Jackson, Thinking as a Panamanian now…

Yanibel Ábrego. Photo by the Asamblea Nacional.

As a Panamanian…

by Eric Jackson, a dual citizen thinking from his Panamanian side

The penultimate legislative year of the Varela administration is underway. It’s a deplorable situation.

The incarcerated Ricardo Martinelli gave his order to the deputies of the Cambio Democratico caucus. Most of them ignored him.

Martinelli’s messenger woman Alma Cortés? She’s in Panama, out on bail. Not long ago Uncle Sam made her job slightly harder by yanking her visa to enter the United States.

President Varela’s Panameñista Party joined with the CD dissidents to make Capira legislator Yanibel Ábrego president of the legislature. There will be a reshuffle of political patronage jobs with the legislature. Jobs like those are in the Martinelli order of things minor plums, but the franchises to skim millions at a pop were much fewer. For voters the CD fruit were bags of groceries, building materials to add onto houses, household appliances, small amounts of cash and myriad other payoffs. While the courts, still dominated by Martinelli appointees and the culture that they poured down the ranks of the judiciary, are in denial, pretty much all of Panama knows that the racket was overpriced government contracts with kickbacks, with some of the proceeds going to the officials who were conduits but a major purpose being to raise funds for the purchase of votes in 2014.

The clamor for justice is subdued. No social opprobrium attached to having taken Martinelli’s payoffs. A corrupt Martinelista Electoral Prosecutor, in connivance with other officials, has made sure that no politician has gone to jail for playing the CD vote buying with stolen public funds game.

And Yanibel Ábrego? She has became much richer during her eight years or so in the National Assembly. Her big real estate coup was the purchase of a large piece of public beachfront property at pennies on the dollar. That land is still occupied by Ábrego, but she has put it in other people’s names lest we get a government that’s serious about recovering stolen property. It seems that part of the Panameñista legislative alliance with Ábrego and her fellow CD deputies is a tacit assurance that she will be able to keep what she took.

Martinelli loyalists assure that from whatever mansion or jail cell he finds himself during the candidate selection process leading up to the 2019 elections, the former president will make sure that the majority of CD legislators who defied him will not get nominated to run for another term. Perhaps he can deliver.

However, that’s what the proliferation of new parties in formation is all about. Il Duce’s caucus is about to splinter off into new formations ranging from Evangelical fanatic to neo-kleptocrat. If you do the electoral math, this CD decomposition is what gives a slender hope to the Panameñistas that they can pull off unprecedented back-to-back general election wins.

Yanibel Ábrego, however, vehemently denies that she has been disloyal to Ricardo Martinelli. But then, what would such a person know about loyalty? She certainly hasn’t been loyal to Panama.


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