Presidency ordered phone blackout

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The order to shut down mobile phone service in the area between Horconcitos (Chiriquí) and Viguí (Veraguas) came from the presidency, La Prensa reveals today.

The newspaper cites Zelmar Rodríguez, administrator of the Public Services Authority (ASEP), who ordered the mobile operators to shut down service in the area for reasons "of national security", after ASEP had received an order itself from the Security Council of the Presidency.

The orders were given Friday, February 3rd. Two days later, Minister of Security Raúl Mulino made public statements saying that phone service was down as a result of "sabotage" and had not been ordered by the government.

Later that day, he changed his story, now saying that the government had suspended the service out of fear the towers would be sabotaged. However, he added that the measure sought to "hamper political organization and manipulation by opposition groups".

All of it is highly illegal. Various opposition figures and civil groups have already filed criminal complaints or initiated legal action against the government, ASEP, the president himself and the mobile operators who complied with an order that violates the law.

While phone service in the area of the protests had been shut down, the same Presidential Security Council - headed by one Julio Moltó, the Panamanian equivalent of Vladimiro Montesinos - was tapping phones of opposition leaders and activists.

Moltó previously worked for La Prensa as the head of the new media department, among other functions.

One recorded phone conversation of PRD leader Mitchell Doens, in which he could be heard asking Ngöbe protesters to let women and children pass through the road blockage, was proudly released by Martinelli's gang as "proof" of the PRD being behind the protests.

The interventions by Martinelli of phone conversations and phone service are consistent with Wikileaks cables describing how the president wanted to use DEA wiretapping facilities to spy on his political opponents.

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