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¿Wappin? #FreeOkkeOrnstein


for Okke Ornstein

(his situation, our situation, what he did and what his libelers might have you believe)

Burning Spear – Not Guilty

Frank Zappa – The Illinois Enema Bandit

Wendy O. Williams – Reform School Girls

Robins – Riot in Cell Block #9

Bobby Fuller Four – I Fought the Law

Carlos Martínez – El Presidiario

Sippie Wallace – Murder Gonna Be My Crime

Andre Williams – Jailbait

Humble Pie – Thirty Days in the Hole

Bessie Smith – Send Me to the ‘Lectric Chair

Ruben Blades – Pedro Navaja

Archie Shepp – Attica Blues

Inti Illimani / Quilapayún – El Aparecido

Third World – Freedom Song

Patti Smith – A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall

WAR – Deliver The Word


Making fun of a grim situation is one way to survive it, but of course what is happening to Okke personally and what is happening to Panama, with our already horrible criminal defamation laws being streched and twisted by abuse and corruption, are not laughing matters. For news about Dutch journalist Okke Ornstein and his case, go to the website that friends, colleagues and family have set up for his defense, #FreeOkkeOrnstein.


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Ash, A constitutional crisis is brewing

CIA man
Director of National Intelligence James Clapper. The 2016 election is extraordinary in that both the FBI and the CIA have intervened in the process, on opposite sides. Photo by the CIA.

A constitutional crisis is brewing

by Marc Ash — Reader Supported News

The Russian election interference issue is heating up quickly. A lot of very powerful Congressional leaders, both Democrats and Republicans, are taking quite seriously the CIA’s findings that Russia deliberately influenced the recently concluded US presidential election.

Leaving aside for the moment serious concerns about the CIA’s ability to be a fair broker of public information, in addition to the US government’s own record on effecting regime change, often through unilateral military action, Russian involvement in the outcome of the November 8th election is absolutely being treated as an urgent matter at the highest echelons of American government, on both sides of the political divide.

Based on the backgrounds of the senators involved, the participation of NSA director James Clapper, and the statements being made, it is clear this is a highly focused effort to move Russian involvement in the elections to center stage – prior to Donald Trump’s inauguration and perhaps before the Electoral College convenes on December 19th.

A bipartisan group of 10 Electoral College electors have authored an open letter to James Clapper requesting a briefing on Russian involvement. The letter is extraordinary in its detail, attention to fact, and readily apparent alarm over the potential that a foreign actor played a hand in determining the presidential election. The letter contains a request for a briefing on potential foreign involvement in the election. The letter reads in part:

The Electors require to know from the intelligence community whether there are ongoing investigations into ties between Donald Trump, his campaign or associates, and Russian government interference in the election, the scope of those investigations, how far those investigations may have reached, and who was involved in those investigations. We further require a briefing on all investigative findings, as these matters directly impact the core factors in our deliberations of whether Mr. Trump is fit to serve as President of the United States.

Additionally, the Electors will separately require from Donald Trump conclusive evidence that he and his staff and advisors did not accept Russian interference, or otherwise collaborate during the campaign, and conclusive disavowal and repudiation of such collaboration and interference going forward.

Having published the letter publicly prior to the vote that will determine the presidency puts the result of the Electoral College vote in play; it can no longer be viewed as a foregone conclusion. In less than 24 hours from the time the letter was published the number of signers has nearly tripled from 11 to 29.

Many in Washington are very uneasy with Donald Trump’s irreverent and unorthodox style. Nothing Trump has done in assembling his cabinet has eased those concerns. To the contrary, Trump’s picks are among the most deeply conflicted ever considered for positions within a presidential administration. That, coupled with unprecedented opposition to Mr. Trump by leaders of his own party, has set the stage for a confrontation that now appears to be taking shape.

The situation is fluid and developing very quickly. However, the trajectory of events could easily put Mr. Trump’s ascension to the presidency in question.

All of this takes the country into uncharted waters. It would appear that is where we now are.

Marc Ash is the founder and former Executive Director of Truthout, and is now founder and Editor of Reader Supported News. Like The Panama News, RSN depends on reader support to continue.


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UPDATED: Silent #FreeOkkeOrnstein vigil in Ancon on December 22

For more information about this event and this case, go to the #FreeOkkeOrnstein website.

Silent Vigil for the Liberation of Dutch Journalist Okke Ornstein

Thursday, December 22 at 8:45 a.m. at the Personeria in Ancon
(between the DIJ and the Theatre Guild, diagonal from the farmers market)

by friends and colleagues of Okke Ornstein

There will be a silent vigil for the freedom of Dutch journalist Okke Ornstein, imprisoned since his November 15 arrest in Panama City on charges of criminal libel. Okke is now incarcerated in El Renacer Penitentiary near Gamboa. The president of Transparency International and journalist and press freedom organizations worldwide have called for his release. A hearing originally scheduled for the Supreme Court on December 22 has been sent down to Panama City’s Municipal Court.

The rights of free expression, freedom of the press and public access to information are endangered in a country whose corrupt system has created intentionally ambiguous laws that expose every writer, social media communicator, journalist and citizen to imprisonment for investigating, opining or speaking out.

Just days before the Global Anti-Corruption Conference held in Panama City from 1 to 4 December, Dutch journalist Okke Ornstein was arrested at the city’s Tocumen international airport to begin serving the jail sentence he had been given in 2012 in connection with some of his frequent blog posts about corruption in Panama.
Ornstein was sentenced to a total of 20 months in prison (eight months for insult and 12 months for libel) in response to a complaint by Canadian businessman Monte Friesner over a series of posts on one of Ornstein’s blogs, Bananama Republic, about allegedly illegal practices (fraud and money laundering) by Pronto Cash, a company created by Friesner in Panama.
Extract from a Reporters Without Borders article

Join us. Spread the word.

Come in silence. Silently we make more noise. Bring a sign. Share this with the people you know.


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PRD, Que se excluya a La Estrella y El Siglo de la Lista Clinton

PRD bigwigs
La dirigencia del partido. Foto por el PRD.

Que se excluya a La Estrella
y El Siglo de la Lista Clinton

por el Comité Ejecutivo Nacional del Partido Revolucionario Democrático


El orden internacional está esencialmente constituido por el respeto a la personalidad, soberanía e independencia de los Estados y por el fiel cumplimiento de las obligaciones emanadas de los tratados y de otras fuentes del derecho internacional.
Carta de la Organización de los Estados Americanos


El Partido Revolucionario Democrático (PRD) considerando que durante 2016, Panamá ha sido señalada y acusada por una serie de eventos que atentan contra empresas y ciudadanos de este país, afectando nuestra imagen y soberanía, expresa la siguiente posición:

Observamos con indignación que la Oficina de Control de Activos en el Extranjero del Departamento del Tesoro de Estados Unidos (OFAC por sus siglas en inglés) incluya en la llamada Lista Clinton a grupos empresariales panameños sin que medie evidencia alguna.

Se acusa a estos grupos de estar involucrados en lavado de dinero, pero desde el pasado cinco de mayo cuando se hizo el anuncio, ninguna entidad oficial norteamericana ha presentado, ni en Panamá ni en Estados Unidos, una sola prueba que corrobore la existencia del hecho punible.

El pasado 15 de noviembre el Ministerio Público de Panamá concluyó que “los medios de justificación acumulados no son suficientes para comprobar el o los hechos punibles investigados”, en tanto que con anterioridad la Fiscalía General de la hermana república de Colombia consignó la no existencia de pruebas contra los grupos en cuestión, después de siete largos años de investigación.

La medida norteamericana ha forzado la venta de activos bajo el criterio de que “el futuro de esas empresas depende de su dueño”, tal cual lo ha dicho de manera injerente el señor John Feely, embajador de Estados Unidos en Panamá. Esta situación ha violentado los derechos humanos de miles de panameños, tras provocar su desestabilización laboral; afectando la libertad de expresión y atentado contra nuestro patrimonio histórico.

Nada de ello es coherente con los valores morales y la larga tradición de respeto al Derecho y a la Democracia, que Estados Unidos preconiza ante el mundo.

Para el PRD se trata de una flagrante violación al Derecho Internacional, al debido proceso, y de una medida administrativa unilateral de extraterritorialidad mediante la cual Estados Unidos viola nuestra soberanía y atenta contra los intereses legítimos de nuestro ordenamiento jurídico.

Estados Unidos ha puesto en juego la sobrevivencia de dos importantes diarios de la localidad: El Siglo y La Estrella de Panamá, que representan una importante cuota en el equilibrio de la opinión pública panameña, portadores significativos de la libertad de expresión.

Es inadmisible que esos periódicos estén condenados a desaparecer el próximo mes de enero, afectando un importante factor en el pluralismo y la independencia de la opinión pública de Panamá.

En medio de esta situación, el PRD lamenta profundamente, no solo el estado de indefensión en que han quedado estas empresas, sino la complicidad oficial con una medida carente de pruebas, en lo que puede constituir un mensaje amargo y frustrante para el empresariado nacional, porque sin haberle exigido a Estados Unidos las evidencias que demuestren el delito, nuestras autoridades parecen dar por sentada la veracidad de la acusación.

El PRD demanda que el Estado panameño asuma la defensa de sus ciudadanos con una posición enérgica y digna, le exija a ese país que cese esta agresión contra las empresas panameñas, y que se excluya de manera inmediata a los diarios La Estrella de Panamá y El Siglo de la llamada Lista Clinton.

Para el PRD está en juego el respeto que merece Panamá, porque si no encaramos estos hechos como Nación, a futuro ningún ciudadano ni ninguna empresa estará a salvo de este tipo de transgresiones.

Resulta inaceptable que el gobierno asuma una posición complaciente ante estos hechos y que acoja la posición del embajador Feely de vender estas empresas, mientras la aprehensión y el miedo se apoderan de empresarios nacionales porque no encuentran respaldo en quien, por mandato constitucional, debe ser garantía de sus esfuerzos.

El PRD advierte que desde principios de este año, Panamá ha sido señalada como paraíso fiscal en lo que bien puede considerarse como una agresión a nuestra economía, lo cual está generando una merma al crecimiento económico del país.

En ese escenario figuran negocios que son considerados ilegales cuando se ejercen fuera de los territorios de los países que nos han señalado, pero que gozan de todas las ventajas cuando son sus nacionales quienes los desarrollan.

El Partido Revolucionario Democrático se adhiere a todas las organizaciones y gremios del país que se han pronunciado sobre estos aspectos, con el propósito de impedir que se violenten los derechos de la Nación. Si no hay autoridad que asuma una posición digna, entonces a los ciudadanos nos asiste reclamar la valía de nuestros derechos y valores; la sociedad civil, los gremios empresariales, los sindicatos, los partidos políticos y las organizaciones populares debemos asumir ese rol.

A Panamá le tomó casi un siglo consolidar su independencia y hacer efectiva su soberanía, para ejercerla mediante un régimen democrático y jurídico que beneficiara a todos sus ciudadanos y a todos aquellos que residen en su territorio.

Los panameños hemos empeñado grandes esfuerzos en esa dirección, hasta convertirnos en uno de los países de mayor crecimiento en la región; con enormes desafíos y metas por cumplir pero admirados y reconocidos en el concierto de las naciones por la forma como despuntamos en este siglo, por la manera respetuosa como concebimos las relaciones internacionales y por la decisión de apuntalarlas.

Nada debe afectar ese camino, nada debe enturbiar nuestra decisión y deseos de perfeccionar la Democracia; de hacer más transparente la gestión, pero sobre todo más independiente a nuestro país, exigiendo el respeto que merece, sin que sea vulnerada nuestra dignidad como Nación.


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Gandásegui, Transparency’s untouchables

Mission unaccomplished: the main obstacles to tax fairness unaddressed, the movement toward financial sanctions against Panama uncontained, President Varela embarrassed in front of an international audience. Photo by Eric Jackson.

Transparency also has its privileged ones

by Marco Gandásegui, hijo

Panama was recently the scene of an international meeting of organizations that promote transparency in governmental and business activities. The conclave presented recommendations and made various pronouncements about the hardly transparent conduct of politicians and businesspeople. Basically, it was a big simulation event.They didn’t touch the basic problems like the corruption and manipulation by the multinationals of the laws and regulations of all countries, from the center (the developed countries) to the periphery (the underdeveloped world).

In the case of Panama, the conference host, the experts forgot to examine the multinationals that operate in the country without paying taxes, with the blessing of the government — Panama Ports, Minera Panama and many others. The people at the conference did examine the case of Mossack Fonseca, which provides services to those who want to open covert shell companies in tax havens, including in the USA.

Tax evasion by transnational corporations is an important cause of inequality and poverty. The Apple case in Ireland is a good example. According to the economist Claudine Gaidoni, the multinationals violate human rights by using tax avoidance methods.

The recent Apple case, in which the European Commission ordered Irish tax authorities to recover $14.5 billion from Apple as unpaid taxes, has once more directed attention toward the phenomenon of tax evasion by multinational corporations. In 2014 Apple paid 0.005% in corporate taxes on its assets registered in Ireland.

In 2014 tax authorities in Luxembourg approved special resolutions to permit multinational companies to pay less tax in that country. Something similar happened with Starbucks in Holland. In 2016, Belgium granted selective tax advantages to at least 35 transnational companies.

In the case of Ireland, the US government took the side of Apple against its own interests. At the same time, an army of lawyers and accountants has been busy punching holes in the tax codes of all countries where such companies operate. The European Union estimates that corporate tax evasion costs it $75 to $100 billion a year in lost taxes. According to Oxfam USA, tax evasion by transnational corporations costs the United States approximately $150 billion a year, while developing countries lose $140 billion a year in unpaid taxes.

In his book The Hidden Wealth of Nations, the French economist Gabriel Zucman said that “55 percent of all profits of North American businesses are in tax havens today.” The Offshore Shell Games 2016 study tells us that the Fortune 500 companies have almost $2.5 trillion in accumulated profits tucked in offshore accounts.

The existence of murky tax rule and an extreme concentration of wealth in tax havens, Gaidoni explains, means that citizens all over the world are deprived of their economic, social and cultural rights. Moreover, they lose civil and political rights, such as the right to be informed and to participate in political decisions.

If multinational corporations of US origin register their profits in several tax havens, they do it to avoid paying taxes in the USA. The Offshore Shell Games 2016 study reveals that Apple recorded $214.9 billion in offshore accounts, of which $65.4 billion was taxed by the US Treasury. Why doesn’t the United States take action to combat this? It has the means to make the multinationals pay their taxes. Why don’t they do it?

Ecuador proposed to create an intergovernmental entity at the United National to avoid tax havens and to adopt a binding international law to deal with multinational companies that have violated human rights. According to Gaidoni, “the connection should be clear: multinational corporations can violate human rights in many way and tax evasion is one of them.” Sadly, the transparency experts meeting in Panama didn’t touch these basic issues.

When talking about transparency at these conferences, multinational corporations operating both in the region and in US tax havens are untouchable.


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Editorials: Foreign powers that pressure Panama; and Human Rights Day


El Siglo and La Estrella journalists demanding their newspapers’ exclusion from the Clinton List. La Estrella video on YouTube.

Panama and the undue pressures of larger countries

The Republic of Panama finds itself in the unusual and unenviable position of having the United States government insist that two of the nation’s mass circulation newspapers, one of them among Latin America’s oldest, must be sold. Washington and its ambassador here say that it’s about money laundering, but they refuse to divulge one shred of evidence about that and argue in court that they don’t have to and that those from whom they are trying to strip La Estrella and El Siglo have no recourse under the law. Such are the totalitarian perversions of the “War on Drugs.”

This is a bundle of many issues, involving many compelling rights and principles that are not absolute. The Nuremberg Tribunal found that Julius Streicher possessed no freedom of the press sufficient to excuse his use of Der Sturmer to incite genocide. Decades later, another international court ruled much the same in the case of radio journalists who encouraged and directed the Rwandan genocide. On the opposite extreme the current Panamanian administration jails Okke Ornstein for his truthful reports about politically connected predatory hustlers who were working Panama.

Really, though, freedom of the press, and even due process of law, are side issues in the Grupo El Siglo – Estrella (GESE) case. The critical issue for Panama is whether it’s tolerable for Panama to permit a foreign power to dictate who can or cannot own and operate a mass communications medium in Panama. It’s not an entirely new issue, given the decades of US blacklisting of Panamanian journalists in the Cold War, a practice that never definitively ended with that period. But the present US assertion of a prerogative to vet the ownership of Panama’s media goes several steps beyond and if accepted would subject an entire nation to foreign mind control. Panama, its institutions and its people should never accept this.

Washington’s demand is even more galling because the United States is harboring the fugitive Ricardo Martinelli and probably several other wanted members of his entourage as well.

However, let’s not allow old nationalist resentments against the superpower that was once colonial occupier of part of Panama and for a shorter period of time established a protectorate over all of Panama make us oblivious or hypocritical. Panama faces a variety of pressures from several powers much bigger than itself and each of these should be addressed separately on its own merits.

The Brazilian government and several of Brazil’s public figures lent assistance to corrupt activities in Panama by the Norberto Odebrecht construction company. These shady practices certainly involved the laundering of bribe money and the hiding of evidence from Brazilian authorities here. They probably also involved the bribery of Panamanian public officials and the rigging of bidding procedures to secure Panamanian government contracts for Odebrecht. Now the widespread corruption that has been the norm in Brazil is under attack there, and Panamanian authorities protect themselves or members of this country’s political, financial and legal elites by finding ways not to cooperate with Brazilian prosecutors and by passing a law saying that the findings of Brazilian courts may not be taken into account in Panamanian government contracting. Brazilian interference in Panama’s affairs imposed Odebrecht’s thuggish corporate culture upon us. The rejection of pleas for help from those Brazilians trying to fight that corrupt culture is a most pernicious assertion of fake nationalism.

China has for decades insisted that Panama drop its formal and friendly relations with Taiwan. The geopolitics of the Asian pecking order and China’s economic “pivot” toward Latin America might elevate this insistence. To Beijing, Taiwan is a rebellious part of China and Panama’s recognition of it is interference in Chinese affairs. To Panamanians, Taiwan is an old and loyal friend and no third country has a right to tell us who can or can’t be our friends. But ways have been found around that impasse and Panama’s economic relations with China are stronger than ever despite the lack of formal diplomatic ties.

France has put Panama on a financial blacklist because too many wealthy French citizens evade taxes and either park their money here or conceal it through chains of shell corporations designed by Panamanian law firms. France is not the only country making trouble for Panama’s financial institutions over complaints like this, and if President Varela protests that we have made international agreements to minimize such things, the Panama Papers tell us that Varela’s erstwhile right-hand man was engaged in the egregious flouting of such agreements. Panama has passed a laughable law to retaliate against the French. With them, and with the rest of the world, Panama should settle on sincere and serious terms. This will mean abandonment of some lucrative businesses that have allowed a few Panamanians to live very well, but economic relations are always give and take affairs if they are to be sustainable.

Panama is not about to bomb France, invade Brazil or wreck the Chinese economy. Varela would be well advise to keep his hands off of machetes while talking about the United States. We are a small country. But we are a sovereign country that should not readily endure all insults. Now is the time for Panamanians and our government to resist a US effort to control our news media, as best we can given our limited power and resources.


Human Rights Day

preamble to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights – December 10, 1948

Whereas recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world,

Whereas disregard and contempt for human rights have resulted in barbarous acts which have outraged the conscience of mankind, and the advent of a world in which human beings shall enjoy freedom of speech and belief and freedom from fear and want has been proclaimed as the highest aspiration of the common people,

Whereas it is essential, if man is not to be compelled to have recourse, as a last resort, to rebellion against tyranny and oppression, that human rights should be protected by the rule of law,

Whereas it is essential to promote the development of friendly relations between nations,

Whereas the peoples of the United Nations have in the Charter reaffirmed their faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person and in the equal rights of men and women and have determined to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom,

Whereas Member States have pledged themselves to achieve, in co-operation with the United Nations, the promotion of universal respect for and observance of human rights and fundamental freedoms,

Whereas a common understanding of these rights and freedoms is of the greatest importance for the full realization of this pledge,

Now, Therefore THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY proclaims THIS UNIVERSAL DECLARATION OF HUMAN RIGHTS as a common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations, to the end that every individual and every organ of society, keeping this Declaration constantly in mind, shall strive by teaching and education to promote respect for these rights and freedoms and by progressive measures, national and international, to secure their universal and effective recognition and observance, both among the peoples of Member States themselves and among the peoples of territories under their jurisdiction.

See the entire document here.


Bear in mind…

The test for whether or not you can hold a job should not be the arrangement of your chromosomes.
Bella Abzug


Genocide is a crime under international law which the civilized world condemns — and for the commission of which principals and accomplices, whether private individuals, public officials or statesmen, and whether the crime is committed on religious, racial, political or any other grounds — are punishable.
Ricardo J. Alfaro
adopted as a UN resolution


Justice cannot be for one side alone, but must be for both.
Eleanor Roosevelt


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US move against newspapers prompts nationalistic objections

back then
La Estrella, founded in 1853, is one of Latin Ameica’s oldest newspapers. It is the Spanish-language offshoot of a merger between two earlier English-language newspapers, the Panama Star and the Panama Herald, to become The Star & Herald. The newspaper played a key role in the coup that separated Panama from Colombia in 1903, went through ups and downs and ownership changes — including a sharp decline when La Estrella became a Noriega mouthpiece and abandoned The Star & Herald for lack of very many English-speakers who would read it. After the 1989 invasion there were legal battles over ownership and ultimately the paper was sold to members of the Waked family, who also acquired the tabloid El Siglo.

American ambassador’s insistence on papers’ sale prompts nationalist reactions

by Eric Jackson

This past May a Colombian-Panamanian businessman of Lebanese descent, Nidal Waked, was busted in Colombia on a US money laundering warrant. The US Treasury Department simultaneously listed dozens of businesses owned by members the extended Waked family as part of the “Waked Money Laundering Organization,” which it described as the world’s largest money laundering outfit. These businesses, active in several Latin American countries, employ about 5,000 people. Nidal Waked has or had stakes or operational roles in some of them, and in some of them he didn’t. The Treasury Department listing on the “Clinton List,” an administrative move for which no court order is involved and no proofs must be shown, means that any US citizen, US green card holder or US company that does business with any of the listed companies or individuals faces stiff criminal penalties.

Named as fellow money laundering kingpins with Nidal Waked by the Treasury Department — but we don’t know if there are any criminal charges outstanding against them — were his cousin Abdul Waked, Abdul’s son Mohamed Waked and Lucia Touzard, the attorney for the extended Waked family’s holding company, Grupo Wisa. Abdul and Mohamed Waked and Ms. Touzard deny that they had any involvement in or knowledge of any money laundering and demand a bill of particulars and the right to proceed in court to defend themselves. But it is the US position that it does not need any proof to put a person or entity on the Clinton List and an administrative decision to do so is not subject to any sort of judicial review. US lawyers for Abdul and Mohamed Waked, along with Touzard, have sued in the US federal district court for the District of Columbia. Their complaint says that “Lines of credit have been withdrawn. Distribution contracts have been suspended. Loans have been called. Stores have been shuttered. Health insurance for employees cancelled. And, thus far, more than 3,000 employees have lost their jobs. Without meaningful and prompt access to the administrative record, the remaining 2,000 jobs are in jeopardy.” The case is pending before Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly, with a federal government, with a motion on the US government’s motion to dismiss for lack or jurisdiction probably to be decided in January.

Meanwhile, Nidal Waked has fought extradition in the Colombian courts but so far appears to be losing that battle. The other Wakeds are distancing themselves from his predicament.

The big complication is that among the Waked holdings is GESE — Grupo El Siglo Estrella — the parent company for the broadsheet daily La Estrella and the daily tabloid El Siglo. All manner of circulation claims get made — Panama has no official disclosure requirement, online figures are tricky to fully decipher and the ad cartel works on family ties rather than any real statistics about how many people of which description a medium reaches — but most probably El Siglo is the Panamanian newspaper with the biggest circulation. There is no doubt that La Estrella is Panama’s oldest newspaper, indeed one of Latin America’s oldest. When the Waked businesses were put on the Clinton List this past May the newspapers were granted a temporary exemption. That runs out on January 5.

Because the United States has a president-elect who ran on a platform that most Latin Americans see as explicitly racist against themselves, anti-American feelings, always latent in the region, are enhanced. In Panama there is also an uptick in general xenophobia, most of all directed at Venezuelans and Colombians and exacerbated by an economy that’s slowing down and a common sentiment that there aren’t enough jobs to go around for Panamanians so foreigners should be excluded. Any perception of foreign control of Panamanian media would not go over very well with the public these days.

The business realities of Panamanian media are guarded family or corproate secrets, but it is said that La Prensa, long considered the “newspaper of record” here and designed so that nobody owms more than one percent of the shares, has fallen on hard times and is now under the effective control of bondholders rather than the shareholders. The bondholders and their nationalities are undisclosed. However, the editorial slant of La Prensa in recent times is much more concerned about Venezuela — and strictly aligned with the Venezuelan opposition — and less concerned about Panama. The other major newspapers, El Panama America and La Critica, are owned or controlled by Ricardo Martinelli. La Estrella and El Siglo are the most independent of all the newspapers, with columnists like law professor Miguel Antonio Bernal, former justice minister Mariela Sagel and a stable of op-ed voices that runs from left to right.

In local and international journalism circles as well, the idea that a government can force the sale of a newspaper without presenting a shred of evidence and denying that there is any right to any process of law at all is generally rejected.

GESE is waging a vigorous public campaign to defend itself, and in response to a December 5 press conference US Ambassador James Feeley issued a statement in Spanish that “As President Juan Carlos Varela said, the future of the GESE Group’s newspapers is in the owner’s hands.” The ambassador said that the newspapers’ sale is “the legal way” to save the papers and the jobs of the some 250 people who work for them.

The suspicions that such statements raise need to be seen in light of a long history of US blacklisting of Panamanian journalists and media, a practice that became rather systematic during the Cold War but existed before and after those decades. A few years ago a US consul told this reporter that The Panama News could not be sent embassy press releases because “we have different intreests.” When The Panama News first began in 1994, we received documents from the files of the then American management of the Panama Canal Commission and a political objection to a photojournalist working for us.

All of the major press and journalist organnizations in Panama — the Colegio Nacional de Periodiesas, the Consejo Nacional de Periodismo, the Sindicato de Periodistas and the Forum de Periodistas para la Libertad de Prensa — have issued statements protesting the US actions against La Estrella and El Siglo, calling them both attacks on freedom of the press and improper US interference in Panamanian affairs. The nation’s main bar association, the Colegio Nacional de Abogados, has demanded the removal of the two newspapers from the Clinton List. Its presdient, attorney José Alberto Álvarez, said that the listing “violates the most elemental principles of preseumption of innocence and respect for due process, which are valid in both the United States and Panama.” “Mr. Ammbassador, no doubt you would go out to defend whaever US asset that you consider part of the national heritage and is in danger of disappearing. This, neither more nor less, is what we Panamanian lawyers are doing,” Álvarez added.

Other media are rallying behind the threatened newspapers. Roberto Eisenmann, the founder and publisher emeritus of La Prensa, sent out a Twitter tweet opining that “The ambassador’s abrupt and hard position is unjustified if he doesn’t provide details of the accusation.” In another tweet Eisenmann cited the Clinton List and the US prison at Guantanamo as examples of “barbaric” vioations of the rule of law.

The 2014 PRD presidential candidate, Juan Carlos Navarro, gave “full support” to GESE, adding that “all of us Panamanians must defend freedom of expression, one of our inalienable rights.” Former independent leftist presidential candidate Juan Jované said that the defense of the two newspapers was a matter of defending freedom of the press, the public right to information and Panama’s right to self-determination. Leftist sociology professor Marco Gandásegui Jr., whose columns appear weekly in La Estrella and from time to time in The Panama News, pointed out that this would be the first time that a Panamanian news medium would be closed by the direct intervention of a foreign government.

Former President Ricardo Martinelli, a fugitive from Panamanian justice being harbored by the US government in Miami, has no criticism of his hosts. Current President Juan Carlos Varela is basically writing it off as a dispute between a company and the Americans that is beyond his control, while some critics raise suspicions that what’s afoot is the forced sale of the newspapers to someone who will turn them into acolytes of the president’s Panameñista Party.


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Barnet, On the ground in Standing Rock


The water protectors in North Dakota didn’t just build a protest camp. They built a community.

On the ground in Standing Rock

by Juliana BarnetOtherWords

Beyond the protests, police crackdowns, and pipeline drama, what’s it really like at Standing Rock, North Dakota? This October, I went to see for myself.

Like many other Native and non-Native visitors, I went to support the Standing Rock Sioux’s effort to keep the Dakota Access oil pipeline away from the Missouri River, which supplies water to an estimated 18 million people.

The tribe wasn’t meaningfully consulted before the pipeline slashed through its sacred lands. And even though pipelines are notoriously accident-prone, a full environmental impact study was never conducted.

Finally, on December 4, the Obama administration halted the construction of the pipeline and called for that assessment.

But in the preceding months, as the Sioux tried to protect their water, they faced surveillance, tear gas, arrests, water hoses, and attack dogs. Police were acting as the company’s protectors rather than the people’s.

Outrage and solidarity motivated my trip, but I also was eager to see the incredible multi-tribe community beside the river — Oceti Sakowin, the largest of the encampments created to sustain this difficult struggle.

After driving in from Bismarck, I stopped first at the security booth, a small shed overlooking the terrain filled with tents, tepees, RVs, trailers, repurposed school buses, and yurts. A young man directed me to the media tent atop “Facebook Hill,” the only place you could get decent phone reception — at least when law enforcement wasn’t scrambling the signal.

The media tent was a hive of activity powered by portable solar and wind generators. Someone checked my ID and issued a media pass, along with strict guidelines for respectful and secure photography and recording.

Along the main avenue to my campsite, I walked under hundreds of tribal flags waving in the breeze. Everywhere people were chatting, sorting clothes, bustling around the collective kitchens, and chopping wood. Children were roaming about, with adults or on their own.

Before I got far, a Peruvian woman named Claudia called me over to help her husk the mountain of corn somebody had just dropped off. As we chatted, she roped in new helpers with cheerful cajoling.

In the days I was there, I ran errands for the children’s school and kitchen, drove people to actions and from jail, helped build a wigwam, and assisted a disabled elder. I attended meetings, made friends, and got my hurt foot treated at the medic tent and my migraine at the herbalist tent. No money, no appointments — just a pervasive spirit of mutual aid.

It was the same story with food. Besides the main kitchen, with its large army-style tents, tribes set up other kitchens. Each had its own specialties and personality lent by the cooks, who created fabulous meals on wood stoves and campfires with whatever donations came in.

Many recommended “Grandma’s Kitchen,” where Grandma Diane, a Paiute from California, starts each meal by honoring the ancestors and always adds abundant servings of love. No need to call for volunteers, she said. Folks “jump up to help.” Hundreds of hungry folks came in for elk stew, quinoa casserole, cabbage salad, sweet potato fritters, and fried bread — a favorite at every kitchen.

Despite the risk, Diane moved her kitchen a mile north to the front-line camp set up across the path of the pipeline. A few days later, police destroyed it.

I worried about Diane, until I heard she was okay and still calling for supplies to keep cooking for the folks in the struggle, who were then hunkering down to resist the ferocious winter — and the even more ferocious repression.

I didn’t just find a protest camp at Standing Rock — I found a model community. As Natives there celebrate their recent victory, how can anyone not celebrate with them?

Juliana Barnet is an activist and anthropologist who studies communities that arise out of social movements. Distributed by OtherWords.org.


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Los Rakas y su competencia para un Grammy

Los Rakas, sons of the Afro-Panamanian diaspora based in the San Francisco Bay area, are nominated for the Grammy in the Latin rock / alternative / urban category. (Strange gringo box, but there you have it.) Also nominated are the Puerto Rican iLe, the Argentine Illya Kuryaki & The Valderamas, the LA-based Mexican-American band La Santa Cecila and Mexico’s Carla Morrison.

Los Rakas y su competencia

Los Rakas (Panameños / Estadounidienses en el EEUU)


Carla Morrison (Mexicana)


La Santa Cecilia (Estadounidienses)


Illya Kuryaki & The Valderamas (Argentinos)


iLe (Boricua)


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The Panama News blog links, December 7, 2016


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

Travel Pulse, More cruise ships to visit expanded Panama Canal

Hellenic Shipping News, Delivering on PanCanal expansion promises

JOC, US Congress set to pass ports bill

DFNI, International players eye Tocumen duty-free spaces

Q Costa Rica, Sixaola bridge construction moves closer

Sports / Deportes

Sky Sports, Yafai seeks to take Concepcións belt

BBC, Football Leaks suggest tax fraud by Ronaldo and Mourinho

Metro Libre, Remeros se alistan con sus cayucos para la temporada 2016–2017

Economy / Economía

Video, Del Monte reactiva zonas bananeras en Chiriquí y Bocas del Toro

La Estrella, La ocupación hotelera llega a su resultado histórico más bajo

Caribbean News Now!, Regional financial institution moving here

Reuters, Chinese business courts Taiwan ally Panama

WSJ, China focuses on closer Latin American economic ties

PR, Mining merger hangs on Cerro Quema environmental permit

Science & Technology / Ciencia y Tecnología

STRI, Corals that survived Caribbean climate change

KTLA, Worst recorded coral die-off for Australia’s Great Barrier Reef

Mongabay, Learning the kinetics of whales’ lunge feeding

ALAI, La mitad de los acuíferos de la Tierra se están agotando

CBS, Are nuts good for you?

News / Noticias

Telemetro, Panameños protestan por mayor control migratorio

Video, Demonstrators demand release of Okke Ornstein

DPA, El Siglo y La Estrella denuncian bloqueo de Washington

The New York Times, Panama seeks to shed image as a magnet for shady deals

Prensa Latina, Brazilian prosecutors seek support in Panama

The Indian Express, BRICS working to get Panama Papers bank details

ICIJ, Panama Papers have had historic global effects which continue

WSJ, Risk and compliance considerations in the wake of the Panama Papers

Toronto Star, Panama Papers clue in old Modigliani mystery

Reuters, Torture marks on six bodies found in pit in Panama

Colombia Reports, Court case stalls FARC demobilization

BBC, Court orders head of Brazilian Senate to resign

NACLA, Indigenous resistance in Nicaragua’s elections

Foreign Policy, China really isn’t joking about Taiwan

Opinion / Opiniones

Del Corro, De China al Sahara y ahora a Trump: los muros de la historia

Varoufakis: Trump, the Dragon and the Minotaur

WOLA, Colombia’s peace accord depends on end of attacks on social leaders

Amnesty International, Fidel Castro’s legacy

McEnteer, Vultures over Havana

Rodriguez Martinez, International transparency in the eyes of the beholder

Ash, They’ll be back

Sagel, ‘Reality Show’

Simpson, Algo positivo del gobierno

Rodíguez Reyes, Ricaurte Soler

Bernal, Marisín…

Culture / Cultura

Barbados Nation, Panama Dreams screening

TVN, Desfile de antorchas de los bomberos


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