Editorials: Simultaneous two-track ex-presidential meltdowns

Don Ricky
He wants your data. And to hear and record your family arguments. And…. And…. Just ask the authorities investigating his case in Spain. Meme taken from Martinelli’s Twitter feed, electronically reconfigured to fit this space.

Martinelli may lead in the polls but he’s going down and taking people with him

A Supreme Court decision struck down a 2-1 Electoral Tribunal ruling that former president Ricardo Martinelli was immune from prosecution in one of major cases against him. That matter arose from allegations that he skimmed money from overpriced public works contracts, laundered these proceeds through a “factoring company” called New Business and then used the stolen money to buy the anchor property of his media empire, the EPASA newspaper group.

EPASA publishes La Critica, El Panama America and Dia a Dia. Once Martinelli got control of them during the remaining years of his presidency they were pumped up by government advertising buys. Since he left office in mid-2014 they have been major props in his political operations, both as the propaganda voices in his defense against myriad corruption charges and as tools to lash out at rival political forces in a bid for a 2024 comeback to the presidential palace. If Martinelli can be tried in the coming months for the New Business case, he risks having these media tools taken from him as stolen property, and also being stripped of a number of rights that include the ability to run for or hold public offices.

That much has been apparent since the New Business allegations were brought to public notice. But THIS latest decision also finds, as many a legal observer noted beforehand, that when Electoral Tribunal magistrates Heriberto Araúz and Alfredo Juncá declared that Martinelli was protected from criminal prosecution by the international legal doctrine of specialty they by a long shot exceeded their electoral jurisdiction and intruded into realms of penal law and diplomacy that are beyond their tribunal’s competence. That’s a problem for Araúz and Juncá, and there are unconfirmed reports of prosecutors investigating them about it. For a public official to exceed his or her authority is a crime in Panama. The two electoral magistrates who ruled for Martinelli could be thrown out of office for it, regardless of how the New Business case itself goes.

So, does Martinelli, a Panamanian and Italian dual citizen who once legally resided in the United States, flee the country again? His sons are serving prison time in a US federal institution for laundering some $28 million in kickbacks that the elder Martinelli took from Odebrecht. (The Panamanian bribery and money laundering case against former presidents Ricardo Martinelli and Juan Carlos Varela, plus dozens of co-defendants over Odebrecht bribes is also pending.) Surely there is a sealed US indictment waiting in case the former president sets foot in any place under American jurisdiction. And if he flees to Italy? The problem with that is a set of stalking and electronic eavesdropping charges in Spain, related to allegations of truly creepy behavior with respect to a woman he once allegedly dated there.

Maybe he might flee to Colombia? The government just changed there, and Martinelli’s Colombian lawyer was just arrested for bribing judges to protect former death squad rightist president Álvaro Uribe. There is probably no safe haven for Ricardo Martinelli Berrocal anywhere in the Americas.

Might he just tend to private business? The tax auditors of the DGI are looking at Martinelli’s food importing and processing and supermarket company, Ricamar. That’s the Super 99 chain and major suppliers. The courts have slapped down his claim that because he is boss of his own political party he’s immune from tax audits.

Might Martinelli trump all that with “The Will of The People?” The PRD’s turn will be over in a little under two years, everything else is in disarray, and polls have Martinelli running ahead of the pack with 30% of the voters’ support at this point. Might people turn to Martinelli for a bit of stability?

The above would seem like a hilarious question, about a guy who ran for president on a platform of being crazy — “Los locos somos más” was the 2009 campaign slogan. But let’s check our stereotypes about the bipolar condition and recall against whom and what Martinelli ran back then.

More important would be longer views of Panamanian history and perusal of the Martinelli role in Panama’s ongoing crisis.

Uncle Sam is not amused. Are US moves to prevent Martinelli’s return to the presidency underway as you read these words. It’s a good bet, but the editor of The Panama News has no information about this subject. Other than the damning court case in Brooklyn in which the two Martinelli sons named their father in the Odebrecht bribe case. Other than US officials sharing information in the DGI tax audit.

Is Panama promised peace and prosperity? The ego-driving violence of the Martinelli presidency, and memories of when Uncle Sam picked a fight with General Noriega years before it ended in the knockout 1989 invasion, should inform our thinking. US citizens with good consciences should find the prospect of Washington interference in and manipulation of Panama’s affairs troubling, but in that North American country’s political culture there’s a ready acceptance of exceptions for this or that character bearing a made-in-the-USA demon stamp. The more prudent view is to take US intervention as an unfortunate but likely possibility.

The playing of all sides against one another in the current crisis? It’s convincing to that minority that insists on being convinced but wins no new friends and hardens enmities. Any capitalist who looks to Ricardo Martinelli to save Panamanian capitalism is insane. Any working person who looks to the guy for salvation is the most degraded of scabs.

Martinelli is screwed. Perhaps his lawyers will send the Panamanian people another doctor’s note.



A popular t-shirt design, unattributed but apparently by Barber & Co.

A con man and wimp who’d destroy
a nation on his way to a prison cell

Strange days for a guy who had as his political mentor J. Edgar Hoover’s buddy Roy Cohn. Some day it will be the inspiration for a great gangster flick.

That might have to be historical fiction rather than a documentary, though. We don’t actually know what was in the documents that the FBI seized at Mar-a-Lago, nor the contents of any documents that Donald Trump may have sold, nor whether nor with whom Trump may have shared classified information that he took on his way out of the White House.

Consider the 60s, 70s and 80s, which the core of Donald Trump’s surely remember. Those were times of spy thrillers, US-engineered coups and the politics of assassination. The US president elected in 1960 was assassinated, his martyrdom pretty much ensured the result of the 1964 election. Abroad, during the Kennedy administration the CIA supplied the weapons used to assassinate Rafael Trujillo, the tyrant of the Dominican Republic, there were various unsuccessful plots to kill Fidel Castro and the US State Department backed a coup that ended in the assassination of South Vietnam’s failing puppet ruler. At home, there was a series of assassinations by white supremacists of black power and civil rights activists, setting the background for the inner city riots of the late 60s. The 1968 election was affected not only by those riots but by the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy. In the 1972 election there was all sorts of criminal behavior by the Nixon campaign but we really don’t know whether to include in that rap sheet the assassination attempt against Alabama segregationist governor George C. Wallace, which put him in a wheelchair and out of the presidential race. There were assassination plots or attempts against Gerald R. Ford, Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan.

Why would anyone who loves the USA want to reprise such a violent period? But then, the January 6th insurrectionists who set up a gallows for Mike Pence in front of the Capitol do call themselves “patriots.”

Most Americans don’t agree with that stuff. Democrats have won the popular vote in the last five presidential elections, the last one by seven million votes.

So now you have the supremely messed-up Donald Trump inciting the fanatics in his base to insurrection, this time over supposed impropriety in the search and seizure at Mar-a-Lago. Let’s see where the evidence leads, but Trump is inescapably nailed at least on a charge of violating federal records preservation laws. Every thoughtful American is asking why he did it, but so far the answers are not there for public perusal. We do know the man’s selfish character, which “informs” the speculation.

Meanwhile, should the people of the United States have to be reminded that to take up arms against the United States is a good way not to survive long enough to live in a prison cell? Has the con man in chief convinced his most delusional followers to ignore that possibility?

As a matter of national survival, Donald Trump needs to be thrown in jail sooner rather than later. His cast of enablers will be part of the fabric of US society for a long time to come afterward, just like those who cheered when John T. Scopes was convicted of a crime for teaching evolution. MAGAs who wave guns at us are one sort of problem, to be summarily suppressed with such force as is needed but no more. The white supremacist electorate, QAnon freaks, Karens and so on are cultural phenomena that need to be addressed by the cultural means of a free society.

In US legal culture, when judges want to insult lawyers appearing before them they are likely to say “With all due respect….” The general US culture needs to examine just how much respect is due to the MAGAs. Surely enough to conserve the Common Law and constitutional system of rights and duties that Trump seeks to overthrow, but not so much as to prevent these people from being treated as a tasteless joke.



The Roosevelts, a 1908 family portrait.

A good leader inspires people to have confidence in the leader. A great leader inspires people to have confidence in themselves.

Eleanor Roosevelt

Bear in mind…


Genius is nothing more nor less than childhood recovered at will.

Charles Baudelaire


A career is born in public — talent in privacy.

Marilyn Monroe


A poet’s work is to name the unnamable, to point at frauds, to take sides, start arguments, shape the world, and stop it from going to sleep.

Salman Rushdie



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