Yes, the Panama Canal Authority and persons who are or were acting on its behalf need to be called to account, but this is about way more than a bad concrete job
The specific problem will be fixed but there’s a general framework that should be replaced
With much dismay, we see a concrete sill at the new Cocoli Locks that won’t hold water. In the larger scheme of things the slightly belated Panama Canal Authority (ACP) announcement that they don’t know what the problem is but that the already delayed April 2016 opening of the new locks won’t be again postponed ought to be of much greater concern to Panamanians — even if the prediction turns out to be accurate.
What the announcement means is that after all the scandals revolving around former Minister of Canal Affairs Ricardo Martinelli Berrocal that have come to the public’s attention, with yet another disaster flowing from acceptance of a lowball bid from a consortium that included a company owned by relatives of then ACP administrator Alberto Alemán Zubieta (a company of which that same man had been CEO), in the wake of a scandal swept under the rug wherein current Minister of Canal Affairs Roberto Roy with his Secretary of the Metro hat on accepted a bidding process in which an undisclosed former consultant for the corruption-tainted Odebrecht set up an arcane set of “technical qualifications” that steered the Metro Line 2 contract to Odebrecht — after all of that the ACP continues to act as if it were a private family company rather than a public institution in a democratic society. No doubt nobody at the ACP ever figured that an announcement such as this would be seen for the sneering and opaque informaton control game that it is. But although they seem not to be used to such ideas in the Administration Building, such information belongs in its entirety in the public domain.
The information control games that began when Martinelli was Minister of Canal Affairs must end now. The ACP board of directors that is in no way representative of the Panamanian people needs to be replaced en masse, and not according to the political patronage demands of the parties in the legislature. There needs to be a full and frank public inquiry about the entire Panama Canal expansion project, even as the thing is completed and its flaws repaired.
The goal should not be the apportionment of blame, nor the accumulation of political points. Notwithstanding all of the publicity, the Panama Canal is not as well governed as it ought to be. Proper adjustments should be included in any constitutional revision process.
Her problem is not what Republicans are slinging at her
Hillary’s faults and fortune
The latest Des Moines Register – Bloomberg poll shows that Bernie Sanders has narrowed the gap between himself and Hillary Clinton in the Iowa caucuses to single digits, and that Mrs. Clinton has lost about one-third of the support that she had in May. The Sanders surge, the Clinton collapse and the weaknesses of the Martin O’Malley, Lincoln Chafee and Jim Webb campaigns have worried corporate centrists urging Joe Biden to come into the race, and if not him there will probably be someone else.
Is Hillary’s problem a vast right-wing conspiracy? Actually, it isn’t. Yes, the rightist memes on the Internet are accusing her of treason — again. Under the US Constitution treason is when a US citizen makes war against the United States or in a time of war adheres to the enemies of the United States and gives them material assistance. It requires two eyewitnesses or a confession in open court to be proven. Clinton did not commit treason with respect to the Benghazi tragedy, nor did she do so with respect to her emails and private server. If she gets through the primaries and caucuses to win the Democratic nomination, the outlandish accusations would hurt her Republican opponent far more than they hurt her.
Clinton’s problems are at the moment with Democrats, although her intra-party critics will find plenty of independents and some Republicans who share their qualms. It is not that she’s disloyal to the United States, it’s that she’s loyal to a multinational oligarchy of millionaires and billionaires that over several decades has appropriated most of the wealth of the American people and is demanding more. It’s not that she sold out to America’s enemies as Secretary of State, but that along with a bunch of neoconservative aides and a president who has often lacked a good sense of the limits of US power in the world she did foolish things that made bad situations worse. It’s not that her private emails were criminal, but that they were careless, and that when criticized about them her response was far less than transparent. Does her husband’s old campaign adage — “It’s the economy, stupid” — apply this year? It certainly does, and Clinton seems quite tone-deaf to the cries of people who once thought themselves middle class.
Yes, Wall Street and the private prisons industry and the defense contractors — et al — love the woman and have been counting on her to keep the gravy train running on time. But that’s not most Americans, and much less so is it most Democrats.
Bear in mind…
No society that feeds its children on tales of successful violence can expect them not to believe that violence in the end is rewarded.
Language is the laughter of the soul.
I must try and break through the cliches about Latin America. Superpowers and other outsiders have fought over us for centuries in ways that have nothing to do with our problems. In reality we are all alone.
What the Democratic presidential candidates had to say at the Summer Democratic National Committee meeting
The Dems in Minneapolis
Jim Webb declined to address the DNC, stating that its intention to rig the nominating process in favor of Hillary Clinton is so blatant that it would be a waste of his time. DNC chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz reacted angrily to the claims of Martin O’Malley at the gathering, which concurred with Webb’s opinion and those of much of the party’s rank-and-file. “I have more class than that,” she said.
These videos feature some of the musicians who will be playing and teaching at the next Panama Jazz Festival. For those of you in latitudes that will be cold by then — and yes, even you Chileans and Argentines who will be into summer at the time — mark your calendars and make your flight and lodging reservations for January 11-16, 2016. Not all the artists will be playing with the same groups shown in the videos — alas, the festival’s classical component will be without the Sinfonica Nacional de la Republica Dominicana, and Danny Rivera will be performing with Danilo Pérez instead — but these selections ought to give you an idea of the sorts of sounds that will be coming our way.
Opening night at the Central American Percussion Festival
photos and notes by Vic Brown
The Beachers are used to performing for a livelier audience. They feed off of their audiences’ feedback. While their performance was energetic as always, the audience feedback wasn’t always there — at least not at the level that they’re used to, for example at the Afro-Antillean Fair.
The Transistmico Project
Transistmico Project was filled with an interesting fusion of some classics from different genres thanks to producer Billy Herron.
Corrobrating witness in Financial Pacific case, the ACP’s lead balloon about Corcione and widespread negative reaction to house arrest for national security ex-chiefs show that the storm hasn’t blown over
Songs Martinelli didn’t want to hear
by Eric Jackson
Fábrega comes in from the cold and sings
On August 25 Ignacio “Nacho” Fábrega, who had been underground, turned himself in and went to a pretrial hearing on charges of leaking confidential information about government investigations to criminals. The former chief supervisor for securities investigators and the Securities Markets Superintendency (SMV) had been the supervisor for securities analyist Vernon Ramos when the latter disappeared in November of 2013. Not a stock and bond market person himself, he had been moved by the Martinelli administration into the job from his prevous post as credit director of the Virzi family’s Banco Universal.
That bank is now taken over by the government and its records have breathed new life into countless Martinelli administration corruption scandals. Its principal figure, former Vice President Felipe “Pipo” Virzi, is accused in multiple bribery and money laundering cases, under house arrest and said to be cooperating with investigators. Related by marriage and business ties to former President Ricardo Martinelli, Virzi is a man whose downfall is taking many others down with him, both because of the things that he knows and because of the records seized at Banco Universal. But if Virzi’s fate sealed that of Nacho Fábrega, the latter’s downfall speeds up an investigative chain reaction.
In the middle of the hearing Fábrega changed his plea to guilty of public corruption charges. Anti-corruption prosecutor Zuleika Moore asked for an eight-year prison term and Fábrega was jailed in preventive detention pending sentencing. But before the hearing ended the former SMV supervisor testified that he was personally given specific orders to report all details on any investigations to the brokerage house being investigated, Financial Pacific, by Ricardo Martinelli and the ex-president’s tourism minister and key operative Salomón Shamah. Fábrega also said that his former bosses, then SMV superintendent Juan Manuel Martans and acting superintendent Alejandro Abood, knew all about it.
Financial Pacific was a money laundering mill for racketeers from all over the world. It hardly ran like a brokerage, for example without the detailed accounts of depositors’ portfolios that would be expected of a normal stock and bond broker. But it ran into trouble not because clients complained of being cheated, but because SMV auditors doing a routine check-up found its books wildly out of balance. The finger was pointed at a brokerage employee, Mayte Pellegrini, who was accused of stealing some $12 million and causing the brokerage’s problems. That amount of money did pass through her and her relatives’ accounts, but the brokerage’s accounts still never added up and Pellegrini has testified that in part these funds were the unusual way that her bosses insisted on paying her but mostly they were using her and her relatives to launder money. She also testified that Financial Pacific was home to a special account called High Spirit, which was owned by Ricardo Martinelli and dedicated to insider trades in shares of Petaquilla Minerals, the Canadian parent company of the now abandoned Petaquilla gold mine.
Fábrega’s subordinate Vernon Ramos was investigating the High Spirit allegations when he disappeared. Now imprisoned former Supreme Court presiding magistrate Alejandro Moncada Luna quashed the High Spirit investigation by ruling that insider trading is not a crime if the shares are not traded on the Panamanian market. That ruling cleared the way for the brokerage’s private sale to lesser-known shady characters. The scandals at Financial Pacific continued under the new management, to whom Fábrega continued to provide information about ongoing investigations.
The High Spirit scheme, according to Pellegrini an paper trails uncovered by investigators, had shares in the Canadian company being bought and sold on Canadian and European markets through an account in a Danish bank, with proceeds being laundered through a South Korean company. Whether or not shares were traded on the US over the counter market, US electronic facilities would have been used for at least some of the transactions and at least some of Martinelli’s fortune has ended up in the United States, where the former president is living. Martinelli has long claimed that he had nothing to do with Financial Pacific, but at other times made contradictory claims that he had an account there before he was president — that is, before the brokerage existed. Attorneys for Pellegrini, who remains under house arrest after many months in prison, claim that Fábrega’s account vindicates their client. Martinelli is calling it all a pack of lies invented by President Juan Carlos Varela
Meanwhile, the Financial Pacific and High Spirit affair is probably a murder case, although no trace of Vernon Ramos has yet been found. Prior findings of Financial Pacific investigations have been forwarded by Attorney General Kenia Porcell to the Supreme Court, which has jurisdiction over Martinelli. The file is about to get thicker, but this is one of about a dozen Martinelli cases that the high court has yet to decide whether to accept.
ACP would pretend that Corcione isn’t their problem, but…
Anti-corruption czarina Angélica Maytín and many lawyers and civic groups had called on the Panama Canal Authority (ACP) to use its disciplinary rules to expel or suspend board member Nicolás Corcione. Based on the testimony of witnesses and records from Banco Universal, he’s charged with coordinating a bid-rigging, bribery, kickback and money laundering scheme for construction and renovation of court facilities. His partners in these crimes are alleged to include Alejandro Moncada Luna and Pipo Virzi.
Corcione’s defense so far is not that he didn’t do it — although he has made no admissions. It’s that because he’s a member of the ACP board ordinary prosecutors have no jurisdiction over him, and because prosecutors have illegally investigated him without jurisdiction all charges must be dropped and are forever barred. It’s an obnoxious and legally groundless defense, which could only stand up if the Supreme Court were bribed to accept it. Prosecutors have considered and rejected the argument and ordered him to appear for an indagatoria, or criminal deposition.
Meanwhile Minister of Canal Affairs Roberto Roy rejected calls for the ACP to take action against Corcione, saying that only the courts can do this. (Surely it’s a claim that some day a union representing an ACP employee fired for something will remember.) The rest of the board of directors, over which Roy presides, has maintained its silence about their embattled colleague.
So at a time when the canal expansion project is having trouble and various conflict of interest issues affecting either the ACP or Roy in his capacity as head of the Metro commuter train project floating unresolved out there, will the situation be aggravated by board meetings with Corcione at the table?
Roy and the ACP were spared that fate when they received a letter dated August 16 from Corcione stating that he would not participate in board activities while charges are pending. That may not have been such a magnanimous and civic-minded gesture. It seems that Corcione has fled the country and does not care to show up at a board meeting or other public event at which he might be arrested.
Ricardo Martinelli says that Corcione is being framed by Varela in order to create a vacancy on the ACP board of directors for the current president to fill.
Flight to Miami + closed hearing + house arrest order = spy case uproar
The illegal electronic eavesdropping case has been drawing the attention of not only regular prosecutors but also investigators from the administrative prosecutor’s office and auditors sent by the comptroller general. That’s not to count the Supreme Court investigation against Ricardo Martinelli himself about this issue, which is hanging in limbo pending a ruling on a constitutional challenge to time limits for criminal investigations of politicians.
The money trails have led to the former president’s brother-in-law Aaron “Ronny” Mizrachi, whose company Caribbean Holding Services (CHS) turns out to have been the intermediary for the overpriced purchase of Israeli eavesdropping equipment. CHS is registered not in Panama but in the British Virgin Islands and doesn’t just operate in Panama. The actual spying hardware went missing as Martinelli was leaving office. On July 29, as soon as Mizrachi found that prosecutors wanted to talk to him, he went to Albrook, got onto Ricardo Martinelli’s private jet, and flew off to Miami.
Now it’s turning out that CHS was the intermediary for many more suspicious government purchases of technological goods or services. These included maintenance of government telephones, burial of urban utilty cables, the system of video surveillance cameras, a system to block prisoners’ cell phone calls that never worked, installation of various government software programs and so, often in the role as a subcontractor for Cable & Wireless Panama. Mizrachi’s ability to get such contracts was aided not only by his marriage to Ricardo Martinelli’s sister but also by his being a large Cable & Wireless stockholder.
How much of a scandal will Mizrachi’s role turn out to be? There are two important limiting factors. First, Cable & Wireless is a major advertiser for virtually all of Panama’s corporate mainstream media and these hesitate to report unflattering things about this company, its subcontractors or its major shareholders. Second, there are potential foreign policy complications, as the British tend to be protective of the UK-based Cable & Wireless and the Israelis tend to be protective of their security industries.
The most media attention to recent developments in the spying scandal, however, came during three days of closed pretrial hearings for former national security directors Alejandro Garuz and Gustavo Pérez for the spying itself.
Closed hearings? We know that in the first instance the surveillance of political adversaries and journalists was known from retrieved surveillance summaries of about 150 people, edited from data collected from and about a larger number of people. The post-Martinelli government has never gone out to notify everyone whose electronic communications were intercepted, or whose computers and cell phones were turned into bugs by remote control. Nor has much been said in public about any investigation getting to the true scope of Martinelli’s spying. But for the record the Public Ministry said that the pretrial was closed to press and public to protect the privacy of the victims.
At those hearings Judge Enrique Pérez granted the defendants’ motion to change their pretrial detention from jail cells to house arrest, and this elicited both appeals from the Public Ministry and private prosecutors for some of the victims who are joined with the government as accusers in the case and much public criticism. When Pérez and Garuz were first jailed they made a constitutional appeal (“amparo de garantías”) to the Supreme Court, which rejected their arguments. In this case the trial judge accepted defense arguments that the high court had rejected. However, Panama is a Civil Code jurisdiction and unlike in the Common Law system that prevails in the United States lower courts are not bound by higher courts’ precedents. The two former spymasters remain in jail while an appeals court will consider the prosecution appeals of their release from jail to house arrest.
Whatever the legal technicalities, polls show that a substantial majority of Panamanians are annoyed by Martinelli’s alleged henchmen and henchwomen being released with only travel restrictions or under house arrest while they await trial. Most of those jailed in pretrial detention are locked up under conditions much lighter than the Hell that most ordinary prisoners awaiting trial face. People consider it an unfair set of privileges and for many it arouses bitter class resentments.
That Martinelli’s plane was not grounded, that Mizrachi was allowed to flee in it, that a class of apparently corrupt contracts has been treated differently because of the foreign companies involved, that former top officials are given much lighter treatment than ordinary offenders whose crimes are minor in comparison and the constant claims of immunity by Ricardo Martinelli and his entourage annoy Panamanians. There has been a sea change in public attitudes about corruption and its casual, fatalistic acceptance is no longer the norm. If the Martinelli crowd is waiting for things to get back to “normal,” that has yet to happen.
As we continue to witness the buffoonery of Donald Trump’s aspirations to be president of the USA, this small article about Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg calling him out on his salacious immigration positions caught my attention. Very few people have really studied the effects of what would happen if Trump’s “shoot from the hip” policies were carried out, especially on immigration.
While I don’t disagree with all of Trump’s positions and I do believe we have border/immigration problems, his extreme resolutions to these problems are what concern me. And bottom line is he is asking people to “believe in him” — and apparently masses of followers are. We Americans have been let down for so many decades by weak or corrupt politicos running our country that we are almost willing to turn the reins over to ANY non-politician. Yet I have to draw the line on Trump, and I will not be blindly following his bluster to the voting booth.
I refuse to believe that a business tyrant like Trump, who has been bankrupt a few times, has obvious misogynist leanings against women and dislikes Latinos, has any chance to be the leader of our country. Do we really want this snarly egomaniac who obviously cannot listen to anyone but himself to lead us through the dark shadows of our economic demise and international entanglements? Do we really want him with his finger on the button of nuclear warheads? Could we really count on him as a unifying agent in our already divided country or world? I don’t think so.
In reaction to all of this, I submit the proposition that Mark Zuckerberg would be a better candidate to lead our country than all the 17 Republican candidates and smaller offering of Democratic candidates combined. He has more money than The Donald at a much earlier age. He is more level headed and less emotional than The Donald. He now leads an bigger organization and manages more money than all these candidates put together in their lifetimes.
In addition to these qualifications, I believe the main problem with electing leaders is that most of them are over the age of 50. I am sorry, but most of our world’s conflicts are caused by people over 50. The older people get, the less flexible they become in their positions and have long memories of past conflicts. Older people are slower to forgive and quicker to be offended. Believe me: I see this in myself. And we expect these people to be peacemakers and find “middle ground?”
Therefore, it is my opinion that we would be better off sending the smartest and most effective 30-year-old business leaders in our country to negotiate trade and get us out of armed conflicts abroad and at home. If all countries sent their 30-year-old leaders to negotiate in their sneakers and bluejeans, things would get done in far more peaceful and “brotherly” fashion. There would be no long memories of past wrongs and hatreds tainting any possibility of a resolution. There would be no lifelong bitterness and ego getting in the way of the most basic conversation.
Let the young idealists take us forward with their understanding that it is all about technology and responsible use and sharing of it that solves most of the world’s conflicts. Not bombs, embargoes or starvation of poor people living under tyrants. It is not about personality or enforcing antiquated laws or historic treaties that make no sense. It is about finding commonality among all of humanity, no matter what race, creed or ranking in the wealth meter in order to live free and responsibly.
It is time for major leadership change in our world — and it is not The Donald. It is more like Zuckerberg.