Libertad Ciudadana, In the face of impunity

Profound rejection. Photo and alteration by Eric Jackson.

To the citizenry in the face of impunity:
insist, persist, resist and never desist

by Libertad Ciudadana, the Panamanian chapter of Transparency International

Last week three cases bore evidence of the profound collapse of the administration of justice in Panama:

  • The acquittal of all of those involved in a scheme in which Caja de Ahorros funds were used;
  • The cutoff of time to investigate the Odebrecht case; and finally, this past Friday, August 9,
  • The not guilty verdict in the case against former president Martinelli for the illegal interception of communication and various forms of theft related to that.

We have seen justice, instead of being effective, equitable and relevant, turned into a weapon of impunity and the undermining of social and democratic cohesion by way of the destruction of the rule of law and for practical purposes the non-existence of the separation of powers.

The institutional crisis in the administration of justice in this country, which engulfs both the Public Ministry prosecutors and the courts, didn’t arise in one week. It comes from more than a decade, since what was drawn up and established in the State Pact for Justice’s judicial reform road map, the commitments of which have for the most part gone unimplemented, like the judicial civil service. The provisions which that have been implemented, like the accusatory penal system, have been marred by favoritism in the appointment of judges without regard to the civil service laws, which has inundated the system with justice operatives without true independence, people who by all appearances are susceptible to intimidation and corruption and without any mechanism to get effective accountability for their judicial actions. Judges appointed by magistrates who, in turn, are the products of executive appointments for the most part bear the marks of conflicts of interest, inexperience, cronyism and the characteristics forge in mutual impunity pacts with the legislature, which in turn also does not fulfill its role as a balance to executive power.

Former president Martinelli’s case is particularly decisive because the Supreme Court accumulated several criminal cases for public corruption begun against him but did not include those in the extradition process. How can it be expected that the citizenry would like or could obey the law in a system that only guarantees impunity for some and delay for others?

As citizens in a democracy – imperfect as it is, but still a democracy – it’s up to us to act, to demand compliance with the judicial reforms, to support the State Pact for Justice, to incessantly insist and persist in the face of the forces of corruption who want nothing to change because the system serves them as it is.

Of the Public Ministry and the judicial branch we demand: courage, audits and evaluations of every office and every authority, change and modernization of the procedures, investigation of and sanctions for those justice operatives whose performance has been deficient or who have intentionally or negligently omitted their legal duties.

Of the executive branch: that President Laurentino Cortizo keep his word, which he gave upon signing the 2019 Transparency Challenge, and include it among the priorities of this government plan, to wit he promised:

“To nominate independent magistrates and prosecutors, without political, business or family ties to myself or any member of my cabinet, in strict compliance with Law 4 of 1999 concerning equal opportunities.”

If we want to do away with impunity, we need the best justice operatives: upright, independent, with judicial experience and brave in the face of corruption. The executive can help to improve, or can continue to worsen, the independence of the institutions.

We call upon the citizenry to resist corruption in all of its forms and to persist in the search for solutions. We will be publishing a call to convene and unite forces and look for solutions. We conscious citizens with a democratic calling are more than they are.


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