Shouting subsides for now at the foot of Ancon Hill

What’s she screaming about now? On the occasion of this particular National Assembly video, it was about how terrible it is that people who took money from Odebrecht are not in prison. As the legislative session ended, she was pointing out the horrible conspiracy proven by her exclusion from the list of people getting food assistance during the coronavirus crisis. There is actually a good argument for making such programs universal instead of means-tested or based on political patronage. But the $100,000 she took from Pandeportes without explanation covers 1,250‬ months of the benefits coming to those left without income due to the crisis, and HER legislator’s salary isn’t cut off.

A small measure of peace
between assembly sessions

by Eric Jackson

“We have proof that shows that she [Harding] stated in various media that she saw people fighting and got into the fight and later she invented a crime that never existed, trying to tarnish the honor of the deputy [Salazar].”

A lawyer representing Jairo “Bolota” Salazar     

Until July 1, we are spared all of the shrieking, paper waving and physical assaults at the Legislative Palace. Unless Nito gets desperate or foolish and calls for a special legislative session. Some committees might meet and perhaps provide fireworks shows in the May 1 to June 30 recess. But mostly, a measure of peace on that front, as the nation quietly or not so quietly suffers.

Legislators, mayors and represetantes of the PRD and MOLIRENA alliance – some of them – continue with sticky fingered public assistance games. Others complain about being left off of the gravy train. Finger-pointing at “others” continues.

The hordes of fake social media pesonas, bots and hired call center trolls are still deployed. However it seems that their displays during the last legislative recess (November 1 though January 2, but disrupted by a special session that was a spectacular failure) were so crude that Facebook and Twitter eliminated a bunch of the spurious accounts.

Before they went, shouting and accusations in the National Assembly chamber, as the deputies got their personal intervention times. Raúl Pineda spinning tales of oppression by Panama province’s presidentially appointed governor, Judy Meana, for acts or omissions he never made quite clear. Zulay Rodríguez with a factoid purportedly in a sheaf of papers, spinning a conspiracy theory out of the clumsily run emergency food program. Bolota running his trip. A bunch of deputies with thoughtful observations, which got bumped off of the news by all the histrionics.

The worst of them like to rail against foreigners, against queers, against intellectuals. The funny thing is how many poses, expressions and political styles they crib, indirectly as usual, from people they profess to hate. Wait a minute! Bolota and his lawyers didn’t learn that scene from Akira Kurosawa’s The Seven Samuari! They cribbed their photo op from The Magnificent Seven! Or from one of the countless other politicians who has assumed the position since. Anyway, as the legislature was shutting down for two months, the action shifted a few blocks uphill. Bolota and his entourage of six lawyers strode into the Supreme Court to file criminal charges against fellow PRD deputy Kayra Harding, with the “right” journalists duly summoned to record the posed event

See, it was like this, we are told. There was a caucus of deputies from the PRD and MOLIRENA alliance. They were arguing about legislation related to forgiveness or mere delay of certain debts during the crisis. Bolota slugged a colleague because, he alleged, said deputy’s a queer. Then he started throwing bottles of water at people. One of which, it is explained to us, whizzed by the intended target and nearly hit deputy Kayra Harding. Who had the audacity to complain before the Supreme Court that Bolota had assaulted her. Libel at its most vile, the lawyers say. Meanwhile Bolota’s Internet trolls are not getting into that issue but emphasizing the point that the legislator from San Miguelito is actually a carpetbagger from Arraijan. EVERYBODY who’s into gangster politics needs to know whose turf is which, you see….

Leave it to the high court to determine what gets dismissed and how.

So, who should feel relieved? For starters, a number of figures from the executive branch won’t have to come to show and tell. That’s because the deputies couldn’t cram it in before the session ended on April 30.

Health Minister Rosario Turner is able to put off an appearance before Zulay Rodríguez’s committee to be blamed for Panama being neither materially nor organizationally prepared for the pandemic. Education Minister Maruja Gorday de Villalobos, Housing Minister Inés Samudi, Social Security Fund director Enrique Lau Cortés and utilities authority (ASEP) director Armando Fuentes also avoid the legislative Romper Room. Or they probably do until sometime after July 1.

In the larger scheme of things the legislative and judicial branches of government are withering in this crisis, while the presidency and the police have amassed much greater power. If there is an alternative to the power shift, there is little demand for the National Assembly to reassert itself at this time.

To be sure, there is important legislative business, some of which has been done. Several bills about delaying or canceling debts accrued during the crisis passed and it’s not entirely clear what President Cortizo will do about them. He has a line item veto. He has an entourage of business figures who want to be paid every penny they are owed, sooner rather than later. He has the sense to know that if the state of emergency is lifted and immediately everyone has to pay back rent, utility bills and so on but does not get his or her old source of income back, there will be terrible upheavals. Plus, he has previously shown reticence to getting dragged into the legislators’ demagoguery after being burned over constitutional reforms.

This reporter expects that Cortizo will continue to rule by executive decree over next two months, leaving it to the legislators’ own devices to attract attention to themselves in this interim. They can’t constitutionally have a special session unless he calls it.


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