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Polo Ciudadano, Por eso no los defendemos

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Polo

No benefician al pueblo panameño: ni las grandes firmas
de abogados, ni las empresas de maletín, ni los bancos

por Polo Ciudadano

Acaba de estallar un nuevo escándalo mundial que constituye la segunda parte de los llamados “Panamá Papers” y que han dado en llamar ahora los “Papeles de Pandora”. Nuevamente quedan al descubierto cientos de millonarios que se activan como políticos, empresarios, artistas y deportistas y usan “empresas de maletín” creadas por firmas de abogados para esconder sus fortunas, evadir impuestos en sus países y, algunos, lavar dineros mal habidos.

Otra vez aparece una gran firma de abogados como promotora de este tipo de cuestionables negocios: “Alemán, Cordero, Galindo y Lee” – ALCOGAL. Enseguida salta a la vista que sus socios principales han sido ministros en diversos gobiernos antipopulares y partidos políticos a lo largo de las últimas décadas: Jaime Alemán, Carlos Cordero, Aníbal Galindo y Jorge Federico Lee.

Según denuncia hecha por el llamado Consorcio de Periodistas, publicada por el diario El País de España, el 3 de octubre del presente, “ALCOGAL montó empresas opacas para 160 políticos y cargos públicos, incluidos algunos acusados de saquear las arcas de sus países”.

La labor de este bufete de abogados, al igual que el de Mossack-Fonseca, denunciado en 2016 en los “Papeles de Panamá”, consiste en crear empresas de maletín en favor de gente que quiere esconder sus dineros en paraísos fiscales, de manera la empresa oculte los nombres de sus verdaderos dueños. De esta manera es difícil para las entidades fiscales o policiales rastrearlas, ya sea para cobrarles impuestos o descubrir sobornos a cambio de obras públicas o lavar dinero procedente de fuentes ilícitas.

Así aparece gente vinculada a conocidos casos de sobornos y enriquecimiento ilícito como el Fifagate y el caso Odebrecht. Donde además aparecen como beneficiarios de estas empresas de maletín tres presidentes activos de América Latina: Piñera de Chile, Lasso de Ecuador y Abinader de República Dominicana. También tres expresidentes panameños: Ernesto “Toro” Pérez Balladares, Ricardo Martinelli y Juan C. Varela.

Desde el Polo Ciudadano de Panamá exigimos al Ministerio Público una investigación exhaustiva sobre este caso para determinar si se han producido hechos punibles que deban ser llevados a la justicia. Exigimos que deje de haber impunidad en estos casos de “alto perfil” y “cuello blanco” que nunca son castigados. El lavado de dinero, los sobornos y la evasión fiscal son delitos para quienes lo cometen y para quienes ayudan a cometerlos en calidad de cómplices, así sean abogados.

El Polo Ciudadano de Panamá repudia los intentos del gobierno panameño y de otras entidades que pretenden presentar los negociados de los grandes bufetes de abogados y banqueros como “intereses de la nación panameña”. Por el contrario, ellos y sus “clientes”, han hecho sus fortunas a costa del pueblo panameño y otros pueblos de Latinoamérica. En un momento de crisis, en que se nuestros pueblos sufren el hambre y el desempleo, los malos servicios públicos por falta de recursos, más que nunca debe perseguirse y castigarse la evasión de impuestos y el lavado de dinero.

 

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Editorial, Defense of Panama ≠ defending shell companies

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Long Dong Silver's captain
Supplying pirate ships was once a good business.

Defend Panama, but not its asset protection law firms

One upon a time, maritime piracy was big business in this part of the world. It even sometimes put on religious airs.* Panama was part of the Spanish Main, a prized target for British, French and Dutch raiders but by and large an impossible place to hold and colonize.

The Caribbean islands were different stories. Especially the Lesser Antilles but also Jamaica and Hispaniola were hotly contested and changed hands among the European powers.

In the early years destitute people, many of them runaway indentured servants, set up their Caribbean shops as “bucaneros,” people who smoked and dried meat to sell as ships’ provisions. Their original bastions were on the northwest coast of Hispaniola in what’s now Haiti and on the island of Tortuga.

European imperial rivalries brought naval warfare to the area as soon as it was known that the Spanish Main was exporting gold and silver to Spain, with a share to The Vatican. It was briefly a good time for the bucaneros’ business, which in turn brought on efforts to take away or suppress their trade.

Meanwhile, naval warfare being expensive and the cost of war on the European continent and adjacent island being ruinous, it became more economical to privatize the raids on Spanish shipping and the Spanish Main. The British, French and Dutch issued Letters of Marque, charters for such things. Under some crown’s charter or as independent freebooters, the bucaneros often signed on to privateer or pirate ships to make their fortunes, often to then be invested in safer and more respectable businesses as ship chandlers, in more promising havens like New Providence in the Bahamas or Port Royal in Jamaica.

There came a time when the Spanish had plucked all of the easy gold and silver pickings from the Americas and had less to send back to Spain, when the religious wars of Europe ended in exhaustion, and the half-truces that allowed for fighting to continue in the Americas became pointless annoyances for the powers involved. By general agreement piracy was suppressed and the once thriving business of providing supplies to pirate ships died out.

Fast forward to the late 20th century and a “new economy” based on financial manipulations, fraud and tax evasion arose in the once dominant but crumbling industrial economies. In the extractive economies of the Third World, political castes were skimming what they could, enormous sums from individual perspectives, enough for revolutions and terrible retribution from the viewpoints of nations. The “winners” needed places to park their funds and only the dumb ones trusted investment in the Trumps. The tax havens / money laundering mills, established earlier in the 20th century, got into their heyday.

But times and power relationships have changed. There are no longer so many well paid jobs in the advanced societies. Epidemics, climate disasters, potholes and falling bridges all demand costly responses and the introduction of private scams into the responses here and there has not gone well. An individual might want to hire Odebrecht to fix the roads because of the kickbacks to be gained personally, but this sort of business is by many lights unsustainable for nations.

Thus there is a sea change in international attitudes. Just like the weight of public opinion and national policies fell down against piracy and the businesses that depended on it starting in earnest not too many decades after Morgan’s raid on Panama, there is an inexorable movement against kleptocracy and tax evasion AND the businesses that depend on it. Just like the bucaneros of Tortuga, the “offshore asset protection” business of Panama is being rendered obsolete.

Most Panamanians derive no benefit from the law firms that organize chains of shell companies with numbered bank accounts for the world’s kleptocrats and tax cheats. Corporate secrecy meant for us that when a politically connected importer switched labels and a government lab depending on those labels mixed poison into cough syrup, those who were affected and their families had no recourse against the import company’s owners. The money laundering mill of which Panama is but one component had the Martinelli Linares brothers flying around in a private jet while rural public education broke down in Panama. It put incompetent people with illustrious surnames in our public executive posts and an amoral and grasping political caste in control of our legislature.

In the global scheme of things, Panama is no longer the player that it was. Have we been surpassed by South Dakota? Or by Andorra or the British Virgin Islands? However, we are still a place where the game is played and are a convenient “nearshore” location for those who would assign blame, in good faith or bad. Blame, and sanctions, are being imposed on the whole nation for an industry in which few of us have any stake.

The last thing that Panamanians should be doing is standing with President Cortizo in defense of a few corporate law firms. We should instead be demanding a reorganization of our economy and of our politics to end that sort of law practice.

* A footnote about religious warfare in Panama

Panama separated from Colombia shortly after the end of the Thousand Days War, taking us out of the Colombian paradigm of endless civil conflicts between that country’s Liberal and Conservative parties. Essentially Panamanian independence was by way of a US-backed Conservative coup on a mainly Liberal isthmus. One of the huge issues of those wars was that the Conservatives were for establishing the Catholic Church as the official religion, while the Liberals were for a secular state. The argument started centuries earlier and raised its head in many ways.
In Panamanian schools they talk about “El Corsario Morgan” – Morgan the Pirate – laying waste to Panama Viejo. But really, who was this man? From a British perspective, not a criminal pirate but a privateer under crown charter, who arguably stretched its scope but was rewarded for his rampage across Panama by being made Lord Lieutenant Governor of Jamaica. They even knighted him.
Before that? A young Welshman obliged to seek his fortune outside of the British Isles because his father was a major supporter of Oliver Cromwell’s Puritan revolution that executed the king and was thus the family was in disgrace after Cromwell died and the monarchy was restored. But like his father and the rest of the Puritans, Henry Morgan was a serious anti-Catholic bigot. Everywhere in Panama that he went, he physically attacked the Catholic Church. He executed prisoners because they were Catholics. His raid into Panama, put into a European historiography, was one of the last offensives – unless you want to count Northern Ireland – of the Wars of The Reformation.
So why don’t Panamanian schools teach this context about Henry Morgan, nor about the Wars of the Reformation, nor about the Holy Inquisition in Panama, nor how Simón Bolívar’s liberation of Gran Colombia was in large part a struggle between free-thinking Masons like Bolívar and a Catholic hierarchy that supported the Spanish Crown, nor about the religious tinge to all the warfare in the Colombian period? It’s because a tacit deal was struck. There would be freedom of religion here, but also an official acknowledgment that this is a mostly Catholic country. The public schools would teach Catholic catechism to those students whose parents wanted it, but would teach nothing of the religious conflicts that have stained our history. All the religious strife was supposed to be forgotten. In hindsight, it looks like a bad deal. Better if kids were taught the full facts of this historical subject and offered the opinion that allowing religious differences to degenerate into violence and warfare is a stupid and evil thing to do.

 

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13th century CE sculpture of Lao Tzu at Quanzhou, in Fukian province. Photo © tom@hk.

                         To lead people, walk behind them.

Lao Tzu                         

Bear in mind…

The main dangers in this life are the people who want to change everything or nothing.

Nancy Astor

The first duty of government is to protect the powerless against the powerful.

Code of Hammurabi

America is an enormous frosted cupcake in the middle of millions of starving people.

Gloria Steinem

 

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Donziger’s statement at his sentencing

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Steven Donziger addresses supporters about his trial — not by government prosecutors but by Chevron private prosecutors — at which a judge gave him an unprecedented six months in jail. The matter is being appealed.

Donziger’s sentencing statement

Your Honor, I stand before you today for sentencing after a misdemeanor trial for contempt where I was denied a jury and after I have been attacked and demonized for years by Chevron in retaliation for helping Indigenous peoples in Ecuador try to do something to save their cultures, their lives, and our planet in the face of massive oil pollution. That’s the context for why we are here today. That matters because it helps the court understand who I am, my character, and
my motivations.

Here are my points and I will be brief.

First, I want to address the issue of personal responsibility. To be clear, I accept full responsibility for all of my actions that have led to this moment. It is my position that ultimately the appellate courts of the United States will decide whether what I did was entirely ethical and appropriate, as I maintain, or was some sort of crime, as the court maintains. What is indisputable is that some of the counts stem from civil discovery disputes where I chose to go into voluntary civil contempt to get a direct appeal of orders that would have destroyed the privileges of my clients, the Indigenous peoples and other Amazon communities of Ecuador; no lawyer in this country ever has been charged with criminal contempt for engaging in such a course of action — that is, seeking judicial review of a civil discovery order.

This course of action has been adjudged to be appropriate and ethical by literally every federal Circuit court in this country. I am the first lawyer charged criminally for engaging in this course of action. I don’t understand how I could be charged criminally for seeking judicial review of a civil discovery order, except as some form of retaliation for my successful advocacy against Chevron – a supposition confirmed not just by the rejection of these charges by the regular federal prosecutor in Manhattan but more recently by the five esteemed international jurists from the United Nations who ruled my detention and this entire case is not in conformity with international law, and in fact violates the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other legal instruments designed to protect people from arbitrary detention and judicial bias.

Further, as my team understands it, I am also the first lawyer in the country ever to be charged criminally based on civil orders that I already had complied with.

So let me be clear: I maintain I am innocent of these criminal charges; I maintain I always acted in respect for the rule of law; I maintain that Judge Kaplan’s orders that are the basis for the charges in this case are not in adherence to the rule of law, and have for all practical purposes been found as such by the federal prosecutor, who rejected this case; and I look forward to my appeal where this dispute will be resolved. That is why I cannot express remorse for actions that I maintain are ethical and legal. I hope you do not hold that against me. As far as the issue of my computer is concerned, that will be worked out on the civil side of the case; I am more than willing to turn over my electronic devices once a protocol is worked out that protects privileges and is consistent with the Second Circuit appellate decision that ruled in my favor earlier this year.

Second, a little about who am I. Dozens of people — including several lawyers, law students, academics, civil society leaders, Nobel laureates, and friends — have written the court attesting to my character, my integrity, and my professionalism. I hope the court has read all of these letters and from them seen a picture of who I really am based on those who really know me. It is a major factor that the court must consider. What is notable about these letters more than anything is that they paint an entirely different picture of me than the one that Judge Kaplan, Ms. Glavin and her colleagues, and the armada of Chevron lawyers including those who were witnesses in this very case have been trying to put forth for the last ten years. One thing is clear: I have led a life of good works, motivated by a desire to better our world, to right wrongs, and to address the abuses of power by Chevron and the fossil fuel industry and beyond. And to be clear, despite its immense challenges and the unpleasantness for me and my family of the current situation, I have thoroughly enjoyed my work and feel blessed to have had so much success in carrying out my chosen purpose.

Third, my family. My wife and only child are here today. Laura Miller and Matthew Donziger. My only sibling, Susan Sherman. My parents are deceased. My wife and son don’t like the public eye. My son just started his third straight year of school – his first year of high school – with his father wearing a large ankle bracelet and unable to travel, leave his home except under narrow exceptions with court permission 48 hours in advance, unable to even go out for dinner,
unable to have a father capable of doing all the things a father can do and should do with a child, including act with spontaneity. Like wake up and say, “It’s beautiful out, let’s go drive over to Jersey and watch the Giants.” Or let’s walk across the street and get some ice cream at Ben and Jerry’s. Or let’s go for a run. Oh wait, I have an ankle bracelet and it’s really hard to run with that on, chafing my ankle, and I don’t have permission anyway, so forget about it. If I could tell you the times that has happened — the look of disappointment each time on the face of a child — I promise they overwhelm by many multiples the times I have left my apartment under court supervision. So I ask, if nothing else, that you give maximum value to my relationship to my son as you decide how to dispose of me today, as he has suffered quietly for a good 15% of his life as a collateral consequence of my house arrest.

Fourth, me. I’ve been punished quite severely already for this Class B misdemeanor where no lawyer without a prior record has spent even a day in jail. I have no criminal record. Been in my house 787 days, 720 them pre-trial or pre-conviction. No lawyer in NY for my level of offense ever has served more than 90 days and that was in home confinement; I have now been in home confinement 8 times that period of time. I have been disbarred without a hearing where I have been unable to present factual evidence; thus, I am unable to earn an income in my profession. I have no passport. I can’t travel; can’t do human rights work the normal way which I believe I am reasonably good at; can’t see my clients in Ecuador; can’t visit the affected communities to hear the latest news of cancer deaths or struggles to maintain life in face of constant exposure to oil pollution. In addition, and this is little known, Judge Kaplan has imposed millions and millions of dollars of fines and courts costs on me. He has ordered me to pay millions to Chevron to cover their legal fees in attacking me, and then he let Chevron go into my bank accounts and take all my life’s savings because I did not have the funds mto cover these costs. Chevron still has a pending motion to order me to pay them an additional $32 million in legal fees. That’s where things stand today. I ask you humbly: might that be enough punishment already for a Class B misdemeanor?

I respect the rule of law. I respect the process. Let’s agree to let the appellate court do its work and any residual discovery issues can be addressed on the civil side. Please sentence me to time served, allow this ankle bracelet to be removed, let me family get their father and husband back, and allow me to be free. Thank you.

 

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Bernal, Growing unrest

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almost generic
Almost generic anymore — from a video of a protest against broken promises to the Ngabe that was posted on Twitter. It’s far from just an indigenous thing. It’s not even just a poor people’s thing. As the epidemic appears to diminish, we are left with a lot of people who were ruined, took losses that they could not afford or otherwise saw their standard of living decline, and a very few who took advantage — some of them dumb enough to wave it in everybody’s face. There is generalized annoyance. Electronic changes to the graphic by Eric Jackson.

A growing restlessness

by Miguel Antonio Bernal

The constitutional crisis that we have experienced since October 11, 1968 – more than half a century ago – is today aggravated by the declining socio-economic situation that our population is experiencing. The growing restlessness that is felt will not take long to explode.

Let us remember, today more than yesterday, the teachings of Ferdinand La Salle, when he affirmed that “the problems of constitutional law are not problems of the legal order, they are problems of power.”

I’m obliged to reiterate that: “Due process, respect for fundamental guarantees and Human Rights have been excluded from national life. The political country lives a permanent carnival from farce to farce, while building the stage for the tragedy that serves as a pretext to remain in power, monopolizing everything, destroying any vestige of institutionality and reinforcing the straitjacket that allows them to maintain control: absolute power “

The controllers of political power have not wanted, nor do they want, to understand the urgency of laying the foundations – as soon as possible — to build a democratic constitutional rule of law. Also that this is only achieved when it’s understood and lived as a power constituted and exercised the people.

The permanent refusal of this batch of kleptocrats to democratize power, and their stubborn sectarianism that in the end favors a plutocratic oligarchy, leads them ever more to bind themselves to different criminal organizations. The hundreds of homicides reported under this government show us the high degree of gangland penetration – in the highest spheres of power – of the owners and partners of the joint criminal enterprise that governs.

Under this government, we have begun a future identical to the immediate past. Without governance, without credibility, without trust – nothing they do will bring positive results for most citizens.

The electoral siren songs that come out of the caves of the political parties have already begun to poison the new climbers. Without reference to citizens’ freedoms, they only seek the privileges that come from control of the public treasury. A Constituent Assembly is the way to change that, no matter how much they seek to avoid that fate.

 

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La Policía Nacional recibe formación israelí en el racismo

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racism
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¿Wappin? What say the Rastafarian Jury? / ¿Qué dice el jurado rastafari?

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Rastafari and a unit of the Gideon Force.

Say you irie, or not irie?

Sevana – Tiny Desk (Home) Concert
https://youtu.be/LMQp9x3hkMc

Gondwana en vivo en Buenos Aires
https://youtu.be/lJ_3Ze0qfN4

Steel Pulse Live at Rototom Sunsplash 2017
https://youtu.be/Q0__YRd8ivw

Séptima Raíz concierto en TRAMA 2018
https://youtu.be/GAz4ekdBlXc

Roots Daughters
https://youtu.be/czeKu4bx8WY

Sly & Robbie et al at @ The Buttermarket Jazz and Roots Club
https://youtu.be/7U4nm0Vvcz8

Koffee at Rockpalast 2019
https://youtu.be/PfoThkrTUTc

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Fundacion Libertad, A liberal perspective on the mayor’s seafood market plan

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mariscos
The outside part of the present Mercado de Mariscos. An argument might reasonably be made for a second seafood market for Panama City, in another neighborhood. However, Mayor Tank of Gas doesn’t cite any such purpose. He wants to tear down the perfectly fine but perhaps not big enough market in order to feed more automobile traffic onto the Cinta Costera. He’d trash a gift from the government of Japan in favor of a truly insane urban traffic plan. Archive photo by Eric Jackson.

The emperor’s new market

by the Fundacion Libertad

Since his arrival at Panama’s city hall, the current mayor has only known how to propose pharaonic and unnecessary projects, while the priorities of the city are neglected.

Panama is a city that has been deprived of sidewalks and public spaces, giving preference to vehicles over people, but instead of improving roads for citizens, our local authorities spend their time inventing project after project, leaving us doubting whether they genuinely want is to leave a legacy for the next generations or if these project ideas are whims that will leave a herd of white elephants in our city.

First it was the beach, which despite popular displeasure he tried to push at any cost. Now, the most recent invention is a new seafood market, even without a proposed location, with the supposed purpose of improving the area’s roads. What is the strategy? Is there a strategy? Or is it that there are other purposes behind such insistence on these projects?

From a liberal perspective, we support the decentralization and autonomy of local governments. However, this has to be based on the transparency and accountability of the authorities and projects must address the needs of citizens within a framework of collaboration and consensus.

Likewise, we urge the municipal authorities to remove the bags under their eyes and look beyond San Felipe and the Cinta Costera. There are areas in the northern part of the capital district that are actively demanding action to improve their quality of life.

The municipalities’ funds are supposed to work for the taxpayers, not to be wasted on unnecessary and unnecessary projects. These latter could well be used to divert resources to unknown ends.

We view with suspicion the emergence of improvised and half-thought projects, which if carried out, would drain valuable resources away from taxpayers, without a sure return.

 

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Editorials: Fruitless talks; and A global migrant relief system is needed

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bla bla
The Electoral Tribunal, which under Panama’s dictatorship-era constitution that’s in effect represents the political parties, sits down for a “dialogue” with representatives of the National Assembly, to negotiate over how much of our democracy will be ceded or sold. National Assembly photo.

Pretending to talk

Rocked by protests that at the moment indicate broad rejection rather than deep rage, the Cortizo administration, its caucus in the legislature, narrow economic interests that depend on it and pliable pseudo-autonomous public institutions talk on.

In talks without labor representatives or environmentalists at the table, a strip mining concession declared unconstitutional is in the process of being cured by the company promising to obey environmental laws – without posting a bond to ensure clean-up – and to obey labor laws, which it has previously flouted.

In talks with the Electoral Tribunal composed of their members, the established political parties agreed to take further steps to curb the electoral hopes of independents and give more money to themselves. For now, the new press and social media gag laws will be put on hold. The attack on such gender parity as there has been in the election laws and more details about subsidies to parties are left pending, but upon resumption of the legislative committee’s work on the subject it appears that the National Assembly will insist. The committee also insists on retaining candidates’ immunity from being prosecuted for crimes.

Labor turned out in large numbers and united before the legislature in the rain but the “dialogue” about the Social Security Fund is between business interests and political forces that depend on business support and the subject matter is how much more will be taken from working people’s savings.

The government promises that workers whose labor contracts had been suspended will be back to work by November 1. It’s a promise made to be broken, a one-month delay before before the fury of unemployed people whose suffering has been aggravated by an insult. It’s the realization by many a business owner without the right political ties that it’s time to close their shops.

The Panama Canal Authority has announced record cash transfers to the government, but that’s all spoken for and more by the predatory political caste and its retainers.

A massacre of incumbents’ political careers at the next election? Street protests and strikes? The riot squad opening fire? That’s where the country is heading unless the tones, participants and subject matters of “talks” are dramatically changed.

 

Haitian migration has been a fact for a long time. This scene was from the fall of 1991, when the US Coast Guard was intercepting Haitians at sea, and at that time keeping them in Guantanamo before mostly being returned to Haiti. US National Archives photo.

It wasn’t for lack of a warning

Haiti is not the only source of mass migration in the world, nor will it be the last. It did not start yesterday. Panama’s Foreign Minister Erika Mouynes correctly pointed out in Washington that this country had sounded the alarm, but surely the US government knew the gist of the situation.

The problem is that Washington’s thinking is set in times long past, and in the habit of trying things that didn’t work back then. To compound it, the world has changed since those times.

Haiti has been living a nightmare of varying intensity for longer than any living person can fully remember. It started when the United States and the European powers determined that they would not allow a republic born of a slave revolt to thrive. That was more than 200 years ago. It continues with the notion that some of these same foreign interests, if they can only find the right puppet to elevate to power, can alternatively do what’s best for Haiti or do what’s best for some investors they represent.

In the latest crisis it is alleged that Haitian-Americans, Venezuelans and Colombians conspired in the United States to assassinate the closest thing to a national leader that an unstable Haiti had. You would think that the Biden Justice Department would have either debunked the allegations or brought criminal charges by now. Instead the same old consortia of foreign interests pretend that they can impose order on a Haiti where gangs rule the streets.

Should the Americas – not just the USA, but the whole hemisphere – live in terror of the stream of Haitians who have fled from this or are about to? These migrants do, by many lights, seem to be the most sensible Haitians of all.

Haiti, however, is not the only country generating migrants.

Climate change is making old pastures too dry to graze herds, making inhabited islands disappear under the waves, making once prosperous farmlands no longer arable, changing the precipitation patterns and the species of insects that come to eat the crops, depriving communities of drinking water, leading desperate people to make war with one another for what resources remain, leading many others to flee. Gangsters in uniforms become tyrants. Gangsters without uniforms make cities and countries ungovernable. People flee from the gangsters, too, with well-founded fears that may not fit into the old definitions of who is a refugee.

We have a long-term human migration crisis that demands a long-term international response. Washington is wrong to think that it can make migrants stay in this or that third country – Panama, Guatemala, Mexico or wherever – for US convenience. Panama, and the rest of Latin America and the Caribbean lands, can’t make too many more foolish mistakes than to think that the Americans will solve this.

We all have a helping hand to lend, for the Rohingya refugees from ethnic cleansing, for islanders driven out by rising seas, for those fleeing the compound disasters that are Africa’s Sahel region, for people displaced by warfare and oppression in the Near East, for the Haitians. For many to come. Food, clean water, clothing, shelter, the rule of law – those are basics, but the world needs to build a string of cities to house those who flee without an assured place to go. It has been done before, often in wrong and punitive ways. But the world also has the expertise to do these things right.

There are plenty of jobs that an ailing planet needs to have done. There are plenty of migrants looking for such jobs, or any dignified job. These things take time, but such things can be and generally are sorted out.

We could let fear, hatred or force of bad habits get in the way. Certainly those things are being urged upon both Joe Biden and Nito Cortizo. But the world community, and each of its members, can and should do much better than that, for the benefit of all humanity.

 

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Library of Congress photo of Upton Sinclair, by Bain News Service in 1900.

It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his job depends on not understanding it.

Upton Sinclair

 

Bear in mind…

 

If one sticks too rigidly to one’s principles, one would hardly see anybody.

Agatha Christie

 

If I am not for myself, who will be for me?
If I am not for others, what am I?
And if not now, when?

Rabbi Hillel

 

A culture is not an abstract thing. It is a living, evolving process. The aim is to push beyond standard-setting and asserting human rights to make those standards a living reality for people everywhere.

Mary Robinson

 

 

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The Panama News blog links, September 30, 2021

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The Panama News blog links

a Panama-centric selection of other people’s work
una selección Panamá-céntrica de las obras de otras personas

Canal, Maritime & Transportation / Canal, Marítima & Transporte

TVN, Naufragos sin control
La Estrella, Panamá y Canadá refrendan acuerdo de transporte aéreo
gCaptain, China’s electric grid stumbles under shipping shortage
Mundo Marítimo, Blanqueo de identidad de buques: una amenaza emergente
EuroNews, US alternatives in Latin America to counter China’s Belt / Road?

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Economy / Economía

La Estrella, Sindicatos exigen un alza salarial ante el alto costo de la vida
EU Observer, Panama to stay on EU tax haven blacklist
EFE, OMC crea un panel para resolver disputa entre Costa Rica y Panamá
The Intercept, The pesticide lobbyists’ playbook
Civil Eats, Are pork producers using food justice to stop an animal welfare law?
AP, Far-right cryptocurrency follows ideology across borders
Wei, Preventing an Evergrande confidence crisis in China
CEPR, IMF surcharges: counterproductive and unfair
Confidencial, Socio del Canal Interoceánico de Nicaragua perdió casi $29.500 millones

Science & Technology / Ciencia & Tecnología

STRI, Tropical liana increases linked to natural disturbance and climate change
MIT Technology Review, The pandemic is testing the limits of face recognition
Malwarebytes, What is the Dark Web?
The Economist: Genes show how, when humans reached remote Pacific islands
Reuters, Scientists come closer to solving Caribbean seaweed mystery
El País, El alcance de la lava del volcán de La Palma en el mar

News / Noticias

Reuters, Panama aims to end coal imports and produce ethanol
La Prensa, Asociaciones médicas denuncian amenazas en contra de colegas
Telemetro, Nito rechaza al “terrorismo de vacunas
Axios, Mouynes: “We sounded the alarm”
Yahoo News, The Trump CIA’s war plans against WikiLeaks

CBC, YouTube moves to block and remove anti-vaccine content
Texas Tribune, Texas would reduce Black and Hispanic majority US House districts

Opinion / Opiniones

Herreros, Vergüenza eterna a los “héroes” de Iquique
Bernstein, The Bible doesn’t validate endless exploitation of the environment
Asher, Novel chemical entities
T’ruah, Rabbis endorse bill supporting two-state solution
Bernal, Manifiesto a la ciudadanía
Transparency International, Panama still guards anonymous companies
Banfield, Panamá no tiene condiciones para la minería sostenible
Zúñiga Sánchez, La urgencia de un proyecto del país
Turner, El problema migratorio

Culture / Cultura

TVN: Boza, Sech y Rubén Blades, nominados en los Latin Grammy
Remezcla, Natti Natasha’s new album
Barker, How Dolly Parton’s Coat of Many Colors became an LGBTQ+ anthem

 

Contact us by email at / Contáctanos por correo electrónico a fund4thepanamanews@gmail.com

 

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All the fuss about “residues” in the legislature

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Sept. 14 demo
Scenes from the September 14 demonstration in front of the National Assembly. Photos posted on Twitter feeds.

How “residuo” is being made into a dirtier word than before

by Eric Jackson

Are we to, literally or figuratively, separate the wheat from the chaff? And do so in Panamanian Spanish, well beyond what dictionaries and Google Translate say?

The chaff is the residue after winnowing grain. To burn or throw away the rice hulls is a common agricultural error here, but generally there are enlightened farmers and gardeners who want that stuff for fertilzer or mulch.

One Spanish word for the chaff, especially common in the lands that used to be part of the Viceroyalty of New Granada — places like Panama, Colombia and Venezuela — is “vaina.” That word, often pronounced with a hard Spanish “v” that sounds to gringo ears like a “b” — as in “baina” — has a great many meanings in this part. Yes, it can mean the sheath for your machete, but let’s concentrate on things related to the chaff meaning. Let’s use some polite English, even if the colloquial equivalents are anything but polite. Annoyance. Criminal activity. Trouble. The kind of people who create such things.

In Noriega times, insurance man and post-invasion Vice President famously declared “¡Esta vaina se acabó!” Noriega’s Dignity Battalions beat the hell out of him, but as to the reign of the US-trained strongman, after much more violence and tragedy this [annoyance] WAS over. Or some of it was.

Panama still lives under the dictatorship’s constitution, which embeds political patronage and its inherent incentives for corruption into the structure of our government. One strange feature of the Panamanian system is the combination of single-member, first past-the-post-gets-elected legislative circuits and, for most of the deputies, an odd mutation of a sort of proportional representation in the multi-member circuits. Everyone elected to the legislature out of the metro area, where most of Panama’s population lives, comes from a multi-member circuit. A deputy’s mandate might be based upon the “quotient,” the “half-quotient” or the “residue.” It’s an arcane way of counting, which in many cases results in someone getting elected on a residue even though someone running in the same circuit got more votes but did not get a seat in the National Assembly.

HOW arcane is the system? Consider: 

Article 403. In the case of electoral circuits that elect two or more deputies, the Electoral Circuit Scrutiny Boards shall proclaim the candidates elected from compliance with the following rules:

1. The total number of valid votes cast in the circuit by all voters is divided by the number of citizens to be elected. The result of this division it will be called the electoral quotient.

2. The total number of unique ballots obtained by each candidate list is divided by the electoral quotient, and the result of this operation will be the number of candidates that it corresponds to choose the party that would have launched the list of treaty or respective free application list.

3. If there are positions to be filled to complete the number of candidates who have to chosen, one will be awarded to each of the remaining lists that have obtained a number of unique voting ballots not less than half the electoral quotient in the order by which said lists have obtained unique voting ballots. The parties or independent lists that have obtained the electoral quotient will not have the right to the half quotient.

4. If there are still positions to be filled, the most voted candidates will be awarded a once the quotient and a half quotient are applied.

For the award of the post by residue, all the votes obtained by each candidate in all the lists in which they have been nominated, but in any case the seat will be assigned to the party to which the candidate belongs, bearing in mind that a party only may obtain only one seat per residue.

Article 404. When a party or an independent list has the right to one or more Deputy positions in a multi-member circuit, the principal and elect shall be declared alternates are the candidates who, as such, have obtained the greatest number of votes.

Who tends to get declared the loser against someone who got fewer votes and was declared the winner?

An independent or small party candidate, in a circuit where there was no full slate of independents — often times because the Electoral Tribunal limited the number of independents on the ballot so that there could be no full slate — or of a small party that just didn’t have the candidates to field there. A candidate on a coalition ticket, wherein another candidate on that slate belonged to the “right” party to receive a seat by residue despite fewer votes.

And some of the current crop of winners:

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Enough of the most notorious deputies have their seats due to the residue rule that there is this play on words, wherein as chaff is a sort of residue, one sort of vaina is synonymous with residuo. As you might notice in one of the placards shown above. Part of Panamanian opposition politics today is to enhance that similarity, to make residuo an epithet.

Not all of the legislators by residue are notorious jerks. Some may feel relieved that they barely snuck in and are trying to keep their noses clean and become noteworthy for a few good things, such that in the next elections they come back with a more respectable mandate.

At the moment, though, the president of the National Assembly is a physician, Dr. Crispiano Adames, legislator by residue and father of a medical student. His big legislative effort in these plague times? He proposed to lower the test scores for medical school graduates to get licensed to practice. The private fly-by-night “universities” loved it, but the University of Panama medical faculty and most of the nation’s medical organizations hated it and saw to it that the proposal went nowhere in the legislature — only to see it enacted by the Ministry of Health.

Sitting before Adames among the residuary deputies there is Colon’s Jairo Bolota Salazar. The guy has a penchant for grabbing headlines — most recently and in violation of historic preservation laws demolishing designated national legacy buildings in Colon’s city center. Whether it’s gay bashing, throwing things at his colleagues or picking arguments with the police for wrong reasons, Bolota acts as if any news coverage is good coverage.

Then, allied with Adames’s PRD is the MOLIRENA caucus, one of whose deputies by residue is religious right leader Corina Cano. It’s perhaps historically ironic that she sits as a member of the last political party that has the word “Liberal” in its name, given that the Panamanian Liberal tradition that stretches back into the Colombian period was always identified as much by its advocacy of secular government as by its representation of commercial and industrial interests rather than the large rural landowners who dominated the Conservatives. Civil wars were fought by Liberals over that separation of church and state principle, but that was then.

Also in the fractious MOLIRENA caucus, there is the legislator by residue Tito Rodríguez, maker of perhaps the most insufferable declarations in favor of political patronage that Panama has seen in recent years.

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In Penonome, which has a low-key PRD legislator in a seat allocated by residue, people protested mainly about things that the current National Assembly and president have done, but the subject that brought them out was proposed changes to the electoral laws, which, residue and all, they think leaves them without responsive representation. Archive photo by Eric Jackson.

And so Panama’s evolving political rhetoric goes, with the attempt by opposition forces to smear the product of an arcane election system into sewage imagery, transforming “residuo” into this generation’s “vaina.” It seems to be working.

But is something missing?

There is strong sentiment throughout that land that Panama needs not only new election laws, but a reformed political culture and a new constitution. But how do we get there, and specifically which changes do we need and want? That’s where opposition to an unpopular government breaks down. The petition drive for a parallel constitutional convention — subject to the rules and limits of the Electoral Tribunal, the Supreme Court, the Presidency and the National Assembly — is a dead letter. The alternative to that would be a referendum to allow the convening of an originating constitutional convention, which assumes all state powers while in session to draft a proposed new political system. Even then, would people elect all the usual suspect, in large part on votes being traded for bags or groceries?

The discontent with what we have is easy enough to see, but a specific alternative that captures the public imagination? Not yet.

Contact us by email at / Contáctanos por correo electrónico a fund4thepanamanews@gmail.com

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.

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