Editorials: Defending Panama; and Defending the United States

Ascanio Arosemena Chávez, 1944-1964, is the young man in the diagonally striped shirt on the right side of this photo. He was a 19-year-old student, neither a saint nor a genius, who saw that people were protesting about Panama’s division by a US colony and as he came upon the scene saw that things had become violent. As a decent and patriotic Panamanian, he pitched in to help the wounded. An instant after this photo was taken, he was shot through the aorta and rather quickly became the first of Panama’s national martyrs that day. Just an ordinary guy, with perhaps a bit more bravery and sense of decency than most, he did his best to rise to an occasion. In death he became a symbol around whom a nation rallied to make itself whole. The job remains unfinished.

Defending Panama

The constitution and defense plans here are largely in reaction to particular events. Moreover, they were usually for Panama at the insistence of others. 2021 was a year in which three great emergencies put Panamanian war powers to the test:

* The COVID-19 epidemic brought upon some emergency decrees, theoretically implied out of the war provisions of the dictatorship’s constitution that is still with us. The document does not specifically say that the president can do that, but then it also doesn’t spell out every possible emergency that might be called a war. Most Panamanians have sensibly rallied behind the national defense against the virus. Those who have not are divided among those who demand strict legal formality, those whose distrust of our national government overrides just about all other considerations, and citizens who have fallen under the spell of imported extremist conspiracy theories. To address the root causes of each of these objections is to go a long way toward strengthening Panama’s defenses. To let the virus go unchecked in the meantime would weaken this country in about every way.

* We are a way station along migration routes from the global south aimed at the United States. It’s an untenable situation, but on the other hand Panama can’t put airtight seals on our borders and should not try to do so. Imposing a bit of order is SENAFRONT’s job, and also that of Panamanian diplomacy. There are various technical solutions, but we should be looking not toward military force but the establishment of long-term migrant camps – little cities, really – with the assistance of the United Nations. The ad hoc Panamanian response has reflected our better, more decent values but we really can’t shoulder the burden of the world’s many diverse migration issues.

* One of Colombia’s most vicious far-right militias, allegedly demobilized in the partial peace settlement next door, never really disarmed. The just went through name changes and internal power struggles, continued their death squad warlord politics in the Colombian countryside and became an international drug gang that has invaded Panama and infiltrated our law enforcement and political institutions. The Clan del Golfo had copies of judicial search warrants before anyone else did.. They had key law enforcement personnel in their ranks. They had people on politicians’ payrolls and members of politicians’ families in the organization. They had incorporated some home-grown Panamanian gangs and allied themselves with others. Their downfall in a late 2021 series of raids appears to have been a US operation, with Panamanian authorities kept out of the loop until the last moment so as to maintain a veneer of national independence while keeping a deeply mobbed up political culture from thwarting the breakup of an organization that was smuggling drugs into the United States.

It’s very rude to say it, and for someone who loves Panama very sad to say it, but these three situations highlight an existential threat to Panamanian sovereignty. They are not the only indications.

Disputes within the ruling PRD adjudicated by hit men? The opposition Panameñistas offering as their defense that the Odebrecht bribe money was for the party, not the former president himself? The infamous mockery that the hoodlum former president Ricardo Martinelli’s lawyers have been running on the courts of several nations, with great success so far here? These are hallmarks of a failed state, a nation with an imploding political elite that’s allowing gangsters to come in and perform government functions.

If you look at the Panamanian constitution, the government is not properly structured to adequately defend the nation from these present threats. If you look at the maneuvering ahead of the 2024 presidential elections, there is no apparent champion waiting in the wings to redeem the nation.

There are no quick and easy answers. It is, however, easy to see the right starting point. Panamanians need to openly acknowledge that our existence as a sovereign nation hangs by a thread, and set aside a lot of petty ambitions and prejudices to defend this country.


The running mate of every Republican candidate this year.

If the truth is to be told…

“Just the facts” was the oft-repeated line in televised US police fiction at a time when police were involved in assassination campaigns against civil rights workers and black militants. The most dishonest of US media are fond of repeating variations on that theme.

The reality of it all is that which facts are important to mention is a matter of opinion.

The reality of January 6, 2021 was that a veteran con man incited violence in a pathetic attempt to redeem an election that he lost by millions of votes, and also in the antiquated US electoral college.

It’s important that this whole story come out to the American people, even if a third of them will call it a lie.

It’s also important that the implications of the story should be dealt with in a calm and rational manner.

For those who committed crimes, let’s not have extremism in sentencing, but rather consequences appropriate to the offense. The nation needs accountability, not another celebration of cruelty.

Organizations that committed crimes need to be effectively broken up using existing laws. The Oath Keepers and the Proud Boys are criminal conspiracies, racketeering organizations that deal mainly with chump change bits of power rather than the big money that La Cosa Nostra was always about.

Donald Trump himself? January 6 is one issue, but his crimes in office, and on the way to office, merit longer and deeper exercises in congressional fact-finding.

One example: he tried to shake down former Panamanian president Varela for special treatment that would have allowed him to thwart a US bankruptcy court’s order and Panamanian condominium laws so as to allow his company to maintain control of what was the Trump Ocean Club in Punta Pacifica. As in, he solicited an unconstitutional emolument from a foreign power, yet nobody is Washington is investigating that because there are bigger fish to fry. Also, many more fish to fry.

As a prosecution strategy, better to go after Donald Trump and his children on sleazy little business and tax frauds, as those investigations are farther along. Giving the former president the status of convicted felon for his simpler crimes as soon as possible is surely the most effective way to inform the US electorate ahead of next November’s elections.

Truth and reconciliation? Today’s GOP is militantly opposed to truth, which precludes any reconciliation for the time being. There needs to be a full accounting before US society will be ready to calm down.


“Los fusilamientos del 3 de mayo,” a classic of antiwar art, is probably Goya’s most notorious monster picture, more so than his stuff about mythical creatures eating people. But despite this statement, he supported the French conquest of Spain and was cast out after Spain’s monarchy was restored.

Imagination abandoned by reason produces impossible monsters; united with her, she is the mother of the arts and source of their wonders.

Francisco Goya

Bear in mind…

I have learned over the years that when one’s mind is made up, this diminishes fear; knowing what must be done does away with fear.

Rosa Parks

Time is how you spend your love.

Nick Laird

I’m very conscious of the fact that you can’t do it alone. It’s teamwork. When you do it alone you run the risk that when you are no longer there nobody else will do it.

Wangari Maathai


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