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Volume 17, Number 2
February 21, 2011


news

Also in this section:
FRENADESO starts a new FAD
Harassed PRD meets to plot an election comeback
Legislature to take up election law changes
Martinelli backpedals in the face of Ngabe protests
It's not just uncollected garbage boosting the rat population
Fallout continues in juvenile detention center fire
Spin accelerates, information controls tighten after stories of US military activity here
Two Panama City Carnivals taking shape
The murdered women of Juarez
Cuba: Journalist's release and unblocking of dissident blogs
Mining debate will have lasting effects
Police fire on indigenous protesters


Many things that used to be in a Panama News Briefs feature of the website have now migrated to our constantly updated Facebook page

Information control, outright lies, credulous mainstream reporting on US military activities here
You're not supposed to know any of this
by Eric Jackson


Ad in La Prensa, about a subject which it will probably not report.
For another description about what this may entail, click here.

In most of the world, there is this problem with the corporate mainstream news media. Their owners, managers and many of their journalists have close economic or personal ties with powerful people and institutions and they tend to get privileged access to news only insofar as they serve the interests of those who wield power. In a democracy where there are multiple parties or factions contending against one another, they can often skillfully play the divisions and maintain access through changing times. But mostly they carefully avoid certain subjects.

The ad you see above is a minor example of La Prensa's ties with the world of US military contracting and engineering. The price of an ad pales before the value of access, and also in comparison with ties of family and friendship. So it was not surprising that when American antiwar activist John Lindsay-Poland and an activist here who watches certain things discovered and documented certain facts about US military activity in Panama and gave it to various journalists, La Prensa blew off some of the issues raised as unworthy of treatment as news, and about the other matters asked US and Panamanian officials for comments, which were then pretty much reported at face value even when highly questionable in light of the contents of US government documents, past practices or common intuition.

They have their style, their taboos and their strong points and The Panama News, which reported the story first, had a different take. Chalk the differences up to freedom of the press.

But notice the spin control, the information that was shut off, and the questions that were taken as answered but really weren't:
  • So what is the Tropic Test Center testing here in Panama? We more or less know what it did when it was formally a branch of the US Army, and might project that it's still doing much the same sort of work. But the corporate mainstream barely mentioned the issue, and shortly after the matter was brought up in The Panama News Trax International, the civilian contractor that now runs the Tropic Test Center, took all mention of Panama off of its website.

  • La Prensa played up US financing of the bases here, when the budget documents and earlier revelations about the presence of a US Air Force Red Horse construction unit in Meteti clearly indicate that the United States is building these bases. As in, not a Panamanian operation with a bit of a US subsidy, but a US operation under the fig leaf of a Panamanian flag.

  • In response to the revelations, the Foreign Ministry here issued an interesting statement with a number of improbable details. One point of this statement that La Prensa saw fit not to print was its linking of the bases to a September 2010 agreement to create Central American Regional Security Coordinating Center in Panama. According to Lindsay-Poland, there was a ministerial-level meeting to set up this center this past November and representing the United States at the gathering was Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano. As in, we are not dealing with strictly Panamanian bases at all, but rather parts of a regional network of bases under US sponsorship.

  • La Prensa emphasized the formal issue of whether there would be US military personnel as such in Panama, entirely neglecting the nature of today's US "forward operating locations" and the staffing of US drone warfare in places like Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq and Yemen: more often than not this is done not by uniformed regular military personnel but by "civilian contractor" mercenaries who also might have been hired by an intelligence agency rather than by the Pentagon as such. And would the La Prensa reporter have known about the privatization of war? Well, considering that she's married to the chairman of the Louis Berger Group, one presumes that she would. The changed way that the United States operates is something that ought to be pointed out in our news media because, as with Evergreen Air doing Plan Colombia support flights for the US Southern Command out of Panama, it doesn't fit in with the concept that most Panamanians who remember the US military bases know. The new reality has been concealed from a public that has a right to know about it. Successive Panamanian governments have denied US military activity in this country when in fact it is and for years has been a busy hub of US mercenary activity. Our corporate mainstream media have never forthrightly acknowledged that.

  • And what about the drones? We know from US documents that private contractors were down here for several months, doing something with them. We know from WikiLeaks that the US government suspects that President Martinelli's inner circle is infiltrated by drug corruption. We know from past practices that the US government has been loathe to share real-time electronic surveillance information with Latin American governments because to do so would in many cases be tantamount to handing it over to the drug cartels. According to the US version, the drones were an "experiment" between June and September of last year to see how good they were at "looking for ships involved in illicit activity." According to the Panamanian version, this country is going to buy four drones (they don't say which models) for $4 million each. The United States says that the drones were unarmed and run by civilians from a private US-Israeli defense contractor, Stark Industries. The Panamanian version is that the drones were operated by Panamanians out of the Servicio Nacional Aeronaval facility at Tocumen Airport. Experimental military drones operating out of a highly populated area where there is a lot of civilian air traffic and it would thus be hard to hide their use? It could happen, but it does not sound like a very smart way to operate.

So have the Obama and Martinelli administration spin doctors found the cure? Is this a little news blip amounting to nothing, and now concluded? At the moment it depends on what one reads, so it seems.

David Young's Newsroom Panama summarized the La Prensa stories, took everything at face value and emphasized the $93 million cost for the first year of an alleged Panamanian drone program. Don Winner's Panama Guide verbatim pirated the La Prensa stories, with appended notes that estimated that the Panamanian government (but not the US government) is lying, bought into the notion that this is about drugs, and advocated a forthright re-establishment of US military presence here. Most of the other Spanish-language mainstream media and small online news outlets briefly touched on parts of La Prensa's story. Writing for a small online journal, Tomás A. Cabal noted the possibility that the drones are actually a US operation aimed at patrolling Colombia and Venezuela. The Chiriqui environmentalist Burica Press comprehensively covered the documents that Lindsay-Poland and his friends here uncovered and emphasized changing US military approaches in the region, but didn't get into the back-and-forth about US and Panamanian government claims. FRENADESO Noticias first just summarized La Prensa, but then ran a more in-depth analysis that noted other statements and actions over the years and concluded that what's going on is not a "war on drugs" but a US military project aimed at left-wing governments in Latin America.

For most Panamanians, public discussion about the presence of US drones here was squelched by the corporate mainstream media. However, if Panama is to be a US drone base on a long-term basis, that issue will surely arise again.

Julio Yao has an opinion about this. Recall that his November 2009 speech at the Mausoleum of the Soldiers of Independence was disrupted by Vice President Juan Carlos Varela. There followed verbal blasts from President Martinelli, then Government and Justice Minister José Raúl Mulino and Education Minister Lucy Molinar. After that there were physical attacks on Yao's home. What was it that set them off? He warned about the re-establishment of a US military presence here.

It was a point well taken, and totally annoying to Varela because his Panameñista Party has a nationalist element that's against any foreign military presence. Now Yao, who teaches foreign relations at the University of Panama, thinks that the situation is worse. "The thing now is more important. Panama's submission to the United States has been totally in secret, in a sea of absolute illegality from the perspectives of constitutional as well as international law." He's also concerned that "the leftist groups are not up to date on this subject and remain divided," when he sees a need to gather what forces can be mustered to oppose "recolonization and remilitarization."


Also in this section:
FRENADESO starts a new FAD
Harassed PRD meets to plot an election comeback
Legislature to take up election law changes
Martinelli backpedals in the face of Ngabe protests
It's not just uncollected garbage boosting the rat population
Fallout continues in juvenile detention center fire
Spin accelerates, information controls tighten after stories of US military activity here
Two Panama City Carnivals taking shape
The murdered women of Juarez
Cuba: Journalist's release and unblocking of dissident blogs
Mining debate will have lasting effects
Police fire on indigenous protesters


Many things that used to be in a Panama News Briefs feature of the website have now migrated to our constantly updated Facebook page

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