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.

About the author /


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.

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