Martinelli pulls rank, country and government disintegrate

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Martinelli, here trying to imitate Tony Soprano

THE government of mobster-president Ricardo Martinelli is falling apart. Yesterday, we learned that our narco-in-chief was chastising his ministers for publicly disagreeing and criticizing policy. He added that in his team, it is he who gives the orders, and nobody else.

The controversy was partly due to revelations by WikiLeaks of a cable that described the airport duty-free zone as a haven for money laundering. Minister Mulino then stated in the media that the concessions for the duty-free shops - given to the Motta and Waked families - could be revoked. That apparently angered Martinelli, who is widely believed to have intimate ties to money laundering himself.

Then there is the controversial mining concession law, that has publicly divided the cabinet.

However, Martinelli's warning is mostly directed towards his vice-president Varela, observers say. Varela was quoted in cables from the US embassy as apologizing for Martinelli's behavior demanding that the DEA wiretapped the phones of his political enemies. He also hesitates openly to go along with Martinelli's sell-out of Panama to foreign mining interests.

Nobody really believes that the coalition of Martinelli's Cambio Democratico and the Panameñistas is going to last the full presidential term. Predictions range from 6 months to 12 months maximum from now, and then the Panameñistas will leave the government of the "locos".

Meanwhile, it's not just the government, but the entire country that is falling apart. With Panamanians still baffled by the deliberate burning-alive of teenagers in a juvenile correction center, victims of that other massacre, in Changuinola last year, took to the streets today to demand that the government keeps the promises made when Martinelli negotiated a way out of the mess. More protests have been announced, and if this is not resolved quickly - which it won't be - we're looking at riots and repression all over again.

There is virtually no sector of society that is not in some state of disarray because of Martinelli's policies or the lack thereof.

The capital is still without potable water, and even a beer brewery has moved operations to Honduras because of the lack of a reliable water supply in Panama. It turns out that even bottled water is polluted, and there is no policy, no answer, no nothing from the government.

The garbage crisis is still not resolved, the latest being that tourists abandon the beaches en masse because of toxic fumes - tourism minister Shamah being too busy defending himself against allegations of links to arms and drug trafficking.

Coming from Arraijan and La Chorrera, commuters face endless traffic jams as the Centennial bridge has been closed after the highway collapsed, and at the same time the government had the brilliant idea to break up the one remaining highway for maintenance.

The Public Ministry, meanwhile, is still mired in narco-corruption scandals and they can't even figure out what to do with the pseudo-procurador Guiseppe Bonissi.

Last but not least: Public debt is skyrocketing. And it will be a lot worse if Martinelli persists in white elephants like the metro and a financial dildo.

Isn't there any good news? There is, dear readers. Doctor Mauro Zuñiga, a fierce critic of the government, has filed a law proposal with the National Assembly that makes it a crime for politicians to promise things during campaigns and then not fulfill them when they're in office. These criminals will then be sentenced to between 8 months and 4 years of jail time. Take them away!

15 thoughts on “Martinelli pulls rank, country and government disintegrate

  1. Panama is mortgage up to it’s hilt!

    Panama is just plain out of Money!

    It has no operating capital period.

    Why will it take until September of 2011 to make the necessary repairs to the Centennial Bridge?

    The ACP had to fly to the U.S.A. in the Presidential Jet just to beg and try to borrow purification equipment for the failing potable water system just for Panama City(Source: La Prensa, Panama American, TVN & Telemetro!

    Panama has used up it credit in the financial markets of the world, even the local National Banks will not lend money for any form or type of repairs or improvements on the National Governments level?

    Even the Panama Canal expansion has only raised 30% of the money needed (just three years to completion)???

    Panama is trying to sell $500 million more Bonds on top of the $600 million Bonds offered in December(Source: La Prensa, Panama American, TVN & Telemetro!

    Panama has a National Debt of $11.5 Billion for 2010 alone(Source: La Prensa, Panama American, TVN & Telemetro).

    Panama has tax waivers and no taxable Income status for it friends and companies in the tune of just over $900 Million in 2010 alone(Source: La Prensa, Panama American, TVN & Telemetro)!

    The Government of Panama is now paying $640 million more in 2010 than it did in 2009 for it’s Civil servants(Source: La Prensa, Panama American, TVN & Telemetro)!

    The Competing Political Parties are being squeeze out of funds for their campaigns by this Government(Source: La Prensa, Panama American, TVN & Telemetro)!.

    What does this National Police styled Army do?

    The National Police are on the Television news up to 18 minutes every day of each News broadcast bragging about their heroic efforts to save all of us from them!

    They have new blue uniforms(Judge Dredd style) so they can not be seen at night?

    The Police do nothing but bust small time thieves drug dealers that do not pay off the right officials.

    Is it not funny how the Television news is always at these actual crimes when they occur?

    Least us not forget how they love to shoot their own Citizens in the face and burn them alive while imprisoned without any form of escape.

    How they seem burn the same drugs over and over again?

    The Police used to direct traffic at all the Major traffic Intersections in Panama.

    The Police used to to patrol the Neighborhoods.

    Where are the Police when the SINAPROC is handing out water and food?

    Where where all these Policemen during all the flooding and damaging rains?

    The National Police now have “Hurt locker” style bomb suits and bomb squad Robots, when they has not been any car bombings or explosives used against the Citizens of Panama in over 18 years.

    Why do the National Police need RPG’s and heavy infantry weapons, when no country or group has confronted Panama in over 21 years with that type of lethal force?

    Just who is this Government afraid of?

    Now they want to recruit more police?

    They National Police have over 16,000 in Uniform now!

    Just what do they do?

    Let us not Forget the ATTT Traffic police, the various city police, the Frontier Guards, and the Tourist Police(that only speak Spanish)!

    All of these Police for a Population of 3.3 Million?

    That is over one policemen for every 205 Citizens of Panama.

    Yet, the Crime rate has sky rocketed!

    $82 million for the new national trash collection service!

    Yet they issued only one t-shirt per collection employee!

    This national trash service has issued nothing for the safety of it workers, no safety glasses, no safety vests, no hats, no pants, gloves, or safety boots!

    There are still 50, yes 50 missing garbage trucks from Panama city alone!

    They must have grown wings and flew to Columbia for Narco debt(JaJaJa)?

    Panama is just a country run by half-wit cretins which would have failed even Kindergarten recesses.

    “Panama is morally broken, Financially broken, and it can not get it up”

    “Panama where the numbers never add up”

  2. What is truly lacking in the politicians in Panama and, sadly to say, in a large part of the population, is any level of humanity or basic altruism.

    All but a hopeless optomist will admit that politicians the world over generally function in a manner that serves their personal interests first. However their actions often have some secondary value in the governance of their respective countries. Their actions demonstrate some level of caring for their populations, all be it often seemingly by accident. In all but the most vicious regimes one can find some level of humanity.

    In contrast, it seems that the politicians here have absolutely no interest in doing anything for their country, even accidentally. To steal an extra dime or to maintain their ridiculous and bloated pride they will see innocents rot in jails, patients die of poisonous medication, children grow up without opportunity…the list is long. They don’t just lack humanity they seem to be repulsed by it.

    Combine the inhumanity with the utter incompetence of the civil service and the professional class here and you have you have a rapidly accelerating social disaster which this blog so clearly has foreseen. A country with first world wealth and potential yet with a third world future. Has there ever been a country with so much promise yet so little hope?

  3. Interesting times. Were it not so dark and venal, all this drama would be quite exciting.

    Dr Dias, are you suggesting Mr. Martinelli is militarising the police? Are you suggesting history has us taught us nothing?

    What happens next?

  4. Even the good news isn’t good enough: what happened in Tunisia where the president (plus well filled private bank accounts) managed to flee to Saudi Arabia, could happen in Panama too. Just like in the USA, freedom and democracy is for banks, corporations, their shareholders and CEOs, whereas the population is forced to pay for the errors / damage wrought by corrupt politicians via taxes.

    So instead of a law to punish politicians who just in time will get away with billions on secret bank accounts as if they are clairvoyant, before being eligible, each politician should be obliged to publicly show a calculation of his plans with all the data and references it is based on. That enables discussion (forums), alternatives, and involvement of the best minds available.

    The better idea would be to man the various governmental departments by retired, experienced scientists / engineers who have a solid knowledge to get a job done properly yet at minimum cost: reliable infrastructure is a matter of engineering, not of politics.

    Putting an end to the epidemic proportions of obesity and diabetics is a matter of applied experiential knowledge regarding nutrition, instead of politics.

    With a global decline of available energy while the population still increases and harvests decrease due to climate change too, no country can afford the luxury of ignorant, wasteful or worse, corrupt politicians who are lacking even the most basic knowledge of “life and the universe” aka elementary physics.

    • @JanB: What is happening in Tunisia won’t happen in Panama in our lifetimes. Panamanians are too easily bribed into supporting a rogue regime to make anything like that possible – just look at how opposition figures (PRD) are joining Martinelli’s CD for handsome cash handouts. We don’t have the “civil society” nor the kind of media people in Panama to make anything like the Jasmin Revolution even remotely likely in Panama. Forget about it.

  5. I’ve lived in Panama for almost 5 years now, hoping that the people that run this country will pull their heads out of their culos. I think that may be wishful thinking by now. This government and the last have proved themselves incompetent at just about everything they do. I guess common sense is not so common after all. The project I was working on had to shut down because of the rampant corruption in ANAM, and we could not afford to stay in business. We laid off 50 panamamenos who now no longer have jobs. I really don’t see any hope for this country, and it hurts me to see and talk to the people who have to suffer under these assholes rule. I can always move to another country and do something different, but most in this country don’t have that option. Panama is going to loose the investors that actually care about this country and people. Then the only ones left will be the scam artists, crooks, and narcos. I’ve been over a month now without reliable water in my house, the traffic in the city is insane, the people are pissed off and grumpy (understandable), and I’m wondering if this place is worth the stress.

  6. My previous comment didn’t pass moderation, so I would like try to articulate my thoughts more intelligently. No offence intended previously – all agitation is purely political and directed against the state.

    Although I have only been here a few months, I have often heard it said that Panama is fast becoming a police state. As Dr Dias rightly points out, the police are now heavily armed, and in many cases, closely resemble soldiers. I was wondering whether the editors and readers of this website agree that Mr Martinelli is militarising the police, and if so, what are the implications for Panama?

    I am new here, but my impression is that Martinelli lacks the heart or imagination to control his population with anything but venal, western-style consumerism. Unfortunately, not everyone can afford a shiny Blackberry or I-phone, so for the rest of us there’s nothing left but old-fashioned brute force – the preferred tool of all tyrants and cowards. Panama deserves better.

    • @Exiled Brit: I didn’t refuse any comment from you, but sometimes comments get wiped by the anti-spam bot for some reason. I’m sorry.

      • In Panama there is an interesting shift of standards, with many saying things about Martinelli like, “at least he’s fixing the roads” and positive comments about IFARHU scholarships and stuff like that. As if any of that is anything special; as if it shouldn’t be normal that if we pay license plate tax and fuel tax and import duties on cars we may expect the roads to be fixed and traffic signs to work and a functional traffic police. And so, because everything focuses on unnecessary crises like garbage collection and retarded anti-press laws, we never have a debate here about the government budget for example, about what we’re gonna spend the money on this year; where we want to be in five years, what the priorities are.

  7. @The Editor,

    Well said. There are so many fires burning that the government is taking credit for putting out. No one notices that the the government started them in the first place.

    I have found though, that even the strongest Martinelli supporters, those that celebrated his supposed private sector genius, are now getting very quiet. For example, I think it really pains Sam in Boquete to accept that Martinelli is really a terrible president.. Martinelli may well be self made, but self-made narcos possess a different set of skills. Martinelli seems to possess all the characteristics of a good narco: sociopathic, self serving, cruel, violent, amoral, threatening and domineering. But perhaps he is making the same mistakes as a much more talented narco brother made in the 90’s. Pablo was successful enough in the private sector and sure made a mockery of the Colombian judicial system but when he made a foray into politics, everyone had had enough of him and sent him back to his maker.

    Unless Martinelli moderates his behaviour considerably (perhaps a course of lithium carbonate would help also) he will accelerate along the road to political and perhaps annihilation.

  8. Some sectors of Panamanian society will never be bribed into supporting the regime. I’m speaking of the indigenous minority who have no illusions about Martinelli and his intentions. The Ngobe, for one, now refuse to participate in local elections (a pointless exercise since national government now dictates which candidates are permitted to stand). It should also be noted that the riots in Changuinola were as much to do with land theft and mining/hydroelectric concessions as they were workers’ rights. The groups I’ve talked with – Naso and Ngobe – are deeply unimpressed with the current political order. Unfortunately, most of them live without electricity, roads and mobile phones, and are thus poorly organised.

  9. @ The Editor:

    If a candidate country of the Nobel prize for corruption would have to be found, it would be one in Africa, not in Latin America. An interesting read on the issue:

    There’s only one reason, Panamanians won’t hit the streets: the situation still isn’t bad enough to realize that receiving another load of empty promises from the next self-enriching crew will result in unacceptable deterioration of the conditions for life.

    What could be used as indicator of events to come, is a per capita GDP chart.

    Another case is that of Georgia, where a Washington-supported marionette could get to power thanks to several years of declining GDP:

    • GDP is only a minimal reason. Panama is not Tunisia for several reasons, and they’re best summed up in this great article, and I quote:

      The pre-conditions within which the Tunisian digitally-driven revolution spread are becoming more common worldwide and include:
      – Extreme inflation in the price of basic commodities including food and fuel;Abnormally high unemployment especially amongst the youth;
      – Self-evident corruption as some leaderships appropriate national wealth and advance favoured businesses or multi-national syndicates;
      – Willingness of individuals to take personal risks out of desperation — relates to the self-immolation theme;
      – Connectivity and empowerment via digital mobile phones, broad band internet connections, wire-less computers as well as proliferation of social networks.

      To say that these conditions apply to Panama would be stretching it, to put it mildly. In any case, I highly recommend the article this was quoted from, really the best I’ve read on the subject.

  10. @ The Editor:

    That article also omits an issue that already played a role in Latin America: privatization, of for instance water. This always drives up prices because profit has to be made to satisfy shareholders. The situation in P.C. regarding potable water could be the precedent to start privatization of water in Panama,
    with the pretense of “better service”.

    As inflation already is near 10% and the cost of food continues to rise, one only has to wait for a threshold to be passed. It happened in Bolivia and before people had access to cellular phones or could update their action status on Facebook and Twitter. IOW when conditions are bad enough, uprising just happens:
    Grassroots Movements Govern From the Streets

    In spite of economic and political pressure from the US, some grassroots movements in Bolivia have succeeded in overturning unpopular policies.

    In April of 2000 in Cochabamba, a conflict took place called the Water War. It originated when foreign companies, including investors from the US, began a deal to privatize the water in the Cochabamba area. The IMF and World Bank would not lend money to Bolivia unless it transferred control of the water system from the government to a private company. Aguas del Tunari, a subsidiary of Bechtel, bought and took over the water system.

    This deal drastically raised the price of water to amounts that most people could not afford. The citizens of the area took to the streets to protest and blockade, demanding that the privatization of their water be stopped. After violent confrontations between security forces and protesters paralyzed the city for weeks, the foreign investors pulled out and the water privatization ended.

    In February of 2003, riots rocked the capital of Bolivia as protesters rejected an IMF-backed proposal to increase income taxes. By the end of this conflict, nearly 30 people had been killed. After the riots, the president decided to stop moving ahead with the income tax plan.
    Interesting also, this excerpt referring to Panama, years ago, concluding that the risk of civil war only is low because of low population and the presence of (US) military forces:

    I. Introduction

    On many of our key variables, Panama is a likely candidate for a civil war onset. Since 1945, it has suffered from nine years of instability and twenty-six years of anocracy (and three years in which there is both anocracy and instability), suggesting that potential rebels had clear signals that the political regime was fragile. Moreover, as an exporter of (refined) oil (and as a rentier state receiving annual payments from the U.S. for use of the Canal Zone), we should expect, and potential rebels condition their behavior on, a weak state. Finally, GDP/cap has been below the regional and world average, another signal of state weakness. Yet there has been no civil war onset in modern Panamanian history. The accompanying table suggests two distinct lines of inquiry for our narrative.

    As the accompanying table reveals, the height of Panama’s susceptibility to a civil war onset is from 1956-58, when our model assesses the probability of a civil war onset at above four percent, some two and a half times the world average. This is in large part due to the combination of anocracy and instability at a time when GDP/cap ranged from $1362 to $1,493. A first question is whether internal forces in Panama were attuned to this susceptibility during these three years, such that we would observe if not a civil war onset, then near-onsets.

    Complete article:

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