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Volume 16, Number 4
April 6, 2010

front page

Recently added stories:
Great Expectations at the Ancon Theater
Coffee Party in Paitilla, April 24
Celebrating Mark Twain with Panamanian high school kids
Turtle nesting beach threatened by TV show
The "Carrot Law" and the Interior
The Pirates Never Come That Way
Panama's Catholic majority gets a new archbishop
Prosecutors embrace Canadian career criminal's defamation case as their own
Martinelli criminalizes street protests, legalizes bribery of opposition pols
Controversial "Three-in-One" Law, in its Spanish original (PDF)
Martinelli lashes out at Obama in Cartagena
Errol Dunn and the Afro-Panamanian cultural revival
Business was down at ports across Latin America last year
Preview of the next issue's editorial: Garbage woes and institutionalized corruption
What the new US health reform bill actually does
US State Department, Human rights in Panama in 2009
Text of Panama's new tax reform law (in Spanish)

also, look for daily updates from Panama and elsewhere on our Facebook page

With a little help from our friends...


Let's face it: The Panama News takes the form of a media business, but it has never been a profitable one. Its survival has always been about people sleeping in the office and depending on all sorts of contributions from friends.

These words you see, for example, are written on someone else's computer. We have one dead computer and one malfunctioning one, and though replacements are in the works, there's always this, that or the other thing competing for our tiny cash flow. (One of these is that we need to pay our web server man something, because he's hurting for funds too.)

Our March readership numbers were fine --- 113,743 visits from 74,439 different computers --- although production was kind of slow and I didn't get out to do as much reporting as I would have wanted. Contributions of photos and stories from friends, however, made up for that lack. (See, for example, travel writer Darren DuFord's take on brunch at the Bristol.) But as a fundraising month March was pretty slow, surely because The Panama News is not the only one who's hurting. The US economy is worse than most of the people who are feeling the hurt realize. A drive down the Pan-American Highway here in Panama will be marked by so many empty billboards --- signs of a slow economy that makes it hard for us to sell ads too. Set aside all the rah-rah stuff, Panama's economy is barely kept in the black by public works projects and the real estate is NOT selling like hotcakes, no matter what any hustler tells you.

So we are extending our fundraising period just a bit, and thanking everybody who has donated money, labor or other things to the cause. I could make dire predictions of impending death, but I will survive and this publication will survive in these hard times, and truth is the first principle of journalism. However, what you contribute can make an important difference in the quality and quantity of what we can put up on the computer screen.

Please contribute as generously as you can, to sustain and improve The Panama News. It's easy to do:

Contribute by credit card

The Panama News can accept donations by credit card via PayPal. If you want to help us out in that way, go to http://www.paypal.com and select the "send money" function --- if you don't have a PayPal account you will have to sign up --- send your contribution to thepanamanews@panamaretire.net, et voila.

(PayPal will say you are sending money to Henry Smith. Henry and Nora Smith’s panamaretire.net business, provides a great array of services to people who are thinking about moving here. We have an alliance with them that lets us piggyback on their PayPal account, as PayPal wants you to have a US account, which we do not have. The money will get to The Panama News.)

Contribute by mail

Our mailing address is at the bottom of every page in The Panama News. If you send us a check drawn on a US or Panamanian bank by mail, we have to deal with slow service but it usually gets to us. However, as wonderful as Panama's much-touted banking system may be, its service is abominable and the banks here don't provide accounts for tiny businesses with small incomes. Thus any check must be made out to me (Eric Jackson), rather than The Panama News. And money orders, even those that say that they're "international" money orders? Forget it. Money orders are not negotiable in Panama.

Contribute at our office

The Panama News office is in the Edificio Muchachas Guias --- Panama's Girl Scout headquarters --- the second to the last building on the right on Calle 3ra in Perejil, which is the street that runs behind Colegio Javier. You may want to call to arrange a time to meet, but if you stop by the place during ordinary business hours, find us absent, and leave an envelope with the Girl Scout leaders, they will make sure that it gets to us.

Enough said about fundraising for the time being, except to thank all of our supporters over the years and all of you who are about to see fit to pitch in for The Panama News again.

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The Catholic faithful on Easter Sunday in San Carlos.  Photo by Ramona Rhoades

These are hard times for the Catholic Church as an institution and Pope Benedict  XVI personally. The church has survived worse scandals and will surely weather this storm. But overwhelmingly Catholic Panama has been steadily becoming less Catholic for a long time. The biggest factor is those who remain nominally Catholic but pay ever less attention to what the church's leaders have to say. This was a big factor nearly 200 years ago in Panama's independence from Spain, in a struggle wherein the Vatican was allied with the Spanish crown and the independence movement was largely led by freemasons like Simón Bolívar, whom the church considered to be heretics. Note that, just as today we have liberation theology Catholics who defy the hierarchy, there were Catholic priests who broke with the Vatican on the question of Panama's independence from Spain.

In Panama the Catholic Church is also losing members to other denominations, particularly to the Evangelicals and to Islam. Lurid international scandals don't help the church to which most Panamanians belong or say they belong.

The current problem does not reflect the actions of most Catholics, or of most Catholic priests. In the first instance, it's about a relatively few criminally abusive priests, one of whom is not one Joseph Ratzinger. But the more damaging secondary scandal is about how the church dealt with the problem of child molesting priests, and there it goes right to the Pope's personal conduct, and beyond that to the church leadership's relationships with those who do and do not hold power in society.

As Archbishop of Munich in 1980, Ratzinger approved therapy and a transfer for one Peter Hullermann, a parish priest in Essen, who went on to molest more boys and received an 18-month suspended prison sentence for this in 1986. In March of 2010 Hullermann was suspended as a priest because he violated Ratzinger's 1980 order that he should not work with children anymore.

In 1981 Archbishop Ratzinger was promoted to Cardinal Ratzinger and put in charge of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, an office once known as the Holy Inquisition. There he had a controversial record in dealing with sexual abuse scandals among the clergy --- he did take action against that sort of thing, although critics say that he wasn't zealous enough about it. As the prefect in charge of the inquisition Ratzinger was much better known for his battles with the liberation theology left wing of the church, from which much of the most strident criticism of his conduct comes.

Now new scandals have arisen, particularly in Ireland but here and there around the world, including incidents here in Panama.

So is it an unfair media feeding frenzy?

There is a very real institutional problem in the Catholic Church, and Pope Benedict is the leader of the church. Part of the institutional problem has not so much to do with perverts in the ranks of the clergy but with the church's apparent inability to fully understand the nature of the problem. When the Pope's personal pastor likened criticism of Benedict to anti-Semitism, it was a terrible gaffe because as a boy and young man Ratzinger had gone through the vicious anti-Semitic indoctrinations of the Hitler Youth and boot camp with the Wehrmacht, and then spent many years as a priest and bishop in Munich, the epicenter of the Nazi movement. Even the lowest blows to the church and its leader just don't compare to the inciting screeds of Der Sturmer, whose publisher Julius Streicher was tried at Nuremberg and hanged for incitement to genocide.

Also, and particularly from many conservative rank-and-file Catholics, one hears that the real problem is about homosexuals infiltrating the church. However, the sex scandals afflicting the Catholic Church are both 
heterosexual and homosexual. Then the fact of the matter is that the great majority of homosexuals, including most homosexual clergymen, are not pedophiles.

The central sin of priests who take sexual liberties with members of their congregations, particularly with children, is an abuse of power. And the most outrageous thing about the Catholic Church under Benedict XVI's leadership is its embrace of those who abuse power as a central tenet of its right-wing politics.

The hierarchy's support of corrupt ex-governor Richard Fifer and his polluting Petaquilla gold mine against rural residents of northern Cocle and western Colon provinces and the Claretian missionaries who ministered to them is just one notorious local example.

Ratzinger's silent complicity in the Catholic Church's role in murders and kidnappings in the course of Argentina's Dirty War --- there were priests who directly participated in the torture of political prisoners --- is another. In the cases of pregnant detainees, the military regime waited until the women delivered their babies, threw the mothers to their deaths from helicopters into the ocean, and the church then sometimes issued falsified baptismal certificates to help hide the babies' illegal adoptions by members of the criminal organizations that murdered the kids' parents.

And where was Joseph Ratzinger with respect to the Argentine scandal? The head of the modern version of the Holy Inquisition sucked up to the generals who held power, much like an earlier inquisitor, Tomas de Torquemada, served the Spanish Crown.

The Pope and the current mostly ultra-conservative hierarchy just don't get it about abuse of power, and it is and will continue to be a problem.

*     *     *

So do journalists also sometimes abuse power? Do we also have some knotty ethical problems?

For example, is it reprehensible to publish an April Fool's joke that some people mistake for real news?

And are our choices of which news to report and which to ignore or downplay also an ethical issue?

I noticed in La Prensa a mention in the last paragraph of a story about Easter weekend police round-ups, where four men were arrested in Chiriqui for having sexual relations with minors. So should I rush out and find out who these guys are, and play up the story, especially if the alleged offenders are of a particular race or nationality? And if I did that, or some other news medium did that, and it brought out a lynch mob onto the streets, would we be right to disavow any connection with that?

Also in Chiriqui, a reader of The Panama News who had recently come here from Texas, Paul Nunes, was beaten to death at his home in Dolega. It seemed like robbery was the motive, but there may have been more to it than that and there may have been involvement by someone in or employed by the household. One man was detained, but there is no announcement of any charges against him and he ought to be presumed innocent. It's a tragedy and let's hope that the crime is solved.

But is it right for an English-language news medium to dwell exclusively, or almost exclusively, on crimes committed against Americans in Panama? We have seen the results of that sort of thing, with people who read a particular sensationalist right-wing website claiming that Americans are special targets for crime, when the evidence is that there is an increase in crime overall, most of which is directed against poor people in high-crime neighborhoods but which affects the population at large, including Americans. So, if Americans are besieged, should they arm themselves to the teeth? Should they threaten their neighbors? Should they remain aloof from Panamanian society? Should they form a militia, or join forces with those who want to appropriate the public beaches in the name of private security?

People need to make common-sense provisions to protect themselves from crime, given the particulars of their own situations. In most cases the best thing to do is not so much to arm and fortify, but to network with the neighbors, as in, for example, joining the neighborhood watch ("Vecinos Vigilantes") group. You don't want to be so well known that people know the combination on your safe deposit box, but it does help to be known and respected as a decent and helpful member of your community rather than to be perceived as a belligerent redneck.

And although The Panama News does not follow the notorious "if it bleeds it leads" editorial policy, the message is not we have no crime in Panama. We do and it's a serious problem, but let's not get hysterical or morbidly obsessed about it.

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We have been getting a little bit of rain here and there, but mostly the drought is in full force, the streams are dry and it's a problem, particularly for agriculture. I'm hoping for rain, even if it's purple:


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Members and former members of Panama's American community are or have been running for office in what's shaping up to be a hard-fought US election year.

Jerry Hall, a Texan who once ran unsuccesfully for Congress as a Republican nominee against a conservative Democrat incumbent, didn't manage to win the nomination this time. A few people down here seeded some newspapers up there with tales of Hall's creative resume and some lazy reporters up there mistook a widely disregarded email group troll and former resident of Panama as some sort of community spokesman. Another pompous fool is claiming personal credit for Hall's loss. The reality of the situation is that Hall had hardly any money and not much organization and was part a crowded field that got swamped by a newcomer who had and spent a ton of money.

Tom Bleming, who back in the 70s was part of an ill-fated guerrilla movement that blew up a Chiriqui powerline and hoped to kill top officers of the military dictatorship then in power with a second bomb hidden at the scene, and then spent a horrific couple of years as a political prisoner here, is in a four-way race for the open position of mayor of Lusk, Wyoming. The election will be in May.

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Panama, on the strength of a couple of hefty overall tax increases, has received an "investment grade" bond rating from Fitch, one of the major companies that estimates the risks of lending money to governments. But let's see if others in the industry will have a similar opinion.

Right after Fitch's announcement the Martinelli administration announced some things that the bond rating agencies will not like, most of all the decision to buy the Corredor Sur outright and a controlling interest in the Corredor Norte, and to create a mixed public-private toll road management company with Máximo Haddad's PYCSA. The latter company has been in constant default. The government's plan is to invest about half of the Social Security Fund into this new company and the fund's employees, starting with the COMENENAL doctors' bargaining committee, are particularly unhappy, as they say that the prices that the government intends to pay for the toll roads are inflated to start with.

Note that Haddad's company took part of the Metropolitan Natural Park to make the Corredor Norte, and the park is one of many creditors still looking for payment all these years later.

Now, the government is floating the idea of taking another part of the park, the Clayton riding stables and the woods around them, to build a new National Police headquarters. However, there is plenty of room for a new building on the grounds of the present police headquarters and it appears that Martinelli is proposing the move merely as an ideological statement that he has the power to trash Panama City's parks and isn't afraid of the environmentalists.

Then there's the new no-bid contract with Odebrecht, to the tune of $218 million, to finish the Panama - Colon toll road. We are promised that, unlike the last deal with Odebrecht, there won't be any add-ons to the price.

One bond rating service, Standard & Poors, downgraded the bonds for the Corredor Sur on the news of Panama's purchase offer. The combination of Martinelli's spending binge and the partnership with Máximo Haddad may keep the other bond rating companies from following Fitch's lead.

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At a recent hearing in Washington, the Inter-American Human Rights Commission heard from three prominent Panamanian citizens about severe structural problems in Panamanian justice, testimony that fleshed out issues that the US State Department also reported. We then heard a series of attacks from the Martinelli administration, particularly from the president's lapdog acting attorney general, which insinuated corruption on the part of one member of the delegation. In Washington, the Martinelli administration's only response was that this is "old news," but here the government attacked the patriotism of those who spoke about Panama's problems in an international forum.

So where have you heard all this stuff before?

That sort of political response is right out of a George W. Bush administration script. Indeed, Minister of the Presidency Demetrio "Jimmy" Papadimitriu has confirmed that the Martinelli administration has hired former George W. Bush speechwriter and publicist Terry Holt as a political consultant. The Minister himself recently hosted a visit by a man he described as a close personal friend, one Barry Jackson. As in, the top deputy to Karl Rove during the Bush years. 

So, has Martinelli bet on a GOP victory in this fall's congressional elections and openly allied himself with US Republicans? Or is it that he's just seeking the most Machiavellian advice that money can buy for domestic consumption? The high profile Bush/Rove connections were flaunted before the US Congress passed the health insurance reform law, so there may have been a miscalculation about the relationship of forces in US politics on Martinelli's part. A lot of things could happen in the November elections in the States, but it certainly looks like the hiring of Republican operatives is the final nail in the coffin of the US-Panama free trade agreement.

It's easy to predict that those who oppose the destruction of another part of the Metropolitan Natural Park will be accused of being pro-crime, of attempting to withhold the things that police need to fight crime. It would be the cheapest of shots but it's the way that the Rove crowd works.

However, Bush got away as long as he did with things like accusing those who oppose torture with supporting terrorism in part because after 9/11 and the anthrax letters that immediately followed, there was not a rash of terrorist attacks on the United States, so he could claim that his policies were working. Martinelli is not so lucky with his offensive against crime. On March 24, three men dressed in the uniforms of the Elektra Noreste electric company gained entrance into the Bethania home of Dr. Guillermo Rollo Pimental, who was Minister of Health during the Endara administration, and Alba Tejada de Rollo, who served as Minister for Women, Children and the Family in the Moscoso administration, bound and gagged the people in the house and robbed them of their valuables. The modus operandi was more or less identical with that of the March 4 home invasion robbery of one  Larisa del Carmen Martinelli Corro, the president's cousin.

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On the job.  Photo by Allan Hawkins V.

On the day that the above photo was taken, I covered a labor protest, went back to the office to shower and change clothes, and headed out to cover boxing. My photographic excursions have also taken me to the Museo de Arte Contemporaneo for a calypso concert and around Balboa to check out some of the public art. I didn't get out enough, didn't pay enough attention to the business side of The Panama News, and didn't churn out pages as quickly as I would have liked to. But between this and the daily news clip and commentary postings on the Facebook page, I covered Panama well enough for more than 74,000 people to come visiting.

Enjoy.

Eric Jackson
editor & publisher

PS: People who are on The Panama News email list are notified as new articles are uploaded onto this website, as the production cycle bears an ever more tenuous relationship to the stated dates of any particular issue. People on this list started getting links to articles in this issue more than a week before this front page was uploaded. Send me an email asking to subscribe if you want to get on the email list.

Most new articles are also uploaded to my Facebook page, on which I post news items about Panama and the world that are derived from other sources on a more or less daily basis. Also on that Facebook page I upload the Wappin Radio Show several times per week. Facebook is changing some of their policies around, but at the moment I believe that I have the page set up so that one may have access to it without registering as my Facebook "friend."

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-
The Panama News Editors

Editor & Publisher - Eric Jackson
Contributing Editor - Silvio Sirias
Contributing Editor - José F. Ponce
Copy Editor - Sue Hindman

© 2010 by Eric Jackson
All Rights Reserved - Todos Derechos Reservados
Individual contributors retain the rights to their articles or photos

email: editor@thepanamanews.com or

e_l_jackson_malo@yahoo.com

Cell phone: (507) 6-632-6343

Mailing address:
Eric Jackson
att'n The Panama News
Apartado 0831-00927 Estafeta Paitilla
Panamá, República de Panamá