While the marches of the so-called "civil society" are getting smaller and smaller and the protests are deflating, Panama's fearless mafia-leader Ricardo Martinelli and his government are facing increasing isolation and pressure from the international front. The most silent condemnation comes from the White House: Every Panamanian president since the invasion in 1989 has been received by the US president within the first year of taking office. Except Martinelli. Instead, Washington sends envoys and senators down here to warn Martinelli against continuing his disastrous policies.
More vocally, Washington think tank the Council on Hemispheric Affairs (COHA) published a report titled "A Message to Martinelli: The International Community is Watching", and that phrase appears to hit the nail on the head.
To start: The NGO Human Rights Everywhere updated its report on the brutal repression in Bocas del Toro against striking protesters, concluding that the police actions, which left at least 4 dead, were a “grave violation of human rights on the part of the Panamanian state.”
Then, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR or CIDH in Spanish), part of the OAS, warned Martinelli that “the actions of the security forces should protect, rather than discourage, the right to assembly.”
Yet, these scathing condemnations have not been met with any repĺy by the government. That is because these human rights organizations, while doing undeniably important work, use the tactic of trying to shame Martinelli and his gang. Shaming as a means of coercion doesn't work with this government however. They have no shame. There is no developed set of ethics or morality in them that we can appeal to, or pressure, to make them change their behavior. Simply put, there are no buttons to push there no matter how hard you look.
To force them into changing their ways, they need to be hit where it hurts. That's why it has been a big mistake of the various activist groups to focus on practically useless marches and petitions instead of making a real effort to get consumer boycotts off the ground against the myriad of businesses that members of the government own.
What will really have an impact on Martinelli et al is a report today in La Prensa, about rating agency Standard & Poor’s warning the government that it could lose its coveted "investment grade" if they don't change their ways.
The agency's Sifón Arévalo, during a conference, warned that the government is sending discouraging messages to investors, condemned the repression in Bocas del Toro and added that "we're seeing situations where contracts are not being respected, like with the corredores", referring to the planned take-over of the tollroads by the government with pension fund money.
Arévalo added that transparency in contracting and bidding processes as well as a good administration of the legal system are necessary to keep the investment grade, "because when a country grows we want to see growth there as well".
Ex-president of the business executives association APEDE, Enrique De Obarrio, commented that losing the investment grade rating would be far worse than having not obtained it in the first place, and said that this could occur if the legal system and state institutions further deteriorate.
You see, without this investment grade, it would become more expensive and difficult for Martinelli to borrow money and meet the state's obligations. And then he would have really serious trouble. Together with the humiliation of having the rating reduced within a year of making a big fanfare of obtaining it, that is what would hurt.