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Volume 18, Number 3
March 25, 2012

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news

Also in this section:
Chaplain warns that police are prone to politics
United States facing bold new calls for "Drug War" alternatives
PRD ready to rumble --- with each other
Martinelli's Easter Tweet
Can the Panamanian women's vote be alienated?
New threats to expropriate Casco Viejo properties
Constitutional chess game leaves many unanswered questions
Cops dismiss importance of Calle Uruguay gun play
Is FARC's insurgency winding down? What might that mean for Panama?
Fear, loathing and electoral love in Mexico
New World Bank president: what's on the agenda?
Is MOLIRENA about to split into three?
Suspense about an animal cruelty law
Farrar approved as the next American ambassador here
Clash between loggers and Wounaan community leaves two dead
Atlantic Side bridge plans indicate further moves
A proposal to purge the courts and bring in Martinelista replacements
A de facto police coup, even if Martinelli lingers on
Partial agreement sets off furious rows in the left and the comarca



New National Police chief Julio Moltó (right) has his orders.
Photo by the Presidencia

Martinelli is still in the Palacio de las Garzas, but Panama has had a coup
by Eric Jackson

ARTICLE 311. The police force is not deliberative and its members may not make political declarations or statements in individual or collective form. Nor may they get involved in partisan politics, except for voting. The disrespect of this standard shall be punished by immediate dismissal from office in addition to the penalties established by law.
Panama's constitution

The police have to judge the police.... We have spoken to the minister and it is now clear that this proposal is not happening.
Gustavo Pérez

Panama's armed forces, nominally a police force but much more than that in fact, have staged a revolt and have forced the civilian government to submit. The details of the rebellion include:

  • A specific threat made on March 8 to Security Ministery José Raúl Mulino by number two National Police commander Eduardo Serracín and internal affairs chief Kauris Amador that police would "close ranks" if legislation to create a tribunal to hear cases of police misconduct were not withdrawn;

  • Unconstitutional public declarations about a political matter made on March 8 by Serracín's and Amador's titular boss at the time, Gustavo Pérez; and

  • The March 15 broadcast over police radio of an all points bulletin telling police officers to listen to that evening's televised pro-police command commentary by the boxing show host Juan Carlos Tapia.

The proposal was withdrawn by President Martinelli shortly after the police commanders made their objections, a number of personnel changes followed, details of what happened began to leak out and the police, who had already been issuing political propaganda videos, now assert greater powers over the civilian national government than before.

Security Minister José Raúl Mulino briefly resigned, Pérez was promoted to head the National Security Council, and the computer nerd apparently behind the wiretaps used in Martinelli's political attack videos, Julio Moltó, was made police chief. By most appearances Moltó is now a figurehead at the head of an organization commanded by itself. Mulino withdrew his resignation, he and other ministers changed their stories, and Attorney General José Ayú Prado responded to lawyers' complaints by promising that there would be no investigation (based on the fiction that there was no "summary proof" of a crime, whereas Pérez's public declarations clearly were that).

Mulino, Moltó and Martinelli himself are now left rather powerless. The number two man from General Noriega's "Special Anti-Terrorist Unit" (Pérez), the number two man on the National Police organizational chart (Serracín) and police internal affairs commander (Amador) have successfully led the police in defying civilian authority. One of Noriega's old prosecuors (Ayú Prado) is the attorney general. Another of Noriega's prosecutors, the one in charge of closing down opposition media (Alejandro Moncada Luna) is the presiding magistrate of the Supreme Court. Both the courts and prosecutors are looking the other way. The media spokesman for the police, (Tapia) arose as a television figure during the dictatorship when real journalism was suppressed and makes pretenses of wanting to run for president as an independent in 2014.

The erratic President Martinelli is mostly on the road, making few public appearances and saying ever less in public. Mulino has changed his story (which, although the police have maintained silence about it, has been confirmed by the labor minister). In any case the Security Minister retains the trappings of his office and his salary, but has been put in his place. Moltó, neither a cop, an administrator nor a lawyer, puts on a show. The National Assembly is ever less relevant and infinitely less reputable.

We have passed back into something like the period from the late 70s to the mid/late 80s, when there was civilian window dressing in presidency, legislature and courts, but the military actually ran things. Are we being looted by a military caste like back then, or are we about to be? The massive selloff of state assets --- the land in the Colon Free Zone, the public stakes in the phone and electric companies --- has been announced without any coherent rationale given, and meanwhile the existence within the National Police of military special forces units about which Panamanians were unaware has come to light. (Why didn't we know? For one thing, not only to conceal intended kickbacks from the Italian radar and helicopter contracts, the entire police budgets, starting with last year's, have been declared "national security secrets.")

The 1950s and 1960s were times of mostly behind the scenes military power, which when challenged by the election of Arnulfo Arias in 1968 emerged as a full-blown military dictatorship. In the mid-70s, in order to put on an acceptable show that would allow US politicians to ratify the Panama Canal Treaties, certain formal democratic structures were put in place but real power remained with the military. When civilian politicians challenged the Panama Defense Forces' power in the late 1980s General Manuel Antonio Noriega overtly asserted his supremacy. The question now, as before, is whether it will be possible for elected officials or the electorate in general acting in a referendum to democratize Panama and bring its armed forces under civilian control. Law professor and human rights activist Miguel Antonio Bernal, who was beaten up and exiled on multiple occasions by the last dictatorship, warns that the situation is urgent: "We have to react quickly, because although it is already late, we still have time to prevent irreparable major damage."






    

Also in this section:
Chaplain warns that police are prone to politics
United States facing bold new calls for "Drug War" alternatives
PRD ready to rumble --- with each other
Martinelli's Easter Tweet
Can the Panamanian women's vote be alienated?
New threats to expropriate Casco Viejo properties
Constitutional chess game leaves many unanswered questions
Cops dismiss importance of Calle Uruguay gun play
Is FARC's insurgency winding down? What might that mean for Panama?
Fear, loathing and electoral love in Mexico
New World Bank president: what's on the agenda?
Is MOLIRENA about to split into three?
Suspense about an animal cruelty law
Farrar approved as the next American ambassador here
Clash between loggers and Wounaan community leaves two dead
Atlantic Side bridge plans indicate further moves
A proposal to purge the courts and bring in Martinelista replacements
A de facto police coup, even if Martinelli lingers on
Partial agreement sets off furious rows in the left and the comarca



© 2012 by Eric Jackson
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