PRD activist’s gangland-style murder and funeral raise many questions

Wendy del Carmen Rodríguez
Wendy Del Carmen Rodríguez. Unattributed photo from social media.

So what’s THAT — and THAT — all about?

by Eric Jackson

First word, on Twitter, was a video, taken  perhaps from an upstairs residence across the street, of an audacious gangland-style hit on the Corredor Sur. The word was that one person was killed and two wounded.

Then we saw PRD legislators Héctor Brands and Crispiano Adames show up at the Policlínica JJ Vallarino in Juan Díaz, where the most seriously wounded in the shooting incident was taken and died. Then urgent police calls on social media for other possible citizen videos of the shooting. Then an online report with few details, claiming that the shooters’ car and a MiniUzi submachine gun were recovered, with no arrests made.



It turns out that the deceased and apparent target of the attack was 42-year-old Wendy Del Carmen Rodríguez, a locally prominent PRD activist in Santa Ana. Two minors, Rodríguez’s kids, who were in the car with her were also wounded by the hail of bullets, neither in a directly life-threatening way, so it seemed. A third minor in the car that Rodríguez drove was not wounded by bullets.

A gangland hit of a PRD activist? Not at all unheard-of over the years. Let’s not get into stereotypes about how the political party that has the most members and regularly gets the votes of one-third or more of the Panamanian electorate is all a bunch of gangsters. We do know, however, that in places where there is a strong gang presence the local politicians will generally know and interact with them, and that there have been many allegations over the years of gangsters expanding their operations into becoming political organizations on their turf..

But what of THIS woman?

Wendy Rodríguez was named in mid-June, and was apparently a person of interest, in a so far inconclusive prosecutors’ investigation of corruption in the “solidarity bond” food assistance program in Santa Ana. The corregimiento’s Cambio Democratico representante, Jair Basilio Martinez Vega, had complained that distribution of the vouchers was being mishandled by PRD apparatchiki. It was found that a number of vouchers had been stolen, and one government official was found in possession of 19 of them without any proper explanation of why.

In other areas with PRD representantes the program was run by those elected officials, but not where opposition party members won. The PRD representantes have often been partisan, and and sometimes racist or otherwise socially prejudiced, in who does or does not get food assistance.  The abuses are part of the backdrop to street protests and road blockages in various parts of  Panama. The program has been taken out of the PRD representantes’ hands in many areas.

There were never any specific charges, let alone any convictions, against Rodríguez.

Forensics investigators for the police and prosecutors work the crime scene. Public Ministry photo.

Whatever else she may have been Wendy Rodríguez was an important PRD organizer in Santa Ana and the larger legislative circuit 8-7, and also a leading activist in the PRD Women’s Front. It was to be expected that the party faithful would display their grief and their solidarity with her family in the wake of her murder.

Problems arise in these plague times, though. Until some recent changes, the churches were closed. Most of the families of those who died of COVID-19 were unable to hold funerals for that reason. But with the loosening as the second wave of COVID-19 deaths subsides, houses of worship have been allowed to open and hold events at one-quarter their capacity.

The health decrees ban  on crowds gathering on the streets remains, selectively enforced if it is enforced.

On August 30 the funeral was held at the Catholic parish church in Santa Ana. Proper crowd limitation and social distancing were observed inside. In attendance were a number of party and government notables, along with members of the slain woman’s family.

Most controversially, as we shall see, special presidential health advisor and cabinet minister without administrative portfolio Eyra Ruíz was there. Under later criticism she noted that the gathering inside the church was legal and that she did not stay and mingle with the crowd outside the church. Very uncomfortable for her has been her statement from the day before the funeral that the protesters and journalists who gathered outside an illegal gathering at the La Fragata bar would be fined for breaking the decree against public gatherings. 

So will that now be applied against the PRD faithful and Wendy Rodríguez’s family and friends, given that the coffin was carried out of the church to the music of a mariachi band, then taken to the cemetery in a pedestrian procession where social distancing was not especially observed?


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