PRD: all is not static and titles can be laughable, but the in crowd consolidates

Leader of “La Resistencia?” More like Boss Hogg. But PERHAPS Benicio Robinson is leading the resistance of a patronage-seeking mob that’s demanding more from the president, who was also at the Hotel El Panama taking part in the PRD convention as a relatively low-key delegate. Photo from Benicio Robinson’s Twitter feed.

Legislators dominate PRD leadership races, except…

by Eric Jackson

Over the past weekend the ruling Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD) elected the heads of its women’s front and youth organization, its top party officers and 10-member National Executive Committee. Writ large, Bocas del Toro deputy Benicio Robinson and his La Resistencia slate cemented their grip on the party by an overall 2-1 margin among the more than 4,000 delegates. Robinson himself won re-election by a 2,716 to 1,365 margin over the former health minister the pediatrician Dr. Rosario Turner.

Turner ran on a slate headed by former legislator Pedro Miguel González, who was running to keep his post as party secretary-general and on a platform of a return to supposed Torrijista ideals rather than transactional political patronage. González was defeated, with 1,876 votes as against 2,120 for former legislator Rubén De León.

Both Turner and González vow to stay with the PRD and fight on, and point to their areas of strength among both younger activists and those veteran members who are not on any politician’s payroll. The cycles of post-invasion presidential elections suggest that the PRD will not retain the presidency in the 2024 elections but even if that tradition holds the power of La Resistencia will largely depend on how badly the PRD gets defeated — or if they win — farther down the ticket. It’s two years out from the elections and the PRD national membership has seen a slight decline — something unusual — but then in Panama party memberships wax and wane with people flocking to the current ruling party in search of jobs, or, on the upper end of the economic scale, government contracts for their companies.

The roots and soul of the PRD?

We might get into ideology and mythology of just what “Torrijismo” is, given the hard opinions that were softened by pragmatism of the brilliant but alcoholic General Omar Torrijos Herrera. “Torrijismo” is arguably misnamed, an update at the time for the social reforming militarism of Guardia Nacional commander and later martyred elected president José Antonio Remón Cantera. He was assassinated before he accomplished that much and always had to deal with the debilitating squabbles of the grasping political caste in the legislature, but Remón most importantly saw eye-to-eye with an old soldier who had been stationed in Panama, Dwight D. Eisenhower, and began a process of more than a generation of negotiations that would end with the abolition of the Canal Zone enclave and the exit of formal US military bases from Panama. The Eisenhower – Remón Treaty was a modest beginning that ended some of the aspects of racial discrimination in the Canal Zone, limited Canal Zone commissary competition with Panamanian merchants and speeded the integration of the Canal Zone’s West Indian community into the Spanish-speaking Panamanian social mainstream. Remón also opened entry into the Guardia’s officer corps to men not of Panama’s “better families” — people like Omar Torrijos, the son of a Colombian school administrator in Veraguas, for example. 

Torrijos steered Panama into the non-aligned movement but never broke relations with the United States, with whom he was negotiating a new treaty to replace the one imposed by the USA via the Frenchman Philippe Bunau-Varilla in 1903. He was for a more economically independent Panama, favoring things like import substitution agricultural policies and a neutrality that allowed Cuba to buy things embargoed by the United States via the Colon Free Zone. He broke up some of the politically connected local monopolies.

On the other hand, Torrijos offered many compromises to bring Panama together during the Panama Canal treaty negotiations. He passed a labor code that de jure legalized unions. He called off a bunch of old dibs that kept businesses from growing and thriving in the face of established powers. But his regime assassinated radical labor activists and protected established businesses that did not oppose the dictatorship from nationalization and the like. In the field of politics, he engineered a 1972 constitution that had as its cornerstone shares of political patronage for those politicians and parties that played along with the system.

So was Torrijos against political patronage? His legacy might in many ways compare to that of the fictional Boss Hogg. But the post-invasion political corruption that we see now and in recent years looks a lot like the sorts of politics that Torrijos personally hated.gonz

In any case, there is this idealized notion of what General Torrijos was and what he stood for, with activists like González and Turner laying claim to that. If we see a PRD in shambles after the 2024 elections, that ideal might become a powerful reorganizing tool.

Neofascism rejected, but not by all that much

On the Saturday before Sunday’s main event, the party elected the leaders of its youth and women’s organizations. The three main factions — Robinson’s Resistencia, González’s and a more or less executive branch group looking up to Vice President Gaby Carrizo and his 2024 presidential ambitions — met beforehand and reached agreements about these races.

The future face of the PRD? Hussein Bolívar Pittí, the head of Panama’s office to attend to the needs of refugees, was elected head of the PRD youth. He is said to be of Carrizo’s faction. Given this administration’s record, he’s a young man acquiring both administrative skills and human rights credentials, so we shall see where he goes in politics. His office, a part of the Ministry of Government, would likely involve contacts with US and Colombian officials, which would be off the record but real foreign policy experience if that is so.

In the contest for the presidency of the PRD Women’s Front, it is said that three men negotiated the result, but of course it was female PRD convention delegates who decided. National Land Administration Authority (ANATI) sub-director Arelys González ousted the incumbent, legislator Zulay Rodríguez, by a vote of 329-155. González is said to be of Robinson’s inner circle.

Zulay? Will she even stay with the PRD? She got trounced in the last PRD presidential primary by Nito Cortizo and has been photographed hanging out with Ricardo Martinelli a lot of late.

Zulay Rodríguez has made a reputation for herself for using her seat in the legislature to bait foreigners of all descriptions, gay men and lesbians and evil financial operators. It’s a standard fascist appeal and if you separate out the bots from the trolls in her occasional vitriolic Twitter campaigns, a lot of the trolls — actual people rather than fake personas — own up to being Donald Trump admirers.

Omar Torrijos could be repressive, but a Nazi he wasn’t. The guy he overthrew, Arnulfo Arias, was the one who was Hitler’s personal friend. 

Rodríguez was removed from the judicial bench at US insistence when she let some Colombian drug suspects whom the DEA had been chasing walk. Her prominence in the PRD is an impediment — maybe not the biggest at the moment — to good relations with the United States. Maybe if the US government turns sharply to the right, she can be Washington’s woman in Panama. I doubt that Biden and Blinken would ever like her very much.

In any case, the PRD has turned down that sort of demagoguery in favor of a more traditional sort of machine politics.



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