Jackson, Deputies suspend debate on the copper mine contract

Escorcia tweet
Sandra Escorcia’s tweet, not so much a threat as a reasoned expectation.

Reality sets in, legislators run away

by Eric Jackson

Does architect and independent feminist activist Sandra Escorcia have any particular gift of prophecy? Probably not, but she does recognize fear when she encounters it among politicians. Yes, the mining company bused in some of their employees to demonstrate FOR the new copper mine contract, and when they were treated with much disrespect by people in the large crowd that showed up to protest AGAINST the contract various media that sell ads promoting the mine dutifully reported the day’s event as this argument between those for and those against the proposition.

Actually, the crowd mobilized on short notice on a Monday afternoon when it rained was a clear manifestation of how unpopular the copper mine and its proposed extension and expansion really are. That the Cortizo administration had to back the proposal with the threat that people on retirement or disability pensions not only failed to impress, it injected anger into the process. The argument has moved beyond environmental objections and skepticism about the business aspect of the deal to a matter of people questioning the motives and patriotism of its supporters.

The way that the legislative process works here is that most proposals that prosper come from other branches of government — usually the Presidency, sometimes the Electoral Tribunal or the Supreme Court, get assigned to a committee for consideration and perhaps amendment, and if passed on first reading by the committee go on to the plenum of the National Assembly for votes on first and second readings, which sometimes get things sent back to committee for revision. Passed on three readings the president can sign it, veto it, or use a line-item veto to strike certain things. In the event of a full or partial veto the legislature can override it with a two-thirds super-majority — but if there is any argument over constitutionality it goes right to the Supreme Court for a ruling on that.

Here, it’s a contract rather than an organic or ordinary law, so any modification would be not only subject to a presidential veto but also to renegotiation with the company that’s the other party.

The court could be and has been a problem, as this process is where it is now because the magistrates previously ruled, years after the transaction, that the original mining concession was unconstitutional because it wasn’t put out for bids. During the process of formulating a new contract proposal, the original sin was not cured — no bidding took place — but some much more serious constitutional matters were raised in the new document. The company’s option to expand the geographic reach of its activities sets off alarm bells among already furious environmentalists. The nation’s cession of part of Panama’s airspace to the company, so that nobody can fly a plane, helicopter or drone over the mine to observe what is taking place on the ground provokes nationalists from several different directions.

So, what are Benicio Robinson’s goons in the National Assembly to do? FIRST, call the cops to set up barricades and the riot squad around the Justo Arosemena Legislative Palace. Surely, two other things:

  1. Watch what’s going on outside as the committee meeting time approaches; and
  2. Count heads to see if a PRD caucus with splits, defections, primary defeats and wimps in the room would hold steady to muster the votes to push this thing through.

Ordinarily the PRD would need its MOLIRENA allies’ votes. Cambio Democratico leader Rómulo Roux said that he supports the contract, but most of the CD caucus follows Ricardo Martinelli rather than Roux. Don Ricky,, sentenced to more than 10 years in prison but appealing, would surely like to embarrass the PRD.

Without regard to anything that Martinelli may say, do or want, and with full knowledge and expectations the party holding the presidency always gets voted out in the next elections, President Cortizo’s party has a special problem in this instance arising from its chosen 2024 standard bearer, Gaby Carrizo.

Carrizo had been the corporate lawyer for Petaquilla Gold, from which the Miinera Panama concession was partitioned off and sold. That was a sordid mess of environmental horror stories, insider trading scandals, workers from whose paychecks Seguro Social payments had been deducted but pocketed by the management, thuggish court decisions and shameless hype. The original concessionaire, Richard Fifer Carles, awaits a September 19th trial after the Supreme Court’s Penal Bench revoked a lower court’s decision to throw out the charges for theft from the Social Security Fund. A one-time main shareholder, Ricardo Martinelli, is trying to get his more than 10-year prison sentence on another matter reversed on appeal, but never faced insider trading charges for the international pump-and-dump scheme in Petaquilla’s Canadian shares via Denmark and South Korea. How did the former president do THAT? He got a ruling from a guy who was on the Supreme Court at the time, was once Noriega’s goon in charge of shutting down the opposition press, once unsuccessfully prosecuted this reporter for criminal defamation, ended up getting impeached and sent to prison and, having served his time, is now practicing law again. Alejandro Moncada Luna is the name. The shill in that scheme, one Donald Kent Winner? He fled back to the USA as soon as prosecutors started to ask questions about it. The Vancouver stock exchange put Petaquilla Gold out of its misery by delisting it, but the Moncada Luna ruling that insider trading is legal in Panama unless the shares are traded on Panama’s Bolsa de Valores lives on in the sense that other securities exchanges in the region and around the world shun the Bolsa.

Carrizo’s role? He said that he just worked there, got cheated like the Petaquilla mine workers and had misgivings about Fifer’s and Martinelli’s practices at the time. A golden anchor to pull the presidential nominee under? More like a toxic lead one. This problem with the standard bearer might not bother the PRD deputies in the legislature — as they figure that Carrizo is a loser anyway — but this mine contract issue living on as a campaign issue between now and next May directly threatens many of their jobs. It might not get Robinson kicked out of his seat in the legislature, but his position as de facto boss of his party and of the National Assembly does get put at risk.

It would be an extraordinary revelation for the party whips’ vote counts to become known to the public. One day we might know. However, on August 21:

The Commerce Committee was an hour and a half late in starting its deliberations, and:

  1. They ended up suspending the debate, with further sessions to take place in out-of-the-way Donoso, at the western end of Colon province where they would not expect crowds to gather.
  2. It sure looks like the committee ran away, and that it would be even harder for the company to mobilize the votes to win before the entire legislature.

And all of a sudden, by popular demand, the centerpiece of the PRD economic platform has collapsed. Or so it appears.


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