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Volume 17, Number 3
March 27, 2011
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news special

Also in this section:
Scenes from this year's Carnival
Rival congresses, dual power in the Ngabe-Bugle Comarca
Burning garbage not the only complaint at the former Nikki Beach
Gómez and Chato deportations dog Panama's reputation
INMET says it has lots of options as share prices plunge after Law 8 repeal
WikiLeaks: Hillary coordinating gun control strategy for our region
WikiLeaks: Suspected drug racketeers were US "War on Drugs," Afghanistan contractors
Ministry of Social Development email used for "Nigeria letter" scam
US State Department drug policy report on Panama's money laundering scene
Mining law repealed
A wild weekend of rebellion and repression
Scenes from the anti-mining protests


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


Panama's consul for the Canaries, Ítalo Giovanni Afú, decked out in hues of
pink and white at this year's Carnival celebrations on the Spanish islands.


Lifestyles of the decadent and bourgeois, or just enjoying the local culture?
Ruckus raised over
a diplomat in drag

by Eric Jackson

Carnival is a costume party, but I would have preferred to see him as a pirate, cop or firefighter.
Vice President Juan Carlos Varela

The proclivity of Ítalo Giovanni Afú Quiel, Panama's consul in the Canary Islands, to dress himself as a woman brings another embarrassment to our country. We don't judge sexual preferences, but the role that must be played the Panamanian foreign service with respect to national interests.
FRENADESO

Panamanian Consul in Spain dressed as a woman, Varela says he'd better get under control
headline in La Estrella

With headlines like these, and the fuss that was made, what else do you need to say that we are homophobic in Panama?
gay rights activist José Ramón Castillero Calderón

Panamanian manners about respecting people's privacy are sometimes confused with tolerance. Yes, this country did have Latin America's first openly gay diplomat (the infamous dictator's older brother and mentor, Luis Carlos Noriega), and public discussions of politicians' sexual affairs --- whether an anonymous homosexual encounter in a public restroom or a child born of an extramarital relationship --- are taboo.  But when a soccer player from an opposing team is writhing on the pitch with pain from an injury, the crowd will chant "cueco, cueco!" --- roughly translated, "queer, queer!"

The appearance online of several photos of Panamanian diplomat Ítalo Giovanni Afú in drag on the final night of this year's Carnival celebrations in Spain's Canary Islands has elicited a range of reactions, many of them unambiguously anti-gay. Although most drag queens are gay, there are  transvestites who are not and during Carnival in the Canary Islands it is common enough for men who do not otherwise do so to dress as women.

Vice President and Foreign Minister Juan Carlos Varela, a member of the right-wing Catholic organization Opus Dei, expressed a certain annoyance with Afú, but has dismissed calls for the diplomat's dismissal with the argument that Carnival attire is a private matter.

The labor/left  umbrella group FRENADESO has been among Afú's most strident critics, characterizing his behavior as an example of the Martinelli administration's "moral putrification." That, in turn, has prompted criticism of FRENADESO in online forums from people across the political spectrum. Mostly, however, the politicians have maintained their silence on this matter.

Another group of critics talks not about moral standards but of the lack of professionalism in the foreign service. Afú, who has no higher education, came to Panama's diplomatic service from Vice President Varela's family business, the Hermanos Varela distilling company. He was a brand manager in his previous job, and although he's on the Panamanian government payroll, Afú has also used his position in Spain to promote Ron Abuelo, the Varela family's rum that's their best-known product abroad.

The Faculty of International Relations at the University of Panama has long criticized the appointments of relatives and private sector employees of the political class to diplomatic posts. Ítalo Afú is the nephew of legislator Carlos Afú as well as a former employee of the Varela family, without much of anything else to recommend him for a job in the foreign service. There is also the question of whether having a consul in the Canary Islands is a wise priority for Panamanian diplomacy, given that there are many places in the world where Panama is unrepresented.






Also in this section:
Scenes from this year's Carnival
Rival congresses, dual power in the Ngabe-Bugle Comarca
Burning garbage not the only complaint at the former Nikki Beach
Gómez and Chato deportations dog Panama's reputation
INMET says it has lots of options as share prices plunge after Law 8 repeal
WikiLeaks: Hillary coordinating gun control strategy for our region
WikiLeaks: Suspected drug racketeers were US "War on Drugs," Afghanistan contractors
Ministry of Social Development email used for "Nigeria letter" scam
US State Department drug policy report on Panama's money laundering scene
Mining law repealed
A wild weekend of rebellion and repression
Scenes from the anti-mining protests



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© 2011 by Eric Jackson
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Eric Jackson
att'n The Panama News
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