What Democrats are saying
Some smaller parties like the Alianza and FAD are into their candidate selection processes and one of the nation’s historic major parties, the Panameñistas, have their primary in a week’s time. Initial primary election returns and commentary based upon them made it seem that everything is set to go on as it has been, that the movement to reject all incumbents is stillborn. A second look at the primaries so far tells a more complicated picture.
The indigenous vote in the PRD
The tradition for many years has been the indigenous voters are the big swing element in Panamanian political life. But look at what happened in the comarcas in the PRD primary. In the Ngabe-Bugle Comarca it was apparent on election night that incumbent legislator Crescencia Prado had been defeated by a relatively small margin in a relatively high turnout. It was also initially reported that in Guna Yala incumbent deputy Aibán Velarde was trailing. That latter was quite the understatement. The guy came in dead last in a crowded field, with only 35 votes (7%).
The comarca is not included in Chiriqui’s circuit 4-2, encompassing the district of Baru. In that province, however, there are plenty of indigenous voters who live outside of the comarca. Were they a factor in PRD primary, wherein party members ousted incumbent Carlos Motta? That race was decided by a narrow margin and not definitively reported on primary night. Anything that may have been a factor probably was.
Martinelli’s people in CD
Primary night news from Cambio Democratico concentrated on Sergio Gálvez winning the party nomination to seek another term in the legislature. He was the top primary vote-getter, with 3,930 votes in circuit 8-7. Next door in circuit 8-8 the only CD incumbent in that multi-member constituency is Fernando Carrillo and he was given a bye for an automatic nomination. That saved a contest with jailed ex-president Ricardo Martinelli, who got the most votes there, 2,548 votos of the 5,870 who showed up for the primary.
Gálvez is a likely general election winner as far as we can see right now, barring further scandals. It is not at all clear whether Martinelli would muster the votes to get a seat in the legislature, and moreover he may well be barred from holding public office in the event of a criminal conviction.
Martinelli’s spokesman, Luis Eduardo Camacho, came in third for three spots on the ballot in play in San Miguelito, with 1,161 votes. Much might change but it looks far short of the base needed to propel him into the National Assembly.
Recycles, retreads and dynasts
The big reject of the Cambio Democratico primary was legislator Marilyn Vallarino’s bid to be nominated for mayor of Arraijan. She gets a bye for legislator so will be on the ballot for that, but lost the mayoral primary to a newcomer, attorney Belkis Saavedra. Vallarino, sister of former vice president Arturo Vallarino and aunt of jailed former Panama City mayor Bosco Vallarino, may not get to hold any public office. That’s because the comptroller general has lodged a complaint with the Supreme Court about her paying her private company employees out of the legislature’s budget. That she doesn’t deny, but she maintains that it’s improper because it’s her company. A previous mayor of Arraijan is in prison for doing much the same, putting private company employees on the city budget.
In Arraijan, Ricardo Valencia Arias, once the youngest legislator, is back for a try to get back in the Assembly. In 2014, with notoriety for going around Arraijan with his friends and beating up queers, the voters threw him out. He got 1,800 votes to win one of two spots up for grabs but it seems thain the multi-member Arraijan circuit he will not get his old job back if the courts to not bar Marilyn Vallarino from running. Valencia’s return would restore a seat in the legislature as family property, given that his mother Argentina Arias used to hold a seat from there.
In Colon’s urban circuit the PRD incumbent deputy Maria Del Carmen Delgado Blandón (Chelita) came in fourth, which could get her on the general election ballot but it is expected that the nomination for that spot may be given to a smaller party if an alliance can be made. On the CD side we see old name Leopoldo Benedetti winning one of that party’s spots but scant chances of a Martinelista winning a seat from that city.
In La Chorrera in and out of jail former Martinelli minister Federico Suárez got eliminated from consideration for the legislature by Yuzaida Marín.
Cambio Democratico gave most of their deputies free passes around the primaries, allowing them to conserve resources. But some rejected that in favor of an extra season of campaigning.
Same old, same old? Something seems to be shifting beneath the surface, and the May elections are a long time from now.
El pasado 2 de octubre se celebró la firma de un acuerdo de colaboración entre el Instituto Smithsonian de Investigaciones Tropicales (STRI) y el Patronato Panama Viejo. Estuvieron presentes el Sr. Ernesto Boyd, Presidente y Representante Legal del Patronato Panamá Viejo y la Sra. Julieta de Arango, Directora del Patronato Panamá Viejo junto con el Dr. Larsen, director de STRI y Linette Dutari, Directora Asociada de STRI.
El objetivo de este acuerdo es la colaboración en temas en común, con el fin de desarrollar una relación de intercambio de conocimientos, experiencias y recursos con miras a mejorar la protección, conservación y manejo científico de los recursos naturales y culturales dentro del Conjunto Monumental de Panamá Viejo, además del desarrollo de programas de investigación científica conjuntos, actividades de intercambio y cooperación en el campo de la formación de recursos humanos, investigación y extensión.
El Patronato Panamá Viejo es una organización sin fines de lucro y de régimen mixto encargada de la conservación, protección y puesta en valor del Sitio Arqueológico e Histórico de Panamá Viejo, declarado Patrimonio Mundial de la Unesco. Estamos conformados por el Club Kiwanis de Panamá -que lo preside-, el Instituto Nacional de Cultura, la Autoridad de Turismo de Panamá, Banistmo y la Fundación RILEMO. Puedes visitarnos en www.panamaviejo.org
El Instituto Smithsonian de Investigaciones Tropicales, en ciudad de Panamá, Panamá, es una unidad de la Institución Smithsonian. El Instituto promueve la comprensión de la naturaleza tropical y su importancia para el bienestar de la humanidad, capacita estudiantes para llevar a cabo investigaciones en los trópicos, y fomenta la conservación mediante la concienciación pública sobre la belleza e importancia de los ecosistemas tropicales.
There are so many allergies, so this reporter’s reaction may not be yours. Back in Michigan, ragweed and goldenrod were the nemeses. Those are not factors here. But elephant grass is.
It’s one of great environmental disasters of isthmian history. In the 50s the stuff was imported to shore up the banks of the Panama Canal’s Culebra Cut. It became a much more widespread invasive weed. It doomed slash-and-burn agriculture, where the old practice was to abandon a patch of soil that was exhausted to the jungle — but not this stuff rather than trees fills the space. Nothing will eat it. Not even, in its native Asia, elephants.
And when it’s in bloom, the pollen brings tears to this reporter’s eyes. Even when on an air conditioned bus driving past it.
Photos © Kermit Nourse
click here for the entire gallery at higher resolution
This project called “Street 2010-2013” represents a period of my photography that I did either for my own publications or for The Panama News. At that time the language of my photography was black and white. Please understand that I never clicked the shutter button without respect or empathy for those I photographed.
Este proyecto, llamado “Street 2010-2013” representa un periodo de mi fotografía que hice para mis propias publicaciones o The Panama News. En ese momento el idioma de mi fotografía era en blanco y negro. Por favor, comprenda que nunca he pulsado el botón del obturador sin respeto ni empatía por aquellos que fotografié.
While Americans were transfixed by Senate hearings over Brett Kavanaugh’s alleged sexual assaults, House Republicans quietly passed another enormous tax handout for the wealthiest Americans.
Round one of this giveaway cost $2 trillion. Round two is even bigger — it would explode the deficit by more than $3 trillion. And once again, it’s largely a giveaway to the wealthiest Americans — and could mean devastating service cuts for ordinary people.
President Trump claimed the first tax plan would be “rocket fuel” for the economy, but there’s no evidence it’s done anything to improve the economic wellbeing of working families.
The centerpiece of the first plan was a massive tax cut for corporations. The corporate tax rate was reduced by 40 percent, plus a $400 billion tax break for multinational corporations on their trillions in accumulated offshore profits.
So it’s not surprising corporate profits leaped by over 16 percent in the second quarter of this year compared to the same three months last year — the best showing in six years. Meanwhile corporate tax payments are on schedule to come in $120 billion lower than in 2017.
But corporations aren’t sharing their winnings.
Trump guaranteed working families a $4,000 raise if corporate taxes were cut. Yet average real wages have been stagnant for the past year. Only 4 percent of American workers have gotten any kind of payout related to the corporate tax cuts, and most of those have been one-time bonuses, not permanent raises.
There’s no sign tax cuts have spurred hiring. Job growth under President Trump is merely a continuation of six years of job growth under President Obama — and Obama created more jobs in his last 19 months than Trump has in his first 19 months.
Cutting business taxes was supposed to cause an explosion of investment. Yet business investment has increased at a slower rate this year than at several periods during the Obama recovery.
Instead of investing in workers or equipment, companies are mostly buying back their own stock, a maneuver that artificially inflates the share price and rewards CEOs and wealthy investors. Corporations have announced $733 billion worth of stock buybacks since the Trump-GOP tax law was enacted — 103 times more than the $7 billion workers have gotten in bonuses and raises.
For the money McDonald’s spent on stock buybacks, it could’ve given every one of its 2 million employees that $4,000 raise President Trump promised them. But they didn’t.
The economic miracle envisaged by the tax plan’s backers hasn’t materialized. But the dire consequences predicted by the plan’s opponents certainly have. To cover the deficits created by their own tax cuts, Republicans want to cut trillions of dollars from essential public services.
Despite promising never to touch Medicare or Medicaid, President Trump is seeking $1.3 trillion in cuts to those programs and to the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The House GOP wants to cut a total of $5 trillion, including $2 trillion from health care. Trump and House Republicans would also slash funding for students in school and college, among many other service cuts.
Round two of the Trump-GOP tax cuts would only repeat the same destructive pattern: huge handouts to the rich, huge deficits, and huge service cuts for working families. The big difference is that the budget hole created would be much deeper this time, making the resulting cuts to services that much more severe.
No wonder they did it while Americans were distracted.
The sane policy would be to repeal the existing tax cuts for the wealthy and corporations and use the money raised to strengthen Medicare, Medicaid, and other essential services the American people rely on.
The aggressive reaction of the United States against Panama, El Salvador and the Dominican Republic has to do with the trade war declared by Washington against China. In addition, it has to do with the North American superpower’s interest in destabilizing Latin American governments. President Donald Trump unilaterally increased the tariffs on Chinese products that enter the US market. This measure was rejected by China, the big US industrialists and the rest of the world. Next year, US consumers will feel the impact in their pockets.
The United States also feeds into a territorial conflict with Beijing over the South China sea. Since the English involvement in this area of intense regional trade in the XIX Century and the US victory in the Second World War (1945), the Chinese have been forbidden to control these waters. In the XXI Century, Beijing now wants to recover its sovereignty over its own sea. Building up the offensive, the United States has imposed sanctions on the Equipment Development Department company (EDD) — responsible for the Chinese Army’s weapons and equipment — and on its director, Li Shangfu, for having purchased armaments from the Russian state firm, Rosoboronexport, the greatest arms exporter, that had already been sanctioned by Washington.
These points make up the context in which the United States revealed their threatening communiqué that causes concern in the Latin American region.
The United States accuses “the countries of the region” of seeking “relations with unknown partners” that use “methods that lack a positive record” and exhibit a “disturbing tendency.” The Washington pronouncement adds that “many of these transactions lack transparency.” In spite of the communiqué’s ambiguity and lack of transparency, it is clear that the United States wants to create anxiety in the region because of its relations with China
The United States claims the right to “prevent and combat corruption” in Latin America. The actions that Washington can undertake “are essential for having strong and functional democracies in the whole American continent.” The communiqué originated from the US Embassy in El Salvador. I am not aware of the reason why it was not sent from the Department of State in Washington. Nevertheless, it is a clear addition to the Monroe Doctrine promulgated 200 years ago.
In their interventionist strategy, the United States emphasize the ‘fight against corruption.’ It is not by chance that they managed to indict Lulu in Brazil through unfounded accusations of corruption. The same thing is happening with former leaders in Argentina and Ecuador. They are trying to do the same with the current governments in Bolivia, Nicaragua and Venezuela. All of these, at certain moments, have questioned the arbitrary policies of the United States. The response has been rapid and emphatic from Washington.
This is a clear message to the governing political parties of the three Central American and Caribbean countries. Especially the FMLN, which has maintained a very difficult equilibrium between its social policies and its relations with the United States, over two administrations. With a clear electoral majority in El Salvador, the guerrilla army has its hands tied by Washington. The Chinese connection could give the most reactionary interests in the United States the chance to initiate a destabilizing campaign similar to that promoted in Nicaragua.
In the case of Panama, President Varela replied that the decision of Trump to summon their diplomats for consultation is related to “internal issues of the United States government,” and that Panama respects and is convinced that relations with China will bring many benefits to the isthmus and will in no way affect relations with a strategic partner. Varela reminds the US government that relations with China are not intended to affect the special relationship that Panama has with the United States.
The root problem that explains the ‘trade war’ and the aggressive diplomacy of Washington must be found within the United States. Economic stagnation has generated internal policy problems that become phenomena — scarcely understood by many — such as Trump. Social protests with class and racist elements appear ever more frequently and with greater force. These phenomena translate into a crisis of hegemony for the establishment that lost the White House and that wants to avoid the collapse of its project of “globalization.”
China is part of the establishment’s project of “globalization.” It is the driving force of the capitalist world, oiled by those who control global finance. Trump, on the other hand, represents the sector of US capital that wants to concentrate industry in the United States and speaks of “making America great again.” For the resident of the White House, the enemy is China, while Russia is the friend.
It is in this geopolitical game that the weakest links of Latin America have become trapped: Panama, the Dominican Republic and El Salvador.
La Estrella is doing a series of stories that in large part centers on the labors of attorney Rogelio Saltarín, whom President Varela would have made a magistrate on the Supreme Court if the votes can be mustered. Saltarín, working as something like a private consultant for the Ministry of the Presidency, in conjunction with the National Security Council (CSN), investigated corruption during the Martinelli administration. It is reported that he fed the results of that research to Attorney General Kenia Porcell, essentially handing her road maps to her work on a number of cases.
There is no question that this was an unusual way to proceed, but we should ask ourselves, as a nation, whether any of this was improper and if so, what was done wrong and why it was wrong. It’s an important set of questions looking forward, and looking back.
Varela took over a CSN that had been thoroughly corrupted into an appendage of Ricardo Martinelli’s personal hatreds, fears and ambitions. That a laptop left behind at that agency contained surveillance reports on a list of Martinelli’s 150 top people of interest forms the foundation for the criminal case against the ex-president that is now on trial before the Supreme Court.
Those 150 individuals, we reasonably know by several different ways, were a relative few of those caught in the surveillance. We know this because right after losing the 2014 election Martinelli threatened the Cambio Democratico legislators-elect, telling them that he had a dossier on each of them in case they did not follow his instructions — but only a few of these people were on that list of 150. We know this from Kenia Porcell’s complaint that Martinelli intended to blackmail the Supreme Court into dropping charges, which complaint contained references to the electronic surveillance of some 5,000 people. We know this because if all of the emails and phone calls of the 150 people on the list were monitored, all of those with whom these 150 people communicated were also caught in the net. Knowing that, however, doesn’t the government owe it to all of the people whose privacy was violated notification of the known facts? Isn’t the general public owed a more complete description of what went on?
To come into the presidency amidst institutions that have been corrupted in this way more or less imposes a duty to undertake unusual actions that are outside of regular channels to set things right. To be a politician who was and is immersed in this sort of political warfare reasonably does call for some unpublicized independent “opposition research.”
Were people framed on bogus charges for political reasons? Was a massive spy operation merely redirected from one large group of innocent people to another? Did the attorney general get lazy at her job and let a presidential consultant do homework that she should have done on her own? Were public funds spent in improper and unaccountable ways? THOSE would be matters of serious public concern.
But irregular things in the wake of unusual events? In themselves these are no reason for public outrage.
The next administration will have to do some unusual things to see justice done in the Blue Apple and Odebrecht cases, including examinations of the Varela presidency and the mayoral decisions of José Isabel Blandón. Called-for “irregularities” may include defiance of courts and prosecutors if they say that a plea bargain on corruption charges frees a guilty company and its guilty principals and agents from a ban on doing further business with the government.
Let’s not concentrate on what is regular, but on what is proper.
The question is not whether your future will be stolen. It has been stolen. The latest extraction from your chances of a prosperous future in an advanced nation was in the form of another $3 trillion tax break for ultra-rich, throwing the US government in a debt spiral for at least a generation — for YOUR generation. Your elders may have had some prosperous years? Not you and most of the people your age. Not unless you act decisively to take back what has been stolen.
Your education, your standard of living, your possibility of old age retirement, the infrastructures of daily life in the USA, the productive activities that are the foundation for your nation’s wealth — those have been taken from you.
You didn’t notice because this ultimate grab was rammed through the House of Representatives while public attention was riveted on a Senate committee trying to jam through the high court nomination of perhaps the most morally unfit presidential appointee ever? It was timed that way.
This is too partisan a rap, you might protest? It has been a process underway for a long time, under both Democratic and Republican administrations. That nobody went to prison for the huge mortgage fraud that caused the 2008 economic crisis was a bipartisan dereliction of duty. The endless wars without exit strategies or even defined war aims all over the planet are all bipartisan follies put on a tab that your generation is expected to pay. But the latest Republican tax bill is the ultimate “take the money and run” play at your expense.
The editor of The Panama News did his undergraduate studies at a university that as the cornerstone of one of its buildings had a monument to a generation faced with as onerous a predicament. A tiny minority of slave owners was holding the nation hostage and when they lost an election tried to destroy the nation. The men of the class of 1861 of what was then Michigan Normal College graduated, then marched en masse to the recruiters’ office and joined the Grand Army of the Republic. Many of them died in just a few minutes at Antietam. Their names were engraved on that cornerstone.
At this point nobody is asking you to lay down your life for a cause, but the threat to America is every bit as grave. What you are called upon to do in this crisis is to REGISTER and VOTE.
In many states the registration deadline is October 9. If you are living in the USA, start the process online or at least get information about it via When We All Vote. If you are an American citizen living abroad — including if you are a dual citizen — go to votefromabroad.org or fvap.gov or overseasvotefoundation.org. Right now.