ALREADY a year ago, your Bananama newsroom started receiving the first reports about president Martinelli's somewhat strange behavior. Drinking binges with Papadimitriu. Martinelli and clique spotted, sloshed, at the Siete Mares restaurant. Same at Relic in Casco Viejo. Martinelli traveling with unidentified woman not being the first lady. That sort of thing.
Even though our information came from entirely credible and respected sources, we chose to focus on the president's political actions. However, then came the WikiLeaks cables, with their scathing characterizations of Martinelli as a bullying blackmailer whose behavior is irrational and dangerous, and then Dr. Mauro Zuñiga Araúz, a celebrated opposition figure during the military dictatorship and fierce critic of Martinelli, recently published an opinion piece in La Prensa repeating as well as adding to similar and worse accusations.
Martinelli's supporters - Alma Cortés et al - were of course up in arms about it and Zuñiga's piece was even cited as an example of how backward anti-press laws were needed for in this country (Zuñiga responded by filing a law proposal that would impose hefty prison sentences on politicians for lying).
Here follows Zuñiga's piece, translated by us into English for your convenience from its Spanish original.
WITH THE ROPE AROUND HIS NECK
Mauro Zúñiga Araúz
When I started to write a weekly column in La Prensa, it was with the idea to contribute to the debate on the way to create absolute democracy in Panama, as a result of the failure of the ideologies of the 20st century. I've had the opportunity to make some of those contributions, but the constant screw-ups, beat-ups, blow-ups and..... of the Excelentísimo have distracted me from my main objective.
I recommend him that he puts up an executive order in every public office that states that, punishable by death, it is from now on prohibited to wikileak the activities of the current tenant of the Las Garzas palace, because I am tired of receiving all kinds of reports: That some weeks ago a private jet from Argentina arrived at Albrook and that customs found the Excelentísimo on board heavily inebriated and spouting his usual foul language; about the revelry aboard his yacht; about the nocturnal spectacles in discotheques, about commissions in no-bid contracting and the few public biddings that are still being held; that he doesn't attend state affairs any more (a task now being performed by the Minister of the Presidency); that when he sent that chat to the ambassador of the United States asking for help with wiretapping the phones of his political adversaries he would not have been able to pass a breathalyzer test and that, for that reason, he didn't remember anything about it as he stated in his speech on January 2nd.
Please! I am not a journalist, send these reports to La Prensa, El Siglo, TVN or Medcom - now that EPASA is back to being Ersa after a transaction that would have made Harmodio Arías Madrid, indefatigable fighter for the freedom of expression, cry. That the company he created would be sold to a dictatorship, amidst joys and cheers, throwing courageous journalists into the cages of power is something he would never ever have allowed to happen.
Those who unconditionally helped the Arías family to recoup the newspapers that the military had stolen from them now feel as if a thick, red fluid is running down their backs.
From the cables that ambassador Stephenson sent to her country I believe one deserves special attention as it is the most serious of all: The threat by the Excelentísimo to expel the DEA from Panama. Why would he want to do that? There is a wide range of possibilities. What is the real relationship of Martinelli Berrocal with his cousin, imprisoned in Mexico for drug trafficking? He says it's the black sheep of the family. Anyone who'd appoint a black sheep to be the treasurer of his political party? The publication of photos of the Excelentísimo, in newspapers with global circulation, with two satraps linked to drug trafficking throws Panama's reputation right up there on the newest layer of garbage on Cerro Patacón.
I'm quoting from Ebrahim Asvat the following: "The other issue I can't explain, and that appears as a graft on the subject of the request to tap the phones of political opponents, is the reference made to a cable that has not yet been published which asserts that a cousin of the president helped smuggling dozens of millions of drug money through Panama's international airport".
Would the Martinelli Foundation have anything to do with that? If not, I would advise the Excelentísimo to order an immediate audit of his foundations by certified and independent accountants that have not been in communication with him. I could recommend some. For its part, the accusation by members of the PRD that one of his ministers is involved in arms trafficking further complicates the serious situation the Excelentísimo is in.
The other cables confirm suspicions that many of us had. The way he originally enriched himself: exploiting his employees, treating his suppliers in a despotic manner, selling expensive food. He goes to trade fairs in the US, those where North American entrepreneurs send their merchandise that is about to expire and sell it at derisory prices. The owner of Super99 sends his people there to buy these food products and then sells them here as if they are fresh.
I'm not saying that the authorities should investigate the veracity of this information that came to me from inside this supermarket, because in Panama the Excelentísimo is the only authority. Maybe the FAO could do it, although I don't know how much influence they'd have.
"Bribe" is a word that is part of the physiology of the Excelentísimo. For him, business without bribes does not exist. We're not surprised by the soliciting of a bribe from the ambassador. If she wouldn't please him with his wiretaps, we'd imagine that he'd ask for something else. Returning to the revelations, Asvat adds, "I haven't seen such a harsh assessment of a Panamanian president in the US press since 1988 when the charges against Manuel Antonio Noriega were published". Is there a difference between the two? Yes, the uniform.
Once upon a time the Minister of Agricultural Development warned Martinelli Berrocal that his slaughterhouse was going to be closed because hygienics norms were being violated. What happened next? The Minister received a call from Noriega telling him to leave Martinelli Berrocal alone. And the slaughterhouse? Dispatching contaminated meat. This is the class of person we have as our president. I am not going to ask him to change course, because he himself is tying the rope around his neck.