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February 06 2014

Work on the Panama Canal Grinds to a Halt

Foto de André S. Ribeiro en Flickr, bajo licencia Creative Commons  (CC BY 2.0)

Photo by André S. Ribeiro on Flickr, under a Creative Commons license (CC BY 2.0)

[Links are to Spanish-language pages except where noted.]

The GUPC (Grupo Unidos por el Canal), a Spanish-led construction group, has completely stopped work on the Panama Canal expansion project [en]. After more than 15 days of negotiations [en] the consortium decided to make good on its threat to shut down construction when its demands were not met. 

Jorge Quijano, the canal administrator, indicated that while conversations between the parties could continue, the window of opportunity was closing and that prompt action should be taken. 

It did not take long for patriotic outrage to make itself heard. 

To better understand the stakes involved, it helps to know that for Panamanians, the Canal is sacred. It was born hand in hand with the nation. More precisely, Panama seceded from Gran Colombia and became an independent country in 1903 with the primary objective of opening up the Canal. As a result, Panamanians feel this crucial stretch of water to be part of their DNA, and since it was opened, they have defended it tooth and nail. Some have gone so far as to call it “the religion that unites all Panamanians.”

This notion was reflected in social media, where politicians of all stripes showed their support for the Panama Canal Authority (ACP), which remains firm in its determination to not negotiate outside the terms of the contract.

The journalist Manolo Álvarez collected the various statements made by Jorge Quijano, who guaranteed that Panama would not let itself be blackmailed by the GUPC and that the ACP was prepared to face them in court. 

The Canal will not be subjected to any extortion by the GUPC and we will face them no matter the circumstances

Isabel St. Malo, who is running for the vice-presidency under the banner of the Partido Panameñista [en], tweeted her support for the ACP, pledging that the expansion of the Canal would be done with or without the GUPC.

We endorse the message of Administrator Quijano, we will finish this project with or without GUPC. ACP, national pride!

Martin Torrijos, former President of Panamá and son of General Omar Torrijos—the man who signed the Torrijos-Carter treaties that returned the Canal to Panama—also indicated he stood behind the Administrator and commented that if they were able to make the Canal Panamanian, then surely Panamanians would be able to expand it. 

The expansion project is ours; they will go, we will remain, as Quijano said. We will fulfill our duty to Panama. If we got it back, there's no question we can expand it. 

Popi Varela, a Partido Panameñista deputy, points out that the mistake made by Sacyr, the Spanish firm leading the GUPC, was to believe that the ACP was just like any corrupt government they could blackmail. 

Sacyr thinks they are negotiating with a corrupt government and haven't realized that the ACP is independent of the central government according to the constitution!

With its typical sarcasm, El Gallinazo requests that Panamanians not let “gringos” finish the work and that they themselves pick up the tools and complete the expansion project.

Panama needs you! Don't let the gringos finish the expansion. Grab your hammers and shovels and we'll finish this job ourselves!

Quintín Moreno opines that the GUPC should not be given any more chances and that another company should be found. 

The ACP should hire a new firm to finish the expansion; the GUPC has shown itself to be opportunistic and disloyal.

The impact is being felt in Spain, where the share price of Sacyr plummeted when news hit the financial markets. This is how Mi Diario describes it:

Shares of Sacyr fell on the Spanish stock market

R.A. Benta says that this is the beginning of the end of the Spanish “brand” and that the real question is, “Who is going to pay for it all?” 

Today Sacyr with the Panama Canal, tomorrow Saudi Arabia with the Ave [high-speed train], who's picking up the tab for these megaparties?

Quijano's statements, assuring there is still wiggle room in the negotiations, indicate the ACP believes that the GUPC can complete the work. However, when it comes to Panamanians, patience for the manoeuvres of the consortium seems to have run out. 

February 03 2014

Panama's First Lady Will Run For Vice Presidency

Marta will be our next vice president. Her and Aimée will be the heart of our government. Let's go for more change with “the strength of the new”

With this tweet from the governing party, CD (Democratic Change) announced what was an open secret: Marta de Martinelli, wife of current president Ricardo Martinelli, will run as a candidate for vice presidency. 

Social networks had already witnessed a change in the attitude of the first lady, who had taken on a more aggressive discourse since mid-2013; such as on October 15, 2013, when she took to her Twitter account to attack La Prensa, a medium that has been disqualified on more than one occasion by President Martinelli: 

La Prensa's scheme remains exposed, where they say that the Vatican does not have Ricardo Marinelli's visit on their schedule. They should verify things with the Nuncio first. GOSH. 

The appointment of the First Lady has raised all sorts of reactions.

Sports commentator Juan Carlos Tapia shared an image that circulated on social networks where President Ricardo Martinelli appears with his wife's hairstyle, implying that he is the one who will really be running for the vice presidency. 

They just sent me the Democratic Change candidates. 

Twitter users created the hashtag #noseascongo (#dontbeafool), where several Panamanians denounced a “reelection” in disguise following the appointment of the First Lady. 

Delany Morales denounced “the plan” under which it is believed the reelection will arrive according to her point of view.

If you are against the disastrous plan to bring about the reelection, RT!

For some, like journalist Edwin Cabrera, alarms went off when the phenomenon that occurred in Argentina with Kirchner would be repeated.

The first challenge will be convincing that a win from @JDAriasV and @martamartinelli will not be the start of a Panamanian version of Kirchnerism. 

Similarly, writer Edilberto Gonzalez, commented:

Here, watching how the Democratic Change is Kirchnerizing.   

For Julieta Guerra, however, there could not have been better news: 

A social proposal, a high sense of inclusion is the presidential formula for JDAriasV and Marta de Martinelli. Let's go for more CHANGE! 

Alvaro Biebarach shares an image on his Facebook account where several of his friends are excited by the appointment of the First Lady: 

A few messages on my Facebook on the appointment of Ms. Marta de Martinelli. Excellent…

Meanwhile, Francisco Rodrigo shares an image of Article 193 of the Panamanian Constitution that seems to prevent the First Lady from running as vice president: 

@rmartinelli should read Article 193 of Panama's current political constitution.

Regarding this dilemma, Electoral Tribunal President Erasmo Pinilla pronounced [es] that relatives in the fourth degree of consanguinity and second of affinity cannot be candidates, but spouses do not fall in either of these categories.

The stage is served and with this appointment there are already five nominees that will run for president and vice president on May 4.  

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January 28 2014

Presidential Debate in Panama Creates More Questions than Answers

Panama is preparing for presidential elections in May 2014, and only four months from polling day, the campaigns are ratcheting up the rhetoric and everybody is breathing political propaganda.

There will be four candidates from official parties and for the first time in history, three independent candidates are running.

On January 20, 2014, the second presidential debate was held, with three of the seven candidates participating, calling attention for the second time to the absence of the government party candidate (Democratic Change) José Domingo Arias.

The candidates participating in the debate were Juan Carlos Navarro for the Partido Revolucionario Democrático (PRD) [es], Juan Carlos Varela for the Panameñista Party, and Genaro López [es] for the Broad Front for Democracy (FAD in Spanish).

The debate had a great impact on social networks, where Panamanians went to share their opinions and to vent.

The humorous news account El Gallinazo created the Hashtag #Preguntaspaldebate [es] where Panamanian netizens tossed out ideas for questions that should be asked during the debate.

The government party took advantage of social networks to make excuses for their candidate, saying that he would participate in debates organized by the Electoral Tribunal (ET), even though this same party voted against a bill proposing mandatory debates organized by the ET.

Have the Electoral Tribunal organize debates. Don’t let the media and interested unions impose their hidden agenda. Fairness and transparency.

Blogger Erik Simpson comments that the absence of the official candidate shows that José Domingo Arias can’t even think for himself, let alone govern:

He doesn’t dare face Panamanians in the debates but he thinks he can lead Panama. If he can’t even back up his presidential bid, how will he lead.

But for Cesar Urrutia the proposals of the candidates who attended the debate are nothing but a carbon copy of the current government:

For the most part, their ideas are carbon copies of José Domingo Arias, more utopian plans, out of touch with our reality.

El Gallinazo shared a photo in which the current government candidate is represented as Wilson, the volleyball from the film Cast Away.

Which of the four is winning the debate?

The same site created a humorous video [es] about the debate:

And for most Panamanians, the debate lacked substance. Candidates seemed to answer whatever they wanted in the face of rather succinct questions. Elviz says:

The Panamanian debates are like you ask me something and I answer whatever the hell I want!

Gina Lee comments wryly on how candidate Genaro López expresses himself:

Genaro is like Gollum and Smeagol…the man always speaks of himself in the plural. “We think….” “We say….”

Chris Fawcett asks what the point was of the “debate” that took place on the evening of January 20:

If they ask you a question and your answer has nothing to do with the question, is that a “debate”?

RPC Radio, who organized the event, created hashtags where people could vote yes or no for each candidate. The winner of the evening according to the station was Juan Carlos Navarro, who garnered 51.7% of the “vote”:

These are the results for each candidate during the 1st presidential debate.

A few months before they have to choose a new president, Panamanians seem undecided given the shortage of options. El Ñeque Noticias's account concluded on a humorous note, which however could sum up the feelings of a large number of Panamanians.

Panamanians agree that if the elections were today, they would ask Uruguay to send Pepe Mujica to run Panama.

January 23 2014

PHOTOS: Over 5,000 Children Break Guinness Record Painting Panama Canal

Foto tomada por Shoonit Khoshen. Usada con permiso.

Photo taken by Shoonit Khoshen. Used with permission.

Panama broke the record of people painting simultaneously [es] by getting 5,084 children to paint a mural for the Canal locks.

This activity, held on Saturday, January 18, 2014, was named “Pintemos los 100 años del canal” [Let's paint the Canal's centennial] and marks the start of the centennial celebration of the interoceanic route.

The event was carried out in an atmosphere far from the debate about the possible halt of a project to widen the Canal. The celebration took place within the Canal and on social networks as well, where diverse users shared photos and opinions of the activity.

The Twitter account ‘Ponte en algo’ shared an air image of the event.

A hundred years bringing the world together is the message on the canvas created today by Panamanian children along with the Olga Sinclair Foundation

The Canal's administrator, Jorge Quijano, also posted a picture featuring the 5,084 children that participated in the activity:

How beautiful, Panama's future paints the Canal's centenary.

CNN journalist Ismael Cala shared a picture of the event, where we can see the Canal administrator and artist Olga Sinclair, the main driving force behind this initiative.

Cheers for Panama!!! I'm happy to enjoy a Guiness Record, 5,084 children painting a hundred years.

Panama's National Institute of Culture (INAC, for its initials in Spanish) shared an image of the Guinness record certificate:

Congratulations for this record Panama, and thanks Olga Sinclair Foundation and Olga Sinclair for making it a reality with all these children.

Lineth Rodriguez posts a picture of her triplets participating in the record: 

Our triplets participating in the painting workshop.

The activity reached its goal of breaking the record, kicking off the centennial celebration and making Panamanians feel they are part of the Canal's festivity.

Foto tomada por Shoonit Khoshen. Usada con permiso.

Photo taken by Shoonit Khoshen. Used with permission.

January 22 2014

Political Propaganda in the New Panamanian Passports?

The release of a new electronic passport in Panama has been accompanied by chaos and many user complaints. But the straw that broke the camel’s back was the images included in the passport to advertise the accomplishments of the government of Ricardo Martinelli.

The new electronic passport, announced with much fanfare a year ago, went into circulation at the beginning of 2014 after several delays. The passport has 30 security measures, including a polycarbonate sheet with a built-in chip and biometric system. La Prensa [es] reports that people have to endure interminable lines and are even sleeping outside the passport authority to get new passports. In addition, the price has gone from 50 to 100 dollars.

Carmen Bernárdez, the administrator of the Passport Authority, has confirmed that the introduction of this new travel document [es] seeks to sell the country’s image internationally, and in particular, the development that has taken place during the past four years with the Martinelli government.

Juan Amado comments that there are better ways to promote the country, for instance, through the magazine published by Copa, the Panamanian airline:

If the plan is to sell Panama, show its accomplishments in the Copa magazine, which the whole world sees. The only one who sees the passports is the customs officer.

Lucas Castrellon jokes about the image that appears in the passport about the “100 at 70” iniciative, that gives 100 dollars a month to people over 70 years old who have no income:

“Look, in Panama we have 100 at 70. Put the stamp right on top of the lady”—me to the customs officer with my new passport.

Carlos V. Ho Diéguez shares the photo of “100 at 70″:

I can’t believe the new Panamanian passport has images like this on its pages.

Alejandra Mata doesn’t understand how it’s possible that with so many options, they chose the achievements of the government.

There’s so much history and beautiful scenery in my Panama, why should the passport have so much garbage on its pages??

Jay Cardu is upset about what appear to be a series of measures aimed at promoting the current government: 

This just tops it all for Ricardo Martinelli, printing the passport with that bullshit! Only thing left is to change the name from Panama to the Republic of Martinelli.

A. Batista comments that the only photo missing was the President’s, and adds a cartoon showing what a person has to go through if they want a new passport:

Panama’s new passport only lacks the President’s photo… [cartoon caption: “Look how they line up so they can get the best passport they’ve had in 40 years”]

La Prensa shares some of the images from the new passport on its Twitter account:

At [es] there are photos of the new passport, with the specifics that are causing the controversy.

Thus, those Panamanians who want to travel must not only pay twice as much, but must also carry with them political propaganda for the ruling party.

January 21 2014

Work on the Panama Canal Continues for Now

Foto de Phil Parsons en Flickr, bajo licencia Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Photo by Phil Parsons on Flickr, under a Creative Commons license (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

[Links are to Spanish-language pages except where noted.]

With the deadline for its ultimatum having been reached, the GUPC construction consortium (Grupo Unidos Por el Canal) now says it will not suspend work that could paralyze the project to widen the Panama Canal. [en]

On Monday, 20 January 2014, time ran out for GUPC's demand that they receive an additional $1.6 billion from the Panama Canal Authority to cover alleged cost overruns. GUPC had threatened a total work stoppage on construction of the third set of locks if, by that date, an agreement was not reached regarding payment.

The Panama Canal Authority has refused both the additional sum and any negotiations outside the terms of the original contract signed with GUPC. The Canal Authority also published a message on its website Mi Canal [en] in which it clarified that the threat by GUPC is not valid and goes against what is set out in the contract.

GUPC has tried every conceivable means of negotiating outside the contract, but the Canal Authority has refused to look for any way forward that does not strictly abide by the terms of the document. As the consortium includes three European companies, it was suggested that the European Commission mediate the dispute, a possibility that the Canal Authority firmly rejected, insisting the parties respect the provisions of the contract. 

Despite this, GUPC has said it will not suspend work as of January 20, alleging instead that the ultimatum only sets the date from which the consortium is entitled to order a work stoppage in the event that an agreement has not been reached. However, Canal Administrator Jorge Quijano has reported that construction activity is 30% below normal levels, risking a potential delay that is unjustified and a breach of the contract.

The unease and lack of transparency on the part of the consortium has upset Panamanians, who consider the Canal part of their national heritage. A group has even organized a protest for Wednesday, February 22.

La protesta ante embajada de España VA! Miércoles 22 al mediodía LLEvar espejitos, bandera Panameña y DIGNIDAD. Basta de chantajes de GUPC!

— Miguel A. Bernal V. (@MiguelABernalV) January 20, 2014

Protest in front of the Spanish embassy Let's go! Wednesday 22 at noon Bring small mirrors, the Panamanian flag and your PRIDE. Enough with GUPC blackmail!

Twitter user ‘Vía Noticias y Más’ agrees with many Panamanians who trust and hope that the Canal Authority (ACP) will take over construction.

It's time the ACP took over the widening of the Panama Canal and got rid of GUPC

For the politician José Blandon, the European companies are trying to pressure Panama into paying more than was agreed to:

Let's not play into the hands of these gentlemen from GUPC! They know how critical the time is for Panama and that's what accounts for the blackmail

For Rubén Córdoba the way to proceed is to kidnap the team from GUPC and contract another company to finish the work:

The ACP should remove GUPC from the canal, kidnap the team and hire the American/Japanese company for their tech

Mirla Maria is frustrated and asks that they get rid of the consortium and not let them continue work on the expansion:

Why don't they kick out those shameless Spaniards and not let them back in

As long as GUPC's ultimatum hangs overhead, work can be suspended at any time. And although January 20 did not see a complete shutdown, construction is so slow that nobody is discounting the possibility that the Panama Canal Authority will end up taking action on the matter.

January 16 2014

Hydroelectric Projects in Panama: “Promised Development But Created Disaster”

Although dam developers and governments insist that local communities benefit from these projects, the reality on the ground in Panama suggests the opposite: communities are plunged further into poverty, environments are destroyed and irreparable harm is caused. As one witness who is living in the wake of the Chan 75 project said: “The government and the company [AES, a US-based energy global company] promised development but instead they have created a disaster.”

In Intercontinental Cry, Jennifer Kennedy writes about the effect of hydroelectric dam projects on Panamanian Indigenous communities. She concludes:

Both the human and environmental cost of large dam development is undeniable. And communities will continue to defend their livelihoods, environments and resources, staunchly resisting destructive dam development projects.

January 15 2014

Panama Canal Expansion Faces a New Challenge

Panama Canal.  Photo shared on Flickr by dsasso, under license from Creative Commons(CC BY-SA 2.0)

Panama Canal. Photo shared on Flickr by dsasso, under a Creative Commons license (CC BY-SA 2.0)

The company in charge of the expansion of the Panama Canal has threatened to suspend work, demanding a multimillion dollar payment for cost overruns which the Panama Canal Authority refuses to pay.

The Panama Canal, inaugurated August 15, 1914, is one of the most important engineering works in the world and it is the engine that drives Panama’s economy. With increased trade and the size of the ships, it was necessary to think about expanding the waterway. Thus, in a national referendum on April 24, 2006, Panamanians voted in favor of expanding the canal, with an approval margin of 76.8%.

Panama budgeted the expansion at US $5.25 billion, which included the third set of locks, as well as a number of ports and other interconnections required for the amplification of the new route.

The contract for building the third set of locks was granted through a bid by GUPC, a multinational comprised of Sacyr Vallehermoso of Spain, Impregilo of Italy, Jan De Nul of Belgium, and Constructora Urbana SA (CUSA) of Panama.

GUPC won with the lowest bid of US $3.1 billion. The bid was lower than the reference established by the Panama Canal Authority (ACP).

According to wires from the U.S. Embassy in Panama released by Wikileaks, the U.S. company Bechtel (a competitor in the bidding), warned that the bid from Sacyr (GUPC leader) wasn’t enough to even pour the concrete, which would force renegotiation of the contract.

As prophesized, on January 1, 2014, GUPC demanded a payment of US $1.6 billion and threatened to suspend construction if payment was not received or the contract renegotiated within 20 days.

The ACP is sticking with the contract and has asked GUPC to do the same and complete construction within the terms already established. The group claims $1.6 billion in overruns and blames the ACP for providing inadequate information and requiring the use of materials not contemplated in the budget, according to El País. [es]

The ACP has expressed confidence that it can finish the expansion if the GUPC decides to completely pull out. La Nación [es] reports that the Panama Canal has insured the project for $600 million, which would allow it to finish the project (plus the difference not yet paid to the GUPC).

The same source says that “Sacyr and Impregilos’ methods, allowed in Spain and Italy, of securing contracts at a low price, and then raising them with addendums and presumably unexpected cost overruns, didn’t work this time and they have been unable to invalidate the contract, limiting their claim to $600 million.”

In an interview with El País, the administrator for the Canal, Panamanian Jorge Quijano, was upset with the GUPC:

Panama has given the Spaniards an opportunity to do business at a time when in their country there are no business opportunities. The same goes for the Italians and the Belgians, and look how they pay us back! How do you think the Panamanians feel? They really think that we still wear feathers on our heads; that they can twist our arms because they are big-time construction companies and instill fear by convincing us that we won’t be able to finish the project or that it is going to cost a lot more with another firm. Maybe it will cost a bit more with another partner — we don’t know that yet. We have a great plan of action under which, we hope we will complete this project without any additional expense.

It didn’t take long for reactions on social networks, and they go from those who blame the Spanish company for being unfair, to those who preach the inevitable ‘I told you so.’

Alfredo Mota, for example, tweets a picture of an article in the Spanish newspaper El Mundo and brands the companies as arrogant:

Sacyr and Impregilo. Arrogant and pushy! They think they are the last glass of water in the desert.
(Today in the Spanish daily)

Teresa Yaniz de Arias advises that, in the same way that Panamanians fought once for the canal, they will do it again to defend it against foreign interests:

Sacyr and Impregilo will find out that we will once again defend this canal that has cost us so much. Long live Panama. Long live the 9th of January.

The cartoonist Hilde shares an image comparing the looting of the original inhabitants of Latin American by European colonizers with the attempts of companies from the same continent to get more than the agreed upon amount of money:

They are in-SACYR-able. Not another dime.

The blog Mira en Panamá [es] shares an article by the Spanish journalist Paco Gomez Nadal where he claims to have known ahead of time that these delays and demands for money were going to happen, and compares it with other government tactics:

Es casi hilarante ver ahora cómo algunos se rasgan las vestiduras. Lo que está ocurriendo con el Grupo Unidos por el Canal ya lo sabíamos. Martinelli, que ahora interfiere y rofea para mostrarse como la salvaguarda de los intereses del país, no ha tenido ningún problema en multiplicar por 2.5 los costos iniciales de su proyecto insignia (el Metro), ni parece muy asustado por el incremento en los precios iniciales establecidos para la construcción de hospitales, ni tembló en adjudicar a dedo la cinta costera o las ampliaciones de la vía Tocumen o de la autopista Arraiján-La Chorrera a precios por kilómetro que marean a cualquier ingeniero menesteroso. Su preocupación por Sacyr, como mínimo, es sospechosa.

It’s almost funny watching now how some are tearing their hair out. We already knew what was going on with GUPC. Martinelli, who now insinuates himself and circles around to prove he’s the safeguard of the country’s interests, has had no problem increasing the initial costs of the flagship project by 2.5, nor is he very upset by the increase in the initial cost established for the construction of hospitals, or hesitate to give out no-bid contracts for the coastal strip for the Tocuman road or the Arraijan-La Chorrer highway at prices per kilometer that would make any destitute engineer dizzy. His concern for Sacyr is at least suspect.

User “The Truth” comments on an article from La Prensa [es]:

DEJA VU!!! Otro país europeo fracasa estrepitosamente en Panamá. Francia y España hermanados en el fracaso. El Canal de Panamá es la tumba de estos dos wannabes. Llamen al Tío Sam para que resuelva una vez más. Obama, el Teddy Roosevelt del siglo 21.

DÉJÀ VU! Another European country fails miserably in Panama. France and Spain united in failure. The Panama Canal is the tomb of these wannabes. Call Uncle Sam to fix it again. Obama, the Teddy Roosevelt of the 21st century.

What is certain is that the issue has Panamanians on tenterhooks waiting for the resolution of the conflict that has paralyzed this project which promised to propel the nation’s economy once and for all.

While the ACP and GUPC argue the issue, the president of Sacyr has given his assurance [es] that they intend to finish the expansion: “Sacyr is not going to abandon the project, work will continue and will finish, because we don’t contemplate any other scenario than agreement.”

Seven days before the deadline given by the GUPC, the conversations seem to be stalled.

December 12 2013

A New Law to Shield Police in Panama?

Foto de Garrison Gunter en Flickr, bajo licencia Creative Commons  (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Photo by Garrison Gunter on Flickr, under a Creative Commons license (CC BY-SA 2.0)

[Links are to Spanish-language pages]

Panama's Attorney General Ana Belfon has introduced a bill that seeks to fight organized crime by toughening prison sentences for certain crimes such as contract killing; but the proposed law 651 [pdf] would also punish “those who seek to obstruct prosecution of organized crime by making threats,” according to El Panamá América.

Panamanians seem to interpret law 651 as an attempt to shield police and give them greater authority. The proposed law has provoked concern especially in light of article 42, which states that ”whosoever, through the use of physical force or intimidation, threatens witnesses, experts, judges, prosecutors or agents of the security forces will be punished with anywhere from eight to twelve years in prison.”

The concern expressed by Panamanians stems from the fact that the police have been involved in a series of unfortunate incidents in the last several months. The worst example occurred when the police fired at a vehicle, killing two minors.

Article 42 lends itself to interpretations and questions. For example, which actions can be interpreted as intimidation towards a police officer?

The Blog de Panamá has joined thousands of other voices worried about the way in which the law may be applied:

En la actualidad, usted amenaza a un policía y lo llevan a un Juzgado Nocturno o un Corregidor, y el mismo lo sanciona con Multa o Cárcel unos días (DIAS MULTA), NECESITAMOS 12 años de cárcel, para el que se le fue la boca o le recrimina a un agente de policía por el abuso policial cometido? Para el tipo que ofuscado cuando lo separan en una pelea le dice algo al policía ¿? O en un estadio? Para el conductor molesto por una boleta o una prueba de ebriedad? El proyecto de Ley no exige ninguna otra condición “SER POLICIA” y ser “INTIMIDADO” o “AMENAZADO” es suficiente para ganarse 12 años de prisión. Es obvio que el proyecto busca cubrir UNICAMENTE al Policía, pues ya los Fiscales y Jueces están cubiertos en la actualidad en el artículo 388 con penas de “5 a 10 años” (Cosa que ya es un absurdo igualmente).

La pregunta adicional, es Con que probará el policía esa infracción ¿?? Con su testimonio ¿? Con un informe de su compañero ¿?? O un Testigo Protegido ¿?? Pero también la pregunta es EN ATENCION A QUE SE PONE ESA PENA ? Por qué de la nada esos números ¿?? Los penalistas sabemos que cualquier delito con pena mínima superior a 6 años, NO PUEDE SER EXCARCELADO BAJO FIANZA, y adicional la LEY prevé que usted `puede estar detenido hasta el MINIMO de la pena aplicable. Le recuerdo, la pena es de 8 a 12 años. [sic]

At the moment, if you threaten a police officer and are brought to night court or before a magistrate, and the latter administers a fine or prison sentence (a fine payable for a prescribed number of days), DO WE NEED 12 years in prison, for someone who ran off at the mouth or accused a police officer of excessive force? For the guy pissed off when he was pulled aside in the middle of a brawl who says something to the police? Or in a stadium? For the driver annoyed by a ticket or a sobriety test? The bill does not require any other condition be met. “BEING A POLICE OFFICER” and being “INTIMIDATED” or “THREATENED” is sufficient to merit a 12-year sentence. It is obvious that this law aims at protecting ONLY the police, as prosecutors and judges are already covered under article 388 with prison terms of “5 to 10 years” (Something that is equally absurd).

The next question is, how will the police officer prove an infraction occurred? With his testimony? With his partner's report?  A protected source? But the question is WHAT IS BEHIND THE SENTENCE? Why these numbers out of thin air? We experts in criminal law know that crimes that carry a sentence of more than 6 years mean YOU CANNOT BE RELEASED ON BAIL, and what's more, the LAW provides that you can be detained for the MINIMUM duration of the applicable sentence. I remind you, the term is 8 to 12 years.

In addition, on Twitter public opposition to the law was evident. 

For example, for Rafael Candanedo this is just further evidence of the dictatorial system Panama's President Ricardo Martinelli wishes to impose.  

With Law 651: the dictatorship and its dictator are made official

Mcsuyelis Díaz thinks that before conjuring up this kind of law, ways of preventing police brutality should be found:

Law 651 OK the police kill you they made a mistake and fired first and apologized later and in addition to that if you say anything, they'll arrest you. 

Miguel Antonio Bernal goes even further and sees in the law an elaborate plan that will lead to fraud in the general elections of 2014:

While aspiring presidents are silent, Ricardo Martinelli and Ms Belfond are arming Law (651) to the teeth against citizens. Electoral fraud is starting to take shape!

Despite this, the attorney general, who is promoting the proposed legislation, made it clear on Telemetro that the law is aimed at protecting the public and not shielding police officers: “The Attorney General clarified that this bill addresses contract killing and other crimes related to organized crime; and the goal is to protect the public from those who would commit this sort of crime”.

That being said, Panamanians are not convinced and are raising their voices in protest. The bill is in the second phase of debate, having already been approved in the first and needing to pass through three rounds in order to become law. 

November 26 2013

Global Voices Partners With Fundación MEPI

Global Voices has launched a new partnership with Fundación MEPI, an organization that promotes regional investigative projects in the Americas.

MEPI was founded in 2010 in Mexico, where news outlets’ lack of financial resources and attacks against journalists have stifled investigative reporting. In response to these challenges, MEPI seeks to promote freedom of the press and support “the development of the next generation of reporters in Mexico and Central America.”

Fundación MEPI

The MEPI website further explains:

The contemporary reader needs to understand how governments, public actors and agencies really work. It is these explanations that provide citizens of a democracy with the insight required to make informed decisions and procure a free and fair government. But the cost of producing quality information is rising and with the use of technology, so too is competition. With the help of donors, supporters and partners, Fundaciòn MEPI is committed to producing regional and cross-national investigations that use technology to illuminate corrupt practices, sleight of hand and impunity.

As part of their mission, MEPI aims to “link stories between the United States, Mexico and Central America and help explain transnational movements to readers across the globe.” MEPI's vision matches Global Voices’ mission to “build bridges across the gulfs that divide people, so as to understand each other more fully.”

Global Voices and Fundación MEPI will exchange content regularly. Sometimes we will break down their long-form investigations into series. We kick off this partnership with the article Machismo and Old Prejudices Keep Mexican Rape Victims Silent, which is also available in Spanish.

November 14 2013

PHOTOS: Humans of Latin America

“She laughed, laughed and laughed while she waited for inter-provincial transportation. Tiraque, Cochabamba”.
Photo by Mijhail Calle for Humans of Bolivia, used with permission.

Inspired by photographer Brandon Stanton's blog Humans of New York (HONY), professional and amateur photographers across the world have created blogs and Facebook pages where they collect images and stories of people from all walks of life –and Latin America has not been an exception.

Stanton's idea has inspired Latin American photographers who want to showcase their country or city through portraits of its diverse people.

This is a brief overview of some of the “Humans of…” projects in the region.

Humans of Buenos Aires

“Come and visit me whenever you want. I'm sorry I can't offer you mate [local beverage] but I have no place to heat up water.” Photo by Jimena Mizrahi, used with permission.

Freelance photographer Jimena Mizrahi started Humans of Buenos Aires in May 2012, and her Facebook page has attracted over 11,000 likes.

Her project also caught the attention of a city official, which resulted in the first Humans of Buenos Aires exhibition. The Argentina Independent reports that “the exhibition ‘Micro historias del Microcentro’ featured displays of portraits of individuals who live or work in the city’s central business district”.

Jimena told The Argentina Independent that she does Humans of Buenos Aires “not only because I simply love interacting with people, but because each of these interactions is a lesson. Every person is a world.”

“-I can't believe it! A woman cab driver!
-Of course, do you think that women can't be taxi drivers? It's time to stop being surprised when women do things that aren't common for their gender, there aren't things for men or women.”
Photo by Jimena Mizrahi, used with permission.

Humans of Colombia and Humans of Bogotá

“A Wayuu girl, daughter of a restaurant owner in Uribia.”
Photo by Gábor Szentpétery, used with permission.

Humans of Colombia was created by designer Maurent Roa and architect Gábor Szentpétery. During their travels the couple met Mauricio Romero, who has joined the project and contributed some photographs. While traveling, they also noticed that many people didn't know much about Colombia or had a negative perception of the country; with this project they aim to show a different side of Colombia.

“The idea is to represent Colombia through its people because ethnic diversity in Colombia is incredible. It is a mixture of Amerindians, Spanish and African descendants, and that's what we want to show the world,” Maurent explains.

“Carmen Lorena grew up on a coffee plantation estate about three hours from Bogotá, but she thinks the city life is not for her, she prefers the countryside where she will stay after finishing her studies.”
Photo by Mauricio Romero, used with permission.

“What is your perception of love, and your favorite way to love?”
-”I think that love is everything, it makes up everything that surrounds us and I'd say that my favorite way to love is…breathing”.
Photo by John Cardona, used with permission.

For more photos from Colombia, you can also visit Humans of Bogotá, a page created in August 2013 by John Cardona and Jonathan Arévalo.

John and Jonathan are motivated by the response they've received, and by the chance to meet new people and hear stories that they can show the world through their page. They say that this movement “shows how we can all identify with someone, no matter how far they live.”

“One wish?
-Safety in all of Bogotá.
-Tranquillity and peace”
Photo by John Cardona, used with permission.

Humans of Bolivia

“In Sipe Sipe – Cochabamba, the man said ‘take this abroad'. Then he began playing his charango.”
Photo by Mijhail Calle, used with permission.

Created on November 3, 2013, Humans of Bolivia is one of the newest Facebook pages to mirror Humans of New York in the region. Estelí Puente and Mijhail Calle want to create the same empathy they saw in the New York project and similar projects like Humans of Amsterdam, “the feeling that humanity is formed by individuals with their own stories.”

Although Mijhail takes most of the photographs, they are reaching out to other photographers who can share images from different parts of Bolivia. “This dynamic is also allowing us to create a space to share and discuss the role of the image and photography in the construction of our identities, so for now it looks like this will be more than a series of portraits. We want it to be a reason to reflect about ourselves,” Estelí explains.

“There are not many amauta women, it's hard to be one, but I am. Now I'm part of the union”.
Photo by Mijhail Calle, used with permission.

Humans of Honduras

“My biggest desire is for politicians to turn a blind eye to the colors of their parties, and for their focus to be solely on the betterment and unity of their country. This is the only way in which Honduras will be able to move forward.”
Photo by Claudia, used with permission.

Claudia Elvir and Daniela Mejía “invite you to get to know Honduras through its people” on their Facebook page Humans of Honduras.

Claudia started following Stanton's blog and was impressed by how he not only “captured impressive photographs, but also used them to capture the humanity behind each portrait, and how each photograph told a story that resonated in the hearts of the readers.”

Her friend Daniela conducts the interviews. Claudia and Daniela want to change the violent and negative image that the world has about Honduras, and they also want to change the way Hondurans see their own country.

Through their photographs and interviews, Claudia and Daniela hope to show that Honduras is a country “full of hard-working people, people with dreams, ambitions, joys and sorrows just like in every corner of the world.”

“I asked him to smile and very amiably he said, ‘I would like to, but in this job you have to be serious.’ and with that he demonstrated how appearances are deceiving.”
Photo by Claudia, used with permission.

Humans of Guatemala

“Slow but steady! Yes, it´s a long way to go, but I will make it.”
Photo by Elmer Alvarez, used with permission.

Elmer Alvarez had already been taking photographs of people around Guatemala before starting the Facebook page Humans of Guatemala in September 2013. Wendy Del Aguila, who now writes the captions, told Elmer about Humans of New York and he felt motivated to start a similar page about Guatemala.

Elmer and Wendy seek to capture “spontaneous moments of these extraordinary people reflecting their smile, passion, curiosity, hard work, shyness, kindness and most important their uniqueness!”

La Teacher-

La Teacher-”Let Your Smile Change The World”
Photo by Elmer Alvarez, used with permission

More “Humans of…” projects

“Every morning Don Pedro has opened his taqueria in this small village for two years. He has the usual clients and he gives out free tacos to all the minibus drivers who stop their minibus near his stand. “
Photo by Humans of Mexico, used with permission

The image above comes from Humans of Mexico, a page created in March 2010. Also from Mexico, Humans of Mexico City seeks to create a “photographic census of Mexico City. One street portrait at a time.”

Humans of Costa Rica, a page created in July of 2013, has more than 1,700 likes.

In Brazil, the Humans of Rio de Janeiro Facebook page is one of the most active in the region, and has over 9,000 likes.

Some Facebook pages -like Humans of Nicaragua, Humans of Panama, and Humans of Santiago, Chile- ask users to contribute photographs to the project. Others -like Humans of Quito, Humans of Lima, Humans of Peru, and Humans of Asunción- have been created less than a month ago.

Have we missed any “Humans of…” projects from South or Central America? Let us know in the comments!

October 11 2013

Panama's President Denies Son's Involvement in Italian Scandal

Presidente Ricardo Martinelli. Foto de Presidencia de la República de Ecuador en Twitter, bajo licencia Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

President Ricardo Martinelli. Photo from the Presidential Office of the Republic of Ecuador on Flickr, under Creative Commons license (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

[Links are to Spanish-language pages, except where otherwise noted.]

Panamanian President Ricardo Martinelli has once again provoked the ire of netizens following comments he made on national television ostensibly to clarify certain recordings published in La Prensa newspaper which linked his son to the Italian corruption scandal surrounding Valter Lavitolla and involving Panama's government [en].

The scandal arose over allegations that Martinelli and various members of his goverment accepted bribes for the construction of prisons in Panama. The prisons were never actually built, and Lavitolla was arrested in Italy and charged with corruption.  

On October 10, the President made it clear on his Twitter account that the ‘soap opera’ being written by La Prensa was about to end, as he had in his possession evidence to disprove any conspiracy. 

Thursday is the last chapter in the Italian soap opera of the adversarial La Prensa when our press release will lay bear the conspiracy

— Ricardo Martinelli (@rmartinelli) October 8, 2013

On the Telemetro network, President Martinelli, true to his controversial and aggressive style, did not offer up the anticipated proof, but he did clarify that it was all an ambush against him and his family:

“This is a fight between Italians stealing from one another; it is a fight at the highest echelons of Italian society,” declared the Panamanian head of state, adding that he was not surprised that they had implicated his son as a reprisal for not having been awarded a contract. 

RPC Radio tweeted a few of the President's choice words. In one of them, he can be heard asserting in a vulgar manner that he did not need so much as a plugged nickel from them, a real, referring to a 5-cent coin.    

I don't need so much as a f***ing plugged nickel from them; I say it with my head held high 

It was this way of speaking that seemed to outrage many Twitter users. Tito Herrera, for example, thinks this kind of interview is discouraging, but at the same time reveals people for who they are: 

These interviews depress me and at the same time I like them because they show people for their true colours… #Emputado #FuckingReal #Panama

 Aurelio Barria asks the president for more dignified language:

As citizens we deserve more respect from the language used by our president, please raise the level, what is this “I don't need a fu%&ing real“?

Others, as is the case for Thais Llean, are more pragmatic and recall that Ricardo Martinelli became president because of a democratic majority—that he was the leader chosen by Panamanians even though part of his campaign slogan involved boasting about being “crazy”. 

#Panamá now you complain? You're the one responsible! You voted for him! Even when he told you he was crazy, you enjoyed it! It was not a lie! Embarrassing

Ursula Kiener concludes that Panama has a president of unprecedented vulgarity, and she complains of the poor role model for the people of Panama:

It's official, we have the crassest president in history. Giving the worst examples with his behaviour and his vocabulary. 

Vivian Moreno asks whether the vulgarity is necessary:

…And why does he have to be so vulgar, seriously, my ears are ringing from listening to him and my stomach churns remembering that he is the PRESIDENT!

 But there were also those who saw the humour; Abraham Bernalcorrea suggests that Martinelli's interviews should have a live audience:

All Martinelli's interviews should have a live audience so we can hear the cackle in the background.

The satirical program Proyecto Criollo poked fun at the way the government responds to all scandals saying that they are lies and insulting, but without ever providing clarification: 

It's all lies, stupid. Lavitola, Finmecanica, Cemis, PECC, Chinese visas, HP1430, etc. Everything is a lie, always. Period

Edilberto Gonzalez, however, asks a valid question: despite the outrage provoked by the President's words, it is difficult to know what the rest of Panamanians think, those who don't participate in social media. 

And the bulk of voters, what do they think, those who don't have Twitter?

Mexico, Panama, and Honduras Seeking a Spot for Brazil 2014 World Cup

Foto de Hefebreo en Flickr, bajo licencia Creative Commons (CC BY 2.0)

Photo from Hefebreo on Flickr, under a Creative Commons License (CC BY 2.0)

With Costa Rica and the United States qualified for the next World Cup, Honduras, Mexico, Panama, and Jamaica are playing for their last opportunities to take part in the Brazilian festivity in 2014.  

The Concacaf (Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football) awards three and a half spots to attend the World Cup: the first three places proceed directly and the fourth place would participate in a playoff game against New Zealand.  

The picture is painted differently for each of the participants, who must play perfect games in order to maintain their chances intact. 

Mexico vs Panama

Mexico is known as the Concacaf giant. It is the country with the most qualifications to the World Cup but is nonetheless about to be eliminated after a disastrous season in which it has barely won one (away) game and has failed to win at the legendary Estadio Azteca, formerly a headache for visiting teams.  

Mexico will play its possibilities before Panama, a team that has never managed to qualify for a World Cup and is barely competing for the second time in hexagonal standings. Panama is tied with Mexico in points (8), but unlike the “Tri”, Panama can boast about having its best race to the World Cup (in the other hexagonal standings that Panama participated in, it could barely get two points).   

Panama has an uphill battle ahead; on the two occasions it has visited the Estadio Azteca, it ended up destroyed (7-1 and 5-0). Nevertheless, it is enjoying a brief period of hope, based on Mexico being unable to beat Panama the last four times they came face to face (two ties and two victories [es] for the Panamanians). 

Roberto Chen, a young, promising talent for Panamanian football, talks about the team's hopes in an interview with FIFA [es]:  

“Se puede sacar un buen resultado si hacemos las cosas bien. Honduras ya demostró que se les puede ganar en su casa. Es un partido crucial, pero hay que estar tranquilos y pensar en positivo. Se puede lograr la clasificación en el Azteca”, remata. No sería matemático pero un buen resultado en la cancha del Tri daría un impulso tremendo a los canaleros en el camino a Brasil.

“We can get a good result if we do things right. Honduras already proved that we can beat them on their home field. It is a crucial game, but we have to be calm and think positively. We can qualify at the Azteca,” he concludes. It would not be mathematical, but a good result on the Tri field would give a tremendous boost to the Panamanians en route to Brazil.

On his Twitter account, Mexican journalist David Faitelson posted a stark analysis of the game, where Mexico, by tradition and hierarchy in the area, should impose itself on a growing Panama, being the only country of the six participants that has never qualified for a World Cup:

If you are not capable of beating Panama on a Friday night at the Azteca, you're better off dedicating yourself to something else.

Álvaro Martínez is confident that the optimism reflected in Panamanian fans could be a reflection of Friday's results:

Official: 84.8% of Panamanians believe that the national team can bring the #Aztecazo [beat Mexico at the Azteca stadium]. There is positivity in 3.5 million people.

Panama has sought all kinds of support to arrive at this game in the best way possible, including having “summoned” three great national figures to cheer on the players, as Univisión [es] states:  

Rubén Blades, Roberto Durán y Mariano Rivera son las principales inspiraciones panameñas. De ellos, el recién retirado lanzador de los Yankees es esperado en la concentración del equipo canalero en cualquier momento del cierre del Hexagonal para incrementar los niveles de motivación.


“Hasta el momento el jugador convocado es Mariano Rivera, para cerrar el partido”, bromeó el entrenador Julio Dely la semana pasada, ante una pregunta sobre su lista de foráneos.

Rubén Blades, Roberto Durán, and Mariano Rivera are the main Panamanian inspirations. Of them, the recently retired Yankees pitcher is expected to visit the Panamanian team at any given moment during the Hexagonal closing to increase levels of motivation.


“As of now, the player we have summoned is Mariano Rivera,” trainer Julio Dely joked last week responding to a question about his list of players who play abroad.

Singer Rubén Blades accompanied the national team and sang “Patria”, which is considered by some a second Panamanian national anthem, with them.  

Fanny Cardoze shares a photo of the singer with the footballers. 

Rubén Blades With the National Team!!! Great motivation for our players!

The truth is that on Friday, October 11, Panama and Mexico will take to the field and play for the possibility of making it to the World Cup. The team that loses the game is basically eliminated, while a tie favors Panamanians, who have a better goal difference.

Honduras vs Costa Rica

On Friday, Honduras is welcoming the already qualified Costa Rican national team in San Pedro Sula. The game has dramatic indications as Honduras needs a win to ensure third place, but games between “ticos” (Costa Ricans) and “catrachos” (Hondurans) are always high voltage and is considered a “classic match of Central American football” 

Costa Rica, despite having qualified, has the odds of three other teams (Panama, Mexico, and Honduras) in its results, although according to the words of Luis Marín for El Universal [es], they aspire to occupy first place in the qualifications (they are now in second, after the United States):  

‘En este momento no pensamos en lo que beneficia o no a Honduras, a Panamá o a México, estamos pensando en nosotros y en buscar la primera posición', declaró en conferencia de prensa Luis Marín, asistente del seleccionador, el colombiano Jorge Luis Pinto.

‘At this time we are not thinking of what is beneficial or not for Honduras, Panama, or Mexico, we are thinking about ourselves and seeking first place’ Luis Marín, assistant coach to Colombian Jorge Luis Pinto, said at a press conference.

Nonetheless, Honduras is playing at home and only needs one win (and a tie between Panama and Mexico) to ensure its consecutive participation in the World Cup and the third in its history. ‘Pase al vacío’ remembers these possibilities: 

If Honduras wins against Costa Rica on Friday, and Mexico and Panama tie, the Hondurans will be in Brazil 2014

After Friday's games, we will get a clearer glimpse into who will go to Brazil and if Central America will send three participants to the World Cup for the first time. 

October 09 2013

Saying Good-bye to Baseballer Mariano Rivera

Mariano Rivera, foto de Keith Allison en Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Mariano Rivera.  Photo by Keith Allison on Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Panamanian baseballer Mariano Rivera has retired from professional baseball after a successful 19-year career.

The occasion did not go unnoticed by Panamanians nor by Major League Baseball fans, who took to the Internet to pay homage to the top closing pitcher of all time.

At the age of 42, Rivera missed the entire 2012 season due to an injury. For some fans that signaled the end of the Panama native's career, but Rivera decided to return for another year, announcing that he would retire at the end of the 2013 season.

Pitching with the New York Yankees for his entire career, Rivera saved 43 games during the 2013 regular season (the Yankees did not qualify for the postseason) leaving his record at 652 regular season and 42 postseason games saved, becoming the pitcher with the highest number of saved games in the entire history of professional baseball.

The media in general has honored the career of Mariano Rivera, who has not only distinguished himself in the world of sports, but has also gained the respect of the general public, even while playing for a team as hated as the Yankees.

Rivera's popularity led baseball fans everywhere to offer him a heartfelt tribute at every stadium he visited during the 2013 season, bidding farewell to one of the greatest baseballers Latin America has produced in recent years.

The New York Times recapped what happened during the Yankee's final home game this season, the last of Rivera's career:

The Yankees, in their last home game of the year, were trailing the Tampa Bay Rays, 4-0. Rivera, the king of saves, was not going to get one more. But he retired four batters, and with two outs in the ninth, Manager Joe Girardi, in a neat gesture, sent Derek Jeter and Andy Pettitte — two of Rivera’s teammates in some of the Yankees’ best years — to the mound. Rivera handed the ball over and then buried his head in Pettitte’s shoulder. For a long moment they stood still as the crowd cheered and cheered.

Colombian newspaper El Tiempo [es] recounts the humble origins of Rivera, who went from fisherman to amateur baseball player when he signed on with the Yankees:

Nació un 29 de noviembre hace 43 años (1969) en Ciudad de Panamá, hijo de Mariano Rivera y Delia Jirón, y creció en Puerto Caimito, un lugar pobre. De niño recogía piedras y las mandaba lejos y el deporte de los bates y las manillas lo practicaba con palos, guantes de cartón y bolas elaboradas con red de pesca. Soñaba con ser grande, aunque el béisbol lo jugaba más por diversión y le apuntaba al fútbol.

He was born one November 29th in Panama City 43 years ago (1969), the son of Mariano Rivera and Delia Jirón, and grew up in Puerto Caimito, an impoverished village. As a child he used to gather stones and send them flying, and he played the sport called “bats and gloves” with sticks, cardboard mitts, and balls fashioned from fishing nets. He dreamed of being great, although he played baseball more for fun and was more focused on soccer.

Jayson Stark of ESPN also devoted an article to the “real” Rivera, emphasizing the fact that he has set the bar very high, so high that it will be hard to meet or exceed:

Perhaps you're asking yourself: Who's the next Mariano Rivera? Ha-ha-ha-ha-ha. You're kidding, right? No current closer, who is still in his 20s, is even within 500 saves of him. Yep, 500. The only two current closers in their 20s who even have 100 career saves: Craig Kimbrel (138) and Chris Perez (132). We'll rejoin their pursuit of Mariano in — what? — about two decades?

Panama also paid tribute to their native son in various ways. Journalist Álvaro Alvarado shared a photo of one of the floodgates in the locks of the Panama Canal, painted with the number 42 (the number worn by Rivera for his entire career):

A tribute to Mariano Rivera.

User Carl Gustav shared an image of Rivera's last time on the mound at Yankee Stadium:

John Cornyn expressed the sentiment of thousands of baseball fans who, while having little sympathy for the Yankees, see in Rivera one of baseball's best players.

Susana Marina shows pride in the world's discovery of the existence of Panama and of Puerto Caimito (where the pitcher was raised) thanks to the excellent work of this player:

Today the world has heard the names of Panama and Puerto Caimito…like it or not.

Michiko Kakutani has written an article titled: “Mariano: A Zen Master With A Wicked Cutter” for the New York Times, in which he comes to the same conclusion that thousands of fans, baseball experts, and professional ball players have also drawn about this player's retirement: Rivera is moving on, “jogging into the future and retirement. And through the gates of Cooperstown [the National Baseball Hall of Fame] and into the forever of history.”

Farewell, Mariano.

September 30 2013

Doctors in Panama Launch Strike Over Foreign Recruitment Law

Esperando en un hospital en Calidonia, Panamá. Foto de ORBIS UK en Flickr (CC BY-ND 2.0)

Waiting at a hospital in Calidonia, Panamá. Photo from ORBIS UK on Flickr (CC BY-ND 2.0)

[All links lead to pages in Spanish.]

A group of Panamanian doctors launched an indefinite strike after the National Assembly approved a bill in second debate that allows the recruitment and hiring of foreign medical personnel.

The indefinite strike, which began on September 27th, is the second thus far in 2013. The measure was announced by the Panamanian National Commission of Medical Negotiations (Comisión Médica Negociadora Nacional, or COMENENAL).

The medical profession argues that Law 611 seeks to privatize health care. However, Health Minister Javier Díaz made it clear that the intention of the law is to provide medical services in hard-to-access areas and to those with the greatest need without their having to rely on private clinics. La Estrella de Panamá quotes Diaz as saying, “And when a person can't get a medical specialist, what he has to do is go to a private clinic or move to the capital. It's incredible to me that what COMENENAL wants is to keep this bill from passing so that people will have to keep on going to the interior of the Republic to private clinics.”

Meanwhile, Mauro Zuñiga, a spokesman for the medical profession, made a statement to Telemetro, saying that “doctors, nurses, technicians, and health professionals are left totally unprotected under this bill, because employment stability is completely lost.”

COMENENAL also made it clear that, far from opposing the law in and of itself, it does oppose the government's approach. La Prensa cites Domingo Moreno, COMENENAL's president, as follows: “‘We are opposed to the recruitment process, we are opposed to the lack of controls, to the excessive flexibility, and that's the reason we're fighting'. He feels that we already have the tools to resolve the situation. However, the lack of creativity and initiative, the reluctance, all of this has led to the situation we are faced with today, he remarked.”

The medical profession has become unpopular among the citizenry because of its demands and its recurring labor strikes. One of the controversies is that some doctors work in both the public and private sectors at the same time, placing far more importance on their private clinics. With this strike, they will miss appointments and consultations which will often take months to be rescheduled.

Panamanians expressed their rejection of the measures taken by the physicians via Twitter.

There is a shortage of over 6,000 health professionals to fill positions in Panama, as Soraya Castellano tells us:

health worker strike due to passing of a bill permitting the hiring of foreign doctors. Deficit of over 6,000 health professionals.

Julio R. Gatica points out the irony in cases of doctors who close their public clinics while keeping their private clinics open:

We're in the midst of an “undefined health care strike,” but we'll take care of you in our private offices… Sincerely, COMENENAL. Ironic, right?

Francisco Alvarez decries this measure taken by doctors (which will only affect patients) who then blame the Ministry of Health (Minsa) for the consequences it could bring:

It's regrettable how this illogical and subversive health worker strike affects patients. When the responsibilities are spelled out clearly, the citizens know who's to blame. @minsa_panama

Other Panamanians look at the health worker protest with sympathy and see the new law as marking the beginning of a wave of imported laborers, as José Gutierrez expresses:

Today they're trying to approve a bill to import doctors, tomorrow it will be nurses, teachers, lawyers, engineers, transportation carriers, workers, and others.

One thing is certain: neither government nor doctors seem prepared to yield in the midst a crisis that reflects the practices of the current government and the medical profession's abuse of end users of their services. The indefinite strike will continue, and those most affected will be the patients. 

September 17 2013

Russian Warships in Nicaragua Rekindle Territorial Disputes

San Carlos, Rio San Juan, Nicaragua. Photo by Daniel Fajardo Valenti on Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)

San Carlos, Rio San Juan, Nicaragua. Photo by Daniel Fajardo Valenti on Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)

The presence of two Russian warships in Nicaragua's pacific port of Corinto has heightened tensions between Colombia and Nicaragua over a longstanding maritime boundary dispute which had been resolved by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague back in November 2012.

The ICJ's resolution has also set the stage for recent diplomatic conflicts that include Costa Rica and Panama, reviving old territorial and annexation disputes in the region.

The origin of the dispute between Nicaragua and Colombia is the San Andrés Archipelago, and the Providencia, Quitasueño and Santa Catalina keys, all of which are close to the Nicaraguan coast. After considering a claim filed in 2001 by Nicaragua, the ICJ upheld Colombia's sovereignty and expanded the maritime territory of Nicaragua around the archipelago, as a way of offering a middle ground solution. The decision has sparked a discussion about expansionism in the region, national pride, and the role of the ICJ.

Colombia’s government has not been forthcoming about accepting the ICJ ruling and has said it will seek remedy, since the decision supersedes sovereign and fishing rights. The government has further claimed that the ICJ pronouncement has permitted Nicaragua to start illegal oil exploration activities [es] within its territory.

The dispute with Colombia is part of a series of boundary claims that Nicaragua has engaged in, including the dispute over the San Juan River boundary with Costa Rica and the supposed claim over Costa Rica’s Guanacaste province.

In August 2013, Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega had already hinted in a speech before army forces that Nicaragua might seek a ruling from the ICJ to regain possession of Guanacaste.

The speech caused widespread indignation in Costa Rica. As a result, Costa Rica's President Laura Chinchilla issued a communique on August 15 [es], where she refers to Nicaragua as an “adversary country” that has already in the last 2 years “invaded parts of the northern” territory, and calls the ICJ's approach a “foolish ambition.”

On September 9, 2013 Colombia formally announced the repudiation of the ICJ decision, which it considered invalid without a formal treaty between self-governing states; and President Santos expressed his willingness to enforce Colombia's sovereignty with these words:

Lo que vigilé como marino y lo que defendí como ministro lo voy a proteger, hasta las últimas consecuencias, como presidente.

Those areas that I patrolled as a sailor and later defended as a Minister, I am willing today to protect, as President, to the very last consequences.

Santos went on to mention the “expansionist ambitions” of Nicaragua, which were affecting not only Colombia but Costa Rica, Panama and Jamaica.

In August, two Russian warships arrived in Nicaragua's pacific port of Corinto. Last week, following the communique by President Santos, regional online media was set abuzz by the declarations of the captains of the ships released on YouTube, saying they were ready to defend Nicaragua in any eventuality, should it be required.

The presence of the Russian ships in the Pacific coast is seen as a warning that Nicaragua could be willing to escalate its border disputes, including the San Juan River controversy.

San Juan River, Nicaragua

San Juan River, Nicaragua

The tensions between Costa Rica and Nicaragua arise against the backdrop of a planned inter-oceanic canal to be built by a Hong Kong company, with the participation of the Chinese government, converting the San Juan River into a broad commercial waterway. The San Juan Canal is planned to compete with the Panama Canal in sea freight.

According to the boundary treaty signed in 1858, the San Juan River belongs to Nicaragua, but the navigation of the river for commercial purposes is shared and no exclusive rights of cabotage should exist.

Not only sovereignty and national pride are at stake, it seems, but also a huge and profitable project and a political legacy: A conflict over such a notorious public issue could help Costa Rica's President Chinchilla, who finds herself struggling with declining approval ratings and a looming election that may throw her party out of government in February 2014.

In the YouTube video [es] uploaded August 19, 2013 by “canalestrellatv,” two Russian navy officers who speak excellent Spanish are heard expressing the following views:

Rusia y Nicaragua son dos países amistosos. Si es necesario apoyar, y existe la decisión política, nosotros vamos a apoyar.

Russia and Nicaragua are two friendly countries. If it is necessary to support Nicaragua, and the political decision is made, we will support them.

In the same video, Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega is seen waving from the deck, escorted by a Russian official, and then the officers go on to describe the kind of weapons the ships carry.

The discussion on Twitter has been controversial and instructing, with a pause to think about regional brotherhood and to congratulate each other on their shared celebrations of independence on September 15:

It is regrettable that we act patriotic only this time of the year…

While others reflect on the meaning of the symbolic passing of the torch of liberty and independence between Nicaraguans and Costa Ricans in Guanacaste:

Torch smooths political conflict between Costa Ricans (ticos) and Nicaraguans (nicas).

But only days before, the tone of discussions on Twitter was different altogether, with many users commenting on the supposed intentions on both sides to snatch away territory, and on the supposed help that other countries in the region were providing. Opinions have sometimes been posted in outright crude ways:

Colombia, Panama, Costa Rica have the intention to steal the ocean from Nicaragua, but the three thieves won't be able to.

One user jokingly compared the supposed coalition against Nicaragua to the Trio Los Panchos, an old and defunct music group, and incisively pointed out the relationship of the maritime conflict and the canal:

The Trio Los Panchos united against Nicaragua; Costa Rica because of the San Juan, Colombia because its faraway ocean and Panamá because of the new canal

The perception of the role of Nicaragua goes from that of a victim of antagonist forces in the region to that of an aggressive local power that uses whatever means available to impose a territorial and legal agenda:

Nicaragua has been a victim of the Colombian expansionism and of the opportunistic Costa Ricans!

Nicaragua is a nation of double moral standards that resorts to bullying and takes advantage that Costa Rica has no army and invades it!

One post pointed out that Costa Rica supporting Colombia against Nicaragua in the ruling about the San Andrés Archipielago, out of fear of the expansionism that this could trigger, would set a precedent for other territorial disputes. In the case of the San Juan River, an ICJ decision could favor Costa Rica, forcing the future administration into a difficult position:

If Costa Rica supports Colombia, would it disregard the ruling that favors Nicaragua in the boundary and environmental damage case?

Finally, Francisco Álvarez de Soto, a former Sub-secretary of Foreign Affairs of Panama, proposed that the way to go is to discuss the pretensions in a regional forum like the SICA (Central American Integration System) summit, as solution to the impasse that might result in an escalation of diplomatic faux-pas and misunderstandings that have spread to the public and social networks in the weeks before:

Territorial claims of Nicaragua against Costa Rica should be discussed at the SICA summit. Panama should support Costa Rica.

It is clear that one way or another the conflicts in the region will have an impact beyond the immediate presidential elections and the battle of claims and speeches. It might also reignite old boundary conflicts that were resolved (but apparently not settled) in the last century.

September 04 2013

Derailment of ‘La Bestia’, Another Tragedy in a Broken Immigration System

Migrants on

Migrants on “la Bestia”. Photo by Peter Haden on Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

This post is part of our series on Latin America: Migrant Journeys in collaboration with The North American Congress on Latin America (NACLA). Stay tuned for more articles and podcasts.

On August 25, 2013 a cargo train derailed in southern Mexico killing 11 Central American migrants who were hitching a ride on top of the freight cars. At least 250 Central Americans were estimated to have been riding on the train before it derailed, injuring another 18 migrants.

Each year thousands of Central Americans hitch rides on northbound Mexican freight trains for a chance at reaching the U.S. border in search of work and a better life. Migrants often ride the trains to escape Mexican immigration officials who scour buses at checkpoints in search of Central Americans to deport.

Known among migrants as ‘la bestia’ (the beast), the Mexican train offers Central Americans an alternative way of reaching the U.S., but it is a route fraught with dangers. Gangs and corrupt Mexican officials maraud the train lines and extort or kidnap migrants, oftentimes capturing and forcing them to work for organized crime groups.

While train derailments of la bestia are common, the biggest challenge, which many migrants passing through Mexico face, comes from the gangs who prey upon their vulnerable situation. For most Central American migrants, the vast majority of whom come from Honduras, currently the country with the world’s highest murder rate, their experience with gang-related violence often begins before they even leave their countries of origin.

In the last year, I had the opportunity to volunteer at a small migrant shelter in Mexico City. Last March, we received a Honduran woman at the shelter, named Juana Morelos, who was traveling on la bestia with her seven-year-old son. Juana left Honduras because a local gang who extorted money from a small store she owned began making death threats on her family when she could no longer afford to pay them off. Afraid for her life, Juana fled from Honduras with her son and started hopping Mexican freight trains north towards the U.S. border.

Juana and her son spent several months in Mexico City, during which I gave her a crash course in basic English, before she and her son continued their dangerous journey towards Texas. When Juana finally arrived at the U.S. border, we received news at the shelter that she had tried crossing with a coyote [people smuggler] and was deported. I was concerned about Juana’s safety, but once I heard she had arrived at the border, where the threat of kidnapping often increases, I became even more terrified.

Juana reached the border two months after the “Gang of 8” senators released their proposal for a new comprehensive immigration reform bill, which passed in the Senate last June, and includes an increase of 3,500 Border Patrol agents and 4.5 billion dollars to add new surveillance systems, aerial drones, and the construction of more fencing along the U.S.-Mexican border. Instead of addressing the reasons why Juana and the hundreds of migrants on board the Mexican train that derailed last week migrate north to the U.S., the current immigration reform bill offers them a closed door in their attempt to flee violence largely caused by America’s consumption of illegal drugs.

The current immigration reform bill greatly resembles the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA), which legalized almost three million undocumented migrants in the U.S. and quintupled the number of Border Patrol agents to almost 22,000. Today, an estimated 11 million people live in the U.S. without legal residency, signifying that IRCA did little to solve the problems which force people to migrate in the first place.

While visiting a small town in the central Mexican state of Querétaro this year, I met an 81-year-old man, named Jose Ramírez, who gained U.S. citizenship through IRCA. As a young man, Ramírez would spend half of each year doing farm work in the U.S. and return home to visit his wife and children. When crossing the border became more costly and dangerous, Ramírez could no longer justify returning to Mexico as often, so he moved his entire family to Florida. The increase in border security over the last half-century that was supposed to keep people like Ramírez out of the U.S. became exactly what motivated him to resettle his family to Florida.

While it’s true that many people from Mexico and Central America enter the U.S. without authorization and settle permanently, it doesn’t mean that they want to. Like most men and women from small town USA, Latin American migrant workers often come from rural areas where locals value home and family. If you offered most residents in rural America a job that paid up to seven times their current income, but that involved relocating to a foreign country with a different language, and risking your life by walking through a desert to get there, most would probably opt to stay home. But for people like Juana Morelos, lack of economic opportunities and violence caused by the drug trade often leave them with no choice.

Increasing security along our southern border will keep many future immigrants out of our country, but it won’t stop them from trying to enter it. During my research on migration in Mexico over the last year, I met many Mexicans who worked decades in the U.S. with fake documents just to save enough money to buy land and start a business back home. What if instead of investing billions of dollars in drones and fences, we used some of that money to partner with the Mexican government and create loans for these would-be entrepreneurs to start small businesses and employ their neighbors?

A truly comprehensive immigration reform bill should also include a plan to decrease the violence in Central America which forces many locals to migrate. Honduras and El Salvador currently have the highest murder rates in the world. This violence is mainly caused by cartels that have begun using Central America to smuggle drugs into the U.S.

Photos of migrants standing alongside the overturned train at the site of la bestia derailment last week are an easy story for media outlets seeking a gripping response from their readers or viewers. But the train accident is just one incident in a vast chain of violence and increasing danger which follows migrants from Central America to the U.S. border. It’s an issue which many U.S. politicians currently want to solve by militarizing the southern frontier, but just like when IRCA became law 25 years ago, the real problems that must be addressed remain far away from the U.S. border.

Several days after Juana was deported, she and her son tried crossing the U.S. border again. Back at the shelter in Mexico City, one of Juana’s relatives told me that his time they made it safely to Houston.

As the House prepares to vote on immigration reform later this year, thousands more migrants, like Juana and her son, continue to enter the U.S. with smugglers. If the current immigration reform bill passes the House, it will offer citizenship only to undocumented immigrants who entered the U.S. in 2011 or earlier. Without a change of focus on how our nation approaches immigration in the future, the derailing of la bestia will continue to be just a small incident among a much greater tragedy, and Juana and her son will become part of the next generation of undocumented immigrants forced to live in our shadows.

Some names in this story have been changed to protect the identities of those involved.

Levi Bridges is a journalist and Fulbright Scholar based in Mexico City. He writes at and tweets @levi_bridges.

August 14 2013

#YoViajoPara: Why do Latin Americans Travel?

Latin Americans love to travel. They might travel for fun, for work, or even for love -the reasons are endless.

There are many intrepid travelers in the region, many of them brave enough to explore any terrain or climate.

With the hashtag #YoViajoPara (“I travel to”, or “I travel for”), travelers started an online discussion, sharing the most common reasons why they are passionate about traveling.

Travelers in Oaxaca. Picture taken by the author of this post.

Travelers in Oaxaca. Picture by Andrea Arzaba.

Maria Boa (@_mariaboa) [es] from Mexico expressed her passion about learning when going abroad:

I travel to live, dream, feel and discover different worlds, every trip is an adventure and with it a new responsibility, knowledge #happy

Honduran user Queenmarielos (@queenmarielos) [es] wrote that her favourite thing about travelling is discovering different food and drink:

I travel to eat different dishes and to drink local beverages from every city and country

Global Voices contributor Julián Ortega Martínez (@julian_ortegam_) [es] from Colombia confessed that he travels to see his loved one:

 I travel to fulfill the dream of seeing you

Elizabeth Rivera (@elimaguire) [es], also a Global Voices contributor, wrote about her interest in moving around to discover new places:

I travel to connect with the world. This planet is too interesting to stay always in the same place.

Francisco Diaz (@Frank_FDP) [es] from Mexico described his passion for traveling as a unique way to find out how people from other cultures understand the world:

 I travel to try to understand how the world thinks

Brazilian Twitter user Transeunte (@transeunte_bsb) [pt] tweeted about his desire to get out of his comfort zone:

I travel to change the context!

Mariana (@MEspinozaE) [es] from Mexico said that traveling is the best way to spend her time:

@Lolawm it has helped me to expand my horizons, and think outside the box.. the best way to spend my time 

Chef and Global Voices contributor Melissa DeLeon (@cookingdiva) [es] from Panama wrote that she travels for work, but also to enjoy local food:

I've been traveling since I was very young, today I travel for work but I always find a chance to enjoy leaning about the culture and the local gastronomy

Why do you travel? Share your stories, reasons or thoughts with the hashtag #YoViajoPara.

panama : inspection par l'ONU du cargo de la Corée_du_Nord transportant de l'armement : ❝Des…

#panama : inspection par l’#ONU du cargo de la #Corée_du_Nord transportant de l’#armement :

Des experts de l’ONU ont entamé mardi 13 août au Panama l’inspection de l’armement saisi en juillet sur un bateau nord-coréen arraisonné après la découverte à son bord de missiles cubains non déclaré. Dépêchés sur place jusqu’à vendredi à la demande des autorités panaméennes, ils devront, au terme de leur mission, soumettre un rapport au comité des sanctions. L’instance, qui dépend du Conseil de sécurité, décidera s’il s’agit d’une violation des règles auxquelles Pyongyang est soumis.

July 11 2013

*« Tout a été fait pour étouffer l'affaire des évadés fiscaux HSBC »*

« Tout a été fait pour étouffer l’affaire des évadés fiscaux #HSBC »

En 2008, il avait fui la #Suisse avec les noms de plusieurs milliers d’évadés fiscaux français. Cinq ans plus tard, alors que la lutte contre la fraude se retrouve au premier plan, Hervé Falciani raconte et accuse.


Témoignant en votre faveur à Madrid, le procureur Eric de Montgolfier avait mis en cause la chancellerie, qui avait refusé de saisir #Eurojus afin que la traque fiscale soit coordonnée à l’échelon européen...

J’ai été témoin de réunions avec le procureur Eric de Montgolfier. Les Suisses exigeaient alors la restitution des scellés (les fichiers HSBC copiés par Falciani, ndlr). Le procureur était d’accord pour leur envoyer une copie, mais certainement pas les rendre comme si de rien n’était. Est venu un ordre de #Michèle_Alliot-Marie : il faut les restituer. Le procureur Eric de Montgolfier était abasourdi, il n’y croyait pas : « Je les garderai dans mon coffre. » J’ai trouvé son attitude admirable. Dès lors, MAM s’est contentée de l’envoi d’une copie en Suisse. Au minimum, elle a essayé d’entraver l’enquête.

Vous en voulez aussi à #Eric_Woerth ?

Quand il était ministre du Budget, on s’est focalisé sur une liste de noms, en évitant d’aller plus loin sur les mécanismes de l’évasion fiscale, en stoppant les enquêtes plus générales. Woerth a brandi son listing de 3 000 noms, puis expliqué devant les députés qu’il provenait de fichiers volés ! C’est inimaginable de la part d’un responsable en charge du dossier (la Cour de cassation annulera plus tard certaines procédures fiscales en reprenant l’argument, ndlr). Un agent du #fisc m’a alors prévenu : « On va tout foutre à la poubelle, les fichiers vont être déclarés volés. » Je me pince : d’une main ils feignent de lutter contre l’ #évasion_fiscale et de l’autre ils freinent des quatre fers !

Dans la foulée, votre nom est jeté en pâture..

Cette divulgation ne pouvait qu’entraver l’enquête alors en cours. On m’a très vite demandé de stopper toute collaboration, alors qu’on n’avait pas abordé le fond du problème. L’explication du système s’est arrêtée aux balbutiements. On s’est alors limité à quelques clients particuliers déjà condamnés ou fichés au #STIC. Ce n’est pas cohérent : l’objectif aurait dû être non pas d’identifier ceux qui le sont déjà mais aussi de dissuader les tentations.

C’est alors que vous partez en Espagne.

Je savais que je me retrouverai en prison, car je faisais l’objet d’un mandat d’arrêt international. Mais j’ai choisi l’Espagne car c’est le pays le mieux outillé pour lutter contre la corruption, avec la possibilité d’y faire du bruit. Emilio Bottin, à la tête de la plus puissante banque européenne, Santander, a ainsi été redressé de 200 millions d’euros.

Parallèlement, d’autres pays ont fait appel à vous ?

Mi-2009, j’ai été en contact avec la justice italienne, qui avait reçu de France une liste partielle de 8 000 clients. On a entamé une démarche scientifique pour aller au-delà, révéler les prête-noms, travailler sur l’ensemble des données. Mais les Italiens n’ont pas pu récupérer le tout. Je n’ai donc pas pu les aider comme j’aurai voulu, nos contacts ont cessé mi-2011. En juin 2012, peu avant de me rendre en Espagne, j’ai été en contact avec les autorités américaines : un procureur s’est déplacé personnellement à Paris, en présence d’un magistrat français. Mais j’ai vite compris que les Américains se méfiaient des Français, qu’ils prennent pour des alliés des Suisses… Je veux rappeler que dans l’héritage de Nicolas Sarkozy, il y a le fait que #Panama soit sorti de la liste noire des paradis fiscaux. Ce n’est pas anodin car tout l’immobilier louche se retrouve là-bas. Sarkozy a fait obstruction sur le plus grand dossier fiscal de l’histoire, il est le premier président à bénéficier d’autant de données et n’en a rien fait. Sauf à consolider une des places financières les plus toxiques par son opacité.



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