And we have the first dispute under the Panama - USA free trade agreement! That treaty, described as a "major win for Panama corruption", went into effect late last year, thanks to the supposedly anti-FTA Obama, and the first dispute reads like an all-too-familiar Panamanian horror novel that many foreign investors will immediately recognize.
The dispute is filed by James Falgout, Barbara Falgout and Clarence Johnson. Years ago, they bought a piece of beachfront property in Chiriqui, not too far from the Costa Rican border. Their plan was to build a coastal residential development there called "Villas Playa Tortuga".
However, they had not counted with the omnipresent Panamanian corruption and thievery.
First they ran into various obstacles when they tried to obtain title on their property, which was bought under "right of possession" laws. Although no legal objections existed to grant that title and such was repeatedly promised, the title never materialized.
Then, a road was illegally built across their property on orders of the local mayor, the investors allege. That road was then used by drug traffickers who apparently operated in the area with impunity or even protection and assistance.
In their attempts to retrieve their land and start construction of the - officially approved - development, they then suffered a series of abuses that range from kidnap attempts, harassment by the local police and the mayor, setting their property on fire, attempts at their lives, planting drugs, threats with arrest and torture, and so on.
At one point, the National Ombudsman, Patria Portugal, even told them that "the mayor of Baru is very well protected" and "does as he pleases" and that Panama "does not recognize its obligations under treaties or international law", the complainants allege.
About the latter we are now about to find out. The notice of the dispute being filed has been sent to the new Attorney General of Panama, the Noriega crony Ana Belfon. She and her associates will probably try to stall everything as long as possible - a tried and tested tactic commonly employed by Panama to evade its international responsibilities.
The entire complaint, with all the gruesome details, is available for download here: FTA_notice_of_dispute.