con sus picos agudos, pero mejor dicho los usan para cavar agujeros en los cuales viven. Tenía más de un año de tentativas fracasadas en la tentativa de fotografiar esta ave espectacular.
~ ~ ~
These announcements are interactive. Click on them for more information. Estos anuncios son interactivos. Toque en ellos para seguir a las páginas de web.
El Cine Universitario cierra sus actividades de este año con la presentación de un ciclo de cine político dirigido por mujeres, del lunes 11 al viernes 15 de diciembre, iniciativa llevada adelante en conjunto con la Embajada de España y la Agencia Española de Cooperación Internacional para el Desarrollo (AECID), enmarcada en la campaña “16 días de activismo contra la violencia de género”.
El ciclo lo componen ocho películas de todas partes del mundo: Bangladesh, Dinamarca, El Salvador, España, Italia y México, y abrirá con la proyección del drama En Construcción (UNDER Construction) (Bangladesh 2015), de Rubaiyat Hossain, en el que una actriz teatral se ve enfrentada al deseo de su esposo de tener hijos y llevar una vida tradicional, mientras ella no está interesada en la maternidad y busca reivindicar su identidad y libertad. El filme cuenta con premios en Francia, Nueva York, Dhaka, entre otros festivales.
Tandas de 3, 5 y 7 pm, menos el primer día en el que se presentarán las dos primeras funciones y la inauguración será a las 7:30 pm. Todas las funciones serán con entrada gratis. El Cine Universitario está en la calle principal del Campus Central de la UP, antes de la Farmacia Universitaria.
Información en redes en Facebook: @cineuniversitarioup, Twitter: @CineUPanama o Instagram: @cineuniversitarioup. Teléfono 523-5391.
~ ~ ~
Estos anuncios son interactivos. Toque en ellos para seguir a las páginas de web
A careful reading of the accords between the governments of Panama and the Peoples Republic of China that were signed in Beijing during President Varela’s trip there indicates in detail the object that China seeks in Panama and in the rest of the region. At the same time, it makes it clear that Panamanian business and government leaders don’t have any vision for the future (or for the country). The Chinese have presented a plan for the next 50 years, with investments of $500 billion in the first 20 years. On the other hand, the leaders who control the levers of power in Panama have no proposal, they haven’t drafted any plan and they are just waiting for the Chinese to arrive.
The game is very dangerous for both sides. China could meet with a short term popular resistance if it does not take into account the interests of ordinary people. Its projects only contemplate economic accumulation for this country and some marginal gains for a parasitic oligarchy. The accords could benefit Panamanians if they are incorporated into a national development plan.
Last week we reviewed the first 10 agreements between the two governments. Now let’s see the remaining nine.
Agreement number 11 refers to the boost that the Chinese want to give to Panamanian duty free zones. In the case of the Colon Free Zone it mentions a $3 billion investment for new stores and another billion dollars for hotels. The investments and new stores would be to handle Chinese products destined for the rest of the region.
The 12th agreement is about tourism and its potential as a source of income for investors. China would give Panama the status of “approved tourist destination” for its citizens to travel to the isthmus. The agreement emphasizes that Chinese “much appreciate casino tourism.” The text included little about other forms of tourism that are prohibited in most countries of the world and tolerated in Panama.
Agreement number 13 refers to aviation. According to the text, China will build a new cargo terminal in Panama City at a cost of $10 billion. Everything indicates that the Chinese intend to complement the interoceanic Panama Canal with an aerial “canal” that would connect Latin America with China. If we add the railway project, Panama will be turned into a continental maritime, aerial and land “hub.”
Agreement number 14 refers to maritime cooperation. The Panamanian flag that is sold to the large shipping companies would receive international treatment in Chinese ports. This business is very much desired by important firms in Panama. Equal treatment is added for the crews of Panamanian ships. The agreement does not mention the labor rights of unionized sailors.
In Agreement 15 Panama “adheres” to the Silk Road. According to the document, the Road is “is aligned with the role that the country plays in the region and the world as the Great Connection that will be enhanced by the inclusion of the interoceanic route.”
The 16th agreement make reference to the much touted “bullet train” that would unite Panama City with the Costa Rican border. The agreement says that China “would pay for the state-of-the-art transport system” whose cost would be $2 billion (less than the cost of Metro Line 2 in Panama City).
Agreeement number 17 makes reference to embassy properties in both countries. China gave Panama a seven-story property in Beijing, worth $150 million.
Agreement 18 aims at organizing a seminar for journalists.
The last agreement refers to a non-refundable cooperation agreement within the framework of a National Cooperation Plan.
The Great Connection is the key to understanding the objectives of China in Panama. The Silk Road would reach the entire Latin American region through the Isthmus of Panama, which is the Great Connection. Panamanians have to decide now if we want to remain a “step” or if we are willing to become a country with a productive population. The Chinese offer that opportunity. We Panamanians have to take advantage of it within the framework of a national development plan.
~ ~ ~
These announcements are interactive. Click on them for more information.
On December 1 the Republicans pulled off the biggest political raid on the public coffers in US history, with well over $1 trillion in tax giveaways to the very rich and their corporations. Note that the Senate’s tax cuts for business do not extend to most small businesses, which are the ones that are most likely create jobs and new economic spaces into which other people and companies can grow.
It will take a little while for the cuts in services and benefits that will flow from this plutocratic heist to make themselves generally felt among the electorate at large, but that will be coming. Republicans and corporate Democrats may be enhanced by even more money in their campaign coffers, but for the foreseeable future all other divisions in US society recede before a gaping chasm over economic class. More and more, variations on that theme will be the stuff over which Democratic primaries and general elections will be fought. Democratic unity on the Senate floor will do little to help the party establishment from a rank-and-file clamor for change in the face of this defeat.
So, was it a big Republican victory? Perhaps. They now have something that they will spend the next few years defending. But it was overall a horrible day for Republicans. Lieutenant General Michael Flynn copped a plea and turned state’s evidence against Donald Trump and members of Trump’s family. It will be an accelerating legal and public relations rout for the Republican administration from now until Donald Trump leaves office. The GOP will fight next year’s congressional elections wearing the taint of disloyalty and corruption.
Flynn was probably not a double agent in the sense of a spy for two sides. He was a multiple agent with a duty of loyalty to the United States both as an army general and as a member of an incoming administration. Despite that he served as an agent on behalf of a repressive Turkish government, illegal Israeli appropriations of Palestinian lands and Kremlin desires to get out from under US sanctions. A private US citizen might lobby for any of those causes, but Flynn had a legal and ethical duty to refrain from that.
So is some Republican going to bring up the infamous revolving door between government and corporate work and point out the foreign influences that were asserted or attempted to be asserted through the Clinton Foundation? And will some Democrat point to Republican foundations that have done more or less the same things? All those nasty things might be truthfully said.
December 1 was a turning point and there will be no going back. The Republican tax cuts will have to be repealed as an existential necessity for the republic, but there will not be and should not be a return to what was. That’s not to suggest a halfway compromise return to the old schedule, but rather something different that does not make much reference to what was. Perhaps it might mean keeping the corporate tax breaks and extending these to small businesses, but jacking up tax rates for those individuals in the highest brackets to far more than they were before this latest legislation. Perhaps it might mean an end to US taxation for Americans earning their livings abroad, but tighter restrictions on companies and individuals in the USA who would want to send their wealth offshore.
There will also be no return to the pretenses that were made before Flynn’s guilty plea. Perhaps the Republicans will want to cut their losses and promote the quick impeachment of Donald Trump, so that Democrats can complain about a President Pence, the right-wing religious fanatic, rather than this bizarre and corrupt piece of work that is President Trump. The tax bill shows Republicans riding high in the water, but make no mistake about it. Their ship is sinking.
~ ~ ~
These announcements are interactive. Click on them for more information.
In 2003, severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) infected a total of 8,098 people worldwide. First reported in China, it spread rapidly through more than two dozen countries in North America, South America, Europe and Asia.
SARS was caused by a coronavirus (CoV). Coronaviruses in general infect humans on a regular basis, often leading to symptoms of the common cold: Coughing, sore throat, runny nose, sneezing and fever. But some, like SARS-CoV, jump species to humans from other animals, causing disease and often death.
We hope these studies might open up avenues for identification of novel therapeutics for humans and help us design strategies to increase our odds of surviving infections with these highly pathogenic viruses.
Immune response is activated when a virus infects the first cell in our body. The cell produces molecules that hinder the spread of the virus. These molecules also prime neighboring cells to resist infection with the virus.
Inhibiting this immune response is thus an advantage for the virus.
SARS-CoV and MERS-CoV make several proteins that inhibit these cellular defense responses, allowing the virus to spread and the disease to progress in an infected individual.
The ‘jump’ from bats to humans
Viruses such as coronaviruses have likely evolved for a very long time with bats, thus allowing both bats and viruses to reach equilibrium where they can co-exist.
Generally, hosts and viruses that have co-evolved like this adapt their defense and counter-defense strategies to establish an optimal environment for both participants in this evolutionary race.
However, sometimes these viruses grow to high numbers and cause disease or spread from their evolutionary hosts to other animals and to humans if this “optimal” environment is disturbed.
As bats have been evolving for 50 million years, they have had a long time to adapt to their viruses. The question remains then: Why do some of these viruses occasionally “jump” from bats to other species to cause significant disease?
Understanding how bats can successfully co-exist with more than 200 different viruses is of growing interest to researchers. Several hypotheses have emerged about this unique ability of bats to resist virus-induced disease. Speculations include co-evolutionary adaptations and the ability to fly.
Bats are the only mammals capable of true flight. During flight, the body temperature of bats rises to over 40℃. This resembles a fever response in humans, and fever is known to prime the immune response.
Is it possible that bats have an immune response that is always primed, in part due to the increase in their body temperatures during flight?
Metabolic rate is also increased during flight, which produces reactive oxygen radicals that can damage cellular DNA. There is evidence that genes involved in antiviral responses are positively selected due to their role in DNA repair as well. Thus, the ability to fly may have caused DNA repair genes to evolve for better functionality, which in turn may have led to the evolution of a more robust immune response in bats.
When humans are infected with these viruses, the viruses continue to make high levels of these proteins. But human cells are not primed to continuously express high levels of antiviral molecules the way bat cells are. Therefore, immune responses mounted by human cells are probably easily overwhelmed by these viral proteins.
Understanding these intriguing interactions is a work in progress and we are currently trying to understand if MERS-CoV behaves differently in bat cells.We’re also interested in observing how bat cells respond to infection with MERS-CoV and other viruses. We hope these studies will open up avenues for identification of novel therapeutic targets and molecules, and enhance research into less-studied wildlife viral reservoirs.