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Panama News Briefs
Anti-drug prosecutor suspended for cattle rustling
2004 one John Bryan Buitrago, a Colombian citizen, was jailed here on
charges of drug trafficking and murders for hire. He remains behind
bars awaiting trial. But while he has been locked up, Buitrago
complains, he was the victim of cattle rustling --- 40 head of cattle
disappeared from his property. After an investigation it seems that
signatures were forged and the cattle were illegally sold. Further
inquiries point to anti-drug prosecutor Rosendo Miranda and Public
Ministry secretary Iveth Pérez as parties to the illegal
and thus Attorney General Ana Matilde Gómez has suspended them pending the results of administrative and criminal proceedings.
The theft of the assets of drug suspects once thrived in the Public
Ministry, but since taking office less than a year ago the attorney
general has fired several individuals for the practice.
Albrook Massacre figure arrested in Costa Rica
Former Panama Defense Forces Captain Evidelio Quiel Peralta, a fugitive since the 1989 US invasion and sentenced in absentia to 20 years in prison for nine counts of murder, was captured on October 21 by Costa Rican police. He is in jail in that country, fighting extradition to Panama. Quiel Peralta was convicted for his part in the October 3, 1989 firing squad execution of Major Moisés Giroldi and nine other soldiers who attempted a coup to oust Noriega. The plotters had been promised the assistance of the US Southern Command by the US government and at one point took Noriega prisoner, but former US President George H. W. Bush, who had already decided on an invasion and sought to destroy what was left of the Panama Defense Forces' morale ahead of the attack, betrayed them and allowed Noriega loyalists to rescue the dictator. Giroldi and several key followers were then summarily shot. Prosecutors alleged, and in a 1993 trial in absentia a court agreed, that Quiel Peralta played an important role in the executions. In a jailhouse interview with La Prensa, he denied having anything to do with the firing squad and said that his only crime was following orders from his military superiors.
Torture suit against Noriega lives
It's generally hard to collect a judgment against a prisoner, especially one whose assets have been pursued by legions of attorneys from several government for more than a decade and a half. And thus Thomas Bleming, an American volunteer in an ill-fated guerrilla resistance movement against Panama's late dictatorship, hasn't been able to find a lawyer in his bid for compensation for what he alleges were a couple of years of awful treatment at former General Manuel Antonio Noriega's direction. As in being taken for a flight and threatened with being thrown out of the aircraft, several thousand feet above the Pacific Ocean. As in his hair being pulled out by the roots. As in being repeatedly beaten and starved, and thrown into filthy strip cells. As in mock executions. And so on. At the time of his incarceration Noriega was not the dictator but the man whom his boss at the time, General Omar Torrijos, once described as “my gangster” --- head of the feared G-2 army intelligence branch. Bleming filed suit against Noriega in a Wyoming US federal district court some time ago, but his handwritten, self-drafted complaint was dismissed for failure to state a valid claim under federal law. However, Judge Alan Johnson dismissed without prejudice and granted leave to amend, and Bleming has filed an amended complaint under the Torture Victims Protection Act. He's still looking for a lawyer who's willing to take what may be an uncollectable case, but with or without counsel it's looking more likely that at long last Bleming will get his day in court against Manuel Antonio Noriega.
All cops now can issue tickets
The “cross training” exercise now complete, all of the nation's police officers --- not just the Transito cops as before --- are authorized to issue traffic tickets. All officers are also now trained to assist people injured in traffic accidents, which should eliminate the occasional past practice of a beat cop standing by as someone bleeds to death while waiting for a traffic officer to arrive on the scene. National Police director Rolando Mirones told El Panama America that it's part of a process of “toppling barriers and paradigms” that get in the way of a more rational deployment of police forces.
Petitioners seek action against the Rector Magnífico
Some 1,400 people, most of them in academia or the professions, have signed a letter that was delivered to the office of Attorney General Ana Matilde Gómez on October 20, urging the Public Ministry to continue its investigation of the University of Panama false diploma scandal and calling on prosecutors to use their power to suspend university rector Gustavo García de Paredes while the case is pending. Since law professor Miguel Antonio Bernal filed his criminal complaint in the matter with the ministry, university files have been purged of incriminatory documents, an internal university probe has been launched to identify and fire the person or persons who leaked the information about the bogus diploma that the rector signed and Bernal has been declared “persona non grata” on campus by the General University Council that the rector controls. Thus, the petitioners argue, there is a climate of intimidation and obstruction of justice prevailing at the university and the rector must be removed in order for a proper investigation to proceed.
Sossa faces charges in murder frame-up
As the principal government protector of “offshore asset protection guru” Marc Harris (now resident in a US prison), former Attorney General José Antonio Sossa sided against attorney Gilberto Boutin when the latter had a falling out with Harris and froze about $1 million in The Harris Organisation's assets. It went way beyond successfully prosecuting Boutin for falsifying documents in order to freeze those assets. Sossa also had Boutin and two other men jailed for the murder of Swiss banker Hans Jorg Bosch, and one of the bits of evidence in the case was the skeletal corpse of Bosch. But that murder case broke up when the remains were returned to Switzerland and forensic investigators there id DNA tests that proved that the bones were not Bosch's. So now Sossa, prosecutor Geomara de Jones. PTJ agent Octavio Nicolau and Public Ministry employee Hernán Ávila are facing privately filed criminal charges that they falsified proofs in order to frame Boutin and the others. The new attorney general, Ana Matilde Gómez, appears to be taking the matter seriously. Those who misidentified the remains are already out of a job and Sossa has been called in for formal questioning in the affair.
Sossas have a date with the corregidora
In his decade as attorney general José Antonio Sossa had no problem covering for all manner of racketeering and public corruption, but was vigorous in his pursuit of journalists who wrote about such things in general and people who criticized him in particular. But now that his powers are gone, people are less afraid to be disrespectful to Sossa. And so it is reported in La Prensa and El Panama America that Sossa has a November 22 appointment with the corregidora of Bella Vista, made after an acrimonious October 23 argument with the neighbors. According to published accounts it started when the former attorney general's son dumped ashes from a grill into the sewer and the neighbors protested. The neighbors allege that the elder Sossa was drunk and became aggressive. Sossa alleges that the neighbors shouted epithets that included allegations that the son was a drug trafficker and the father ran with Madam Thonya, the notorious procurer for child prostitution. While he was attorney general Sossa had a newspaper editor who published allegations that Sossa was a client of Madam Thonya's young hookers' services summarily jailed and charged the lawyer who made the allegation with criminal defamation. But Sossa didn't prevail in the latter case and whether the underlying accusation is true or not it seems that some people are no longer hesitant to shout it in his face on the streets of Panama City. This does seem to upset Sossa, and it will be up to the unfortunate corregidora, Lourdes Guerra, to sort out precisely what was said and done when the hearing is held.
Former police sergeant killed and dismembered
Retired Police Sergeant Graciano Coparropa Alvarez was found dead in some tall grass in the Villa Unida area of Chilibre on October 21, having been shot, stabbed and mutilated. There was no blood on the scene, which suggests that he was killed elsewhere and dumped where he was found, and that more than one person was probably involved in the crime. The 49-year-old Graciano is survived by a widow and three children, aged three, eight and 11 years. He was driving a taxi to support his family when he died, and his cab was found less than a kilometer from the body.
Penonome corregidor busted for shakedown
Jacinto Lombardo, a corregidor in Penonome, has been arrested for allegedly demanding $360 each from two suspects accused of theft to set them free.
Gang threats diminish Colon's parades
Threats of gang violence have caused several private high schools and the independent civic bands to pull out of the upcoming Colon patriotic parades. The threats have not only been oral, but also in graffiti warning of a “bloody November” if parades pass through certain gangs' claimed turf. The national government has ordered an increased police presence along the parade routes and the teachers and many parents at Colon's largest public high school, Colegio Abel Bravo, have announced that they will dress in white and march with the student band as a demonstration in favor of a “culture of peace.” Colon's parades take place on November 3 (Independence Day and 5 (the anniversary of the 1903 surrender of the Colombian garrison). When Panama became independent on November 3, 1903, the commander of the Colombian forces on the isthmus was in league with the conspiracy but his immediate subordinates were not. So the commander issued orders for his top aides to come from Colon to Panama City by train to consult with him and the railroad, which was in on the plot, uncoupled the officers' car in the middle of the jungle. Then money was obtained from the safe at La Estrella to buy sufficient rum to get the troops back in Colon, left without officers, seriously drunk. When they sobered up on November 5 US troops were present to support their new ally, the Republic of Panama, so there wasn't much for the Colombians to do but surrender. They were allowed to board ships and leave peacefully. Since then November 5 has been a public holiday in Colon, but it seems that some of the local gangsters have lost all respect for their fair city's traditions.
October 12 indigenous protests
October 12 is Columbus Day to some and Dia de La Raza to others, but to a lot of members of the Americas' first nations it's Indigenous Resistance Day. On the anniversary of the beginning of the European conquest of the Americas --- that day in 1492 when Arawaks discovered Christopher Columbus on their beach --- there was a march by some 200 Ngobe protesters in Veraguas who oppose the flooding of their lands for hydroelectric dams and a press conference in Panama City in which the Indigenous Peoples National Coordinator (CONAPIP) called on the Torrijos administration to halt invasions of Embera and Wounaan lands in the Darien and to stop issuing mining permits in comarcas without the consent of indigenous authorities.
Vicente Pascual dies
On October 24 Vicente Pascual, until recently proprietor of the company that makes Pascual cookies and a prominent business and civic leader, died at the age of 73. He had served as president of the Panamanian Business Executives Association (APEDE) and the Panamanian Industrialists Syndicate (SIP) and was active in the Rotary Club and many other civic organizations. He was also one of the leaders of this country´s Jewish community. In Panama's English-speaking community Pascual was perhaps best known as one of the regulars at the Panama Historical Society.
No recreational activities in Panama Viejo ruins
The National Institute of Culture (INAC) has banned concerts and other recreational activities in the ruins of Panama Viejo. The 16th and 17th century city, which was destroyed by British forces under the command of Sir Henry Morgan in 1671, is a symbol of the Panamanian nation but also a fragile site, so INAC wants to minimize the risk of damage that crowds can do.
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