"Up every morning, out every evening
Hustling for headlines, that's what I do
Table at Sardi's, grappling for gossip
Working the press for a mention or two...
Public Relations, Public Relations
Boozing and schmoozing, that's what I do
PR's my vocation And I'm a sensation
Public relations Such hullabaloo"
From Public Relations, Jimmy Buffett, 1998
I don't think many journalists in Panama, and even less foreign journalist, have had the dubious pleasure of being subject of such regular coverage or, better said, smear, as I have over the last months.
Subjects varied from unspecified "North American agents" investigating me; a legislator and head of the Colegio de Abogados saying I should not criticize Mireya during election times; there was one of these ambulance chasing lawyers (with klepto-suit and too much gold) who was barking wherever he could that I should be expelled from the country and thrown in jail; immigration authorities were supposedly investigating my residential status - and I'm sure I'm forgetting some other amazing tales here.
What had all these stories in common, except that they were exclusively published in such publications as El Siglo and La Critica?
The answer: Tomas A. Cabal, merchant in smear campaigns, info-warrior for dirty businesses, bribe broker and a number of other things. When you're searching for corruption in journalism, you found it. No need to look any further.
I have to admit that I was wrong about Cabal. Initially I thought he was a colorful but basically harmless phenomenon, a primitive spin-doctor, one of these characters that come with the territory in a country like Panama. But I underestimated how dangerous he is, his sleaze and his viciousness. Calling him a predator would be too much honor, as predators are predictable and have a certain grace, whereas Cabal is the kind of person who pretends to be a friend, at the same time stabbing you in the back with one hand while collecting his fees with the other.
The Harris Organisation
I first met Mr. Cabal when he was working for Marc M. Harris. At that time, I considered Harris a friend, and as such I was a regular guest at his office. So was Cabal. During their meetings, Harris and Cabal would discuss "publicity strategies" to obtain favorable press for Marc Harris. For a price, Cabal had articles appear in papers like El Siglo and La Critica. Some journalists and editors working for these papers are willing to print convenient stories in exchange for payment (I'll be publishing their names later on this site). Cabal always unfolded grandiose sounding campaigns which would relieve Harris of all his problems in Panama. It speaks for itself that Cabal would charge similar grandiose fees for his efforts which, as everybody knows, have not prevented Harris from being arrested, deported and convicted. Every Friday, Cabal would drop by to collect his cheque, which was usually $2,000, on top of which came payments for corrupted journalists.
Both Cabal and Harris were extremely upset when the fact that Harris paid Cabal had become publicly known and was published in a Miami newsletter. After all, Cabal himself was writing articles in favor of Marc Harris while claiming to be independent and the financial relationship was supposed to be confidential. The reason that the story was leaked appears to be the strong dislike many Harris employees had for Cabal because of his blatant racism and anti-semitism.
Another rogue company on Cabal's client list since approximately October 2003 is San Cristobal. I published extensively about San Cristobal, and believe them to be a fraud. Furthermore, there are two arrest warrants for owner Tom McMurrain in Atlanta for “theft by conversion”, and he is under investigation by the FBI for previous frauds he allegedly committed in Georgia. The police in Bocas del Toro faxed me documents last year showing they were investigating Tom McMurrain and several of his local employees for drug dealing. Obviously, San Cristobal wasn’t happy with my articles, and after about half a year of threats, harassment and a criminal defamation complaint, they hired Cabal to assist them in their public relations efforts.
And so I became the subject of weeks of publicity. The whole campaign showed exactly the same pattern as earlier campaigns Cabal had instigated for Marc M. Harris. Same "journalists", same vague allegations and the same non-news. And again, he wrote an article posing as an independent journalist about all the good San Cristobal is supposedly doing in the province of Bocas del Toro and distributed that on Marc Harris' old news-list The Panama Connection. That list is now described as "an e-journal dedicated to investigative journalism (sic) related to events involving Panama, Latin America, and the world," and Cabal is introduced as "investigative journalist Tomas Cabal."
At one time, Cabal tried to negotiate on behalf of San Cristobal for me to accept a $15,000 bribe, which would masquerade as financing for my newspaper project, an offer which I declined. The smear campaign then continued full steam ahead, with Cabal writing to his associates that the objective was to have me thrown in jail.
Also in October last year, Cabal contacted me and requested a meeting at the Club Union, of which he is a member. At this meeting, he explained that he had been hired by PECC, through Hugo Torrijos, to ensure favorable publicity for that company. Torrijos had assured him, or so Cabal claimed, that he was "clean" concerning the PECC case, so there should be nothing to fear.
Cabal then told me a story to the effect that Minister Salazar, Alvin Weeden, Carlos Bares as well as Winston Spadafora would be trying to nullify the PECC contract in order to grant a new contract to companies controlled by the Russian mafia. The Russian mafia would then use the contract to facilitate drugs and arms trafficking, in which aforementioned group ("The Chitré Clan") would also be heavily involved. The drugs-for-arms-deals would be made in the Dariën province and smuggling the contraband, according to Cabal, would be done in small quantities, the so-called "trafico de hormigas". The operation was, still according to Cabal, being managed for the Chitré Clan by a certain "Chalo Gonzalez", who used to be in charge of Noriega's "Macho de Monte" batallion. Not the kind of people you'd want to mess with when seeking to avoid a higher premium on your life insurance policy.
Cabal did not explain why, given the importance of such a story if it were true, he did not write and publish this sensational scoop himself.
Cabal offered me, again, financing for my newspaper project if I would just publish this story. "This should be a perfect first issue," he crowed, "imagine, Russian Mafia Takes Over Canal, on the front page!"
I wasn't so happy with that idea, and replied that I would not do any of that nor accept this "financing", but that he could hire me to research the story if he wanted. He paid me $1,000, and I started to research.
My conclusion was that Cabal’s story had no merit. None of the “sources” he mentioned knew anything about the Russian mafia trying to take over the PECC contract. I even investigated in Russia – I speak Russian – but found not a shred of evidence for Cabal’s allegations. The companies which Cabal claimed were ready to take over the PECC contract had all been dismantled years ago in the US and their owners convicted. Not even Charles Jumet himself was able to confirm any of Cabal's inventions.
The other issue Cabal mentioned was the fact that Minister Salazar allegedly stopped the construction by PECC of a shipping control tower in Manzanilla Bay, Colon. According to Cabal, the reason for this would be that such a control tower could be used to effectively combat drugs trafficking in the area, which, in light of the Russian mafia supposedly taking over the PECC contract, would be undesirable.
I couldn’t find any evidence for this story either, other than that indeed the construction of said tower appeared to have been halted by Salazar for unknown reasons.
The PRD; Cabal gets government job?
Yet another offer - which I turned down as well - for financing for my newspaper came from Cabal in relation to his ongoing efforts for the PRD (aren't there any honest people willing to invest in genuine journalism in Panama?). Even before he was working for PECC, Cabal claimed he was working for the PRD campaign. "I have demanded that they give me a government job if we win the elections," Cabal stated, and continued, "I'm not sure yet, but I think I want Jarvis' job". God help us all.
Recently, Tomas Cabal contacted me if I would be interested in publishing a defamatory article about presidential candidate Guillermo Endara. The story was about the so-called “Fernandez Espina brothers”, whom Cabal described as “big time narcos and money launderers” who now owned an airline “Air Madrid” which would be flying to Panama.
He wrote me that “people in the PRD want to bring this out because these guys were connected to Endara.”
Hujo Torrijos, with whom Cabal dealt about the PECC case, is to a certain extend involved in the PRD’s election campaign as well.
The condition for giving this “project” to me would be to "leave San Cristobal alone". Instead of accepting, I published the whole affair on this web site.
Loose lips sink ships
Cabal is not very sophisticated in the way he works. "Sloppy" would be a more accurate description of how he treats his clients' confidential information and interests. During several meetings with Cabal in the Club Union, I witnessed him having numerous loud conversations over the phone with Charles Jumet and Hugo Torrijos about the PECC affair. I remember them for example discussing the possibility of Jumet traveling to Panama to give a surprise press conference.
Right after this, Michelle Lescure gave a sworn statement about a conspiracy against Comptroller of the State Alvin Weeden, which would involve me as well as San Cristobal. Her statement was front page news for several days and unfortunately caused the - now frightened - law firm which had agreed to do legal work for my newspaper to retract itself from that project. The statement of Mrs. Lescure was apparently somewhat based on Tomas Cabal bragging about how he would fix the PECC case and his plans with me and others. However, other than in the mind of Tomas Cabal, no such conspiracy existed, as I outlined above.
But in this case, Cabal had managed to screw the interests of two of his clients at the same time, PECC and San Cristobal. PECC, because some of what Cabal was trying to do was revealed, and San Cristobal because they had their offices raided by the police for something they had nothing to do with but which brought them on the front page of every newspaper in Panama.
One effect of the acrobatics of someone like Tomas Cabal is that even legitimate statements or complaints from, for example, PECC about their business in Panama lose all credibility.
If your name is Tomas Cabal, however, what you do if you just screwed up is to ask for more money from your clients to fix the problems that have arisen. Especially Tom McMurrain of San Cristobal appears to be a willing victim for this tactic, which is all the more remarkable given his own past as a financial hustler. Then again, why anyone would want to hire a charlatan as counter-productive as Tomas Cabal is beyond me. His efforts on behalf of Marc Harris, PECC, the PRD and San Cristobal do not seem to have produced any tangible results other than for Cabal's wallet.
Nevertheless, recent email messages that were sent by Cabal to one of his associates Paul Collin, a convicted counterfeiter, fugitive and psychiatric case in former Yugoslavia, indicate that he intends to persist in his campaign against me on behalf of San Cristobal in the local press.
So dear reader, if you read my name again in El Siglo or La Critica, you now know where it's coming from. Don't pay attention.