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The Panama News blog links, May 11, 2016


Usually we put music a the top. It’s an unusual time — but there is music at the bottom of the page.

The Panama News blog links

NPR, A wider and deeper Panama Canal prepares to open its new locks

Hellenic Shipping News, PanCanal revenue decline predicted

ITF, Unions stick by their safety critique of the new locks

Mongabay, Study says Nicaragua Canal threatens endangered species

JOC: ACP ousts MIT (Motta) bid, narrows field for Diablo / Corozal port concession

USA Today, Panama-flag ghost tanker washes ashore with no crew

ITCM, New air service between Panama and Istanbul

Xinhua, Avión de Delta aterrizó en Panamá por amenaza de bomba

Goal.com, Panama names Copa America soccer squad

FIBA, Centrobasket tournament at Gimnasio Roberto Duran June 19-25

Financial Times, Panama bows to pressure on international financial data exchanges

Reuters, CitiValores cancela compra de bonos de Tocumen

El Espectador, ¿Qué tanto le importa a Colombia la economía panameña?

CNS, EU blacklist of tax havens coming within six months

AFP, Desempleo en Latinoamérica escalará hasta el 7 % en 2016

TVNZ, Australia’s prime minister named in Panama Papers link

TeleSur, Hillary donors caught up in new Panama Papers release

Reuters, Panama closes border with Colombia

WCEM, Mexico begins to balk about taking Cubans from Panama

La Estrella, Robinson lllama para diálogo adentro del PRD

TVN, Autoridades desmantelan célula del ‘Clan Úsuga’ en Chame

BBC, Colombia to hit drug gangs with air strikes

Chiriqui Natural, Visita solidaria al campamento de protesta contra Barro Blanco

SOA Watch, Four arrested for Berta Cáceres assassination

Tech Crunch, Brazil orders cell phone carriers to block WhatsApp

WOLA, Colombia returns to spraying glyphosate on coca

ABC, Doctors Without Borders pulls out of UN aid summit

The New York Times, Panama confirms Zika-related microcephaly cases

Scientific American, Vaccines put brakes on yellow fever outbreak

The Intercept, GPS tracker catches US recyclers exporting toxic e-waste

STRI, Cooperative fish take turns with gender roles

PLoS, Underground fungi detected from space

PR, Varela: “My country is not corrupt”

Blades, Una oportunidad

Fischer, Reinventing Europe

Snowden, Whistleblowing is not just leaking — it’s an act of political resistance

Süddeutsche Zeitung, John Doe’s manifesto

Greenwald, The spectacular pundit failure about Trump

The Guardian: Ilma Gore, whose nude painting of Trump went viral


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Harrington, How stands the Crown on hypocrisy?

Is the party line for the upcoming anti-corruption summit in London that certain things are better left unsaid? Mr. Cameron’s problem is that people are already saying these things.

How stands the Crown on hypocrisy?

by Kevin Harrington-Shelton

“We must practice what we preach”

Panama is being unfairly treated in an international pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey search for a culprit for the metastatic tax evasion underlying the chaos in the funding of public services in the United Kingdom. The Anti-Corruption Summit opening in London highlights the obvious: it doesn’t intend to get at the root of the problem. The European establishment actually promoted the principal politician behind the Luxembourg issue (Jean Paul Joncker) to the presidency of the Commission — and persecuted the whistleblowers. Neither Panama nor the British Virgin Islands — stars of the current Mossack Fonseca hit — are invited to share the red carpet in this new Oscars opportunity. “Out of sight, out of mind!”

There is (another) policy issue involved. Instead of making merchant bankers reap the whirlwind they had sown in the run-up to the 2008 financial crash, rather than insisting on a level-playing field for offshore services, on April 8 Prime Minister David Cameron quietly ramrodded through a major about-face on solving his own benefits funding problem. The City prevailed on backtracking from the UK’s 2013 G-8 landmark stance of requiring beneficial owner registries available to everyone — in the hopes that such a broad base of transparency minders will keep (even) the bankers honest. Registers on the mainland will indeed be available for public inspection from June 2016, but now the Crown’s offshore territories will — inexplicably — continue to sell secrecy, as their registers will remain closed to the public.

A killer phrase which ought be sculpted in stone at he Lough Erne shore where the Prime Minister pontificated it: “We must practice what we preach.”

Shadow foreign secretary Hilary Benn questioned it in the Commons: “If openness is good enough tor the UK, why should we accept a different position in our overseas territories?”

In light of the worldwide shock following Süddeutsche Zeitung disclosures, one is nonplussed by this about-face. And in the words the BVI government used to welcome it: “The BVI has worked for 30 years to carefully and legitimately build an industry that is well regarded and trusted by clients, global regulators and other international authorities. This agreement will play its part in ensuring that this continues to be the case.” This although its Financial Services Commission failed to consider one Mossack & Fonseca (BVI) & Co. license, after fining it $37,000 for deficient due diligence on money laundering. An Order in Council imposed direct rule on the tinier Turks & Caicos Islands in 2009, for far less than that. As befits the sunniest street in the City, the far-larger Cayman Islands (40 percent of whose residents are expatriates) describes a more thorough focus of the underlying issues, and its home rule appears to be firmly rooted in the Conservative Party donor list.

But still no one — anywhere in the Crown colonies — has posited any (moral) justification for purchasing a back-dated shelf company.

Yet not everyone in the UK is as passive as the government about reinforcing its revenues thus foregone to at least recoup $5,200 million gap arising from the Lords Spiritual recent objections to savaging benefits to the least-advantaged. Similarly concerned about the harm to which much of the Commonwealth — as well as the rest of the developing world — by granting regard of legal entity to companies formed on the mainland as well as offshore, on April 30 the charity “Christian Aid” carried out a unique protest in Mr. Cameron’s own constituency. (Curiously overlooked by media…) Using an internet database made available previously by Private Eye, Christian Aid politely pointed out two commercial properties held by Jersey and BVI corporations. Neither of which would be subject to the public scrutiny as the famous Oxfordshire pub aptly styled “The Fleece.” It may not be known in Panama that freeholders can weasel their way around (most) capital gains and inheritance taxes, by claiming not to be domiciled in the UK for tax purposes. Including nameless offshore corporations with friends in high places. The good burgers of Witney might be one day unpleasantly surprised to discover that the ultimate owner of the mall at 24-26 Witney High St. in BVI might turn out to be an instrumentality of one Chapo Guzman (and/or his heirs and assigns).

Is this why neither Panama nor Crown dependencies had been invited to the London summit? “Little children are to be seen and not heard!”

How stands the Crown on hypocrisy? Respondeat superior….


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Editorials, Hard times returning? and State of the jihad


TocumenBack to Panama’s late 80s economy?

The 1989 US invasion of Panama, with all of the innocent non-combatants killed, all of the Pentagon and Bush administration lies about it, the seizure and closure of Panama’s public archives that protected the richest criminals and both fuels corruption and impedes dignified national politics to this day, and the tawdry legal aftermath that may have seen Noriega convicted for things he actually did but also “legalized” the payment of more than $1 million in bribes to buy prosecution testimony against the former dictator as precedent for US law — those things were bad enough, and got some recognition outside of Panama. The several years of economic sanctions that preceded the invasion are less well known abroad and one of the historical memories that for a variety of reasons is suppressed here in Panama. The sanctions were devastating, and we may be headed into something similar.

Will the offshore asset protection industry and allied political forces take advantage of an economic crisis to hire dingbats to keep the protesters in line? Will loyalty to Mossack Fonseca become the wannabe prerequisite for patriotism, as loyalty to Manuel Antonio Noriega once was? Will the defense of a criminal element become a purported gesture of national unity?

And if the hard times imposed from within and without do come again, are we prepared to make all of the little private arrangements as in Noriega sanctions time to get us past the crisis? More importantly, this time will Panamanians be ready to make our own better arrangements to move on with our national life, rather than depending on a Washington crowd that neither understands nor cares about us to make arrangements for us?

We still have the dictatorship’s constitution because Panamanians depended on the United States to fix the Noriega crisis. We have a devastated agricultural sector because Washington decided that US-based companies should be the source of more of our food and we didn’t have a Panamanian government willing to walk away from that “free trade” offer. We are in trouble with much of the rest of the world — not only the United States — because we allowed politically influential predatory castes among the professions of lawyers, bankers, stock brokers, insurance executives, merchants and accountants to dictate our laws so as to build a business and financial paradigm that serves international criminals rather than ordinary Panamanians.

One tiny case in point is that a Panamanian can’t just pay a small fee and set up an assumed business name in order to get a post office box, listed telephone number, bank account and tax ID number without being prohibited by unaffordable lawyer and CPA bills. Our business laws are designed for foreigners’ shell games and the enterprises of richer Panamanians, not for the 40 percent of our work force who have been relegated by these laws to the informal economy. Isn’t it time that those considered too small to be profitable for lawyers and bankers to serve got some consideration?

Are we up to the task of overriding the politicians who have done the bidding for this untenable order? Are we ready to rearrange our business, banking, legal and productive systems to serve most Panamanians? We can’t just forget the Panama Papers or the US allegations against the Wakeds, much less international sanctions that may be imposed on us for being a money laundering center. But we can and should fix the ways we feed and govern ourselves, according to Panamanian criteria rather than according to other countries’ wishes. That doesn’t mean bogus legislation like Varela’s public contracting “reform” that might as well have been written by Odebrecht, or the continuation of predatory systems that only benefit a few Panamanians because that’s the way we have done things in the past, or endless discussions about procedure that never get to the substance of our problems. It’s a matter of looking at who most of us are and what most of us can use.

Will Dr. Stiglitz and the commission he heads tell us that? If so, fine. But that should be beside the point. We should figure it out and correct it for ourselves.

State of the jihad

STRATFOR is a corporation run by a conservative Republican whose bread and butter is advising multinational corporations. They gather and publish information to inform decisions that are mostly in the business realm, rather than to mobilize voters to make decisions at the polls. The company and its scholars have their own politics, but their information tends to be dispassionate and well grounded in fact. However, every person and every institution comes out of a social context and all have a point of view. There is no use denying it — better to acknowledge it and proceed.

So the editor was eager to read what STRATFOR had to say about Osama bin Laden’s legacy on the fifth anniversary of his death. The analysis by Scott Stewart noted that notwithstanding Bin Laden having been first run out of Afghanistan, then largely isolated from operation command of any forces, and ultimately tracked down and killed, his plans for a jihad against the West have pretty much gone according to plan, a central part of which was to draw US forces into combat in the Muslim world. “A man was dead, but the ideology of jihadism was going to continue to pose a threat,” Stewart wrote about the elimination of the CIA-trained mastermind of the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States. Stewart also noted the split among jihadis between the al Qaeda and Islamic State factions and predicted that it would endure. He acknowledged the difficulty that governments have in waging wars against amorphous ideologies rather than armies in the field or defined organizations.

So what was the conclusion? First, that “the world simply cannot kill or arrest its way out of this problem;” and second, that “strong US leadership and cooperation from an array of regional allies and alliances” is required to confront the jihad.

The latter part of that is disappointing. Yes, it should always be a general principle of US law and foreign policy that to make war against the United States is a course of action that tends to leave one dead. But no, alliances that identify the United States with unsavory regimes in the Muslim world don’t work very well against the jihadis — they just give them political strength. What would be most effective is a policy that allows Islamists who come to power somewhere to receive all due respect and recognition — with not much of that due if they attack the United States on the one hand, but normal relations if they pursue the ordinary means by which countries and peoples relate to one another. The Sunni jihad against the Shiites — or its reverse — is the sort of cause for America to deplore rather than join. Better to pursue the traditional US role of providing a haven for those fleeing all that stuff and seeking to become Americans. It really does become an existential question for the United States because pursuit of the “Long War” against radical Islam that some Pentagon planners project to be ongoing after everyone who reads these words is dead and buried would be an adventure cut short by America’s financial collapse under the weight of such an undertaking.

Bear in mind…


Government is the entertainment division of the military industrial complex.
Frank Zappa


The game of life is the game of boomerangs. Our thoughts, deeds and words return to us sooner or later, with astounding accuracy.
Florence Shinn


Sometimes the appropriate response to reality is to go insane.
Philip K. Dick


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CELA, Ciencia y tecnología en Panamá

Dr. Motta
Dr. Jorge A. Motta. Foto por SENACYT.

Ciencia y tecnología en Panamá

comunicado por el Centro de Estudios Latinoamericanos Justo Arosemena (CELA)

Ciencia y tecnología en Panamá son términos exóticos. Son extraños a nuestra vida cotidiana. A pesar de ello, todos los panameños reconocemos inmediatamente sus aportes: la iluminación de las noches oscuras, salud y los vuelos al espacio, sólo por mencionar algunos. La poca percepción del valor de la ciencia y la tecnología en Panamá, es aún más difícil de comprender cuando se trata de los políticos que dirigen los destinos de la República.

Sucede con frecuencia que para estas personas, la ciencia no sólo es exótica sino también exógena. Es decir, algo que está más allá de nuestras fronteras. Los beneficios de la ciencia, aducen, pueden comprarse en un laboratorio o consultora en los países más o menos desarrollados.

La ciencia no es percibida por los políticos como un poderoso instrumento que puede contribuir al engrandecimiento del país. La ciencia en el país debe estar al servicio del bienestar de la población. Es imprescindible fomentar y valorar la investigación científica. La Secretaría Nacional de Ciencia, Tecnología e Innovación (SENACYT), creada con este fin, ha sufrido un serio golpe al negársele el presupuesto mínimo para cumplir con sus responsabilidades. El Secretario Nacional de Ciencia, doctor Jorge Motta, ha denunciado este hecho e identifica al Ministerio de Economía y Finanzas como el obstáculo.

El CELA apoya al doctor Jorge Motta, secretario nacional de la SENACYT, en su lucha para promover la ciencia, pieza vital en cualquier esfuerzo por elevar los niveles de vida de la población panameña mediante sus propios esfuerzos.

El CELA exige que el gobierno recapacite y le proporcione a la SENACYT los recursos mínimos para que continúe su labor en todos los ámbitos del país.

El CELA considera urgente re-educar a la clase dirigente del país para que se ponga al servicio de las demandas nacionales y se coloque a la cabeza de los movimientos que promuevan la ciencia y la tecnología en Panamá.


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The Nidal Waked indictment


indictmentClick here to read the indictment (PDF)


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Harrington, Mr. Varela back from Washington

Varela at DHS
Grim scene: Panama’s President Juan Carlos Varela at the US Department of Homeland Security, as US moves against members of the Waked family and some 70 businesses of theirs were unfolding. Photo by the Presidencia.

Une petite veló

by Kevin Harrington-Shelton

President Juan Carlos Varela’s address at the Council of the Americas attempted to jawbone his way through the country’s growing political instability. Polls show nearly 80 percent of Panamanians no longer believe anything his government says. Yet, in a reality disconnect, the president used his favorite buzzword (“transparency”) a total of seven times. But not once about actually putting it into practice. And although “actions speak louder than words,” he has not issued any executive regulations to ensure information in the public interest is distributed widely, rather than to media selected to ensure the less flattering bits are glossed over (in exchange for access). Varela’s lack of political will on transparency is worse even, than a management style that might only charitably be described as sloth-like.

Case in point. Despite a reference evidently for export-only, about the rule of law and “an overriding commitment to transparency and accountability in the use of public funds,” Mr. Varela has yet to have his minister for canal affairs report to the National Assembly floor regarding the canal expansion, as mandated by a 2006 law still on the books. Nor has the contract for such works ever been made available for public inspection — as provided for by the Transparency Law (formally) en force. Similar fiction involves “investing the public funds with transparency to ensure the access to drinking water, basic sanitation, decent housing, education, healthcare and transportation” which is belied in a country (quite literally) falling apart.

Neither did our president add value to an improved understanding the Süddeutsche Papers. Scarcely a word either, about the star-studded Stieglitz Commission, nor about the demand side of the drug trafficking equation. His motherhood and apple pie policy statement (“our country is committed towards the automatic exchange of tax information in a bilateral way”) does not jibe with France’s April 11 “calls on all countries to subscribe to the agreement signed in Berlin in October 2014.” The French had been even less impressed by his Flashman-like brinksmanship — using a last-moment telephone call to (unsuccessfully) dissuade Francois Hollande from following ministerial advice regarding re-insertion onto a non-cooperative offshore blacklist — and then subsequently criticizing the French head of state for having disregarded his spur of the moment plea. Between the lines the subsequent ultimatum by its treasury minister let on that automatic exchanges were sine qua non for Gallic peace. Such poor statesmanship prompted a long-time member of his Panamameñista party to express publicly that the April 18 Paris talks would best have been handled by Varela’s foreign minister (and vice president) Mrs. Isabel De St. Malo de Alvarado, who “undoubtedly enjoys the best public image within the government, as reflected by the sincerity of her demeanor.”

Last, but certainly not least, regarding omissions: while in Washington, Mr. Varela not once made a fleeting reference to the lack of level playing fields that lie at the heart of the offsore tax evasion controversy (which is sure to flare up — again — on Monday, with Suddeutsche’s announced second dump). Interest might well be growing hard by the Beltway, in Delaware, and further afield, in Nevada and Wyoming, The president might have defused revelations that the Mossack Fonseca & Co (BVI) Ltd. had suffered “an administrative penalty in the amount of $37,500” for “failing to carry out the necessary enhanced customer due diligence measures in respect of a high risk customer as required.” And, as the Guardian had it: “For the last 10 years, the analysis suggests, the BVI has been licensing the firm even though it knew it was not fulfilling its legal obligations.” Probity would have presumed that background checks carried out prior to one of the principals’ elevation to the Panamanian cabinet on July 14, 2014 would have brought these references to light — or did they?

Preaching to the choir at the Rockefeller Foundation-sponsored event doubling as powwow highlighting energy development on the subcontinent, Mr. Varela heralded a forthcoming AES (“The power of being global”) methane plant in downtown Colon. But he “forgot” to praise a coal-fired generator at a Canadian open-pit copper mine smack in the middle of the Central American Biological Corridor further up the coast (of the type the World Bank decries as “a disaster for the planet”). Praise was also heaped on the 100-strong regional multinational headquarters program, which houses the families of expatriate managers working in currently-troubled parts of northern South America — hardly the stuff of sustainable development. Our airline hub is what makes the above possible. Yet once COPA went public on the NY Stock Exchange, some 80 percent of its benefits are siphoned out of Panama — with little hope that they will return.

A country lacking a central bank and its own monetary policy is ever walking on eggshells. Leadership and confidence is indispensable in such scenarios.


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Wakeds, who own La Estrella and El Siglo, cited for money laundering


WISATreasury sanctions the Waked Money Laundering Organization

by the US Department of the Treasury

May 5, 2016 action exposes extensive drug money laundering network based in Panama

Today, the US Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) designated the Waked Money Laundering Organization (Waked MLO) and its leaders, Nidal Ahmed Waked Hatum (Waked Hatum) and Abdul Mohamed Waked Fares (Waked Fares), as Specially Designated Narcotics Traffickers pursuant to the Foreign Narcotics Kingpin Designation Act (Kingpin Act). OFAC also targeted six Waked MLO associates and 68 companies tied to the drug money laundering network, including Grupo Wisa, SA, Vida Panama (Zona Libre) SA, and Balboa Bank & Trust. Panamanian-Colombian-Spanish national Waked Hatum and Panamanian-Lebanese-Colombian national Waked Fares co-lead the Waked MLO, which uses trade-based money laundering schemes, such as false commercial invoicing; bulk cash smuggling; and other money laundering methods, to launder drug proceeds on behalf of multiple international drug traffickers and their organizations. As a result of today’s action, all assets of these individuals and entities that are under the jurisdiction of the United States or in the control of US persons are frozen, and US persons are generally prohibited from engaging in transactions with them.

“This action exposes the Waked Money Laundering Organization and disrupts its ability to launder drug trafficking proceeds using trade-based methods, duty-free retail, real estate development, and financial services throughout the region,” said John E. Smith, Acting OFAC Director. “We look forward to working jointly with the Panamanian authorities to protect the Panamanian and US financial systems from abuse by narcotics traffickers and other illicit actors.”

In addition to the Waked MLO and its two leaders, the OFAC action designated six Panama-based MLO associates for providing material support and/or acting on behalf of the MLO: Gazy Waked Hatum, Ali Waked Hatum, and Jalal Waked Hatum, brothers of Waked Hatum who manage Waked Hatum’s import/export, retail, and real estate businesses; Mohamed Abdo Waked Darwich, Waked Fares’ son, who manages Waked Fares’ duty-free retail and real estate development operations; and two attorneys, Norman Douglas Castro Montoto and Lucia Touzard Romo, who provide a variety of services, including incorporating shell companies, to the Waked MLO and serve various roles in several Waked-related companies.

Today’s designations also target the principal Panama-based companies used by the Waked MLO to launder drug and other illicit proceeds: Vida Panama (Zona Libre) SA, an import/export company in Panama’s Colon Free Trade Zone; Grupo Wisa SA, a holding company for businesses involved in real estate, construction, retail, hospitality, and media, including the La Riviera chain of duty-free stores operating throughout Latin America; Soho Panama SA and related entities, including a luxury mall and real estate development in downtown Panama City; Balboa Bank & Trust, a Panamanian bank; and the Strategic Investors Group Inc., a holding company that owns and controls Balboa Bank & Trust as well as two other financial services companies. Balboa Bank & Trust was used to launder narcotics and other illicit proceeds for multiple international criminal organizations.

This action was conducted in coordination with the Drug Enforcement Administration, Customs and Border Protection, and the Miami Division of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The Panamanian authorities have been informed of this designation and Panamanian and US authorities will coordinate going forward.

Concurrent with this action, OFAC is issuing three general licenses that authorize certain transactions and activities for limited periods of time with five entities owned or controlled by the Waked network: Soho Panama, SA (a.k.a. Soho Mall Panama), a luxury mall in downtown Panama City; Plaza Milenio, SA (Millennium Plaza) and Administracion Millenium Plaza, SA, related to a hotel complex in Colon, Panama; and two Panamanian newspapers, La Estrella and El Siglo, which are owned by Grupo Wisa, SA The first two general licenses aim to assist with winding down transactions for a limited period of time by authorizing specific activities that would otherwise be prohibited. The third general license is intended to allow both Panamanian newspapers to continue printing and operating by authorizing specific activities that would otherwise be prohibited.

Since June 2000, more than 1,900 individuals and entities have been named pursuant to the Kingpin Act for their role in international narcotics trafficking. Penalties for violations of the Kingpin Act range from civil penalties of up to $1.075 million per violation to more severe criminal penalties. Criminal penalties for corporate officers may include up to 30 years in prison and fines up to $5 million. Criminal fines for corporations may reach $10 million. Other individuals could face up to 10 years in prison and fines pursuant to Title 18 of the United States Code for criminal violations of the Kingpin Act.

  • To see a chart relating to today’s action, click here.
  • To see the general licenses issued concurrent with today’s action, click here, here, and here.
  • Frequently Asked Questions related to these general licenses are available here.
  • To see the identifying information relating to today’s actions, click here.
  • For a complete listing of designations pursuant to the Kingpin Act, click here.

WISA 2Editor’s note: The above information comes entirely from the US government and is an administrative measure in which those accused have not had the benefit of a day in court to confront their accusers and defend themselves. Do not be so naive as to confuse the US Department of Treasury with an all-knowing and always honest and candid god, and also do not be so naive as to think that public allegations like these are issued lightly by that department of the US government. You should also not suppose that the warnings given about possible consequences for dealing with the listed business aren’t serious. They are.


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Harrington, Mr. Varela goes to Washington

Varela in NYC
After a stop in Washington, Varela spoke in New York to the Council of the Americas. Photo by the Presidencia.

Mr. Varela goes to Washington

by Kevin Harrington-Shelton

Plus ca change

As with Alice in Wonderland, things are getting curiouser and curioser as President Juan Carlos Varela continues to mismanage the Suddeutsche Zeitung crisis.

Yesterday was World Press Freedom Day. It was also the starting date for the Council of the Americas conference in New York City, where President Juan Carlos Varela was the ranking speaker of that Rockefeller Foundation-sponsored event. Undoubtedly it was part of a misguided damage control strategy to limit the risk to Panama’s reputation. But he may well be adding fuel to the fire, just days ahead of the second dump of Panama Papers on May 9th.

In deepest background, the president has painted himself into a corner, as the result of a media policy aimed at suppressing journalists with significant audiences. On Varela’s third day in office, Dr. Miguel Antonio Bernal was inexplicably relieved of his 40-year-old radio spot, and, in quick succession, so were professors Julio Miller and Candelario Santana. With the field thus cleared for the media establishment which virtually elected Mr. Varela in 2014, press coverage had been benign, if not biased.

Thus bereft of any constructive criticism on the media lynching of former officials, Mr. Varela has kept busy painting himself into corners. Not one single Varela appointee to the prior government he initially shared with Ricardo Martinelli for 26 months was among them. But wIth his press barons now running for cover following the initial Suddeutsche blitz, he has effectively been left out in the cold, garnering the worst approval ratings in Panamanian history (at barely two years into a five-year term). Particularly on transparency — a linchpin of his election platform — on which his strongest suit against the former Martinelli government was predicated.

But this also marks new blow to his legacy.

As the penny drops and the Suddeutsche revelations rev up reasoned responses throughout the world, the National Assembly slam-dunked a bill last week, “reforming” public works bidding procedures — following a single day for each of the three readings for such a pivotal bill. It basically allows more of the same, in a framework which allowed his predecessor to pillage the treasury —“legally.”

In its first two years Varela’s Panameñista Party bent over backwards (literally) to award lucrative contracts to the Brazilian Odebrecht (of Lava Jato fame), which has proven proficient in winning public works projects in Panama since President Ricardo Martinelli and Mr. Varela (then his vice president) flew down to Rio together in 2009 — and returned with a new executive jet for presidential travel. Most memorable are their jaunts with then Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.

Excluding prequalification restrictions makes for “legal” self-serving measures. Prior to a Washington stopover en route to his NY Rockefeller conference, the president indicated he will not veto the bill — notwithstanding public opinion that it should have precluded contractors convicted elsewhere from bidding in Panama. This in hopes of forestalling any criticism of the earlier awards to Odebrecht during Mr. Varela’s watch. That the president’s own brother José Luís Varela (who heads their party’s legislative caucus) had personally defended this specific omission in the bill highlights a family sensitivity to this particular point.

But this quickie may well carry unintended consequences: evidencing a growing lack of legitimacy to govern. Should the upcoming Suddeutsche documents involve the Varela family, Panama could well be governed by its second woman president.


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New George Scribner paintings

Three Southbound. Commisisoned by the ACP, this one is sold.
Three Southbound. Commissioned by the ACP, this one is sold.

New takes on Panama, and upcoming events

paintings by George Scribner


Caballito de Veracruz.


red dress
Red dress, at Paraiso High during Carnival.


Casita de Taboga.


Upcoming workshops

Sonoma, California: A two day Introduction to Painting workshop at the Sonoma Community Center May 14th and 15th, 2016. Contact Liz Treacy at (707) 931-4164 for further information.


dog foo yung
All secure: two dogs that Disney folks in Shanghai rescued.


recipe for dog foo yung
Pooch painting stages.


WDI Florida: A two day painting workshop for Walt Disney Imagineering employees. In the mornings we’ll be painting at Epcot, in the afternoons at a studio indoors.


ACP dredges
Painting dredges.


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¿Wappin? Bilingual free form without the corporate playlist

Baerista Juanita Parra de Los Jaivas. Foto por Benjamín Mejía Valencia.
Baterista Juanita Parra de Los Jaivas. Foto por Benjamín Mejía Valencia.

Música bilengüe con sabor y sin formato empresarial

The Black T Project at Casa Arias

Koko Taylor – Voodoo Woman

Quilapayún – La Muralla

Joan Armatrading – In These Times

Pink Floyd – Dogs

Joan Baez – El Preso Numero Nueve

The Beatles – Blackbird

Víctor Boa – Negrito

La Ley & Ely Guerra – El Duelo

Playing for Change – Redemption Song

Howlin’ Wolf – Spoonful

Radiohead – Karma Police

Cultura Profética – La Complicidad

Prince, Dhani Harrison et al – While My Guitar Gently Weeps

Los Jaivas – Concierto en Señal en Vivo


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