16, Number 7
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Mandatory conflict of interest
in Panama's legal system
The corruption case of the former deputy administrator of the old National Ports Authority, Rubén Reyna, has never gone to trial. It appears from the published paper trail and the findings of courts in the United States that his boss, Hugo Torrijos, and their boss, then-President Ernesto Pérez Balladares, conspired to create a government buoy and lighthouse maintenance contract with an American company which had these Panamanian public officials as silent owners. Now part of the case is moving again and Reyna has brought a habeas corpus motion before the Supreme Court, to avoid being jailed pending trial.
But magistrate Jerónimo Mejía has a problem. He used to be Reyna's lawyer. Quite properly, he moved to be recused from the case.
But by a 7-2 decision, with magistrates Harley Mitchell and Oydén Ortega dissenting, the court decided that since Mejía had not worked for Reyna on that particular case, there could be no recusal. Doing the ethical thing is not allowed, and conflict of interest has become mandatory.
This is but one more example of the structural corruption in our government and judicial system, another point in the litany of reasons why Panama needs a new constitution.
About BP's oil well blowout
To his credit, shortly after the catastrophic explosion of the BP offshore oil drilling rig Deepwater Horizon, Barack Obama decried a too-cozy relationship between the oil companies and the government, admitting that this had been the case with his administration too. Part of that cozy relationship was that BP's contract with the US government provided a $75 million cap on damages, which probably won't even cover the costs of the first hour of the long-running disaster. Part of that cozy relationship was that US inspectors failed to enforce the government's environmental and safety standards.
But let us get down to the basic technical problem: the rig was drilling in an ocean floor a mile beneath the surface, under tremendous water pressures. Ordinary measures to prevent an accident are not sufficient at those depths, and once there is an accident there is little experience in how to respond to it.
The first lesson is that there shouldn't be oil drilling at such ocean depths.
We will hear a flurry of objections to such a proposition, almost all of them predicated on a perceived need to get more oil. But the larger lesson from the disaster is that the world needs to quickly move past the economy based on petroleum, and for that matter transportation based upon the internal combustion engine.
That so many of the Republicans who for decades championed more offshore drilling, and drilling in protected wilderness areas, are now pointing the finger at Obama is mostly ludicrous. Some Republicans, however, do have some constructive criticism. Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, for example, found himself faced with a multi-pronged ecological and economic disaster and state and federal governments without the resources in place to properly respond. His suggestions to fix that narrow part of the problem are generally well considered and worthy.
Sarah Palin, the Tea Party and Rand Paul, the latter who complained that the Obama administration was being too mean to BP? They're pathetic demagogues, but not to be ignored. On the contrary, their contributions to this debate need to be well remembered on election days to come.
The only political force that comes to this debate with much credibility intact is that of the environmentalists. Yes, the oil companies and their acolytes will criticize the environmental movement for being opportunists with respect to this disaster. The green element may well take this opportunity to talk about fundamental issues with respect to drilling in inappropriate places so as to extract the very last drop of oil, and despite its internal differences about how to approach the issue, the basic environmentalist message isn't changed by the disaster.
Here in Panama we have an environmentally brain dead administration and that's unfortunate because the disaster off of Louisiana poses two major threats to us. The first is that with much or all of the offshore drilling shut down in the United States, there will be added pressure to drill for oil under the fishing waters of Kuna Yala. That's both environmentally obnoxious and a good way to provoke a confrontation with the Kunas that the rest of Panama doesn't need. The other is that, with much of the US Gulf of Mexico fishery shut down by the oil spill, and Cuba's fishery possibly affected as well, there will be the opportunity for Panama to increase seafood exports to compensate for the loss. If we are not careful that blessing could be a curse. We could foolishly overfish and destroy our own resources in response to the Americans' destruction of theirs. Thus all environmentalists in Panama, both citizens and foreigners, need to be on a heightened state of alert.
For one country to blockade another country is an act of war. Israel cited an Arab blockade of its Red Sea port of Eilat as the act of war that justified its 1967 attack in what became known as the Six Day War.
But now Israel is blockading Gaza and pretending that it's not an act of war, and using the blockade to starve a civilian population and pretending that it's not a war crime.
So an unarmed flotilla of activists set out to bring relief supplies to Gaza, and on the high seas was set upon by Israelis with guns, who killed many of the activists. And the Israeli Foreign Ministry, led by a man whose political party chants its "Death to the Arabs" slogan at its campaign rallies, said that it was the Israelis who were attacked.
The Israeli government needs to stop acting in ways that prompt comparisons with all of history's most cynical and odious war criminals. They can call all their critics Nazis and anti-Semites and let loose armies of Internet trolls and, if they follow the recent suggestions of a think tank that does work for the Israeli government, armed terrorists, to attack those who speak out against their abuses. However, those things will be about as effective as the things that the former apartheid regime of South Africa did in its vain attempts to save its ugly face.
The Panama News has not joined the cultural boycott of Israel because there are Israeli voices that the world ought to hear, and talented Israelis who ought to be exposed to a world that's not subject to their government's censorship. But today Israel is even more isolated than yesterday, and it's not because the whole world hates Jews.
Bear in mind...
I am nobody, who are you? Are you nobody, too? Then that's a pair of us!
Cocaine choke brain.
Patriotism is as fierce as a fever, pitiless as the grave, blind as a stone, and irrational as a headless hen.
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2010 by Eric Jackson
email: firstname.lastname@example.org or
phone: (507) 6-632-6343