Rude questions about politically charged gang busts

Sleeping with the enemy
Caught sleeping with the enemy. Rubianesa Baker, 23, from a police trophy video of her arrest along with alleged fugitive gang leader Ezequiel “Zequi” Alarcón, 44, in an upscale home at The Reserve, a development on Panama City’s east side. Baker was at the time working in the juvenile delinquency prevention department at the Ministry of Government. Her mother, Katy Costarelos, is the PRD representante of Palmas Bellas, on Colon’s Costa Abajo.

Rude queries about unusual news

by Eric Jackson

In the wee hours of April 10, a heavily armed police unit burst into a condo in The Reserve, rousting fugitive gangster Ezequiel “Zequi” Alarcón and government functionary Rubianesa Baker out of bed without resistance. Later we were told that the money laundering investigation that led to the arrest began in March of last year, and that in July of last year Alarcón had been sentenced to six years and eight months in prison for illicit gang association in a case that went back some nine years to a little reign of terror on the shores of Gatun Lake, in Escobal and Puerto Escondido. As in assaults, robberies, a double murder in 2014 and so on.

  • So THIS DUDE was sentenced to serious time in prison, under investigation on other things, and instead of being taken straight away to prison, was allowed to remain at large for the better part of a year?

We are told by authorities that 11 individuals and 7 companies or foundations are named as defendants, and that four of the people remain at large and are subject of INTERPOL bulletins in case they are or will be outside of Panama. Which might explain why Alarcón remained at large — perhaps he was being watched and followed to see if he would lead to others.

And what are police and prosecution sources saying that Alarcón’s ring was doing?

  1. Receiving drugs from Colombia.
  2. “Contaminating” shipping containers by introducing these drugs into them.
  3. Laundering proceeds of the illegal drug trade through small businesses and luxury real estate deals.
z man
Zequi goes down, at the hands of a special SENAN team. Why the National Aeronaval Service? There might be various reasons, which have not been made public. SENAN photo.

Of the seven individuals taken into custody, four worked for the government. In addition to Ms. Baker at the Ministry of Government, there was one Aylín Ortega at Pandeportes, the public sports organization; Margarita García, an accountant for the Ministry of Education; and Yasmina Almengor, who worked for the junta comunal at the San Miguelito corregimiento of Mateo Iturralde, which centers on the former Canal Zone community of Paraiso.

Consider the places named. Escobal and Puerto Escondido are on Gatun Lake, not far from the Atlantic Side locks. Paraiso is on the east side of Culebra Cut, not far from the Pedro Miguel locks.

  • So if this gang was introducing drugs into shipping containers, where and how were they doing this? Had the infiltrated the ports somewhere, or were then getting stuff onto ships moving through the canal?

So far there is no official mention of corruption in either the Panama Maritime Authority, which runs the ports, or the Panama Canal Authority, which runs the canal. A part of this story is conspicuously untold. Confidential information pertaining to a continuing investigation? Might be.

One of the details that has been stated by government sources is that the drugs allegedly introduced into containers were headed for the United States. It would be an easy guess that US authorities, most probably the Drug Enforcement Administration, would have been involved here.

These four women who worked for the government, nor Baker’s mother Katy Costarelos, the PRD representante of the coastal Colon community of Palmas Bellas that has surely seen its share of smuggling over the years, were not the most politically prominent persons named. But before we go on, let’s acknowledge Costarelos’s constituency, and Escobal, were parts of the coastal Colon circuit that President Cortizo used to represent in the National Assembly.

  • Did Nito Cortizo personally know Ms. Costarelos, or any of the four government workers who have been named in this case?

Run a political patronage administration and rude questions ought to be asked when things go way wrong among those hired.

More prominent in PRD politics, for a long time, than any of the functionaries was this businesswoman who used to be one of the officers of the PRD youth wing.

The above is the political and business nickname of one Caridad Milagro Hurtado Almengor, owner of a number of small businesses, the centerpiece of which is said to have been an outgrowth of a beauty parlor, which offered all-things-covered trips to Colombia for cosmetic surgery.

Caridad Kanelon is one of these activists who likes to have her photos taken with political figures, and pastes them in social media. How innocent our suspicious the associations may be, they include folks like the controversial PRD legislator from San Miguelito Raúl Pineda, who declared her the best businesswoman in Panama over recent years on his Instagram account, and the vice minister for domestic commerce and industry Omar Montilla.

  • Was Caridad part of the PRD “donor base?” If so, to which campaigns or party organizations did she contribute, and how much?
palmas bellas
Last month Nito was on hand to inaugurate a new preschool at Palmas Bellas in his old legislative circuit. Ministry of Social Development photo.

It’s another scandal touching or appearing to touch government and political circles. It’s easy to be cynical. It’s easy to be partisan. As if gangsters have bought influence with only one of the political parties here. As if when organized crime infiltrates a political organization, all of the members of that group are involved and benefit.

Nito put in his disavowal, in a speech in Chepo: “Regardless of whoever falls, whoever falls falls..”

  • Is Nito both serious and even-handed about that, given that his party is excluding the proceeds of public corruption from its civil forfeiture of assets proposal in the legislature, and given that his administration’s National Transparency and Access to Information Authority has fined La Prensa for publishing a photo of Benicio Robinson in an article about the political management of public transportation permits?

During the afternoon of Monday, April 24, while the finishing touches were being put on this story,The Panama News Internet connection went out. It took us a day and a half to get it up and running and post this thing.


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