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Republican criminals and their shills in Panama's American community
by Eric Jackson
At the outset, let me say that I by no means suggest that all, or even most, of the Republicans living down here are criminals. That's not true and I know it and you know it. But as we approach the end of a GOP administration whose top officials have committed war crimes, and as I walk away with the criminal defamation charges brought against me by a far-right American activist turned offshore financial hustler thrown out of court but with a continued drum beat of online backing for that thug and the bogus prosecution he brought against me, we do need to recognize the social cover that a Republican criminal element has very often received in Panama's American community, or to cite a different but related phenomenon, cover that a criminal element has often received from the Republicans in Panama's American community.
In light of a prolonged propaganda campaign and some additional information, let's take another look back at a story I wrote nearly four years ago.
The story, and how it has been misrepresented
For the umpteenth time, one Donald Kent Winner, whose screeds, thanks to his far-right Republican support, bear the imprimatur of Elks Lodge 1414 and one of Panama's three VFW posts, and also get the support in various overt or tacit ways of other right-wing elements of the community and even a few alleged Democrats, brings up an old attack. It goes like this:
Of course Eric Jackson is still nuts, so in his brain he thinks the Tucan Country Club is being financed by a "Watergate bag man" or something. Yeah, I know, it's crazy but that's typical Eric Jackson stuff - he never lets the truth or facts get in the way of a good slam piece.
The accusation dates from this story.
However, right after I first released that piece, people sent me emails with comments and tips about the story, and events since then pointed out the significance of aspects of those communications; I noticed a little reference in the notes I took while doing the story that contained a key bit of data that I had overlooked at the time; and archives that were out of my reach then have since been posted online. And let us also at this point note a chronological sleight of hand in Winner's versions: I first published my story in an online email group, and afterwards Tucan appeared as Winner's first advertiser on his copyright theft website: it's not the other way around, like he claims, making it appear as how Tucan started to advertise with him and so I invented a story about them.
Who is Gilbert Straub?
Gilbert Straub is a Republican criminal. Scion of part of the S&H Green Stamp fortune, he was part of the Robert Vesco organized crime group and in that capacity played some bit roles in Richard Nixon's crime spree now generally known as "Watergate." He is a naturalized Panamanian citizen.
Where does this reporter get the idea that Straub was a "Watergate bag man?" Is it a paranoid delusion, as Winner suggests? Is it a communist lie?
Nice try. But look at what can be found and what was cited in that most "radical" and "disreputable" of sources, the Congressional Record, from the testimony of a former DEA agent at a 1999 hearing of the House Banking Committee's Subcommittee on Domestic and International Monetary Policy :
Chairman BACHUS. Thank you very much.
Mr. Mazur, I appreciate you testifying. I understand that you were a DEA agent in Panama; is that correct?
Mr. MAZUR. I worked, Mr. Chairman, in Panama in an undercover capacity when I worked for the Drug Enforcement Administration as a Special Agent.
* * *
With regard to Panama, I shared office space with Gilbert Straub, a convicted drug money launderer who was formerly a lieutenant of Robert Vesco. During the early 1970's, Straub ran Vesco's operations in New Jersey. He is the individual who personally delivered $50,000 in US currency that was initially used to buy the silence of the Watergate Burglars. After Straub, Vesco and others were indicted for SEC violations in the early 1970's, he fled to Panama, established Panamanian citizenship, and embarked on a career of laundering illegal proceeds for US based organized crime figures. Straub informed me of innumerable facts relative to the illegal activities he and others staged from Panama.
Tuesday, December 7, 1999
US House of Representatives,
Subcommittee on Domestic and International Monetary Policy,
Committee on Banking and Financial Services
Oh, but was that just another political smear job, wherein scurrilous lies are put into the public record by way of their having been expounded before a committee of the US Congress? You know, like the lies that first brought Fox News military analyst Oliver North to public prominence? Like the lies that were told to railroad the United States into a costly and politically disastrous adventure in Iraq?
However, the gist of Mazur's testimony has corroborators in Panama's American community and in the public record of the United States. And since my story was written, that most "ultraleftist" of sources, Time magazine, has put some of its archives online. Lo and behold, those archives mention Straub:
FEB. 1972. Daniel Hofgren, a vice chairman of the Nixon campaign finance committee, met a Vesco business associate, Gilbert R.J. Straub, on a transatlantic airliner and suggested that Vesco might contribute to the campaign, as he had done in 1968.
Gilbert Straub and Tucan
I first got onto the Straub and Tucan link due to a tip from a reader. I had already heard of Straub's past as a Watergate bagman. My source opined that the former Horoko golf course and its surroundings was sold by the former Interoceanic Regional Authority (ARI) at an artificially low price and that Straub and a bunch of prominent PRD folks or their relatives were silent partners in the project.
Before I started asking anyone any questions, I did a web search for Tucan Country Club, found among the results (and copied pages from) the website of a Proart Marketing Associates, which declared that:
PROART MARKETING ASSOCIATES is a Panama corporation whose principal business has evolved from consumer merchandise into the development and marketing of Real Estate projects in the Republic of Panama. The company has a substantial involvement in Real Estate Developments, in addition to the Merchandise Division which develops and markets an exclusive line of items for the tourist market under its registered brand name "Artistic Editions". The company has both a license as a Real Estate Marketing and Development company, as well as a general Merchandise Marketing license in the Republic of Panama.
In addition, Proart Marketing is a founding shareholder in both of the Development Companies for the Tucan Country Club & Resort a Gated Residential Community, Golf and Country Club, and Resort Hotel Project in Panama City, as well as the Vista Grande Resort & Country Club, a Gated Residential Community, Equestrian Club and Resort Hotel Project in Chiriqui, and is the exclusive marketing company for both projects.
My source had sent me a copy of a business card and a letterhead that showed the Straub and Proart connection. I also copied the "contact us" jump page of the Proart website, which confirmed the Straub connection, and although I paid scant attention at the time, held some other definitive clues related to what transpired. The contacts included a list of company officers and email addresses:
Odd, is it not, that the chief financial officer was listed higher than the chief executive officer?
But the biggest detail that I missed at the time, given what transpired, was the information about Dinesh P. Vaswani. Dinesh Vaswani, you see, was at least in name the person who was put forward as the president of the Tucan development. (Later an uncle of his claimed that he was the behind the scenes main man at Tucan, something that other developers confirmed to me.)
Vaswani gave me several different, conflicting stories about Straub's relationship to Tucan. The main thing he said was that the online representation that Proart owned a stake in Tucan was a lie. But wait a minute --- a company of which he was CEO misrepresented its relationship with a development of which he was president?
Winner, of course, talked to Vaswani and printed his uninvestigated denial as if it were the truth and that therefore what this reporter published was false.
Tucan, Straub and the US and Panamanian governments
I attended an event at which then Housing Minister Balbina Herrera and other public officials talked about plans for the Casco Viejo, and attempted to ask Balbina questions about Tucan. One aspect of interest to me about the subject was how the project was being narrowly marketed in English to foreigners only, and whether she thought it appropriate to have housing discrimination against Panamanians by "steering." Another was the Straub connection. In any case, she blew me off and wouldn't talk to me, referring me to an underling. Not to worry, her subordinate told me. "Tucan is for foreign contractors." That response, combined with a series of extraneous questions revolving around what Horoko was, where it is and what was happening and planned in the area at the time, raises a bunch of other questions that are beyond the scope of this column.
I also talked to the folks at ARI with a bunch of other questions, who gave me an elaborate runaround and, in worried voices, tried to find out precisely what I knew. In one of his versions of the story to me, Dinesh Vaswani said that he was contacted by those people during the course of that day.
Meanwhile, a most interesting thing happened. Within one day after I started asking questions, the Proart website came down and its offices on Avenida Balboa closed. So what sort of legitimate business abruptly closes down when questions are raised about it and its owner? Why might Proart have done that?
After I ran my article, several readers contacted me, alleging that high profile members of the Martín Torrijos entourage had this or that hook into the project, and that the land had been sold at an unrealistically low price and kickbacks had been paid. I couldn't confirm any of these allegations, except that from the records I saw about only some of the several pieces in which Horoko was sold, it seems that ARI parted with the property for some $33 per square meter and most of the real estate people I consulted said that was much lower than market value.
One email I received was unusually specific:
See attached business cards. Jorge Barroso actually works for and with Gilbert Straub. Gilbert uses Jorge as a front man much like he has used others in the past.
One of these cards
and another one
He is also partners with Orlando Barsallo the crooked attorney. There is always a "fall guy" that is stupid enough to front for Gilbert....
Check out their business cards. They have an office in the building that "American Airlines small office" uses on Ave Balboa. The same building that Marc Harris used.
* * *
Gilbert cut a deal with the FBI to stay out of prison for the MANY charges they had against him since the 70's when he was working for Robert Vesco. He now works as an informant and uses this to somehow continue his wicked deeds.
So was Straub linked to some of the high-profile financial scandals mentioned after "stupid enough to front for Gilbert....?" I couldn't verify it so won't repeat the allegation.
Was there a concerted effort to conceal and deny Straub's ties to Tucan? That I have verified.
Is there some relationship between Straub and the US government? Several people told me at the time that he was a present-tense "spook" and one source alleged a tie to the Oliver North Contra supply operation back in the 80s. Given what we know about the George W. Bush administration, questions about renewed ties between a GOP administration and Nixon's old crooks can't be dismissed out of hand, but on the other hand I have never been able to verify the alleged later relationship between Straub and the US government.
And what about the bit about "Orlando Barsallo the crooked attorney?"
At the time, it didn't ring a bell with me. One prominent lawyer whom I consulted did opine that "Barsallo's a real crook."
But time has passed since then and meanwhile, Barsallo served as the acting Electoral Prosecutor. His decisions in favor of the use of public funds to promote the political fortunes of PRD candidate Balbina Herrera were so crudely partisan that they were initially rejected by the PRD-controlled Electoral Tribunal and eventually the Torrijos administration chose someone else to appoint to serve out the remainder of Gerardo Solís's term as Electoral Prosecutor.
So is that why Balbina didn't want to talk to me about Tucan? Was it not only a matter of an unsightly link with the man who personally delivered Richard Nixon's hush money to the Watergate burglars, but also underlying all of that a sweetheart deal into which prominent PRD people had their hooks?
A reporter without all the answers
This column has mentioned several allegations which remain just that, and has raised a bunch of questions to which this reporter has no answers. Alas, I am not omniscient and there are loose ends.
A Watergate bagman has been definitively linked to the Tucan Country Club and gated community project, most tellingly of all by the discrepancies between Vaswani's stories and the documentary record. Don Winner knows that. But just as he supported now-incarcerated Atlanta swindler Tom McMurrain and his Bocas teak and noni plantation scam, just as he turned his website over to "patriot" militia figure and convicted fraud artist Mark Boswell alias Rex Freeman, Winner has habitually made it his business to act as a shill for criminals --- especially for those criminals coming to Panama from the right-hand side of the US political spectrum.
Winner's attack dog tactics on the Internet are a minor league imitation of the right wing US talk radio scene. His easy embrace of hustlers is not much different from the way that the fugitive American sales director for now incarcerated former Florida GOP wunderkind Marc M. Harris was once embraced by the Republican who was then head of the American Society. It also both predates and echoes the way that the far right of the American community here hailed now-incarcerated "Christian" anti-tax activist Eddie Ray Kahn as an "expat community" leader.
Part of this syndrome is a tendency within part of the Republican subculture to swoon over anyone who comes along and makes a conspicuous display of wealth --- something that in turn deeply alienates a lot of other Republicans who believe in capitalism, strong US Armed Forces and traditional values, but not scams, scurrilous smear campaigns or amorality in general. Really, what's going on among Panama's Republicans is a microcosm of what's happening in the USA this year --- there are still a lot of conservative Americans out there but they are no longer dominant in the community and they are divided among themselves.
Given the Bush administration's known record of media manipulation, which includes the creation of faux independent news websites around the world and the employment of homosexual prostitute "Jeff Gannon" as a ringer "reporter" in the White House press corps, Winner's repeated defense of the untenable with respect to Gilbert Straub and Tucan raises other questions. I don't know the answers to all of these things, but I do know what a "big lie" propaganda campaign is, and that's what we are seeing here. Winner is being dishonest about Straub and Tucan, but that's a separate question from the one about who or what is behind Winner.
And yes, I stand by my story about Gilbert Straub and Tucan.
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2008 by Eric Jackson
email: firstname.lastname@example.org or
phone: (507) 6-632-6343