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The September 11 attacks: Latin America's losses

Panama News Briefs

RP to abide by mutual defense pact
Following the September 11 events the Bush administration has requested that the Organization of American States invoke the 1947 Inter-American Mutual Assistance Treaty, which declares an attack on any country in the hemisphere by any power outside the hemisphere as an attack on all OAS members. Like virtually all other governments throughout the Americas, Panama has accepted the unprecedented call, but without committing itself to participate in military actions. So far only Argentina and Paraguay have offered troops for any US military adventure, but other nations in the Americas are expected to help in different ways. Panama's main contribution may well be in the form of assistance in tracking down the Al-Qaeda network's financial support. By treaty the Panama Canal itself is run according to principles of neutrality and access to all nations, but according to the foreign ministry that does not mean that Panama itself must be neutral in an international conflict. In the current crisis the distinction is probably academic, as landlocked Afghanistan is not one of the Panama Canal's users.

CID-Gallup poll shows rebound in Moscoso's popularity
A poll conducted by the CID-Gallup organization shows a resurgence in President Moscoso's approval rating, but continued public disenchantment with her performance. The pollsters found that 51 percent of those surveyed disapproved of the president, 36 percent approved and rest didn't answer or said they were unsure. Typically in Latin American countries, most of those who don't express an opinion or say that they are not sure about a person or party in political power have a negative opinion that they are reticent to express. In any case, the poll numbers represent a 17 percent gain in approval for the president since a similar poll in May. The poll was commissioned by TVN and El Panama America, and the latter noted that, as the survey was taken while the president was ill and unable to speak, the results may have been slightly skewed in her favor by a sympathy factor. As in earlier polls, the latest CID-Gallup survey showed that Panama City mayor Juan Carlos Navarro, a PRD member, has the highest favorable rating (68 percent) and the lowest unfavorable rating (18 percent) among the country's most prominent political figures. However, the same poll showed that fellow PRD member Martin Torrijos, who has a 63 percent approval rating, is considered a stronger 2004 presidential candidate than Navarro. Torrijos has already announced his candidacy and received the backing of the party organization, while Navarro says that he is concentrating on city affairs and is not close to deciding whether to challenge Torrijos for the presidential nomination or to seek another term as mayor. The only prominent Arnulfista with a generally favorable rating is Alberto Vallarino, who polled at 51 percent favorable and 31 percent unfavorable. As a background to opinions about the politicians, the survey found a deepening mood of public pessimism about the future and most Panamanians reporting that their families' economic situations had declined over the past year.

Government cars torched in Colon
On the night of September 17 a group of four or five masked persons, a couple of them apparently wearing high school uniforms, systematically destroyed four government vehicles at Colon national lottery office, city hall and regional comptroller general's parking lots, smashing windows and setting the vehicles alight with molotov cocktails. The actions were not directy connected with larger protest actions and appear to have been carefully planned. Security guards at the public offices gave conflicting and improbable versions of what happened, leading to suspicions that they were not at their posts during the attacks. In the wake of the firebombings police rounded up a number of leaders of Colon's unemployed organizations, who denied any connection with the actions and have not been formally charged for them. No group has issued any statement claiming responsibility for the cars' destruction.

Week of rioting in Colon
The September 17 firebombing of government vehicles led to the arrests of several Colon leaders of labor and unemployed organizations, which in turn led to peaceful protests the following day, leading to the deployment of riot police, which led to stone-throwing by a few youths, leading in turn to the massive use of tear gas and truncheons by police, which then led to exchanges of gunfire and dozens of arrests. By the time that the violence subsided on September 21 more than 200 people had been arrested, two people had been hospitalized for gunshot wounds and local businesses had suffered hundreds of thousands of dollars in losses due to vandalism. In the course of the week's events the national government announced that it would tolerate no public protests for which it did not issue a permit, which in turn provoked a series of street-blocking student protests in Panama City.

Disturbance in Chitre
On June 22, normally placid Chitre was the scene of confrontations between police and local youths, as the riot squad unexpectedly moved in on a street party to celebrate the corregimiento of Monagrillo's patron saint day. The local representante, Miguel Angel Cedeño, who was present during the confrontation, complained that people were peacefully enjoying a tamborito show when the police attacked without provocation, but police say that they acted to suppress widespread drinking by minors at the event.

Moscoso proposes to eliminate legislators' funds
The Cabinet Council has submitted a 2002 budget to the Legislative Assembly that would eliminate the legislators' circuit funds. These funds, provided for in the Panamanian Constitution, have traditionally been used to for emergency social services and community programs, but there is also a long history of abuse. The legislature had wanted about a half-million dollars for each deputy, but the president wants to remove as much patronage from the PRD-dominated legislature and concentrate it in her Arnulfista-dominated administration. The budget proposal may be the beginning of a serious confrontation between Panama's legislative and executive branches.

Tabloid's publishers charged with treason, defamation
Ubaldo Davis, the main deranged brain behind the popular satirical La Cascara television show and formerly one of the principal suspects in the El Camaleon comic tabloid, stands, along with his co-conspirator Herbert Rattry, accused of "attacking the juridical security of the state," a charge that could net the two young men 20-year prison terms. They are also charged with criminal defamation (calumnia e injuria) and publishing an unregistered newspaper. Davis, Rattry and collaborator Joel Diaz were arrested on September 20 and held for a day and one-half after the appearance of a new satirical tabloid, La Cascara News, which lampooned the president's supposed love affairs. Three others were briefly detained by police in the case, two for questioning and one for getting too close while taking videotapes of the alleged terrorists' transfer from the Betania police station to the Tinajitas jail.

Pin Pin the clown on his way to prison?
Luis Eduardo Sagel, better known in greasepaint as Pin Pin, Panama's best-known clown, has been called to trial for calumnia e injuria (criminal defamation), a charge that could theoretically land him in prison for four years. Sagel accused a police detective of stealing from him when said officer worked for his business some time ago.

Former justice minister on her way to prison?
Mariela Sagel, who served as government and justice minister during the latter part of the Perez Balladares administration, has been called to trial for calumnia e injuria (criminal defamation), for allegations that she made against the former warden of the women's prison in Tocumen. Sagel's declarations, made when she was in the cabinet, in large part mirrored allegations of corruption and poor conditions made by the inmates.

Alberto Vallarino wants Arnulfista nomination
Banker Alberto Vallarino, who finished third in a race with Mireya Moscoso and Martin Torrijos in the 1999 presidential election, announced on the RPC Sunday morning talk show "Enfoque" that he's running again and seeks the nominations of the Arnulfista Party and several minor parties. The last time around, Vallarino lost the Arnulfista primary to Moscoso and then ran at the head of an alliance headed by the Christian Democrats. Now the Christian Democratic Party (PDC) has changed its name to the Partido Popular (PP) and forged a legislative alliance with the country's largest political faction, the Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD). Vallarino consistently runs ahead of all other commonly mentioned Arnulfista presidential hopefuls in public opinion polls, in large part because he has no role in an Arnulfista government that most Panamanians consider to be unusually corrupt and inept. However, Moscoso holds a tight grip on the Arnulfista Party and may prefer a member of her inner circle to Vallarino. At this point opinion polls say that the likely PRD presidential nominee, Martin Torrijos, would easily trounce Vallarino or any other potential Arnulfista candidate. Mireya Moscoso is the widow of the late Dr. Arnulfo Arias, from whom the Arnulfistas get their name, while Alberto Vallarino is his nephew. Vallarino heads Banistmo, the largest private banking group founded on Panamanian capital.

Tocumen officials held for extortion
Six public officials from Tocumen Airport, including two police officers and four customs agents, were arrested over the weekend of September 16 for allegedly fleecing a Haitian businessman on a purchasing trip to the Colon Free Zone of $50,000. The Haitian was carrying $100,000, and the officials allegedly accused him of violating reporting requirements and obliged him to hand over half of his cash. One of those arrested was the head of Customs at Tocumen, Ricardo Herrera. Prosecutors have not yet decided whom, if anybody, will be formally charged with a crime. Customs and Immigration agents at Tocumen are notoriously corrupt, despite several waves of firings and arrests of such officials during each recent administration. One advantage that crooked airport officials enjoy is that Panama has reneged on its commitment under the Inter-American Anti-Corruption Treaty to make unexplained enrichment while employed by the government a criminal offense, so being caught may end a person's ride on the gravy train, but he or she will not be called to account for the illicit income acquired before that time.

Syrian diplomat hassled
In the generalized confusion after the September 11 attacks on the United States, immigration authorities at Tocumen Airport interrupted the trip of Syria's ambassador to Cuba, Clovitis Jury, to Nicaragua via Panama. The diplomat was on his way to Managua via COPA airlines, which uses Panama as a hub, when instead of being allowed to board the plane to Nicaragua immigration obliged him to return to Havana. Later the ambassador was allowed to make his trip to Nicaragua. Immigration said that citizens of Arab countries, diplomats or not, need special visas to transit through Panama. The incident drew protests from diplomatic circles and Panama's Arab community, but the ambassador said it was all a misunderstanding.

4,022 dengue cases in Panama Oeste
Regional health authorities report more than 4,000 cases of dengue fever in Panama Oeste, that part of Panama province west of the canal, so far this year. Dengue, which can in rare cases lead to life-threatening hemorrhages, is usually a week-long misery of body aches and flu-like symptoms and thus is usually not reported to health authorities. Thus the Health Ministry warns that there may have been ten times the 4,022 cases that it has officially recorded, which would put the disease outbreak close to the category of an epidemic. Dengue, like yellow fever, is spread by the Aedes aegypti mosquito, a pest that breeds in tiny pools of water like those formed in cans and other trash thrown by the side of the road. The ministries of health and education and the social security health system are planning an educational campaign and an increase in inspections in order to deny the insects places to breed.

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The September 11 attacks: Latin America's losses

©2001 The Panama News