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Unexpected problems with the new Pacific Side locks


Not the problems that have long been predicted but remain to be seen…

Leaky new Pacific Side locks

Both the Panama Canal Authority and the GUPC consortium that is building the new locks admit the problem but downplay its importance. The ACP says that all “imperfections” that are detected “should be repaired.” So far, however, the public has not received a coherent explanation of why there are leaks in a gate sill of the new Pacific Side locks.

Canal pilots and tugboat captains have for years warned that the combination of cross-currents caused by the locks’ design and prop wash from tugs inside the locks chambers are likely to buffet ships around when they are in the chambers, especially when it’s windy. If that becomes a problem there have been various fixes discussed. But we won’t know if it will be a problem until the locks are working.

Correction: An earlier version of this story had the leak in the chamber wall. Actually, it is in one of the sills at the bottom of the connection between two chambers, on which the sliding gates roll.


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Grounded by the Mexican billionaire: globalization on the corporate template

Neither on the front nor on the back of these cards does Claro provide the information which they said it was my fault for not knowing -- but in any case my Internet stick did not run out of time because of what they alleged, but because their system went down.
Neither on the front nor on the back of these cards does Claro provide the information which they said it was my fault for not knowing — but in any case my Internet stick did not run out of time because of what they alleged, but because their system went down.

Corporate consumer relations tactics by the US business schools’ book

Grounded by the Mexican billionaire

by Eric Jackson

Late on a Sunday afternoon, it was about time for my Claro.com wireless Internet modem to run out of time. I pay $15 plus taxes — a little more than $16 — to get a month’s worth of Internet service. Out here in the boonies of Cocle, Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim’s company has a monopoly. There are no phone lines, no cable TV lines, and no other wireless Internet service provider’s signals reach here. I had just had a Claro.com cell phone donated, which would allow me to recharge the chip without going into town to have a Claro dealer do it. It was a matter of going to the mini-super, getting $15 worth of prepaid cards, taking the chip from my modem stick and putting it in the cell phone, punching in the codes from the prepay cards, getting a confirmation message that the $15 had been successfully registered, and, no further prompt message forthcoming, taking the chip out of the cell phone, putting it back into the modem and getting into a Sunday night work shift.

On Wednesday morning my Internet connection went dead. I was getting the signals that typically mean one of two things. Either the system was down — as sometimes happens when a lightning storm disables the tower to and from which my modem sends and receives — or the time on the modem chip has expired. There were no storm clouds on this El Niño drought morning, but maybe they were working on the line. It was no huge deal anyway, because I was about to start on a book chapter, working from copious notes and editing photos that had been taken over a too-prolonged period. If the system was down for a while, I didn’t need to be working online anyway. I could wait for the service to come back. This is Panama, where time is not supposed to be money, but just time.

Got my work done after a long session, went to bed and conked out before I got through three more pages of the science fiction novel I’m reading. Roosters crowing and a dog’s insistent wet nose got me up sometime around the crack of dawn. After going out to check the state of the water system and to harvest that day’s crop of long Chinese green beans — while Baroncito The Wonder Dog busily sniffed to see who had been by in the night and renewed his scent markers on all the right trees — my canine friend and I went back inside, I got the coffee maker going and I sat down in front of the computer. It was Thursday morning and the Internet connection was still down.

That’s something of an emergency for The Panama News, which might mean inquiries and arrangements with Claro, and might mean working out of an Internet cafe that day. As in, get on the bus and go into Penonome.

This was an extra added annoyance because this is August, a slow month for readership and donations, a time when expenses don’t go away but bus money (etc.) must be carefully rationed. This reporter was living close to the edge.

At the Claro place upstairs from the supermarket right near the entrance to town, I explained the situation to the lady. She took my chip and put it into a device of hers, and said that I had no time on that chip. But wait, I said, I recharged it on Sunday, and it went out on Wednesday morning. But she said that I never did recharge it, because after receiving the confirmation message I was supposed to confirm the confirmation and set the chip to monthly Internet service. Well, then, how was it that I had Internet service on Monday, Tuesday and into Wednesday morning? I didn’t get an explanation I believed, but to get online again I had to buy another month of Internet service, which she entered onto my chip. This was a plan changer, because the money for another month’s worth of service was my bus fare for things I planned to be doing.

Thus recharged, I went down to the market area to get the bus back home, put the stick in the mini-laptop I carry around — and got the same signal that means that the system is down or there is no money in the chip.

I got off the bus, went back, and the lady at Claro made a call, told me that the prepay card system was down and I had to go to the claim center, next to Super 99 a couple of miles up the Pan-American Highway. No big deal — like all rich gringos all I had to do is jump in my car and I’d be there in no time flat. But no refund at this place — go away, take it to the complaint center.

A walk of several miles is good for this reporter  Maybe not the sun. I got to the Claro claim center sweaty and annoyed, and found myself in a line behind three senior citizens and a young man, and all had the same complaint as mine. Their prepaid Internet service went out on Wednesday morning and should not have.

The lady at the claim center said that the system was down and that soon enough I would get service back on my new Claro.com recharge. But what about the money I put in on Sunday night? She gave me a variation on the theme. She said by not confirming the confirmation in the unspecified by Claro way, my stick was paying at a different rate, by the gigabyte instead of by the month. And miraculously, after about two and half days’ use, just when the whole system went down I ran out $15 worth of service. She looked on a screen in the back and said that this is what it was — but of course, I didn’t get to see the screen. No refund or credit.

So how do you say “Stick ’em up!” in Mexican Spanish? Or do they use the terminology they learn at MBA programs in the United States?


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Harrington, La Asamblea: foco de corrupción


ACP boardLa Asamblea: foco de corrupción

por Kevin Harrington-Shelton

Para entender la violencia en nuestras calles, hay que mirar hacia la Asamblea que hace nuestras leyes, para encontrar su origen. Allí a diario se da fe que en Panamá, ni los diputados respetan las leyes que ellos mismos dictan. Y si los diputados no dan un buen ejemplo, ¿por qué esperar que el pueblo las cumpla?

Hoy, el Órgano Legislativo presentó OTRO caso de corrupción de este tipo.

Aun cuando la ciudadanía sigue preocupada por huelgas y demás complicaciones de la Ampliación, hoy la Comisión de Infraestructura Pública y Asuntos del Canal reniega de su responsabilidad, de exigirle a la Autoridad del Canal la rendición de cuentas SEMESTRAL a que tiene derecho el pueblo panameño — tal y como manda la ley que la propia Asamblea aprobó. Pero hoy, en vez de ese informe SEMESTRAL, se aceptó un informe TRIMESTRAL. Y la diferencia entre estos dos informes es enorme.

Hoy las vistas en televisión fueron elocuentes — al mostrar que ese informe TRIMESTRAL fue entregado a puerta cerrada (y ante sólo 6 diputados). En contraste, la ley manda que el informe SEMESTRAL se presente ante el Pleno (cuyas sesiones son transmitidas a todo el país por radio y televisión). Y lo más importante: que cualquiera de los 71 diputados podría re-preguntar sobre cualquier tema — en vivo. Y todo el país quedaría mucho mejor enterado.

Porque, con todo respeto a todos los diputados, ninguno de ellos podría explicar la Ampliación con sólo leer los números (mudos) de tales informes TRIMESTRALES — al menos no para explicársela a los sindicatos canaleros. Y eso no es sano para nuestra democracia.

¿Qué se esconde, que desde que se aprobó dicha ley en 2006, ningún ministro para Asuntos del Canal, ni Administrador alguno, se haya atrevido a presentar NI UN SOLO informe SEMESTRAL? ¿Cuál es el miedo de los diputados en exigírselo? Y, ¿a qué obedece el silencio de periodistas, ONGs y sociedad civil, que tanto dicen promover la transparencia?

Pero lo que es absolutamente reprobable es que se desconozca una parte de esa ley.

Con todo respeto a quien preside dicha Comisión, al avisar recibo del informe TRIMESTRAL, el HD Juan Carlos Arango del Partido Popular omitió mencionar la existencia de los informes SEMESTRALES. La ley 28 de 2006 (Gaceta 25590) a la que se refirió –de manera incompleta– no podría ser más clara al respeto: “En el caso de la rendición de cuentas a la Asamblea Nacional, el Presidente de la Junta Directiva y el Administrador de la Autoridad del Canal de Panamá, deberán comparecer personalmente AL PLENO del Órgano Legislativo, UNA VEZ POR SEMESTRE, o cuando la Asamblea lo requiera.”


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53 journalist groups urge Obama to end information control excesses

oil spill
When there is an oil train accident, is protecting the reputations of regulators or avoiding a debate about public safety really a “national security issue” or an occasion for official secrecy “to avoid public panic?” Photo by DOT

Journalism groups urge Obama to end excessive information controls

by 53 US journalist organizations

Fifty-three journalism and open government groups today called on President Barack Obama – yet again – to stop practices in federal agencies that prevent important information from getting to the public.

The national organizations sent a letter to Obama Monday, August 17, urging changes to policies that constrict information flow to the public, including prohibiting journalists from communicating with staff without going through public information offices, requiring government PIOs to vet interview questions and monitoring interviews between journalists and sources.

This was the second letter the groups sent to the White House regarding government transparency. The first letter, sent July 8, 2014, and a follow-up letter sent August 5, 2014, were met with a non-response response from the White House on August 11, 2014.

“President Obama pledged to lead the most transparent administration in history, but we have yet to see this promise fulfilled,” said David Cuillier, chair of SPJ’s Freedom of Information Committee. “His term may be coming to a close, but it’s not too late to make some real changes in the way officials work with journalists to improve the accuracy and speed in which important information is relayed to the public.

“The United States Freedom of Information Act celebrates its 50th anniversary on July 4, 2016. Now is the perfect time for the President to change the practices of his administration and participate in a public dialogue toward improving the flow of information to the American people,” Cuillier added.

The most recent letter, like prior letters, outlines specific examples of excessive information control, considered by many journalists as a form of censorship:

• Officials blocking reporters’ requests to talk to specific staff people;
• Excessive delays in answering interview requests that stretch past reporters’ deadlines;
• Officials conveying information “on background,” refusing to give reporters what should be public information unless they agree not to say who is speaking.
• Federal agencies blackballing reporters who write critically of them.

Mark Horvit, executive director of Investigative Reporters & Editors, says these types of policies “fundamentally restrict the quality of the information that citizens get about what government agencies are doing. When researchers, administrators and experts cannot speak freely, it becomes impossible to get a full and honest picture of a government program or policy. Such secrecy only fuels distrust and gives members of the public a right to wonder what is being done in their name, with their money,” he said.

Kathryn Foxhall, SPJ FOI Committee member, calls these types of restraints alarming and forms of censorship.

“Surveys of journalists and public information officers demonstrate that the restraints have become pervasive across the country,” Foxhall said. “This information suppression is fraught with danger – especially when it concerns the health and safety of the American people.”

A recent review found that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had a culture of unsafe handling of dangerous pathogens and that some staff feared reporting incidents. Last year the Food and Drug Administration announced it had smallpox, among other dangerous materials, in an apparently uninventoried storage for decades in violation of some of the most solemn of international treaties. All the employees working around those situations for years were forbidden to speak to reporters without surveillance by the PIOs, as was all other staff in those agencies, Foxhall explained.

“Some federal officials have said these policies are appropriate because employees can become whistleblowers to report wrongdoings. These whistleblower policies do not work,” she said.

Beth Parke, executive director for the Society of Environmental Journalists, agrees that when interviews are denied or delayed, when environmental test results, enforcement data or scientific findings are suppressed, the public is cheated.

“Readers, viewers and listeners rely on local media. What’s safe to drink when a spill causes a water crisis? What does it mean when oil-by-rail explodes? When press officers block access to people who could answer detailed questions, there are consequences — for public health and for democracy. We have a right to know, and journalists have a job to do,” Parke said.

“Social media messaging is not transparency,” she continued. “Connecting journalists who have questions to people with answers who can speak on the record is transparency. Public access to government science is transparency.”

Never before has such a broad-based coalition of journalism and good-governance organizations spoken out on this issue. The growing number of examples of “mediated access” have not just frustrated journalists but have led to specific cases of important information not reaching the public.

“Transparency can’t just be a buzzword or an applause line,” said Joshua Hatch, Board Vice President and Legal Committee Chair, Online News Association. “It has to be a commitment from the highest levels to every hall of government. Without it, journalists are hamstrung, the public is kept in the dark and democracy suffers.”

While journalists acknowledge and appreciate the assistance PIOs often provide in helping schedule interviews and putting reporters in touch with the appropriate contacts, for example, many say access is all too often hindered instead of helped.

“Throwing PIO roadblocks in the path of journalists contravenes the spirit of open government and free flow of information,” said Bruce D. Brown, executive director, Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press. “While we appreciate the role of PIO as a facilitator, there is no substitute for reporters speaking directly to sources.”

In addition to the letters, the organizations previously provided the White House with resources on the issue and a list of obstruction examples. They asked the administration to set up an avenue through which such incidents can be reported.


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Gandásegui, Los ejercicios militares Panamax 2015

Si cae gobierno por los rabiblancos… Foto por US SouthCom

Los ejercicios militares Panamax 2015

por Marco A. Gandásegui, hijo

En Panamá se ha vuelto una práctica común la censura de la prensa. Hasta la fecha, los medios de comunicación bloquean todas las noticias sobre la huelga de los 1,700 trabajadores de la Cervecería Nacional. Igualmente, a principios de este mes no dieron a conocer los ejercicios Panamax 2015 que organizó el Comando Sur de EEUU “para defender el Canal de Panamá”. El Comando Sur invitó a 19 fuerzas armadas de igual número de países para enfrentar “amenazas comunes” y reunirse para conocerse mejor. Entre los 19 participantes, Panamá tuvo la suerte de ser invitada.

Según el jefe militar de un país latinoamericano, “el enfoque de ese ejercicio es desarrollar operaciones entre nuestras unidades y tener la oportunidad de enfrentar de cerca nuestra realidad de amenazas regionales”. Obviamente, el comandante se refería a las maniobras con sus contrapartes del Comando Sur. “Al trabajar juntos, prevenimos acciones que amenacen la seguridad marítima y que buscan prevenir la libre navegación y desestabilizar la región”. En su momento, los jefes del Comando Sur de EEUU identificaron a “lo campesinos e indígenas” panameños como los enemigos a combatir. ¿Estarán pensando los ejércitos de algunos países latinoamericanos reprimir a quienes protestan en Panamá? ¿Crear en Panamá otro Haití ocupado por fuerzas extranjeras?

El jefe del Comando Sur de EEUU fue más explícito y señaló que al final de este ejercicio, “las relaciones que se hayan establecido y el entendimiento mutuo alcanzado, nos servirán mucho en el evento de tener que establecer juntos una fuerza de coalición para un evento real”. PANAMAX 2015 lo organizó EEUU entre el 27 de julio y el 7 de agosto, con la participación de representantes de 15 países latinoamericanos: Belice, Brasil, Canadá, Colombia, Chile, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Francia, Jamaica, Guatemala, Honduras, México, Nicaragua, Panamá, Paraguay, Perú y República Dominicana. Además, estuvieron en los ejercicios efectivos militares de Canadá, Francia y Reino Unido. EEUU no invitó a Argentina, Bolivia, Cuba, Ecuador ni Venezuela.

El gobierno panameño no participó en la organización de los ejercicios militares a pesar de ser el objeto de las estrategias y operaciones desplegadas. EEUU está entrenando y mantiene a nivel operativo a dos divisiones militares en Panamá. Por un lado, el Servicio Nacional de Fronteras (SENAFRONT) y, por el otro, el Servicio Nacional Naval (SENAN). Washington desarrolla estos planes a pesar de que la Constitución Política de Panamá prohíbe la organización de fuerzas armadas en el país. EEUU y los gobiernos panameños ignoran este mandato.

Según un artículo publicado por el periodista militar de EEUU, Alex Sanchez, los ejercicios Panamax se realizan con el fin de prevenir acciones de los ‘carteles mexicanos’ o la ‘guerrilla colombiana’. También destaca la posibilidad de una acción “multinancional para retomar el control del Canal de Panamá si ocurriera un incidente como el del Canal de Suez en 1956” (sic). Agrega que también hay que estar “preparados para enfrentar a un gobernante autoritario como el general Manuel Noriega si llegara al poder”. Los escenarios son ‘hollywoodenses’, dice Sanchez. Pero EEUU siempre tiene que estar preparado para invadir nuevamente a Panamá.

Es lamentable que periodistas escriban sin conocer la historia y menos la situación de los países latinoamericanos y, en particular, la de Panamá. El contraalmirante Jon Mathenson, subcomandante de las fuerzas navales del Comando Sur y de la IV Flota de EEUU, aseguró que el ejercicio PANAMAX “está diseñado para responder en caso de una petición del país anfitrión. Señaló también que entre las amenazas se incluye “el crimen organizado transnacional”. Destacó que los ejercicios militares se realizaron “promoviendo la paz, la estabilidad y la prosperidad”. Las autoridades panameñas – incluyendo el Ministerio de Seguridad Pública – no se pronunciaron durante los ejercicios militares.

En los ejercicios del año pasado – 2014 – el Comando Sur creó un escenario fantasioso para desarrollar los ejercicios Panamax. Crearon una nación – Nueva Centralia – que estaba bajo ataque. Según sus comunicadores, “un grupo de violentos terroristas amenazaban el comercio mundial. La solución del problema dependía de las Fuerzas Multinacionales Sur (MNFS), al mando del Comando Sur de EEUU”. Para completar la fantasía, el Comando Sur invita a las fuerzas militares de la región para proteger el Canal de Panamá y “honrar los esfuerzos de Panamá para proteger su soberanía”.

EEUU todavía no entiende que sólo los panameños defendemos nuestra soberanía. Es una lección que aprendimos y aplicamos en el siglo XX.


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Book chapter, The Streetwalkers of Panama: City Cats

rat's end
Here we see the economic basis for humanity’s alliance with the cats. Genetecists estimate that domestic cats parted ways with their Near Eastern wildcat relatives perhaps 70,000 to 100,000 years ago, based on how long it would have taken for so many varieties of domestic cats to have evolved. It was much later, at the dawn of agricultural civilization, that cats walked into human society. They were and largely still are feral independents living on the fringes, but eventually aspects of cats’ personalities make them welcome as members of human households.

City cats

Feral cats are an exotic species in the United States. With numbers in the millions, these animals are recognized as one of the most widespread and serious threats to the health and integrity of native wildlife populations and natural ecosystems. Feral cats present special challenges for wildlife managers because their negative impacts are poorly understood by the public. Feral cats and other exotic species have become accepted as part of the environment and considered “natural” by many people. Advocacy groups promote their continued presence and few policies and laws deal directly with their control.
California Department of Fish and Wildlife


The cats just sort of domesticated themselves. People today know that you can’t keep a cat inside, and 10,000 years ago in the Fertile Crescent you couldn’t just shut the window.
Carlos Driscoll
US National Cancer Institute geneticist


Over time, plants and animals that once thrived on our continent have been pushed to the brink. We need to step in, for their sake and for ours. That means humane culling of one of our wildlife’s worst enemies — feral cats.
Greg Hunt
Australia’s Federal Minister for the Environment


Feral cats live very closely with humans, and depend on humans for food. A small number of feral cats are a useful addition to any human dwelling area. Cats provide a very effective means of vermin control. Rats and mice are not problems when there is a feral cat community. Many people grow fond of the “regular” feral cats in an area. They do not need much food — often leaving out household scraps is enough to sustain them. Feral cats rarely carry any disease, which might put human health at risk. Most people would see a small, controlled population of feral cats as a positive, beneficial aspect of a housing estate.
The Cat & Dog Protection Society of Ireland


Particularly among those of us who have been raised in the faith of great world powers that are now in decline or at least in serious trouble, there are nihilistic ways of thinking out and about in the world. Every religion that is fervently embraced is rejected by more unbelievers than it has adherents and is increasingly subject to strident attacks. So do we reject faith in favor of reason? Do we pay attention only to “objective journalism?” Do we only believe in “scientific truth?” Do we, while straying from the grammatically correct distinction between one medium and several media, reject all journalism because “the media” — this singular phenomenon as popularly perceived — “is” controlled by a cabal of oligarchic manipulators whose intention is to deceive? Do we reject science because, “as everybody knows,” climate change is a hoax promoted by one-worlders like George Soros and Al Gore and endorsed by the great majority of scientists, who have been bribed or intimidated by an establishment that has let it be known that they won’t get grants to study anything if they don’t go along? You can find left and right variations on such conspiratorial themes, and certain proofs that much of the world actually works that way.

Need we go to Oriental philosophy to get our proper perspective on objective journalism? Take if from the late Chinese revolutionary and despot Mao Zedong, or from Chinese-American reporter and anchorwoman Joie Chen, in the different frameworks in which they respectively put it: “completely objective journalism” is myth. Yes, there is such a thing as truth, or “objective reality” if you want to couch the concept in Marxist jargon. But which facts are important — or to put it into the liberal capitalist formulation of The New York Times, are what constitute “news that’s fit to print” — is a matter of opinion. The Times, Fox News, Russia Today, Al Arabiya, TeleSur, Ha’aretz and Der Spiegel may all be populated by journalists who want to tell the truth, but they are looking at the world from different perspectives and will not all be reporting the same stories in the same way on any given day.

And can’t similar things be said about science? Set aside the insulting stereotypes that are at war with the open but skeptical minds of most worthy scientists. Set aside the scandalous existence of “experts for hire” who will testify to just about anything if the price is right. Discount all that, but can’t we still find something subjective in the particular questions that pique the interest of an individual scientist? Without getting into conspiracy theories, can’t we still recognize that there are institutional biases — plural — in the determination of which scientific inquiries get financial backing? Then when you get to the intersections of science and public policy, you are likely to find that no single scientifically verifiable or refutable assertion of fact answers a broader policy question. Public policy matters are typically multidisciplinary, often involving series of inquiries in separate fields of science, plus historical and cultural factors. The assertion of single scientific fact as determinative of a policy question, no matter how well proven it might be, is usually an exercise in lazy and dogmatic thinking. Even lazier and more dogmatic is the denial of well founded science based not on any reason to doubt but because it conflicts with one’s political position or perceived economic interests.

Panama City and most of the provincial towns are full of cats that nobody “owns. Some are strays, cats that were once socialized into a human household and were then abandoned or otherwise “lost.” Most are feral cats that may have lived all of their lives around people and probably in one way or another depend on human civilization for their sustenance, but they have never been pets and unless they are very young kittens will resist being socialized as such.

Cats are an exotic invasive species in Panama. So are dogs. So are mango trees. So are a lot of the pigeons and parrots found in the trees of our city parks. So are human beings. Does the definition resolve any public policy debate about what should be done about the urban feral cat populations that we find in Panama? Probably not, but it at least ought to be one of the facts that informs such a discussion.

We now know from genetic research that domestic cats diverged from Near Eastern wildcats, a species found in the Fertile Crescent around the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers. The oldest archaeological evidence of domestic cats living with people is from Cyprus and dates back some 9,500 years. It is presumed that with the rise of agricultural civilization about 10,000 years ago in the ancient Midldle East, domestic cats found it advantageous to move in with people and farmers found it useful to keep cats around.

The alliance between people and dogs is much older, most probably going back to cooperative relationships between pre-human hominid hunters and gatherers and wild dogs, most particularly certain species of wolves. People and dogs are both social animals, hunt well together and tend to become socialized to protect one another. But the relationship between people and cats is younger, arose in a different economic context and was shaped by distinct features of the feline personality.

The partnership between people and dogs was in large part an aggressive alliance, a joint assault on wild animals that both people and dogs wanted to eat. The defensive part of this partnership probably soon followed in form of protecting campgrounds or shelters from other wild animals, the defense of habitats that people were able to more effectively conquer or hold with canine assistance.

Cats walked into human society at a different point when other creatures were also coming around to visit people, and most particularly their granaries. Rats and mice will eat an awful lot of grain is they are allowed to do so, and can contaminate what they leave behind — via droppings, urine or arthropods — with microbes that can be quite harmful to people. Back when agriculture started in that part of the Middle East people didn’t know about microbes, but surely they noticed that the cats that came visiting liked to hunt the rodents that came to eat their food. That these strange, independent hunters could also become quite affectionate with the people whose homes they shared cemented the bonds of a great alliance. The cohabitation of cats and people spread and it wasn’t all that long before the neighbors in Egypt considered cats to be a divine species.

People and dogs invaded the Americas together, coming across an Ice Age land bridge where there is now the Bering Strait and from what the archaeological and paleontological records suggest, together hunting mammoths and other large animals to extinction. The human and canine exotic species invasion spread down through the Americas but precisely when and under what sorts of circumstances it first came through Panama may only be inferred. Sea levels were much lower then and it is believed that early migrants made their way down coastal areas that are now underwater. The oldest human habitations encountered in South America are substantially older than the oldest human finds in Panama. The earliest human traces that archaeologists have found on the isthmus are of people living with dogs and doing a bit of hunting, a bit of gathering, a bit of agriculture and a bit of fishing.

Cats came to Panama with another, later exotic species invasion, on ships with largely Spanish crews. Yes, a famous Italian explorer came by these shores early in that invasion, and had a bad time of it here. Records suggest that North Africans were also among the early Spanish crews. That would make sense if one knows the history of Spain, large parts of which were occupied by Arabs for more than 700 years and which still occupies a small part of North Africa.

The Spanish Inquisition was largely about getting everyone in the Spanish Empire to suppress and deny any Muslim or Jewish influences. Some of these proved rather impossible to hide. Earlier, when Islam broke out of the Arabian Peninsula and spread all the way to Spain on one side and eventually to the Philippines on the other, a lot of prior cultures were overrun and in part incorporated into Muslim ways but then, too, it was religiously correct to deny or minimize pre-Islamic cultural phenomena. But on its way to Spain the rapid expansion of Islam incorporated Egypt, with its cultural affinity for cats. Argue what you will about who borrowed what from whom, but the norm in Arab culture became that cats are Allah’s wonderful creatures and proper members of a Muslim household, while dogs are disgusting, dirty things, nearly as disreputable as pigs. And when a Spain that had been steeped in Arab influence that it desperately wanted to deny invaded Panama, the Spaniards came with vicious military dogs, on ships where cats were kept as pets and to keep rodents out of the ships’ food supplies. The Spanish war dogs couldn’t take Panamanian conditions and failed to leave much of a mark on the existing canine population, but domestic cats thrived on the isthmus.

Cats were far from the only exotic species that invaded Panama as part of the European Conquest. Many plants and animals came here from many places. Two of the more noteworthy exotic mammal species that came were horses and cattle. Ecologists will often talk about the destructive impact of cattle grazing, but far less frequent is a discussion about cattle as an invasive species that must be extirpated. In parts of the western United States, however, control of feral horses on federal lands is a public policy issue, with those who love the “wild” mustangs and those who don’t.

Then there were other mammals, raised as neither pets nor servants nor sources of meat, who came to Panama with the European invaders. These were the rats, two species in particular.

One of these, the Norway rat or brown rat — Rattus norvegicus — is believe to have originally come from northern China. This a relatively large rat as far as the muroids go, and it likes to burrow into the ground, or into structures made by people. It is the dominant rat species in Europe and much of North America and is present on all continents except for Antarctica. If you see rats scurrying down a Panama City alley, they are probably Norway rats.

Also present in Panama, and far more prolific here, is the black rat, Rattus rattus. These creatures, with smaller bodies but longer tails than the Norway rats, have been an especially terrible scourge of humanity. Thought to have originated in Southeast Asia, they spread through India to the Middle East and then into the Roman Empire. They were the reservoirs of the Pasteurella pestis microbes that were transmitted to humans via the bites of fleas which live on the rats to cause bubonic plague. In the middle of the 14th century Europe’s economic, social, political and religious orders were disrupted by the Black Death, a series of bubonic plague outbreaks that killed at least one-quarter of the European population.

In Panama the black rat is the most widespread rodent species. In urban settings it’s a climber found on rooftops and scurrying around on false ceilings. In rural settings it’s arboreal and a major agricultural pest for those who grow orchard crops.

The black rat is, however, not the most numerous of Panama’s 54 known rodent species. That distinction goes to the short-tailed cane mouse, Zygodontomys brevicauda, a species indigenous to the region, also an agricultural pest and also at times a disease vector.

Thus if domestic cats are an invasive exotic species, they are not the only ones on the scene. After they have become established parts of many environmental niches, the removal of feral cats will have a number of environmental effects, one of which is likely to be a spike in local rodent populations. There will also, however, be less predation of birds, lizards, snakes and other animals. Domestic cats, like certain people and unlike their distant wild cousins who are indigenous to Panama, will hunt for the fun of it. How serious a toll taken on wildlife by feral cats — and by pet cats who are fully domesticated members of human households who go out to hunt or who terrorize the geckos that populate most Panamanian homes — is a matter worthy of serious scientific debate.

But how ferocious, unscientific and even anti-scientific the debates can get!

Three ornithologists from the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center and Towson State University studied the survival rate of gray catbird fledglings in three locales of the Maryland suburbs of Washington DC. There were 69 birds counted, of which 42 did not survive to adulthood. The scientists observed six of the birds being killed by cats, and inferred from circumstances that anther three had fallen victim to feline predation. Other known predators killed 10 of the juvenile birds, while 14 succumbed to unknown predators. Predation was not much of a problem in one of the three venues.

So a press release by the Smithsonian National Zoo spun it in this way: “Sadly, predators were responsible for 79 percent of the mortalities of the juvenile catbirds in the study. Of those deaths, nearly half were attributed to cats….” But Alley Cat Allies, a grouip that is for spaying and protecting feral cat populations, replied with its “Breaking Down the Bogus Smithsonian Catbird Study” online post: “The number of deaths attributable to cats is 9 birds out of 69 — or 13% — not 47%.” The pro-cat group argued that the scientists’ work “is a limited study that cannot be extrapolated to represent the complex cat-bird dynamic nationwide” and that “much more disturbing, however, is how this data has been manipulated to malign cats and used widely to dredge up a false and counterproductive debate.”

Cats are predators with respect to many species of birds? How can anyone who knows cats deny it? How serious the predation problem would be surely depends on the species, the characteristics of the locale and the size and concentration of the cat population in that place. The study is what it is and would seem to call for more research in more places, with respect to more species of birds and making more measurements of the environmental contexts. To dismiss it out of hand or to exaggerate its findings both seem to be the sorts of dogmatic responses that characterize so much public discourse about so many different subjects in the United States these days.

But consider how intellectually lazy the “pro-science” argument that the study indicates that feral cat populations ought to be removed can be. Set aside all of the beside-the-point counter-arguments about how loss of habitat due to human activities takes a worse toll on the birds. Look at the other variables of the public policy problem, first of all the realities about cats.

This issue was presented to another branch of the Smithsonian Institution, in Panama. The Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute — STRI — maintains its headquarters in Ancon on the site of the old Tivoli Hotel, within eyesight of Panama’s legislative palace. Part of its grounds is a tiny forest fragment with both native and exotic species of trees, a relatively serene spot in a loud and chaotic city that attracts birds and is home to ñequis — indigenous forest rodents whose English name is agoutis but in most Panamanian English conversations will referred to by their local Spanish name, often with an anglicized pronunciation. On the other side of a busy roadway that’s hazardous to cats, people and other living things, there are the grounds of the legislative palace and an adjacent little urban park which together are home to a feral cat population, plus the hardscrabble and densely populated urban neighborhoods of San Miguel and Hollywood that also have feral cats. (There is nothing glamorous about the latter place.) “Safely” on STRI’s side of the road and down a hill from the little forest fragment there is a partially residential area that includes the National Police’s Directorate of Judicial Investigations complex. There are people who live or work in the area who feed the feral cats. Go another direction, uphill, from STRI and there are churches, government offices, courts, a cancer hospital and residences before one gets to Ancon Hill National Park, a magnificent tropical forest fragment that’s home to many wild species and one of the crown jewels of Panama’s capital city.

STRI’s Ancon headquarters had feral cats and went to Spay Panama, asking for the group’s assistance to remove the felines.

Understand about STRI: set in a country with one of the world’s very worst educational systems, it’s world-class research and educational institution, heavily weighted toward biological investigations but also home to geologists, anthropologists and scientists in other fields.

Spay Panama’s founder and director, Patricia Chan, is a retired financial planner. Not just an ordinary one. Under the US administration of the Panama Canal that ended on the last day of 1999, she was director of financial planning for the canal. The woman knows mathematics and she knows and loves cats, but she’s not a scientist in the sense that most of the people who work at STRI are.

However, it fell to Pat Chan to explain some things about the nature of feral cat populations to the scientists at STRI. Take all of the feral cats away from STRI’s little forest fragment in Ancon — “put them to sleep” to use the polite American term for a practice to which most Panamanians object, find them another home or whatever, but just get rid of them — and what will you accomplish? Sooner rather than later other feral cats from surrounding areas will move in and claim the niche as their own and the same problem will arise.

It’s much better, Chan argued, to capture the feral cats, neuter them and put them back to from whence they came. They will hold the territory against other cats, but won’t be adding to the population problem. STRI, whose staff includes cat lovers and those who would prefer a world without domestic cats, took her advice.

The capture, neuter and release strategy for dealing with feral cat populations is gaining adherents in many places around the world. In many places it faces bitter opposition.

Set aside traditional Humane Society operations that have vested contractual interests in the capture and kill if not adopted approach — with respect to feral cats it’s almost always a death sentence because these animals don’t want to be held by people or kept indoors. Set aside those who for whatever emotional reason just don’t like cats. Set aside the uninformed or misinformed. There can be reasons for opposing the maintenance of a feral cat population in a given area, spayed or not.

In some places there are wildlife species that have had no natural predators and are incapable of withstanding the ravages of hunting by feral cats. This is probably more true in Australia than on any other continent, and is certainly true on some small islands.

Feral cats carry diseases, it is argued. The one most often cited is toxoplasmosis, infestation by the internal parasite Toxoplasma gondii. Cats, dogs and other animals can carry it and humans can catch it too. Most human infections are just a nuisance that can be easily treated, but undetected and untreated for long enough in a child it can cause some serious damage, including blindness. But how are most human infections contracted? Not from exposure cats but by the improper handling of food.

It’s not a healthy thing for children to be playing in a sandbox that cats — pets or feral — may use as a litterbox. But forget about trying to train, eliminate or repel cats. Every proper children’s sandbox has a cat-proof cover for when it’s not in use.

So is there a middle path between denial and extreme measures that don’t actually work? Chan thinks that there is. “Overpopulation of cats is definitely a threat to public health. Cats in dumpsters are more prone to internal and external parasites and yet they help humans by keeping the rodent population under control, especially around dumpsters.” Through the capture, neuter and release approach she seeks to gradually reduce feral cat populations and the problems that they can cause. Meanwhile, any cat that comes through Spay Panama is treated for parasites and vaccinated against a number of diseases.

Perhaps the best showcase for what Spay Panama has been doing is at Plaza Francia, in the capital’s historic Casco Viejo. It’s adjacent to the French Embassy, not far from the presidential palace. Not too many years ago it was home to a large population of underfed and unhealthy cats who would compete for the food that kindly tourists and regular cat feeders had to offer. A lot of the males bore marks from fights with other cats. There are still feral cats prowling Plaza Francia, but after years of Spay Panama’s attention there are fewer of them and those who remain on the whole look a lot healthier.

The visible results of the capture, neuter and release strategy in Plaza Francia and other areas of Panama City seem to have won the public policy debate, at least on the municipal level. One of the first things that the current mayor of Panama City, José Isabel Blandón Figueroa, did upon assuming office was to set up a city Office of Animal Welfare that works closely with Spay Panama. Blandón’s policy is rooted both in a realization that too many feral cats and homeless dogs roaming the streets are a problem, but that the notion of rounding up and killing as many of them as possible is unacceptable to most Panamanians. The movement fits the national attitude, and has caught on in much of the rest of the country, with similar and allied groups doing the same sorts of things that Spay Panama does.


This and the following photo were taken on an early evening walk down a stree in Ancon that begins near the back entrance to STRI and ends at the DIJ. These are two of the many feral cats that aroused the concern of Panama's outpost of the Smithsonian.
This and the following photo were taken on an early evening walk down a street in Ancon that begins near the back entrance to STRI and ends at the DIJ. These are two of the many feral cats who aroused the concern of Panama’s outpost of the Smithsonian.


 DIJ cat


Casco bench
OF COURSE the Casco Viejo’s benches were installed for the cats. Ask any feline. Photo by José F. Ponce.


hurt male
Male cats who are not neutered and live on the streets get into fights and they get hurt. Neutering makes them less aggressive, but they will still defend their habitat and food supply.


hangig in the Casco
Hanging out in the Casco Viejo. Notice the ginger kitty’s clipped ear. When Spay Panama spays or neuters a cat, they mark the animal in this way. Photo by José F. Ponce.


furtive feral
Cats who have been socialized in a human household but come to find themselves living on the street may come up to greet a stranger. Rarely is that so with a cat who has never been “owned.” Feral cats may eventually develop a trusting relationship with a regular feeder, but they generally do not want to play, be petted, be picked up or be taken away to live indoors with people. They tend to hide when people are about — under cars, in drain pipes, in the many cracks and crevices of the urban landscape.


A lazy afternoon under a car on an Amador parking lot.


Amador kitten
This kitten was almost certainly not born feral, but was abandoned by people on the Amador Causeway.


is she?
Is she somebody’s cat, or her own? Photo by José F. Ponce.


night watch
Night watch in the Casco Viejo — it’s a tough job, but somebody has to do it. Photo by José F. Ponce


minisuper cat
This cat has a mini-super job.


UP cats
People who feed feral cats are part of who Panamanians are. These University of Panama cats depend on this woman and others like her. In jurisdictions where “animal control” takes a capture and kill approach to feral cats, cat feeding is often a crime. There are Panamanians who denigrate cat feeders. One of the insults of Panamanian political culture is to compare politicians and their entourages with cat feeders and a crowd of feral cats. But any attempt to suppress cat feeding would meet with widespread public disapproval. Photo by José F. Ponce.


Casco feed
Cat feeding time in the Casco Viejo. Photo by José F. Ponce.


Amador lunch
Leftover chicken and rice for lunch on Amador…


Juan Diaz
… and in Panama City’s sprawling corregimiento of Juan Diaz…


Anton cats
… and in the town of Anton.


feeding time?
Is it time to eat? Photo by José F. Ponce.


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Turner, El acoso a la Defensoría Universitaria


¡Vaya Magnífico!La necesidad de garantizar la independencia e institucionalidad de la Defensoría Universitaria

El acoso a la Defensoría Universitaria

por Anayansi Turner — MOVADUP

El 22 de marzo de 2012 fui escogida como primera Defensora de los Derechos de los Universitarios, por el Consejo General Universitario (CGU) de la Universidad de Panamá, para el período 2012-2017, en cumplimiento de la Ley No 24 de 2005, Orgánica de dicha institución.

Esta Ley, haciéndose eco de experiencias exitosas de otros países del continente americano y europeo, creó la figura del Defensor, a través de su artículo 79, y enfatizó en su carácter independiente y su función de “velar por los derechos de los estudiantes, profesores y administrativos”. Sus otras funciones estarían consignadas en el Estatuto Universitario y los reglamentos correspondientes. En el 2009 entró a regir el nuevo Estatuto, el cual señala (artículo 367) que las actuaciones del Defensor “no estarán sometidas a mandato imperativo de ninguna autoridad u órgano de gobierno de la Universidad de Panamá, por lo que tiene un carácter independiente”.

Un año y tres meses después de encontrarme en el ejercicio de mis funciones, específicamente, el 17 de julio de 2013, fui “suspendida provisionalmente” de mi cargo y sometida a “proceso disciplinario”, en abierta violación a ese mismo Estatuto que no contempla la medida de suspensión, sino de remoción por hechos debidamente comprobados; luego de una cadena de actos de hostigamiento a mi labor, por parte de las autoridades universitarias, que impedían de hecho, el funcionamiento de la Defensoría Universitaria.

El 12 de agosto de 2013, el Magistrado Sustanciador del Amparo de Garantías Constitucionales presentado por mi persona ante la Corte Suprema de Justicia, José Ayú Prado, acoge dicho Recurso y ordena el reintegro a mi posición en virtud del artículo 2621 del Código Judicial, cuestión que no se efectuó, por lo que nos vimos en la necesidad de SOLICITAR DESACATO, ante lo cual el CGU, mediante Acuerdo No 2-15, de 26 de mayo de 2015 (casi dos años después), decide reincorporarme al cargo de Defensora de los Derechos de los Universitarios, sin goce de salarios caídos.

Una vez reintegrada a mi posición se repite la historia: se dan una serie de hechos dirigidos a impedir el normal funcionamiento de esta Oficina, que pasamos a enumerar como sigue:

1. NO REINTEGRO A MI CÁTEDRA COMO DOCENTE UNIVERSITARIA. Tanto la Ley como el Estatuto universitarios contemplan como prerrequisito para ser Defensor, el ostentar el cargo de profesor titular tiempo completo. Sin embargo, desde el 12 de diciembre de 2013 fui suspendida inconstitucional e ilegalmente de mi posición de profesora y se me abre otro proceso disciplinario, esta vez, por parte del Consejo de Facultades de las Ciencias Sociales y Humanísticas, frente a lo cual presento amparo de garantías constitucionales, mismo que es decidido a mi favor a través de Fallo No 10 de 7 de marzo de 2014, emitido por el Juzgado Sexto de Circuito de lo Civil. Sin embargo, hasta la fecha no se da cumplimiento a dicho Fallo, pese a haber sido declaradas en desacato las autoridades miembros de dicho Consejo.

2. NULO PRESUPUESTO. A nuestro retorno a la Defensoría Universitaria nos encontramos con que las partidas presupuestarias del Despacho fueron centralizadas en la Rectoría a partir de mayo de 2015, pudiendo sólo disponer de un total de B/ 352.56 para el resto del año, sin considerar absolutamente rubros como: personal técnico y administrativo, mobiliario, útiles y materiales de oficina, transporte y viáticos. Hemos cursado Nota al Vicerrector Administrativo, del 22 de junio de los corrientes, sin que hasta la fecha se nos dé respuesta a nuestras necesidades más inmediatas.

3. CARENCIA DE ESTRUCTURA ORGÁNICA. Desde el 25 de abril de 2012 hicimos entrega al Director General de Planificación Universitaria, propuesta de Estructura Administrativa del Despacho, sin que hasta la fecha haya habido aprobación de la misma.

4. NO NOMBRAMIENTO DE DEFENSOR ADJUNTO. No obstante, nuestra petición de nombramiento de Defensor Adjunto, al señor Rector, desde el 2013 y a través de nota reiterativa del 30 de julio de este año, aún no se nos nombra al mismo, a pesar de que es una potestad del Defensor principal, su nominación.

5. TRASLADO DE PERSONAL DE LA DEFENSORÍA A OTRAS OFICINAS Y NO NOMBRAMIENTO DE NUEVAS UNIDADES. Una vez el CGU aprueba mi reintegro a la Defensoría se produce el traslado de 3 unidades (2 abogadas y una administradora), por lo que acudimos a solicitar al señor Rector el nombramiento de tres personas que las sustituyeran, lo cual nos fue negado por la Directora de Recursos Humanos, alegando no existencia de fondos disponibles.

6. NO APROBACIÓN DE REGLAMENTO DE LA DEFENSORÍA. El 30 de octubre de 2012 presentamos a consideración del CGU, por vía del Secretario General y de la Rectoría, propuesta de Reglamento, en virtud de nuestra facultad que nos otorga el artículo 369, literal d, del Estatuto universitario. Sin embargo, dicha propuesta fue enviada al Consejo Académico el 5 de junio de 2013 y sometida a revisión de Comisión de este Consejo, reenvío que NO corresponde a las funciones de este último órgano de gobierno, sino al CGU. Se ha dilatado injustificadamente la aprobación, lo cual dificulta el funcionamiento de la Defensoría, la cual tiene que utilizar, para la tramitación de quejas y denuncias, la Ley 38 de 2000, que se refiere al procedimiento general en la administración pública.

7. DESALOJO DE NUESTRAS OFICINAS. El jueves 13 de agosto recibimos la visita de representante de la empresa Arco, para notificarnos que a partir del 17 de este mes iniciaría trabajos para la habilitación del espacio que hoy ocupamos para su conversión en “Sala de Audiencias”, a petición del señor Decano de Derecho y Ciencias Políticas, sin que exista garantías de existencia de otras oficinas donde podamos funcionar adecuadamente.

8. INCOMUNICACIÓN CON ÓRGANOS DE GOBIERNO Y AUTORIDADES UNIVERSITARIAS. Los funcionarios de Secretaría General de la Universidad de Panamá han recibido instrucciones de no citarnos para las reuniones de los órganos de cogobierno universitarios, cuando el artículo 369 del Estatuto dice que parte de nuestras funciones es asistir a dichas reuniones. Por otro lado, existe una actitud generalizada de las diversas autoridades universitarias de no darnos respuesta a nuestros Oficios, donde les solicitamos un Informe acerca de los hechos planteados por los quejosos, cuando el derecho de petición establecido en la Constitución Política significa recibir respuesta en un plazo no mayor de 30 días.

La Defensoría de los Universitarios de la Universidad de Panamá forma parte de los mecanismos de protección de sus derechos humanos con que cuentan las personas, en este caso, los universitarios. No respetar su independencia, no dotar de los recursos humanos y materiales necesarios para su funcionamiento y no cooperar para garantizar su institucionalidad como ente de fiscalización y garantía de la legalidad, es afectar el acceso a la justicia a que tiene derecho un conglomerado importante de individuos como lo son más de 50,000 universitarios de esta institución.

Denunciamos a la faz de la entidad y del país, el atentado a la independencia e institucionalidad de la Defensoría de los Universitarios que se ha venido gestando desde el momento mismo en que fuimos escogidos, hasta la fecha, y manifestamos que seguiremos luchando en contra de su desnaturalización y manipulación, pues tal como lo reconoce la Comisión Interamericana de Derechos Humanos (CIDH) de la Organización de Estados Americanos, en su 2º Informe sobre la Situación de las Defensoras y los Defensores de Derechos Humanos en las Américas, las instituciones nacionales de defensa de los derechos humanos bajo la figura de “ombudsman o defensores del pueblo” juegan un importante rol “en el avance en la consolidación de las instituciones democráticas”.


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Corruption scandals are taking a toll on Panama’s banking system


banking district This time the problem isn’t the direct threat of official sanctions, but major US and European banks that increasingly cut their risks by limiting their dealings with Panamanian banks in the wake of multiple major scandals

Hot money causes quiet boycott

by Eric Jackson

There are problems that nobody cares to explain. It’s not that the ATM machine isn’t working — other people are taking money out — but THIS foreign credit card won’t work. That international funds transfer is taking longer than the usual forever, with nobody offering a coherent explanation. Are there published statistics about how often this is happening and where, now and by comparison with the past? Of course not — this is Panama.

But early in August, someone at the Banking Superintendency who wished not to be identified let something slip to La Estrella. About 25 major banks, mostly in the United States and Europe, have cut off their corresponding bank relationships with banks in Panama.

Why does that matter? Let’s say that you want to move money from your account in the Boondocks Main Street Bank in a small US state, using your debit card at the ATM machine at Banco Narcotrafico SA. For these two small institutions to effect an international money transfer would take a long time if they were the only ones involved. For speed and convenience a third bank becomes involved as the corresponding bank, which covers the transaction while it is percolating through the two smaller institutions, allowing for much quicker service. Without a corresponding bank Boondocks Main Street Bank and Banco Narcotrafico could still handle the transaction between themselves, but it just takes much longer.

By reputation and according to their occasional statements, the consensus in Panama’s banking center ever since the aftermath of the 1989 US invasion has been to get out of the money laundering business. But exactly what that business is and how it is defined and regulated are all evolving. Back in 1990 it meant transactions involving the proceeds of organized crime, usually drug trafficking or peculation by Third World dictators. Later the financing of terrorism — itself a changing concept — came into play. There arose the notion of Politically Exposed Persons (PEPs), those in government posts amenable to vast peculation or massive bribery, and then members of their families through whose accounts ill-gotten gains might flow. The parking of the profits of tax evasion in places like Panama became a big concern to the United States and a number of other jurisdictions.

As the scrutiny increased, PEPs increasingly took advantage of anonymous shell corporations in jurisdictions like Panama that have corporate secrecy. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), largely reflecting the concerns of the more industrialized countries, spun off a Financial Action Task Force (FATF) to pressure countries like Panama to reform their financial systems’ practices so as to be less corruption-friendly. Panama has chronically lived under threat of blacklisting and sanctions by the OECD and FATF. Many changes in Panamanian banking and corporate laws have been adopted to avoid sanctions, perhaps the most noteworthy being that Panama will now share tax information with the governments of the richer countries.

Still, evasion games that had been played for a long time took on grandiose proportions during the Martinelli administration, and most of the biggest recent financial scandals seem to have had Panama connections. One might say that Panama has become a convenient scapegoat, but it’s not as if we are an innocent country being framed.

Financial scandals in Spain’s royal family prompted the king to abdicate, and where did the ex-monarch’s corrupt son-in-law and daughter launder the money? Actually, in a number of places, with Panama as a link along a money laundering chain that was allegedly organized by a Panamanian law firm. Spain’s ruling but discredited Partido Popular allegedly used the same sort of organization and some of the same people to send bribe money on a circuitous route to politicians’ Swiss bank accounts.

Switzerland is not innocent, but its banking industry claims to be cleaning up its act and taking an unfair share of blame. “Switzerland has a fundamental interest in ensuring that no illicit assets of politically exposed persons (PEPs) –- so-called potentate funds –- enter its financial center,” a notice by Swiss bank regulators said. “PEPs are persons who exercise prominent public functions abroad, specifically heads of state and government, senior politicians at national level, and senior officials in the government, judiciary, military and parties at national level, as well as in the highest bodies in state-owned companies of national importance.” All well and good — but what happens when the dealings are with front people, or with anonymously held corporations?

Switzerland, of all jurisdictions, also ought to know about games that get played in international organizations that are powerful and wealthy, but not strictly governmental. For example, the soccer world’s ruling body, FIFA. On May 27 six of the organization’s top figures were arrested on US warrants at a hotel in Zurich, where they had come for a meeting at FIFA world headquarters in that Swiss city. The US indictment was far more extensive, aimed bribery and kickbacks in the awarding of media, marketing and sponsorship rights for soccer tournaments in the United States and Latin America and at the choice of Russia to host the 2018 World Cup and of Qatar as the host country in 2022. Arrests and extradition battles are still ongoing.

One of the allegations in the US indictment is about a kickback made to the Trinidadian principal defendant Jeffery Webb to steer a soccer uniform contract to a company in the Colon Free Zone, with the illicit payoff made through Capital Bank in Panama City. The indictment describes a:

wire transfer of $1,100,000 from Traffic International’s account at Delta National Bank & Trust Co. in Miami, Florida, to a Wells Fargo correspondent account in New York, New York, for credit to an account in the name of Soccer Uniform Company A at Capital Bank in Panama City, Panama.

None of the banks or people who work at them were charged. Perhaps some people in those institutions were key informants for US investigators. But on the face of it, Wells Fargo would not have known that it was acting as correspondent bank for a transaction involving a top FIFA official. And look at the other banks also mentioned, but not charged, in the FIFA indictment:

  • Citi Private Bank
  • Delta National Bank & Trust Co. (Miami)
  • Banco do Brasil
  • First Citizens Bank (Trinidad & Tobago)
  • Barclays Bank (Cayman Islands)
  • Bank Itau (New York)
  • Bank of America
  • Republic Bank (Trinidad & Tobago)
  • First Caribbean International Bank (Bahamas)
  • Delta Bank (Qatar)
  • Intercommercial Bank (Trinidad & Tobago)
  • HSBC Bank (Hong Kong)
  • Standard Chartered Bank (New York)
  • Fidelity Bank (Cayman Islands)
  • SunTrust Bank (Georgia)
  • JP Morgan Chase Bank (New York and Miami)
  • Espirito Santo Bank (Miami)
  • Bank Hapoalim (Zurich)
  • Bank Julius Baer (Zurich)

We know from other financial scandals that some of the biggest banks mentioned — and the ones most likely to play the correspondent banking role — are also quite dirty. But in the FIFA case will the plea nevertheless be that respectable and innocent companies were had by hustlers from the sporting world hiding behind front people and shell companies?

US justice is not the only system looking at FIFA. A relatively newer part of the mega-scandal that’s rocking Brazil and has landed construction giant Odebrecht’s CEO, Marcelo Odebrecht, behind bars is a probe into contracts for the building of soccer stadiums in Brazil for the 2014 World Cup. Most of the Brazilian scandal, though, is about bid rigging with respect to the state-owned Petrobras oil company, for the construction of offshore oil drilling platforms and other projects. These alleged crimes mostly would have taken place when Lula da Silva was president and the current president, Dilma Rousseff, was the minister in charge of Petrobras. A complicated, mostly three-stage, money laundering process allegedly moved the kickbacks from Odebrecht to three Petrobras executives. These involve money movements through shell companies in Panama, Switzerland, Austria, the British Virgin Islands, Antigua & Barbuda, Belize, Monaco and Uruguay. A Panamanian company called Constructora Internacional del Sur and controlled by Ricardo Martinelli’s cousin Frankie Martinelli, was signed up as a mysterious subcontractor for the Odebrecht-FCC consortium that built Line One of the Panama City Metro. Constructora Internacional del Sur did not appear to actually do any construction work on the project, but some $3 million did pass through its accounts at Credicorp Bank in Panama City to three Petrobras executives. The company was dissolved shortly after Ricardo Martinelli left office.

The relationship between Odebrecht and the Panamanian government is something of a taboo subject here. If the company has been dirty all along and the slime has rubbed off on every administration with which it dealt, all major Panamanian political parties would be implicated. Consider, though, one curious fact: that viaduct that Odebrecht built around the Casco Viejo cost some $300 million per kilometer to build, making it one of world history’s most expensive stretches of road. It’s a perhaps relevant starting point for questions because in all at least $47 million passed through the accounts of Constructora Internacional del Sur.

But would a corresponding bank have known enough to smell something funny? First of all, a president’s cousin would not be considered a PEP under many working definitions at the time. Moreover, Frankie Martinelli’s name did not appear anywhere on the Constructora Internacional del Sur papers on file at the Registro Publico. It was in the name of his chauffeur, who says he had nothing to do with running the operation and does not appear to have been a beneficiary.

The corresponding banks, which are at least theoretically subject to law enforcement and regulatory pressures in their own countries, are supposed to pay special attention to accounts linked to PEPs. But the Odebrecht / Petrobras / Constructora Internacional del Sur / Frankie Martinelli connection, by the design of Panamanian law, is supposed to fly under foreign corresponding banks’ radar. And in the Odebrecht and Petrobras scandal, Martinelli’s company was only one of six Panamanian companies through which money flowed to the three Petrobras execs.

Odebrecht is huge and notorious, and might be taken by the financial world as a singularity, whose operations are not indicative of Panamanian practices. However, there are more than 160 separate criminal investigations of various allegedly corrupt situations during the Martinelli administration. In just one of these, former National Assistance Program (PAN) director Rafael Guardia Jaén has identified these banks as having taken deposits of funds corruptly obtained from that governmental entity:

  • Global Bank
  • Banco General
  • Unibank
  • Banesco
  • St. Georges Bank
  • Banistmo

The government took control of Banco Universal, which served as a clearinghouse for much of the Martinelli administration’s corruption and has thus proven to be a rich source of information that has led to other banks and companies involved in the laundering of money obtained by public officials and their confederates through bribery, kickbacks or theft. The organized crime prosecutor is looking into a complaint about 13 bankers for allegedly laundering the proceeds of Martinelli administration corruption. Their banks include:

  • Banco General
  • Global Bank
  • La Hipotecaria
  • Credicorp Bank
  • St. Georges Bank
  • Banco Universal
  • Balboa Bank & Trust
  • Banistmo
  • Banesco
  • Towerbank International
  • Unibank
  • Banco Ficohsa
  • Banco Panama

Meanwhile, Panama’s Banking Superintendent has announced that 16 Panama City banks are being investigated over money laundering offenses. Few further details, however, have been provided about this.

The complaint from abroad is that many of these accounts were then used to send money out of Panama, but the corresponding banks dealing with those transactions were given no heads-up from this country that they were dealing with Politically Exposed Persons. And thus it seems that many of the important corresponding banks have cut those ties with the Panamanian banking system. It is bound to be inconvenient for ordinary bank customers who have nothing at all to do with Panamanian politics or the money laundering underworld, and if it gets bad enough that ATM machines won’t work for foreign visitors it would be a huge blow to Panamanian tourism.


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The Panama News blog links, August 18, 2015


Percusson 1

Percussion 2
For the schedule of Central American Percussion Festival events, click here

The Panama News blog links, August 18, 2015

Video, Transistmico Project – Anhelos

Video: Sequía, calado de buques y ampliación, temas abordados por Quijano

The Maritime Executive, Maersk’s new ships too big for the expanded canal

Video, How the expanded Panama Canal will work

Rodríguez Gelfenstein: El canal de Nicaragua, una ruta para la paz y el encuentro

EFE, Justine Pasek rechaza ser jurado en Miss USA por declaraciones de Trump

El País, José Andrés no está solo contra Trump

Prensa Latina, Panamanian documentary gets three nominations in Milan

Washington Post, DC United begins CONCACAF Champions League play in Panama

Mella & Gorriti, Pagos panameños

Blades & La Prensa, Coima

AFP, Víctimas de espionaje telefónico en Panamá acusan a Martinelli

R. Baker, China’s crisis

D. Baker, China’s currency devaluation and the Fed

Varoufakis, A new approach to Eurozone sovereign debt

Emmott, The great emerging market bubble

Cole, Poll: only 1 in 4 American want more US involvement abroad

TeleSur, Key evidence missing in Ayotzinapa case

AFP, Marchas en 101 ciudades de Brasil contra Dilma Rousseff

WOLA, Bolivia’s innovative coca policy

STRI, El Niño sets record in Panama Canal Watershed

Video, The tiny pygmy sloth of Panama

Mongabay, Hunted orcas spotlight Caribbean whaling

Wise, The GM labeling law to end all labeling laws

Baerga, La comunicación que nos hace ‘más latinoamericanos’

Marichal, Puerto Rico after the default

Fresh Plaza, Bocas banana strike settled

Book Fair


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The Democratic presidential candidates at the Iowa State Fair


The Democrats at the Iowa State Fair

Hillary Clinton

Bernie Sanders

Jim Webb

Martin O’Malley

Lincoln Chafee


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