Only the lamest of the Martinelli groupies are still coming out in defense of their supermarket idol. When WikiLeaks revealed cables quoting president Martinelli and VP Varela as saying that the Canal expansion project was a "disaster" and accusing Canal administrator Aleman Zubieta of rigging the bid for the lock building contract, the response of both was that they wholeheartedly supported the ACP and the Canal expansion, with Martinelli adding that he had never said anything to the US ambassador that was mentioned in the diplomatic cable.
Now, with new cables having been released in which Martinelli and his people are said to have demanded that the DEA facilitate domestic political espionage for them, only his staunchest supporters come out in his defense.
On Christmas Day, the Presidency issued a statement saying that the US ambassador and its staff had "misunderstood" the request for illegal wiretapping, while the New York Times, based on cables that have not yet been published, reported:
Eventually, according to the cables, American diplomats began wondering about Mr. Martinelli’s motivations. Did he really want the D.E.A. to disrupt plots by his adversaries, or was he trying to keep the agency from learning about corruption among his relatives and friends?
One cable asserted that Mr. Martinelli’s cousin helped smuggle tens of millions of dollars in drug proceeds through Panama’s main airport every month. Another noted, “There is no reason to believe there will be fewer acts of corruption in this government than in any past government.”
Today, minister of the presidency Jimmy Papadimitriu and tourism minister Salomón Shamah - a Colombian with reported links to arms trafficking whose political career is characterized by invisible tourism policy and him getting into regular fistfights - addressed the media on the subject. Shamah said that the ambassador was "angry" with Martinelli because he wouldn't do as she said. According to Shamah, the ambassador disagreed with the appointment of a former Noriega hitman as the chief of police. Shamah did not explain why, if the ambassador would somehow be seeking revenge, she would do so only in a diplomatic cable classified "secret" and "not for foreigners" instead of going public.
Although: The embassy DID leak documents to El Panama America about Gustavo Perez's criminal past.
Papadimitriu, in his turn, followed the same "reasoning" and added that they would no longer respond to any of the cables being published by WikiLeaks. That of course doesn't appear to be a very smart move: He might be able to hide scandal from the public, but not from those sectors in Panamanian society on which this government depends for support.
Furthermore, the cables refer to correspondence through various other channels on the illegal wiretapping desires of Martinelli, Papadimitriu and now Supreme Court judge Almengor, plus meetings were held with a number of embassy people present. It wouldn't be difficult at all for the US to debunk the dumb denials of the Martinelli clique.
Talking about dumb, the inevitable Don Winner - who himself works for arms traffickers to the Colombian paramilitaries - had of course something to say about WikiLeaks too:
Still Like Wikileaks? Now the bad guys - if they didn't already know - have confirmation that the DEA has a deployed network of cellular telephone intercept stations located throughout Latin America. Without a doubt, the release of these cables will cause incalculable damage to our ability to catch and prosecute the drug traffickers and money launderers of the world. The nuts and bolts of the bickering between Stephenson and Martinelli don't mean a damn thing in the grand scheme of things - however the confirmation of the existence of "Operation Matador" is potentially very damaging.
For those who didn't know: The drug cartels are far more sophisticated, better funded and more innovative in their communications than the DEA can ever hope to intercept, and any narco kingpin with half a brain will simply assume that his cellphone is not secure. Just check this story from 2002 about what investigators found when busting a communications headquarters in Cali, Colombia:
On a rainy night eight years ago in the Colombian city of Cali, crack counter-narcotics troops swarmed over the first floor of a low-rise condominium complex in an upscale neighborhood. They found no drugs or guns. But what they did find sent shudders through law enforcement and intelligence circles around the world.
The building was owned by a front man for Cali cocaine cartel leader José Santacruz Londono. Inside was a computer center, manned in shifts around the clock by four to six technicians. The central feature of the facility was a $1.5 million IBM AS400 mainframe, the kind once used by banks, networked with half a dozen terminals and monitors. The next day, Colombia's attorney general secretly granted permission for U.S. agents to fly the mainframe immediately back to the United States, where it was subjected to an exhaustive analysis by experts from the Drug Enforcement Administration and various intelligence agencies. The so-called Santacruz computer was never returned to Colombian authorities, and the DEA's report about it is highly classified. But Business 2.0 has ferreted out many of its details. They make it clear why the U.S. government wants the Santacruz case kept quiet.
According to former and current DEA, military, and State Department officials, the cartel had assembled a database that contained both the office and residential telephone numbers of U.S. diplomats and agents based in Colombia, along with the entire call log for the phone company in Cali, which was leaked by employees of the utility. The mainframe was loaded with custom-written data-mining software. It cross-referenced the Cali phone exchange's traffic with the phone numbers of American personnel and Colombian intelligence and law enforcement officials. The computer was essentially conducting a perpetual internal mole-hunt of the cartel's organizational chart. "They could correlate phone numbers, personalities, locations -- any way you want to cut it," says the former director of a law enforcement agency. "Santacruz could see if any of his lieutenants were spilling the beans."
The WikiLeaks cables on anti-narcotics efforts show more than anything else the futility of the so-called "war on drugs". There are cables on how druglords have taken over African countries to use them as a hub to Europe. The DEA wiretapping endeavors are easily compromised by rogue leaders like Martinelli (and in Paraguay there was a similar situation) while more sensible regional leaders see their reasons for kicking the DEA out of their countries confirmed by the WikiLeaks releases.
The Panamanian drug interdiction efforts are especially ludicrous, as nobody can really explain how Panama's streets become safer (as per former ambassador Stephenson's statement) by putting most efforts and budget towards intercepting drug transports at sea which, as they are in transit to the north, wouldn't even touch the Panamanian shores.
Needless to say, the Panamanian media as usual excel in failing to explore any of these angles.