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Chan & Lake, The bombing of Al Quds Hospital in Aleppo


AleppoThe WHO’s Margaret Chan and UNICEF’s Anthony Lake
on attacks on medical facilities and personnel in Syria

We join the many voices expressing outrage at the attack on Al Quds Hospital in Aleppo. Among those killed were two doctors, including one of the only remaining pediatricians in the city, three paramedics, and numerous patients, among them children.

We are outraged at the alarming frequency of attacks on health personnel and facilities in Syria. These incidents come amid an escalation of violence in particular in the northern parts of the country.

A few days ago, a mortar killed a gynecologist on his way home after treating wounded civilians at a UNICEF-supported clinic in Aleppo.

These attacks remind us of the enormous difficulties and dangers that Syrian health workers face every day. Those workers deserve more than our admiration. They deserve greater protection.

Attacks on them and on health facilities and the denial of healthcare services as well as medical equipment and supplies anywhere in Syria, are not only a blatant violation of International Humanitarian Law, but deprive families and communities of essential health care when they need it most.

UNICEF and WHO urge all parties to the conflict to end all attacks on health facilities, personnel and ambulances and to allow the provision of health services to the many innocent civilians in desperate need. Thousands of lives are at stake.


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Odebrecht wins a big round in Panama’s National Assembly

Marcelo Odbrecht is already doing 19 years for bribery. On April 28 had another criminal investigation added to his woes, this one when a Brazilian judge allowed proceedings against him and two renowned international political consultants for money laundering with respect to payments made to them. Some of those payments were Odebrecht funding their services for Panamanian political campaigns. On the same day Panamanian legislators voted to allow Odebrecht to continue business dealings with this country’s public entities.
by Eric Jackson

The National Assembly has saved the ability of foreign corporations that notoriously pay bribes to continue their operations in Panama. Only six of the 71 deputies voted against a final version of a new public contracting law that bars consideration of foreign bribery convictions for the purpose of disqualifying corrupt companies from getting public contracts here. Panama’s banking, corporate and campaign finance secrecy laws will probably keep us from knowing how much the legislators were paid for that service.

President Varela, much of the Panamanian legal profession and knee jerk nationalists with varying credentials have all been quick to shift the onus in light of the Panama Papers revelations. It’s not so much about how corrupt Panama is, but how corrupt the countries who supply the clients for Panama’s money laundering law firms are. The first political casualties of the massive document leak, however, did not lose face and positions because they were caught laundering bribes. They fell because they were shown by new documentary evidence to be flagrantly insincere.

Is the sincerity issue one by which governments ought to be judged as well? What the Panama Papers revelations tell those who have been watching new laws and new assurances to get Panama off of this tax haven gray list or that money laundering black list is how very insincere all of that has been. The leaks were, after all, papers with details of the often sordid work of a firm whose founding partner is a minister without portfolio in the Panamanian cabinet and is the functioning chief executive of the president’s political party. They have told tales of money laundering for public corruption, drug cartels and tax cheats. The issue can be turned around. Is the true outrage the dishonest assurances of Panamanian administrations, or is it the acceptance of those assurances by foreign governments who well knew that they were bogus? “Globalization” on corporate terms means the economic and political power of an international oligarchy, among whom there thrives a culture of evading taxes and occasionally conducting illegal transactions via offshore shell companies. The politicians who accepted Panama’s assurances when they had reason to disbelieve them were by and large beholden to oligarchs like that.

The foreign press has not picked up on the political gyrations, redactions and amendments of the amendments that took the Brazilian construction giant Odebrecht Group off of the hook, so by and large it might be supposed that it’s ugly politics as usual but just a local story for which there will be no consequences abroad. However, there are three important consequences for domestic Panamanian politics, which might just mean that the five years and out cycle for ruling parties has been reinforced or might mean something more significant:

  • This was an end of the legislative session set of maneuvers. The next time we will see the deputies together in action will be on July 1, when they elect leaders for the next legislative year. Last July an attempted alliance between exiled former President Ricardo Martinelli and PRD president Benicio Robinson tried to gain control of the legislature, on a platform of stopping prosecutions for Martinelli regime corruption and impeaching President Juan Carlos Varela. Both Martinelli’s and Robinson’s parties split over that, and now there is a strange alliance finishing a term characterized by the stagnation of anti-corruption efforts, little money to do anything of significance beyond what had been already planned, a set of rigged contracting procedures for those projects that are going ahead that’s more closely aligned with the practices of pre-Martinelli administrations, and then the bombshell of the Panama Papers revelations, the next wave of which hits with those files being opened to Panamanians who are not connected with La Prensa on May 9. The vote, given its context, is probably a sign that the divisions for last year’s vote no longer apply.
  • President Varela’s Panameñista Party has the legislature’s third-largest caucus. Varela is president on the strength of support from independent voters and disaffected fringes of the memberships of other political parties. But if the different party factions mostly came together for this “public contracting reform,” key independent forces that supported Varela for president have broken with the administration. There is only one independent legislator, Ana Matilde Gómez. On the floor of the assembly’s chamber, she declared that her colleagues “will pay a high political price for not having closed the door to international corruption.” The Independent Movement (MOVIN), which was a key part of the coalition that backed Varela’s presidential bid and was one of the primary backers on a ban on corrupt companies doing business with the government, issued a blistering communique that alleged that the public had been “defrauded” and that Panama “cannot with moral authority make claims to the world” in light of the vote.
  • If one wants to look at MOVIN as just this little civil society faction that has no ballot status, it would be easy to dismiss their importance. If you consider it the not very well disguised voice of the Motta family, Panama’s richest clan, then its probable defection from the Varela camp takes on a greater significance. Add to that the strong complaints of the Chamber of Commerce — the vote “sends a wrong message to the country and to the international community,” chamber president Jorge García Icaza said. We are seeing the same sort of dropoff of business support for Varela that earlier presaged the eventual failure of Martinelli’s “Entrepreneurial Government” project.

So if Marcelo Odebrecht’s gravy train is sidetracked for a moment in Brazil, it’s full speed ahead here in Panama. Barring any wrecks, of course.

A petition for divorce? this stern public pronouncement is a rebuke by a key component of the 2014 Varela campaign.


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The Panama News blog links, April 30, 2016


The Panama News blog links

Xinhua, Chinese ship to be first to use new locks

Vessel Finder, Safety concerns over new Panama Canal locks

MarineLink, ACP dismisses ITF claims

COHA, Nicaragua Canal stuck in a quagmire

Railway Technology, Panama and Japan sign monorail finance deal

Video, Takashi Uchiyana vs. Jezreel Corrales

Fight News, Corrales gets hero’s welcome at Panama homecoming

Caribbean News Now!, FIFA’s Warner continues to fight US extradition efforts

Boeglin, La demanda contra Panamá ante el CIADI

FTSE News, Barclay’s pans First Quantum stock

La Estrella, Propondrán a Banconal como corresponsal en el EEUU

AFP, Comité internacional revisará sistema financiero de Panamá

Euronews, Panama’s finance minister faces French counterpart

Reuters, Varela and Merkel spoke by phone about transparency and taxes

El Espectador, Panamá y Colombia acuerdan intercambio de información tributaria

Razo, Cruz & Landa: Redirecting the Panama Papers

La Estrella, Shredded paper at Mossack Fonseca

Fang, Former tax lobbyists are writing US rules on tax dodging

STRATFOR, A Bright Future for Solar Power in the Middle East

E&N, El Niño golpea a casi 10 millones de personas en la región

Rivera, Las lluvias traen ríos de plástico hacía la bahia

Latin American Herald Tribune: Baru, the volcano that overlooks two seas

Carrera, The defense of seeds in Latin America

Fast Company Design, Mapping the world’s complex shipping routes

Diagana & White, Malaria’s deadly comeback

Discovery News, Bisexual bird commune found in Panama

Prensa Latina, Panama hosts indigenous parliament

AP, Two killed in Panama – Colombia border firefight

Caribbean News Now!, UN ‘deeply concerned’ at missed election deadline in Haiti

AI, Surge in killings by police sparks fear in favelas ahead of Rio Olympics

Sundaram: Panama, secrecy and tax havens

Dorado, El fortalecimiento del seudo-fascismo tropical de Uribe

Farthing, Little transparency or progress at UN drug session

Moisi, France’s next president

Fishman, Brazilian cybercrime bills threaten open Internet for 200 million people

Castro Soto: “In crisis, we find hope”

Human Rights Watch, Glimmer of hope for US military rape victims

Keller, The Return of the Desert God

BBC, Prince’s band The Revolution to reunite

Blades, A Puerto Rico


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Avnery, Us and Them


Gush Shalom“Us” and “Them”

by Uri Avnery — Gush Shalom

No. It’s not “us” and “them.”

Not “us” — the good ones, the moral ones, the righteous ones. Or, to put it bluntly, the magnificent ones. The Jews.

And not “them” — the bad ones, the evil ones. To put it bluntly again: the despicable ones. Yes, the Arabs.

We, who were chosen by God, because we are so special.

They, pagans all, who pray to all kinds of idols, like Allah or Jesus.

We, the heroic few, who are faced in every generation by those who want to destroy us, but we save ourselves from their hands.

They, the many cowards, who want to kill us and our state, and our courage defeats them.

They, all the goyim, but especially the Muslims, the Arabs, the Palestinians.

No, its not like this. Not at all.

Some days ago, Yitzhak Herzog said something especially obnoxious.

Herzog, the leader of the Labor Party, the chairman of the “Zionist Camp” union, the Chief of the Opposition (a title conferred automatically on the leader of the largest opposition party), declared that his party is failing at elections because people believe that its members are “Arab lovers.”

If translated into German, it may be better understood. For example, that Angela Merkel’s party consists of “Jew lovers.”

Nobody says so. Indeed, nobody can say so. Not in today’s Germany.

One may assume that Herzog did not mean it the way it sounds. Certainly not in public. It just escaped his mouth. He did not mean it.

Maybe. But a politician who lets such words escape his mouth cannot be the leader of a large political camp. A party with such a leader, which does not throw him out on the same day, is not worthy of leading the country.

Not because he is wrong. There are certainly many people who believe that the Labor Party members are “Arab-lovers” (though there is no sign that they are. It must be a secret passion.) And many people believe that the Labor Party is sinking to the bottom because so many believe this awful thing. There are plenty. Problem is, this kind of person would not vote for Labor, and even less for Herzog, even if they jumped into the air and shouted: “Death to the Arabs!”

And even this is not the most important fact. The most important fact is that beyond all the moral and political considerations, these words disclose an abysmal lack of understanding of the Israeli reality.

Today’s Israeli reality means that there is not the slightest chance to remove the Right from power if it is not faced with a united and resolute Left which is based on Jewish-Arab partnership.

There is the demographic reality. Arab citizens constitute about 20% of Israelis. In order to achieve a majority without the Arabs, the Jewish Left would need 60% of the Jewish public. A pipe dream.

Some dream about the Center, which could do the job of the Left. That is a pipe dream, too. The Center is not a force, it has no spine, no ideological base. It attracts the weak and the meek, those who do not want to commit themselves to anything. The Yair Lapids and the Moshe Kahalons, like their predecessors, like their likely successors, are the tails of foxes, not the heads of lions. Since the days of the Dash party in 1977, they will always trail the Right. That’s where they came from, that’s where they will return.

Past are the days of the old Labor Party, Mapai, with its tails — the former national-religious party and the Jewish-Oriental Shas party.

A new, large and strong Left must arise.

Such a Left, new, large and strong, cannot arise but on the solid basis of Jewish-Arab unity. This is not a dream or a forlorn hope. It is a simple political fact. Nothing good will come about in the country but on the basis of Jewish-Arab partnership. This partnership made the Oslo agreement possible. Without the Arab votes in the Knesset it would not have passed. Such a partnership is necessary for any step towards peace.

The argument that a leader “does not love Arabs” is irrelevant in itself. It just says that the person is unfit to lead Israel. He will not succeed in anything, certainly not in making peace.

Not to mention the fact that the phrase “loving Arabs” is childish. How can one love — or not love — an entire people? In every people — including ours — there are good and bad individuals, good-hearted and evil ones, friendly and antagonistic ones. “Arab lover” is like “Jew lover” – two words that have a strong anti-Semitic smell, as every Jew well knows.

I was an eye-witness — and an action-witness — to many efforts to establish a Jewish-Arab partnership in Israel, literally from the first days of the state.

As I have already recounted many times (perhaps too many), immediately after the 1948 War I was part of a tiny group which compiled the first plan for a “two-state solution.” In the 1950s I took part in setting up the “Committee against the Military Government,” a Jewish-Arab group that fought for the abolition of the repressive regime to which Arab citizens were then subjected. (It was abolished in 1966). In 1984 I took part in creating the “Progressive List for Peace,” an Arab-Jewish party that won two seats in the Knesset, one for an Arab, one for a Jew. And there were many efforts in between.

I mention them in order to illustrate a frightening fact: during the last 30 years, the cooperation between the Jewish and Arab peace forces has not grown, but on the contrary, has shrunk. It is in a steady process of decline. And so, by the way, is cooperation between the Israeli and Palestinian peace forces.

This is a fact. A sad, depressing, even despair-creating fact. But a fact, nevertheless.

Who is to blame?

Such questions are quite pointless when it comes to historical processes. Every historic tragedy has many fathers. In spite of this, I shall try to answer.

I shall testify against myself: right from the beginning of the occupation in 1967, I cut down on my activities for Jewish-Arab cooperation inside Israel, in order to devote all my efforts to the struggle for Israeli-Palestinian peace, for the end of the occupation, for the Two-state Solution, and for the relations with Yasser Arafat and his successors. All these seemed to me then much more important than the quarrel inside Israel. Perhaps this was a mistake.

The Israeli Left asserts that the Arab citizens have become “radicalized.” The Arab citizens argue that the Jewish Left has betrayed and neglected them. Perhaps both are right. The Arabs believe that the Jewish Left has abandoned them, both in the matter of peace between the two peoples and in the matter of equality within the state. The Jewish Left believes that the utterances of people like Sheikh Ra’ed Salah, MK Hanin Zuabi and others destroy any chance of the Left returning to power.

Both are right. The blame may be apportioned equally, 50-50. But the guilt of people from the dominant group weighs much more than the guilt of the oppressed one.

Every day provides new evidence of the abyss between the two peoples within Israel. It is difficult to understand the silence of the Jewish Left in the affair of the wounded Palestinian murdered in Hebron by a Jewish soldier. It is also difficult to pardon the Holocaust denial rampant among the Arabs.

I feel that this abyss is getting wider and deeper. For years now I have not heard of a serious attempt by the two sides to set up a joint political force, a common narrative, joint personal and public relations — both at a high and a low level.

Here and there good people initiate small efforts. But there is no serious nationwide political initiative.

If I had received a phone call: “Uri, the time has come. A serious initiative is under way. Come and help!” I would have jumped into the air and shouted: “Here I am!” But no such call has come.

It must come from below. Not another initiative from old men, but an effort of young people, fresh and determined.

(The old ones, like me, can contribute their experience. But it is not for them to take the initiative.)

Such an effort must start from zero. Entirely from zero.

First of all, It must be a joint effort by Jews and Arabs, Muslims, Christians and Druze, in close cooperation, from the very first moment. Not Jews inviting Arabs. Not Arabs inviting Jews. Together, an inseparable bond, from the moment of inception.

One of the first tasks is to agree on a joint historical narrative. Not an artificial one, not a sham one, but real and true, one that takes into account the motives of the Zionists and the Arab nationalists, the limitations of the leaders on both sides, the humiliation of the Arabs by Western imperialism, the Jewish trauma after the Holocaust, and yes, the Palestinian Nakba.

There is no use for the question: “Who was right?” Such questions should not even be uttered. Both people acted according to their circumstances, their miseries, their beliefs, their capabilities. There were sins. Many of them. There were crimes. On both sides. But they, too, were the outcomes of the circumstances, of the times. They must be remembered. Certainly. But they must not be obstacles to a better future.

Twenty years ago, Gush Shalom (the organization to which I belong) published such a joint narrative, which was true to the historical facts and tried to encourage understanding for the motives of the two sides. Some more such efforts have been made. Such an effort is essential to establish an intellectual and emotional basis for a real partnership.

It may not be necessary to create a joint party. Perhaps that is not realistic for now. Perhaps it would be better to set up a permanent coalition of political forces of both sides.

Perhaps a joint shadow parliament should come into being, for thrashing out the difference in a regular and public way.

True partnership must be personal, social and political. The aim must be, right from the beginning, to change the face of Israel and to remove the forces that are leading it toward a historic tragedy. In other words: to assume power.

At the same time, personal and social bridges should be built – between localities, between towns, between institutions, between universities, between mosques and synagogues.

Neither Yitzhak Herzog nor the Labor Party can lead this effort on the Jewish side. Neither Herzog nor his rivals in his party, who desire to take his place. (It seems that in the Labor Party no politician can aspire to leadership unless he or she has already utterly failed in the past.)

What is needed is a young, energetic, ground-breaking new leadership. Not another of those young people who appear on the scene, create a new little group, do good things for a year or two, and then disappear as if they had never existed. What is needed is people who are ready to work together, to set up a force, to lead the state in a new direction.

“Arab lovers?” Yes. “Jew lovers?” Sure. But above all life-lovers, peace-lovers, lovers of this country.


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¿Wappin? Music in both languages ~ Música en ambas lenguas

Billy Paul
The late great Billy Paul in Tunisia, 2006.

¿Wappin? Music to use to learn a second language ~
Música para usar para aprender una segunda lengua

Billy Paul – Me and Mrs. Jones

Romeo Santos – Propuesta Indecente

Carole King – It’s Too Late

Carla Morrison – Hasta la Piel

Adele – Set Fire to the Rain

Café Tacvba – Quiero Ver

Jerry Garcia – Ruben and Cherise

Shakira – Quiero

The Pretenders – Creep

Sin Bandera – Kilómetros

REM – Losing My Religion

Atahualpa Yupanqui – Preguntitas Sobre Dios

Avril Lavigne – Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door

Carlos Vives – La Tierra del Olvido

Mark Knopfler – Brothers in Arms

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Harrington, Unambiguous transparency?

French Minister of Finance Michel Sapin and Panamanian Minister of Economy and Finance Dulcidio De La Guardia met in Paris on April 25. Both governments sounded upbeat about exchanging information but few details were offered. Photo by the Ministry of Foreign Relations.

“Une transparence sans ambigüité”

by Kevin Harrington-Shelton

To an open government activist, it is a perverse godsend that the “Varela Papers” have focused (unprecedented) global coverage on a country whose truly-significant problems have historically been resolved from abroad. As media groups profit from a relationship with government in any closely-knit society, value is added by the flow of information enhanced by foreign journalists on the ground. Thomas Jefferson’s dictum about preferring newspapers to governments simply does not make sense here, because in Panama newspapers ARE governments.

Two years into president Juan Carlos Varela’s five-year term his inability to deliver even the most basic services — those dealing with public health which made the Canal possible in our tropical environment — can be actually seen in the garbage piling up on empty lots and in natural rainwater drainage courses, not to mention the many communities blocking roads all over the country, to draw attention to deficits in drinking water.

What it most evident otherwise is the breakdown of the rule of law. Corruption is rife, and only lip service is paid to the existing sunshine legislation designed to minimize it. That was evident this week. By law, interim progress reports on the Panama Canal expansion should have been submitted on the floor of the National Assembly. It was, nonetheless, delivered to a select committee hearing. The difference is simple but significant: full sessions are broadcast nationwide on live radio and television — the committee hearings are not. The public is thus woefully underinformed as to the workings of its country hallmark asset. Despite existing legislation.

But at least such things are visible. As the French have now found with many other things, the real harm is mostly invisible.

Case in point is US Ambassador John Feeley’s interview in La Prensa on April 24, 2016. Tantamount to a political endorsement, this came hard on the heels of a Dichter & Neira (April 19) poll, documenting a slide in Mr. Varela’s approval rating persistent since February – long before his mismanagement of the offshore fracas. Surprisingly, 78 percent carried a negative opinion about his transparency. The president virtually-assumed ownership of the papers on April 4 (by declaring his close personal relationship to the mentioned law firm). Despite a professional offshore damage control consultancy, Varela’s lack of judgement was highlighted in dissembling about that relationship in The New York Times on April 11. He wrote: “this particular trove of documents came from a single law firm based in Panama.” In the event he overlooked disclosing that Mossack & Fonseca was no run of the mill firm. From the onset of his administration, Mr. Ramón Fonseca had sat in cabinet as a duly appointed minister-without-portfolio — and thus privy to policy debated behind closed doors — to the exclusion of 20,000 other Panamian lawyers, with less colorful client portfolios. And this, without implying any malfeasance whatever, affords at least the appearance of a conflict of interest (which should not have been overlooked on his appointment).

In denial facing mounting international media coverage, the President traveled to receive an orchid named after him (“Dendrobium Juan Carlos and Lorena Varela”) presented by the world-class Singapore Botanical Garden.

During his absence, ambassador Feeley went public. Only recently arrived, Mr. Feeley is attempting to fit the “campechano” persona of an earlier ambassador, Joseph S. Farland, who rolled up his sleeves and left Panama City´s diplomatic circles to make his personality felt in every corner of the country, in implementing John F. Kennedy’s “Alliance for Progress.” It is held that the 1964 riots might not have materialized, had Republican Farland not been hounded out by President Lyndon B. Johnson’s Foggy Bottom. But those were other times, and Feeley’s La Prensa timing was not a good idea. Sensitivities to meddling when Panamanians sort out their problems are reflected in an idiom acknowledging “los verdaderos dueños del circo”. Although Mr. Ambassador is indeed to be congratulated for going out on a limb, calling for the level playing fields amongst corporate services industries in Panama, Nevada, Wyoming, and Delaware (just ahead of the new dump of documents scheduled for May 9). He had hinted at this notion generally in his maiden speech in Panama, so specifying these specific states is welcome. Albeit achieving them is well beyond his remit.

Not so, another tranche on his mission statement: “expandir la prosperidad de Panamá y EU, al explotar nuestros acuerdos del Tratado de Promoción Comercial”. This hard to swallow. Embassy statistics show how in FY 2015 Panama imported 19 times more physical goods by value, than it exported to the United States, and Panama will forego some $300 million in customs revenue annually. That could pick up a lot of garbage.

The ambassador should be wary, not take at face value everything he hears about transparency. And not just from his staff here. Secretary John Kerry´s 2015 Human Rights Report states in error that Panamanian Cabinet papers are secret; in reality the current Transparency Law’s Article 14, section 8 does allow for a material exception regarding government contracts, like FINMECCANICA anti-drug materiele. It´s just that no one pays it no mind; the Torrijos, Martinelli, and Varela administrations simply looked the other way, forgetting Thomas Paine’s common sense: “it is error only — not truth — that shrinks from inquiry.”

The ambassador does no one any favors by repeatedly referring to his “commitment to transparency,” as President Varela has not even approved structuring it, even on his watch. “It’s a fact in the Library of Congress,” that to date our Transparency Law has no implementing bylaws — none whatsoever.

Despite a law has been on the books since 2001, it gave rise recently to two diametrically opposed Supreme Court rulings. Truly mindboggling – even by Panama standards. The one same set of nine magistrates unanimously granted a writ of mandamus on a FOIA request. But they unanimously denied another. Both requests were identical and submitted on the very same dates. The only difference was that one petitioned the Minister of the Presidency, the other the Minister of Public Security. Both ministries had failed to comply within the 30-day timeframe mandated by the Constitution itself. The presidency was left inured. To his credit, Minister of Public Security Rodolfo Aguilera Franceschi complied with the mandamus against him in a proper and timely fashion.

Varela and his offshore crisis will pass. But it is institutions which must endure in order for a country to survive.


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Panama’s fraud-friendly information controls

Politicans here get livid whenever some fool flies the Panamanian flag backwards. The indignation does not extend to the use of Panama’s flag to promote dubious financial propositions.

In search of Panamanian business information

by Eric Jackson

Last year a private investigator in Arizona for whom I had worked before hired me to look into an apparently Panama-connected organized crime story. I put time and money into the search, for which the guy never paid me. But chalk it up as a learning experience, and one that becomes relevant in the background as the Panama Papers scandals involved.

The complaint was that a client claimed to have been swindled by online currency trading companies, the two in particular being called iForex and bForex, both with a Panama connection, apparently connected to one another, both present in many countries and rumored to have a shadowy Israeli overlord in charge.

Well, OK. First acknowledge and set aside my political biases. I have been a supporter of the cause of an independent Palestinian state for all of my adult life and am a much stronger critic of the Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands than is generally acceptable in the world of US politics. There are folks who say that this makes me some sort of Nazi. It doesn’t, but if I am going to do honest work I really do need to look at things as they come up and avoid playing “gotcha” with Israel, let alone run a research pogrom against Jews.

I never did find a big boss man, Israeli or otherwise. Or maybe I did run across such a person, but could not get the definitive goods that would allow me to ethically identify him or her as such. It appears that the forex racket is disreputable in Israeli popular culture and subject to increasingly severe regulations in Israel.

Time and again the trails of my searches from various angles would lead to Eastern Europe, Russia itself, or to Russian emigre mobsters. A lot of these trails also went through Spain, particularly Barcelona, where Russian gangsters are part of the criminal underworld. The Russian Mob is multi-ethnic, but does reputedly control much of Israel’s organized crime.

The thing is, it’s a misnomer to talk about THE Russian Mob. The phenomenon may be consolidating, but it spread far and wide as the Soviet Union was falling, was fragmented in Russia and its empire from the start and atomized as it spread to other places. (We have Russian mobsters here in Panama and they have taken over much of the prostitution and human trafficking rackets.) Talking about a singular Russian Mob would be analogous to talking about a singular Latin American Drug Cartel — or for that matter, a singular Panamanian legal enterprise that sets up money laundering shells. In each case the reality is scenes in which distinct players rise, fall, merge, split, compete and cooperate, many of which players would like to be the big boss man and some of whom delude themselves into believing that they are such.

Back to the corporate paper trail: are iForex and bForex the same thing? I found some people who had those companies in common — certain cutouts working at Panamanian law firms and certain salespeople representing themselves online as working from a number of different countries stand out — but I never saw an organizational chart connecting the two, nor could I compile the information to truthfully construct such a thing.

However, there is a bigger problem with looking up international companies in Panama. Here you can register a company with the same name as a famous or obscure company elsewhere. In most jurisdictions this is not allowed because it lends itself to fraud and is itself a form of identity theft. Tell that to the Registro Publico.

The so-called “mirror companies” that are allowed in Panama are sometimes even used to run frauds within Panama — a bogus outfit calling run by Canadians and calling itself “London Asset Management” in imitation of the more established “Royal London Asset Management” stole more than $1 million from Canadian and American expats here, and as has been the usual practice was laughed off by prosecutors because the vicims were foreigners.

So when I found that “iFOREX, S.A.” was a registered Panamanian company between 2006 and 2009, was it THE iForex?

Then there was the December 23, 2013 Securities Market Superintendency (SMV) warning — oh so classically timed for when nobody would be paying attention — that “the company named BFOREX LTD, registered before the Public Registry of Companies in the British Virgin Islands, is not registered before the Public Registry of Panama, has not been issued any kind of license by the SMV, nor has been authorized to carry on activities of intermediation, administration, or advisory in securities, financial instruments or forex, in or from the Republic of Panama, within the scope of the Securities Law. But was it THE bForex for which I was supposed to look?

In the registry, the one iFOREX, S.A. dignitary who did not seem to be some legal secretary was hard to trace beyond that. Was it a fictitious name?

As the SMV pointed out, bForex never was registered here. But the registry has things like “B STOCKS, S.A.” and “B DERIVATIVES” that were organized by the same law firm that registered iFOREX, S.A., Troncoso & Asociados. Following these leads you get into rabiblanco personalities related to several Panamanian presidents and major movers and shakers on Panama’s Bolsa de Valores securities exchange.

So, if the SMV put out a warning on BFOREX LTD because they were purporting to do business in Panama, a logical next step in the investigation would be to look at that file, to see who was representing them and from which physical address, telephone number, email address or website. Such things might cross-index with other things.

So I went into the city, went down to the SMV, told the receptionist that I wanted to see the file, or at least find out the address and so on from which the warned-about company was operating, and was told to sit down. Not too much later a man expensively dressed and bejeweled as you would not expect a civil servant to be came out and told me that all SMV investigations are confidential and I couldn’t get any information. Actually, when you look at the law there is wide discretion about which information is public and which is not. You would think that if a public warning was issued, the details about from whence and by whom an illegal operation was being run would be in the public domain.

But this is Panama.


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Editorial, A jihad without Americans?

Forget those slogans about “terror,” against which war might be waged. Real terror is flight amidst death and destruction, with every instinct to scream but with vocal chords frozen by fright. This was yesterday in Aleppo, after a Syrian government airstrike.

What if they gave a jihad and no Americans came?

And they utterly destroyed all that was in the city, both man and woman, young and old, and ox, and sheep, and ass, with the edge of the sword.
Joshua 6:21
Describing the destruction of Jericho, circa 1400 BC


I flayed as many nobles as had rebelled against me and draped their skins over the pile of corpses; some I spread out within the pile, some I erected on stakes upon the pile…. I flayed many right through my land and draped their skins over the walls.
Ashurnasirpal II
King of Assyria 883 – 859 BC


I saw them take babies from their cots and cut off their feet with knives. They cut their throats. Then they threw them in the air and the babies fell onto their knives. When I saw them do this, I knew I couldn’t help anybody, that I could only try to save myself.
Yepraksi Gevorgyan
Survivor of the 1915 Armenian Genocide


I heard whizzing for a moment, then came the explosion. It was a huge explosion inside the yard. The sky turned red. I didn’t realize at that moment it was an airstrike and still now also can’t believe it — it’s like a nightmare that plays before my eyes.
Muhammad Jamal Saleh Ghouba al-Sanabani
Survivor of a 2015 Saudi airstrike on a village in Yemen


What sort of fool believes that US forces can implant American values in the Middle East? Yes, the United States might participate in international efforts to punish war criminals and suppress inhuman forces that offend the values of all humanity. No, that region is not going to accept US notions of freedom and democracy — all of which are challenged, disputed and degraded in the USA itself — under the compulsion of drone strikes, clever alliances in the region or the seductions of “soft power.” Americans would be well advised to vote against any candidate for a US federal office who suggests otherwise.

But throughout all of US history there have been people from that region who dreamed the American Dream, and many of them came to the USA to be Americans. Most of these were good citizens who added their muscle and intellect to the building of a great nation.

Is there something to be done about the horrors of the Middle East? Providing refuge from those sorts of nightmares is the traditional American role. With relatively few exceptions it has worked well and still does.

Drone warfare? Special operations units? Mercenaries? Alliances in which America lavishes money and weapons on vicious bigots, pompous dictators and pretentious kleptocrats? Been there, done that and there is little worthwhile to show for it.

Should the likes of the Islamic State leaders be brought to justice? Of course they should be, and one of the things that the United States should do to advance that cause is to submit itself to the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court and insist that all of humanity must do likewise.

Are there human beings who are suffering, to whom Americans owe a moral duty of protection? It’s the world’s duty and the Americans should shoulder a fair part of the burden.

But these are not America’s wars. Whether governments of the Muslim world should be secular, Sunni or Shia is not a US concern. Whether and how Iraq or Syria ought to be partitioned are not decisions that should be made in Washington. This is not a matter of isolationism, but of moral and practical guidelines for a positive US role in the world.


Bear in mind…

Women live in a time of transition, of longings and of redemption.
Clara González


Useful manual labor, intelligently performed, is the means par excellence for developing the intellect.
Mohandas K. Gandhi


We have made the revolution that we could make and not the one that we wished to make.
Fidel Castro


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When you are a crime victim in a foreign land…

Some persuasion over a land title in Haiti, where a US-led military intervention and long occupation allegedly restored the rule of law.

What US authorities can do is limited, but their form letter prose can be inspiring

by Joe Cross

[Editor’s note: Joe Cross is one of the many occasional contributors to The Panama News whose work has given this publication a broader and more astute outlook. From boxing coverage to tales of smuggling on the Paraguay-Argentina-Brazil Triple Border to violence between Palestinians and Israelis (and among Jews) in the West Bank town of Hebron, to notes from Damascus and Kiev, he has kept the readers and the editor apprised of various situations over the years. He also owns real estate and businesses in Haiti, which notwithstanding a long US-led occupation is sliding ever deeper into chaos. In the confusion a move is on to grab some beachfront property from him, which has led to various legal skirmishes and a severe beating that now has Joe back in New York for surgery over head injuries. Joe was in touch with the American Embassy and consulate in Haiti over the situation and like many Americans who fall victim to crimes overseas learned how little diplomats can actually do. American Citizen Services? The tale which the exchange of messages below first came to my Facebook page with a message that read: “Still in Haiti. Almost killed. American Citizens Services is the most Orwellian modern thing out there. They sent me a form letter that was hilarious under the circumstances.”]

Dear Ambassador Peter Mulrean,

I am hesitant to write to you – but don’t have many options. Subsequent to our being introduced by Richard Morse at my hotel, the Hotel Florita in Jacmel, on Saturday March 26. I was attacked on my beachfront property in Ti-Mouillage, Caye-Jacmel, Sud-Est. My land, 2.13 carreaux, was bought by me in 1999 – from Americans who purchased it in 1973. My ownership was never questioned until 2013 – when the land became valuable. (It’s current value is approximately $500,000).

The current state of affairs is that although it has been seized it cannot be sold. But that is precisely what I am facing now and I cannot delay taking action. It is now being sold.

My former attorney was clearly complicit in this and will not return the Deed or any part of the file and is demanding $100,000 for the return of the documents. Subsequent attempts to regain physical possession had been unsuccessful, although I have been represented by law firms in both Port-au-Prince and Jacmel. Unfortunately it seems to be “bad form” for a Haitian lawyer to go up against a fellow attorney. (I briefly retained a very prominent lawyer – who told me this protocol prevented him from “interfering” in the affairs of another attorney.)

A week ago I went with the manager of the Florita and our carpenter to the property to take down the posts put up to facilitate the sale of the land. We were attacked by four armed men. My head was split open while they decided what to do with us. I was known to them and my nationality seemed not to be a deterrent. I suffered a concussion. I have received death threats and the threatened destruction of my hotel. I am not a fearful person but these are things I cannot entirely disregard. My neighbor had his land and vacation house similarly seized and when he attempted to return to it he was chased off his property with a similar warning not to return. His house was subsequently razed – and the failure of local authorities to intervene has emboldened these people – and there hirelings – to the point that they feel they do as they like without having to concern themselves with repercussions.

Although the perpetrators in the attack have been identified and the police know their whereabouts no arrests have been made. They are considered “armed and dangerous” so it has been indicated that it will be expensive to have them arrested. And even if they are arrested they are only employees of the family (formerly politically connected) that is responsible.

Any assistance that you might be able to provide will be very much appreciated.

My suggesting that the Embassy can help in what is a private matter is perhaps naive but I don’t feel I have many options. I have been in Haiti since 1982 and heard that the American Embassy was occasionally able to involve itself in the affairs of Americans who find themselves victims of crimes of this nature. So I am hoping to hear your suggestions regarding this matter. (Richard Morse told me that he was aided through Vice-President Joe Biden’s office when he felt that he and his family – and the Oloffson – were similarly endangered but I unfortunately have no connection that could possibly assist me.)

My best regards to your family – and hope to see you again in Jacmel at a more tranquil time. I am not usually reduced to having to seek the help of busy people who innocently happened to have stopped in for lunch at my hotel!

Please feel certain that while I will be grateful for any suggestions or assistance I have hesitated in asking you for help and only do so as I feel I have exhausted other available options.

Very sincerely,

Joe Cross


Dear Joe,

I’m very sorry to hear about your troubles and particularly concerned about the potential risk you are running of physical attack. I have copied our Consul General, Bob Hannan, on this message, as he is responsible for American citizen services at our embassy and can follow up with a more detailed message.



Peter F. Mulrean
U.S. Embassy Port au Prince


Dear Peter,

Thank you.

We had visitors this morning. Things are going to get quite ugly very quickly. We are being threatened and taunted as “our” lawyer, Maitre Ephesian Joissaint, has the original of the deed and we can therefore do nothing, failing to get us to pay $100,000 is getting a percentage from each sale. There can be no further delay.

This is happening to many people who own beachfront property – including other Americans.

Quite simply: we need help.


… and things did get worse, leading to this form letter:

ACS form letter


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Panama Papers stories ebb, but a tide’s coming in

PP Spain
A nation’s media running special series with banner headlines like this would generally be toxic to any political party. Spain’s Partido Popular will face a June 26 vote after recent elections produced a parliament too fragmented to form a coalition government. The Partido Popular — former Christian Democrats — had already been battered by scandals and a bad economy, which is why they were not re-elected as the ruling party in the last elections. But for lack of anyone mustering a majority to replace them they remained as a caretaker government. Appearing amidst that tenuous predicament, the Panama Papers leaks revealed that Industry Minister José Manuel Soria has a shell company set up by Mossack Fonseca. He denied any wrongdoing and refused to answer questions, including in the normal legislative question period. His party leader Mariano Rajoy backed him in this stand, arguing that ministers in a caretaker government don’t have to answer questions. That did not go over well with Spaniards and Soria had to resign. But if the revelations hurt the right-hand side of the old two-party paradigm, the naming of the wife of former Socialist prime minister Felipe González as a Mossack Fonseca client may have balanced the damage. Moreover, it’s the Spanish Socialist Workers Party (PSOE) that has been most intransigent in coalition talks, which is usually a recipe for defeat if back-to-back elections become necessary. And might the king have finessed the situation? The problem is, members of the royal family have also been named. Look for the next wave of document releases to further damage both the Populares and the Socialists, and maybe some of the smaller parties as well.

The Panama Papers: ebb tide, busy shredders and the next wave

by Eric Jackson

The International Consortium of Investigative Journnalists says that on the afternoon of May 9 our time it will release most of the information in the 11.5 million documents from the Mossack Fonseca law firm that were given to them about one year ago. The data will be available at this online address. Such personal data as residential addresses, telephone numbers, email addresses and photographs will be withheld, and it’s not entirely clear what sort of search feature will accompany the released documents. So far the documents have only been available to selected reporters from 107 mostly corporate mainstream media in 78 countries, but the release will put the data at the disposal of activists and the small alternative media, who are likely to search for and publish things according to different criteria. Look for another major wave of revelations in the middle of May.

The initial high tide of revelations destroyed several political careers and perhaps compromised others. Iceland’s prime minister was forced to resign. Spain’s industry minister and lesser officials in several countries were also among the early casualties. British Prime Minister David Cameron was caught in evasions about the nature of his inherited fortune. About a dozen other heads of state, most from repressive regimes, were either personally named or implicated by involvements of people close to them.

Not all of the spins applied by news media with access to the documents added up to convincing cases. If Vladimir Putin was the first big name highlighted, clear proof was not shown of the Russian strongman’s personal misconduct. US funding for the stories naming him made the still rather damning suggestions less sticky than they might have been. A clearly hypocritical Icelandic prime minister having been replaced but Iceland’s long-serving president is probably in less jeopardy from revelations that his wife’s parents once owned a shell company set up by Mossack Fonseca.

Then there is the document by which the Panamanian law firm alerted its Guayaquil office that in 2012 then attorney general José Ayú Prado had directed his anti-corruption prosecutors to investigate suspected embezzlement of public funds by Ecuador’s president, Rafael Correa. Had something damaging to Correa been found we surely would have heard about it. Might the fact that such an investigation was undertaken by a character beholden to the disreputable Martinelli administration explain at least in part why the United States is now harboring the fugitive Ricardo Martinelli?

In the former Soviet Union and what was its sphere of influence, opaque regimes, controlled media and jaded electorates are the norm so the leaders outed for their Mossack Fonseca ties apparently don’t outwardly appear to be much affected. The same applies in Saudi Arabia and most of the Arab world.

Authoritarian China, however, is going well out of its way to ban the story, which touches the families of a number of Politburo members. A Hong Kong editor lost his job for a story mentioning several local politicians with Mossack Fonseca dealings, and perhaps worse, such business leaders as Li Ka-shing, whose Hutchison Whampoa ports company runs the ports of Cristobal and Balboa here in Panama. The Chinese Internet is being carefully filtered to exclude any mention of the whole Panama Papers affair. Kevin Harrington, a frequent contributor to The Panama News and once upon a time Panama’s consul in London, perceives a Chinese tie to the UK response as well: “In mainland China one pays for corruption at the wall. The problem is that the British Virgin Islands is where the families of the Beijing Politburo nest their money, which they can’t justify. London doesn’t want to be on the bad side of the Politburo, so it is ensuring that the BVI doesn’t release anything about THESE Chinese.” So Mr. Cameron has rushed to put exceptions into his much publicized offensive against money laundering that would for the most part shield the UK’s overseas possessions. The question is whether London or Beijing will be able to hold the line when the bulk of the Panama Papers database becomes available for public perusal and further agitation.

As the stories dwindled down to the indirect, inconsequential or successfully resisted a few significant smaller waves did break. Based on Panama Papers data, on April 22 police in Montevideo rounded up 11 people thought to be related to the Jalisco New Generation Cartel’s laundering of their Mexcian drug profits in Uruguayan real estate. Five of these individuals are to be charged with money laundering and if the allegations stick then the established line about not touching money or people related to the drug trade has been overstepped by Mossack Fonseca. On the same day at a Mossack Fonseca office in Parque Lefevre, Panamanian prosecutors swooped down on a store room that had its windows blocked with cardboard to secure and seize a huge cache of documents, including 10 jumbo plastic garbage bags of shredded papers. It will take some time and funding to reassemble, read and scan the mutilated papers but if that is done and, for example, the shredded items include documents about dealings with drug cartels, then there could be far-reaching legal consequences both in Panama and abroad. One might expect that the law firm’s offices in Miami and Las Vegas would be shut down by US authorities if those sorts of proofs emerge.

It seems that US political castes and economic plutocrats preferred other Panamanian law firms to set up their money laundering shell games. Law firms featuring partners who has served as diplomats in Washington would have the inside track with American politicians and those firms sporting Anglo surnames would perhaps have been more reassuring to the many unilingual American tax cheats possessed of much more money than brains. Mossack Fonseca is far from the only place in Panama from which money laundering shell corporations and the organizational paraphernalia that go with them can be bought.

However, it is promised that on May 9 a major trove of documents related to Nevada corporations organized by Mossack Fonseca will come into public view. It may thus become an election year political issue, either as a matter of appeals like “We have to cut US ties with sordid foreign kleptocrats,” or accusatory questions like “Where did my opponent get the money to play these Mossack Fonseca shell games?” or the more likely “See the sleazy people who donate to THAT campaign.” There has already been a bit of commentary about the Mossack Fonseca dealings of some of the people distantly tied to the Clintons, but no documents that have come to light so far indicate wrongdoing by members of that family or those in their political inner circle. Still, look for the further releases to generate more bad publicity for the very rich and powerful of US society, stuff that may not topple leading candidates but will further discredit the social circles in which they run.


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