The arrest and detention of 70 year old journalist Carlos Núñez López is related to a story he wrote about plans by Chiriqui businessman Enrique Luis Morales de Icaza to build a hotel in the midst of the Volcán Baru National Park, Bananama Republic has learned.
Morales's company, Stash Investment Inc., owns about 160 hectares near the Caldera river, and has been trying to change the zoning of the area to allow for building a hotel.
That was impossible - until Martinelli came to power. According to a report in The Panama News, 800 hectares inside the National Park had protection removed through ANAM resolution AG-0911-2009. It is this very project, which environmental groups consider damaging to the National Park, that journalist Carlos Núñez López had earlier written about in the now defunct publication La Cronica.
Last October 30 ANAM passed, and during the holidays it published, Resolution AG-0911-2009. This resolution, passed at the behest of businessman Enrique Luis Morales and his company Stash Investment Inc, removes protection from some 800 hectares of second growth forest within the park, around the headwaters of the Caldera River. The company owns about 160 hectares of the rezoned area and Morales wants to build a hotel there. He told La Estrella that it would be a small eco-tourist facility, with eight units and nature trails on the surrounding property.
On RPC radio, ANAM director Javier Arias emphatically denied corruption. He said that the rezoning was not done for the benefit of just one person or business, that on his shift ANAM has not operated that way and will not do so.
That's part of what Panama's environmentalist movement fears: what other developments are going in on the more than 600 other hectares, that have been rezoned for development? There appear to be five other owners of those lands, whose development plans are unknown.
Among the other issues that have mobilized the environmentalists are that the change was done in violation of Panama's basic environmental protection law, which does not allow the clandestine rezoning of national parks; that the change violates the 2004 Volcan Baru National Park land use plan, which has the force of law. As a first step toward challenging the ANAM resolution in the courts, the Alianza para el Desarrollo Ambiental de las Tierras Altas (ADATA), an alliance of environmentalist organizations, filed a petition with ANAM requestion reconsideration of Resolution AG-0911-2009. Once that's denied or ignored, it will be possible to bring a challenge before the administrative bench of the Supreme Court.
There is more about the new zoning and the protests against this project in La Prensa (with maps as well).
The criminal defamation complaint against Carlos Núñez López was filed by Stash Investment Inc.'s Enrique Luis Morales de Icaza. Núñez was never notified of the case and was thus denied the opportunity to defend himself at trial. That is, if there ever was a trial, which some sources close to the case very much doubt.
Carlos Núñez, meanwhile, continues to be held prisoner in the El Chorillo police station where today a gunfight was reported involving street gangs.
This case once again demonstrates that environmentalists in Panama are dangerously ignorant of reality that surrounds them if they think they can exclusively campaign on environmental issues and largely ignore Martinelli's authoritarian rule, changing laws to reduce civil rights and his anti-popular policies. With this project being highly controversial, the version of the authorities as if Carlos Núñez Lopez was coincidentally apprehended when ID's were checked of all visitors of the internet café where he was can be safely dismissed as a fable. Take our word for it: This arrest was on purpose and Martinelli is using it as a warning against anyone who dares oppose his sell-out of the environment, of freedom and of civil rights.
Soon, even hugging trees will be a crime in Martinelli's Panama for which you can be taken off the streets.