Coup threat in Panama

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With a police force that increasingly behaves as if it’s above the law and sub-director Eduardo Serracin threatening a coup d’etat, Panama has not been this unstable since 1989.

In case you missed it: Minister of Security Raul Mulino resigned after police chief Gustavo Perez, a former Noriega crony, said that a government proposal to establish an independent disciplinary council for the police was unacceptable for the police.

La Estrella reported that sub-director of the National Police, Eduardo Serracín, barged into Mulino’s office and threatened a coup if the proposal would not be withdrawn. Telemetro journalist Alvaro Alvarado confirmed independently with his own sources that this had indeed happened as La Estrella reported it.

President Martinelli then revoked the proposal, prompting the resignation of Mulino who could obviously not continue with open insubordination from the police and Martinelli rewarding that.

It got worse when Martinelli subsequently made some changes, and appointed Gustavo Perez as head of the Intelligence Service – widely seen as a promotion – and Julio Moltó as chief of police. Moltó, who comes from that same intelligence agency, has been heading the extensive wiretapping operation by the government of political and business opponents as well as the so-called “callcenter” cyber-smear and malware campaign against opposition and critics.

Eduardo Serracín, the sub-director who threatened a coup, was not removed from his post, nor did the government or Mulino deny that the threat had indeed been made.

Declaring that proposed laws are unacceptable and threatening with coups fits a pattern that has emerged since the beginning of this administration of a police that increasingly behaves as a state within the state. Earlier, they declared a court order to stop using the controversial Pele Police tool simply null and void, and continued to use the ID checking gadget with impunity. Before that, the so-called sausage law gave the police almost complete immunity from prosecution for crimes committed.

As we write this, negotiations are going on about recent events, and it looks like Mulino’s resignation may not be as irrevocable as he said it was. Especially Jimmy Papadimitriu is intent on keeping Mulino on board. Today the cabinet will meet to discuss Mulino’s resignation and the law project for the disciplinary council.

But the issue is not Mulino; it’s a police force that is out of control. A sub-director doesn’t threaten a coup without being able to count on enough support to deliver on it. Rumors about widespread dissatisfaction within the police with the current government are persistent. And why is it that Martinelli seeks to keep Gustavo Perez happy at any cost?

Okke Ornstein is an award winning journalist, TV/Radio producer and photographer from the Netherlands and currently based in Panama. Specialized in high-impact investigative journalism, his work has led to arrests, questions in parliament and the downfall of many frauds and swindles.

3 Comments to Coup threat in Panama

  1. Exiled Brit

    A Noriega-era thug gets promoted from Police Chief to Head of Intelligence under threat of a coup… these people are like cockroaches… indestructible

    I wonder what the CIA would make of a coup with the billions of US businesses and 20,000+ civilians on Panamanian soil. I’m sure Perez is about to find out.

  2. Martinelli has been increasingly empowering the police. Perhaps for the purpose of ensuring their support for his planned refusal to leave office after his one term mandate expires.

    What is surprising is that they are discontent so soon considering the substantial increases in pay and prestige that Martinelli has granted them. Not to mention the almost complete immunity from prosecution and implicit support for their increasing acts of brutality against innocent Panamanians.

    Is that they are just getting a little too greedy for power too soon? But what was Martinelli thinking putting old thugs in power with no real limits? It was like giving pyromaniacs matches. Of course the will “quemar el rancho”.

    Perhaps the only upside is that the tension between them now, so soon, will work against a unified overthrow of democracy. Perhaps divided they won´t have the strength, at this moment, to pull off the coup.

    Either way, the nascent dictatorship is following its inevitable development and Panamanians are too passive or perhaps quietly supportive to restrain it.

    Sadly Democracy will be a failed experiment in a society that bases its national pride on its ability to lie, trick and steal, juega vivo, Panama!