Upstairs from Martinelli’s collapsing empire

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Looking out from the food court upstairs from Coronado’s Super 99 late on a Sunday morning.

Crumbling empire

photos by Eric Jackson

Yes, Panamanian corporate secrecy, the intricacies of partnerships, joint ventures and the like, transfers by a now jailed criminal to thwart any current or would-be creditors or distributions of assets among family and friends for less nefarious purposes make it hard to really know about ownership. But the shopping center of which Coronado’s Super 99 is the anchor is widely associated with Ricardo Martinelli and regardless of the extent to which that may be true, a lot of people see it as his and arrange their business accordingly. Mostly such arrangements are to avoid doing business. The phenomenon first became strikingly visible on the ride up the Pan-American Highway to Coronado right after the defeat of Martinelli’s 2014 election campaign for another term by proxy. One of the ways that he had rigged the 2014 election was that companies he controlled acquired a dominant position in outdoor advertising and people refused to deal with those companies. Thus when the Cambio Democratico campaign messages came down, many of the billboards advertised nothing much more than “for rent.” Many people had begun staying away from Super 99 supermarkets for purely political reasons during the Martinelli presidency and tales of how the business had been shifted to other family members did nothing much to bring those customers back. The organized boycott with picketers never really took off, but without those reminders people made their choices.

And what about the upstairs in Coronado? It never did fill up, and most of the businesses that set up there — generally small enterprises or franchises, people not of the Martinelli family — didn’t last. Would you want your kids to play at Martinelli’s place? The playground was a bust too. Now it’s all but a ghost town.

There are surely other factors. All of the empty stores from Cerro Campana out to Penonome — including some entirely empty shopping strips — speak of an overbuilding. Don’t automatically cry for anyone, because some of that senseless construction surely has been a smashing money laundering success even as it has been a commercial dud. So it might just be that the food court upstairs from Coronado’s Super 99 was just a bad bet, or perhaps even a bet that will pay off sometime in the future.


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