The powers that be respond to a crime wave

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Waiting for the forensics team at the scene of a gangland hit in Calidonia.

The blame game? Particularly lame. But that
and the reasons for it are not being ignored.

by Eric Jackson

Zulay Rodríguez shrieking at Security Minister Rolando Mirones in the National Assembly chamber. Yes, well, shrieking fits are what she does. On this day it was actually a video bite punctuation. Her main work at the moment was, along with colleagues Leandro Ávila and Corina Cano, an attempt to amend a law eliminating the statutes of limitation for sex offenses to provide that those convicted of public corruption, money laundering and drug trafficking would not go to prison but rather do community service. Convenient amendment for one who, by all appearances, stole $100,000 from the Panamanian Sports Institute.

Which is not to say that there is nothing seriously alarming underway. There were about 70 homicides in December, and at least 60 in January. A couple of rotting bodies found in an illegal tire dump in Kuna Nega may affect the balance, even if there aren’t any slayings on the last day of January. Medical examiners will have to make their finding about when these two died, with the possibility of further detective work determining exactly when, where and at whose hands. So what’s THAT all about?

In a statement about the notorious killing of a family of three — including a two-month-old baby — in the Arraijan neighborhood of El Chumical, Mirones said that “everything appears to indicate that this act is the product of a struggle among gangs for control of territory.”

The names of the gangs are not specifically known to the public. They were part of one of the two main gangs in Panama, Bagdad, which had a bloody split beginning in December. After some apparent initial skirmishes on the streets of San Felipe, the war flared into a December 17 massacre in which AK-47s, 9mm pistols, machetes and shivs were deployed inside a Bagdad pavillion at La Joyita Penitentiary. Some guards, police and prison administrators lost jobs over that. There may be some cops or prisoncrats becoming themselves inmates for letting the weapons in, but we don’t know exactly when that was.

After the bloodletting at the prison, a much larger war erupted on the streets, with its main but not only epicenter in Arraijan. In one of the many gangland hits, an illiterate Guna teenager ended up charged with two counts of murder. Leave it to Judge Iroko Tinoco to throw the charges out because the boy was questioned without parents, attorney or guardian ad litem present. At that, Mirones was incensed. “It can’t be that people are released in cases where they have committed violent crimes.”

In the National Assembly, Mirones can’t get a consensus for that. PRD deputy Arquesio Arias, you see, isn’t attending legislative sessions. Accused of being a serial rapist, the judge let him out under house arrest as he awaits trial before the Supreme Court on multiple sexual assault charges. His colleagues don’t want his suplente filling in for him. It’s not just his circuit going without a vote, but also a matter of who runs the office budget and controls those political patronage jobs associated with it for the duration. Arias is managing that budget from his home and his fellow deputies seem content with that.

As word of the crime wave gets to social media that the gringo community reads, there are the usual “you need a gun to live in Panama” statements, the hustlers are calling for their emergency meetings with whatever inane offerings to come from them and the more legitimate long-term neighborhood watch groups are calling meetings with police community relations people. The ban on importation of firearms has been allowed to lapse and it is expected that the processing of applications for gun permits will resume. On the other hand, Mirones and National Police director Jorge Miranda put on the first public destruction of illegal guns show in several years on January 30. Some 589 pistols were destroyed.

The family of three that was slaughtered in El Chumical was armed. Little did that help when three or four armed guys came crashing in and shooting in the middle of the night. So if Mirones sometimes spouts US-inspired gun seller pitches, it seems that official policy is not to encourage citizens or resident foreigners to run right out and get a gun.

Miranda, in shades, and Mirones, in protective gear, put a pistol to the torch. Security Ministry photo.

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