Stop dreaming: Martinelli can’t and won’t stop crime

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Death Porn, the daily crime cannibal feast in La Critica

Today in Panama City a "Peace March" was being held, and president Martinelli, just back from Spain, promised there that he would finish off violent crime in three years and turn Panama into the most secure country of Latin America.

Sounds great, but won't happen. It's actually dangerous to believe him. Here's why:

Crime syndicates are much better organized than the State and always stay ahead of the game. Just look at the situation in Mexico to get an idea of how that works. Violent crime in capitalist society is just another marketplace; expertise is traded, there are enough free-lancers available, they don't need to play by any rules and the biggest budget wins. Drug cartels always have the bigger budgets and the police has to work with shitty equipment. This type of violent crime will over time merge with political resistance, just like it has done in Mexico and Colombia and Afghanistan. The only answer to this is to fight back the same way - the paramilitary solution. However, apart from legitimacy and human rights concerns, this only works for a limited time, because inevitably the paramilitary forces discover that they can do the same work and make more money by joining the other side - see Mexico's Zetas, the Afghan Mujahideen, the Colombian AUC and "false positives" scandal and so on. In Panama, we still see relatively primitive gang violence that is increasing in volume (there's nothing in place to stop it no matter what Martinelli and Mulino say) but not so much in sophistication. That will rapidly change if these gangs and those who control them are seriously challenged, because there is enough experience in Central America for them to tap into, "open source" style.

The forces of law and order are part of the problem, not of the solution. Minister Mulino wanted to reduce visiting rights to prisoners because he said visitors were smuggling drugs and weapons inside. Anyone who knows just a little bit about how Panamanian prisons are managed knows this is utter nonsense. The smuggling is totally cartelized by the guards and the police. The El Renacer prison has (or had) even an open back door where smugglers could simply walk in to deliver their wares. Similarly, the police are the biggest arms trafficking network in the country. It's, again, simply market economics: They're underpaid and can make more money working for the other side. Same in the public ministry and the courts.

"If they can steal, I can". Endemic corruption, tax evading vice-presidents, a president accused of money laundering refusing to make his campaign finances public, juega vivo with the legal system, impunity from corruption, racism, thievery and even war crimes - if those higher up give such a dismal example, why expect that those lower in the food chain will respect the law? And why would citizens respect the police? In other words, the Panamanian State does not enjoy the legitimacy it needs to enforce "justice", or in sustainable entrepreneurship terms: They don't have a license to operate (Panamanians just say, "La ley es pa' pendejos").

Lack of, or infantile strategic thinking. Having learned about security policing the dairy cooler and the booze aisle, Martinelli's security policy for Panama is a sort of a scaled-up version of how he protects his supermarkets against housewife kleptomaniacs. Dress the ceiling with cameras all over the place and put armed guards at the exits. That's it. So now we have in Panama a camera surveillance system and road blocks everywhere. Murder rates continue to go up. A similar imbecile measure requires those who ride a motorcycle to have the license plate number on their helmet as well as on a special vest. The vests are obligatory in Colombia already - ask them how much that helped. Panama builds eleven aeronaval bases in various remote areas to intercept drug trafficking. Martinelli and Mulino never miss an opportunity to explain how important that is to improve our security, which is yet another fallacy. The people in San Miguelito aren't any safer or unsafer if a fast boat with a ton of coke speeds through Panamanian waters on its way to the market up north. They won't even notice. Intercepting it makes for nice photo ops for the police, but it doesn't change the daily reality of our cities: Despite claims of increased drug seizures, murder rates are still going up. And so on. The tough talk about coming down hard on crime and even a "war on crime" does in no way represent a coherent strategy; it's just another example of choosing for media manipulation and confidence boosting instead of coming up with real solutions.

If you want to marry neoliberalism you have to accept its bastard kids. The core of Martinelli's policies is to make Panama a bastion of neoliberalism, a business haven where laws are quickly changed to facilitate whichever globalized corporation or predator wants to take advantage. They are already starting with the labor code and there's an ongoing battle about plans to turn our education system into a hatchery for cheap labor, while the few rules that exist continue to be unenforced. Whatever your political views about that may be, fact is that the flip side of that coin is money laundering, drug trafficking and other high-end brands of organized crime. Only a fool believes that the Panamanian population generates enough deposits to keep almost a hundred different banks in business here (in fact the "banking center" was created by the Rockefellers here under the Torrijos dictatorship to stash American oil profits offshore and away from the tax man, not because Panama itself was such a promising market), and it is common knowledge that such business sectors as construction, project development and trade through the Colón Free Zone are vehicles for money laundering and drug trafficking. Each and every major druglord that sets foot in Panama and is then busted turns out to have been in cahoots with politicians and the upper echelons of our business sector - no exceptions. And these guys are attracted by the exact same lack of regulation or even lawlessness on the isthmus as multinational corporations that represent "foreign direct investment". Countries with neoliberal policies in place have generally higher discrepancies between rich and poor - another well known precursor for crime. In other words, Martinelli's policies promote what he claims he wants to fight.

Authoritarian rule and complicity by "civil society". Martinelli's efforts to quash opposition, his intolerance to criticism (goes for his immature government as a whole, btw) and anti-protest laws and threats to the press are cheered on by the right-wingers, but the result is that legitimate channels for people to show dissent are cut off and that dissent will then find illegitimate ways to manifest itself, i.e. blend in with crime. There's nothing more dangerous or more difficult to defeat than a tribe of politically and profit-motivated bank robbers, no matter how many Israeli Shin Bet advisors you hire. Yet the best remedy, an open society with participatory democracy, is not a concept Martinelli appears to have a basic understanding of. The same goes for our much-hyped "civil society". Let's be honest about it: Playing the "civil society" game is an elite business in Panama, practiced by people who have enough income and time on their hands to worry about a couple of old mango trees on upscale Calle 50 instead of garbage suffocating the poorer areas of the city (or air quality, for that matter). For months, these faux "civic leaders" have been whining about Martinelli making ugly faces at them instead of organizing to get things done and obtain real results for real people. In combination with Martinelli's authoritarian rule, civil society letting people who have no voice down time after time further pushes them towards less legitimate channels to demonstrate dissent.

None of the above is rocket science, yet one may wonder if there's any hope at all in this glorious situation we're in? Yes, stay tuned for a follow-up post.

12 thoughts on “Stop dreaming: Martinelli can’t and won’t stop crime

  1. ^_^ This is so good! Awesome. Love this and agree completely:

    “Martinelli’s security policy for Panama is a sort of a scaled-up version of how he protects his supermarkets against housewife kleptomaniacs. Dress the ceiling with cameras all over the place and put armed guards at the exits.”

  2. Three cheers. You have hit the nail dead on the head. Except the oligarchs committed to neoliberalism could care less. Because capitalism is what keeps them in a position to inhumanly exploit the people who are already struggling at the edges of society and, more problematic, at the edges of life. So when the ‘working class’ that also happens to be the poorest of the poor (see the reference to Martinelli’s dismembering of the labor law and the worker protection laws) resorts to self-help to insure the survival of their families and themselves, the oligarchs oppress with even more force. Thus the cycle is begun and will only end in chaos. In wealthy countries, like the EE.UU. or the EU, there is a sufficient cushion in place to allow for some recovery time before the cycle begins again.
    In Latin American countries, except those with proven mineral right resources already proven, the cycle is short-lived because the oligarchs have far more fire-power than the working people and the organized crime groups would rather switch than fight. So the tiny percentage of the population that is the corrupt oligarchy is taught even more corrupt ways to exploit the vast majority of oppressed working poor for a cut of organized crime’s income.
    This is a cycle that has been going on for 500+ years. All the Oligarchic Remnant European minority that preserve its precious Caucasian bloodlines at the expense of everything else and resort to murder to do so have been exploiting the conquered indigenous people and the bastard blow-by that have come to be call Mestizo during that incredible period of time. It is a tribute to the incredible patience and ability to endure pain of the indigenous people and the Mestizo that the Oligarchs haven’t been expelled yet. The only way that this can be overcome is through the throwing over of the neoliberal and replacing it with the 21st century Socialism.
    Look at Bolivia where an indigenous leader is President, the Assemblea is a majority indigenous/mestizo, and the rabbiblanco minority tries to lead a coup d’etat on a semiannual. And it did it because it adopted a Socialist economic system and maintained a democratic political system. The EE.UU. wants everyone to equate socialism to a political system, not a stand-alone economic system. It wants people to automatically think of a single dictator being a socialist anything.
    Socialism is an economic system, Neoliberal Capitalism is an economic system. Mercantilism is an economic system.
    Democracy is a political system. Democratic Republic is a political system. Autocracy is a political system. Oligarchic Autocracy is a political system. Monarchic Autocracy is a political system. Oligarchic Plutocracy is a political system.
    These are distinctly separate entities, not to be confused, although the EE.UU. propaganda machine will do its best to confuse you about them. While it is admitted that economic systems have a distinct bearing on the actions and reactions of the political systems, nevertheless, they are wholly independent systems that serve different functions in the state.
    Socialism allows for the governmental authority to impose taxes that will balance out the extremes of income gap, not to a level field, that is absurd. To a disparity that does not look so skewed as the one is now in most Latin American countries between the national median income and the wealthiest median income. Until Latin American working people are wiling to give up their cling to the Gringo propaganda and embrace democratic socialism, the will continue to live in abject misery and supporting the racist oligarchs who oppress them.

  3. Until the lazy Police start patrolling , walking the streets and directing traffic like they used too! Nothing will change! Since Martinelli gave the Police a good raise based on Panamanian wages(no national police officer now makes less than $500.00 a month), they the Police have been doing a lot less! The Police have spent huge sums of money on New styled Como uniforms and CCTV that only works part time! The Police are more interested in drug crimes and being on TV than helping the population as a whole with Robberies, muggings, or Burglaries! It seems a lot of these shooting and dismembering Deaths are being committed like the police death squads of Chile and Argentina back in the seventies and eighties! Most are Petty criminals or Petty gang members that are killed! it seems never any one with real Money or Property! So, just how are the Police and the press finding these homicides so quickly ? Panama is unsafe at any speed!!

  4. The Gringos are here! three days ago I was stopped outside of Rio Sereno travelling from CR to Panama(the wrong way for drugs). It was a huge reten on a desolate stretch of road between Sereno and Volcan with about 50 camoflaged Panamonkeys with lots of new toys: a fiber optic scope for looking in crevices and around corners in cars bodies, a mirror system for looking under cars, and sonic device for testing if car panels were still hollow. They were very serious and rude and searched everything. Demanding stupidly such items as the receipts for my 5 year old laptop and my 3 year old camera. When they were finished a friendly tall guy approached me and asked me in American accented English where I was from. We chatted. He was from Atlanta. I asked him why the huge deal here today. He replied nothing special just a joint operation with the US and training the Panamonkeys. It was the first for me to see Gringos here in Panama, it also explained the new toys for the simians.

  5. Very interesting article. It is refreshing to read intelligent American opinions that do not refer to Democrats, Republicans, Obama, or anything that is not inside the USA borders for a change (but let´s remind all that Panama is not inside USA territory, just in case there was such confussion that generated these opinions). I am, however, really turned off by the lack of responsibility that the USA Ambassador to Panama (now conveniently out of the country, from what I heard) will EVER be willing to admit in supporting this Presidential candidate. According to many, the Alliance for Chance (Alianza por el Cambio) that brought Martinelli and Varella together, which was a fundamental political and possibly economical support that won Martinelli the Presidency, would not have occurred had it not been concocted at the USA Embassy during President Obama´s Inauguration…by the same USA Ambassador that apparently now is appalled becuase some of her “USA interests” where not met as she had initially planted. She was one of many idiots who were fooled as well, but when is the USA going to learn to keep their noses out of other countries affairs? Now it´s too late to start this campaign against this President that the USA supported. The Social Democrat Balbina Herrera was obviously a much better candidate for us, for many reasons, such as the one described in the comment above regarding the differente economic systems that have worked recently in our hemisphere. So let´s stop criticizing Panama and before continuing with your valuable opinions, at least start begging your own country´s Ambassador, and this goes for all of you expats in this country who has welcome you with open arms (and tax free for many of you) to clean her own mess as best as she can, as it is costumary USA foreign policy after invading and bringing destruction and death overseas, before taking off and leaving us with this shit she was so happy to dump on us…

    • It is refreshing to read intelligent American opinions that do not refer to Democrats, Republicans, Obama, or anything that is not inside the USA borders for a change

      @Maria: Just so you know: I write in English, but I am from Europe. The tiny Kingdom of the Netherlands, to be exact. Other than that, thank you for your kind words.

  6. Maria,

    Balbina would have been terrible also. Just in a different way. She is a corrupt thieving and violent person. She fired a gun at a group of demonstrators and incited a crowd to kill an anti-Noriega protester. She is as self serving as they get. Her only saving feature is her lack of intelligence as it limits the amount of damage she can do to Panama. Panama has an absolutely terrible political class and there never seems to be any real promise in future candidates either.

  7. This whole peace march thing strikes me as somewhat pathetic. It reminds me of the civilista marches of the 80’s. Everyone in the streets celebrating, chatting and socializing and doing diddly squat about the real problems.

    Instead of a big love-in how about real action: A strike to prevent the regressive sales tax increase. Pressure on the government to increase education spending. encourage and participate in volunteer work to help catch risky kids before they find solace in gangs.

    Stop worshiping the juega vivo Promote sports, hobbies, reading, community work as opposed to gringo style processed cheese entertainment ie. Muevelo, or kiddy singing contests. They all encourage egoism, consumerism, and get rich mentalities.

    The problems of Panama need action not more rabi-style masturbation sessions.

  8. Right Jason. The problems of Panama need action and that is what the peace marchers were doing, instead of complaining on line. Do you think Martinelli or any government person sits and reads these comments? It takes people who want to act, not talk about problems. What are you going to DO to let Martinelli know how you think and feel about what needs to be done in Panama?

  9. Pattie,
    The peace marches mean nothing to Martinelli other than an opportunity to spout more propaganda. It means perhaps less than the comments here on line. These comments are read internationally and may have some effect on investors or the foreign press.

    A peace march is like the annual Fancy Hat Contest at the Club Union, it is a waste of time but gives the rabiblancas something to do with their empty, bored lives.

    What exactly are the people protesting in a peace march?? Of course everyone wants peace. The problems of increasing crime are deeply rooted in society and need solid input and effort to change. A peace march is an afternoon off. Everyone goes home feeling warm and fuzzy inside and convinced that they have done their share. But it means absolutely nothing. Just like the white civilista parades of the Noriegato were a complete joke to Noriega, because no one took action.

  10. What am I doing to let Martinelli know? I am leaving the country. I am a typical idiot for having hope for each new Panamanian politician. Only to find each one sleazier than the one before.

    I spent 10 enjoyable years as a social worker working with newly forming gangs in Toronto Canada so I have done my time in this area. But please with the parades, you’d be better off with a “stop crime bake-sale.”

    The problem with crime in Panama is that it is the logical choice for many because it PAYS! Most of the government are criminals, who learned this long ago.

    So what do the gang kids think of a peace parade? It is a joke to them and an opportunity to rob the empty houses of those in the parade.

    And the politicians, what do they think of the peace parade? They are relieved that no one is doing anything real to slow down their criminal progress. Nothing but a Sunday afternoon social.

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