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Volume 18, Number 4
May 21, 2012

Panama Spanish Schools in Bocas del Toro and in Boquete, by the beach and in the mountains


news special

Also in this section:
Martinelli demands Varela's resignation, doesn't get it
New garbage trucks provide an occasion for revisionist history
Chávez moves against regional human rights court, Panama disrespects its rulings
Changuinola representante leads flight from Cambio Democratico
Canal Plus: Martinelli's friends gather
Another probable crime draws attention to Bocas from afar
Cinco de Mayo, in its Panamanian meaning
Governor orders developer to remove San Carlos beach fence
Detroit-area Medicare fraud proceeds laundered in Panama
The United States, China and Latin America (PDF)
Assembly session ends with ruling party divided
Winner glorifies lynching
Jorge Illueca, father of Panama's diplomatic independence
Journalists, joined by others who are offended, march against Martinelli
Mulino's mission to Rome
Méndez DID buy modular prisons, from a convicted cocaine smuggler
President Martinelli's unpleasant Thursday
Martinelli and Méndez deny Italian bribes
Lavitola under arrest, new bribery charges implicate Martinelli and Méndez



Students from the Instituto Nacional march against corruption.
Photo by LTS

Panama in a slow burn
by Eric Jackson


Politics, as a practice, whatever its professions, has always been the systematic organization of hatreds.
Henry Adams

Mid-May has brought, alongside the deepening Lavitola bribery scandal and the government's increasingly belligerent tone toward all of its critics, multiple protests against the government from many quarters. It is Ricardo Martinelli's great luck that no single alternative to him and his project for the nation has grabbed a hold on the public imagination, but by many polls about the president's credibility, whether people would vote for his party in the next elections and support for his actions and policies, Martinelli and his followers now have the support of less than 20 percent of Panamanians.

The president is trying to destroy the sole constitutional alternative to himself, the elected vice president. He had demanded Juan Carlos Varela's resignation and that has hardly any support beyond the small Cambio Democratico base, but he has convinced the eminently blackmailable former President Mireya Moscoso --- she, who spent a bit more than $1,000 per day of public funds during her five-year presidency to buy clothing and jewelry for herself --- to join in his criticisms of the vice president. This has prompted private jokes from Panameńistas who held high posts in her administration about her switching parties and running for her old job on the Cambio Democratico ticket. There are surely more politicians in the opposition parties to be bribed or blackmailed into switching sides, but unless it's cash out front or a "get out of jail" card Martinelli's sinking fortunes give him ever less to offer to someone who wants a political future.

Meanwhile, people who in many cases are barely on speaking terms with one another are moving separately in one general direction, against Martinelli:
  • The PRD, of course, looks at this point to be what comes after Cambio Democratico. They are fighting among themselves, now in the form of a race for delegates to a national convention. Former Panama City Mayor Juan Carlos Navarro is the front runner for the 2014 presidential nomination and also wants to be elected party secretary general. The "TOCONA" --- everybody against Navarro --- alliance of all other party factions looked so petty and obnoxious that they changed their name to TOCOMA (Todos en Contra de Martinelli, reduced to its acronym). But TOCOMA did not field a unified slate of candidates for party convention delegates, and if they still may do well enough in party elections to deny the secretary general post to Navarro, at this point they don't seem to have a coherent and viable alternative to offer. But while they fight each other, all PRD factions are systematically blasting Martinelli for corruption, his labor practices and his environmental policies.

  • The Panameńistas have taken severe losses from defections, but polls indicate that those politicians who have jumped to the Martinelista camp have not taken their rank-and-file followings with them. In fact the party switchers are overtly disliked by well over 80 percent of the electorate and unless there is severe fraud few of them will be back after the next elections. However, the party has never fully recovered from the disastrous Moscoso administration and carries the baggage of their support for unpopular Martinelli policies for the first two years of the current administration. Martinelli's attacks have helped, though. His turn against Bosco Vallarino moved about 1,500 political patronage jobs from Panameńistas to Cambio Democratico, but they have also liberated Varela's party from the terrible embarrassment that was Bosco the Clown. Now the president has sued the vice president for $30 million for repeating charges of corruption that have been made by Italian prosecutors and Varela has the opportunity to turn the lawsuit into a media circus in which the allegations that Martinelli took bribes from Italian companies via Valter Lavitola might be ever-present in the news until the lawsuit has run its course. It remains to be seen whether Varela is audacious and creative enough to use such tactics, which were most famously pioneered in the United States by the late Abbie Hoffman, when the Nixon administration accused him and seven others of having crossed state lines to incite a riot at the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago.

  • Former Attorney General Ana Matilde Gómez is taking a higher public profile of late and is not ruling out an "independent" run for the presidency. There will be one or more small parties looking for a standard bearer in a year when hatred of standard politicians will be a major political factor, and if it is unlikely that anyone will get on the presidential ballot as an independent, she would be an attractive option for the Partido Popular or, if it is wrested from Martinelli's control, MOLIRENA.

  • The leftist Broad Front for Democracy (FAD), a project arising from the labor/left umbrella group FRENADESO, is about one-fifth of the way toward signing up enough members to gain ballot status with more than 12,000 members so far. At the current pace they probably will not reach their goal, but events could quickly change that equation. FRENADESO will be holding a "unitary" march against Martinelli's corruption on May 24, but has not reached very far to make any alliances for the event or in general.

  • On May 19 the 80 or so "civil society" groups in the Asamblea Ciudadana issued a blistering manifesto that demanded an explanation from Martinelli about the Italian prosecutors' charges that he and people in his administration took large bribes, and rejected the president's responses to date as an "accumulation of lies and evasions." Many of these same civil society groups will be staging a protest march on May 22.

  • Unions in the health care sector went on strike on May 14, with the walkout only partially successful but growing day by day to include different groups. After several days of the strike, the government agreed to church-moderated talks, but then announced that there would be disciplinary action against strikers. One of the reasons for the strike in the first place was the government's failure to keep its commitment made last year to reinstate Dr. Guadalupe Reyes, who was fired last year for telling the press and public about medicine shortages in the Social Security Fund health care system. It appears that the Martinelistas have sensed an opportunity to crush unions in the public health care system, but their overt move to do so may breathe new life into the strike.

  • Afro-Panamanian groups, largely as a repudiation of the one black member of the Martinelli cabinet, Education Minister Lucy Molinar, called for black girls to go to school with their hair in braids --- something that the ministry forbids, at least for black kids --- on May 21.

  • On May 19 a small group of anti-corruption activists, the most notable being former Electoral Tribunal magistrate Guillermo Márquez Amado, met to organize an effort to collect signatures and force a referendum on the convening of a constituent assembly. There would be a lot of elections to win in order to substantially change the constitution, but the bet is that the Martinelistas could not win any of them now or in the near future.
  • The government has reneged on its promise to establish the facts about the Barro Blanco hydroelectric dam project that was part of the agreement to end the Ngabe and Bugle disturbances of earlier this year. Instead, there has been a steady stream of invective from the Martinelli administration, and racist disinformation from the usual far-right elements in this society about how indigenous people are somehow being paid by unidentified environmentalists to protest against the project. Protests against the project and others on the Tabasara River have begun again, with the blessing of Cacique General Silvia Carrera.


The hair protest, aimed at Lucy Molinar and Ricardo Martinelli


Signing up to put the leftist political party FAD on the ballot. Photo by FAD


Silvia Carrera supports the Barro Blanco protests and calls on police to skip the brutality.
Video by Prensa En Resistencia



Riot cops move in on striking health care workers. Photo by ANFACSS







    

Also in this section:
Martinelli demands Varela's resignation, doesn't get it
New garbage trucks provide an occasion for revisionist history
Chávez moves against regional human rights court, Panama disrespects its rulings
Changuinola representante leads flight from Cambio Democratico
Canal Plus: Martinelli's friends gather
Another probable crime draws attention to Bocas from afar
Cinco de Mayo, in its Panamanian meaning
Governor orders developer to remove San Carlos beach fence
Detroit-area Medicare fraud proceeds laundered in Panama
The United States, China and Latin America (PDF)
Assembly session ends with ruling party divided
Winner glorifies lynching
Jorge Illueca, father of Panama's diplomatic independence
Journalists, joined by others who are offended, march against Martinelli
Mulino's mission to Rome
Méndez DID buy modular prisons, from a convicted cocaine smuggler
President Martinelli's unpleasant Thursday
Martinelli and Méndez deny Italian bribes
Lavitola under arrest, new bribery charges implicate Martinelli and Méndez



© 2012 by Eric Jackson
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