Paging Martinelli: Why We Don’t Do Business in Panama

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Hello there Mr. Martinelli!

I read this morning in La Prensa that you did not have much good to say about the televised news in our nation. You were quoted as saying that the news items are “rojos y de pacotilla” which means as much as sensationalist rubbish, and that the various channels are competing for ratings “por el vil real, para que el pueblo vea los muertos, atracos y los asesinatos” (competing in the gutter, showing the people the dead, the armed robberies and the murders - liberally translated). And then you chastised the low quality of the telenovelas.

Bosco the Clown's Trash TV Scares Investors Away?

You're right. It sucks. The TV stations in Panama are unable to produce even a minute of quality content. It's not just the news shows which never tell us the real news. It's the maddening trash that is passed off as entertainment as well. Your mayor, Bosco the Clown, and his performances as a song and dance man on TeleMetro or selling dubious real estate and perfumes - nuff said. It's not going to change, I'm afraid. It's just what you get with commercial television and no public broadcasting to speak of. The nitwits who run these stations won't invest in quality nor allow any talent to surface because that would expose them as the dumbfucks they really are. You, Mr. Martinelli, hold one of the 22 shares of TVN, so maybe you can do something about it yourself. But I doubt it. As you very well know from your own career in business: Trash sells, or I wouldn't have seen so many Super99 ads around the same televised rubbish you now condemn.

Anyway. In the same La Prensa story, you were also quoted as saying that "los empresarios no quieren invertir en Panamá por la violencia que se refleja en los medios". Or: Foreign businesses don't want to invest in Panama because they see violence on TV. This, with all due respect, made me wonder, kind of, if everything is really in order upstairs, I mean, in your head?

Because let me break the news to you: Despite all your speeches about how "Panama is open for business", I avoid doing business in Panama like the plague and would strongly advise others against investing here. I won't even open an account in one of those wacky banks. For a business I'm involved in we incorporated in England, even though it's being run from here, in order not to have to deal with your country's officialdom and plain porqueria. And that's not because I - or other entrepreneurs - see dead people in the news. You can see these anywhere and your statement that it would shy investors away is a bit ludicrous if I may say so. The real reason is, Mr. Martinelli, that you can't get your act together.

First of all the legal system sucks. It is corrupt, unprofessional and steeped in political games. I'm not just making that up, it's what various international organizations say too, listing for example such problems as harsh prison conditions and abuse by prison guards; prolonged pretrial detention; corruption (a fiscal from La Chorrera running an extortion racket whom you turned into a hero); ineffectiveness, and political manipulation of the judicial system (you know all about that one, don't ya?); political pressure on the media (same here); discrimination and violence against women; human trafficking; discrimination against Panama’s indigenous communities; and child labor. We have more policemen per 100k residents than any other country in the hemisphere but spend only one fifth of for example Costa Rica as a percentage of our budget on the court system. Hell, our Supreme Court, that judicial madhouse in Ancón, features one magistrate who can't even enter the US anymore because of his favors to drug traffickers, selling of consulates, dealings with Jean Figali and whatever else he may have been involved in. Good luck getting justice out of that snake pit.

I've seen your legal system at work, Mr. Martinelli, on many occasions. It's like watching one of those bad telenovelas you get so crazy about, but scarier. They routinely violate the rules of due process, often seem unaware of the law, take decisions on a whim and the word "corruption" barely suffices to describe the modus operandi of the judiciary. They should just auction off their verdicts on Ebay. I've even seen a judge fall asleep during a high profile drug trial, I kid you not. Then again, that was after he had lunch with the head of the DEA in Panama so he was already told what verdict to reach.

If you think that I or any other foreigner should do business in Panama under such circumstances you're frankly out of your mind, Mr. Martinelli. Why would I voluntarily submit to a system where enforcing a contract might take years and will only work if sufficient bribes are paid - in short, where I am not being protected by the rule of law? And it's not just those judges; someone should make a list one day of all the people who work for the judges, you know, the secretaries and what have you (more often than not family members and friends), because they are often the ones who charge substantial amounts of money if you want your case attended within the next five years or so.

Talking about corruption: That's the second reason nobody should invest here and why they didn't buy your government bonds recently. From cops shaking you down to El Toro and his casino licenses and PECC and CEMIS and now the thieves who call themselves "legislators" - and that includes those of your own governing alliance, Mr. Martinelli - caught with their greasy hands in the social investment cookie jar, and even you yourself and your pathetic polo shirts - corruption is not something that parasites on the Panamanian system; it IS the system. Why would I want to do business in a place where everyone is looking for a bribe, selling out, bought, sold and paid for?

And that brings me to the third reason Panama is best avoided: The business climate is too scammy. Juega vivo rules this place. You can't really trust anyone, the rules may change in the middle of the game and especially the foreign entrepreneur is simply seen as an easy source of money. Business disputes solved through mediating in normal countries are in Panama treated as criminal cases or worse. Not surprisingly, this in turn attracts a plethora of foreign crooks and scam artists who are basically left alone after having bribed their way into a residency permit. Great for tourism! Of course everyone would want to stay at a dive resort in Nombre de Dios owned by a fugitive child rapist, right? On top of that, the local business sector is, as you very well know, run by just a handful of oligarch families and if you don't suck up to them and their politics you won't get anywhere in this country. It would be one thing if this elite would be at least somewhat enlightened in its morals and spirits, but that's not the case either. Panama's richest family, for example, has succeeded in making sure that we have an international airport where the tax-free cigarettes are more expensive than those sold in the local tienda AND you can't buy a newspaper anywhere, let alone a book. A unique combination not found anywhere else in the world, I'll give you that, but not one that actually attracts anyone, wouldn't you agree? I mean, Hub Of The Americas - really?

Speaking about the airport; just before Christmas there was a Dutch trade delegation in Panama which mainly consisted of multinational construction and development companies. You know how these people are: One thing goes wrong and it's over. So they are stopped by that STUPID and RETARDED police checkpoint your guys maintain at Tocumen and they had - after an 11 hour flight and all the safety stuff that comes with it - totally had it with Panama already before even reaching the city. "Sure it is beautiful", one was quoted as saying after touring the country. "But so are the Bahamas. Or Bali. And Miami has a clean beach in the city, it's cheaper, and easier to fly to." Eat that, Mr. Martinelli. Oh, and they didn't like all these corruption scandals either. Get it? They were already done with Panama before even having a chance to see these telenoticias you were whining about!

I have to confess to you, Mr. Supermarket King, that I sometimes wonder if you take this business of governing a country serious at all. Take all this hoopla about security. With so many policemen in the streets dressed and armed as if World War 3 is about to start, I wonder if they're there in case the 40% of the population who are poor get angry because you fail to put an end to extreme and obscene wealth in Panama? Yet, despite their big guns and macho sunglasses, all these policemen really seem capable of is the occasional drug bust of a competing gang, checking license plates at endless checkpoints and shake drivers down for bribes. It's nice, having infrastructure and highways and all that, but what's the point if crossing any of the bridges across the Canal involves standing in a traffic jam because the police needs pocket money?

And why, if security is so important to you, are you surrounding yourself with hardcore Noriegistas who have after all caused Panama's most insecure decades in the history of the country? What are Gustavo Perez and Eric Espinosa doing in a "Change" government? What is Asunción Gaitan doing in Panama, I ask you?

And why is your Minister of the Presidency, Jimmy Papadimitriu, talking on the phone directly with MAN?

You know, Mr. Martinelli, you can travel all you want and try to market Panama with this super-lame slogan of yours, "Panama is open for business", but, frankly, your product sucks. Recently General Electric skipped Panama and set up shop in Chile instead, because they weren't allowed to bring in the trained people they needed and couldn't find them locally. What a surprise, right, in a country where the National University is headed by a charlatan whose doctorate is fake and who dabbles in the sale of false diplomas?

So you see, Mr. Martinelli, I don't do business here because I don't want legitimate activities tainted by all the crap you allow or even cause in this country. I don't want to be vulnerable and unprotected from the sharks you breed in this pond. I don't want to be part of the smell of money laundering and tax dodging that wafts from the archives of the Registro Publico. Those are the reasons and they have nothing, nothing whatsoever, to do with what's on TV. So, deja de hablar aguevazones, Mr. President.

2 thoughts on “Paging Martinelli: Why We Don’t Do Business in Panama

  1. Pingback: Todos contra los neo-liberales en conferencia en Panamá | Bananama Republic

  2. Well said. My advice to anyone wanting to do business in Panama – RUN AWAY! Any foreign owned business here is simply a target – from the employees who run to the labor ministry to government departments asking for “donations” under threat of closing you down. As you say, the legal system is simply a joke and contracts are totally worthless. I’ve never encountered such ingrained corruption. I’ve seen many very wealthy businesses open in Panama, most of them closing within a year. The playing field is not level and you can’t fight the system – unless you want to pay everyone holding their hand out – and there’s a long line.

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