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Volume 15, Number 4
February 27, 2009

news

Also in this section:
Allegations of campaign violence during Carnival
US State Department human rights report on Panama
A sign of the times
Bernal rallies his forces to defend his spot on the ballot
Panama News Briefs

Focus shifted from allegations that PRD hit up jailed Colombian's companies for donations
Charges of election violence at Carnival
by Eric Jackson


If one looked at Balbina Herrera's website in the days just after Carnival, the latest entry on the opening page was her something less than categorical denial of charges by jailed Colombian financier David Murcia Guzmán (who is alleged by some to be a Ponzi scheme operator, and by others to be a drug money launderer for the Valle del Norte Cartel and the right-wing AUC paramilitary). Murcia told a TVN interviewer that he had been approached for money by Balbina's campaign. "They were knocking on the doors for Balbina's side, they were knocking on the doors for [PRD mayoral candidate Bobby Velásquez's] side," Murcia alleged.

In response, Balbina's website declared that "The Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD) presidential candidate denied having received economic support or financing from the Colombian David Murcia or any other person who has ties to drug traffickers."

Notice the discrepancy between the allegation and the denial. Notice that there is campaign finance secrecy in Panama, and that the Electoral Tribunal says it won't have the financial data in hand to begin any investigation until 60 days after the election.

It got even better in El Panama America, when Balbina had her Sergeant Schultz moment: "She added that she would like to know which aides knocked on Guzmán's door, but wouldn't investigate it."

But then, the subject was changed. Panamanians woke up after Carnival to see this.

There is no question that Balbina Herrera got hit in the face by a full beer can thrown from the crowd in a culeco at Carnival festivities in Penonome. She took 24 stitches, of the tiny plastic surgery type so that she won't be left with a permanent scar. There was some question about whether an old spinal injury was aggravated.

The Herrera campaign immediately identified the assailant as a 30-something male and a supporter of her principal opponent, Ricardo Martinelli. There were reports that people in the culeco reacted with anger to the assailant. Earlier in the day a DJ was hit --- less severely --- by another thrown can at the same scene. Later, Herrera's campaign manager, legislator Héctor Alemán said that the assailant was wearing a Martinelli t-shirt and "wasn't drunk."

But certain things were incongruous. Usually there is heavy police presence at Carnival scenes in Penonome, but this time they were apparently not around. Nobody in the crowd, and nobody in Balbina's entourage, was moved to apprehend the assailant. Usually there are Electoral Tribunal observers when candidates make campaign appearances, but that was not the case here.

Martinelli quickly condemned the assault on his opponent and denied having anything to do with it.
Then, on the final day of Carnival, Martinelli alleged, a couple of his campaign volunteers, driving in a "Generacion del Cambio" boom car, pulled into a gas station in Chitre and were set upon by a crowd of about 50 people, many wearing PRD regalia. In the ensuing scuffle, it was alleged, campaign worker Ángel Ortega got a black eye and the car was damaged.

Héctor Alemán ridiculed the Martinelli campaign's complaint, alleging that any campaign violence is a result of the opposition candidate's "verbal aggression" on the campaign trail.

Complaints have been filed with the Electoral Prosecutor in both alleged incidents. However, the Electoral Prosecutor and a majority of the Electoral Tribunal are PRD members and by past experience can be expected to act in partisan fashion.

Meanwhile, Balbina Herrera, trailing by double digits in the polls and faced with nagging questions about mob ties, seems to have changed the subject in the campaign discourse.

Also in this section:
Allegations of campaign violence during Carnival
US State Department human rights report on Panama
A sign of the times
Bernal rallies his forces to defend his spot on the ballot
Panama News Briefs

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