Editorials: The Electoral Tribunal’s online disaster; and Insular Cases

Yolanda Pulice v.4.0? After the scandal broke, the Electoral Tribunal brought in an unidentified blonde woman to explain how it works. But she didn’t really. She did make reference to an annex to a book of regulations. Nor is there any acceptable excuse proffered for an electoral system that inherently discriminates against places with weak or nonexistent Internet signals, and against those who don’t have certain sorts of smart phones or computers. It’s all quite insulting. Graphic taken from an Electoral Tribunal video and electronically modified by The Panama News.

Another fraud-friendly Electoral Tribunal practice

OOOOOHH! Facial recognition technology! A frequently unreliable application that has sent innocent people to prison and otherwise failed in the most advanced countries. But hey! An import, and probably an expensive one. What could possibly go wrong?

But of course, there is a too-large cult of gizmo worship in Panama. Some of us will recall the horror stories of the Pele-Policia system that was based on a horribly maintained database with lots of false information sprinkled over it.

THIS APP in question was developed in-house at the Electoral Tribunal. There are some fine Panamanian software engineers, but almost all of the good ones have to go abroad to earn a wage commensurate with their abilities. There are an awful lot of fraudulent credentials among Panamanian “computer experts,” the norm is that local designers put out superficially beautiful but functionally clunky websites, and then for government work the usual thing is that political and family ties trump ability almost every time. And did the designer show a piece of paper indicating his or her qualifications – obtained at a university where cheating is widespread and unpunished?

Some of the key particulars about the genesis of the Electoral Tribunal system for would-be independent candidates petitioning online to get on the ballot have not been made public. Who, for example, and at about every step of the way.

What we do know is that a team from La Prensa demonstrated how easy fraud can be done through the Electoral Tribunal’s petitioning system. When the Tribunal was informed, they shut down the system – and then went back into operation, with changes that have not been explained, without word of any investigation as to any fraud that may have happened, without acknowledgment that the Tribunal’s pronouncements of who was ahead may have been faulty and may have imparted a deceptive momentum early in the campaign.

There may need to be a total restart. There need to be independent administrative and perhaps criminal investigations. There need to be three vacancies, not just one, to fill in the magistrates’ seats at the Electoral Tribunal.


Puerto Rican nationalist leader Pedro Albizu Campos, son of a domestic servant single mother and graduate of Harvard Law School, was often imprisoned for his pro-independence activism. J. Edgar Hoover personally intervened to prevent independent medical examination during his final imprisonment, but the one cancer specialist who did see him opined that he was suffering from radiation sickness, from being exposed to radiation in prison in Puerto Rico. The allegation never got to court and the specifics as to Albizu were never officially addressed, but 30 years after his death the US Department of Energy did acknowledge radiation experiments against prisoners without their knowledge or consent. But the rights of US citizenship did not follow the American flag and he died from the illness he contracted in prison. Photo of Albizu on the campaign trail from the archives of the Center for Puerto Rican Studies at Hunter College, CUNY.

They don’t teach the Insular Cases Doctrine in Panamanian schools? They should.

The Insular Cases were a series of US Supreme Court decisions made in the heyday of US gunboat diplomacy and colonial expansion, when the Ku Klux Klan was getting into its early 20th Century second iteration.

The basic premise was that the USA was taking control of places inhabited by uncivilized people, creatures so savage that they should not enjoy the protections of law that Americans do. The gist of it all came up in a 1901 tax case out of Puerto Rico, Downes vs. Bidwell. In a concurring opinion in that decision, which held that the rights against unequal taxation that apply in the US don’t as to Puerto Rico, Justice Edward Douglass White posed an invaders’ question. What if the United States were to “discover an unknown island, peopled with an uncivilized race, yet rich in soil, and valuable to the United States for commercial and strategic reasons?” He opined that people so discovered should not get US citizenship and its rights, as they were “absolutely unfit to receive it.”

The rule was boiled down to the maxim that in territories incorporated into the United States in which statehood was contemplated, the US Constitution applies and in other US possessions not so incorporated, that constitution and its guarantees don’t.

Mr. Downes just wanted to bring Puerto Rican oranges into the Port of New York without paying duties that were not charge for Florida oranges. The Insular Cases Doctrine was a cover for a terrible genocidal massacre in the southern Philippines, the Moro War.

And in Panama? The Insular Cases Doctrine applied here, ih the former Canal Zone. A US citizen could be sent back to the USA by way of a letter sent by the governor – generally a major general in the US Army Corps of Engineers, with no right to appeal to any court. There was no elected government. Inconvenient speech or writing could be and sometimes was punished by Canal Zone authorities. There was segregation of and discrimination against non-US citizens living in the old Canal Zone. Women did not get the right to serve on Canal Zone juries when women in the USA got that right. Records that would be public in any jurisdiction in the USA were not public in the Canal Zone. There were some noteworthy fair judges, but from the Panamanian side there are a great many stories of unequal and unfair treatment in the Canal Zone courts.

And now? Three plaintiffs from American Samoa but now residents of Utah have sued to be recognized as US citizens. American Samoa is also subject to the Insular Cases Doctrine, to this day.

Unlike Puerto Ricans, who can move to the USA and register to vote as US citizens, the Samoans are considered US nationals, perhaps eligible to live in the USA but not to become voting citizens.

The case of the Samoans from Utah has made its way up the US federal court system. They lost at the Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court has declined to hear the case. Colonialism lives on in American jurisprudence. And Panamanians who know this country’s history should understand what it meant and means.

US citizens, here and elsewhere? We should know and understand that about this, too, white supremacy is an issue in the November elections.


Edwin Starr, from the cover of one of his albums.

Peace, love, and understanding

Tell me, is there no place for them today?

They say we must fight to keep our freedom

But Lord knows there’s gotta be a better way

Edwin Starr


Bear in mind…


One can never consent to creep when one feels an impulse to soar.

Helen Keller


Without honesty there can be no democracy because society, instead of being divided into rulers and ruled, is divided into exploiters and exploited, and because officials without probity are not public servants but common criminals.

Ricardo J. Alfaro


The point is not to pay back kindness but to pass it on.

Julia Alvarez


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