“Es mejor que ciudadanos honestos cumplan condenas injustas, a que hayan hombres corruptos administrando justicia, no voy a pagar ni un real a la delincuencia”
Ana Matilde Gomez, Attorney General, after being convicted by the supreme court to pay a $4,000 fine for wiretapping a phone while investigating a corrupt prosecutor.
The above quote perfectly illustrates how Panama is making the transition from a weak state to a hollow state. A hollow state is a nation state that appears to have all the characteristics of a real state, i.e. leaders, government, laws, regulations, bureaucracy, but it doesn't have legitimacy, can't provide any services and is not in control. An empty shell, that is only marginally influencing some minor parts of the economy. The real power is in the hands of corporations and criminals.
Usually, the process of becoming a hollow state is the result of non-state actors; the narco-gangs in Mexico, Taliban in Afghanistan, various groups in Iraq etc. By attacking the state at crucial (infrastructure) points, they turn the government into a hapless actor. Think President Karzai, who is really just the mayor of Kabul.
In Panama however, it is the government itself that is hollowing out the state. The case of the deposed Attorney General is a perfect example: First Martinelli moved his puppets (some of them accomplices in his money laundering schemes) into the supreme court, then he had them suspend the AG, then they convicted Gomez in a show trial that had nothing to do with the concept of justice, and they're now moving to have the corrupt prosecutor (he ran an extortion ring) who started the case absolved from any wrongdoing. Hence Gomez's quote: "I am not going to pay a dime to delinquency".
Under Martinelli, the public ministry and the judiciary have turned into instruments to protect crime bosses. Just last week, the cases against David Guzman Murcia and - more importantly - his Panamanian accomplices, have been archived by pseudo-attorney general Bonissi, at a time persistent reports have it that Murcia donated at least $800,000 to Martinelli's election campaign through now tourism minister Shamah, who is in turn implicated himself in arms trafficking by the Colombian authorities.
Since Martinelli threw out Ana Matilde Gomez and appointed Bonissi as her replacement, the public ministry has been cleansed and key positions are now held by Bonissi and Martinelli loyalists. As a result, each and every investigation into corruption, abuse of power or human rights violations by officialdom is a farce from the start.
Meanwhile, ever-rising crime rates suggest that the police is unable to do what they are supposed to do: guarantee the safety of the people. Now enjoying near-total impunity from any crimes they commit, the police force is more and more brazenly firing at protesters, shaking down people for bribes and other acts of corruption and holding razzias in mostly poor areas to instill fear among people who were already afraid of the gangs. The police chief, Gustavo Perez, was recently absolved of any wrongdoing in the case of him taking civilians hostage during the Panama invasion - something that would be considered a war crime in most civilized countries. In Mexico they have the Zetas, former special forces gone rogue, but in Panama the police itself are becoming the Zetas.
And so on. The CEMIS case - a huge bribery scandal that touches all sides of the political spectrum - is locked down again. Nothing happened to the legislators who were stealing money from the Social Investment Fund. Martinelli and his people spend money on shadowy contracts that are kept from the public - it basically amounts to unprecedented looting.
The same process is going on with environmental issues. The state has an institution to control environmental matters, ANAM, but it has become more of an empty shell than it already was. The latest example is the Petaquilla mine, where ANAM claimed no pollution of the rivers had taken place and allowed the mine to continue operating even though they had severely violated the conditions of their permit. Instead of policing, ANAM facilitates plunder. Environmentalists have now analyzed the water in the rivers around Petaquilla themselves, with disturbing results.
The much maligned "sausage law" places ANAM on the sidelines as it bypasses the need for environmental impact studies for projects Martinelli likes - without a word of protest from those that run that institution.
The process of hollowing out is everywhere. The University of Panama under the rule of the fake "doctor" and self-proclaimed "rector magnificus" Gustavo Garcia de Paredes is deteriorating by the day. Schools continue to operate with leaking roofs and collapsing furniture. Water utility IDAAN isn't able to supply water. Public transport is the same joke it was a year ago. Government initiatives and promises are only partially executed at best.
They aren't even able to pick up the garbage.
Civil society people in their commentaries usually focus on getting the government back on track, or express the need for a vision for the country that is executed by competent politicians. This is a dead-end street. The Martinelli government is not going to listen to reason, they are not going to be "back on track", they won't change their behavior and they are not going to be convinced by people who repeat the same thing over and over again. They want this process of hollowing out the state.
Similarly, the cry for decent leadership and "vision", in other words, to save the state from Martinelli's policies, is unrealistic. Martinelli is accelerating it, but the process itself is not new and could be observed under previous governments too. In fact, Endara was the last president who actually fortified the state after Noriega had turned it into a branch office of the Colombian cartels. That means that there is little hope for decent new leadership to replace a political and business elite that is rotten to its core.
So what do Panamanians do? They start ignoring the state.
Gomez's quote is exemplary in that respect. She basically says that the state is run by delinquents and she won't obey their orders. That reflects what the poor had already figured out a while ago. They don't even expect the state any more to take care of things in an efficient and responsible manner, and are shifting their loyalty from the state to various forms of "tribes" - be it the indigenous tribes increasingly militant against Martinelli's policies (Bocas, the Ngobe Bugle comarca), the unions or the neighborhood street gangs. With Martinelli and his clique of mobsters, this has become an irreversible process no matter what "civil society" says.