The unfolding worldwide Pegasus scandal is nothing new for Panama
Pegasus is an Israeli electronic weapons system that allows its users to break into people’s cell phones and computers, to turn phones into room bugs, to rummage through and steal information from public or private databases, to vandalize websites. It’s on the international news again, as the specific activities of at least 11 of its users – generally thuggish regimes – have come to light in the form of more than 50,000 phone numbers of victims against which it was deployed. Public officials high and low, ragtag dissidents and serious opposition leaders, the families of people killed by government death squads and especially journalists populate that list.
It’s the same sorts of people against whom Ricardo Martinelli used the Pegasus system when he was president. As he never turned the equipment, programs and data over to his elected successor, he may be using Pegasus to this very day.
As to Panama, Israel may have close government-to-government relations and there are also long-standing people-to-people ties, but it’s an enemy of Panamanians’ freedoms. It was back in Noriega times when they had a Mossad guy attached to the dictatorship’s UESAT death squad. When Shin Bet guys trained SPÏ presidential guards and used photos of Arab characters – and those were published – it drew a target on Panama and our supposed-to-be neutral canal as enemies of the Arab world. And it wasn’t just 150 people on Martinelli’s enemies list whose communications were intercepted, it was thousands of people, at the very least everybody to talked with any of the specified targets on the phone or exchanged email or WhatsApp messages with them.
Despite historic ties, and despite Israel’s attraction to Panama as another small country without many raw materials that lives by its wits, the deployment of the Pegasus weapons system against Panamanians ought to affect Panama’s economic, political and diplomatic relations with Israel. No foreign country should be able to pull that stuff on Panama without accountability.
Martinelli will go on trial before our defective court system about the use of Pegasus. Some people have actually been jailed over it. Perhaps, however, in the great hue and cry that’s just beginning, there will be an international treaty against the trafficking and use of such surveillance systems. If the world can agree on that, it would be better than the expected circular finger-pointing.
Muster out of the drug wars
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report that more than 93,000 people died from drug overdoses in 2020 in the United States. That’s the most ever. That’s 52 years after Richard Nixon declared the “War On Drugs,” with the United States having drafted more than two generations of Latin American police and military forces into Tricky Dicky’s jihad.
Let’s not hear any stuff about how the drugs are different and those in the business are different and run different sorts of organizations. It has been an expensive loss all across the Americas, and was a “war” undertaken in bad faith all along. In Panama and in the United States and in many other places, it has corrupted public officials from the cops on the beat to the magistrates on the bench to the top circles of governmental power, with all sorts of people in between. It’s time to end this ignominious defeat.
Which is not to say that substance addiction and abuse do not present problems. They are major health problems that sap society of a lot of its productivity. They break up families. They shorten lives. But like with two other addictive substances that are part of the US and Panamanian cultures and economy, alcohol and tobacco, there are betters ways to address the problems than by using the criminal law, up to and including military force, to impose prohibition. Or really, to tell the truth about it, to try in vain to impose prohibition.
It would be proper international etiquette to prevent Panama’s use as a platform for smuggling substances legal here to places where they are illegal. So, although we can’t relate to their values, a certain amount of cooperation to stop the smuggling of rum to Saudi Arabia, pork to Iran or cocaine to the European Union might be in order. But it is and has been way out of order to concentrate or police forces and legal system on the US anti-drug crusade. Washington may pay for a lot of the training and toys, but despite the loss of those things, Panama can do a better job of protecting the Panamanian people by allocating law enforcement resources in much different ways.
Bear in mind…
We’ve brought into being a couple of generations of Americans who believe there is a chemical answer to everything, from acne to cancer. So how dare we pillory kids for thinking pills and acid and smack are chemical answers to the worries and pressures that assail them? You can’t stock drugstore after drugstore with pharmaceutical goodies guaranteed to ease tension, straighten heads, and improve one’s complexion, without suckering kids into believing they’re entitled to the same benefits by the use of Mother’s Little Helpers.
If everything seems under control, you’re not going fast enough.
Never be seen in the same outfit twice. Sure, this may require some creative wardrobe changes on the move, but any diva worth her diamonds has four different looks on hand at all times.
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