The 1989 US invasion of Panama, with all of the innocent non-combatants killed, all of the Pentagon and Bush administration lies about it, the seizure and closure of Panama’s public archives that protected the richest criminals and both fuels corruption and impedes dignified national politics to this day, and the tawdry legal aftermath that may have seen Noriega convicted for things he actually did but also “legalized” the payment of more than $1 million in bribes to buy prosecution testimony against the former dictator as precedent for US law — those things were bad enough, and got some recognition outside of Panama. The several years of economic sanctions that preceded the invasion are less well known abroad and one of the historical memories that for a variety of reasons is suppressed here in Panama. The sanctions were devastating, and we may be headed into something similar.
Will the offshore asset protection industry and allied political forces take advantage of an economic crisis to hire dingbats to keep the protesters in line? Will loyalty to Mossack Fonseca become the wannabe prerequisite for patriotism, as loyalty to Manuel Antonio Noriega once was? Will the defense of a criminal element become a purported gesture of national unity?
And if the hard times imposed from within and without do come again, are we prepared to make all of the little private arrangements as in Noriega sanctions time to get us past the crisis? More importantly, this time will Panamanians be ready to make our own better arrangements to move on with our national life, rather than depending on a Washington crowd that neither understands nor cares about us to make arrangements for us?
We still have the dictatorship’s constitution because Panamanians depended on the United States to fix the Noriega crisis. We have a devastated agricultural sector because Washington decided that US-based companies should be the source of more of our food and we didn’t have a Panamanian government willing to walk away from that “free trade” offer. We are in trouble with much of the rest of the world — not only the United States — because we allowed politically influential predatory castes among the professions of lawyers, bankers, stock brokers, insurance executives, merchants and accountants to dictate our laws so as to build a business and financial paradigm that serves international criminals rather than ordinary Panamanians.
One tiny case in point is that a Panamanian can’t just pay a small fee and set up an assumed business name in order to get a post office box, listed telephone number, bank account and tax ID number without being prohibited by unaffordable lawyer and CPA bills. Our business laws are designed for foreigners’ shell games and the enterprises of richer Panamanians, not for the 40 percent of our work force who have been relegated by these laws to the informal economy. Isn’t it time that those considered too small to be profitable for lawyers and bankers to serve got some consideration?
Are we up to the task of overriding the politicians who have done the bidding for this untenable order? Are we ready to rearrange our business, banking, legal and productive systems to serve most Panamanians? We can’t just forget the Panama Papers or the US allegations against the Wakeds, much less international sanctions that may be imposed on us for being a money laundering center. But we can and should fix the ways we feed and govern ourselves, according to Panamanian criteria rather than according to other countries’ wishes. That doesn’t mean bogus legislation like Varela’s public contracting “reform” that might as well have been written by Odebrecht, or the continuation of predatory systems that only benefit a few Panamanians because that’s the way we have done things in the past, or endless discussions about procedure that never get to the substance of our problems. It’s a matter of looking at who most of us are and what most of us can use.
Will Dr. Stiglitz and the commission he heads tell us that? If so, fine. But that should be beside the point. We should figure it out and correct it for ourselves.
State of the jihad
STRATFOR is a corporation run by a conservative Republican whose bread and butter is advising multinational corporations. They gather and publish information to inform decisions that are mostly in the business realm, rather than to mobilize voters to make decisions at the polls. The company and its scholars have their own politics, but their information tends to be dispassionate and well grounded in fact. However, every person and every institution comes out of a social context and all have a point of view. There is no use denying it — better to acknowledge it and proceed.
So the editor was eager to read what STRATFOR had to say about Osama bin Laden’s legacy on the fifth anniversary of his death. The analysis by Scott Stewart noted that notwithstanding Bin Laden having been first run out of Afghanistan, then largely isolated from operation command of any forces, and ultimately tracked down and killed, his plans for a jihad against the West have pretty much gone according to plan, a central part of which was to draw US forces into combat in the Muslim world. “A man was dead, but the ideology of jihadism was going to continue to pose a threat,” Stewart wrote about the elimination of the CIA-trained mastermind of the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States. Stewart also noted the split among jihadis between the al Qaeda and Islamic State factions and predicted that it would endure. He acknowledged the difficulty that governments have in waging wars against amorphous ideologies rather than armies in the field or defined organizations.
So what was the conclusion? First, that “the world simply cannot kill or arrest its way out of this problem;” and second, that “strong US leadership and cooperation from an array of regional allies and alliances” is required to confront the jihad.
The latter part of that is disappointing. Yes, it should always be a general principle of US law and foreign policy that to make war against the United States is a course of action that tends to leave one dead. But no, alliances that identify the United States with unsavory regimes in the Muslim world don’t work very well against the jihadis — they just give them political strength. What would be most effective is a policy that allows Islamists who come to power somewhere to receive all due respect and recognition — with not much of that due if they attack the United States on the one hand, but normal relations if they pursue the ordinary means by which countries and peoples relate to one another. The Sunni jihad against the Shiites — or its reverse — is the sort of cause for America to deplore rather than join. Better to pursue the traditional US role of providing a haven for those fleeing all that stuff and seeking to become Americans. It really does become an existential question for the United States because pursuit of the “Long War” against radical Islam that some Pentagon planners project to be ongoing after everyone who reads these words is dead and buried would be an adventure cut short by America’s financial collapse under the weight of such an undertaking.
Bear in mind…
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