“Zonians” exhibition and forum at the Museum of Contemporary Art
The Museo de Arte Contemporaneo is having an expo titled “Zonians” by Argentinean photographer Matias Costa. His pictures depict places and peoples of this community, and the expo is scheduled from early September to mid October.
In complement to the show we’re organizing a forum or talk on the zonian identity. For this we’ve contacted three representatives from the community to talk about different themes surrounding it:
► Architect Patrick Dillon will talk about the spaces themselves within the canal zone, the uniqueness of its architecture, and the relationship with nature.
► Actress Lisa Palm (and maybe HB as well!) would talk about being from the last generation of zonians and how different groups interacted within the community.
► We’re hoping to get the Gibson Family from Gamboa to join in and provide a perspective from a different generation.
Magistrate Harry Díaz moves to try Martinelli on four counts
Motion to bring Martinelli to trial, send him to prison for 21 years
by Eric Jackson
In the first of a dozen cases filed against Ricardo Martinelli in the Supreme Court to get to this stage Harry Díaz, the magistrate acting as prosecutor, has filed a 30-page motion to bring former President Ricardo Martinelli to trial. The motion was filed on the afternoon of October 9, the day after the statutory time for the high court to investigate a member of the Central America Parliament expired. Díaz would have the ex-president tried for spying and theft before a nine-member panel of high court magistrates and alternates, with magistrate Jerónimo Mejía acting as judge. Mejía has 20 days to hold a hearing on that motion, at which he could proceed with or throw out the formal charges requested by Díaz. In the motion Díaz seeks a trial on four counts. Each of these encompasses multiple acts, against multiple individual victims on the illegal wiretapping and following without a court order counts, against the Panamanian people on the theft and private use of public property counts. At a trial Díaz would represent the Panamanian state but would also be joined by private prosecutors representing 10 of the at least 150 targets of Martinelli’s spying against politicians, journalists, civic activists, labor leaders, prominent businesspeople, lawyers and judges. Díaz has asked for a 21-year prison sentence.
According to the accusation Ricardo Martinelli separated the spy operation from the National Security Council and the Ministry of the Presidency by 2012, and kicked most of the people who had worked at the security center in Building 150 of Quarry Heights. The electronic part of the surveillance was carried on from there until shortly after Ricardo Martinelli’s proxies lost the May 2014 elections. The routine until that defeat would be that every morning agent Rony Rodríguez — now a fugitive — would visit Martinelli and give him a manila envelope, said to contain the results of the previous day’s spying. After the Martinelistas lost the elections, the servers in Building 150 were moved to a Super 99 office in Monte Oscuro and then went missing from there. But remnants of at least some of the files, concerning about 150 people, went through a National Security Council laptop and despite a post-election attempt to erase them were recovered. Three Israeli-made sets of surveillance devices and the Italian programs that they used are also missing.
Upon whom is Martinelli accused of illegally spying? President Juan Carlos Varela, then vice president, for one. His brother, legislator Popi Varela, was also a target. So were other members of their family. So were all of the opposition presidential candidates. So was the Electoral Tribunal’s presiding magistrate, Erasmo Pinilla. So were businessman Stanley Motta and labor leader Genaro López. So were two former presidents, Ernesto Pérez Balladares and Martín Torrijos. What has been recovered may be only a fraction of the list of those spied upon, some 150 principal targets but also relatives and associates of these people.
The accusation lists more than 70 witnesses, including a number of current and former members of various security, law enforcement and prosecutorial agencies. There is no mention of a code of silence as prevailed among such people in the wake of the dictatorship’s fall. Most probably broader inferences can be made from this circumstance, that Martinelli had intended to steal the 2014 elections and had amassed a riot control arsenal to enforce that, but that at some point late in the game he realized or had it pointed out to him that he had alienated the nation’s security forces and could not count on them in a bid to retain power.
Perhaps the next order of business is the color of the INTERPOL notice. Díaz has filed a request for a blue notice, which if the international law enforcement agency agrees and issues it would identify Martinelli as a person of interest in a criminal investigation and ask police agencies in all member jurisdictions to help ascertain Martinelli’s whereabouts and to provide information relevant to the case. A blue notice is not a search warrant but it would be an interesting question under US law whether that plus an affidavit from someone who knows of one of the stolen surveillance devices being present in the United States would suffice for the issuance of a US court’s search and seizure order. But attorneys for constitutional law professor Miguel Antonio Bernal and several other surveillance victims have asked the court to seek a red notice from INTERPOL. Those color notices are something like an international arrest warrant in they request that member jurisdictions detain people named in them for extradition proceedings to ensue. If Díaz’s complaint is accepted by Mejía, perhaps a red notice would be requested and issued by INTERPOL. However, even if that happens it is not mandatory for a country in which a person so named is present to arrest or bring extradition proceedings against that person. It becomes a political decision.
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Ayú Prado, under tremendous public pressure, bows out as the judge in the high court criminal proceedings against Ricardo Martinelli over a Financial Pacific affair that’s likely to blow up into several known and new directions
The end of a move more brazen than Panamanians tolerate these days
by Eric Jackson
Right. When he was attorney general José Ayú Prado allegedly made an in-person intervention to coerce an incarcerated key witness in the Financial Pacific case, Mayte Pellegrini, to retract her statements implicated then President Ricardo Martinelli in the Financial Pacific scandal. Shortly thereafter Martinelli appointed Ayú Prado as a Supreme Court magistrate. After the collapse of Martinelli’s proxy re-election plans and the start of serious investigation, witnesses and documents have corroborated Pellegrini’s statements that Ayú Prado had suppressed and criminal proceedings against Martinelli over the Financial Pacific matter are pending before the Supreme Court. So Ayú Prado’s colleagues, most of them fellow Martinelli appointees, made Ayú Prado the judge in that case. The magistrate vehemently denied any conflict of interest. The formal investigation unstarted, he belittled the scandal as a small matter of just one bank account. And virtually all of Panamanian society demanded that he step away from the case.
Ayú Prado is one of General Noriega’s old prosecutors and may truly have not understood the fuss. But most Panamanians are too young to remember the dictatorship and those who are not mostly want to see the open amorality of government in those times relegated to the past. Polls show that a huge majority of Panamanians wants to bring Ricardo Martinelli to justice and that an even larger percentage of the nation disdains the Supreme Court. If the magistrates got it about the confluence of public opinion and traditionally stated judicial norms about conflicts of interest, they pretended not to when they designated Ayú Prado as the judge in the Financial Pacific case. But after a great hue and cry — one without street demonstrations or much shouting, but of statements of condemnation from almost every quarter of Panamanian society — on October 8 Ayú Prado asked his colleagues to allow him to recuse himself from the case and they by a 7-1 vote consented.
Luis Mario Carrasco, the suplente for Martín Torrijos appointee Jerónimo Mejía, was designated as the replacement for Ayú Prado to act as judge. Carrasco was the one vote against allowing Ayú Prado to recuse himself. Remaining on the case to act as investigating prosecutor is Martinelli appointee Hernán De León.
As a parting shot, Ayú Prado moved that the Financial Pacific case be tried under the old inquisitory system of criminal procedure, based on that argument that everything that is to be investigated happened in 2009 and 2010, before the current accusatory procedure went into efect. That matter is yet to be decided, but what it could mean is that most of the Financial Pacific scandal — the High Spirit account of which Pellegrini first spoke, the November 2012 disappearance of Securities Market Superintendency SMV) analyst Vernon Ramos while he was investigating Pellegrini’s statements, 2012 obstructions of justice in the case by the now imprisoned former high court magistrate Alejandro Moncada Luna and by Ayú Prado, the insertion of now imprisoned Banco Universal loan officer Ignacio Fábrega into Financial Pacific to act as a mole who says he reported to Martinelli and then Tourism Minister and key political operative Salomón Shamah about SMV investigations involving Martinelli, allegations that Martinelli and Shamah bought secret stakes in the brokerage house, the stabbing on the street of Ramos’s successor in the SMV investigation Gustavo Gordón and the apparent tandem roles of Financial Pacific and Banco Universal as money laundering mills and public corruption clearinghouses — would be excluded from the possibility of investigation as part of the Martinelli case regardless of whether evidence in a more narrow probe came to point at the ex-president in any of these matters. Neither the accusatory nor the inquisitory rules of criminal procedure serve to limit the scope of a criminal investigation in this way.
In a series of terse statements earlier this year, the founder of Panama’s Bolsa de Valores securities exchange, Roberto Brenes, suggested a number of things about the scope of the Financial Pacific case. He thinks that the performance of the government’s anti-money laundering Financial Analysis Unit (UAF) ought to be examined. He said that if the case if fully understood, there will likely be “a domino theory.” Although courts and law enforcement have dismissed the Ramos disappearance and Gordón’s stabbing as mysterious and probably random events in an often violent society, Brenes puts them squarely within the context of the Financial Pacific scandal. He said that money laundering and bribery cases were most likely central features of what went on at Financial Pacific.
Actually, it may well be worse than what Brenes lets on. Already a man was arrested for breaking into and erasing Financial Pacific computer files when the brokerage was under SMV intervention. Martinelli’s brother-in-law Aaron Mizrachi was both part of the High Spirit account through which insider trades in Petaquilla gold mining stock were conducted and was a key player in Martinelli’s acquisition of hardware, software and expertise for the former president’s illegal electronic eavesdropping and computer hacking operations. In and around Financial Pacific were Martinelli-assisted land grabbers who through questionable hydroelectric dam projects and other schemes dispossessed rural and urban communities with little or no compensation for those driven from their homes. Financial Pacific invested in foreign-run Ponzi schemes. There are many links between Financial Pacific and Banco Universal, many links between that bank and acts of public corruption during the previous administration and a cast of characters the reaches into some of Panama’s richest and most powerful families — some of whom are also intimately tied to Panama’s other stock brokerages. This then leads to questions about the Bolsa de Valores itself — how is it that we have a securities market where there is so little relationship between the prices of stocks and bonds and the values that underly them? A domino effect, indeed. It probably is not just Ricardo Martinelli who wants a severely limited Financial Pacific criminal investigation.
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Proposal would finance local governments through nationally controlled property taxes
Committee approves decentralization lite
by Eric Jackson
The National Assembly’s Municipal Affairs Committee has had its whack at a decentralization law sent to it by President Varela. It chopped out sections that could be construed to allow local governments to reassess real estate values for the purpose of property taxes, and on October 8 passed the proposed law on to the full legislature. The committee vote was unanimous. More amendments could still be made.
The Martinelli administration had threatened a property tax reassessment plan that was not about correcting the gross discrepancies in assessed values that favored rich neighborhoods but about using taxes to force the sale of certain areas to Martinelli’s speculator friends. That move did much to set the business community against Martinelli and assure his 2014 defeat.
The possibility of a new version of such a plan was raised by committee chair Javier “Patacón” Ortega (anti-Robinson PRD from Panama City) and by deputies accusing Ortega of weakness in the face of such a threat. For his part President Varela protested that it was never his intention to raise anyone’s property taxes. At this point we have a decentralization proposal that would transfer certain responsibilities to municipalities but leave municipal finance largely under the national government’s control.
A bit of history is in order to understand decentralization in Panamanian government and its various failures. The basic points of departure are the October 11, 1968 coup d’etat, the 1972 constitutional convention and the December 20, 1989 US invasion. The old Guardia Nacional would set limits on what the politicians could do between the 1941 overthrow of Germanophile Arnulfo Arias shortly before US entry into World War II and the seizure of power from Arnulfo Arias in 1968. In the 40s, 50s and 60s many things were tried, few of them systematically thought out or particularly enduring. With the possible exceptions of Arias and his nemesis General Remón — who became President Remón and was then assassinated — it was a government of squabbling cousins looking for momentary and usually pecuniary advantage, with the Guardia and sometimes the US Embassy as referees.
Is there such an ideology as “Torrijismo?” When Guardia officers led by Omar Torrijos and Boris Martínez seized power, they were mainly concerned about Arnulfo Arias’s intentions to disrupt their lives by altering the seniority system and thus their places in line to be promoted. It can reasonably be said that Torrijos shared some ideas pioneered by Remón, a modestly social reforming militarism that would not much upset the Americans. Remón did, for example, open up the officer corps to young men from humble backgrounds and eliminate some of the racial prejudice that had kept senior civil service and diplomatic posts largely in the hands of members of Panama’s white minority.
But the officers who took power in 1968 didn’t have much of a plan other than their places in the promotion line. Infighting that sent Martínez into exile and raised the profile of intelligence chief Manuel Antonio Noriega altered that list anyway, as Torrijos assumed control. Torrijos did care about his place in history and determined to oversee the transfer of the Canal Zone and the Panama Canal to Panama. For this purpose he offered various deals. To those sectors of the left and the labor movement that would accept it, he offered relief from the old repression and exclusion and passed a labor code that effectively legalized unions. He was quite brutal to the radicals who didn’t play along — more than 100 were killed or disappeared over the 21 years of the dictatorship. To business sectors that would play along he offered some new opportunities, sometimes at the expense of those who didn’t play along.
To negotiate with the Americans it was convenient for General Torrijos to have some semblance of constitutional rule and for this he called the representantes — more or less city council members — who had been elected in 1968 to a convention. This 1972 gathering drafted our current constitution to military specifications. It was essentially a political patronage deal — the offer to the representantes was to accept the military command as the true power and in exchange see their rank and prestige restored and receive some money to spread around among their constituents. As it was a deal with the lowest level local officials it was inherently decentralizing to that extent. Real power, though, particularly the power to tax and to distribute the proceeds, remained with the national government that was under military control.
After the Panama Canal treaties were enacted and began to be implemented, more resources became available to dole out to local officials. After Torrijos died, Noriega forced his way to the top and relations with the United States soured. Sanctions were imposed and during those years there were few benefits to be shared with local officials.
Come the invasion and Panama was prostrate. A reasonably honest but bumbling President Guillermo Endara was surrounded by an entourage that included a lot of people who figured that it was their turn to steal. It was a time of chaotic turf battles, crumbling public services and the atomization rather than diminution of corruption. An attempt at major reform of the dictatorship’s constitution failed. Since Endara’s time the general trend in all administrations until the current one has been toward centralizing both political patronage and public corruption in the executive branch.
We had two “ghost presidencies” — people who voted for Arnulfo Arias’s much younger widow Mireya Moscoso expecting Arnulfo and got far less, then people who voted for Omar Torrijos’s son Martín Torrijos expecting Omar and got a president neither so brilliant nor so complex as his father.
As the Martín Torrijos administration approached its end, what did the US-educated son of the general who is a nationalist icon to many Panamanians do? He and his party passed a lame duck decentralization law based on perhaps the most dysfunctional aspect of the US political system, local government financed by property taxes.
The incoming Martinelli administration quickly suspended that law for its duration. Ricardo Martinelli intended to aggrandize himself and perpetuate himself in power, largely by concentrating all public contracting in his hands on a no-bid basis with overcharges and kickbacks to himself, his minions and his political slush funds. When the crudely corrupt and not too competent Bosco Vallarino attempted to grab a bit of the action by rigging garbage truck purchases through the Panama City mayor’s office, Martinelli promptly marginalized and then deposed him.
Those years over, Martinelli has fled the country and Vallarino is under house arrest. Varela has revived the promise of decentralized government. But as presently amended, the powers of local governments to raise money come nowhere close to meeting the costs of the responsibilities that they will be expected to take on. It may also be the case that, due to promises made to alleviate real fears of people being forced out of their homes by higher property tax bills that they can’t afford, a set of tax assessments that bears little resemblance to market values will be frozen into place for some time to come. However, that situation may not be sustainable in the face of a slowing national economy and frequent warnings by international financial institutions that Panama needs to collect more taxes.
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La Sociedad Interamericana de Prensa y el acceso de la información en poder del Estado
Cuentos para la exportación
por Kevin Harrington-Shelton
Hasta un ciego sabe cuando está desnudo.
Rashi (in re: Génesis 2)
Los medios del gobierno se disparan en el pie con el reciente Informe de la Sociedad Interamericana de Prensa (http://www.sipiapa.org/asamblea/panama-147/). Reflejando su habitual tónica de mantener al panameño distraído en nimiedades para no pisar los callos de sus stakeholders, con premisas enfatiza items de menor importancia (distribución de la pauta publicitaria gubernamental, ley de periodista propuesta), y cierran confesando que “cumplido un año de gobierno de la nueva administración se observa menos hostilidad hacia los medios de comunicación”.
No así hacia la ciudadanía en general. Casi no tocan sobre un pilar de la democracia que sí preocupó al resto del hemisferio. A saber, que “en varios países del área, entre ellos Panamá, se han incrementado las limitaciones al acceso de la información en poder del Estado.” Tal como explican los recientes linchamientos mediáticos, a nuestros medios co-optados con un selectivo paso-expedito a primicias sobre información dable (y no-dable) no les interesa aquella institución de control ciudadano que representa el habeas data para los demás panameños.
De hecho fue La Prensa quien aplaudió –a rabiar– la derogación de la reglamentación de la ley de Transparencia, en cuanto tomó posesión el presidente Martín Torrijos. No es de sorprender pues las bellezas que engendró ese gobierno, particularmente con relación a ICA, PYCSA y a Odebrecht.
Y ahora, a título de zarina anti-corrupción, la egresada de una subsidiaria de La Prensa no ha dicho ni pío sobre un atentado a la credibilidad de dicha garantía constitucional. En un habeas data contra la HD Ana Matilde Gómez (por incumplimiento de la Ley de Transparencia en un caso contra el ex-presidente Ricardo Martinelli, para escurrir el bulto la Corte Suprema en la Comisión de Credenciales) discurrió –unánimemente– que mi petición de información no debió haber sido depositada en el despacho que la Asamblea tiene dispuesto en su entrada para el recibo de correspondencia oficial, sino en las dulces y delicadas manos de la propia diputada. Los detalles medulares del caso aparecen transcritos en el fallo en sí, por lo que doña Angélica Maytín bien podría leerlo a bordo en uno de sus viajes extra-continentales.
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In the USA people can and do argue about what rights they have as American citizens under the US Constitution, but those don’t apply in Panama
Guns, here and there
by Eric Jackson
Article 16. Naturalized Panamanians are not obliged to take up arms against their state of origin.
Article 38. The residents of Panama have the right to assemble peacefully without arms for legal purposes.
Article 310. All Panamanians are obliged to take up arms to defend national independence and the territorial integrity of the state.
Article 312. Only the government can own weapons and items of war. Prior permission of the Executive is required for their manufacture, importation and exportation. The law shall define weapons which are not considered as of war and regulate their importation, manufacture and use.
Political Constitution of the Republic of Panama
Second Amendment. A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.
Constitution of the United States of America
On August 4, Security Minister Rodolfo Aguilera arguably stuck his foot in his mouth. Declaring that “Everything seems to indicate that there is no direct correlation in the aphorism that says more guns mean more crime,” he announced that the government would follow the US lead in gun policy and lift the moratorium on importing firearms. Since 2012, only Panama’s security forces have been allowed to import weapons. Aguilera also pointed with approval to Switzerland, where gun ownership is common and for many citizens mandatory as part of government militia service.
That same day in the United States, two men were arrested and a warrant was put out for a third for a drive-by shooting in Brooklyn that left five people wounded and killed an expectant mother’s unborn fetus. The mass shooting was said to be revenge for an earlier drive-by shooting, both incidents part of a rivalry between two gangs, the Ow Ow Crew and the Gangsta Money Makers. Also that day, the families of 16 of the 26 Sandy Hook massacre victims announced an out-of-court settlement of a lawsuit against a murder victim’s estate, in which a young man borrowed weapons from his wealthy “survivalist” mother’s extensive firearms arsenal, killed her, then killed 20 first-grade students and six educators at a local elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut.
The following day Aguilara’s announcement was covered in Panama’s mainstream media. Former legislator Teresita Yániz de Arias, a member of the Partido Popular that is a junior partner in the Varela administration, told El Panama America that the problem of public safety would not be resolved by everybody carrying a weapon. She disputed Aguilera’s take on the situation in the United States. Former National Police chief Rolando Mirones also criticized the idea of importing weapons as an anti-crime measure, and pointed out that as the number of homes with firearms increases so does the use of guns in domestic violence incidents.
That same day in the United States in a theater in Nashville a man armed with a pellet gun, a can of pepper spray and a hatchet began attacking members of the movie audience. Three people were injured. A police SWAT team arrived and the man was shot 24 times and killed. Also that day on the Hawaiian island of Maui, a man being questioned about impersonating an immigration officer drew a pistol and began firing at police, wounding one. Three officers fired back, hitting the man 11 times and killing him. The dead man had been federally licensed as a firearms dealer. Also on August 5, members of the Sikh community in Oak Creek, Wisconsin held a vigil to remember the murders on that date in 2012 of six members of the congregation at their local gurdwara and the wounding of four others by a member of the international neofascistHammerskinsorganization.
Aguilera’s announcement was quickly countermanded, although President Varela said nothing for public consumption about it. On August 6 Aguilera and Vice Minister Rogelio Donadíosigned a decreeextending the gun import moratorium for four more months.
On August 6 in the USA, jury deliberations began in the penalty phase to decide whether James Holmes, who opened fire on a Colorado movie theater audience in 2012, killing 12 people, would get the death penalty or life imprisonment. A lone juror held out against death and Holmes is now doing life without parole.
The decree extending Panama’s gun import ban was not made public until its August 14 publication in the Gaceta Oficial. Police forces continued to be exempt from the ban and firearms businesses that objected to having only the government for customers were given five days to file for reconsideration. The deadline came and went, and the moratorium remains in effect.
On August 14 in the USA, two people in Brown County, Texas were wounded in their sleep when a man outside fired several shotgun blasts into their house. In Ridgeville, South Carolina, a couple were found dead outside a bar, each with a single gunshot wound to the head.
Then on September 16 The Orange County Register published a story about Aguilera’s August 4 announcement, neglecting to report that the policy was quickly changed. Google News and the right-wing US press played up the same story, with the same omission, for several days. Nobody has ever run a correction.
The NRA is largely financed by gun sellersand it defends their corporate interests. Most notably, it runs a highly successful and demonstrably false advertising campaign that promotes the idea that possession of firearms makes a person or a household safe. But in a typical year in the USA, there are some 200 firearms homicides by those who are not law enforcement officers that are ruled to be justifiable. Against that there are some 10,000 criminal homicides with firearms, 20,000 firearms suicides and several times as many accidental firearms deaths as justifiable firearms homicides. Those numbers do not reflect the much greater numbers of assaults and other acts of gun violence that do not result in deaths. A gun in the house makes it more dangerous, not safer, for the people who live there.
And what else happened in the USA on the day that the NRA misrepresented Panamanian public policy? In Charleston, South Carolina, lawyers for white racist gunman Dylan Roof, who killed a state senator and eight other African-Americans in a church there, offered to enter a guilty plea if prosecutors would refrain from asking for the death penalty. In Boston, a man was gunned down in a busy Stop & Shop parking lot in the middle of the day. In Cleveland, people left balloons, toys and a teddy bear at a makeshift shrine on the spot where three-year-old Major Jamari Howard was shot in a drive-shooting the previous evening, later to die in a local hospital.
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