Editorials: Changes here and on the world stage

A weak President Cortizo, right, prepares the transition to President-elect Mulino. Cortizo has been sick for most of his term and in any case had to defer in many cases to entrenched deputies, mayors and representantes who actually ran the political patronage machine that’s the Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD). Mulino starts out weak, another president who got just a plurality of the vote and beholden to a fugitive Accomplishing Goals (RM) party boss who stole and laundered tens of millions of dollars. “He stole, but he got things done” was a theme as he just-concluded campaign began. Without control of the legislature or many local governments., he faces a probable majority of Panamanians whose attitude is something like ‘HE STOLE? Full stop. We don’t want any of that.’ There are things that Cortizo should have done but did not do, and now what’s left of his presidency is in caretaker mode. The appearance at the moment is that both men intend a smooth transition without chaos and acrimony.

Imagine that…

The new government gets sworn in on July 1, perhaps minus 16 deputies whose credentials as duly elected having been challenged. MAYBE the Electoral Tribunal would have made good on their promises and ruled on all of those cases beforehand. However, such decisions could be delayed by interposing appeals or motions to reconsider. Perhaps in some resolved cases new elections would have to be organized. We should not be surprised, given the reigning amorality in the lame duck National Assembly, if at least one deputy who was not re-elected but claims the right to stay on until a replacement is seated. If that notion — with its extra paycheck or two — gets slapped down there might be a round or two of litigation about that.

Minus 16, a majority of the legislature would be 28 instead of 36? If the rump of the National Assembly goes ahead with only 55 deputies, could they pick the body’s leaders, and chairs of important committees like budget and credentials, and make that stick after the disputed seats are filled?

Mulino will take office under international suspicion, as he was the nominee and proxy of a notorious money launderer, who stole tens of millions of dollars from the Republic of Panama and spent it on things like buying himself a newspaper chain. The courts have ordered that publishing house to be seized by the state, but Nito’s government has never seen fit to enforce that order. So we’re going to tell the European Union, the OECD, Washington and others that Panama has the rule of law and is committed to the banishment of money laundering from these shores?

Mulino will take office with a brawl against organized labor and retirees a split-second away, as he is committed both to make the Social Security Fund “solvent” and to carry out the agenda of business groups – including powerful individuals, companies and families who have egregiously cheated or looted the fund for years. The intended effect is that working people won’t get what they worked for over so many years. Honest and serious business owners would realize that this deduction from the public’s buying power will ripple through the economy with reduced sales. They would, however, likely be shouted down by “winners” who would proclaim positive proof of their families’ inherent superiority.

There are reasonable and pragmatic exit ramps from the road to disaster that’s opening up before us. The new president could, for example, insist that he won’t treat a legislative leadership chosen by only 55 deputies as anything lasting or legitimate. Various compromises might by fashioned by the various factions, none of which come close to making up a majority. Rules of procedure could be bent or modified for the duration of the irregular situation. Mulino won only a little more than one-third of the vote and should have the sense to recognize the widespread public rejection of the ways that we have been governed since the 1989 invasion. He has to come up with some new and palatable things to do in the face of a new set of challenges.


Back to Trump and Varela times – the former Howard Air Force Base was used as a staging area for a foolhardy coup attempt that unfolded on a major bridge between Colombia and Venezuela. The American Embassy let the leaders of Panama’s Democrats Abroad chapter know that it considered that the editor of The Panama News – which published this anonymous drone photo – did not have the same interests as the Embassy and was thus cut off from communications from the diplomatic outpost. The US policy of economic strangulation of Venezuela persists, and drives most of the unauthorized migration across our border with Colombia.

Can US foreign relations – and Panama’s – adapt to the present realities?

Bibi Netanyahu has done it again. Joe Biden has told him to stop. The World Court has told him to stop. Huge protests in Tel Aviv have told him to stop. But not only does he press his offensive against mostly noncombatant Palestinian civilians in Rafah, now he’s taken a step beyond and expanded his war to yet another country by having his troops attack their Egyptian counterparts at the Rafah Crossing.

Will Biden continue to run scared of the “Israel lobby?” That force in US politics by no means represents all American Jews, but more faithfully represents US arms merchants. There is a weird side of the Evangelical Christian right in the coalition as well. Most Democrats find this collection of people and groups – not just AIPAC – rather annoying. Billionaire former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg ran for president, used the Star of David on his campaign logo and “Democratic Majority for Israel” as the name of his Super PAC, spent more than half a billion dollars mostly to taunt Bernie Sanders for having had a heart attack and you know what? He rather conclusively proved that the range of Democrats’ opinions about Israel is far more nuanced, that there actually is no Democratic majority that supports the Netanyahu regime.

We know from the WikiLeaks cables that the US Embassy here turned down Ricky Martinelli’s requests for US assistance for electronic spying on his political adversaries and was annoyed when Martinelli went to the Israelis for such help. Now in Joe Biden times and for many reasons the US government is acting against NOS, the Israeli military company that makes the Pegasus spy programs and hardware that Martinelli bought and which went missing at the end of his term of office in 2014.

Perhaps NOS has more to fear from a private lawsuit brought by Meta, whose WhatApp platform the company hacked. Perhaps Meta treads more cautiously now because there are Democrats calling for the application of antitrust law against its Facebook platform, because in 2016 the Russian orchestrated heavy trolling tactics on Facebook with the aim of getting Donald Trump elected. Since that scandal Facebook has often gone overboard to shadow ban or outright expel people and publications expressing leftist or rightist views.

shooting Arabs
A Shin Bet guy, in the headphones and with the Israeli flag patch on his sleeve, instructs Panamanian law enforcement in racism. This started out under the Martinelli administration but finally Presidene Laurentino Cortizo Cohen put a stop to it. There are various pressures from different political angles, but for protection of the Panama Canal we’re officially neutral about Arab – Israeli disputes and people of just about all faiths in mostly-Catholic Panama tend not to embrace such anti-Arab vitriol. Panamanian government photo.

In case nobody has noticed, Canal Zone times ended officially in 1979 and more definitively with the withdrawal from US military bases here and the transfer of Panama Canal administration culminating in 1999. The once rather unchecked power of US officials to blacklist people from practicing journalism in Panama is much diminished. But the DEA, the CIA, the Southern Command’s mercenary forces and various American governmental and non-governmental political operatives continue their work. Sometimes its the legitimate stuff of a democracy. Sometimes it’s imperial hubris, occasionally working through the most sordid cut-out characters.

In Panama’s gringo community, the Democrats are here and long have been – in their various factions – and so too have the MAGAs. Might President-elect José Raúl Mulino, sensing a regional and global shift to the right, bet on Donald Trump? Ricardo Martinelli played that card and it turned out to be a dud.

Trump, Martinelli and Colombian developer Roger Khafif at the ribbon-cutting for what used to be called the Trump Ocean Club, a knock-off of Dubai’s Burj al-Arab built on a flood plain in Punta Pacifica. It soon became a US intelligence concern because of the Russian oligarchs and Latin American thugs to which its condo units were marketed. The thing went into bankruptcy and the condo owners turned against the Trump management. Photo by the Martinelli-era Presidencia.

So, what should the USA do about its “Netanyahu problem,” and any potential “Mulino problem?” And what can Mulino do about relations with the United States?

Any attempt by Mulino or any Panamanian faction to got Internet trolling to affect the US election this year would be foolish and counter-productive. There is no Panama lobby that in any way can compare to the Israel lobby. We have wise guys with computers but nothing like the resources that the Russians deployed in the 2016 US elections.

On the other hand, US punishment of Panama for electing the proxy presidential candidate of a guy whom US Justice deported and the Biden administration calls a crook? Some limits are that Panama is a sovereign country, not a US colony, and it was Mulino, not Martinelli, who got elected. And does the United States exert economic pressure on Panama, with China ready to step into abandoned US economic spaces? For many reasons, for the Biden administration now or a possible Trump administration starting next year, it’s better to wait and see what Mulino does.

Panama’s president-elect promises a new, less tolerant approach to migration into and through Panama. Let’s hope that he doesn’t try to abrogate Panama’s treaty obligation to allow people who are persecuted for their politics, beliefs or ethnicity to request asylum. Mulino’s intention to close the Colombian border is probably unwise and expensive, but it’s Panama’s right to make such a decision. It’s not an obligation of the United States to pay for any of this. If the aim is to reduce migration through the Darien Gap, the best way that the United States can help Panama is to stop its economic warfare against Venezuela, which drives most of this migration.

How does the United States adjust its foreign policy to present realities? Its failure to act in the face of Netanyahu’s taunts, the ongoing massacre in Gaza, the spreading regional war in the Middle East, ethnic cleansing on the West Bank and in East Jerusalem and impunity for the Israeli assassination of an American citizen journalist and subsequent harassment of her family add up to an existential threat to Joe Biden’s re-election hopes.

Israel is a sovereign state, but it’s also an international pariah that’s committing war crimes. The best thing for Joe Biden to do about it, even if it would alienate some of his wealthy donors and a segment of Democratic voters, would be to tell Israel “Not on our dime.” And if that inflames the far-right elements among American citizens here, it just means that local Democrats have the task of out-organizing them.


Alleged Christians walking among the poor in hardscrabble Coronado and funding neofascist militia politics in the USA through Panamanian bank accounts? Those things we have seen. “Rex Freeman,” whose given name is Mark Emery Boswell and goes by various monikers of convenience, is a guy who did felony time for fraud in Colorado before he came here and set up this outfit. This Facebook screenshot is from Trump times, in 2018. Earlier Boswell hired close Martinelli collaborator and former Noriega guy for shutting down the opposition press Alejandro Moncada Luna as a private prosecutor to charge The Panama News editor Eric Jackson with criminal defamation. Jackson won that case, Moncada Luna went on to be Martinelli’s presiding magistrate of the Supreme Court, and then went on to be impeached and imprisoned. Last we heard, Boswell is back in the USA and Moncada Luna has served his prison time and is now practicing law again. We should hope that Mulino has learned something and will steer the Panamanian ship of state clear of both the MAGAs here and their home-grown mouthpieces like Moncada Luna.

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