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Volume 17, Number 11
November 6, 2011
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Also in this section:
Editorials: Who will sell the constitution to Martinelli? and With a collapsed economy...
Sirias, The general's country retreat
Dees, What sort of values?
Worley, Small is sexy
Jackson, Would the US legal system improve Panama?
Paverman, China's looking for fuel and Venezuela puts out the welcome mat
Thurston, Steve Jobs and greatness
Amnesty International, Afghanistan 10 years on (PDF)
Reporters Without Borders, Chile would criminalize protests, turn journalists into cops
Avnery, The acts of perfidious traitors throughout Jewish history
LaMon, Brazil's distorted economy and fractured morals
Birns & Sami, US Cuba policy staggers from the inept to the pedestrian
US Office on Colombia, The FTA's effects on Afro-Colombian and indigenous communities
Avendaño, Exile between threats for Colombian journalists
Wing Solís, The Panama climate change talks
Aguilar, China-Brazil relations: disputes with regional implications
Harrington, Our foreign minister and the Palestine question
MPU, Harrassment of teacher union leaders
Bernal, Archbishop Mario Alberto Molina
Letters to the editor

Appropriate use of the Pele Police database

The Pele Police are hand-held scanning and communications devices into which a police officer can insert a person's national ID card and rather quickly know if there is a warrant for that person's arrest showing in a law enforcement database. It has its functional similarities to the US Law Enforcement Information Network (LEIN) and other computerized systems in other countries.

A judge has ruled that these things are unconstitutional and the government has appealed. In a country with hardly any rule of law we await a decision about whether these devices are legal, which a different question than whether they should be legal.

The devices themselves should not be controversial. The existence of a computerized law enforcement database should also not give reasonable people an occasion to disagree. The problem is about their appropriate use.

The database has many errors and a lot out out-of-date information, such that people were being arrested for cases that had been resolved years earlier, in some cases with them having been acquitted and in some where they had been convicted then paid their penalty. There has been an effort made to improve the accuracy of the information, but there are also circumstances that raise suspicions that information has been maliciously manipulated to harass people, including journalists.

The police encircle and search door-to-door in slum neighborhoods and check everyone caught in their dragnet against the database. That's just the use of another technological tool in a long-standing obnoxious practice that is illegal if the constitution means anything. Regardless of any argument about legality it's a matter of lazy and ineffective police work that needlessly alienates whole communities. The police should be working on specific information about specific individuals and making intelligent efforts to detain those people, rather than working from a stereotype that unfairly treats a much larger group of people as suspects.

The police use the Pele Police as a tool of political repression, to delay and search people who participate in labor protests or stand in line to register as members of a party that the police want to keep off of the ballot.

The problem is not the Pele Police, it's the inappropriate use of the Pele Police. It's abuses that specific individuals commit, abuses for which those individuals should be eliminated from the positions that allow them to do these things.

What's particularly dangerous is that to the extent that the Pele Police is used as a device for political repression, that comes right from the top and it's a deliberate crime. There needs to be a day of reckoning in which those officials who are responsible are tried and punished for such abuses. But because they been so obnoxiously abusive, they are likely to do anything to prolong their tenure in power to avoid having to account for their actions.


Public-Private Associations

The contracting of private businesses to do work that the government needs to have done, or the establishment of mixed state and private enterprises for certain real estate developments, is something that can be reasonably debated on a case-by-case basis. Ideology, pragmatism, the interests of business, labor and consumers --- along with concerns about the possibility of corruption --- all have their proper places in any privatization debate.

However, what the Martinelli administration has proposed is anything but a series of privatization debates. He's trying to short-circuit all public discussion and usurp the prerogatives of the National Assembly by setting up a four-member privatization board: the president and three presidential appointees (the ministers of the Presidency and Economy and Finance, and the director of the Banco Nacional de Panama). Martinelli seeks dictatorial powers to sell or mortgage everything that belongs to the people, and for terms that will outlast his elected mandate.

Structurally, no president should be trusted with that kind of power. THIS president, who's crudely abusive and has little respect for the law, and whose administration has left a string of land theft scandals in its wake, should be trusted even less.

It's sad that the level of Panamanian education is so low that Mr. Martinelli can make a "heads I win, tails you lose" proposition of this sort and there is not an immediate and generalized public reaction. That such a rejection had to come first from some of Panama's best-educated people, the specialized physicians at Santo Tomas Hospital, is a mixed blessing: the protest should have been more widespread, but at least we have this group of well-educated Panamanians thinking about right and wrong and the public interest, rather than how they can use their knowledge and position in society to go on a looting binge just like the politicians.

Doctors have a duty of loyalty to their patients and the good ones uphold it. Our politicians, on the other hand, boast about their dishonesty and disloyalty. People ought to recognize that the most patriotic act of loyalty to Panama that happened during the first week of November was the doctors' strike, and whatever the strikers might decide about their job action, we all ought to rally to the protesting physicians' side against this latest Martinelli power grab, which is his biggest attempt at self-aggrandizement yet.


Bear in mind...

I have to say that the traditional role is kind of a myth. I think the traditional Mexican woman is a fierce woman.
Sandra Cisneros

In aiding the young, we demonstrate our hope and faith in the future.
Rastafari

Patriotism is not a short outburst of emotion, but is the tranquil and steady dedication of a lifetime.
Adlai E. Stevenson Jr.





Also in this section:
Editorials: Who will sell the constitution to Martinelli? and With a collapsed economy...
Sirias, The general's country retreat
Dees, What sort of values?
Worley, Small is sexy
Jackson, Would the US legal system improve Panama?
Paverman, China's looking for fuel and Venezuela puts out the welcome mat
Thurston, Steve Jobs and greatness
Amnesty International, Afghanistan 10 years on (PDF)
Reporters Without Borders, Chile would criminalize protests, turn journalists into cops
Avnery, The acts of perfidious traitors throughout Jewish history
LaMon, Brazil's distorted economy and fractured morals
Birns & Sami, US Cuba policy staggers from the inept to the pedestrian
US Office on Colombia, The FTA's effects on Afro-Colombian and indigenous communities
Avendaño, Exile between threats for Colombian journalists
Wing Solís, The Panama climate change talks
Aguilar, China-Brazil relations: disputes with regional implications
Harrington, Our foreign minister and the Palestine question
MPU, Harrassment of teacher union leaders
Bernal, Archbishop Mario Alberto Molina
Letters to the editor


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