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Bike path law has promise, but for now studies

Turning some streets in Panama City over to bicycles on some Sunday mornings has been popular, but is not in itself the stuff that created a major transformation of the way that metro area residents go about their lives. Photo by MiAmbiente.

Bike path law passed, but let’s see what the studies say

by Eric Jackson

Law 17 of November 12, 2017 — “About Cycling Mobility in the Republic of Panama” — has been passed by the legislature, signed by the president and published in the Gaceta Oficial. It makes a sweeping promise: “This law establishes norms to guarantee and favor non-motorized mobility.” The implications, mostly not stated, can go farther yet, into cleaner air, Panama’s standing in the global effort to reduce carbon emissions, tourism promotion and the health of people who live here. But there are pitfalls and drawbacks — our tropical sun, rainy season, maleantes, competing interests and squabbles to come over potential profits.

Thus the central part of this law is not the general principles espoused, but the mandate that all municipal districts have one year to come up with their plans to establish bicycle paths; created racks for bicycle parking; make connections among bicycle transportation, sidewalks an public transportation; and establish zones where motor vehicles will be excluded. The standards for the mayors’ plans will be set by the housing and environmental ministries and the land transportation and transit authorities. The latter authority and the ministry of education will be in charge of publicizing and popularizing bicycle transportation. The last week of every January — when tourist season is going full blast and most schools are out of session — will be Bicycle Week, with activities around Panama promoting the culture.

There are several things that are not in the law, but to the extent that it succeeds in any great measure will become apparent. A national bike path system that gets cyclists out of the way of the fumes and hazards of the Pan-American Highway, and if well done becomes an international tourist attraction, is an intuitive “next step.” Bicycle racks that are protected against thieves and vandals will make consultations with the police advisable. Police protection and emergency services are problems that can be anticipated from experiences like the robberies in some of our national parks around Chilibre, and from the day-to-day work of the ATTT responding to accidents. Perhaps the nation’s emergency room physicians will have some words of advice. Then there are other forms of transportation that would be worth incorporating — bicycle racks at airports and boat landings, for two examples. But for now the emphasis is on incorporating bicycles into the mix of people getting to and from school, work and recreational activities within specific municipal areas.

Anton district includes many of the beach developments, the mountain community of El Valle, an underused airport and a lot of places where most elementary school kids get to and from their classes on bicycles and students in the higher grades would benefit from bike racks at their bus stops. It would have a different set of problems and opportunities than Panama City or San Miguelito, districts where good commuter interfaces between cyclists and the Metro trains stand to be a major challenge. If, as reported, a Chinese-built commuter train system from the metro area to the Costa Rican border will be in the works, lessons learned in the city may affect planning in the Interior. Figure, then, that Law 17 not only has studies as its main feature, but is itself a transitional experiment, the results of which may guide future legislation.

Unless the project is stillborn, people will see the economic opportunities. There may be upscale business owners who want to keep “those people” away, but a spot next to a public bicycle rack may be highly prized by somebody who makes a living running a fonda. Will Odebrecht get a no-bid contract, inherently overpriced to cover the cost of kickbacks, to build a fabulous new bike path system? What about rest stops — shelters from the rain, lavatories, water fountains, places where one might repair or replace a tire — along the way? Might multiple uses for facilities, such that people who are present for other activities so that vandals and thieves can’t work unseen by people who are around for other purposes, lend a layer of protection to bicycle riders as they simultaneously create business opportunities?

In politics studies have various uses. Often there is a problem with an obvious solution that will offend someone whom politicians do not care to offend, so a study is a way to look concerned while avoiding any real action. But then there are times when politicians want to do something that has many implications, and they want to do it right. There may be as many approaches are there are municipal districts in Panama, but it seems that Law 17 aims at actually doing something and doing it as well as possible.


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Tulsi / The Young Turks, The Keystone Pipeline spill


The Keystone spill

by Tulsi Gabbard

The Keystone Pipeline just spilled 210,000 gallons of oil in South Dakota, near the Lake Traverse Indian Reservation. Clean up crews are racing to protect surrounding wetlands, aquifers, and land, but the worst damage has already been done. The pipeline should never have been operating in the first place.

We cannot afford to wait for the next oil spill. Become a citizen co-sponsor of the OFF Act so that we can reach 100% clean energy by 2035.

The Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate tribe, who remain vehemently opposed to the pipeline, will be the ones dealing with the long-term repercussions of this spill, not TransCanada and big bank executives. It was for reasons like this that thousands of people traveled to the Oceti Sakowin camp at Standing Rock, just a few hours north of where this spill occurred, to oppose the Dakota Access Pipeline last year.

Meanwhile, the corporate giveaway tax bill that just passed the House would eliminate tax credits for electric vehicles and solar energy, while cutting credits for wind power by one-third and eventually phasing them out completely—yet it protects $14 billion in federal subsidies to the fossil fuel industry and makes them permanent. This is unacceptable, and this oil spill is yet another example of how dangerous Big Oil is to the health of our planet and our future. We should be investing in the technology of the future now, not paying corporate welfare to prop up a poisonous industry.

Sign your name as a citizen co-sponsor of the OFF Act and help us lead the way to create a 100% sustainable, clean energy economy by 2035.

Donald Trump, Scott Pruitt, and other friends of the fossil fuel industry will compromise the health of our people and our planet to secure greater profits for their corporate friends. We need your help to make sure that doesn’t happen.


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Beluche, Notas sobre las separaciones de Panamá de Colombia


TR et al

Las separaciones de Panama de Colombia

por Olmedo Beluche

Suele afirmarse que durante el siglo XIX Panamá luchó por separarse de Colombia, y que la evidencia son las “actas separatistas”. La mayor parte de lo dicho respecto a estas actas ha sido acado de contexto por una historia leída de manera provinciana, perdiendo la perspectiva del conjunto de lo que ocurría en Colombia, para dar un toque de legitimidad a la separación de 1903.

No negamos la existencia de graves contradicciones en Colombia del siglo XIX, sino que es importante esclarecer la verdadera índole de aquellos conflictos. Un análisis de las circunstancias muestra que, más que un conflicto “nación panameña” vs “nación colombiana”, son producto de las contradicciones políticas y sociales que se abatían sobre el país tal como quedo plasmada en los siguientes hechos:

El Acta de 1821

Algunos afirman: que Panamá proclamara su independencia de España en 1821, sin intervención de los ejércitos bolivarianos, siendo una prueba de que constituíamos una entidad independiente, reafirmado por la adhesión voluntaria a la Gran Colombia.

Quienes así hablan olvidan que: 1. Panamá estaba adscrita, desde 1739, al Virreinato de la Nueva Granada; 2. El Istmo era una región debilitada económica y demográficamente que no podía sostenerse sola como estado independiente; 3. Que la Villa de los Santos llamó a los ejércitos de Bolívar a hacerse presentes, y que esto obligó a José de Fábrega a sumarse a la independencia.

El Acta de 1826

Se la presenta como el primer esfuerzo separatista, sin embargo, no hay nada de eso. Ese año, Simón Bolívar retorna a Bogotá desde Bolivia y Perú con un proyecto de nueva Constitución Política que, entre otras cosas, le nombra presidente vitalicio. Como Santander se oponía, Bolívar pidió respaldo mediante un pronunciamiento.

El Acta de 1826 no es una proclama independentista, sino política, y expresa la disputa entre dos partidos (santanderistas y bolivaristas). También los hechos reflejan que en Panamá hay una incipiente contradicción social, entre el pueblo y los notables (comerciantes). Lo único que tiene de particularismo local es el librecambismo de los comerciantes istmeños.

El Acta de 20 de septiembre de 1830

Año en que Bolívar renuncia a la Presidencia. El general panameño José D. Espinar realiza un acto de insubordinación frente a los que se apoderan del gobierno. El móvil de Espinar era exigir el retorno de Bolívar al gobierno. El artículo primero proclama la separación “especialmente del Gobierno de Bogotá”.

El segundo: “Panamá desea que su Excelencia el Libertador Simón Bolívar se encargue del Gobierno Constitucional de la República, como medida indispensable para volver a la unión de las partes, de ella que se han separado bajo pretextos diferentes, quedando desde luego este Departamento bajo su inmediata protección”. Tercero: “Panamá será reintegrada a la República luego que el Libertador se encargue de la Administración o desde que la Nación se organice unánimemente de cualquier medio legal”. El considerando alude a una circular emanada de Bogotá para que “los pueblos manifiesten sus deseos”.

El considerando recoge el reclamo de los comerciantes istmeños, no de una separación, sino la queja de que al separarse las provincias del sur (Ecuador y Perú) se habían afectado las relaciones mercantiles. Este tipo de reclamo es la tónica real de las clases dominantes en el Istmo, no la construcción de una nación independiente.

El Acta de 1831

Como los notables (comerciantes) del “intramuros” eran hostiles a Espinar, por motivos políticos: (él era bolivarista, ellos santanderistas); sociales (él expresaba al sector plebeyo del ejército, ellos las élites comerciales); raciales (él era mulato, ellos blancos), promovieron que el general Juan E. Alzuru se sublevara y deportara a Espinar.

El 9 de julio de 1831 se proclamó una nueva acta. En los considerandos uno y dos nuevamente se arguye el problema de las relaciones comerciales con Nueva Granada. Pero la proclama no habla de “independencia” sino que (art. 1) “Panamá se declara territorio de la Confederación Colombiana y tendrá una administración propia…”.

Se proclama un estado federado, reafirmado por el artículo tercero que señala que los “tres grandes Estados de Colombia disfrutarán de todas inmunidades comerciales que se conceden a los istmeños”… (a cambio del mismo trato); “siendo un pueblo de la familia colombiana” (art. 4); ofrece el territorio para que sea la “residencia de la Confederación”, capital política (art. 5); y conserva la Constitución, leyes y símbolos de la república “en prueba de amistad y amor hacia la Nación a que espontáneamente se unió” (art. 7).

Pero Alzuru estaba lejos de representar los intereses de los comerciantes ya que, como militar, también era bolivarista. Le correspondió nada menos que al general Tomás Herrera, enviado con 200 soldados desde Bogotá, aplastar al régimen de Alzuru y fusilarlo.

El Acta de 1840

Es imposible entender el Estado Libre o Soberano del Istmo (1840-41), proclamado por Tomás Herrera, sin la perspectiva general de la guerra civil que asoló a Colombia y se llamó la guerra de “Los Supremos”. Al igual que Herrera en Panamá, proclamaron otros tantos “estados libres”: González en el Socorro, Reyes Patria en Sogamoso, Carmona en Santa Marta, Troncoso en Mompox y Gutiérrez de Piñeres en Cartagena.

Por ello el Acta del 18 de Noviembre de 1840, redactada por Tomas Herrera, considera que dada la “disolución” de la república producto de la guerra (art.1); proclama el Estado Soberano (art.2); condiciona su reintegro a la Nueva Granada bajo un régimen federal (art.3); y establece el carácter “provisorio” de las nuevas autoridades.

Veraguas, dirigida por Carlos Fábrega, se opuso a esta proclama. En marzo de 1841 se reunió una Convención Constituyente del Istmo que, a instancias de Herrera, mantuvo la voluntad de adherir a una Nueva Granada federal, rechazando el centralismo (art. 2).


Presentar estas actas políticas como “separatistas”, borrando el contexto que las explica, ha sido una obra de la historia oficial panameña para dar un toque de legitimidad a la separación de Colombia en 1903 y maquillar la intervención de Estados Unidos para imponer el Tratado Hay-Bunau Varilla.



1. Araúz, C. y Pizzurno, P. El Panamá colombiano (1821-1903). Panamá. 1993.

2. Lemaitre, Eduardo. Panamá y su separación de Colombia. Ed. Pluma. Bogotá, 1980.

3. Terán, Oscar. Del Tratado Herrán-Hay al Tratado Hay-Bunau Varilla. T. III, 2da. Parte. Panamá, 1935.


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Editorial, God isn’t on the ballot

vacancy in heaven
Graphic by Max Pixel.

God isn’t on the ballot

Will the membership of the US Senate be decided on the basis of improper sexual conduct by men? Could be. The men of neither party are totally innocent and pure, and that’s not a reason to dismiss the complaints as of no practical consequence. Americans are at an uncomfortable social moment when changes must be made in the culture.

Will the next Panamanian National Assembly have a new contingent from an Evangelical political party? Ah, but we know this particular crowd of Evangelicals — who should not be taken to represent ALL Evangelicals — and we have seen their interactions in politics. It’s sordid stuff.

Some years ago the Catholic Church got institutionally sick of the “God’s representative in secular politics” pretense and banned most political activity by its priests. Some good men like Father Drinan, the Democratic representative from Massachusetts, had to retire. But of course both Testaments of the Bible are full of tales of political stands by men trying to adhere to God’s guidance and the Vatican still finds itself taking stands on controversial political issues, even if its priests can’t run for office on such stands. And still, an Archdiocese of Metro Panama that took from Richard Fifer of the Petaquilla gold mine scam also is shown to have taken from the Brazilian criminal conglomerate Odebrecht and the archbishop’s plea that the church did not know has the thud that inspires incredulity rather than the ring of truth.

God isn’t on the ballot. Not in the special election in Alabama, not in the 2019 general election in Panama. The values and judgments of believers of all denominations — and of those whose value systems are non-religious — will play large roles in all of those decisions and they should. On basic questions like about how it’s wrong to steal, to take bribes, to oppress those with different beliefs, most of the faithful of the different religions tend to strongly agree. There is a common denominator of ordinary decency. There will be different opinions on various issues and there are rival political tribes, but the underlying value of decency, stripped down to its essentials, ought to have an important role in our decisions.


Bear in mind…

I believe that banking institutions are more dangerous to our liberties than standing armies.
Thomas Jefferson


I do the very best I can to look upon life with optimism and hope and looking forward to a better day, but I don’t think there is anything such as complete happiness. It pains me that there is still a lot of Klan activity and racism. I think when you say you’re happy, you have everything that you need and everything that you want, and nothing more to wish for. I haven’t reached that stage yet.
Rosa Parks


The main dangers in this life are the people who want to change everything — or nothing.
Nancy Astor


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¿Wappin? Free form from 9°N / Estilo libre desde 9°N



Looking out from our isthmus
Mirando desde nuestro istmo

Neil Young – Cowgirl in the Sand

Romeo Santos & Ozuna – Sobredosis

Bigg Robb – Please Don’t Judge Me

Pussy Riot – Police State

Cienfue – La Décima Tercera

Isely Brothers & Santana – Higher Ground

U2 – The Blackout

Chlöe Howl – Magnetic

Adán Jodorowsky & Natalia Lafourcade – Vivir con valor

Frank Zappa – Cheap Thrills

Wolf Alice – Don’t Delete the Kisses

Marianne Faithfull – Sister Morphine

Empire Of The Sun – On Our Way Home

Imagine Dragons – Whatever It Takes

Julieta Venegas en Paris 2012


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Just like that — 19 economic agreements, details for us to know later

President Varela and President Xi get the red carpet treatment in Beijing. Photo by the Presidencia.

Just like that

by Eric Jackson

From Beijing, where he went with a large Panamanian delegation, much of his cabinet, a small group from Panama’s Chinese community and labor leader Genaro López, President Juan Carlos Varela tells us of 19 agreements, most apparently about such economic matters as “free trade,” infrastructure projects, agriculture and tourism. The texts of said agreements have not been disclosed and we don’t know whether they will be treaties debated by the National Assembly or executive orders which we may never know much about until one of their provisions is invoked. (The Status of Forces Agreement with the United States, which gives members of undisclosed US forces operating on Panamanian territory diplomatic immunity, is one of those.) Panama’s economic relations with China thus start out in marked contrast with our ties with other countries in the Americas, the details of which generally took years to negotiate.


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Avnery, A history of idiocy

Anonymous, apparently contemporary, depiction of Crusaders vs Saracens at 13th century Damascus.

A history of idiocy

by Uri Avnery — Gush Shalom

I am furious. And I have good reason to be furious.

I was going to write an article about a subject I have been thinking about for a long time.

This week I opened The New York Times and lo, my yet unwritten article appeared on its opinion pages in full, argument after argument.

How come? I have only one explanation: the author — I have forgotten the name — has stolen the ideas from my head by some magical means, which surely must be branded as criminal. A person once tried to kill me for doing the same thing to him.

So I have decided to write this article in spite of everything.

The subject is idiocy. Particularly, the role of idiocy in history.

The older I get, the more convinced I am that sheer stupidity plays a major role in the history of nations.

Great Thinkers, compared to whom I am a mere intellectual dwarf, have pursued other factors to explain what has turned history into a mess. Karl Marx blamed the economy. The economy has directed humankind from its earliest beginnings.

Others blame God. Religion has caused awful wars, and still does. Look at the Crusades, which for almost two hundred years raged in my country. Look at the 30-year War which devastated Germany. No end in sight.

Some accuse Race. Whites against Red Indians. Aryans against Untermenschen. Nazis against Jews. Terrible.

Or geopolitics. The White Man’s Burden. The Drang-nach-Osten.

For many generations, Great Thinkers have been searching for some deep explanation for war. There must be such an explanation. After all, terrible historical events cannot just happen. There must be something profound, something sinister, which is causing all this untold misery. Something that has accompanied the human race from its very beginnings, and that still directs our destiny.

I have adopted most of these theories in my time. Many of them impressed me very much. Great thinkers. Deep thoughts. I have read many thick volumes. But in the end, they left me unsatisfied.

In the end it hit me. There is indeed one factor common to all these historical events: foolishness.

I know that this sounds incredible. Foolishness? All these thousands of wars? All these hundreds of millions of casualties? All these emperors, kings, statesmen, strategists? All fools?

Recently I was asked for an example. “Show me how it works,” an incredulous listener demanded.

I mentioned the outbreak of World War I, an event that changed the face of Europe and the world forever, and which ended just five years before I was born, My earliest childhood was spent in the shadow of this cataclysm.

It happened like this:

An Austrian archduke was killed in the town of Sarajevo by a Serbian anarchist. It happened almost by accident: the planned attempt failed, but later the terrorist happened upon the duke and killed him.

So what? The duke was a quite unimportant person. Thousands of such acts have happened before and since. But this time the Austrian statesmen thought that this was a good opportunity to teach the Serbs a lesson. It took the form of an ultimatum.

No big deal. Such things happen all the time. But the powerful Russian empire was allied with Serbia, so the Czar issued a warning: he ordered the mobilization of his army, just to make his point.

In Germany, all the red lights went on. Germany is situated in the middle of Europe and has no impregnable natural borders, no oceans, no high mountains. It was trapped between two great military powers, Russia and France. For years the German generals had been pondering how to save the Fatherland if attacked from the two sides simultaneously.

A master-plan evolved. Russia was a huge country, and it would take several weeks to mobilize the Russian army. These weeks must be used to smash France, turn the army around and stop the Russians.

It was a brilliant plan, worked out to the finest detail by brilliant military minds. But the German army was stopped at the gates of Paris. The British intervened to help France. The result was a static war of four long years, where nothing really happened except that millions upon millions of human beings were slaughtered or maimed.

In the end a peace was made, a peace so stupid that it virtually made a Second World War inevitable. This broke out a mere 21 years later, with even larger numbers of casualties.

Many books have been written about “July 1914,” the crucial month in which World War I became inevitable.

How many people were involved in decision-making in Europe? How many emperors, kings, ministers, parliamentarians, generals; not to mention academicians, journalists, poets and what not?

Were they all stupid? Were they all blind to what was happening in their countries and throughout their continent?

Impossible, one is tempted to cry out. Many of them were highly competent, intelligent people, people versed in history. They knew everything about the earlier wars that had ravaged Europe throughout the centuries.

Yet there you are. All these people played their part in causing the most terrible war (up to then) in the annals of history. An act of sheer idiocy.

The human mind cannot accept such a truth. There must be other reasons. Profound reasons. So they wrote innumerable books explaining why this was logical, why it had to happen, what were the “underlying” causes.

Most of these theories are certainly plausible. But compared to the effects, they are puny. Millions of human beings marched out to be slaughtered, singing and almost dancing, trusting their emperor, king, president, commander-in-chief. Never to return.

Could all these leaders be idiots? They certainly could. And were.

I don’t need the examples of the thousands of foreign wars and conflicts, because I live in the middle of one right now.

Never mind how it came about, the present situation is that in the land that used to be called Palestine there live two peoples of different origin, culture, history, religion, language, standard of living and much more. They are now of more or less equal size.

Between these two peoples, a conflict has now been going on for more than a century.

In theory, there are only two reasonable solutions: either the two peoples shall live together as equal citizens in one state, or they shall live side by side in two states.

The third possibility is no solution — eternal conflict, eternal war.

This is so obvious, so simple, that denying it is sheer idiocy.

Living together in one state sounds logical, but is not. It is a recipe for constant conflict and internal war. So there remains only what is called “two states for two peoples.”

When I pointed this out, right after the 1948 war, the war in which Israel was founded, I was more or less alone. Now this is a world-wide consensus, everywhere except in Israel.

What is the alternative? There is none. Just going on with the present situation: a colonial state in which 7 million Israeli Jews oppress 7 million Palestinian Arabs. Logic says that this is a situation that cannot go on forever. Sooner or later it will break down.

So what do our leaders say? Nothing. They pretend to be oblivious to this truth.

At the top of the pyramid we have a leader who looks intelligent, who speaks well, who seems competent. In fact, Binyamin Netanyahu is a mediocre politician, without vision, without depth. He does not even pretend that he has another solution. Nor do his colleagues and possible heirs.

So what is this? I am sorry to have to say it, but there is no other definition than the rule of idiocy.


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Libertad Ciudadana / TI designa Lina Vega Abad como presidenta




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Odebrecht: police say Varela took much more, much later than he admitted

Will the Varela administration survive? Most likely it will. There’s only a year and a half left to its term. But people in this administration are heading for the exits and public institutions are fracturing. If polls show a loss of confidence in the Panama Canal or the Metro — the latter implicated in a questionable Odebrecht deal — the last bastions of Varela’s favorable ratings will have fallen. Photo by Eric Jackson.

DIJ: Varela took $10.7 million from Odebrecht through 2014

Courts and prosecutors stall,
public indignation grows

by Eric Jackson

When Ramón Fonseca of Mossack Fonseca notoriety, at the beginning of the current administration the president’s minister without portfolio and day-to-day operational head of the Panameñista Party, said that Juan Carlos Varela had taken money from Odebrecht, the president flatly denied it.

When two more witnesses, an “outside” attorney hired by Odebrecth to set up its international money laundering operations to concel bribes and a former Panamanian diplomat and Panameñista bundler also said that Varela took money from Odebrecht, the president modified his position and said that when he was running for president in the run-up to the 2009 elections, before he joined a slate with Ricardo Martinelli that was brokered at the US ambassador’s residence, a person connected to Odebrecht donated $700,000 to his presidential campaign and the money was transferred to his vice presidential campaign and duly reported. Varela said that he had no idea that the money came from the rogue Brazilian corporation.

Now La Estrella’s Adelita Coriat and Marlene Testa report the police, via the Directorate of Judicial Investigations (DIJ) say that Varela took $10.7 million from Odebrecht through 2014. The ex-diplomat and bundler, Jaime Lasso, amended his declarations to confirm the timeline, but said that he did not know the amount.

As this story was unfolding, President Varela said that “Political donations are no crime, bribes are.” Then he, the vice president and several other ministers and a delegation of business leaders got on a plane to China and have been unavailable for comment in the ensuing public uproar. Lasso and his daughter Michelle have been questioned about potential money laundering offenses, and anti-corruption prosecutor Zuleika Moore says that the Public Ministry has jurisdiction over their case, but not over the president. However, Attorney General Kenia Porcell said that Jaime Lasso cannot be investigated because former prosecutor Ana Belfon already investigated him and charges were not brought in time. Belfon flatly denies that she ever investigated Lasso.

In a November 9 hearing conducted before Judge Óscar Carrasquilla, with Brazilian witness Andre Rabello testifying remotely through an online connection to São Paulo, names were named and sums were specified. The hearing was about combining the cases of various witnesses who have struck plea bargains in the Odebrecht case, and whether the court will accept those deals. It had been billed as the occasion when Panamanians would find out just who was on the take. Outside the courthouse there was a loud and colorful crowd from the militant SUNTRACS construction workers’ union — this, after all, is about their boss bribing the government — but inside the audience was limited to some of the press and almost none of the public. As it turned out, all names were not disclosed. In an interview with TVN news, former prosecutor Rosenda Miranda defended the non-disclosure, warning that since the company has agreed to cooperate with investigation, it should not be “Satanized” and that people should not presume that every transaction with the company is somehow illicit.

In previous hearings of remote witnesses who have accepted plea bargains, Judge Carrasquilla heard from Luiz Eduardo Da Rocha, who was the treasurer of Odbrecht’s “Structured Operations Department” bribery and money laundering unit, and Olivo Rodrigues Junior, also of that unit. Corroborating testimony and documents from a former executive at the Banca Privada de Andorra were the stuff of headlines in Spain and also have made their way into the hearings here. Implicated so far are former Minister of the Presidency Demetrio “Jimmy” Papadimitriu (also a US citizen and prominent Republican political operative), former Minister of Economy and Finance Frank De Lima, former Minister of Public Works Jaime Ford, the former president’s two sons Ricardo Martinelli Linares and Luis Enrique Martinelli Linares, former Housing Minister and Cambio Democratico presidential candidate José Domingo Arias, former Ministry of Public Works special projects chief Carlos Ho, Panameñista legislator and attorney Jorge Alberto Rosas and his law firm, and former head of the state-owned Caja de Ahorros bank and CEO of Martinelli’s NexTV channel Riccardo Francolini. Named as conduits in the movements of money in these transactions, in addition to the two Lassos, were private individuals Jorge Espino, José Saiz, Olmedo Méndez Tribaldos, Diamantis Papadimitriu and María Bagatelas, the Credicorp and Multicredit banks and individual bankers Humberto De León and Eduardo Patraos.

That’s well short of the full disclosure that the attorney general had indicated, especially in light of the DIJ findings that Varela took more than 10 times the amount he admitted and reported. But Kenia Porcell also indicates that there are revelations yet to come.

There was supposed to be a November 16 public hearing on another of the plea bargains, but Judge Carrasquilla has put this off on a defense motion. Lawyers for an undisclosed criminal who would testify in order to justify a plea bargain argued that this person’s safety would be endangered if she, he or the persons named in the expected testimony were identified.

The huge gaps in the official story, which the reported DIJ findings might begin to close, are about the relationships of Odebrecht with the current administration, which has arranged for the company to “win” no-bid or rigged-bid contracts the Metro train system’s extension, work on the Cinta Costera, a Colon renovation project that has been largely underwater in recent days as the low-lying city center is built on a landfilled mangrove swamp, and a number of Panama City municipal projects that include work along and near Via Argentina.

The Lasso inquiries, which the attorney general seeks to cut short with her allegations of a prior investigation, are but the slightest steps toward a probe into the activities of Panameñistas during the 26 months when they were junior partners in the Martinelli administration. For example, one of Panama’s richest oligarchs and a prominent Panameñista, Alberto Vallarino, was Minister of Economy and Finance in that period. He may be entirely innocent or may have known nothing — or may have known a lot and discretely shared those data with authorities under some sort of non-disclosure agreement — but given the timelines and activities described plus the position he held there would be a public interest in knowing what he knew, when he knew it and whether and how he acted upon any knowledge of Odebrecht’s activities.

Statutes of limitations might be invoked, but the probe has also not much delved into the early years of Odebrecht’s government contracts in Panama, during the 2004 to 2009 Torrijos administration. The corrupt nature of that corporation, whose bribery and bid rigging had brought down a Brazilian government in the early 1990s, was not a secret here.

Some of the other unknown to the public factors in the Odebrecht affair include the extent that former Martinelli administration officials signaled as taking bribes were mere conduits to the 2014 Cambio Democratico campaign and didn’t actually keep the money themselves, and to what extent Odebrecht helped to finance Ricardo Martinelli’s purchase of a media empire. Answers to the former question are in part hard to come by because the Electoral Prosecutor, Martinelli appointee Eduardo Peñaloza, is a sneering crook who has rather openly thwarted investigations into Martinelli’s crimes under the election laws. On the second score it’s unclear whether there is any criminal investigation underway. The cases against Riccardo Francolini and Ricardo Martinelli’s sons apparently touch upon money movements for the purchase of newspapers, a television station and radio stations. Earlier this year there were depositions taken about some of these matters, but for months the case, if there is one ongoing, has dropped out of the news.

Meanwhile, attention is being paid to Odebrecht’s largess in the private sector. Wherever it has corrupted governments, the company has tried to buy support from non-governmental people and institutions that might otherwise raise a hue and cry about corruption. Religious and civic leaders, the press (via ad buys and otherwise), labor unions, artists and intellectuals have typically been paid off by Odebrecht. These payments have almost always been perfectly legal, without any specific agreement about silence. Look at some of the outstanding public art on the Cinta Costera. Go on YouTube and see the Rómulo Castro video that Odebrecht financed. And then there is the money the company gave to the Catholic Church in Panama — something not quantified to date, but admitted by Panama metro area Archbishop José Domingo Ulloa. “We can’t deny it. The church, like other foundations, museums and other groups, received donations at a certain moment,” he told journalist Hugo Famanía. The monsignor drew a distinction between politicians and churches taking money, and between religious leaders accepting donations on behalf of their churches and those who would personally take the money.

From the Brazilian witnesses, there have been references to gifts to “churches,” plural. We know that the Templo Hosanna, a large Evangelical mega-church, was involved in financial transactions and political alliances with Ricardo Martinelli, and notice the absence of any finger-pointing about the Odebrecht contributions to the Catholics. Also notice the scant role of any of the churches in the months of anti-corruption protests. It’s an issue as old as Martin Luther’s protest against indulgences — or for that matter the assault on temple moneylenders that led to Jesus Christ’s arrest and crucifixion — but in the intervening years Protestants have managed to catch up with Catholics both in corruption and in reform movements.

By and large, in any room full of Panamanian politicians of any party, one might hear a pin drop if the subject of Odebrecht comes up. It’s a key political fact. The legislature is not going to impeach Varela or anyone else over this scandal because all of the parties are deeply compromised. But the more prominent independent presidential hopefuls are a different story. Law professor Miguel Antonio Bernal has been leading anti-corruption protests all along, independent legislator Ana Matilde Gómez has begun to make tepid references to the matter and possible idependent candidate Rubén Blades has weighed in.

“Nothing has been made known about whether there were bribes from Odebrecht related to works such as La Cinta Costera 1, 2 and 3, the Metro and those that are still being built by the deceitful company in our country,” Blades wrote on his website. “All the investigation has been concentrated on some of the millions that it paid to the previous government. Are not the works done by the company in the other governments going to be investigated?”

(Blades, of course, was the tourism minister and likely would have been at cabinet meetings where Odebrecht contracts were discussed during the Torrijos years. While he was minister he and this reporter had occasion to discuss and disagree about the Cinta Costera project but it was not about Odebrecht corruption so much as about urban planning principles. This reporter had written about Odebrecht’s history of corruption when they first started getting government work here, and was called in to be upbraided by a Mr. Bárcenas on Odebrecht’s behalf. In that session with Bárcenas then television personality and future Education Minister Lucy Molinar was present.)

While the militants picket outside the courthouse and the academic and professional “good government” types stage more sedate protests, polls indicate that most Panamanians believe the worst about Odebrecht’s corruption of the government. Absent some particularly inflammatory event, this is not leading up to revolution in the streets. It does, however, portend a great electoral massacre in 2019.


the broad masses of workers, peasants and revolutionary intellectuals
It is not appreciated when the boss bribes the government. Members of the SUNTRACS construction workers’ union protest outside the courthouse. Photo by FRENADESO Noticias.


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¿Wappin? Roy Moore, chickenhawk / Roy Moore, gavilán pollero

Moore dice que las acusaciones de conducta sexual inapropiada son “un intento desesperado por detener mi campaña” / Moore says that the accusations of inappropriate sexual conduct are “a desperate attempt to hold back my campaign.”

The Lord’s name in vain: a musical appreciation
El nombre del Señor en vano: una apreciación musical

Bobby Bare – Drop Kick Me Jesus

Aretha Franklin – Respect

Ed Sanders – The Iliad

Johnny Cash – God’s Gonna Cut You Down

Jethro Tull – Aqualung

Bob Marley – Who the Cap Fit

Janis Joplin – Mercedes Benz

Zahara & the Soweto Gospel Choir – Umthwalo

Mike Keneally – Brown Shoes Don’t Make It

Peter Tosh – Mark of the Beast

Mercedes Sosa & León Gieco – Solo Pido a Dios

Holly Near – I Ain’t Afraid

Nina Simone – Sinnerman

War – Deliver the Word

Mahalia Jackson – His Eye Is On The Sparrow


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