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Editorials: Space is the place; and Ditch the Saudis

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India
A new twist on a former colonial relationship: India launches two British satellites into space. Photo by the Satish Dhawan Space Center.

Space is the place – for Pamama

Once upon a time, the governments of the United States and the Soviet Union were the only gateways to space, and they were hideously expensive. But technology marched on, the Soviet Union in part collapsed because it could not handle the changes and the official US and Russian space agencies have more or less priced themselves out of the market with the rise of all manner of private participants and a bunch of new state competitors. Earlier this year India launched 100 satellites in one rocket. With more powerful microprocessing chips, smaller and cheaper satellites are doing things previously not thought practical

And will Panama look to the gringos to meet all of our needs, or now to the chinos? Will any adaptation to new realities require us to give the illustrious families and venal political hacks so many cuts of the action so that there is nothing left?

Our needs? What is it if a couple of Dutchwomen die in one of our national parks because there is no cell phone connection? What is it if kids in our indigenous comarcas and other remote areas have their educations hindered by lack of Internet access? What is it if Panama’s maritime security needs are subordinated to the failed US “War on Drugs” when we need to take our own law enforcement looks at what is going on in our waters? And what do we do to advance our own culture and make our own selections of other nations’ work when the US cultural imports to which Panama has become accustomed have degenerated to “reality” trash like Donald Trump, Kanye West and the Kardashians? In a word, it’s about “underdevelopment.” We pay dearly for such underdevelopment. There are space-based routes around that stuff in the direction of more complete national independence.

Panama, probably on some matters in cooperation with Latin American and Caribbean neighbors, should deploy its own fleet of satellites. Moreover, because the Earth’s faster spin there means that launches from the Equator need less fuel to get spacecraft into higher orbits and companies have thus been experimenting with sea launches from Pacific international waters west of the Galapagos, isn’t Panama in a better position to be a support base for those than Long Beach, California, which now plays that role? At least, we would be in a better position were we to expand and adapt the airport at Howard and the nearby seaport at Vacamonte for that purpose.

 

JKh
The late journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Photo by The Project on Middle East Democracy.

Cut off the Saudi jihad

Now the House of ibn Saud has tortured a journalist to death. Jamal Khashoggi was a US resident and wrote for The Washington Post. Donald Trump outdid himself in condoning the crime by inventing a truly weird conspiracy theory at odds with all semblance of reality.

The truth is that the crown prince who has visited war crimes upon Syria and Yemen didn’t like what Mr. Khashoggi was writing, so lured him to a Saudi consulate in Turkey to pick up a copy of a divorce document, and there took him into custody and tortured him to death. Much of it was captured by the dead man’s Apple watch and preserved as proof on the Internet cloud.

Donald Trump and a number of other rich Americans are in hock to the Saudis. The arms industry does a brisk business selling tools for the Sunni Islamic jihad, which they, the present government of Israel and the usual vicious hawks for whom any war will do are hoping will now be expanded to a war with Iran.

Are many Americans upset about Russian meddling in US affairs? Reasonable enough under the circumstances, but Vladimir Putin isn’t the only player in that. Saudi Arabia and its close ally the United Arab Emirates have been big customers for US politicians and power brokers eager to sell access and influence.

The American people have nothing to gain from this relationship. The Republicans sell this rhetoric about “originalism,” but staying out of foreign wars, particularly foreign holy wars, was bedrock principle for the founders of the American republic. American tradition and common sense tell us to let the Saudis swim or sink alone, toward a fate unlinked to ours.

 

AR

Bear in mind…

 

The Constitution they wrote was designed to protect the rights of white, male citizens. As there were no black Founding Fathers, there were no founding mothers — a great pity, on both counts. It is not too late to complete the work they left undone. Today, here, we should start to do so.
Shirley Chisholm

 

The end of democracy and the defeat of the American Revolution will occur when government falls into the hands of lending institutions and moneyed incorporations.
Thomas Jefferson

 

It is not enough to profess faith in the democratic process; we must do something about it.
Ella T. Grasso

 

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Scenes from the 2018 Toro Guapo Festival in Anton

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Such a handsome bull

photos from Anton by Eric Jackson

 

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Panamanian justice: 1000 cases and an astroturf roar of protest

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Ricky's people
Need we translate this pseudonymous and nonsequitur Martinelista Twitter rant, in this instance attacking the press for not joining their contrived hue and cry?

1000+ cases on, the big one at a crossroads and
unreasonable doubts raised about everything

by Eric Jackson

One of many exceptionally brazen motions denied

What? The Martinelli Linares sons and Riccardo Francolini move to dismiss the charges on the grounds that the acceptance of a huge kickback from a major public works project does no harm to the government? Denied, said Judge Óscar Carrasquilla. No doubt there will be appeals.

The motion was brought in an attempt to dismiss a complaint by Security Minister Alexis Bethancourt after court records in other countries revealed that the Brazilian construction company Odebrecht paid hundreds of millions in kickbacks for billions of dollars in public works contracts and that a lot of these illicit payments were made to these three people. That may not have been the end of the money trail, as with much of the former President Ricardo Martinelli Berrocal’s public corruption the recipents of dirty money passed it on to the Cambio Democratico party’s 2014 election campaign, to pay for groceries, building materials, home appliances and cash to exchange for votes in the elder Martinelli’s bid to prolong his power in the Putin fashion by installing a puppet successor president.

Ricardo Martinelli Linares, the son of the former president, does not go directly to jail on that ruling. Nor does his younger brother, Luis Enrique Martinelli Linares. They are fugitives from justice, believed to be residing in the United States. Despite that status, they are allowed to take up the overworked courts’ time by bringing a motion in absentia. Panamanian courts are relatively rare in that they accept pleadings from or allow hearings to fugitives.

Another odd feature of Panamanian law is that there is no tolling statute. In most places if someone accused of a crime flees abroad, the time spent out of the accusing jurisdiction does not count toward the calculation of when an applicable statute of limitations has run. Nor do delays caused by defendants’ motions in criminal proceedings. In the USA the laws that stop the calendar on statutes of limitation are called tolling statutes. They exist in jurisdictions of both the Common Law and Civil Code families of legal systems. But not in Panama. In the US practice of law, it is also considered unethical for a lawyer to interpose a motion just for the purpose of delay. Here it is celebrated as something that smart lawyers do as part of a quite common game played for rich and politically connected criminals. They flee or hide to let the statute of limitations run. If caught and brought before a Panamanian court they continue the game with delays caused by ridiculous motions.

The younger Martinellis’ co-defendant in the matter at hand, Riccardo Francolini, has a bunch of pending charges and is in and out of prison as he is denied or granted bail on this or that. These days the norm is supposed to be that an unconvicted defendant gets bail. The poor generally can’t afford cash bail but folks in Francolini’s income bracket often can.

To one who is behind bars awaiting trial, release on some sort of bail is quite the serious matter. To one facing charges that can result in years in prison, a motion to dismiss the charges is also a big deal. But multiple lawyers coming into court, filing pleadings and taking up time and space on the docket to argue that a graft scheme in which the government overpays for a public work and part of the excess gets skimmed off to a politically connected person gives the government no grounds to complain? That’s brazen.

In Panama lawyers and clients never get penalized for frivolous motions. Ricardo Martinelli Linares may be the ex-president’s son and Riccardo Francolini may be the ex-president’s business partner, but in the grand scheme of things – in the reported more than 1,000 public corruption cases now pending – they are second or third tier players, with relatively small squadrons of lawyers deployed. But consider how outrageous this motion to dismiss charges was, and multiply it a thousand times to begin to get an idea of the operation that is being run against the Panamanian courts and the nation that they are supposed to serve.

Oh, the crime in question? Odebrecht pleaded guilty to it more than one year ago and was fined $220 million, payable over 12 years. They retain their eligibility to bid for public works contracts in Panama.

The ex-president’s trial on the first of many sets of charges

Martinelli Sr.? His illegal eavesdropping case is the one most prominently before the public eye. Pretrial proceedings are about done, although the ex-president’s teams of lawyers have other ideas. Magistrate Jerónimo Mejía is pondering the proofs proffered at pretrial hearings and a plethora of motions to exclude this or that witness or bit of evidence, some of which if granted would effectively end the case. He will decide if the case goes forward to trial and which evidence gets in.

Pending before the entire court are several interlocutory motions appealing Mejía’s rulings so far, perhaps the most important to the former president his several denied motions to be released on bail. Ricardo Martinelli Berrocal fled to the United States, issuing taunting Twitter messages for many months until his arrest began extradition proceedings. At a very late state of appealing US rulings to send him back to Panama for trial Martinelli threw the towel into that ring, and seems to think that because he did not for a second time appeal his extradition up to the US Supreme Court that means that Panamanian courts owe him release on bail. Mejía’s position is that one who has already fled is a flight risk and does not get bail. The man may have many fans – some his appointees – in this country’s judiciary, but acceptance of the bail plea would cripple what authority the courts have and perhaps lead to a clean sweep of all high court magistrates in some future constitutional revision process. The court’s fan base among the general public is far less significant than Martinelli’s fan base in the courts. So in El Renacer Penitentiary the former president waits, fighting battles over prison rules with his jailers, who might just transfer him from the country club of Panama’s slammers to something far more hellish.

If Mejía binds Martinelli Sr. over for trial, a panel of nine magistrates or alternate magistrates will be assembled to hear the case. (Unless, of course, the entire court prior to that grants one of the pending constitutional motions or interlocutory appeals and dismisses the case.) Mejía will not be on that panel.

Nor will Mejía’s colleague José Ayú Prado, one of the people whose phone calls and emails Martinelli is alleged to have illegally intercepted, and most probably whose cell phones or laptops were remotely switched on and turned into room bugs. Did Ayú Prado talk with his colleagues over the phone, or exchange emails with them? He probably did. Although this case deals with direct surveillance of 150 specifically named individuals, their communications with others being intercepted means that thousands of people were caught in this one net. One of them is this reporter, and then there were probably other nets out there too. The 150-member enemies list was accidentally left in a laptop at the National Security Council and forms the basis on which this case was started. Ayú Prado would have a specific conflict of interest in hearing the matter. Most probably all of his colleagues would as well, but Panamanian judges are great ones for legal fictions that keep them from recusing themselves when they should.

There are many public corruption cases pending, under investigation, on trial or on appeal – so many that both journalists and the general public have long since reached the point of fatigue. Against the former president at least a dozen other separate sets of charges have been lodged. There are a variety of actors and motives at work to create this weariness. Mostly that’s the intended effect, one that makes Panamanians hate lawyers all the more.

If the courts and public can stay awake long enough for this trial to come to its conclusion, the proscutor in this matter, magistrate Harry Díaz, has asked for a 21-year prison sentence for the former president.

Systemic dysfunction

Panama operates under a constitution in which there is little local autonomy and a weak legislature, but in exchange for that powerlessness money gets spread around for politicians to distribute among the constituents or pocket, or to put the entire extended family on the payroll. By and large the political parties want to keep it that way, and by and large the Electoral Tribunal is an instrument to carry out those wishes on which the party bosses can agree.

Against that systemic inertia we have the aftermath of an administration that took all of the old abuses to new extremes, a divided legislature that can mainly only agree on an expansion and division of political spoils and a public that despite its weariness is likely to throw most incumbents out when next they get the chance in May. And then there is a compromised justice system in which nobody believes, fighting for its institutional existence or at least doing so in the eyes of some of its leading lights.

The constitution as a religion is gringo weirdness that Panama does not have. Much of the reason for that is the different presumptions and operation of two different families of legal systems. The Anglo-American Common Law based largely on history and precedent and the Civil Code that Panama has traces back through the Napoleonic Code to Roman Law and is far more interested in procedure and the parsing of words in statutes.

Were someone to get into “originalism” in Panama, our constitution has no particular author who brags about it or who is held up as some sort of hero. It derives from a draft submitted to those representantes elected in 1968 willing and able to participate in a convention put on by the military dictatorship. Omar Torrijos was restarting negotiations with the United States to unify Panama by eliminating the Canal Zone enclave and eventually removing the American military bases and putting the canal under Panamanian administration. For that he needed at least the fig leaf of civilian government. Not that he was ready to actually cede control. The representantes, and new legislators to come, got their 30 pieces of silver in the form of discretionary funds.

However, notwithstanding appointed presidents ultimate executive power rested with the military command and the ultimate law was not the courts but the G2 intelligence agency / secret police, then headed by a man to whom Torrijos referred as “my gangster,” one Manuel Antonio Noriega. Not even the Democratic Revolutionary Party that Torrijos founded makes a fetish about the original intent of those who drafted and promulgated the present constitution. Nito Cortizo, the PRD’s candidate for the 2019 election, although he is vague about it, says that a new constitution is a top priority if he becomes president.

Here the culture of law is about forms, procedures, magic words and bribery. Get into the coup by which Panama was separated from Colombia and there was ample bribery in that as well, if Panamanians want to look to history for founding principles. But the world has changed and little annoyances have been escalated to extremes, such that much of the story of the Varela administration is a tale of promises unkept for lack of money that owes largely to the bribery and embezzlement industries of post-invasion Pamama. Although there are many other reasons for it as well, Varela’s turn toward China as an economic partner has to do with lack of many other options in the wake of a particularly egregious looting of Panama’s public assets.

(Let us, however, not pretend that since the 1976 Buckley v Valeo US Supreme Court decision and those that followed upon it, including the Citizens United case, that bribery is not constitutionally embedded into the US system.)

What to do when Panama is destitute and pompous families have stashed the loot here, there and everywhere but largely abroad? It becomes a national security issue, a matter for G2. Except that, since the 1989 US invasion, it’s not called that anymore. Under the post-invasion reorganization they arrested many of the thugs, fired many people, transferred most of the remaining staff to other police units and renamed it the National Security Council. These are the successive civilian presidents’ gangsters, or if we are to be polite about it, intelligence agents. They operate under the auspices of the Ministry of the Presidency.

When he came into office, Varela brought a small team of lawyers and investigators into the National Security Council, led by attorney Rogelio Saltarín. Their task was to investigate the crimes of the Martinelli administration, including some committed through the National Security Council. In a series of reports in La Estrella it is alleged that many of the more than 1,000 criminal cases brought by the Public Ministry or referred by the prosecutors of that administration to the Supreme Court or to the Credentials Committee of the National Assembly came from Saltarín’s group.

(The Public Ministry prosecutors and ordinary courts have jurisdiction over civilians and former public officials now holding no office, but the legislature has jurisdiction over presidents, vice presidents, government ministers and magistrates, while the high court has jurisdiction over legislators. So did the financial data at the core of the impeachment case against then magistrate Alejandro Moncada Luna originally come from the investigative efforts of Saltarín’s team? If so, is there a journalist or news medium craven enough to raise the hue and cry over the fate of that guy, now out of prison and practicing law again, who once upon a time was Noriega’s man for shutting down the opposition press?)

In any case the legions of Martinelli lawyers – those who defend the former president and members of his family, those who defend former public officials of the Martinelli administration and those attorneys who worked in the Martinelli administration – are crying foul over the “road maps” that Saltarín reportedly gave to Attorney General Kenia Porcell.

Troubling questions

Because the G2 and National Security Council were and are secret police, there is no authoritative and comprehensive institutional history available to the general public or to lawyers. We don’t know how usual or unusual it might be for them to go to local banks for information about people or accounts. We don’t know if they can and do go to foreign intelligence agencies that monitor electronic banking transactions for information pertaining to Panamanian suspects. Certainly the “summary proof rule,” that no criminal investigation may be started against a person, without a complaint that has complete and competent proof that a crime was committed and that the person named committed it, would not apply to security council investigations. Does NSC involvement in criminal investigations violate the citizenry’s well founded expectation of impunity? Or is it a matter of ordinary citizens never having such an expectation, that NSC involvement in the Martinelli cases ruins the plans of only a relatively small caste of people?

Other specific concerns are raised:

– Did Saltarín just look at the crimes of Martinelistas, but neither those of prior administrations nor of Panameñistas for the slightly more than two years when Varela was Martinelli’s junior partner in government?

– Is there an implicit ban on National Security Council involvement in criminal investigations, born out of constitutional separations of powers that are suppose to prevent presidents from interfering in prosecution decisions? Do various parts of criminal procedure statutes give exclusive dibs to such investigations to the Public Ministry or the courts?

– Did the National Security Council conduct illegal searches of private records without benefit of a court order in the Saltarín investigation?

– Was Saltarín dishonest? Did he plant bogus proofs in order to frame Martinelli et al? Even were he scrupulously ethical about this, would a National Security Council that gets into politically charged criminal investigations sooner or later lead to such abuses?

– Former president Martinelli’s case deals with violations of the privacy of nominally 150 people, but actually thousands, by the National Security Council. Is it reasonable for a spy agency with such powers to do this for one president, without any concern about the same agency’s powers being turned against the person who ordered that in the following administration?

– Was it a National Security Council decision to deny to people not on Martinelli’s 150-member enemies list that their rights had also been violated by the council’s operatives in the previous administration? Was this a political or financial decision of the Varela administration, or of the council, or of Attorney General Porcell, to limit the lawsuits and private prosecutions?

The astroturf sprouts for Ricky Martinelli

The hue and cry was raised. Varela said that he hired Saltarín’s law firm and others to look into public corruption cases, but denied that they prepared the Public Ministry’s files in any cases. It might just be a semantic argument, but it could have legal consequences.

At the time that Varela brought in Saltarín, all those who might investigate crimes during the Martinelli administration – the attorney general, the comptroller general and the electoral prosecutor – were Martinelli appointees. None were making any serious investigations of the many allegations. Formally the attorney general and comptroller general are the legislature’s appointments to make, but Martinelli made a power grab and had a bought-off National Assembly majority to rubber stamp the appointments that he personally made. We still have Martinelli’s flagrantly partisan electoral prosecutor with us.

Most lawyers know that proofs tend to disappear, witnesses’ memories tend to fade and generally a case becomes harder to make with the passage of time. Plus, the statutes of limitations, which Martinelli and his allies in the legislature at the time shortened for themselves, go ticking away. So from a Varela perspective it was a matter of confronting the Martinelli legal slowdown in its early phases.

From just about all observers’ perspective, hiring Saltarín and the rest of that team to do what they did was unusual, perhaps unprecedented. (Get into the post-invasion Endara administration and there are arguable precedents, but then there was the US government taking and sealing the Panamanian government archives, doling out just a few for prosecutions of interest to Uncle Sam while protecting a lot of Noriega’s upscale collaborators. Precedents there were, perhaps, but not exactly on point.) So the catch-word “irregularities” has been deployed.

The former president also, through his media, has spun the tale of how while in Miami exile an attorney at Saltarín’s firm offered to quash the cases percolating in the Supreme Court for a million bucks. That would actually fit in with some long-standing practices in that institution, but this is not the ordinary defendant. Plus, it rests entirely on the word of one man, Ricardo Martinelli Berrocal, and only was raised after La Estrella’s reports of Saltarín’s role. The attorney in question has made no public statement about the allegation.

With the hooks of “irregularity,” Martinelli’s allegation, interpretations and extrapolations of the Code of Penal Procedure and speculation about where practices like the hiring of Saltarín might lead, the Martinelistas have gone on yet another political and legal offensive. It was all a partisan set-up, they say that the Saltarín contract proves.

A lot of lawyers have made a lot of money defending the Martinelli gang, and that of course divides the legal profession. But what the Colegio de Abogados is calling for is not the dismissal of charges against Ricardo Martinelli Berrocal but an investigation into Saltarín’s role.

Most civil society anti-corruption activists have taken a “wait and see” attitude about Saltarín and virtually none have taken the position that Martinelli ought to walk. Thus the hue and cry, often by pseudonmous social media trolls, against the anti-corruption Alianza Ciudadana Pro Justicia and its president, attorney and human rights activist Magaly Castillo. The Alianza, which brings together law reform, feminist, environmentalist, labor and community groups, is accused of being allied with Varela. Formally it’s not, although the leaders of many of the groups ended up voting for the current president in 2014 because they considered it imperative to beat Martinelli’s stand-in and considered the other perhaps viable alternative, the PRD’s Juan Carlos Navarro, to be unacceptable in light of their dealings with him as mayor of Panama City and because he was running on a “tough guy” platform of trying 12-year-old juvenile delinquents as adults. The Alianza has never made endorsements, nor have most of its component groups, and they have been critical of Varela on many issues throughout his presidency.

But you never know when judges or politicians might respond to screaming grass roots demands from the astroturf section.

 

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La vaina sobre Magaly Castillo

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Ricky
Desde que dejó la presidencia, Ricardo Martinelli, a través de los medios de comunicación que controla, ha estado atacando a todos en la sociedad que insisten en que no debe disfrutar de la impunidad por sus delitos en cargos públicos.

¿Qué es impropio aquí?

notas por la redacción y otros

Hay informes en La Estrella, escritos por Adelita Saltiel de Coriat, que cuentan cómo el presidente Varela contrató abogados para investigar las irregularidades de las administraciones anteriores y cómo el líder de ese esfuerzo, Rogelio Saltarín, compartió información con la Procuradora Kenia Porcell. Muchos abogados y algunos de sus gremios objetan o cuestionan la legitimidad de esto por motivos de procedimiento judicial. Los martinelistas se oponen a estas investigaciones presidenciales porque son delincuentes que quieren quedar impunes. La reportera y el periódico en cuestión fuerton los primeros en informar sobre muchas de las historias sobre los delitos de Martinelli. Nadie dice que los informes sobre Saltarín son falsos. El argumento es sobre su significado. Porque Castillo no ha denunciado la situación como una trampa contra Martinelli y sus seguidores, de ahí los ataques.

 

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¿Wappin? Music got to teach them one lesson

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Barbra

Music got to teach them one lesson

La música debe enseñarles una lección

Bob Marley – Music Lesson
https://youtu.be/LWnb_2lRaoo

Kafu Banton – Despierta y Anda
https://youtu.be/b3tLwkooY-o

Third World – Freedom Song
https://youtu.be/481LM2iAlpg

Nina Simone – Mississippi Goddam
https://youtu.be/LJ25-U3jNWM

Sister Rosetta Tharpe – This Train
https://youtu.be/jOrhjgt-_Qc

Romeo Santos – Perjurio
https://youtu.be/XxszMbpWHSM

Barbra Streisand – Don’t Lie to Me
https://youtu.be/kNrj87Q-4Yk

KT Tunstall & Mike McCready – I Won’t Back Down
https://youtu.be/Dxf0lhz1dJo

Julieta Venegas – Andar Conmigo
https://youtu.be/DNFeB_6WeIo

The Lumineers – Walls
https://youtu.be/BI0f8xv8B4w

John Prine – Illegal Smile
https://youtu.be/MmjnQjRvPUQ

Sin Bandera – Kilometros
https://youtu.be/PXE28BW8TBE

Willie Nelson & Merle Haggard – Pancho & Lefty
https://youtu.be/CvdmxszsDM8

Tina Turner – We don’t need another hero
https://youtu.be/IYD9CW_XB8E

Annie Lennox – BBC One Sessions Live
https://youtu.be/xUruA0Zrpg4

 

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50 years ago this night…

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OT
Omar Torrijos, seated in front of the microphones, announcing the October 11, 1968 coup d’etat.

50 years ago Panama made an acute turn

by Eric Jackson

On October 11, 1968, with a recently inaugurated President Arnulfo Arias taking in a movie, Guardia Nacional officers led by Colonel Boris Martínez and Colonel Omar Torrijos politely and unofficially 0shoved aside their superior, General Bólivar Vallarino, and announced the overthrow – once again – of Dr. Arias.

This was not any particularly ideological coup, but it was an event set in a period of world history and a peculiarly Panamanian context. The precipitating reason was the announcement by Arias, who had been sworn in that October 1, that he would reshuffle the promotion schedule for the Guardia Nacional, at the time Panama’s combined military and police forces.

Vallarino was the last of a breed, the product of a former policy that reserved the Guardia’s upper ranks for members of Panama’s aristocratic white families. But he was also successor to and bearer of the torch of José A. Remón, the Guardia commander behind many a coup – particularly several against Arias – and progenitor of a strange social reforming militarism that was previously politically aligned with fragmented remnants of Panama’s Liberal tradition.

Remón’s nemesis, however, was the faction led by the two Arias brothers who became presidents, Harmdio and Arnulfo, was also one of the Liberal fragments. The ancestor of what is today’s Panameñista Party was born in the late 20s as the Accion Comunal movement, a racist formation of young middle class white men who sometimes dressed in Ku Klux Klan robes and advocated the expulsion of West Indian blacks, Sephardic Jews, and in general anyone tracing roots to Asia or the Middle East from Panama. When they put on their suits and played moderate politician – or in Harmodio Arias’s case, attorney member of the Canal Zone Bar – they said that they didn’t have anything against anyone of another race or religion but had to defend Panama’s Spanish language and culture.

The first big run-in between the Guardia and Arnulfo Arias happened in 1941, the year in which a new constitution that stripped West Indian blacks except those from Spanish-speaking lands, the Chinese, the Hindus, the Arabs and the Sephardic Jews of their Panamanian citizenship, even if they, their parents and their grandparents had all been born here. Arias was also playing balance of power games between the USA of Franklin D. Roosevelt and Arias’s personal friend from his years as a diplomat in Europe, Adolf Hitler. The US Embassy and Remón connived to remove Arias from office when the latter took a trip to Havana for various appointments in October of that year. Thus the United States got what it saw as a dangerous annoyance out of the way as it slid ever closer to war with the Axis powers.

If Arnulfo Arias had a friend in Der Führer, Remón had one in Ike. After World War I Dwight D. Eisenhower was stationed in Panama, where it is said that he began his education in earnest as an administrator. He also got to know all segments of isthmian society, including the Guardia officers. Ultimately Remón emerged from the barracks to put on a suit and ran for president. He was elected, by most accounts fair and square. Assassins cut short his presidency but before that happened he made the Remón-Eisenhower Treaty that began a long process of transformation that ended the old Canal Zone.

The traditions and factions survived the crime – still officially unsolved, as to its intellectual author – and by early the Panameñnistas gained the upper hand in the National Assembly to impeach Liberal Marcos Robles, only to have the Guardia step in and overrule the legislature. Arias won that year’s election but lasted only about a week and a half in office.

So, October 11, 1968 – just another Panamanian coup? What would be so special about that?

It led to a generation of dictatorship that only ended with the December 1989 US invasion, a period that brought great changes to Panama’s relationship with the United States and positions in world politics, a time when the solid grip of a few families over Panama’s economy and politics was shattered if not destroyed.

There were intra-military power struggles at first, wherein Boris Martínez was put on a plane to the United States, the G2 intelligence chief whom Omar Torrijos called “my gangster” – Manuel Antonio Noriega – fended off an uprising and Torrijos became supreme leader of Panama from 1969 until his death in a 1981 plane crash. In those years Panama got the constitution that we have today, albeit with a few amendments. We got the 1977 Torrijos-Carter Treaties that ended the Canal Zone and, after a long phaseout, the complex of American military bases there. We were left with one of our major political parties, the one that Torrijos founded the Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD).

The arguments over the nature of the regime created by the October 11, 1968 coup continue. There were the slain and disappeared, a body count of more than 100 dissidents. There were the busted up monopolies. There was and is a political patronage systezm as a matter of constitutional law. The Colon Free Zone grew and thrived, and great fortunes both licit and illicit were made.

The arguments have been left less informed than they ought to be for two main reasons.

The first, the internal one, is that the Guardia closed and censored the media, purged academia and replaced it with a tawdry political patronage system and fostered a culture of fear. What ought to be the public record was censored and falsified by the military regime.

The second, the external reason, was that in the 1989 invasion the US forces took all the Panamanian government records and with exceptions like the vital statistics and voter registration data at the Electoral Tribunal and the Social Security Fund’s medical and pension records carted the public archives off to United States where they have been kept locked away to this day. Those records would have told us, for example, about post-invasion public figures who had quietly collaborated with the Noriega regime.

Especially guarded by the United States are the full stories of US dealings with Omar Torrijos and Manuel Antonio Noriega, two complementary partners but very different sorts of men. In common they were both CIA informants on their way up. In common they both had their moments of saying no to Uncle Sam. Torrijos was the hard-drinking, gregarious man who very much wanted to be in control but wanted to be loved and cared about how he would be seen in the historical record. Noriega was the much darker character, the spymaster and psychological warfare expert – something he learned from US Army instructors – a man without much of an internal capacity for self-control but who until close to the end had an older brother, the first out gay diplomat in Latin America, whose advice would perform that function for him. The created a generation with certain civic values that just didn’t function, which is why Panamanians in the end let American troops end the dictatorship and never since then got around to some of the necessary corrections that a functional democracy would need.

So the arguments continue, often with more heat than light, as the very real if seldom advertised consequences of the October 11, 1968 coup still surround us.

 

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Military families speak out against the Afghanistan War

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Marine looks for Taliban. A nation that doesn’t remember the people sent to fight on its behalf has no business sending more.

Enough folded flags

by Stacy Bannerman

You’d hardly know it from the news, but we’ve been continuously at war in Afghanistan since 2001. The war quietly turned 17 on October 7.

Unfortunately, America’s amnesia didn’t prevent Command Sergeant Major Tim Bolyard from being killed in Afghanistan in early September during his eighth combat tour and 13th deployment.

Eight combat tours — which should be illegal — sent Bolyard down-range repeatedly in a war President Obama purportedly ended over three years ago. A war this country forgot long before that.

A nation that doesn’t remember the men and women sent to fight on its behalf has no business whatsoever sending more. And a democracy that spends more time debating kneeling before the flag than the justification for issuing folded ones desperately needs to get re-acquainted with the Constitution — and its moral compass.

Our loved ones didn’t sign up to serve a president. They signed up to serve the American people, most of whom have no idea what they’re fighting for.

I don’t know, either. Nor do any of the other 4,000-plus members of Military Families Speak Out (MFSO).

We all have spouses, parents, partners, siblings, and children who’ve served in the post-9/11 era. Founded in 2002 by two military families to oppose the invasion of Iraq, our loved ones are still serving there and in Afghanistan.

We’ve spent more than a decade and a half burying children, grieving parents, mourning spouses and siblings, and caring for wounded warriors. We have no more loved ones left to give.

Shame on a country that continues to take our troops to wars long declared done, squandering their service and absolving the collective conscience with two words: “They volunteered.”

The fact that soldiers wear the uniform by choice shouldn’t permit “the American people and their elected representatives to be indifferent about the war in Afghanistan,” retired Lieutenant General Karl Eikenberry told the New York Times.

The former commander of US troops in Afghanistan added: “We continue to fight simply because we are there.”

That “we” is a miniscule 1 percent of the population that’s paying the human cost of this country’s check for war — the democratic equivalent of a dine-and-dash. The body count for US troops in Afghanistan is 2,414, plus more than 20,000 injured. Those figures rise into the hundreds of thousands for Afghan soldiers and civilians.

Then there’s the financial cost: Over $1 trillion, according to TheBalance.com.

Even so, Congress has repeatedly cut taxes, especially for the rich, since the wars began. Our fiscal policy is one of kicking the can down the road to future generations, who are paying enough already for fossil-fueled climate change.

Sixteen of the 17 hottest years on record have occurred since 2001. The massive carbon footprint generated by armed forces in combat zones, a primary institutional driver of global warming, ensures that these endless wars will end up costing everyone.

Our troops and families of veterans pay the price every day. Before our loved ones returned from their first tours, we were told “Combat is a one-way door: Once you walk through it, you can never go back.”

I used to think that only applied to veterans. I know better now.

“It is time for this war in Afghanistan to end,” said General John W. Nicholson recently, as he was preparing to leave the country for the last time. Nicholson had spent a total of 31 months — four tours — in Afghanistan as the commander in charge of a shape-shifting mission.

Support the troops, America: Bring them home now. Enough folded flags.

 

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Kermit’s Panama street scenes (II)

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Ni putas ni santas, solo mujeres — Neither whores nor saints, just women. October 25, 2011, a large women’s protest against sexual assault. For a larger version of this photo click here.

Panama street scenes (II)

Photos © Kermit Nourse
click here for the entire gallery at higher resolution

This project called “Street 2010-2013” represents a period of my photography that I did either for my own publications or for The Panama News. At that time the language of my photography was black and white. Please understand that I never clicked the shutter button without respect or empathy for those I photographed.

Este proyecto, llamado “Street 2010-2013” representa un periodo de mi fotografía que hice para mis propias publicaciones o The Panama News. En ese momento el idioma de mi fotografía era en blanco y negro. Por favor, comprenda que nunca he pulsado el botón del obturador sin respeto ni empatía por aquellos que fotografié.

 

k9
Kids just out of school. For a larger version of this photo click here.

 

k10
Fried chicken from Anna’s restaurant. For a larger version of this photo click here.

 

k11
The rodeo in David, seat of western Panama’s Chiriqui province. For a larger version of this photo click here.

 

k13
Men eating in a restaurant serving a wholesale vegetable facility. For a larger version of this photo click here.

 

k14
Colon city proper is one square mile in size and much of it looks like this. For a larger version of this photo click here.

 

k15
A family from Guna Yala in eastern Panama. For a larger version of this photo click here.

 

k12
A woman, probably of Palestinian origin, walking in Colon. For a larger version of this photo click here.

 

 

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American Consulate new one-day email response policy

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The US Embassy and consulate in Panama. State Department graphic.

The American Citizens Services Unit commits to a one business day e-mail response-time

by the US Embassy – Panama Consular Section

In order to improve our customer service to our US Citizens in Panama, starting October 9, the American Citizens Services (ACS) Unit is happy to announce it will respond to all email inquiries in one business day. If you have a routine question related to an ACS service, please email panama-acs@state.gov. All routine questions will be routed through the one business day response time e-mail address. If you have a life or death emergency, please call 317-5000 and follow the instructions for emergency calls.

The Federal Benefits Unit (FBU) will continue receiving external calls from 10:30-11:30am on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays. The Embassy phone number is (507) 317-5000. For automated information, please call (507) 317-5030. For Federal Benefits questions, we continue to encourage writing to FBU (panama-fbu@state.gov) by e-mail.

Additionally, we would like to remind our customers that ACS and FBU operate on an appointment-only system for all services except emergency ACS cases and adult passport renewals.

American Citizen Services

To schedule an appointment, please see the Embassy’s ACS page, which can be found here.

Federal Benefits

To schedule an appointment, please send an email to Panama-FBU@state.gov.

~~

La Unidad de Servicios para Ciudadanos Estadounidenses se compromete a un tiempo de respuesta de correo electrónico de un día hábil

En miras de mejorar nuestro servicio al cliente a nuestros Ciudadanos Estadounidenses en Panamá, a partir del 9 de octubre, la Unidad de Servicios para Ciudadanos Americanos (ACS) se complace en anunciar que responderá a todas las consultas por correo electrónico en un día hábil. Si tiene una pregunta de rutina relacionada con un servicio de ACS, por favor envíe un correo electrónico a panama-acs@state.gov. Todas las preguntas de rutina enviadas a través de correo electrónico se manejarán por medio de nuestro tiempo de respuesta de un día hábil. Si tiene una emergencia de vida o muerte, por favor sírvase llamar al 317-5000 y siga las instrucciones para llamadas de emergencia.

La Unidad de Beneficios Federales (FBU) continuará recibiendo llamadas externas de 10:30 – 11: 30 am los lunes, martes, jueves y viernes. El número de teléfono de la Embajada es (507) 317-5000. Para obtener información automatizada, llame al (507) 317-5030. Para preguntas sobre Beneficios Federales, seguimos recomendando que se escriba a FBU (panama-fbu@state.gov) por correo electrónico.

Adicional, nos gustaría recordar a nuestros clientes que ACS y FBU operanúnicamente por citas para todos los servicios, excepto los casos de emergencia de ACS y las renovaciones de pasaportes de adultos.

Servicios a Ciudadanos Americanos

Para programar una cita, consulte la página de la Embajada bajo ACS, la cual puede encontrar aqui.

Beneficios Federales

Para programar una cita, envíe un correo electrónico a Panama-FBU@state.gov.

 

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Editorials: Nature’s wrath; Political games; and America’s decline

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Hurricane Michael, up to Category 4 intensity, about to slam into Florida. US Air Force radar image.

Our hearts go out to Floridians

Lets not blame it on God. Let’s set aside questions of blame for a few days. Florida is in harm’s way and humanity stands with the people and other living things about to be battered. Whatever we can do for Floridians, we should. We are all neighbors on this planet.

 

Imploding political caste

It was a bad post-primary for Alfredo “Fello” Pérez, the PRD legislator for Chepo. First he got charged before the Supreme Court for writing large bounced checks, then he was on a list of people whose PRD primary wins were challenged, mainly for vote buying. Then we heard that nearly 300 candidates from that primary are being fined $3,000 each for failing to report their campaign donations and expenditures.

This comes amidst a scandal engulfing all parties in the National Assembly, most of whose members refuse to divulge their “Planilla 80” payrolls for “personal services.” The less than one-quarter of members whose Planilla 80 information has come out have told partly concealed tales of relatives, people working for their private companies and people who don’t actually work on these payrolls, and some of those listed say that they did not know and were not paid. That’s the old botella scheme, of phantom employees whose paychecks the deputies pocket. We were reassured, however, that it’s not just the legislature, that the people who run the Social Security Fund that’s said to be headed toward insolvency also have Planilla 80 schemes.

The members of President Varela’s party are running away from his record. The ugliest part of it, Odebrecht contracts, touch the Panama City administration and may cost Mayor Blandón the Panameñista nomination for president. Odebrecht also touches the Metro and the Panama Canal Authority board.

So, what to do? The squabbling parties in the legislature demanded more money to spend on their constituencies during campaign season, and Varela demanded more money to cut more ribbons between now and when he leaves office at the end of next June. So they compromised on legislation to raise the deficit limit by $300 million. That may not seem like much in the grand scheme of things, but our national debt is already high and the Panamanian economy is down and apparently heading lower.

The point is not that we need austerity — that’s the wrong policy during hard times — but that we need to stop the looting. Otherwise there arises a great reaction among people who can’t see beyond the problems on the surface and whose educational level leads them to act upon simplistic stereotypes rather than address fundamental problems.

This time next year most of this crowd will be out of office, but with what and whom we replace them really does matter.

 

America’s decline

Along its long slide into the past tense, ancient Rome also got into sneering public assertions of rape culture and great spectacles of cruelty before cheering crowds. When that slide into barbarism began there were the trappings of a republic and wiser minds in play, but bread and circuses usually sufficed to buy the continuation of the unsustainable. Until, in an empire with troops at war across much of the then-known world, the troops began to go unpaid. Then there was Hell to pay.

Mussolini’s “Risorgimento” has its even louder echo in Trump’s “MAGA.” But peace, shared prosperity and a systemic justice that keeps the peace is eternally a better program than a return to some exaggerated imperial grandeur.

Americans will soon go to the polls. If basic decency prevails over bluster, and people go for progress more than nostalgia, the country will start to head out of its woes. If the United States comes out of it as a solid and decent country rather than a wannabe superpower, Americans will have reason for satisfaction.

 

Bear in mind…

I think it’s too bad that everybody’s decided to turn on drugs, I don’t think drugs are the problem. Crime is the problem. Cops are the problem. Money’s the problem. But drugs are just drugs.
Jerry Garcia

 

Men make the moral code and they expect women to accept it. They have decided that it is entirely right and proper for men to fight for their liberties and their rights, but that it is not right and proper for women to fight for theirs.
Emmeline Pankhurst

 

Morals and enlightenment are the poles of a republic, morals and enlightenment are our first needs.
Simón Bolívar

 

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