As the president shuffles his cabinet his party is in increasing disarray

In some eyes Pedro Miguel González is a wanted man and in others, wanted in a different way. The former legislator and former secretary general of the Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD) followed in his father’s footstep in holding both of those posts. The 1989 invasion was a watershed for both. After the invasion the father, Gerardo González, and fellow legislator Balbina Herrera were the core of a rebuilding process that brought the party back to power. The son was a reputed organizer of an urban guerrilla force to oppose the Americans. When George H. W. Bush came to Panama in June of 1992 to take a US election year victory lap, a US Army vehicle was ambushed and Sergeant O. Zak Hernández was slain in the attack. At Parque Porras Balbina was part of creating a disturbance when Bush tried to speak, the police fired tear gas and Bush had to flee the scene. The Americans, and the Panamanian administration that was installed in the invasion, accused Pedro Miguel Gonzalez and several others of killing Herández. The US charge was terrorism resulting in an American citizen’s death. Panama acquitted González. The US warrant and possible death penalty are still outstanding. After his trial in Panama the younger González got elected to the legislature, and later was elected by the PRD as its secretary general. Although nowadays he holds no significant public or party office, he is to many a respected senior statesman in the PRD ranks.

PRD succession was thought to be a done deal, but some senior voices say not

by Eric Jackson

President Cortizo is rearranging his cabinet, with accompanying whispered truths and published tall tales about the why and wherefore of some of the moves and those who are running are making expected gestures. However, some veteran political voices are speaking clearly about the ruling PRD situation, options and predicament. 

The conventional wisdom had it that Vice President José Gabriel “Gaby” Carrizo is the next PRD leader and presidential standard bearer. However, Carrizo came to his position from the world of business, where he was a corporate lawyer representing banker clients, rather that through the ranks of the PRD. Much worse for him, when President Cortizo was diagnosed with a rare blood cancer this past June and went to the United States for some advanced medical consultations, Gaby was left in charge of the country, played many of the corny old political plots very badly, and saw the country explode into protests that nearly paralyzed the entire economy while the boss was away. For the past few generations Panamanian voters have ousted the party that holds the presidency at every opportunity anyway — there is no shortage of adages about why — so the notion was that Carrizo would be the nominee in 2024, run credibly but lose, then come back to become president in 2029.

But former legislator and party leader Pedro Miguel González has been an outspoken critic of that notion, openly in recent interviews with La Estrella and on the Panamá En Directo radio show. On the radio, he stated the basic backdrop to the 2024 campaign in stark terms. “Everything we achieved with respect to economic matters in the last 11 years has been practically lost.” To blame it all on the VP would be quite a stretch — which González does not make — but to have seen Carrizo address a huge national economic crisis prompted by unpaid teachers, high unemployment, labor right being flouted and above all high inflation as if none of the old economic equations or pecking orders had changed is to have recognized a weak candidate-in-waiting.

Then, when people were being driven from their homes by floods and landslides in Chiriqui, Carrizo was in the province not to be seen lending a helping hand. He was instead recruiting new party members ahead of what’s sure to be a contested presidential primary in 2023. At this point in the back stretch of the current five-year political cycle, people generally join the ruling party in hopes of a job for a year and a half or some lesser payoff. In many cases over the years, a bag of groceries has been enough to secure the desired vote.

It was tone-deaf political behavior that left Panama City’s former PRD mayor and the party’s unsuccessful 2014 presidential candidate Juan Carlos Navarro appalled. “Unacceptable,” Navarro declared on his Twitter feed. “Totally ill-advised and out of place to be doing political registrations in the midst of floods and danger to our population. Hopefully they’ll reconsider, give us a change of direction, begin to listen and solve the serious problems of the country in their last two years.”

As González sees it, there are at least three major political currents running within the PRD. He identifies himself with a “Torrijista” tendency said to follow the style and traditions of the late General Omar Torrijos. Then there is the big business oriented faction, from whence hailed 1984 PRD candidate and banker Nicky Barletta — who won by fraud and was then deposed, each time at General Noriega’s behest — and after him arguably former banker Ernesto “Toro” Pérez Balladares. Lately there is a xenophobic, gay-bashing, banker-bashing neofascist tendency best exemplified by Zulay Rodríguez, current legislator and former head of the PRD Women’s Front. Zulay is gathering signatures to run as an independent even while a member of the PRD, and González expects her to mantain her lead in the race to gather signatures and be on the ballot.

The policy of party members being allowed to run as independents, or sign petitions for people running as independents, is controversial. Entertainer and former Tourism Minister Rubén Blades has never been a PRD member but he did serve in the cabinet of Martín Torrijos’s 2004-2009 PRD administration. On his website the actor and musician with the University of Panama and Harvard legal education poses the question at this point in the following way:

Who are the figures that lead in the counts to obtain such [ballot spots]? They are all militant members of political parties. And who have signed to give them their lead? 65% are signatures of members of political parties. In Panama, the laws are expressly created in an ambiguous way, to allow interpretations that produce eternal conflicts, litigation and continuous payments for legal representation, the continuous suspension of the process, the prescription of cases, and the maintenance of institutional impunity that encourages and protects against corruption. How are we going to consider Zulay Rodríguez, the current PRD deputy and the one who has collected the most signatures at the moment, as “independent”? But as we see, everything is possible in the “abattoir of illusions” that defines the Panamanian political process.

To Pedro Miguel González, “What we are living through … is a caricature of what a Torrijista government should be.” Notwithstanding the party’s membership growth as a political patronage machine, he noted in La Estrella. “This elephantine growth that the PRD has had,” he opined, has weakened the party from within.

Did the events of this past July tell us that Panama is unstable? Are the astroturf movements and political postures of the wannabes convincing anyone that there is a viable alternative waiting in the wings?

Get into Panamanian history and when all major political forces are discredited and times are tough, the police or military — they used to be combined in the old Guardia Nacional — have tended to step in. The spasms of brutality and catastrophic end of the 1968-1989 dictatorship may have made those sorts of politics passé, but what’s a troubled country to do?

“I think there is a very similar situation, González told La Estrella. “If we lived through similar circumstances from a geopolitical and regional point of view and a coup d’état was still viable, you would undoubtedly have the breeding ground for a coup.”

In any case, the former legislator and party boss is warning of a big disaster if the current administration tries to impose the PRD’s next presidential candidate.

Now THERE is the stuff of which the tall tales of petty people get spun. White House photo.

It has gotten so bad that in Ricky Martinelli’s media, based on unnamed sources he’s claiming that Erika Mouynes was dismissed as Minister of Foreign Relations because when she was in the United States she posed for a photo with Joe and Jill Biden, which photo op was not made available to Gaby Carrizo. Not to believe anything that Martinelli or his newspapers say, but the country has serious problems — and this is how frivolous the political discourse has become. 



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