The HSBC bank Panama, a likely candidate to participate in financing deals for the Canal expansion project, asked the government to step up its efforts to repress civic protests and criticism. The request was made by Joe Salterio of HSBC during a now famous "secret" breakfast meeting August 28th in the Miramar Hotel in which Martin Torrijos, representatives of the government, the media and Panama's corporate cupola participated.
The results of HSBC's request have been clear for everyone: police forces acted heavy handed against protesting schoolteachers, using tear gas and violence to attack marches and sieging schools where teachers were having their meetings. Saturday, a FRENADESO leader, Jaime Caballero, was arrested and detained in David while distributing leaflets. According to FRENADESO, Minister of Government and Justice Olga Golcher was present at the scene and stated that even though the arrest was probably illegal, it was necessary in order to avoid a propaganda meeting by president Martin Torrijos and local politicians to be disturbed.
After 10 hours, Jaime Caballero was released.
Why would HSBC be interested in repressing protests and criticism violently? One theory has it that they know what's coming. To understand this better, we'll need to get into referendum politics a little deeper.
The breakfast meeting would not have been called had it not been necessary, i.e. had not most participants been convinced that chances are the referendum will be lost by the government. There are only two ways to avoid defeat: postpone the referendum and fraud.
Postponing the referendum (and change the proposal) appears the logic way to go. Even in government and PRD circles, there are many advocating this solution. But president Martin Torrijos won't allow it, because it will weaken his position in a party where many are looking already at the next elections.
The other option is fraud. That wouldn't be a first for the PRD, which has a rich tradition in defrauding the electorate and stealing elections and referenda. The difference with the old days is that today they do not have total control.
In Panama, civil movements do not build up tension and don't conduct campaigns for years. Panama is a country where all seems quiet, and then suddenly it detonates. A stolen referendum will most certainly be such a detonator similar to when Diaz Herrera turned against Noriega and made his public confessions.
Such protests would of course lead to massive violence, and to create a climate of repression and limit liberties already before the referendum would be a good strategic move for the government.
So the question is: Does HSBC's Joe Salterio know something we don't but should?