Editorial: Their constitutional process

What does the picture say? With but a few exceptions, men in suits. With but a few exceptions, white people. Nothing much related to the democratic self-rule of the Panamanian people. Panama Decide photo, from their press conference at the Tribunal Electoral and posted on Twitter.

They don’t speak for Panama, but if the usual manipulators hand them the microphone…

What a downright strange and foreboding event. Panama Decide turned in their 1,800 signatures to the Tribunal Electoral so as to begin a process of petitioning to get their parallel constituent assembly on the ballot.

The magistrates intend the unprecedented procedure of online petitioning. The rules by which that would work? To be announced later.

The tribunal’s presiding magistrate, Heriberto Araúz Sánchez, announced that the process will cost upwards of $52 million. For what? Since the procedure and rules are to be announced, he couldn’t be clear.

The promoters who spoke at their odd ceremony? The heads of some of the lesser parties — Lombana’s party in formation, the PAIS party in formation, the Panameñistas, what’s left of Cambio Democratico now that Ricardo Martinelli has gone his own way. The president of Panama’s bar association, the Colegio de Abogados. “Civil society” in the American Embassy sense — no change of the economic system, suitably respectable when seen from afar by suits in Washington.

The elections for delegates to the assembly are to be partisan and at-large. How the seats are to be apportioned, that’s to be announced.

In other words, a huge partisan campaign for one side only using public funds, as we have seen in past referenda. Big money for the ad agencies, which in this case would deviate from their usual “white models only” racism to put some black and brown faces on billboards and TV ads.

And the particulars of what they would do? 

Bobby Eisenmann suggested who should do it:

I got this draft with 15 names for you to consider or not, and add yours. I do not think prior consensus is difficult to choose people of the stature of: Fernando Berguido G., José Isabel Blandón, Irene Bolívar, Olga De Obaldia, Mario Galindo H., Carlos Ernesto González Ramírez, Mariela Ledezma, Roberto Lombana, Gerónimo Mejía, Edgardo Molina Mola, Carlos Bolívar Pedreschi, Rómulo Roux, Esperanza de Troitiño, Lina Vega Abad and Raúl Zúñiga.

White power. Lawyer power. Corporate power. A collection of honorable people with sharp intellects, perhaps, carefully trimmed to exclude organized labor, consistent human rights defenders, anyone who might not pass muster with the US State Department.

And WHAT ABOUT lawyer power? The editor of The Panama News was once accused of a crime by a militia guy from Colorado — his name is Mark Boswell, but he goes or went by the name “Rex Freeman.” Remember the Montana Freemen? One of that crowd. Having served time for felony fraud in Colorado, he made his way to Costa Rica, selling his investment schemes, then a step or two ahead of Tico authorities, came here. The Panama News wrote about him, and the charge he brought, using one Alejandro Moncada Luna as his private prosecutor, was criminal defamation. It started with a fraudulent translation of what was published. Render “hustler” into “estafador?” It mattered not, given the conviction and incarceration for fraud in Colorado. Moncada Luna, formerly Noriega’s guy for shutting down the opposition press, went on to other things. Like presiding magistrate of the Supreme Court. Like to prison for the millions he made from kickbacks on court construction and renovation projects. And after he served his years in the country’s most comfortable penitentiary, back to the practice of law.

So we are supposed to follow the lead of a bar association that won’t kick a convicted corrupt lawyer out of the profession? It’s a good idea to have some professionally trained legal minds at a constitutional convention, but a corrupted legal profession is one of the monsters that any worthy convention needs to slay.

It’s not just lawyer power. Look at the proposals that this crowd puts forward about the legislature. They play this demagogic populism about how the fewer politicians, the better. NEVER going so far as to eliminate the suplentes and their spots on the payroll, mind you. No, the most often heard formula is a 55-member National Assembly, elected at-large and partisan by province, except for five at-large nationally elected deputies.

That is, to run an effective campaign it can’t be “retail,” with candidates individually meeting the voters. It has to be done through expensive advertising, especially on television. The larger the constituency in which one has to campaign, the more expensive it is to run. Far from “populist,” this crowd’s formula is to make politics a rich person’s sport. Continuing the weird mix of partisan proportional representation we have in multi-member circuits and writing them large on a provincial level adds to the possibilities of manipulation and corruption.

What if, instead of the rabiblanco power scheme that’s bandied about, we eliminated suplentes, INCREASED the number of deputies to 101, and elected them from single-member circuits with equal populations? It might just drive a stake through the heart of the current pestilential in-crowds, and give us something approaching true democracy. 

Martinelli and Moncada Luna — do we want these guys or their friends to draft a new constitution for Panama? Photo by the Presidencia, way back when.

So, what to do?

First, don’t sign the petition to bring this process to life. At some point, check to see whether someone has forged you name on the petition and if that is the case, raise a great hue and cry.

However, it seems as if the magistrates are going to find a way to get this on the ballot — there is an awful lot of money at stake, for one thing.

In Chile recently there was an election of delegates to a constituent assembly, rigged by a requirement that a two-thirds vote would be needed for the assembly to pass anything and the expectation that the incumbent right-wing party and those who yearn for the good old days of the Pinochet dictatorship would get enough seats to block meaningful change. However, Chilean voters had other ideas and gave the diverse factions of the protest movement that forced the election a super-majority as against the right. Let’s see what document they draft.

A convention being called under certain controls that goes elsewhere? In the USA in the 1780s, a convention was called to modify the Articles of Confederation, but under George Washington’s leadership they met behind closed doors and drafted the US Constitution. The French Revolution included a royally-convened gathering of the Estates General, which brushed aside the king’s whims and desires and became a revolutionary institution.

Do Panamanians have it within us to take over a rigged process and turn it against the corrupt establishment? We’d have to set aside a lot of divisions for that moment to do it. Our various dissidents would have to grow up fast to pull it off. Perhaps we have already had most of the sense we’d need beaten into us.

If the people lose and a predominantly rich and white set of party elites grabs control of the constituent assembly and does the expected insulting stuff, we get one more chance. A “no” campaign against what they propose.



I am an anti-imperialist. I am opposed to having the eagle put its talons on any other land.

Mark Twain

Bear in mind…

Cats, as you know, are quite impervious to threats.

Connie Willis

Hell hath no fury like a fanatic asked to find a reason for what he’s doing. He simply wants to do it, and generally he wants to do it because he observes, often unconsciously, that something new is coming into existence and he doesn’t like it, and he’s going out with fire and sword to hold it back.

Gwen Bristow

He attacked everything in life with a mix of extraordinary genius and naïve incompetence, and it was often difficult to tell which was which.

Douglas Adams


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