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Editorial: Corcione should be removed according to ACP rules

Nicolás Corcione Pérez Balladares. Photo by the ACP.
Nicolás Corcione Pérez Balladares. Photo by the ACP.

An already troubled ACP should have its Corcione problem removed without delay

Some people thought that the plea bargain that removed Alejandro Mnocada Luna from the Supreme Court bench and sent him to prison in exchange for dropping all other investigations ended the matter. But it didn’t because the hoodlum ex-judge had accomplices who helped him launder bribe money, fix court construction contracts and so on. The investigations of those things have led to other things. Among them are hard proofs that lead to well-grounded inferences that construction executive and Panama Canal Authority (ACP) board of directors member Nicolás Corione Pérez Balladares laundered money for Moncada Luna, coordinated a bid rigging scheme for courthouse construction projects and improperly received hundreds of thousands of dollars for doing these things.

When prosecutors sought to question Mr. Corcione about this, he went into hiding. As he put it to La Estrella:

Being outside the country. on a family trip, I learned from a news medium of the existence of criminal proceedings against me. After making the relevant legal consultations, it was indicated to me that the system of investigation and trial that was advancing against me was not the right way and could therefore could make a nullity of the investigation. For this reason my lawyers promoted the proper legal action and it has recently been determined by the judiciary that the procedure was not applicable to my case, as was raised by my lawyers. This situation so defined, I have presented myself to confront the investigation and comply with other professionals and business duties. I want to state that the accusations against me are false.

While his whereabouts were unknown, he sent a letter to Minister of Canal Affairs Roberto Roy, taking a leave of absence from his duties as an ACP. Roy accepted that, and in the face of public demands that Corcione be removed from the ACP board, countered that the ACP lacks the power to remove a board member. Then some board members called upon President Varela to remove Corcione from the board, which the president declined to do, indicating that the issue requires further debate.

Two people now in jail for their admitted roles in the courthouse construction and renovation kickback scheme say that Corcione coordinated the operation, and one of them accuses Corcione of demanding a $600,000 bribe. Money trails through various bank accounts appear to verify bribery and money laundering allegations. Corcione says that he didn’t do it. He has the right to a presumption of innocence in a criminal case. It might all be a misunderstanding and it is up to the accusers to prove otherwise in the courts.

However, when prosecutors called on him to testify, he went into hiding. While hiding out from the justice system, he missed 10 board meetings. These are matters that notwithstanding whatever might happen in a criminal case fall under separate administrative laws.

The law clearly provides that a member of the ACP board of directors may be removed for cause. What was negligently left out of the law that created the authority was who can remove a board director and by what procedure. The exception to that is that the president and cabinet can remove a director for “proven physical, mental or administrative incapacity.”

A criminal conviction, or even a criminal charge, is not the only reason why a board member may be suspended or removed, although the law does specify those grounds.

So what is “administrative incapacity?” We should look to the ACP’s personnel rules and code of ethic for indications of that.

The PanCanal personnel regulations provide that absence without prior permission is an offense.

So is fraud. So is theft or unauthorized possession of the funds of third parties — as in, say, possession of hundreds of thousands of dollars in public funds diverted in a kickback scheme.

So is “conduct disrespectful of the public” — as in going into hiding when called to appear before prosecutors.

So is “having prohibited economic interests or being compromised by prohibited economic transactions.”

So is “engaging in criminal, infamous, dishonest, immoral, or disgraceful conduct; or behaving improperly either inside or outside of work, thus hurting the Authority, its image or that of its staff.”

What is “notoriously disgraceful?” See the ACP code of ethics, which specifically applies to board members. That set of rules provides that employees, including board members, must “avoid any conduct that might adversely affect the interests of the Authority.”

Hiding from the law may be a time-honored rabiblanco trait, but it’s disgraceful conduct for a public official, a breach of PanCanal ethical rules and cause to be removed from the ACP board of directors. Just the missed meetings during the course of that conduct constitutes grounds for removal.

Have Corcione’s lawyers found a circuit judge who, against the great preponderance of legal opinion, has held that ACP board members are immune from ordinary criminal proceedings? The quick and proper solution for that is to move outside the criminal process to make him no longer a board member.

It is especially critical to do so at this time, because the problems created by a past conflict of interest, acceptance of a lowball bid and deceptions of the public about true costs are now coming to the surface with respect to the Panama Canal expansion. The problems with the GUPC consortium are not just the usual things that come up, but the product of hiring a consortium headed by a company known to be troubled, which included a company owned by the relatives of the canal administrator at the time, for an unrealistic cost. In the greater scheme of things Corcione’s ethical breaches are minor in comparison. But he should be held accountable for what he has personally done and the ACP needs to account to its owners — the Panamanian people — for a course of institutional conduct over a number of years.

If the semi-autonomous ACP moves to enforce its own rules, the president and cabinet ought to ratify that. If the president and cabinet move to declare Corcione administratively incapable, the ACP board should ratify that. But a circular pointing game while lawyers interpose long delays in the courts is harmful to the Panama Canal as an institution.


Bear in mind…

They underfund 80,000 kids out of Head Start but aren’t even questioning where the money is coming from for another attack to paternalistically whip the Arab kids back in line. What part of Dr. King’s dream was this?
Ahmad Rahman


The moment of victory is much too short to live for that and nothing else.
Martina Navratilova


Why are deadly weapons being sold to those who plan to inflict untold suffering on individuals and society? Sadly, the answer, as we all know, is simply for money: money that is drenched in blood, often innocent blood. In the face of this shameful and culpable silence, it is our duty to confront the problem and to stop the arms trade.
Pope Francis


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¿Wappin? Free form, with a nod to Latin Grammy nominees

Natalia Lafourcade. Photo by Steven Pisano.

¿Wappin? Free form, with a nod to Latin Grammy nominees

Michael Marc – Godfather Theme

Julieta Venegas – Ese Camino

Bob Marley – Babylon System

Alejandro Sanz – Un Zombie A La Intemperie

Rubén Blades – Ojos de Perro Azul

The Isley Brothers – This Old Heart of Mine

Julieta Rada – Lately

Curtis Mayfield – If There’s a Hell Below We’re All Going to Go

Camila & Maro Antonio Solís – La Vida Entera

Javiera Mena – Otra Era

Aretha Franklin & Annie Lennox – Sisters Are Doin’ It For Themselves / I Love…

Gusi – Tú tienes razón

Lord Cobra – Down the River

Bruce Springsteen – The River

Natalia Lafourcade – Hasta la Raíz


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Mourning and manhunt after cyclist killed by hit-and-run driver

Héctor and Mónica
Athletes Héctor Zepeda and Mónica Licona de Zepeda, married in mid-2014. He’s now a widower after she was killed by a hit-and-run driver while riding her bicycle on Avenida Balboa in front of the Hotel Miramar. She was 22 years old. He learned about it while in Colombia for a cycling competition. The tragedy has prompted an outpournig of grief and concern, particularly from the athletic circles of which the young couple were a part. Photo from her Facebook page.

One of Panama’s many aggressive and irresponsible drivers leaves his indelible stain on the nation

Mourning and manhunt over Mónica’s death

by Eric Jackson

On the morning of Sunday, September 20, Mónica Licona and her sister Lianna, along with other members of their Stri Store bicycle racing team, set out on a circuitous route that was to end up in Gamboa. Mónica was a superb racer, having represented Panama in the Caribbean and Central American Games and other international competitions.

About 20 minutes into their ride, a little before six in the morning on Avenida Balboa in front of the Hotel Miramar, a rented Kia ran into Mónica. Despite the attempts of her sister and hotel employees from across the street to help, and with the belated arrival of private SEMM ambulance that was stationed next to the hotel but first had to figure out whether it was their job to respond, Mónica was dead within 10 minutes. The accident was close to the trauma unit at Santo Tomas, underfunded but still the nation’s best, and even closer to the private emergency room at Hospital Nacional.

Meanwhile the driver of the Kia and a passenger fled. They abandoned the car on Calle 32 near Avenida Mexico and took a taxi. Part of that flight was caught on video and served to identify a woman retrieving boxes from the trunk and the cab in question. The next day, when the rental agency opened, police were able to verify who had rented the car. A woman thought to have been the one in the video and a cab driver were quickly arrested, and a warrant was issued for the arrest of Enrique Jaén Chérigo, who had rented the car and is believed to have been the hit-and-run driver. A $20,000 reward has been offered for information leading to his arrest.

The tragedy elicited cries of anguish, concern and indignation from Panama’s various cycling groups, to whom careless or aggressive drivers pose a constant threat. A white bicycle was set up on a road median as a protest and reminder.

“Drive defensively, taking care for the crazy things the other drivers might do” is always good advice for Panama. Cyclists need to take special care. But the reality is that a large percentage of Panama’s traffic fatalities are neither drivers nor passengers of motor vehicles, but are pedestrians. With the construction of pedestrian bridges the percentages are down a bit, but drivers who just don’t seem to care remain a major public safety hazard.


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septThe Panama News is reader supported, in many different ways

Things that you can do to keep The Panama News going

It does take money for The Panama News to continue, and most of it that comes our way arrives by this circuitous PayPal route — but it does get to us that way. There are other ways to send money, and other sorts of donations that help us get by.

The Panama News, which has been going since late 1994, is editor and publisher Eric Jackson, who works more than full-time without any regular salary, plus a bunch of volunteer contributors who donate their labor in the ways of articles, photography, proofreading, translating, computer advice, help with PayPal transactions and so on. There are things that we ought to do and don’t, but would do if we had the people to do them. We also receive in-kind donations of materials. These words are written on a donated computer, which is aging and ought to be replaced. Most of the photos we take are taken with donated cameras. There are times when The Panama News is in touch with the rest of the world via a cell phone that works with donated minutes. Sometimes the editor even works through the night slugging down donated coffee. We have sometimes taken to the road to cover things without a proper travel budget because people have provided transportation or lodging. There have been emergency times when people have lent the use of their computers and Intrnet access. The editor and crew are eternally grateful for all of this help that has come over many years, from a relatively small portion of our readership.

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But what about the progressive news aggregators from the north, who are also chronically asking for donations? Reader Supported News, the Daily Kos, Truthout, Nation of Change and so on do valuable work. They do not, however, cover Panama or very much look at things from a tropical point of view. The Panama News doesn’t reach nearly as many people as those folks do, but we are the place to go for a Panama-centric point of view, not only about Panama but about surrounding regions and the world. (Is a Chinese company’s decision to order Arctic-equipped liquid natural gas tankers obscure and irrelevant? Not if you are thinking of the Panama Canal and its present and future competitition.)

Those are the things we are doing, and we do them better when we have more support from the readers. See the PayPal donation links if you want to help that way, but consider these other things you might do:

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Budget spray kills GM mosquitoes

Lorenzo Cáceres, an entomologist who is prominent among the region’s vector control specialists, will have to dedicate himself to another project. He has headed the Gorgas Institute’s genetically modified mosquito program, which was eliminated from the budget by the legislature’s budget committee. Photo by the Instituto Conmemorativo Gorgas de Estudios de la Salud (ICGES).

The principal opposition to the program came from people who are wary of introducing any genetically modified organism into the environment, but they won their argument because of economic factors

Budget spray kills GM mosquitoes

by Eric Jackson

Notwithstanding a public relations campaign by a private British company and various Panamanian public agencies and officials, Panama is about to discontinue an experimental program to control populations of the disease-carrying Aedes egypti mosquitoes by releasing genetically modified (GM) insects into the environment. These gene-spliced mosquitoes would mate with wild ones, passing on a genetic trait that would kill the offspring unless they are fed the antibiotic tetracycline. Aedes egypti carry dengue fever, a serious public health concern throughout much of the tropics and subtropics, and also the emerging disease chikungunya. Aedes egypti also carries yellow fever, which has not been a problem in Panama in recent decades.

Back in the days of the US canal construction process, the yellow fever threat and the malaria that’s spread by the Anopheles mosquito were brought under control by stern sanitary measures to drain and apply oil to the swamps where the Anopheles thrive and to eliminate the small, clear bodies of water — such as rainwater collecting in trash or discarded beverage containers, or used tires — in which Aedes egypti thrive. Fumigating with insecticides was also part of the program, but a combination of adverse environmental side-effects, insects’ acquired resistance to the chemicals used and health concerns has reduced the spraying options.

A major technical problem unaddressed by advocates of the GM mosquitoes is that there is a second dengue vector in Panama, the Asian Tiger Mosquito (Aedes alobopictus) that might just take over the niches vacated by Aedes egypti. There are also uncertainties about just how fast Aedes egypti mosquitoes from nearby areas could recolonize places where the wild populations were wiped out by GM mosquitoes.

The project here was a collaboration between the private Oxford University spinoff company Oxitec and Panama’s public Gorgas Institute. It came during the Martinelli administration and had its advocates within the Ministry of Health and at the University of Panama. Allegations from such quarters that old vector control methods don’t work — that is, taking the failures of successive administrations that have treated public sanitation as a source of political patronage jobs and rigged contracts rather than a critical public service as a given — did raise a few eyebrows on campus. So did the role of the Gorgas Institute, which got contracts with Oxitec for experimental releases in parts of Panama Oeste, as both public science policy researcher and analyst and as advocate of a corporate interest. Were everything to go Oxitec’s way, Panama would hire them for many millions of dollars over a number of years to run Aedes egypti control programs nationwide.

As it turned out, the Gorgas Institute asked the Ministry of Health — under new leadership since the 2014 elections — for $6 million to expand the experimental GM mosquito release program. But although there is hesitance to admit it, Panama faces some serious budget problems after the Martinelli years. Plus a French company, Sanofi Pasteur, is getting promising results in large-scale trials of a dengue vaccine. Of the $22.8 million budget for the 2016 fiscal year that the Gorgas Institute requested, the Ministry of Health submitted a $13.9 million appropriation to the legislature, not including money for GM insects. It does not appear that there is much sentiment in the National Assembly, either as a whole or in its Budget Committee, or among the public at large to rescue Oxitec from the budget ax.


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Pope Francis in Cuba: “Small signs of God’s presence in our neighborhoods”

Pope Francis in Havana. Photo by Granma.

“Small signs of God’s presence in our neighborhoods”

Pope Francis in Holguín’s Plaza de la Revolucion

an official Vatican transcript of his homily during his Cuba visit

We are celebrating the feast of the apostle and evangelist Saint Matthew. We are celebrating the story of a conversion. Matthew himself, in his Gospel, tell us what it was like, this encounter which changed his life. He shows us an “exchange of glances” capable of changing history.

On a day like any other, as Matthew, the tax collector, was seated at his table, Jesus passed by, saw him, came up to him and said: “Follow me.” Matthew got up and followed him.

Jesus looked at him. How strong was the love in that look of Jesus, which moved Matthew to do what he did! What power must have been in his eyes to make Matthew get up from his table! We know that Matthew was a publican: he collected taxes from the Jews to give to the Romans. Publicans were looked down upon and considered sinners; as such, they lived apart and were despised by others. One could hardly eat, speak or pray with the likes of these. For the people, they were traitors: they extorted from their own to give to others. Publicans belonged to this social class.

Jesus, on the other hand, stopped; he did not quickly take his distance. He looked at Matthew calmly, peacefully. He looked at him with eyes of mercy; he looked at him as no one had ever looked at him before. And this look unlocked Matthew’s heart; it set him free, it healed him, it gave him hope, a new life, as it did to Zacchaeus, to Bartimaeus, to Mary Magdalene, to Peter, and to each of us. Even if we do not dare raise our eyes to the Lord, he looks at us first. This is our story, and it is like that of so many others. Each of us can say: “I, too, am a sinner, whom Jesus has looked upon.” I ask you, in your homes or in the Church, to be still for a moment and to recall with gratitude and happiness those situations, that moment, when the merciful gaze of God was felt in our lives.

Jesus’s love goes before us, his look anticipates our needs. He can see beyond appearances, beyond sin, beyond failures and unworthiness. He sees beyond our rank in society. He sees beyond this, to our dignity as sons and daughters, a dignity at times sullied by sin, but one which endures in the depth of our soul. He came precisely to seek out all those who feel unworthy of God, unworthy of others. Let us allow Jesus to look at us. Let us allow his gaze to run over our streets. Let us allow that look to become our joy, our hope.

After the Lord looked upon him with mercy, he said to Matthew: “Follow me.” Matthew got up and followed him. After the look, a word. After love, the mission. Matthew is no longer the same; he is changed inside. The encounter with Jesus and his loving mercy has transformed him. He leaves behind his table, his money, his exclusion. Before, he had sat waiting to collect his taxes, to take from others; now, with Jesus he must get up and give, give himself to others. Jesus looks at him and Matthew encounters the joy of service. For Matthew and for all who have felt the gaze of Jesus, other people are no longer to be “lived off,” used and abused. The gaze of Jesus gives rise to missionary activity, service, self-giving. Jesus’s love heals our short-sightedness and pushes us to look beyond, not to be satisfied with appearances or with what is politically correct.

Jesus goes before us, he precedes us; he opens the way and invites us to follow him. He invites us slowly to overcome our preconceptions and our reluctance to think that others, much less ourselves, can change. He challenges us daily with the question: “Do you believe? Do you believe it is possible that a tax collector can become a servant? Do you believe it is possible that a traitor can become a friend? Do you believe is possible that the son of a carpenter can be the Son of God?” His gaze transforms our way of seeing things, his heart transforms our hearts. God is a Father who seeks the salvation of each of his sons and daughters.

Let us gaze upon the Lord in prayer, in the Eucharist, in Confession, in our brothers and sisters, especially those who feel excluded or abandoned. May we learn to see them as Jesus sees us. Let us share his tenderness and mercy with the sick, prisoners, the elderly and families in difficulty. Again and again we are called to learn from Jesus, who always sees what is most authentic in every person, which is the image of his Father.

I know the efforts and the sacrifices being made by the Church in Cuba to bring Christ’s word and presence to all, even in the most remote areas. Here I would mention especially the “mission houses” which, given the shortage of churches and priests, provide for many people a place for prayer, for listening to the word of God, for catechesis and community life. They are small signs of God’s presence in our neighborhoods and a daily aid in our effort to respond to the plea of the apostle Paul: “I beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all lowliness and meekness, forbearing one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (cf. Eph 4:1-3).

I now turn my eyes to the Virgin Mary, Our Lady of Charity of El Cobre, whom Cuba embraced and to whom it opened its doors forever. I ask Our Lady to look with maternal love on all her children in this noble country. May her “eyes of mercy” ever keep watch over each of you, your homes, your families, and all those who feel that they have no place. In her love, may she protect us all as she once cared for Jesus.


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Harrington, Descentralización: un cambio para nada cambiar

El presidented presenta su Proyecto de Descentralización a alcaldes, representantes, diputados, ministros y directores de entidades. Foto por la Presidencia.
Juan Carlos Varela presenta su proyecto de descentralización ante alcaldes, representantes, diputados, ministros y directores de entidades. Foto por la Presidencia.

La pereza de periodismo panameño en investigar no informa que se puede “descentralizar”, sin la propuesta en ciernes

Un cambio para nada cambiar

por Kevin Harrington-Shelton
Sin ideología — ¿qué son los partidos sino meros colectivos de atracadores?
San Agustín

Los administradores de la antigua Roma tenían como norma iniciar sus mandatos, especificando cuáles leyes iban a hacer cumplir. Lamentablemente, acá no heredamos tan sana costumbre, para que los administrados supieramos a qué atenernos. Ejemplo. Como podrá corroborarse en su transcripción a continuación, nuestra Constitución “manda” que el Presupuesto de Inversiones lo prepare –y fiscalice– no el municipio –ni los diputados– sino un poco conocido “Concejo Provincial de Coordinación”.

Tal contradicción no mortifica a nuestros políticos, con pánico de abrir a una constituyente para democratizar una Carta Magna heredada del golpe militar. Hoy los militares sin casaca prefieren convocar a conversaciones sobre (solamente) una propuesta que riñe con el marco constitucional supuestamente vigente — porque así no arriesgan que el pueblo les limite sus blindajes ni prebendas. Pero lo más curioso es que, ni uno sólo de los 450 MIL ADHERENTES del Partido Democrático Revolucionario (quienes se vanaglorian de ser herederos espirituales del general Omar Torrijos) haya dicho ni pío contra esta violación de esa institución que el propio PRD innovó en 1972 y que mantuvo “vigente” en todos sus reformas aprobadas desde entonces.

La actual propuesta debilita el control contra una corrupción endémica en nuestro clima tropical.

La ilustra el reciente amago de permutar el terreno de la escuela en mero centro de Paso Canoa (que vale $4 millones) por un terreno de $53 mil distante a 7 kilómetros — con la bendición del Ministerio de Educación y el voto favorable del señor alcalde y los 5 ediles, por casualidad, todos Panameñistas. (Allí está la documentación). Luego que en marzo 2015 la televisión mostró cómo los indignados moradores cerraran durante 4 días la frontera con Costa Rica, en su Consulta C-54-15 de 23 de junio 2015, el Procurador de la Administración encontró ONCE fallas en los procedimientos. Si tal “inversión” la hubiera decidido los 110 integrantes del Concejo Provincial de Chiriquí, sería (menos) probable que prosperara semejante atraco. Y, desde un punto de vista menos teórico, en la práctica a una Contraloría de por sí ya recargada le resultará mucho más difícil vigilar a 95 municipios, que a 10 concejos provinciales.

Porque al escurrir el bulto la oligarquía política en la capital, desconoce la realidad que “con la bóveda del banco abierta, ningún hombre es honrado”.

ARTICULO 253. Las Provincias tendrán el número de Distritos que la Ley disponga.

ARTICULO 254. En cada Provincia funcionará un Concejo Provincial, integrado por todos los Representantes de Corregimientos de la respectiva Provincia y los demás miembros que la Ley determine al reglamentar su organización y funcionamiento, teniendo estos últimos únicamente derecho a voz. Cada Concejo Provincial elegirá su Presidente y su Junta Directiva, dentro de los respectivos Representantes de Corregimientos y dictará su reglamento interno. El Gobernador de la Provincia y los Alcaldes de Distritos asistirán con derecho a voz a las reuniones del Concejo Provincial.

ARTICULO 255. Son funciones del Concejo Provincial, sin perjuicio de otras que la Ley señale, las siguientes:

1. Actuar como órgano de consulta del Gobernador de la Provincia, de las autoridades provinciales y de las autoridades nacionales en general.

2. Requerir informes de los funcionarios nacionales, provinciales y municipales en relación con asuntos concernientes a la Provincia. Para estos efectos, los funcionarios provinciales y municipales están obligados, cuando los Concejos Provinciales así lo soliciten, a comparecer personalmente ante éstos a rendir informes verbales. Los funcionarios nacionales pueden rendir sus informes por escrito.

3. Preparar cada año, para la consideración del Órgano Ejecutivo, el plan de obras públicas, de inversiones y de servicios de la Provincia y fiscalizar su ejecución.

4. Supervisar la marcha de los servicios públicos que se presten en su respectiva Provincia.

5. Recomendar a la Asamblea Nacional los cambios que estime convenientes en las divisiones políticas de la Provincia.

6. Solicitar a las autoridades nacionales y provinciales estudios y programas de interés provincial.


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The Panama News blog links, September 22, 2015


The Panama News blog links, September 22, 2015

Reuters, Risk of delay to PanCanal expansion finish

Splash 24/7, Locks maintenance to halve PanCanal capacity in coming week

Big News Network, Canal rivalry between Panama and Suez to increase

Cruising World, Guo Chuan sets sailing record for Northeast Passage

World Maritime News, CMES to invest in five Arctic LNG carriers

The Maritime Executive, Arctic cruise ship first for France

AFP, Warming Arctic ice cap

The Diplomat: China, South America and regional integration

PR, Copa woos American business travelers

Prensa Latina, Panama-Cuba agricultural agreement

DFN, BNP Paribas lowers First Quantum Minerals limited price target

Investing.com, Copper prices fall on China fears

The Inertia, Exploring Panamanian surfing

MLS Soccer, Panama calls up Godoy and Torres for October friendlies

Caribbean News Now!, Trinidad to proceed in Warner extradition

Reuters, Petrobras graft scheme origin tied to Lula’s ex-chief of staff

Video, Volkswagen admits cheating on US diesel emissions tests

BU Today, Embryonic frogs can exit eggs early in times of danger

STRI, 72-year-old Boy Scout relives fossil discovery

Mechi Cri, Los ríos de Chiriquí en concesión

Reuters, Solar powered mobile phones for disaster situations

Khor, When so many lives are at stake

Ring of Fire, The CEO who raised AIDS drug from $13 to $750

Baker, Will President Obama stand up to the drug thugs?

El Mundo, Acuerdos entre Venezuela y Colombia para normalizar relaciones

EFE, Uribe se muestra crítico con la reunión entre Santos y Maduro

Reuters, Haitian-Dominican border crisis grows

Martínez, Guatemala celebrates the resignation of Otto Pérez Molina

Hetland, The truth about Hugo Chávez

Video, Bernie Sanders: DNC’s debates rigged

Infobae.com, “Todos somos mexicanos”: artistas latinos responden a Trump

Atwood, We are double-plus unfree

Cordero, La mujer del bate y el eterno mito de los roles de género


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Editorials, Accountability for an illegal campaign; and War loses — sort of

Sexual Buffalo
Legislator Sergio Gálvez, who notoriously proclaimed that “He who doesn’t give doesn’t go,” distributing gifts to voters at public expense. He now faces proceedings in the Supreme Court for an alleged role in overpriced food purchases with kickbacks, a part of his and Ricardo Martinelli’s strategy of buying the 2014 elections using public funds. Photo by the Asamblea Nacional.

Accountability for a flagrantly illegal campaign: slow and in a major case absent

How can we say that the campaign that Ricardo Martinelli and his followers waged in 2014 was “flagrantly illegal?” Isn’t there much to be determined? Isn’t there a presumption of innocence?

Yes, we have heard all that, incessantly, from the former president’s phalanxes of lawyers, even if mostly what they argue is that as a specially privileged person Martinelli himself is not accountable before the law.

Now his erstwhile president of the National Assembly is also facing charges before the Supreme Court, this time over clearly overpriced no-bid government purchases of rice, beans and lentils, allegedly with kickbacks that went toward funding the Martinelista shower of gifts on the voters.

Just an allegation? Can’t prove any intent? Can’t get a witness to a specific agreement that “you get this bag of groceries and in return we get your vote?” Can’t show what Gálvez knew and when he knew it? It’s up to a magistrate appointed as prosecutor to prove the details, but much of this work has been done before other tribunals.

In a by-election for representante in the Tonosi corregimiento of El Bebedero, there was a massive distribution of gifts to voters to buy the election for Martinelli’s candidate. The money for that vote-buying campaign came from a man who got overpriced no-bid highway construction contracts. The Electoral Tribunal held a trial about the matter, determined that in reality it amounted to the use of government funds to sway the electorate and ordered new elections.

At the time Gálvez said that El Bebedero was the model of how the 2014 election would be contested, and infamously declared that “He who doesn’t give doesn’t go.” Then the entire nation saw that kind of campaign waved in all of our faces. The nature of what happened was demonstrated in more than a dozen more Electoral Tribunal trials. There are many adjectives properly applied to Sergio Gálvez, but “subtle” is not one of them.

In any case, the charges now before the Supreme Court are about one small part of the enormous crime, the legislators’s alleged role in some corrupt purchases. The court should really investigate the context and bring further charges for the larger crime.

The infamous 2014 Martinelista campaign went on in large part because Martinelli’s appointee as Electoral Prosecutor, Eduardo Peñaloza, refused to enforce the election laws. He taunted the nation about it. Now a criminal complaint against him for malfeasance in office has been discounted by Attorney General Kenia Porcell. Was the complaint, for some reason or another, technically deficient? Perhaps, but it did have the backing of the nation’s principal bar association, the Colegio Nacional de Abogados. Let us hope that Porcell’s ruling is not the end of the matter.

Peñaloza’s role as a key operative in the illegal 2014 Martinelista campaign should not go uninvestigated and unpunished. We can’t have a truly fair election with him in charge of enforcing election laws. We won’t have much respect for our election laws until Panamanians see Peñaloza taken away to jail in handcuffs.


Syrian war
Bombed-out Syria. Photo by Peter Stevens

War loses — sort of

The extension of the filibuster power to the point that now a large enough minority in the US Senate can block any measure from even coming before the body in a formal debate is unfortunate, and all the more so because greed and extreme partisanship have a stranglehold on Congress in particular and US politics in general. But the bad system worked well enough when enough senators banded together to block an Israeli government attempt to nullify an agreement that Barack Obama and the leaders of several other major powers made with the government of Iran with respect to nuclear development that could lead to an Iranian nuclear arsenal.

Do we hear howls about what an anti-Semitic thing it is to allege such a thing about the government of Israel? The Panama News is on a bunch of Israeli email lists, and the editor reads what they write. He also from time to time peruses Ha’aretz and The Jerusalem Post online. Then there was the online exchange in which an Israeli citizen — and not a US-Israeli dual citizen — chortled that “We control Congress.” Mr. Netanyahu, who wants a war with Iran that would certainly follow on the heels of the Iranian nuclear proliferation agreement’s failure, was told by his own military and intelligence establishment that Israel could not succeed in an attack on Iran, so he tried to browbeat the Americans into partaking of that disaster instead. But a large segment of American Jews, including many of the Jews in Congress, spurned the Israeli government’s appeals. We shall see what the political fallout will bring, both in Washington and Tel Aviv.

So a roadblock was interposed along the way to a US war with Iran. It was a victory for peace, to be sure, but do we have peace?

Millions of refugees streaming out of war-torn Syria answer that question. So do the thousands of people killed in the Yemeni civil war, in which the Saudis and other Gulf Arab states are directly intervening with US support. So does the unresolved 14-year war in Afghanistan.

Calls from the Republican base to remove the millions of American Muslims, “constitutional theories” that would cancel the citizenship of US-born children of immigrants (except for Donald Trump), and hideous misrepresentions of people fleeing wars as invaders bent on conquest — aren’t these, after all, arguments in favor of provoking new wars? Moreover, when an Australian billionaire who — along with his Saudi partners — likes to play kingmaker in US politics through his media empire slams proposals to rebuild America’s infrastructure, educational system and standard of living as prohibitively expensive, isn’t the unstated number beneath his dubious calculations the cost of the United States fighting never-ending wars all over the planet?

War has lost a round in the US Senate. That’s no reason for antiwar voters to stay home and shut up.


Bear in mind…

Some men look at constitutions with sanctimonious reverence and deem them like the ark of the covenant, too sacred to be touched. They ascribe to the men of the preceding age a wisdom more than human, and suppose what they did to be beyond amendment. I knew that age well; I belonged to it, and labored with it. It deserved well of the country. It was very like the present, but without the experience of the present.
Thomas Jefferson


Let the authority of the people be the only power that exists in the world! And let the name of tyranny itself be erased and forgotten from the language of the nations!
Simón Bolívar


If it is the function of the public realm to throw light on the affairs of men by providing a space of appearances in which they can show in deed and word, for better or worse, who they are and what they can do, then darkness has come when this light is extinguished by “credibility gaps” and “invisible government,” by speech that does not disclose what it sweeps under the carpet, by exhortations, moral and otherwise, that under the pretext of upholding old truths, degrade all truth to meaningless triviality.
  Hannah Arendt


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Chittister, A letter to Pope Francis


Sister JoanA letter to Pope Francis

by Sister Joan Chittister

Dear Pope Francis,

Your visit to the United States is important to us all. We have watched you make the papacy a model of pastoral listening. You have become for us a powerful reminder of the Jesus who walked among the crowds listening to them, loving them — healing them.

Your commitment to poverty and mercy, to the lives of the poor and the spiritual suffering of many — however secure they may feel materially — gives us new hope in the integrity and holiness of the Church itself. A church that is more about sin than the suffering of those who bear the burdens of the world is a puny church, indeed. In the face of the Jesus who consorted with the most wounded, the most outcast of society, all the time judging only the judgers, your insistence is the lesson of a lifetime for the self-righteous and the professionally religious.

It is with this awareness that we raise two issues here:

The first is the dire poverty to which you draw our attention ceaselessly. You refuse to allow us to forget the inhumanity of the barrios everywhere, the homeless on bank steps in our own society, the overworked, the underpaid, the enslaved, the migrant, the vulnerable and those invisible to the mighty of this era.

You make the world see what we have forgotten. You call us to do more, to do something, to provide the jobs, the food, the homes, the education, the voice, the visibility that bring dignity, decency and full development.

But there is a second issue lurking under the first that you yourself may need to give new and serious attention to as well. The truth is that women are the poorest of the poor. Men have paid jobs; few women in the world do. Men have clear civil, legal and religious rights in marriage; few women in the world do. Men take education for granted; few women in the world can expect the same. Men are allowed positions of power and authority outside the home; few women in the world can hope for the same. Men have the right to ownership and property; most of the women of the world are denied these things by law, by custom, by religious tradition. Women are owned, beaten, raped and enslaved regularly simply because they are female. And worst of all, perhaps, they are ignored — rejected — as full human beings, as genuine disciples, by their churches, including our own.

It is impossible, Holy Father, to be serious about doing anything for the poor and at the same time do little or nothing for women.

I implore you to do for the women of the world and the church what Jesus did for Mary who bore him, for the women of Jerusalem who made his ministry possible, for Mary of Bethany and Martha to whom he taught theology, for the Samaritan Woman who was the first to recognize Jesus as the Messiah, for Mary of Magdala who is called the Apostle to the Apostles, and for the deaconesses and leaders of the house churches of the early church.

Until then, Holy Father, nothing can really change for their hungry children and their inhuman living conditions.

We’re glad you are here to speak to these things. We trust you to change them, starting with the Church itself.

Sister Joan Chittister, OSB


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