A hated legislature goes home early, police move in, part 1

What if they gave a riot, and nobody came? Just in case, the riot squad was deployed near the PRD party headquarters. FRENADESO Noticias photo.

All that counts for them under control,
to an outsider nearly total disarray

by Eric Jackson

The National Assembly has two regular sessions, one from early January through the end of April, the other from the beginning of July to the end of October. During the previous session the new new coronavirus hit us and President Laurentino “Nito” Cortizo Cohen responded by declaring a state of emergency, invoking constitutional powers drafted with war in mind.

To “prevent panic” word went out from the government that any information about the health crisis that didn’t come from them was false. For a time most of the rabiblanco media obeyed those restrictions, while at the same time the journalists of most of the small media were locked down like everyone else, as were most government offices. News from Panama about Panama shriveled down to little more than government announcements and accidental videos circulated on social media.

Were there private contacts between the reporters and editors of the main media businesses and the rest of the business community? Of course there were, but at first taboos about telling how bad off a business is limited that part of crisis reporting.

What to do in the swirl on an information black hole? On Twitter, to hit the trending in Panama feed was to find that other than government announcements the usual fare was stuff about European soccer teams.

WHAT? An information hole? What a great opportunity for a politician who loves the limelight! That’s not all or even most of the deputies, though. Those interested in being president some day may grow in the glare, but those who are in it for the money, or making deals with those who are, prefer to work in the shade

At first some of the more extreme deputies who take their guidance from far right movements in other lands grumbled, as in Zulay Rodríguez standing up the assembly chamber to denounce quarantine rules and question the use of masks. The health minister at the time was on a continuum from dismissive to derisive, the deputy didn’t take her advice to self-quarantine, but in any case politicians used to thinking themselves immune to everything and acting like it quickly figured that other than in sparsely populated areas most Panamanians were taking the matter seriously.

By the start of this session a lot of people had died and the PRD caucus had been caught violating the decrees by meeting at a restaurant that was supposed to be closed to divide up the jobs. There were a few things that had to be done, a few things in which this or that legislator believes, but mostly some shows to be staged in a time when presidential decrees pre-empted a lot of what they might otherwise do.

Do you want to hear her “unmask” the journalists and independent politicians whom she despises and brands as foreign – again? You can go to her YouTube channel (from which this still is taken) to hear that rant. Zulay Rodríguez has her following but by and large her colleagues don’t take her too seriously.

So what did they actually do?

…The city fathers, they’re trying to endorse
The reincarnation of Paul Revere’s horse
But the town has no need to be nervous…

Bob Dylan, Tombstone Blues

Word came breathlessly down from the legislative palace at the foot of Ancon Hill that from July 1 through October 29, the deputies had passed 62 laws. They varied widely in importance and infamy.

EDITOR’S NOTE: At about this point on November 1, the laptop on which The Panama News is produced started to go haywire. It proved impossible to go on at the time, and the computer is still not fixed. But the story was and is intended to go on into the things things that the National Assembly did —the veto fights with President Cortizo, the very important matter of the national budget and so on — and was to end with the tale of police attacking protesters and arresting a journalist outside the legislative palace as the session ended. We will get to all of that, AND the subsequent Budget Committee meetings during the legislative recess, in a future article.


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