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El Bajito commutes

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El Bajito commutes

photos by Eric Jackson

Is it a political question about the allocation of scarce resources? Is it a matter of where people choose to live and the consequences that go with that? Is it, for whatever reasons, a preference for countrified living? Probably it’s all of those things. But as we get into the annual heavy rains, it does make for a sloppy commute in this and similar neighborhoods across Panama.

 
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RSF, Let’s not forget the fixers

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¡PRESENTE!

Fixers: field reporting’s unseen facilitators

by Reporters Without Borders

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) endorses the tribute paid to the Iraqi Kurdish journalist and fixer Bakhtiyar Haddad at this year’s Bayeux-Calvados War Correspondents awards in France and announces RSF will henceforth keep a separate log of events involving fixers, who are indispensable for war reporting although they enjoy no official status.

All the French journalists who worked with Bakhtiyar Haddad recall how he would often burst out laughing. Tragically, he and French reporters Véronique Robert and Stéphan Villeneuve were fatally injured by another kind of explosion, that of a mine on June 19 in Mosul’s old town, which ended up being retaken without them. Haddad’s roars of laughter have fallen silent but the impact of his death has served as a reminder of the importance of fixers, a category of journalist that, although not officially recognized, has emerged as essential in the many wars since the end of the Cold War.

References to “fixers” began during the First Gulf War in 1991. They are the specialists who “fix” or arrange all sorts of things for visiting reporters. Without a fixer, a visiting reporter cannot operate quickly or effectively. The fixer’s list of contacts opens doors and obtains interviews. Fixers serve as a compass in a chaotic universe in which a violent conflict has rendered all the usual landmarks unrecognizable.

“I provide an orientation service that enables journalist to dive in even before they arrive,” said Bitta Bienvenu, a fixer in Central African Republic. The assets of these guides-cum-interpreters-cum-logistics specialists include their local knowledge, their extended family, their ethnic group, their friends and any kind of connection that helps them to guarantee the safety of the journalists who turn to them. Fixers are often also the reporter’s guardian angel.

“The homage we must pay to an individual, called Bakhtiyar Haddad, should be accompanied by a thoughtful tribute to his profession, one that has become indispensable in war zones,” RSF secretary-general Christophe Deloire said.

“Without fixers, a great deal of reporting would not happen. Without them, there would be many more news black holes. To better reflect their role, Reporters Without Borders will henceforth keep a separate record of acts of violence in which fixers are the victims. Operating behind the scenes and often risking their lives, they work for the same goal as reporters, which is to inform.”

Paying dearly

Like the journalists they accompany into war zones, fixers take enormous risks — to the point that their names sometimes become forever linked. The Afghan Zabihullah Tamanna and the American David Gilkey, the Ukrainian Andreï Mironov and the Italian Andrea Rocchelli, the Gaza-based Palestinian Ali Shehda Abu Afash and the Italian Simone Camili were all killed together by bombs or artillery shelling between 2011 and 2016.

The dangers for fixers are not however limited to those of war zones. Their asset of being a “local,” can also be their biggest weakness. Twice in Afghanistan, when a kidnapped foreign journalist was freed, the accompanying fixer was killed. Ajmal Nashqbandi was beheaded by his abductors in 2007 and Sultan Munadi was fatally shot by the British soldiers who rescued their national Stephen Farrell from his abductors in 2009.

Becoming a fixer means exposing yourself to threats of various kinds, and not only on the war front. Dozens of local journalists have been killed in Iraq, Syria, Yemen and Afghanistan while working as fixers or reporters for foreign media. Working for a foreign media outlet in these countries can make you a target for armed groups that kidnap for ransom or carry out execution-style killings.

Akbar Khan, a member of a leading Pashtun family in Afghanistan, learned this terrible lesson 15 years ago. “I’d received warnings,” he said. “Several people told me I was going to pay dearly for working with foreign journalists.” But he never imagined that something would happen to his family. He never imagined that his two-year-old son would be kidnapped and then killed as a result.

Journalists leave, fixers stay

Unlike visiting foreign reporters, fixers don’t leave the country when the job is done. Central African Republic’s Bitta Bienvenu cites the photo of a soldier executing someone on a Bangui street that was taken by a news agency photographer with whom he worked. The soldier called the news agency to say that, if he had a problem because of the photo, he would be gunning for them. All of the staff were threatened, without distinction. “The journalist went home but I stayed there,” Bienvenu points out.

Proximity deepens the wounds, and creates invisible scars. “This job can break people because they feel powerless in the face of so much misery and suffering in their own country,” said Salar Salim Saber, a fixer in northern Iraq and Kurdistan. “Journalists chase big stories because it’s their job”, says Ömer Faruk Baran, who has been working with foreign media in the Turkish-Syrian border region for three years. But all “the forgotten sorrows” he has helped them to cover have caused him “indescribable grief,” he adds.

Zaher Said, a fixer in Syria, and Abdulalaziz al-Sabri, a fixer in Yemen, today resemble survivors traumatized by over-exposure to war. After frequent brushes with death in the course of gathering information in the field without ever being able to leave the war zone, they have sustained lasting scars and suffer bouts of deep depression.

Suspected of spying

Even crossing a checkpoint between one world and another can be trickier for fixers than the journalists they are with. “The fact that I’m from Donetsk makes both the Ukrainian government and the separatists suspect me,” said Alexandra Hrybenko, who has been arrested and interrogated by the intelligence services on both sides several times. Her compatriot, Anton Skyba, was taken away by gunmen as he escorted a US TV crew towards Donetsk. Thanks to protests by foreign media, he was released five days later, with his head shaved and his face swollen. “I just wanted to forget that nightmare,” he said.

The mere act of working with foreigners can raise suspicion. In a tense environment in which any information could be seen as extremely sensitive, the slightest incident can result in a fixer being accused of spying for a real or imaginary enemy. Saïd Chitour, a fixer for the BBC, France 24 and the Washington Post in Algeria, is suffering the consequences. He has been detained since June 5 on suspicion of providing foreigners with “classified information liable to endanger the country’s interests,” a charge that carries a possible life sentence.

Forced to flee

From spy to traitor is a just a small step. Both Bitta Bienvenu and Akbar Khan helped to produce reports in which one of the persons interviewed was later killed. In Bienvenu’s case, the head of an armed group in Central African Republic was killed a week later in a clash with a patrol of UN peacekeepers and local gendarmes. In Khan’s case, a Taliban commander in Afghanistan was killed by a US drone six months later. Both fixers ended up being accused of treachery.

The ensuing threats were such that both men had to go into hiding. After spending weeks or months concealed in their own home or in the home of friends, they finally fled the country. Bienvenu said: “I’m no longer free. I still feel a weight on me.” Khan, who now lives in France, said: “Losing both your child and your country is too high a price to pay. I’ve lost a lot but the journalists I helped have helped me. They’ve done things for me, and that has given me a lot of strength.”

Possible improvements

Despite the profession’s problems and hardships, few of the fixers contacted by RSF said they regretted becoming one. This is because most of them are local journalists themselves, or aspire to become journalists, or just wanted to see “the truth emerge” in their troubled countries. “It is both instructive and “an honor to work with leading media and experienced foreign journalists,” said Abdulaziz al-Sabri, who works as a fixer and cameraman in Yemen. Nonetheless, after being kidnapped by an armed group while out reporting with an Al Jazeera journalist, he has seen that the lack of a press card or ID showing that one works for a foreign media outlet can pose a security problem. As with freelancers, the media need to consider how to provide better protection for their fixers.

Consideration should also be given to insurance, security training and equipment (bullet-proof vests and helmets). “Fixers need the same legal protection as freelance journalists,” said Salar Salim Saber, a fixer whose status has improved since he began working regularly for an international news agency in Erbil, Kurdistan. He also thinks the names of the fixers should routinely be included in the credits of TV reports, as the BBC usually does, because “they are often the ones who found the story and organized the interviews.” And because the harshness of their profession should not be compounded by a complete lack of recognition. It would give them a deserved visibility.

 

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Martinelli has at least two more weeks in Miami

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the wannabe douse
Martinelli railing against the press in an infamous speech at the opening of a legislative session. This photo is by the Presidencia — it’s telling that he thought this scene flattering enough to publish.

Judge agrees to hear Martinelli’s new plea, but orders his lawyers to speed it up

by Eric Jackson

As the US Supreme Court was debating his first habeas corpus motion — filed last summer over US Magistrate Judge Edwin G. Torres’s denial of bail, but raising the whole panoply of objections to extradition in an attempt to show that Panama’s move to get its former president extradited is a nothing case — Ricardo Martinelli’s lawyers in Miami filed another habeas corpus action in Miami, this time appealing the extradition to the federal district court. The high court summarily and unanimously rejected that first habeas corpus motion a few days after debating it. In the meantime the ex-president’s legal team has also been filing papers with the US State Department, Justice Department and others. The new habeas corpus action was assigned to US District Judge Marcia G. Cooke and she might have summarily rejected the plea on the ground that those issues were already raised before the Supreme Court and rejected. However, she accepted the case and set a two-week deadline for lawyers for both sides to submit their briefs.

In the order that the Spanish news agency EFE saw and wrote about, Judge Cooke also moved to cut off all of the tangential moves and potential delays. She ordered copies of her scheduling order and Martinelli’s pleadings served upon Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and the acting head of the Miami Federal Detention Center, Robert Wilson. They will also have to respond, if they care to do so, within the time limit that the judge set.

Ordinarily, these sorts of habeas corpus actions following upon an extradition order take a month or two to be finally resolved. Martinelli might appeal an adverse ruling by Judge Cooke, but higher courts might reflexively deny any any such motions. This case is unusual because it has already been up to the Supreme Court, not one of whose nine justices saw merit in hearing the first habeas corpus action. So Martinelli has two weeks minimum, plus time for the judge to decide, plus whatever other maneuvers Martinelli’s legal team might make, before being put on a plane back to Panama.

Meanwhile in Panama La Estrella reports that Martinelli’s legal team is exploring strategies in case he is extradited. One possibility is that he would resign from the Central American Parliament (PARLACEN), which would take jurisdiction over his illegal wiretapping case from the high court and put it before the ordinary prosecutors of the Public Ministry and the lowest level penal trial court in Panama City. This would entail copious delays. Then there are reported plans to assert a claim to the Public Ministry’s Institute of Legal Medicine that the former president is ill, and would thus need to be put under hospital or home arrest rather than be held in jail pending trial.

 

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FRENADESO, La Gallera y la narcopolítica

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maleantes

La Gallera y la Narcopolítica

por FRENADESO

El sonado caso de “El Gallero” ha puesto a flote la penetración de la mafia del narcotráfico en los estamentos policiales y en las cúpulas de los partidos políticos, especialmente en el PRD.

La imputación de cargos para 11 personas, incluido un mayor de la policía y un agente, el anunciado decomiso de más de 2 toneladas de drogas, armas y, más de 800 mil dólares. Los cargos: se formularon cargos de forma individual, por los delitos de asociación ilícita para delinquir, corrupción de servidores públicos, tráfico internacional de drogas y blanqueo de capitales (Ministerio Público).

El hecho en sí llamó la atención pues ocurre en un pueblo pintoresco, de gente honrada y trabajadora, con tanta historia y raíces folclóricas, la Heroica Villa de Los Santos, y por los niveles de ostentación que hacían los acusados.

Pero también, porque uno de los principales implicados es el Alcalde y Primer Subsecretario General del PRD, Eudocio Pérez, mejor conocido como “Pany”, vinculado a un elemento de extenso prontuario delictivo que en este caso es el cabecilla del grupo, Manuel Antonio Domínguez, alias Tony. Se ha señalado que pueden haber otras personas implicadas de otras provincias, particularmente Chiriquí.

Pero escudriñando el caso, nos podemos percatar que este confirma lo que es un secreto a todas voces, la narco política en Panamá, peligroso fenómeno que permite que verdaderas mafias acaparen grandes cuotas de poder político. Veamos algunos antecedentes.

La larga historia de corrupción y narcopolítica del PRD

Manuel Antonio Domínguez Walker, alias Tony, estuvo detenido hace más de 7 años por los mismos delitos que hoy se le imputan. No obstante, se le benefició de forma sorprendente con una fianza de excarcelación por parte de la juez suplente Zulay Rodríguez, hoy diputada PRD. Por ello, la Fiscalía Segunda de Drogas ordenó la conducción de la juez suplente. La red identificada y liderada por Tony Domínguez, tenía la intención de introducir 300 kilos de cocaína al país en esa ocasión.

Finalmente el caso quedó en nada. Esto fue en julio de 2010. Tony Domínguez, además, tenía otros procesos.

Pero este no es el único caso de narcotraficantes en que se haya envuelto el PRD. La misma diputada que hemos mencionado estuvo implicada en el asunto de “El Abuelo”, como se le conocía a Juan Juárez Orosco, uno de los supuestos narcotraficantes mexicanos más peligrosos de la época.

Según algunos medios, Juárez Orosco fue detenido en Panamá en marzo de 2012 y el 8 de noviembre de 2013 fue extraditado a Estados Unidos, acusado de ser el cabecilla de la red que le transportó 35,000 kilos de cocaína del cartel Beltrán-Leyva y ocho toneladas de la misma sustancia al cartel de Sinaloa, en el que operaba “El Chapo” Guzmán. (Panamá América)

Aquí aparece un personaje que se le ligó a la diputada, Héctor Rojas, quien estaba detenido desde el 30 de agosto de 2013 por secuestro y extorsión, y denunció que estaba pagando cárcel por figuras del PRD que no quieren que se conozca esta historia, en la que se mencionan lavado de dinero, amenazas y traición.

Zulay Rodríguez, habría asumido la defensa legal de “El Abuelo” mientras estuvo en Panamá. Según Rojas cobró unos 800 mil dólares a cambio de lograr que no extraditaran al peligroso delincuente, lo cual no cumplió. Ese dinero ayudó a financiar la campaña de la hoy diputada, según Rojas (“El Enano”).

Finalmente, “El Abuelo” fue extraditado a Estados Unidos, y su abogado en el proceso de extradición fue nada menos que Sidney Sitton, hoy abogado de Ricardo Martinelli, detenido en Miami.

Como ahora con “Pany” Rodríguez, el CEN del PRD de ese entonces salió en defensa de su copartidaria.

Eran los días también de los enfrentamientos a los internos del PRD. El 27 de septiembre de 2013 fue asesinado en San Miguelito, Juan Ramón Messina, quien estuvo detenido por casos de narcotráfico. Su esposa, candidata a diputada, Katy Ramos, acusó directamente a su copartidario y diputado del PRD, Raúl Pineda.

Antes, el 22 de junio de 2012, en una balacera en Calle K San Miguelito, murió el asistente personal de Pineda, Gilberto “Kiki” Pinzón y la hermana del diputado, Annet Pineda, fue herida de gravedad. Este hecho nunca fue aclarado.

Hace un año se anunció que cinco cabecillas de una red de narcotráfico en la provincia de Colón fueron en un operativo denominado ‘Piedra Negra’, realizado por la Dirección de Inteligencia y Antidrogas de la Policía Nacional.

Entre los aprehendidos figuran el subteniente Francisco Salazar Flores del Servicio Nacional Aeronaval (SENAN) e Hidalgo Gentil Jaramillo, representante del corregimiento de Viento Frío, Colón. Además de los panameños Eudin Eduardo Forbes, Luis Alberto Jessie, Marvin Eduardo Mena y Damaris Argelis Jackson. (El Siglo)

Hidalgo Gentil Jaramillo, el representante detenido, es miembro del PRD, pero llama la atención que en este caso, a diferencia del que implica al subsecretario general, “Pany” Rodríguez, dicho partido no asumió el mismo tipo de defensa, como tampoco lo ha hecho con otros copartidarios como “Pipo” Virzi y su hija y Gabriel Betsh implicados en sonados casos de corrupción. Pipo Virzi fue vicepresidente de la República con Pérez Balladares, patrocinador y prestamista de muchas figuras del PRD, incluido Martín Torrijos, y parte del círculo cero de Ricardo Martinelli.

Es una historia de narcotráfico y corrupción que envuelve directamente a figuras del PRD, que no tienen el menor reparo de presentarse como los inmaculados en los medios como en el caso del conocido programa de boxeo que dirige Juan Carlos Tapia, que ha logrado muchos miles de dólares en publicidad gracias a las cuñas de empresas muy cuestionadas como Odebrecht con coimas de cientos de millones de dólares, Panamá Ports que se denuncia que en 18 años solo ha aportado un millón de dólares al país, o Petaquilla Gold de Richard Fifer, quien se apropió de 3.1 millones de la cuota obrera de los trabajadores de dicha empresa. Tapia también ha sido defensor del ex director de la Caja de Seguro Social (CSS), Guillermo Saéz-Llorens, acusado de corrupción, desgreño administrativo y de atentar contra la salud de los panameños. Bajo la administración de Saéz-Llorens dicho programa recibió gran cantidad de cuñas de quien hoy sale en los medios como si no conociera a Ricardo Martinelli, a pesar de que abogó por bautizar la llamada Ciudad Hospitalaria con su nombre, con el consentimiento de la Junta Directiva de la CSS de ese momento.

Es un historial largo del PRD que tiene que ver con sus nexos con individuos vinculados al narcotráfico como el ex piloto de Noriega, Enrique Pretelt, consuegro de Ernesto Pérez Balladares y vinculado a la familia Araúz de Chiriquí, pasando por el escándalo del colombiano David Murcia, que involucró a Roberto “Boby” Velásquez y Balbina Herrera y las pugnas entre el mismo Boby Velásquez con amenazas de todo tipo contra su rival y copartidario José Luis Fábrega en las elecciones pasadas. Varias figuras del PRD o familiares suyos han sido sorprendidos con vehículos con drogas.

Hay hechos más recientes como son los 420 millones entregados por el PAN a diputados en la administración de Martinelli, que involucra a todos los partidos tradicionales, y las botellas, contratos falsos y los cheques por miles de dólares que se le hacían cobrar a supuestos beneficiaros, ciudadanos muy humildes, a quienes entregaban cincuenta o cien dólares y se quedaban con el resto, bajo la presidencia de la Asamblea de Rubén de León del PRD, cuando el Pacto de Gobernabilidad con el oficialismo. Se denunció que estos fondos ayudaron a financiar la campaña de Pedro Miguel González en las elecciones internas del PRD, hecho reconocido en declaraciones públicas por Popi Varela y el propio Juan Carlos Varela en grabación que se hizo circular. Pero, ¿habrá habido también dinero de “El Gallero”? Súmele a eso los dineros entregados por Transcaribe Trading de David Ochy. ¡Qué historia de este PRD!

Los indultos de Martinelli y el CD

Comprobando que para la mafia las diferencias políticas no son algo de importancia, como tampoco lo son para el conjunto de la clase dominante, ese “Árbol Genealógico de la Corrupción” que controla las cúpulas de los partidos tradicionales, a días de abandonar la presidencia, el 26 de junio de 2014, Ricardo Martinelli hizo un “regalo” a un grupo de personas con causas pendientes con la justicia.

Entre los beneficiarios de este gesto del presidente saliente estaban personajes implicados en casos de narcotráficos, entre ellos nada menos que Manuel Antonio Domínguez (Tony) y el colombiano Héctor Rojas que ya hemos mencionado.

La diputada Zulay Rodríguez denunció la liberación de Héctor Rojas y ambos se acusaron mutuamente de amenazas. Previamente Martinelli, como parte del caso de los pinchazos, hizo circular una comprometedora e incómoda grabación de la diputada días previos de las elecciones donde daba a conocer sus vínculos con “El Enano” Rojas.

El 26 de febrero del año pasado, “El Enano”, Héctor Rojas, recibió seis disparos de bala en un restaurante de San Francisco. Se arrastró hacia su automóvil, logró conducirlo, atropelló a dos personas y chocó contra varios vehículos hacia la sub estación de policía de San Francisco, de donde fue trasladado al Hospital Santo Tomás, lugar de su fallecimiento. Otro caso sin resolver.

Los fallos corruptos de la Corte

En otro ámbito, Tony Domínguez, también fue beneficiado el 30 de noviembre de 2015 por un fallo de la Sala Penal de la Corte, de los magistrados Jerónimo Mejía, Harry Díaz y Ayú Prado, en un caso de casación junto a su esposa Katherine Cuesta Melara de Domínguez y Salvador Jiménez que enfrentaban los cargos de blanqueo de capitales.

Dicha sala se ha visto implicado en fallos sorprendentes como la liberación del peligroso criminal “Juana” Peña, asesino del obrero y dirigente del SUNTRACS, Osvaldo Lorenzo.

Recientemente, y como muestra de la gran corrupción del Órgano Judicial, se logró desmantelar una red que se dedicaba al cobro por fechas de audiencia, manipulación de jurados de conciencia, concesión de fianzas y medidas cautelares, estancamiento de los expedientes y archivo de los casos. Participaba un oficial mayor del Segundo Tribunal Superior.

Solo entre los meses de enero a noviembre de 2015, las fiscalías de homicidio participaron en 101 juicios de los cuales 133 acusados fueron absueltos y solo hubo tres condenados, es decir, solo el 2%.

En todo caso llama la atención que no hayan figuras de gran relieve implicadas como magistrados y otros altos funcionarios, en momentos en que crecen fuertes rumores de que por fallos recientes de casos de corrupción, magistrados han cobrado fuertes sumas de dinero. Y hay que recordar la confesión pública del magistrado Harry Díaz, “Nosotros nos dedicamos a archivar expedientes y vender fallos”.

Siendo así, la pregunta que con toda justificación se hacen muchos es, ¿cuánto pagó Tony Domínguez por la fianza de excarcelación, el indulto y el fallo absolutorio de los magistrados? ¿Qué “tecnicismos” lo ayudaron? ¿O era tan inocente este personaje que cómo es posible que hoy esté tras las rejas por otro caso de narcotráfico? ¿O volverá a quedar libre?

La Gallera está encendida

Volviendo al caso de Tony Domínguez, se quiere presentar a un Alcalde y sub secretario general del PRD sumamente ingenuo, por no usar otra palabra. El no sabía en qué andaba, ni en las actividades irregulares de la gallera “Jardín Don Beto”, que quién le daba dinero en efectivo estaba implicado en tantas andanzas con el narcotráfico, ni de las ostentaciones que hacía en un pequeño pueblo como Los Santos donde manejaba nada menos que un Lamborghini.

Pero se han filtrado en los medios que existen tres grabaciones de las investigaciones realizadas desde octubre de 2016 del Ministerio Público dirigidas por la DEA, como una afrenta ya muy común a nuestra soberanía. En ellas “Pany” Rodríguez, a cambio de permisos para la gallera, acepta un pago de 15 mil balboas en efectivo. En otro, se habla de otro monto y en una tercera grabación de un apoyo económico para su campaña electoral de 2019. Esto es lo mismo que hacía Odebrecht, independientemente de los montos.

En su defensa han salido los miembros del CEN del PRD y otras figuras como el ex Director de la Policía y asesino de obreros, Rolando Mirones, quien tenía vallas publicitarias en Los Satos junto a otros copartidarios. Convendría averiguar quién pagó esas vallas que violaban y violan el Código Electoral.

Otro caso es el de Roxana Norato, ligada ahora sentimentalmente a Tony Domínguez, y quién hacía ostentación por las redes sociales de autos caros como Lexus, Jaguar y Mercedes Benz, reloj Rolex y otros artículos lujosos.

Norato se dice abogada independiente y trabajó en la Defensoría del Pueblo del 2006 al 2012 como Oficial de Derechos Humanos de los Privados de Libertad, cuando conoció al Gallero Tony Domínguez que estaba detenido. Luego pasó a trabajar en Administración de Construcciones Civiles (ACC) Corp. y aquí nos detendremos un poco.

Resulta que ACC fue una de las empresas preferidas por el PAN en el Gobierno de Martinelli. Recibieron millones en contrataciones directas. Hablamos de 42 proyectos de rehabilitación de caminos por 19 millones de dólares. En muchos no cumplió. Por cada kilómetro de camino rehabilitado esta empresa cobró al PAN 62 mil dólares mientras que el MIDA pagaba 45 mil.

El Presidente de ACC es o era Juan Gante Becerra, un chiricano de 37 años, 32 en el momento de esos contratos de 2012, cuando Norato abandona la Defensoría del Pueblo.

En ese entonces Giacomo Tamburelli era el Director del PAN y llamó la atención un proyecto de camino en Las Tablas de asfalto donde el tramo inicial de 1.9 kilómetros no vivía nadie, solo habían fincas ganaderas, entre ellas la del suegro de Tamburelli, Sergio Amaya Cedeño, padre de María Cristela Amaya de Tamburelli. Nos recuerda la carretera que en La Chorrera se mandaron a construir hacia sus fincas con fondos del FIS (después PAN) el ex magistrado Winston Spadafora y el ex Contralor Alvin Wedeen, que tanto aparece hoy en las televisoras hablando de corrupción, otro “Nananina”.

Los galleros y los panameñistas

Otro hecho que llama la atención es la relación con los panameñistas de Luis Alberto Chávez Chen, hermano de Alberto Luis Chávez Chen (Beto), arrestado por el caso de los Galleros y ambos directivos y propietarios de la Gallera “Jardín Don Beto”.

Luis Alberto Chávez trabajaba supuestamente como asesor legal del Despacho Superior del Ministro Alcibiades Vásquez Velásquez del MIDES, con un salario mensual de tres mil balboas.

Otro panameñista es José María Coloma, quien se dice cercano a Popi Varela y que aparece en una fotografía dentro de un auto con los hermanos Chávez Chen de la Gallera “Jardín Don Beto”, mientras uno de ellos (Beto), el segundo de la banda de Tony Domínguez, mostraba un fajo de billetes cuando estaba en el volante.

José María Coloma fue candidato a convencional por el Partido Panameñista por Parque Lefevre, y también está nombrado en el Mides como Coordinador de Proyectos en Los Santos con 2,800 dólares mensuales. Representa, al igual que Luis Alberto Chávez, varias empresas con contratos en el Gobierno.

Ningún partido tradicional se salva de la narcopolítica

Tanto el represor y violador de derechos humanos, José Raúl Mulino, cuando fue ministro de Seguridad, quizás presionado por la DEA, como el propio Juan Carlos Varela, han advertido de la penetración de los narcos en los partidos políticos. Es hora que se sepan los nombres y los casos.

Lo cierto es que hoy se comprueba hasta dónde los tentáculos del narcotráfico penetran los partidos políticos, los estamentos de seguridad, las estructuras del Estado y el sistema de justicia. Tanto es así que el cabecilla de la banda, Tony Domínguez, recibió un homenaje de la Junta de Carnaval de Los Santos por sus “contribuciones” y se dice que la esposa del mismo Fiscal Superior Antidrogas, Markel Mora, recibió diez mil dólares como Presidenta de la Junta de Carnaval de Los Santos, en momentos en que las investigaciones llevaban más de tres meses de haberse iniciado, por lo menos.

Existe una sensación de descontento en el pueblo por las medidas cautelares otorgadas de casa por cárcel que anuncian que, como en otros casos, nada va a pasar, pese al estruendo. Y eso es grave.

Ante ello insistimos. La institucionalidad y la justicia en Panamá están podridas. Urge una Asamblea Constituyente Originaria contra la Corrupción.

Vamos todos a la Marcha del Pueblo Honesto y Trabador este jueves 5 de octubre, 4:00 pm, Parque Porras.

 

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Upstairs from Martinelli’s collapsing empire

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take 1
Looking out from the food court upstairs from Coronado’s Super 99 late on a Sunday morning.

Crumbling empire

photos by Eric Jackson

Yes, Panamanian corporate secrecy, the intricacies of partnerships, joint ventures and the like, transfers by a now jailed criminal to thwart any current or would-be creditors or distributions of assets among family and friends for less nefarious purposes make it hard to really know about ownership. But the shopping center of which Coronado’s Super 99 is the anchor is widely associated with Ricardo Martinelli and regardless of the extent to which that may be true, a lot of people see it as his and arrange their business accordingly. Mostly such arrangements are to avoid doing business. The phenomenon first became strikingly visible on the ride up the Pan-American Highway to Coronado right after the defeat of Martinelli’s 2014 election campaign for another term by proxy. One of the ways that he had rigged the 2014 election was that companies he controlled acquired a dominant position in outdoor advertising and people refused to deal with those companies. Thus when the Cambio Democratico campaign messages came down, many of the billboards advertised nothing much more than “for rent.” Many people had begun staying away from Super 99 supermarkets for purely political reasons during the Martinelli presidency and tales of how the business had been shifted to other family members did nothing much to bring those customers back. The organized boycott with picketers never really took off, but without those reminders people made their choices.

And what about the upstairs in Coronado? It never did fill up, and most of the businesses that set up there — generally small enterprises or franchises, people not of the Martinelli family — didn’t last. Would you want your kids to play at Martinelli’s place? The playground was a bust too. Now it’s all but a ghost town.

There are surely other factors. All of the empty stores from Cerro Campana out to Penonome — including some entirely empty shopping strips — speak of an overbuilding. Don’t automatically cry for anyone, because some of that senseless construction surely has been a smashing money laundering success even as it has been a commercial dud. So it might just be that the food court upstairs from Coronado’s Super 99 was just a bad bet, or perhaps even a bet that will pay off sometime in the future.

 

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Does the Gallero case open the way for the Panameñistas to repeat?

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da goods
Prosecution trophy pics: the alleged contraband.
da rides
Prosecution trophy pics: some of the wheels.

PRD, Martinelli, police and high court touched by Los Santos racketeering busts

by Eric Jackson

After a year of investigations that included widespread wiretapping and the infiltration of undercover agents, on September 24 police and prosecutors made their move. Eleven people were arrested, most prominently La Villa de Los Santos Mayor Eudocio “Pany” Pérez. Also arrested were a National Police major, a low-ranking police agent and the mayor’s top aide. On the “private side” of those arrested were a man whom authorities had seen before, cockfighting establishment (gallero) owner and alleged ringleader Manuel Antonio “Tony” Domínguez Walker, his father and stepfather, a 70-year-old retiree on a $660 a month pension who was the front man for a fabulous fleet of cars, and a well-connected 32-year-old lawyer and construction equipment rental company owner said to have been the group’s logistics mastermind.

The allegation is that Tony Domínguez’s cockfighting business, which also during Carnival times staged various events and spectacles in partnership with some of the other defendants and sometimes in association with noteworthy entertainers and athletes, was a drug running front. The apparent bigger part of it was a leg of a Colombia to North America drug smuggling route wherein drugs would come ashore on the beaches of Los Santos and be moved overland to Costa Rica and handed off to other organizations to be on their way. It appears that when drug routes shifted away from Panama the gang was into other ventures that include more retail racketeering. Seized in the raids were 2.1 tons of drugs — mainly cocaine and marijuana — more than $800,000 in cash, two submachine guns and a fleet of 18 vehicles, four of them with hidden compartments for smuggling, some of them quite expensive.

Prosecutors’ allegations are perhaps best read between the lines with an eye to things seemingly sensationalized and other data apparently downplayed or ignored but reported in other sources. These are not international cartel kingpins.

Damning for Pany, if the statements are not fabricated, are Tony’s stated ambitions to promote the mayor’s political fortunes. Pany Pérez is a member of the Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD) National Executive Committee, serving as first undersecretary under the acknowledged party leader, legislator and secretary general Pedro Miguel González. González and another PRD notable, former labor minister Mitchell Doens, attended the mayor’s bail hearings. Pérez got house arrest rather than preventive detention from Judge Josefa Monfante, which prosecutors say they will appeal.

There are or will be denials all the way around, but Tony Domínguez was previously known to the justice system and some of those ties could harm the PRD, Ricardo Martinelli’s Cambio Democratico party and two magistrates of the Supreme Court. There are unlikely to be any legal consequences for the ties, but public perceptions and political fallout are other calculations. In 2010 Domínguez was arrested on money laundering charges along with two Colombian alleged drug traffickers. Zulay Rodríguez, now a legislator and head of the PRD women’s branch, is by many accounts the front runner for the 2019 PRD presidential nomination. Back then she was an alternate judge and she got the case of Tony Domínguez and the two Colombians. She granted bail to the three suspects, although at the time the law prohibited bail in drug cases. The Colombians disappeared but Domínguez stuck around long enough to have his bail revoked and be sent back to jail. Zulay Rodríguez was removed from the bench — some accounts, never confirmed, said at the urging of the American Embassy — and haled before prosecutors for questioning. However, she was never charged with any crime.

On his way out of office in the middle of 2014 Ricardo Martinelli pardoned Domínguez, who had not been tried and convicted. That’s one of the arguably illegal pardons for which Martinelli has been charged with a crime. The pardons were revoked but in any case the courts threw out the charges against Domínguez, in the final instance by a decision signed by the Supreme Court’s current presiding magistrate José Ayú Prado, his rival and fellow Martinelli appointee on the court Harry Díaz and soon-to-retire magistrate Jerónimo Mejía, a Martín Torrijos appointee.

National Police Major Luis Omar Alvarez Martínez was in the third rung of the police command structure, working in the force’s Panama Canal division. It would be a key position that smugglers would want to have under their control. He was ordered separated from the force and held in jail pending trial of this case. A 24-year-old police agent was also ordered held without bail, notwithstanding his lawyer’s argument that the evidence does not support the drug smuggling charge against him. According to defense counsel, all that is alleged is that her client buried a shipment of drugs that came ashore, pending its exhumation and further land transport. Burying the drugs, the argument went, does not equal the transporting of them needed to make out a smuggling charge. Desperate arguments like that aside, the police involvement was likely greater than so far revealed, with a National Police spokesperson saying that more officers are involved and will be arrested. So far nothing has been made public about further arrests of law enforcement people.

Another set of government ties that raises more questions than are now answered or even posed centers around Roxana Lisbeth Norato Samaniego. From 2005 until 2012 she worked in the human rights department of the national ombudsman’s office (Defensoria del Pueblo). The ties her subsequent construction equipment rental business may have had as a subcontractor for public works projects remains to be explored. In the private economy upscale construction projects often have many money laundering ties even if police and prosecutor hardly ever look into them. In any case the Public Ministry accuses Norato of being the logistics mastermind of the ring’s smuggling operations, but the judge gave her house arrest rather than preventive detention. Prosecutors are appealing that decision.

Perhaps if questions of which defendants did business with whom and when are pursued the circle of those implicated could get much wider. But at the moment the Operacion Gallero affair touches two of the country’s three major parties — the PRD and CD — while it does not implicate President Varela’s Panameñista Party. Hence allegations of a partisan set-up.

So does this embarrassment of the PRD, and to a lesser extent the already severely discredited Cambio Democratico, open the way for the Panameñistas to retain the presidency in 2019? Although there is time for things to change, and although Varela’s personal approval rating is up slightly — to about 37 percent according to Dichter & Neira — both history and polls suggest that there is little chance of any break with the post-invasion practice of voting the party holding the presidency out of that office. But if not the Panameñistas, and not the PRD, and not CD, then what? Look for major party candidates to cast themselves as outsiders. Perhaps an independent will come from out of the blue into serious contention. Maybe some event will alter all calculations. But even if all accusations are proven to be true, Operacion Gallero is unlikely to deliver a new Panameñista president in 2019.

 

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Breaking: Martinelli may be back in Panama and in custody at any moment

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IL Duce
Photo that Martinelli had taken of himself when he was president.

Ricardo Martinelli’s habeas corpus plea turned down by the US Supreme Court

by Eric Jackson, from online reports

In a summary opinion issued by Justice Clarence Thomas, the US Supreme Court has rejected former Panamanian President Ricardo Martinelli’s habeas corpus petition against the extradition that has been ordered by Federal Magistrate Edwin G. Torres. The high court took up the matter on September 25, and as it must have appeared to Martinelli’s lawyers that they would lose, they filed a new habeas corpus motion with the US District Court in Miami on September 28.

The unanimous Supreme Court decision was announced on October 2. Like a great many last minute death penalty appeals in the face of an execution date, Martinelli’s new motion — based on a specious argument that US magistrates have no jurisdiction in extradition cases — could be rejected all the way up the US judicial system within a matter of hours or days. Earlier Justice Thomas had rejected Martinelli’s appeal of a decision denying him bail.

Perhaps courts in the United States will humor the man, but endless frivolous motions are not looked upon benevolently as part of the practice of law in the United States as is generally the case in Panama. Motions interposed for the purpose of delay are considered breaches of legal ethics there, although serious penalties are rarely imposed for that. So although Martinelli may have more days in the USA, he might not. Look for him to be led off of a plane at a Panamanian airport in handcuffs at any moment.

Once in Panama Martinelli would face trial by the Supreme Court, which is still dominated by his appointees. The underlying charge in this case is about the electronic surveillance of some 150 people, and secondarily of all the persons caught in conversations — emails, phone calls, sounds picked up when computers or smart phones were remotely turned into bugging devices — with the targets of the former president’s curiosity. There are a number of other criminal charges pending against Martinelli, other complaints which the high court here has not decided whether to accept or reject, and potential new charges as well. The former president and other accused members of his entourage are trying to defeat prosecutors by endless delays that run the cases past statute of limitations deadlines.

 

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Unidos en la conservación del Pacífico Tropical Oriental

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Panamá y Colombia unidos en la conservación del Pacífico Tropical Oriental

por Sonia Tejada — STRI

En el año 2015, el Gobierno de la República de Panamá en colaboración científica con el Instituto Smithsonian de Investigaciones Tropicales (STRI), oficializó la creación de dos áreas marinas protegidas – Bajo Volcán en el Caribe y Cordillera de Coiba en el Pacífico – incrementando el patrimonio acuático protegido en nuestro país de 3.7% a 13.5%. Las dos nuevas áreas marinas protegidas se extendieron hasta el límite de las zonas económicas. El 14 de septiembre, este país vecino formalizó la ampliación del Santuario de Flora y Fauna de Malpelo y además creó el Distrito Nacional de Manejo Integrado Yuruparí-Malpelo. Gracias a la estrecha cooperación entre Fundación Malpelo de Colombia, uno de los impulsores de la iniciativa en Colombia, y científicos de STRI estas tres áreas ahora cubren a una superficie aproximada de 70,822.41 km² (7,082,241 hectáreas).

Este logro es de suma relevancia porque promueve trabajar regionalmente en un fin común: mejorar el manejo y protección de recursos marinos de alta conectividad biológica que no reconocen límites políticos. El nuevo corredor de montañas submarinas, enmarcadas por las áreas marinas protegidas de Cordillera de Coiba, el Santuario de Fauna y Flora Malpelo y del Distrito Nacional de Manejo Integrado (DNMI) Yuruparí-Malpelo, mejora la conectividad con el Parque Nacional Coiba, ubicado cerca del continente. Tanto el Santuario de Fauna y Flora Malpelo como el Parque Nacional Coiba son reconocidos como Sitios de Patrimonio Mundial por la UNESCO. En general, se logró proteger un área geográfica importante para favorecer la conservación de un gran número de especies altamente migratorias como tiburones, ballenas, delfines, picudos, incluidas especies de importancia comercial, como los atunes. De igual forma, protege la alta diversidad de especies de organismos asociados al fondo y la productividad característica de las montañas submarinas.

En rueda de prensa el presidente de Colombia, Juan Manuel Santos, declaró: “La ampliación de Malpelo se complementa con el Área Marítima Protegida de la Cordillera de Coiba, en Panamá. Se unieron esfuerzos para consolidar un área marina binacional y así poder garantizar la conectividad de los sistemas.”

“Ya los científicos de ambos países estamos planeando expediciones para estudiar la productividad del área de forma integral, la biodiversidad de aguas profundas y pelágicas, al igual que el magnetismo a lo largo de estas cordilleras” informó el Dr. Hector Guzmán, biólogo marino de STRI. Esto presenta un nuevo reto en el manejo pesquero binacional debido a que en la Cordillera de Coiba y el DNMI se permite la pesca regulada. Resaltó también que este corredor de montañas y cordilleras submarinas en aguas abiertas establece biológica y geológicamente y de forma oficial la primera Migravía binacional del Océano Pacifico Oriental, idea impulsada por científicos de la región pertenecientes a la Red MigraMar.

 

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Editorials, Guns here and there; and Panama’s character

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Dingbats
General Noriega’s Dignity Battalions (CODEPADI) militia, a lot of whom were government workers, some of whom were thugs (and some, both). Automatic weapons were distributed in great numbers to these folks before the 1989 US invasion. When the attack began some fought bravely and well, but overall they did not amount to a significant military force. After the invasion many of their weapons were used in a great national crime wave and that experience informs Panamanian attitudes about guns.

Can we get down to reality about guns?

Gun LAWS, and gun POLICIES — those are complicated things about which to argue in the USA. They are much less complicated in Panama.

Would someone want to impose Panamanian gun restrictions on US society? To be fully enforced it would involve removing weapons from tens of millions of households, and a head-on challenge to a long-standing body of law.

We had a vice minister who started was US gun seller advertising talk in Panama, a man who said that more and more powerful weapons in public circulation here would make the country and its citizens safer. He found a little bit of libertarian support, but to most Panamanians he seemed to be something of a nut case, his ideas about our gun policies were rejected and when he was removed there were no demonstrations in his favor.

Let’s get down to basic facts, after which we can marshall other facts and invoke philosophies for arguments that can go all sorts of ways

A firearm in the house does not make the members of the household safer. It makes it a more dangerous living situation. This is statistically shown in many countries, in settings both urban and rural, in high crime areas and in places without much of that sort of social problem.

The notion that if everyone can carry a gun then crime is reduced because a criminal gunman will be shot down by a non-criminal gunman is false. Sometimes it happens that way, but quite rarely. In Las Vegas, where the gun lobby has managed to get Nevada gun laws pretty much as it wants them to be, most of the 30,000 people at that concert had a right to carry a gun and surely some of them did. Nobody in that crowd shot back at the sniper. That’s in line with the experience of almost all mass shootings everywhere.

Do people involved in dangerous businesses need guns for protection? Many are the tales of armed gangsters shot dead. The safe thing is to stay away from the rackets, not to go about an armed life of crime.

Take the “for protection” argument out of consideration. It’s a delusion.

Beyond those basic facts we can freely debate whether Jesus Christ would want a senator who waves a pistol onstage at his campaign stops, or whether the Las Vegas sniper’s right to ear protection by silencers on his weapons should have been superior to his targets’ ability to hear what was going on and seek cover.

Set all that lunacy aside and still many jurisdictions, Panama included, might argue about the value of firearms hunting seasons. Panamanians in particular might want to talk about a constitution that calls for a militia commanded by the police in lieu of a military force, and what that implies about ordinary citizens’ ability to use and maintain weapons. Gun laws, and gun policies, actually are complicated questions.

But let us consider such questions without fallacies that are propagated for the purpose of selling guns.

 

Is it about the books that we consider holy?

Panama, a small country of modest wealth, has sent assistance to our Mexican and Caribbean neighbors in distress because of natural disasters.

Is it because we are a Christian country? Nominally, we are mostly Catholic, with many Evangelicals, thriving Jewish, Muslim and Hindu communities, denominations of still more faiths, and a large and undercounted group of non-religious individuals and families. It’s noteworthy that the private business most often mentioned in stories of Panama’s relief efforts is mostly Jewish-owned.

Panama is The Crossroads of The World, with many sorts of influences. If there is something universal about ordinary human decency, we are affected by it. And so we answer the call to help neighbors in distress. We are not divided by faith or philosophy when it comes to this part of our national character. This is who Panamanians are.

 

Bear in mind…

 

It is better to know some of the questions than all of the answers.
James Thurber

 

The reason the Christians have murdered on such a vast scale and killed anyone and everyone in their way is purely and simply greed.
Bartolomé de las Casas

 

Better remain silent, better not even think, if you are not prepared to act.
Annie Besant

 

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Legislative stall and hide

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ACP trophy pic
Trophy photo with a character missing: showing off the Panama Canal Authority budget that was finally passed, with the president of the National Assembly, Yanibel Ábrego, not in the picture. Beset by multiple scandals, she’s keeping a low profile. She did, however, find the time for a photo of herself cutting the ribbon for a new legislative cafeteria. Photo by the Asamblea Nacional.

Now into the last month of a National Assembly session, legislators stall

by Eric Jackson

Hey, they took a field trip to the farmers’ market down the street, cut the ribbon on a new cafeteria for themselves, sponsored a sparsely attended seminar on social responsibility, mostly ignored a suplente’s plea for a low carbon emissions policy and let the students take over their chambers for a day. They even endorsed a walk-a-thon against breast and prostate cancer. What more could you ask of a busy legislature?

The National Assembly, like the other branches of government, is mired in scandal. Most prominent of all, but by no means the greater part of it there is the matter of Odebrecht. This company gave at least $20,000 to the president of the National Assembly, Yanibel Ábrego. Neither she nor her colleagues raised any questions about the billions of dollars of overpriced public works contracts that went that Brazilian-based company’s way, generally via no-bid or rigged-bid procedures. Yanibel’s not available to talk about that.

Last March, a legislative subcommittee was appointed to look into what might be done to reduce government corruption. The head of that subcommittee, PRD deputy Elias Castillo, is fingered by a jailed executive of road contractor Transcaribe Trading SA as having taken $10,000 from that company. Castillo had his suplente answer the questions about that — it was a “donation,” so the plea went, so that makes it OK.

In August Panameñista deputy Jorge Alberto Rosas was obliged to resign as head of the legislature’s Credentials Committee, which would hear bribery cases against a Supreme Court magistrate, the president or a member of the president’s cabinet, when a both a former Odebrecht lawyer turned state’s evidence (in Spain) and someone who was a lawyer in Rosas’s firm revealed that Rosas received more than $3 million for setting up companies and bank accounts for the rogue Brazilian company’s international bribery and money laundering operations. At the end of September Rosa spoke to La Estrella about the case. It wasn’t as if those millions of dollars in Odebrecht money went into his pocket, Rosas pleaded. It was being moved through him from one Odebrecht account to another. That’s awfully close to an admission of money laundering to avoid a perception of bribery, and we are expected to believe that he did this without compensation or further understandings for a corporate client.

(What’s this about a legislator moonlighting as a lawyer? Isn’t there a rule against legislators running private businesses on the side while serving in the National Assembly? Yes there is, but the deputies voted to exempt the attorneys in their midst from that rule.)

The litany could continue to touch almost every member of the legislature. But fear not! There are a half-dozen proposed anti-corruption laws in the hopper. Plus, President Varela has promised to send five more such to the National Assembly.

However, this is October and at the end of this month the legislative session ends. All things unpassed die, although they might be raised again in another session. With most of the bills offered by individual deputies such a death appears to be the intention. As in, politicians who took from Odebrecht or TCT, or who helped themselves to public assets, or who put their kids on the government payroll or their names on public property will say that they TRIED to uphold the rule of law but it got lost in the shuffle. Varela’s proposals have yet to be seen and his campaign took millions from Odebrecht. It seems unlikely that he’ll want to put himself front an center in any real anti-corruption debate. Thus it’s a good bet that neither whatever the president had in mind, nor the legislator-proposed protections for government-employed whistleblowers, requirements for public employees to disclose their sources of income from the years prior to their going on the public payroll, review of the legislature’s own contracts, rewards for witnesses who come forward with information that leads to convictions for public corruption and so on will go anywhere before the month runs out everything turns into pumpkins. In any case, no committee hearings have been scheduled for any of the legislators’ anti-corruption proposals.

There is, however, one proposal before the legislature by petition, an amendment to the Code of Criminal Procedure that would abolish the statute of limitations for public corruption crimes. Jorge Alberto Rosas was on the subcommittee to deal with that one. First he proposed to dismiss the petition because only legislators or the other branches of government should propose new laws. Then he suggested a substitute that would delay and gut the proposal. Then, under harsh public criticism, he resigned from the subcommittee.

Will the legislature find a way to deep-six the proposal? If they do that, rather than pass it in watered down form, they run the risk of provoking an unprecedented petition drive that puts a law on the ballot for a referendum. The list of signers of such a thing would be something that every politician running on a reform platform would crave. The end run around the current political scheme that’s dominated by party bosses would not be something that the political caste wants to see. So there is a chance that some change to the statute of limitations for public corruption crimes will be debated and passed by the legislature this month.

 

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