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Editorials, The rector should go now; and Justice for Vanessa

Valid then, even more so now. Photo by MOVADUP.

The Rector Magnifico should go now

With the Comptroller General’s audit about to be released, the University of Panama’s rector with the fake doctorate, Mr. Gustavo García de Paredes, convened an urgent and unpublicized meeting to confer civil service protection on hundreds of his political patronage hirees before his term in office ends. Then the Comptroller General issued his report and sent it to the Attorney General for criminal investigation. The “private” University of Panama Foundation that García de Paredes created to receive university funds has at least $490,000 missing, and the audit is just of recent years rather than all the way back to the foundation’s establishment.

The self-proclaimed “Rector Magnifico” presents a grave risk that yet more evidence will be destroyed or concealed so long as he remains in office. Among the nearly two dozen people named by the comptroller’s report there are two candidates in the crowded field of those who hope to succeed García de Paredes as rector. They, too, should be suspended from the university and barred from its campuses pending further investigations.


pro Vanessa
Not to be forgotten, not to be defamed: law student Vanessa Rodríguez’s family and friends, and Panama’s women’s organizations, were dignified in their insistence. Photo by Eric Jackson.

Justice done, but questions left

Omar Vélez has been found guilty of the second degree murder of Vanessa Rodríguez. It’s an awful tragedy, the stuff of which good true crime writing is done. But it’s also a just and accurate verdict by the court-martial jury at Fort Bragg, which upheld the truth, the Uniform Code of Military Justice and the reputation of the US Armed Forces.

The young law student’s slaying by the US Army master sergeant does, however, leave questions that Panama’s powers-that-be will surely ignore but the Panamanian people just as surely ought to ask. What benefit is it to Panama to have our lince rapid-response motorcycle police trained in military tactics? What are the specific terms of the Status of Forces Agreement with the United States that gave diplomatic immunity to Vélez — whom does it cover and how many such covered people are in Panama? Why is Panama so doggedly pursuing made-in-the-USA “War on Drugs” policies when at almost every opportunity US voters are rejecting that failed set of laws, practices and expenditures?

A “roid rage” murder by a US anti-drug warrior sent to Panama under cover of diplomatic immunity might be just a sad curiosity were there not a serious steroids problem in the US Armed Forces. That problem is one of the symptoms of the endless wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and so many other places around the world. It’s not unpatriotic to acknowledge it, and it’s not patriotic to just write it off as a matter of a few undisciplined soldiers and treat it only as a criminal justice issue. It is an urgent matter of US national security to address the many social problems among the weary and demoralized forces who have been sent on open-ended missions to fight inanimate concepts, among their many dependents, and among the veterans who have come back from these wars on terror, drugs and so on. Yes, the Vélez case was a garden variety murder that rightly had to be addressed by a criminal court, but it was also an alarm about more widespread problems that should not be ignored.

Bear in mind…


A woman is like a tea bag — you can’t tell how strong she is until you put her in hot water.
Eleanor Roosevelt


The descent to Hell is easy.


Of course I am not worried about intimidating men. The type of man who will be intimidated by me is exactly the type of man I have no interest in.
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie


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Odebrecht’s fortune in free fall, but maybe not here

Lava Jato
Brazilian federal police carry away a cache of documents in a series of simultaneous searches in eight Brazilian states. The raids, which largely concentrated on the homes and offices of Odebrecht executives and employees, netted among other things spread sheets about the construction company’s systematic payoffs to at least 200 Brazilian politicians of most parties. The Lava Jato (car wash in Portuguese) investigation has also led down a number of international trails, some of them running through Panama. Photo in dozens of places online, believed to be in the public domain.

Odebrecht, its fortunes collapsing, gets another public contract in Panama

by Eric Jackson

Panama City has gone through some unusual gymnastics to revise a points system for awarding a $100 million sidewalk, street and lighting project when the purportedly objective analysis indicated a Colombian-led consortium as the winner. But after the mayor ordered a revision of the points system, the data were run through once more and the “more objective” winner was, to the surprise of only the most uninformed, the Brazilian construction giant Norberto Odebrecht. The contract has yet to be signed and reaction is building, but it’s a good bet that this is not going to go down well even if Panamanians are jaded about such things.

Roberto Brenes, the founder of Panama’s Bolsa de Valores securities exchange, looks askance at the $782 million that was paid by hte Martinelli administration to Odebrecht to build the third phase of the Cinta Costera. That works out to some $250,000 per square meter and he says that it can’t be justified. He and the local chapter of Transparency International are among the business sector people who have joined with the usual church, civic and labor anti-corruption leaders to demand an audit of all public works contracts that Odebrecht has had in Panama in recent years. Administrative Prosecutor (Procurador de la Administracion) Rigoberto González concurs, and has asked Comptroller General Federico Humbert to audit both current and recent Odebrecht contracts with Panamanian governmental entities. González’s stated reason is a bit different. He cites reports from Brazil (and other countries) about Panamanian involvement in a series of scandals that may have its epicenter in overpriced contracts with kickbacks between Brazil’s state-owned Petrobras oil company and Odebrecht and other construction firms, but now goes way beyond that and way beyond Brazil.

The scandals get to Panama because:

  • documentary evidence and a confession indicate that Odebrecht’s former CEO, Marcelo Odebrecht, who is now serving a prison sentence of just more than 19 years, paid political operative João Santana to manage the 2014 presidential campaign of Ricardo Martinelli’s Cambio Democratico party;
  • Mr. Odebreecht’s emails were kept on a server in Panama but these are “unavailable” to Brazilian prosecutors; and
  • Odebrecht bribes for Petrobras officials were laundered through an international chain of corporate shells, some of them Panamanian, designed by the Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca, one of whose partners was until recently an official in the Varela administration.

Just in themselves these things add up to enough to raise eyebrows, except perhaps those of President Varela. To him, these are all proceedings before foreign courts and none of Panama’s concern. Attorney General Kenia Porcell hasn’t disparaged the Brazilian prosecutors’ investigation, but she appears not to be cooperating with her Brazilian counterparts either by asking for information that might indicate crimes in Panama or by sharing information. In a gesture to the fight against corruption, Varela has sent a revision of the public contracting law to the legislature, which would bar companies convicted of certain corrupt practices from doing business with the Panamanian government — but only if those convictions are by a Panamanian court.

Somebody might be favorably impressed, but according to the Dichter & Neira polling firm Varela’s popularity rating for the second straight month registers at just 46 percent. He’s not hated, but the honeymoon is over. An overwhelming 75 percent of those surveyed found little or no transparency in government. It’s not an explosive issue, though — by far insecurity against garden variety crimes, rising unemployment and problems with the water supply top the list of public concerns, with corruption way down the list.

In Brazil the leaks and court rulings are often crudely partisan, but the Lava Jato (car wash) investigations are so deep and widespread and involve so many investigators and judges with their own opinions that it’s hard for any side to be protected. The revelations from the most recent raids, however, are spectacular.

Is President Dilma Rousseff, who was the minister in charge of Petrobras when most of the bribery took place, in danger of impeachment? The truly damning direct evidence implicating her has yet to be produced, but it’s hard to believe that she was unaware and few Brazilians do believe that. But a spreadsheet of payoffs to some 200 politicians of 24 different parties that was leaked to the press shows that the members of the Brazilian Congress listed include those leading the impeachment drive against the president. Was Dilma’s boss at the time, former President Lula da Silva, on the take? So far the allegations are not that he accepted money while president, but as an ex-president he clearly took money for a foundation he controlled and large speaking fees from Odebrecht and other major construction companies, and served as an intermediary for Odebrecht to secure contracts in other countries.

Prosecutors say that Odebrecht paid renowned campaign manager João Santana and his wife and business partner Mônica Moura to run the campaigns of not only Martinelli in Panama, but of the ruling leftist MPLA party in Angola and Hugo Chávez and Nicolás Maduro in Venezuela. When rightist Álvaro Uribe was president of Colombia — and afterward — he may have been railing against the Chavistas next door who were on Odebrecht’s payroll, but the Brazilian construction company had Uribe’s eldest son on its payroll as a high-priced corporate representative. Do the United States and Cuba have conflicted relations that are starting to get resolved? Odebrecht has massive contracts in Cuba, but also donated money to foundations controlled by the Clintons and by Jeb Bush. And the presidents of Peru and the Dominican Republic, both men who put on leftist airs to get elected but have been far to the center once in office? Odebrecht may have been paying for Santana and Moura to run Dominican President Danilo Medina’s re-election campaign — a job cut short by arrest warrants issued in late February — and other documents suggest the Peruvian President Ollanta Humala received payoffs from the company. Other tangents of the case have Odebrecht making payments to a former Argentine transportation minister and paying bribes to get the contract to build the mass transit system for the upcoming Rio de Janeiro Olympics.

Should it be any big shock that Brazilian authorities allege that Marcelo Odebrecht has been overseeing payoffs to politicians from the prison where currently resides? Consider that Odebrecht was a central player — a bid-rigging clearinghouse of sorts — in the 1992 scandal that led to the impeachment proceedings and resignation of the Brazilian president at the time Fernando Collor de Mello. There is not a politician who has been named who can say that she or he did not know about the company’s reputation. Certainly the investment world does — Odebrecht shares are way down and securities analysts give them a negative outlook.

Maribel Jaén of the Catholic Church’s Justice and Peace commission had already warned that contracts with Odebrecht — currently working on the construction of the Metro’s Line 2 and renovation of the Colon city center — are “suspicious.” So now comes the city contract to renovate the sidewalks and lighting in the Parque Porras area, parts of Via Expaña and Avenida Balboa and from Plaza Cinco de Mayo up the peatonal to the park in Santa Ana, roughly an $100 million job. The Colombian-led Centralvías EP consortium came in first with 95.9 points in the arcane numerical ratings that the bid evaluation committee had set up, as against Odebrecht’s 93.86. The mayor was unhappy with that and ordered the committee to tinker with its rating system. As revised, Odebrecht won the “competition” with 98.76 points to Centralvías EP’s 87.38. Now it still may work with some Panamanians to confer “objectivity” on a subjective process by assigning numerical values to it, but in the current climate it looks like Odebrecht won on another rigged bid. Mayor José Isabel Blandón may yet advance his reputation and career when all is done and he can point to all this rebuilt brick and mortar. The infrastructures involved are in fact crumbling. For now, however, Blandón has stepped into a controversy that was not his, picking up suspicions as he goes.

Will Humbert audit, and if so in anything more than a pro forma way? When Odebrecht won the Metro Line 2 contract, it was not the low bidder but an evaluation committee, unbeknownst to the public and most of the participants until after the fact including a man who had worked as a consultant for Odebrecht, gave the Brazilians the contract over the Chinese competition on the basis of some dubious points. Humbert ruled not that there was a harmless error, but that there was no conflict of interest at all. However, to be seen to favor Odebrecht now would look worse than it did back then because the backrop against which it would be viewed is worse today.


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MOVADUP, La carrera administrativa

rector st.
El auto-denominado “Magnífico” –con su doctorado comprado sin tesis. Foto por Eric Jackson.

El reglamento de carrera administrativa
de la Universidad De Panamá

por el Movimiento de Adecentamiento de la Universidad de Panamá (MOVADUP)

El 23 de febrero de 2016, el Consejo General Universitario (CGU) de la Universidad de Panamá aprobó un nuevo Reglamento de Carrera Administrativa, el cual aún no ha entrado en vigencia, pues no ha sido publicado en Gaceta Oficial.

Gran preocupación genera al MOVADUP tanto el contenido como la forma en que fue aprobado (madrugonazo) y el papel de la dirigencia de la Asociación de Empleados (ASEUPA) en su elaboración y discusión en las bases gremiales y en el CGU.

En cuanto a su contenido, lo que se ha hecho es fortalecer la capacidad de la Rectoría universitaria de disponer de personal a su antojo a través de una Dirección General de Recursos Humanos (DGRH) que controla directamente; y de utilizar a la Comisión de Personal, donde cuenta con una mayoría de 3 a 2, para perseguir a los administrativos a través de procesos disciplinarios.

La DGRH se burocratiza al poner bajo su égida 10 Subsistemas y Oficinas de Enlace en todas las unidades académicas y administrativas. La Comisión de Personal investiga la comisión de faltas por el personal administrativo, ya no sólo por denuncia del jefe inmediato, sino también de oficio, por queja de cualquier persona o por haber sido sorprendido en flagrancia (fomenta la sapería). Aunque la DGRH hace su Recomendación respectiva, es el Rector quien finalmente decide si sanciona o absuelve.

Igualmente, el Rector puede “movilizar” personal sin límite de tiempo (nueva figura introducida) a través de la DGRH; o trasladarlo por “necesidad del servicio” sin su consentimiento, cuando la Ley No 9 de 1994, que establece la carrera administrativa en el sector público, exige que el servidor público acepte el traslado, para que sea válido y no contempla la figura de la movilización.

A los administrativos también se les pueden asignar “funciones extraordinarias” que no correspondan a sus condiciones de trabajo pactadas en el contrato inicial, sin limitación alguna, legalizando la llamada movilidad funcional y geográfica, tan repudiada históricamente por el movimiento obrero, pues coloca al trabajador en una situación de “cuasi esclavitud” al servicio del empleador, inconcebible en una institución pública de educación superior.

Resulta totalmente deplorable el papel de la dirigencia de la ASEUPA, pues, en vez de garantizar los derechos de los administrativos en la mesa de negociaciones, se ha prestado para que sean conculcados, sin dar oportunidad a una discusión amplia y democrática de todo el contenido del Reglamento, en las bases gremiales y en el propio CGU. Todo esto a cambio de lograr la permanencia momentánea de 800 funcionarios según se ha venido practicando con fines electoreros en detrimento de los concursos formales; y de que las autoridades universitarias la reconozcan como única interlocutora válida entre los más de 4000 administrativos y la Administración, en detrimento del principio de libertad de asociación y/o libertad sindical, pues no se puede ignorar a otras expresiones independientes del funcionariado universitario.

Gana el Rector, fortalece su poder. Ganan su permanencia momentánea 800 administrativos. Pierden más de 4000 administrativos sometidos a movilidad funcional y geográfica, movilizaciones y traslados sin su consentimiento y a persecución por discrepar políticamente del Rector en coyuntura electoral. Pierde la institución, sorprendida por la aprobación de un Reglamento represivo que prácticamente desconoce, que desdice totalmente de su tradición libertaria y democrática.


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SPSP, Frente a la emergencia del virus Zika

El virus Zika. Foto por el Departamento de Salud de la Ciudad de Nueva York.

Comunicado al país frente a la emergencia del virus Zika

por la Sociedad Panameña de Salud Pública (SPSP)


La OMS ha declarado una Emergencia de Salud Pública de Importancia Internacional (ESPII) en respuesta a conglomerados de casos de microcefalia y de síndrome de Guillain-Barré en Brasil, Polinesia Francesa, El Salvador, Venezuela, Colombia, y Suriname, que se han asociado temporalmente con la transmisión del virus del Zika.1 La comunidad científica internacional está intensamente dedicada a buscar evidencias sobre qué está causando el aumento inusual de casos de microcefalia y Síndrome de Guillain Barré y otros desórdenes neurológicos y cómo este aumento puede estar relacionado con los brotes de Zika,2 ya sea para confirmar o descartar el vínculo con el virus.

El Zika es una enfermedad causada por un virus, de la misma familia de los virus Dengue, que es transmitido por el mosquito Aedes aegypti. El virus Zika fue descrito por primera vez en 1952, aislado de un mono Rhesus en la floresta Zika de Uganda, recibiendo de allí su nombre. En 1954 el virus Zika fue aislado de un humano en Nigeria. Desde su descubrimiento hasta 2007, casos confirmados de Zika fueron raros y limitados al continente africano y al sudeste asiático. Del 2007 hasta el 12 de febrero del 2016 el virus Zika ha estado presente en 46 países y territorios. En 2015 y lo que va del 2016, el virus ha estado circulando en 26 países. Se estima que en Brasil han ocurrido 1.5 millones de casos de Zika, seguido de Colombia con 25,000 casos sospechosos y 1,331 casos confirmados y Cabo Verde con 7,000 casos sospechosos de Zika.

El Ministerio de Salud (MINSA) informó, según nota noticiosa,3 que los casos del virus Zika en el país aumentaron a 91 este viernes, 26 de febrero. En Guna Yala se concentran 81 casos, mientras que en sectores de la capital ya se reportan 10. Cinco de estos casos se registran en Tocumen, 1 en el área de Bella Vista, 1 en Las Cumbres, 1 en Paitilla, 1 en San Francisco y otro en Juan Díaz. Mientras persista en casi todo el territorio nacional elevados índices de infestación del vector, el mosquito Aedes aegypti, la transmisión masiva del virus Zika a casi todos los rincones del país es prácticamente inevitable.

Eliminación del mosquito que transmite el virus Zika

El mosquito Aedes aegypti transmite cuatro enfermedades virales:

(1) el Dengue,

(2) el virus Chikungunya,

(3) el virus de Fiebre Amarilla y

(4) el virus Zika.

El Aedes aegypti también es un vector potencial para el virus de la Encefalitis Equina Venezolana y del virus del Oeste del Nilo (West Nile virus).4 Por lo tanto, aún si el virus Zika no resultara ser el responsable de microcefalia u otra afección neurológica, hay razones de sobra para redoblar y multiplicar los esfuerzos nacionales para eliminar del territorio nacional el mosquito Aedes aegypti, tal como fue hecho entre 1971 y 1985.

Panamá ha cambiado mucho desde 1985. La población ha aumentado, hay mayor concentración de la población en las zonas urbanas, se ha generalizado la cultura de “usa y descarta”, donde son lanzados al medio ambiente cantidades masivas de productos plásticos, llantas, y muchos otros que se convierten fácilmente en criaderos de mosquitos Aedes. La crisis en la Autoridad Nacional de Aseo, con graves deficiencias en la recolección y disposición sanitaria de desechos sólidos, deberá ser atendida como un tema de emergencia nacional.

Para reducir a cero los índices de infestación del mosquito es clave eliminar los criaderos del mosquito Aedes aegypti. Dichos criaderos son cualquier recipiente donde se puede acumular agua, desde los más pequeños, como puede ser una tapa de botella, hasta los más grandes y obvios como, llantas y chatarras a la intemperie.

Nuestros paisajes están inundados de productos descartables plásticos, latas, botellas, juguetes, tetra pack, etc., etc., que se venden masivamente, sin responsabilidad empresarial alguna sobre medidas para descartar los envoltorios o envases de forma segura y sanitaria. ¿Qué queremos decir con esto?

Toda empresa que distribuya y venda productos con envases que pueden convertirse en criaderos de mosquitos, debería colocar en cada envase o paquete una clara ADVERTENCIA, indicando el RIESGO de convertirse en un reservorio del vector del DENGUE, CHICUNGUNYA, Zika y FIEBRE AMARILLA; acompañado de indicaciones para su recolección y descarte adecuado y sanitario. A parte de la ADVERTENCIA al consumidor, toda empresa con responsabilidad social debería sumarse a los esfuerzos gubernamentales y comunitarios, creando centros de acopio y unidades de recolección de envases y paquetes descartables de sus productos, además, apoyar campañas masivas en medios de comunicación, así como educación sanitaria en escuelas públicas y privadas.

Por otro lado, se debe aprovechar nuestra estructura político administrativa para educar a la comunidad y fortalecer la organización de esta, que permita acciones más efectivas contra el mosquito, casa por casa, calle por calle, barrio por barrio, corregimiento por corregimiento, distrito por distrito y cada una de las provincias. Con participación intersectorial coordinada y con presencia de la sociedad civil, clubes de padres de familia, Iglesias, etc.

La recientemente promulgada Ley de Emergencia por el virus Zika que, entre otras cosas, garantiza asignación presupuestaria, debe además constituirse en una herramienta para lograr la articulación efectiva todos los actores sociales, tanto públicos como privados, en un gran haz de voluntades y acciones que lleven a la “eliminación” del mosquito Aedes aegypti del territorio nacional.

Lo hicimos una vez. ¡Hagámoslo otra vez!

Dr. Claude D. Betts, Presidente, SPSP
Dr. Carlos Cupas, Secretario General, SPSP
Elaborado con aportes de miembros de la SPSP


1. # Maurice J. WHO reveals its shopping list for weapons against Zika. The Lancet 2016; 387: 733

2. # Heymann DL, Hodgson A, et al. Zika virus and microcephaly: why is this situation a PHEIC? The Lancet 2016; 387: 719-21

3. http://www.tvn-2.com/nacionales/Aumentan-casos-Zika-Panama_0_4424557545.html; acceso el 27 de febrero, 2016

4. http://ecdc.europa.eu/en/healthtopics/vectors/mosquitoes/Pages/aedes-aegypti.aspx; acceso el 21 de febrero, 2016.



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The Panama News blog links, March 26, 2016


The Brand New Testament will be showing at the Panama International Film Festival

The Panama News blog links, March 26, 2016

American Journal of Transportation, PanCanal opens scale model training facility

Logistics Management, June 26 opening set for canal expansion

ANP, Sorteo para el primer buque que transitará por las nuevas esclusas

Taipei Times, President-elect to give Panama Canal invitation priority

Business Insider, Beijing’s unhappy about invitation to China and Taiwan

Vice News, Ships bypassing both Suez and Panama due to cheap oil

Scout, Colombia ousts Panama in World Baseball Classic qualifier

Telemetro, Panamá rescata empate frente a Haití en Puerto Príncipe

Telemetro, ¿En qué consiste el Proyecto Colón Puerto Libre?

La Estrella, FMI recomienda reformar el fondo de pensiones

Fayetteville Observer, Vélez testifies about death of Panamanian woman

STRI, New golden frog species discovered in Colombia

Reuters, CDC urges waiting period before conception after Zika infection

Prensa Latina, Panamá: crecimiento económico vs muertes por tuberculosis

Toronto.com, Ancient Panamanian treasures at a Toronto museum

Mongabay, Conservation dogs

Aumann, Beyond the Beaches of Bocas del Toro

Penn State News, Nursing and medical students in Panama medical brigade

Greenwald, Brazil engulfed by corruption — and a subversion of democracy

ABC, Portugal makes arrest in major Brazilian corruption probe

The Guardian, Massive raids in Petrobras / Odebrecht case in Brazil

COHA, Brazil’s compounding crisis

AFP: Políticos recibieron donaciones de Odebrecht, según planillas incautadas

Gulf News, Odebrecht may have damaging secrets to tell

TVN, Procurador solicita a Humbert que audite las obras de Odebrecht

Prensa Latina, Lawyer says Panama needs a new immigration law now

Right Wing Watch, Former GOP congressman threatens to move here

Stiglitz, The new generation gap

The Guardian, Che Guevara’s son on Obama in Cuba

Blades, Obama en Cuba

Indiewire, Panama: the next big country for Latin American films?

Video: How to make Jamaican Easter bun


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Long ago in Jerusalem a prisoner was tortured and executed


The world neither forgot nor trembled in silence





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Corporate continuity, new skills for the ACP board

ACP nominations
The cabinet approves the nominations of engineer and educator Óscar Ramírez and corporate lawyer Ricardo Arango to serve on the Panama Canal Authority board of directors. Photo by by the Presidencia.

Ramírez and Arango picked for ACP board

by Eric Jackson

On March 22 President Juan Carlos Varela nominated Óscar Ramírez and Ricardo Arango to serve eight-year terms as members of the Panama Canal Authority board of directors. The nominations must be ratified by the National Assembly and it appears that there will not be any problem with that.

Ramírez, the rector of the Tecnologico (Technological University of Panama, the Universidad Tecnológico de Panamá or the UTP), is a UTP and SUNY-Buffalo educated engineer whose research and teaching has specialized in structural engineering for earthquake resistance. His doctorate from the State University of New York at Buffalo — for which he was assisted by a Fulbright scholarship — is in structural and seismic engineering.

The UTP has its origins in the engineering department of the University of Panama seceding over campus politics and low academic standards. Led by Dr. Víctor Levy Sasso, the engineering department gained a measure of autonomy in 1973 and an independent charter in 1981. Although it was a US military target in the 1989 invasion — American soldiers arrested Levy and although he was never accused of any wrongdoing he was stripped of his job and the car and other possessions that were seized by the US Army were never returned — the university continued on its independent way, growing to its present seven campuses and gaining a reputation as Panama’s academically best institution of higher learning. After the brief invasion interregnum Héctor Montemayor was elected rector and served in that post from 1991 to 2003. Salvador Rodríguez succeeded him and in 2009 Marcela Paredes de Vásquez became the first female rector of any Panamanian university worthy of the name. Ramírez, a native of Gualaca in Chiriqui province, was elected rector for the 2013-2018 term.

During the canal expansion work, the previously known Pedro Miguel Fault, which crosses the canal, was found to be a bigger and more active threat than was thought. There has been some thought about measures to strengthen the canal’s earthquake resistance, with one worrisome scenario being an event that breaches the Pedro Miguel Locks. Were that to happen Gatun Lake could empty out through Culebra Cut and the broken locks. It would take years for the lake to refill. One possible emergency response system would be strategically placed explosives along Culebra Cut that would cause landslides that dam up the cut to keep the water in. It’s an engineering problem fitting Ramírez’s specialty, expertise about which is otherwise missing on the ACP board.

Ricardo Arango, son of one of the prominent Creole families, has his undergraduate degree in law from the University of Panama and master’s degrees (LLMs) from Harvard and Yale in corporate law and financial law respectively. Part of his US studies were also on a Fulbright. A partner in the law firm of Arias, Fabrega & Fabrega, he is on the boards of directors of Panama’s scandal-plagued Bolsa de Valores stock and bond market, Banco General, the Latin American Export Bank (BLADEX) and the La Prensa newspaper.

Arango represents continuity on a scandal-plagued ACP board dominated by construction people (including Alejandro Moncada Luna’s alleged money laundering and bid fixing partner Nicolás Corcione), people in the maritime services sectors other than shipping itself, bankers and corporate lawyers. No PanCanal retiree or employee has ever served on the board since Panama assumed full control of the canal. A number of political appointees have, mostly people who had been involved in the negotiations over the waterway’s transfer from US to Panamanian administration.

The problem with continuity is that while La Prensa and the banks were deeply involved in the largely state-funded 2006 “yes” campaign based on many questionable premises, the financial plan for the canal expansion that was sold to those voters who showed up has been a failure from the start. This has never been acknowledged, and indeed you will find few in the ACPO or at La Prensa who will now admit that their projection was an increase in US imports from Asia to increase geometrically by the rate of increase in those between 2000 and 2005, through 2025. That would have meant that by now all US industrial production would have been exported to Asia but US wealth and purchases of Asian goods would still be climbing on a nearly vertical path. That didn’t happen so the ACP borrowed money for an expansion that had been billed as “self-financing” and ship tolls were raised high enough to prompt some shippers to move to other routes. If the new locks work — if not they will be adapted at whatever cost so that they do work — PanCanal finances will still be a mess and toll revenues won’t cover it. Thus we have the ACP seeking to get into the ports, oil pipeline, fossil fuel electric generation and other business because the institution needs new revenues to stay afloat. But this has set off rumbles among various interested parties, and has not gone down well with governmental institutions like the Panama Maritime Authority that would have the ACP grabbing some of their turf.

So does Banco General get a new interlocking directorate with the Panama Canal Authority? That would tend to indicate that if a new port is created under ACP auspices at Corozal and Diablo, the concession will go to the Mottas.


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PanCanal draft restrictions

Gatun Locks
Going into Gatun Lake. Photo by MICI.

Canal restricts drafts as of April 18

Due to the El Niño drought, the Panama Canal Authority has issued draft restricions. In a statement, the ACP said:

The maximum allowable draft of 11.89 meters will (39.0 feet) in freshwater tropical, effective from April 18, 2016. The maximum authorized draft is defined by the deepest point of immersion specific to each ship in Gatun lake. These measures are applied to ensure the continued safe operation of the waterway.

Vessels with a greater draft to 11.89 meters (39.0 feet) before or on March 21, will not have to follow the draft restriction, subject to security considerations. Ships loaded after March 21 must comply with the measure.

Draft restrictions will be implemented decreasingly 15 centimeters (six inches) with each restriction announced at least four weeks in advance.


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Barack Obama in Cuba


Obama in Cuba

by Eric Jackson

It was all carefully choreographed symbolism, and some of it very real. However, one has to look at several long-developing contexts to make full sense of the Obama visit to Cuba.

Most of all, the context of US relations with the rest of the Western Hemisphere set the stage. Over decades, starting with countries like Mexico that never went along with the US policy of isolating Cuba and by the 70s including places like Argentina and Panama that refused to restrict their trade with Cuba according to US orders, the political opposition to US Cuba policy solidified in the Caribbean countries and by the end of the 20th century gained an overwhelming majority in Latin America. As so much of the region went left with the “Pink Tide” that washed over the region in the first decade of the 21st century, the US habit of giving right-wing Cuban exiles in South Florida a veto power over US policies toward all of Latin America was taken as a special annoyance even by countries that had not suffered the Cuban American National Foundation’s wrath. US policy was an anachronism and it was left up to Panama’s moderately conservative President Juan Carlos Varela to inform the Obama administration that Cuba was invited to the 2015 Summit of the Americas in Panama City and the United States could deal with that fact as it pleased.

A bad economy — a sluggish recovery from a stagnant status quo for all but the richest Americans, China in a steep downturn and Latin American countries devastated by low prices of the commodities that they sell — shaped Cuba’s motives. Whether or not the left can hang on in Venezuela, the oil wealth is gone and will probably never come back. There is a chance of an ultra-right government in Caracas that delights in baiting leftist Cuba, but that would be ephemeral. Venezuela had strong economic and cultural ties with the Caribbean, particularly its Spanish-speaking lands, well before the rise of Hugo Chávez and those will continue. But the high volume of trade on favorable terms and the aid are features of the Cuban-Venezuelan relationship that are over and won’t be back anytime soon. The alternative ALBA economic bloc never did prosper and was taken as a mortal threat by Washington, as if US trade hegemony is likely to be restored through political domination anytime soon. The days of Latin America consuming mostly US-made products are over, but on the other hand — much to the chagrin of many Americans on both the left and the right — there is a multinational integration of the world’s oligarchs, with London bankers, Saudi oil sheikhs, Latin American death squad politicians, German manufacturers, Asian absentee sweatshop lords, sports mafia thugs and the corporate-backed US political glitterati rubbing elbows at many a private gathering. The Chinese have been the partners and competitors who were never entirely part of the club. China’s economic power has displaced that of the United States across most of Latin America and the Caribbean. Cuba was one of the early Chinese beachheads in the region. But now the Chinese economy is in a bad way and aid from or trade with China is not going to fill the hole that the Venezuelan oil collapse has left in Cuba. Yes, Cuba survived the “Special Period” following the Soviet Union’s fall but Cubans would rather not go through that again. Adding some US business tie cards to its weak economic hand became a political imperative for Cuba.

And what of the Cuban Counter-Revolution? There are two parts to that. Those Miami exiles — as well as a substantial Cuban community in Puerto Rico and smaller ones throughout Latin America — who dreamed of returning to the island and restoring their power and glory days of the 50s? The Castro brothers outlived them. The younger generations of Cuban-Americans aren’t like that. Maybe US elections are the best indicator. The Florida “Hispanic vote” is not nearly so Cuban as it once was. Now there are a lot of Puerto Ricans and Mexican-Americans in the state, and people from all over Latin America in Miami. Among the Cuban-Americans there is a generation gap. The young Great Cuban-American Hope, Marco Rubio? He got stomped in the Florida primary and after he leaves the US Senate at the end of this year we probably won’t hear much from him again. Ted Cruz? As far as most Cuban-Americans are concerned he’s a foreigner, a weird religious fanatic from another place. The one US presidential candidate who offers any hope at all to the remnants of the Miami Cuban exile leadership, Hillary Clinton, would face a resurgent left within her own party if she makes it to the White House and that would stand in the way of restoring the influence that the old exile leaders used to have. Barack Obama went to Cuba because he could, because the old opponents to such a move are gone or too feeble to resist.

When Obama visited Cuba he met with a few carefully designated and not particularly powerful Cuban dissidents. The rowdier, more capable and more dangerous to the Castro brothers dissidents were rounded up and sent out of town to avoid any demonstrations for the TV cameras. The world media got to interview men and women on the street who were wary of the minders present. But time dictates a generational change in Cuba. Even if there are some quite capable replacements waiting in the Communist Party wings it’s hard to see how there can be a generational change without a procedural makeover and a reaching out beyond the party’s narrowed base. The communists have the Soviet, Eastern European, Chinese, Vietnamese and North Korean examples to instruct them, mostly about what not to do. But it’s Cuba, which among other things has always had cultural component in Florida, from even before there were English-speaking people in North America. The Castros gave Cuba the only period of stability that the island ever had as an independent republic and that legacy will serve future leaders well if they have to stave off the long-existing but generally minor current in Cuban thinking that favors some sort of annexation by the United State. But a measure of change, a bit of economic prosperity and more options in personal lives are likely to be the prices demanded and paid for any post-Castro political mandate in Cuba. The Communist Party may have to go into opposition. The Cuban Revolution is a fact that won’t be changed, but for most Cubans on and off the island it’s also history that is somewhat beside the point of where to go next.

The banter between Obama and Castro about human rights? Both governments have dirty laundry. From a press freedom point of view, Cuba has freed almost all of its jailed journalists and bloggers while the United States has seen a crackdown, such that there are more imprisoned journalists in the USA than in Cuba these days. The government-restricted Cuban press gets better all the time, as the corporate-dominated US press sinks to ever new lows. Cuban police round up peaceful dissidents. American cops use stinging chemical sprays on such protesters. Violate Cuban airspace on an anti-government mission and Castro’s people may well shoot you down. Show insufficient obeisance to the cops on a US street and you may well be shot dead, particularly if black. Cuban prisons are not fun places. Neither are US prisons, and the United States incarcerates a much larger percentage of its population than does Cuba. Obama and Castro complained about the human rights records of each others’ countries and they were both right. The exchange was a political requirement for both men, but neither government is going to change the other in this field. In each case, world and domestic opinion might.


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¿Wappin? We naah leggo

Robbie Shakespeare. Photo by Nils Petter Molvaer.

¿Wappin? We naah leggo

Aisha – Raise Your Voice

The Rolling Stones – Hang Fire

Cage9 – Everything You Love Will Someday Die

Café Tacvba – Aprovéchate

Zoé – Sombras

The Supremes – My World Is Empty Without You

Adele – When We Were Young

Berita, w/ Oliver Mtukudzi & Hugh Masekela – Mwana Wa Mai

Across fhe Crystal Sea – Danilo Pérez

Melissa Aldana – Pasos

Rahsaan Roland Kirk – We Free Kings

Javiera Mena – Yo No Te Pido La Luna

Enya – Only Time

Ziggy Marley & The Melody Makers – Naah Leggo

Sly & Robbie, Taxi Gang & Bunny Rugs in Shrewsbury


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