Nito opens the door — just a bit — to a constitutional referendum

President Cortizo, at the far end of the table wearing a mask, meets with the La Estrella / El Siglo editorial advisory board. At the near end is Abdul Waked, who for being of Lebanese extraction and for having a relative who took out a bank loan for one purpose and spent it for another, was stripped of his majority stake in the newspapers under pressure of the US Treasury Department, is at the table on the near end. Photo by the Presidencia.

President Cortizo, given the right wording, would support a 2024 “fifth ballot” about calling a constitutional convention

by Eric Jackson

In an April 19th meeting with a reconstituted GESE — Grupo El Siglo & La Estrella — editorial council, President Laurentino Cortizo Cohen made a number of noteworthy statements and gestures, even if nothing too binding.

For starters, the president met with former publisher and Colon Free Zone magnate Abdul Waked, whom the US government wrongly vilified as a big-time drug money launderer but failed to prove anything of the sort, nor specify any criminal activity of any sort by Mr. Waked, let along provide any proof. At the time the head of the US Southern Command was railing against Latin America’s Lebanese Muslim communities in vague, broad-brushed smears. Abdul Waked’s Lebanese-Colombian nephew did plead guilty to taking out a loan from a Miami bank for one purpose and using it for another, although he did pay off the loan and cheated nobody. Proof being deemed beside the point by Washington, Abdul Waked was forced to divest his companies via potential US penalties for anybody who did business with them, taking big financial losses and surrendering control of his newspapers to those found acceptable to the United States.

Thus the president’s publicized meeting with Abdul Waked was an implicit statement that Washington blacklists are not to be taken uproven at face value by this Panamanian administration.

(On the other hand, just a few hours earlier Panamanian police burst into a mansion in Costa del Este, rousting a couple out of bed, and arresting the man, a fugitive on various gang association and money laundering charges, and the woman who was sleeping with him, who worked for the Ministry of Government and is the daughter of a PRD representante in Colon province.)

But what did the president talk about with the folks from La Estrella and El Siglo?

Most notably there was the tacit admission that the Panamanian government, in all of its branches, has lost the confidence and support of a great many Panamanians, to the extent that proposals to restructure the constitutional order are valid to consider at this time. But Cortizo, who cut short moves earlier in his administration to consider constitutional changes by the passage in two successive legislatures or the parallel constituent assembly routes, still left a caveat. About a constitutional convention proposal he said: “It would be good for the magistrates of the Electoral Tribunal to make a good analysis of this. What would not be good is that it could contaminate the political process. It is a proposal that must be analyzed.”

We can be assured of arguments about an originating versus a parallel convention, as have been going on among advocates of constitutional change for years. And surely, among the dispensers and recipients of political patronage perks the burning question would be “What’s in it for me?” However, we should not discount Nito’s allowance that there is a popular demand for change in the ways that we govern ourselves.

Also taken up in his meeting with the GESE folks were the knotty problems of the Social Security Fund and so far inconclusive talks with US officials about a renegotiation of some of the terms of the US-Panama Trade Promotion Agreement. Recall that at the time the agreement was made, during the Martín Torrijos administration, Nito resigned his cabinet position because he thought it was harmful to Panamanian farmers and ranchers.


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