Don Ricky and his medal. Photo by the Presidencia, way back when.
Not just a blow, but a combination
The US State Department has taken the unusual step of announcing that it has stripped somebody and that person’s immediate family members of the right to visit, live in or travel through the United States on account of corruption. Many have lost their visas on such suspicions, but the usual practice is for Foggy Bottom to say it’s a private matter with respect to the person or persons involved and decline comment.
Yes, innocent unless proven guilty, and the guy does have a right to his day in court. But not in a court that’s rigged in his favor. Not in a court that invents new rules along the way. Not in a court that he gets to stall forever. We shall see.
The danger that the relatively recent past indicates to us is that if Ricardo Martinelli Berrocal becomes the president of Panama again we may well face economic sanctions like in the Noriega years immediately preceding the 1989 invasion. That would mean misery to many Panamanians who gained nothing at all from any association with Martinelli and may actually have very real grudges against the man and his followers. It would create opportunities for demagogues to rail against Americans – Washington officials outside of their reach and neighbors who have nothing to do with those officials but are conveniently nearby – as the source of Panama’s woes. It might degenerate into a bloody disaster for all involved.
The thing is, Secretary of State Blinken’s statement is understated. The US National Security Agency should have emails, electronic banking transfer information, a precise knowledge of how Martinelli’s Pegasus system was used, the ability to restore news articles that hackers erased to the Wayback Machine Internet Archive of some such, a damning case for the whole world to see. Yes, they’d say that sources and methods long in public circulation must be kept secret. “National security” and all that would be invoked as a matter of institutional inertia and fear of what the MAGAs would say.
The NSA would probably also have the electronic footprints of Donald Trump’s real estate disaster in Panama, including attempts to twist emoluments out of the Martinelli and Varela administrations with respect to those efforts.
To respect Panama, to defend the United States, the Biden administration should lay some Martinelli cards, and some Panama cards, on the table for public viewing.
The sad thing for Panama is that after Blinken made his Martinelli statement on a Tuesday night, the following Wednesday morning the respectable British newspaper The Guardian published a long story about the mobbed-up nature of Colon and its Free Zone, the latter a central asset in the Panamanian economy. Will Europe, will the OECD, will lazy editors everywhere, thus presume that Panama and everything about this country is corrupt?
Let Uncle Sam tell the truth, and Panamanians correct the story if he gets it wrong. It’s painful, but it helps us if the unvarnished truth is told about what has been happening here.
We have problems to solve. Washington would not have a clue about how to solve them if it were truly interested in Panama’s fate. The great colonial empires fell because running other countries from remote capitals is the mission of fools.
But WE have a problem to solve here in Panama. Panamanians have to solve it, and not by facile assignments of blame. Even if part of solving it is accountability for crimes committed.
Panamanians of good will and diverse opinions really do need to come together and save Panama in this unfolding time of crisis. We need to establish a basic and even-handed rule of law. We need a new constitution adequate to that purpose. We need a new understanding and protection of freedom, as distinct from license. We need renewed and stronger democracy, less vulnerable to the manipulations of little gangster cliques.
We can have all that. We SHOULD have all that.
Finally, what about the many foreigners among us? The law as it now stands, nationally and internationally, reserves Panamanian politics for citizens of Panama. Everybody should respect that.
A younger Dorothy Parker, in a portrait on a glass plate
at the US Library of Congress.
That would be a good thing for them to cut on my tombstone: Wherever she went, including here, it was against her better judgment.
Bear in mind…
When there is harmony between the mind, heart, and resolution, then nothing is impossible.
A fool sees himself as another, but a wise man sees others as himself.
The man who can drive himself further once the effort gets painful is the man who will win.
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