Fear and loathing at Cerrito Tropical

Andrew Heal, Cerrito Tropical's special "Guest Chef"


As a victim of a crime in Panama, you’re pretty much screwed. You’re even more screwed if those whom you believed were friends or, at the very least, responsible members of the community, help the criminals get away. Welcome to Taboga. Meet Cynthia Mulder, of the Cerrito Tropical Bed & Breakfast.

Quick background: A Canadian madman called Andrew Heal, from Sooke on Vancouver Island, got drunk and doped up and beat three people into the hospital with broken jaws, dislocated shoulders, broken fingers and spinal injuries and topped off his crime spree by going on a rampage through the residential community where the victims live. Eventually neighbors came to the rescue – the police wouldn’t wake up – and we caught the culprit, marched him to the police station, made a ton of noise to wake them up and finally he was thrown in a cell and then put under house arrest at his hotel, the Cerrito Tropical, the next day. In the absence of the corregidora, the mayor of Taboga took the necessary measures, including taking the guy’s passport. You can read a full account of events on that Friday the 13th of April, here.

(The sleeping police, by the way, is in fact the Servicio Aeronaval, the combined Air Force and Navy. They don’t have a plane, they don’t have a boat and their patrol vehicle, a Kawasaki mule, broke down years ago and has never been fixed. They sometimes bring over a drug sniffing dog in the weekend to check on arriving tourists. Consequently, most drugs arrive on Taboga on weekdays.)

So then what happened?

That next Monday, the victims spent most of the day at Medicina Legal, Forensic Medicine, to get the necessary medical reports for the prosecution to get started. Upon returning to the island, your reporter ran into the mayor, José Chirú, who said that Mr. Heal’s lawyer had visited that day and they wanted to make a deal about the medical costs and such.

What the mayor did not say, however, was that Heal was at that moment boarding the same ferry that brought us to the island to get away to Panama City and then back home to Canada. When we found out, just hours later, it was already too late. José Chirú had also made a quick getaway, on the same ferry as Heal and his lawyer.

How was that possible? Again, meet Cynthia Mulder – who’s also Canadian – of the Cerrito Tropical. She spent almost the entire weekend getting Andrew Heal a lawyer, and that lawyer arrived Monday first thing in the morning. There were, we learned, meetings with the mayor and the lawyer and Cynthia Mulder and Mr. Heal himself. Miraculously – cough – the mayor then signed an order to return Mr. Heal’s passport, and off he went. Nothing was heard any more about the measure that obligated him to report himself three times a day at the police station. In fact, nothing was heard of Andrew Heal again at all.

The interesting twist here is that Cynthia Mulder supposedly was friends with the victims. Upon learning about her activities to free Andrew Heal, many people, yours truly included, were outraged. The only excuse she did come up with was a lame, “I just wanted him out of my hotel”.

With friends like that, who needs enemies? Small communities such as Taboga depend on their members for assistance in times of need. Several neighbors came to the rescue in the middle of the night, because it was the right thing to do. Same during the aftermath. However, while most people did (and do) what they could to help the victims, Cynthia Mulder has been busy erasing all references to her distinguished guest Andrew Heal from her website. This link no longer works, but used to take you to a blog post titled “Guest Chefs to Host Beef BBQ at Cerrito Tropical Hotel April 23rd” (it’s still in the Google cache):

Two guests chefs will host a Cerrito Tropical B&B Hotel special event BBQ FRIDAY April 23rd. Our own Chef Aristides will cook with Hiddo Mulder and Andrew Heal from Vancouver Island will char some of the best beef tenderloin Panama has to offer this coming Saturday evening on Taboga Island.

Obviously, the injustice and sleaziness of it all is maddening. The victims have jumped through all the hoops of medical reports, filing criminal complaints, giving statements again and again, but this being Panama one never knows if anything will come of it. And that piece of shit Andrew Heal, Cerrito Tropical’s special “guest chef”, is back home, probably back to work. Compliments of the house.

So what can I say? Well, unless you’re a violent criminal in need of legal assistance, don’t stay at the Cerrito Tropical, obviously. God knows whom you run into in that place.

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.

8 Comments

  1. jc

    May 10, 2012 at 8:53 AM

    Island = Interior the same here! However, the police have two lines and they are always busy talking with their girlfriends so you have to go to the cuartel. Same again no vehicle it is always somewhere else. Then they kiss it off to the go to the municipio. Considering the police can barely read or write is probably best they don’t’ take the report.

    Yes, forget about the justice system be it penal or civil as the are based on palanca & money absolutely nothing else.

    Welcome to Panama!

    My advice perfect your Spanish and dump the expats from wherever be it Canada, U.S. or wherever you’ll be better off , sorry to here about your friends curarse pronto!

  2. Joe Shmoo

    May 10, 2012 at 10:04 PM

    Are you kidding me??? She is a fucking disaster. She has ONE person she cares about and that is CYNTHIA.
    There is a SPECIAL place in HELL for women like who dont support women. I wish her nothing but shit clients who fuck HER shit up.

  3. Tabogano

    May 11, 2012 at 1:10 PM

    Thanks, Okke, for this. Cynthia isn’t a resident, she only comes here in the weekends and now it’s clear she doesn’t care about the community. No matter what they say or how they try to talk their way out of it, some people were seriously injured by a criminal and they’ve been left out in the cold to fend for themselves by Cynthia Mulder, the mayor, the local police. If nothing else, they don’t care much about tourism and Taboga promotion either. Violent criminals being set free is hardly an incentive to visit the island.

  4. EO

    May 11, 2012 at 4:37 PM

    Good thing you wrote about this, she had it coming and totally deserves it. Can’t imagine people being this selfish, especially in such a small community. Kind of makes me wish she gets into trouble so you can all say that she can go (#*&$ herself.

  5. Melodye

    May 13, 2012 at 1:12 PM

    If the police made me keep a lunatic at my place, and responsible for his “house arrest”, I would do the same thing. Get him out of my place ASAP. She can’t stay there indefinitely. She has a child who has to come back to the city for school on weekdays. The responsibility lies on the police and the mayor. I think Cynthia did the right thing under the circumstances.

    • the Editor

      May 13, 2012 at 2:21 PM

      Melodye, I don’t think anyone disputes that that situation was far from ideal. But that does not in any way mean that Cynthia had to operate behind everybody’s back in the sneaky way that she did. Nor does it mean that the only solution is that the culprit is released and returns to Canada two days later. It’s one thing to care about your hotel, it’s quite another to only care about your hotel and nothing else.

      Nor does anyone say that Cynthia is the only one who did something wrong; she, the mayor, the police – todos metieron la pata.

      If Cynthia and her family had been hurt by this guy – if the situation had been in reverse, in other words – I’m completely convinced that her friends and others in the community had not made the release of the guy their first and only priority. But she did. I would have tried to get him out of here, maybe, but in handcuffs only. I would not be able to look in the mirror had I schemed behind her back to have the guy set free so he could flee the country.

      Why didn’t she – to give just one example – get the victims a lawyer instead of Andrew Heal, and pushed for a speedy resolution that would get him out of her hotel and into the hands of the authorities? She could just as easily have done that, but evidently Cynthia cares about nothing and nobody but her business and herself, which is further evidenced by the fact that she hasn’t taken one single initiative to be of any kind of assistance to the victims. There are various people here who are making calls to the US embassy, accompany the victims on their visits to the various official institutions and hospitals, get them a lawyer, try to get the so-called tourist insurance to cover some of the bills, even give money – and the only thing Cynthia does is yammer about herself and erasing her ties with Heal on the internet. I hope she’ll find out that that’s no acceptable way to operate in a small community.

  6. Sooke Bohunk

    May 18, 2012 at 12:04 PM

    I see Cynthia’s hired the wanker for some damage control. let’s see how that goes

  7. the Editor

    May 28, 2012 at 7:02 AM

    It doesn’t go. It’s not showing up anywhere in the search engines. I could explain why that is, but why bother?

%d bloggers like this: