Editorials: Wimps in high places: and The Manafort trial

— an adaptation of a photo by a discredited public institution —

The Martinelli scandal explodes: What Now?

Attorney General Kenia Porcell, whose performance in office is not above criticism but who ought to be believed in this instance, said in an an August 13 address to the nation that Hernán De León, presiding magistrate of the Supreme Court, had come to her office two weeks earlier and told her that the Martinelli case now in trial before the high court would be dropped. The magistrate, she said, told her that Ricardo Martinelli’s spy operation had recording of more than 5,000 people, with multiple copies of the archive stashed in the United States and other countries. One of these, she said he said, was embarrassing to the magistrate and he was being blackmailed about it. Hence the intention to drop the case.

First, this is an allegation of a prisoner threatening a judge. Not just any prisoner, not just any judge. The worldwide usual is that for this sort of infraction the inmate gets “thrown in the hole,” that is, put into isolation under harsh conditions. Martinelli, however, has a cell full of amenities that no other prisoner gets. So en route to the hole there should be a special cell extraction to which he should be a witness. In addition to guards or police to take him away to a new place of confinement — a punishment cell in La Joyita or another mainline prison — there should be others armed with hammers to destroy all of his luxuries in his presence. Prisoners threatening judges is something that Panama should never abide. The essence of sensible prison discipline is to allow inmates some small privileges which might be taken away for bad behavior. So be it. Martinelli’s phalanxes of lawyers and their endless motions should not be allowed into the prison discipline process.

Second, there needs to be full disclosure of all known facts and a full investigation into the violations of the rights of an entire nation as well as thousands of individuals. Porcell has resisted such transparency, perhaps out of concern about the lawsuits and criminal charges that people not notably members of any elites — like the editor of The Panama News – might bring. We already know of 150 people whose communications were monitored, so we already know that anyone who had electronic communications with any of these people was also monitored.

Third, there are already known accomplices in the overall surveillance scheme. The ex-president’s brother-in-law, for part of the time acting in conjunction with Cable & Wireless (which had the national surveillance camera contract) and said relative and a company of his reportedly acquiring the equipment, programs and technical assistance to set up the spy operation from Israeli and Italian firms. All individuals and companies involved or possibly involved in the Martinelli spy operation ought to be called in for questioning and certain presumptions should be made about those who do not cooperate.

Fourth, De León should resign from the Supreme Court forthwith. Wimps should not be allowed in such high places.

Finally, there should be a blue-ribbon investigating panel of qualified and impartial people, advised by an international team of experts, to both get to the bottom of the whole surveillance scandal and report to the Panamanian people and the proper institutions. They should also get into the court cases, the truncated investigations and the historical contexts of this entire matter. Let the chips fall where they may.

The Manafort case goes to the jury

Trump and his loyal following keep saying that there is nothing to the bevy of scandals related to the president’s and his entourage’s Russian business and political ties, let alone any collusion with Russians during the last presidential campaign.

“Collusion,” of course, is a concept not known as a specific crime in the US Code. Conspiracy to violate election laws against foreign participation in these American affairs is, however, a different story. The special prosecutor is approaching a case of just that against Donald Trump, but it may yet turn out that the president is clueless and knew nothing about what was happening in his own campaign. But the lies told along the way, the unregistered foreign agencies and covert financial dealings have already been the stuff of several guilty pleas. A case of obstruction of justice has been made in full public view by Donald Trump himself.

But now that both prosecution and defense have rested, we are about to see what a jury thinks about the Russian and Ukrainian dealings of Trump’s campaign manager, and the various financial transactions swirling around those and around the man.

A conviction may or may not turn Manafort into a cooperating witness against Trump. An acquittal on all counts would be a blow to the special prosecutor’s investigation and would probably embolden Trump to move to shut it down. But there have been too many things documented, and too many convictions already secured, for Trump’s political fortunes to survive such a blunder. Sure, he could hold out against any Democratic impeachment move, but appearances alone would send the Republicans wandering in the political wilderness for years to come.

So the end of August approaches with the federal trial of Paul Manafort coming to its resolution. Just in time for the fall, and the New York fraud trial of the Trump family and businesses and their alleged abuses of tax breaks for charities.

Lots of entertainment, but the matter is going to be decided at the polls. If you are a US citizen, register and vote.

Bear in mind

Roots are not in a landscape or a country, or a people, they are inside you.
Isabel Allende Llona


The way to make yourself popular and to govern well is to employ honorable men, even though they are your enemies.
Simón Bolívar


We make our own criminals, and their crimes are congruent with the national culture we all share.
Margaret Mead


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