The US embassy in Panama is running its own Wikileaks style operation to further its policy goals. One of these policy goals is that they don't like Gustavo Perez, the police chief who just got appointed head of Panama's intelligence.
It's not difficult to connect the dots. It started when Perez was appointed chief of police by president Martinelli. Newspaper El Panama America ran a story based on documents that revealed that Perez had been dishonorably discharged from Panama's former defense forces because he executed a scheme to take US citizens hostage during the US invasion of Panama in 1989. The hostages were to be used as leverage and/or bargaining chips against the invaders.
What El Panama America did not report was where they got these documents. However, the formatting of these files was identical to those obtained through FOIA requests in the US by Panama's truth commission, and other sources confirmed that the US embassy in Panama was indeed leaking this information to El Panama America.
Fast forward to this week. Panama is still in shock over the threat by the police sub-chief Eduardo Serracín to mount a coup d'etat if a proposed law that would install an independent disciplinary board was not withdrawn by the government. Minister of security Raul Mulino resigned over the affair, then turned around and decided to stay anyway. Police chief Gustavo Perez, who had publicly stated that "this law is not going to pass", was promoted to chief of the intelligence service. Martinelli, Mulino, Perez and the rest of the clique do their utmost best to show unity and pretend there's really nothing going on. But there are too many unanswered questions to believe any of that.
Like, why hasn't Serracín been fired, arrested, or even reprimanded? Isn't it completely unacceptable for the second in command of the national police to threaten a coup because he doesn't like a law proposal?
And what kind of support could he and Perez actually count on for a coup, assuming that they're not making empty threats?
Time for the US embassy to reappear in this story. El Panama America has since been sold to Martinelli front men, and the new preferred opposition paper is La Estrella (daily La Prensa being too corrupt), which on Friday ran a story titled, "The Special Forces with the capacity to execute a coup".
The article refers to an intelligence report, which in turn informs us that Gustavo Perez and his loyalists have been secretly setting up and training special combat units, commando forces, consisting of a total of 500 men.
One is the Special Forces Unit (UFEC), trained in counter-terrorism in Colombia, as we reported here as well. Then there is the Tactical Amphibian Operations Unit (UTOA), trained in the United States, Colombia and Ecuador. There is the Tactical Explosives Unit (UTE). Next there's the Brigade for Special Operations (BOPE) which was trained by the Brazilians in the favelas in gangland warfare. These Brazilian units, the Panamanian counterparts, have been responsible for the assassinations of several gang leaders, La Estrella writes.
There have been persistent rumors about the Panamanian police operating a death squad, which would be behind a series of supposed "gang killings" little over a year ago.
On top of that, there is a group called the "Panacomandos", which appears to assemble and operate on an ad hoc basis. They are trained at the police academy in Gamboa. According to La Estrella, their instructor is a veteran from the Noriega regime and his "Machos del Monte" special forces unit. This instructor, who goes by the nickname of "Diablo Maldonado", is a close friend of Gustavo Perez and is also the one who trained Perez when he was in Noriega's military.
The Americans considered this "Diablo Maldonado" extremely dangerous when they were invading Panama in 1989, La Estrella's source document says.
Are these special units that Perez and Serracin set up capable of mounting a coup? "Surely", says an inside source of La Estrella. "They have all the arms and training they could possibly need. And they are very loyal to Perez and Serracín". Gustavo Perez has given them money, training, status, arms, cellphones and cool sunglasses.
There is no other country than the United States that would have had an interest (or the capabilities) in following the activities of Gustavo Perez as closely and in such detail as these "intelligence reports" and "inside sources" reveal. Similarly, there is no other country that would really have an interest in having this information come out, and having it come out now.
Ironically, the US is apparently trying to stem the ongoing fall-out of 22 years of military dictatorship it installed, supported and promoted in Panama.
The giveaway is at the end of the La Estrella article: It quotes a source as saying that SENAFRONT is not part of this cabal of Noriega type military units, because its chief Frank Abrego "doesn't get along with [Gustavo] Perez". It's a public secret that Abrego is America's man, the US embassy is even promoting SENAFRONT career opportunities on Twitter.
Some big questions remain. One: Is Noriega himself involved? We should assume he is. In perfect sync with recent coup mongering events, the former dictator (who is in a prison only a stone throw away from the police academy) suffered from some mysterious ailments and had to be brought back and forth to the hospital - and who knows where else or with whom he met.
Two: What on earth do Perez, Serracín et al have on Martinelli that ensures they aren't arrested, fired or even disciplined for gross insubordination by threatening a coup? Whatever it is, the US embassy has it too. Please leak!