Bernal, A fifth ballot

1941 coup
“Change” is not always positive, not always in a straight line, not always predictable. Arnulfo Arias and his brother Harmodio overthrew a corrupt Liberal administration, which led to some interesting jobs for younger brother Arnulfo. A physician, he was national health director at one point, publishing notorious “racial health” propaganda. He went to Europe as a diplomat, striking up friendships with Benito Mussolini and Adolf Hitler. When it was his time to be president, he promulgated a new constitution in 1941 — which stripped all black people descended from the non-Hispanic Caribbean islands, all of Asian ancestry, and all Sephardic Jews and those with roots in North Africa and the Middle East of their citizenship. This being in the months preceding US entry into World War II, when food and war materiel was being shipped from the US and Canadian west coasts through the Panama Canal to the UK, German U-boats were patrolling in our Caribbean waters, attacking the aid shipments when they could. Franklin D. Roosevelt was fairly intolerant of one of Hitler’s friends running Panama and engineered an October 1941 coup to send Arnulfo packing and rescind his racist 1941 constitution. Here we had US-installed President Ricardo Adolfo de la Guardia riding with his foreign minister under US guard after the coup.

A fifth ballot? Yes, but…

by Miguel Antonio Bernal – Alternativa

Twelve years ago (August 27, 2012), in my weekly column in El Siglo, I raised the issue of the need for a fifth ballot in the 2014 elections.

It was not the first, nor the last time I did so. Already since 1992, following the referendum on reforms to the militarist constitution, held during the Endara government, I raised the need, then, for a third ballot next to those of the YES and NO, in which citizens could say whether or not we wanted a new constitution through a constituent assembly process.

For the 2004 elections, the need for a fifth ballot had also been raised. More than 200,000 signatures were collected, and all the aspirants to the presidential chair at that time declared themselves in favor of the initiative coordinated by the late Father Nestor Jaén. The magistrate of the Electoral Tribunal, Eduardo Valdes E., repudiated the initiative and argued that it was too late and that “there was no paper.”

For the last elections, the Movimiento Constituyente YA (Cristobal Silva) and the Movimiento de Ciudadanos Unidos por la Constituyente (CUCO), accompanied by other citizens, presented, through the office of citizen initiative, a draft bill to include the fifth ballot, which was also done at the time by the then deputy José Isabel Blandón Figueroa (2009-2014.)

The civic organizations and political parties were dismissive, negative and non-responsive. This, far from discouraging the members of the groups supporting a constituent assembly, committed us to insist on it, given the continuous and growing deterioration of the situation. The opposition to a fifth ballot has not ceased to find a fierce enemy in the managers of the Electoral Tribunal and in their partners promoting the cosmetic status quo of a misnamed “parallel constituent assembly.”

Today, more than ever before, it is mandatory to find a political solution through a constituent assembly. Not to do so is to go to the slaughterhouse of fraud.

We have insistently pointed this out:

For four decades we have postulated the need for a CONSTITUENT ASSEMBLY, a democratic, participatory and peaceful process, which is the solution and alternative that we must promote more and more every day in order to achieve a true updating of our social formation.

Such a new social contract has never been looked upon favorably by those in and behind power. Neither those of yesterday, nor those of today. But this, far from intimidating us, should motivate us to seek and reach ways to open a constituent process in our Panama.

A group of citizens has recently retaken the initiative of the national consultation by means of the fifth ballot on the convenience of a constituent assembly, which we consider opportune. However, we call attention to the presence of declared enemies of the constituent assembly among the petitioners who, in addition, have addressed the Electoral Tribunal. The magistrates see citizen participation, popular consultation and the drive for a constituent assembly as their bitter enemies.

In view of the emerging electoral situation, we must raise the demand for the inclusion of a fifth ballot in the elections of 2024, in which the citizens are asked:



Contact us by email at

To fend off hackers, organized trolls and other online vandalism, our website comments feature is switched off. Instead, come to our Facebook page to join in the discussion.

These links are interactive — click on the boxes

foot of the foothillsTweet