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Wednesday, October 01 2014 @ 08:13 AM EDT

Welcome to Panama-Guide.com

Panama Guide is the #1 English Language web site about the Republic of Panama. There are currently 24,031 articles in our ever-expanding database and we update daily so check back often. More than 7,000 people visit Panama-Guide.com every day to follow current events and to use the other resources available. We provide fresh English language Panama news daily, as well as information about all of the other things you need to know if you plan to visit or live here. We focus on those topics and issues which are of greatest importance to the English speaking expatriate community. And if you can't find what you need to know, we take requests. Welcome aboard, and tell your friends.

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Japan's Astomos orders new VLGC equipped to transit expanded Panama Canal

Canal Expansion(Platts) Japan's top LPG supplier, Astomos Energy, said Monday, September 29, it has placed an order to build a VLGC with a capacity of 83,000 cubic meters that will be equipped to pass through the expanded Panama Canal.

The order was placed with Japan's Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, and the tanker is to be delivered in the second half of 2016, Astomos Energy said, adding that the new VLGC will replace an older tanker in its fleet.

The Panama Canal Authority is targeting January 2016 for the expansion startup, but the market expects it sometime later that year.

The latest move is part of Astomos Energy's plans to scrap tankers that are 20-25 years old and build new VLGCs to replace them, while it also maintains or expands its use of chartered vessels to have a competitive and stable fleet amid expected increases in LPG output from the US and West Africa.

This is Astomos' third order this year for a vessel that can transit the expanded Panama Canal.

Astomos' previous orders were placed in March and July for VLGCs to be delivered in Q1 2016 and Q4 2016.

In December, Astomos placed two other orders for building new VLGCs that can transit the expanded Panama Canal. Those vessels are scheduled to be delivered in Q4 2015 and Q1 2016.

The vessel in Astomos Energy's latest new tanker order will be part of a fleet that is time-chartered and operated by Japan's Iino Lines, the company said.

As of September, Astomos Energy has a total of 21 VLGCs in its fleet, of which six are its own vessels and the other 15 are time-chartered tankers.

The company aims to expand its LPG fleet to around 30 VLGCs by 2020, Astomos Energy president Osamu Masuda said in April.

Editor's Comment: Just another example of a trickle-down resulting from Panama's decision to expand the Panama Canal.

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National Police Will Take Over Security In Panama's Prisons

Crime & PunishmentAccording to the director of the National Police, Omar Pinzon, the entity is ready and has enough officers to meet the order issued by the President, Juan Carlos Varela, to take over Panama's prisons, after the shooting that happened in the Nueva Esperanza prison in the province of Colon. (more)

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Immigration Service "Flagrantly Violated" Due Process By Preventing Canadian Journalist Rosie Simms From Entering Pa

Gold & MiningPanama's National Immigration Service "flagrantly violated due process" by preventing the Canadian journalist Beatrice Rosie Simms' entry into Panama, which occurred on January 20, 2012. (more)

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Stephanie Weston-Pineda Screws Up The Panamanian Anthem At A Boxing Match in Texas

Panama NewsBefore the Panamanian former boxing champion Anselmo 'Chemito' Moreno got into the ring, Stephanie Weston Pineda became the star of the night at the Mesquite Arena in Texas, after she made a big mistake and screwed up the beautiful words of the National Anthem of Panama. (more)

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Regional Health Centers Being Supplied By Water Tankers

Infrastructure UpgradesAmong the beneficiaries are the San Miguel Arcángel, Policlínica Manuel María Valdés, and Susana Jones. (more)

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Panama Making Progress Against Extreme Poverty

Money MattersThe goal of halving the proportion of the total population living on less than a dollar a day was fulfilled by Panama well before the 2015 deadline. (more)

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45 Homes Affected By Flooding

WeatherAt least 45 homes were affected by flooding yesterday in the district of La Chorrera and Arraiján, according to reports from the National Civil Protection System (SINAPROC). (more)

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National Assembly Debating "Melting Pot" Immigration Program

Immigration IssuesThe spokesman for the Arena Group, Rafael Rodriguez, said the atmosphere created due to the request to suspend Panama's "melting pot" program to normalize the immigration status of foreigners, could create a negative perception among the tourists who are visiting the country. (more)

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Four Injured In Traffic Accident

Traffic AccidentsOne man and three women of Costa Rican nationality suffered a car accident near the entry of Churube (Penonomé). (more)

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'Call of Duty' creators seek to dismiss suit by ex-Panama leader Manuel Noriega

Panama News(CNN) -- The creators of the "Call of Duty" video game franchise on Monday filed a motion to dismiss a lawsuit by former Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega, who says the 2012 video game "Call of Duty: Black Ops II" has damaged his reputation.

Noriega, 80, is serving a prison sentence in Panama after being convicted of drug trafficking, money laundering and killing political opponents.

Creators of the video game called the lawsuit "frivolous" and filed the motion to dismiss it on the ground that Noriega's portrayal in the game is protected by the First Amendment.

"What's astonishing is that Manuel Noriega, a notorious dictator who is in prison for the heinous crimes he committed, is upset about being portrayed as a criminal and enemy of the state in the game Call of Duty. Quite simply, it's absurd," said former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, attorney for the video game creator, Activision Blizzard Inc.

"This is a notorious dictator who's attacking the freedom of speech rights of an American company," Giuliani told CNN.

Noriega, 80, filed the lawsuit in Los Angeles County Superior Court in July. In it, he argues that his portrayal "as a kidnapper, murderer and enemy of the state" in the 2012 video game damaged his reputation. The company used his image and name in order to make money, the lawsuit says; therefore, he's entitled to a share of the profits.

"Plaintiff was portrayed as an antagonist as the culprit of numerous fictional heinous crimes, creating the false impression that defendants are authorized to use plaintiff's image and likeness," the lawsuit says.

The video game includes historical footage and several real-life characters in Cold War scenarios, including former Marine Lt. Col. Oliver North.

But while North did his own voiceover for the game and acted as an adviser, Noriega said in the July lawsuit that he wasn't consulted -- or compensated -- for the use of his likeness.

"Call of Duty" video games take storylines from current headlines, and its characters are based on historical figures, from former Cuban leader Fidel Castro to David Petraeus, the retired general and former CIA director.

Giuliani called Noriega's lawsuit "an assault on a whole art form -- historical fiction."

"If this were allowed, it would be like (former al Qaeda leader Osama) bin Laden's family suing for 'Zero Dark Thirty,' " Giuliani said. "Obviously that shouldn't be allowed."

For almost two decades, Noriega was a major player in a country of critical regional importance to the United States because of its location on the Panama Canal, the key strategic and economic waterway between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans on the narrow isthmus linking the Americas.

Amid growing unrest in Panama, then-U.S. President George H.W. Bush ordered the invasion of the Central American nation in December 1989, saying Noriega's rule posed a threat to U.S. lives and property.

Noriega fled his offices and tried to seek sanctuary in the Vatican Embassy in Panama City.

He surrendered in January 1990 and was escorted to the United States for civilian trial.

Noriega was indicted in the United States on charges of racketeering, laundering drug money and drug trafficking. He was accused of having links to Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar's notorious Medellin cartel and, in the process, amassing a multimillion-dollar fortune.

He was convicted of drug trafficking and other crimes and served nearly two decades in prison.

In 2010, a French court sentenced Noriega to seven years in prison for laundering 2.3 million euros ($2.9 million) through banks there. He was ordered to pay the money back.

In Panama, where he was convicted of killing political opponents, he has been hospitalized several times since he returned in 2011 to serve out his prison sentence. (CNN)

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Wall Collapse in Casco Viejo

Safety & SecurityA masonry wall, part of the facade of the PH Plaza Independencia in Casco Antiguo, San Felipe, collapsed yesterday as workers executed at remodeling project of the old structure. (more)

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Supreme Court Grants Request For Access To Spending Data

Law & LawyersThe Supreme Court granted a "habeas data" request filed by Erasmo Muñoz and ordered the Ministry of Economy and Finance to provide information on the movements of ordinary and extraordinary funds, made ​​to the town council in Parita, in the province of Herrera, from 1 October 2013 to 24 December of the same year. (more)

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Panama’s Supreme Court Confirms New Trial Against Noriega

Panama NewsPanama’s Supreme Court has confirmed former dictator Manuel Antonio Noriega is to be tried for the murder of an opponent in 1969, a case initially dismissed five years ago.

In a statement released Thursday, the court said a lower chamber had filed charges last month against Noriega for the alleged murder of opponent Luis Antonio Quiroz Morales who went missing after being detained by Noriega.

In addressing an appeal by the public prosecutor’s office against the case’s earlier dismissal, the lower court said there was evidence placing Noriega in the location where Quiroz was last seen alive.

This evidence, the court argued, indicates “physical presence and opportunity.”

According to the case file, on Aug. 19, 1969, Noriega, then a commander in the Panama National Guard, accompanied by other officers, arrived “in a jeep at Luis Antonio Quiroz Morales’s residence, put him in the vehicle and since then nothing is known of his whereabouts so he is presumed dead.”

Quiroz Morales, the court said, “was accused of collaborating with suspected guerrillas.”

It is now up to the Superior Court of the Third Judicial District to set the schedule for legal procedures and the eventual murder trial.

Noriega’s defense will be presented by attorney Gisela Vega, the Supreme Court said.

After his ouster as Panama’s leader in a U.S. invasion in 1989, Noriega has served prison terms in the United States and in France for drug trafficking and money laundering.

He is currently in a Panamanian prison serving a 60-year sentence for human rights violations. (See Comments)

There are at least two more trials pending against Noriega for the disappearances and deaths of opponents between 1968 and 1989. (Latin American Herald Tribune)

Editor's Comment: No, not human rights violations. Noriega is in prison, serving sentences for murder...

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Parents Of Kris Kremers Want To Return Her Remains To Holland

Expat TalesThe parents of Kris Kremers are coming to Panama in two weeks, said Jerome van Pasell, a spokesman for the families of the two young Dutch women who apparently lost their lives in early April in an inhospitable area of Boquete, Chiriqui. (more)

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Panama Expands Use Of Facial Recognition Software

Panama NewsPanama has expanded the use of FaceFirst's facial recognition software system at its Tocumen International Airport.

FaceFirst said its system is now being used at the airport's North Terminal as a result of increased passenger volume at the airport and the system's success in identifying suspect individuals since its introduction at the airport and the country's border crossings in 2011.

"We are proud to be a part of this $936 million investment in the expansion of Tocumen International Airport," said FaceFirst Chief Executive Officer Joe Rosenkratz.

"The inclusion of our technology in this expansion is a testament to its beneficial influence on heightening border security and safety within nations."

FaceFirst said that the facial recognition system has resulted in the apprehension of multiple Interpol suspects, enabled the ongoing tracking and captures of multiple regional and nationally wanted persons, and enabled the geo-fencing of authorized people throughout the larger airport facility since it was first installed.

"The FaceFirst facial recognition system installed at Tocumen is capable of detecting 30 people per day who have a police record or who are wanted by Interpol, and thus are not allowed to enter the country," said (former) Panamanian Minister of Public Security Jose Mulino. (UPI)

Editor's Comment: This helps to explain how Panama has been detecting and arresting a steady string of wanted criminals as they are passing through the Tocumen International Airport as a stop at Copa's "Hub Of The Americas," on the way to their final destination. The bottom line remains the same - if you are wanted for anything, anywhere - stay away from Panama.

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Italy Opens A New Corruption Investigation (Involving Panama and Martinelli)

CorruptionThe Prosecutor of Naples, Italy launched a new international indictment for aggravated corruption against the Italian citizen Valter Lavítola. (more)

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Panama To Establish US-Backed Counter Drug School

Drug TraffickingUndersecretary of State Against International Drug Trafficking in the United States, William R. Brownfield, on Wednesday visited the headquarters of the Panamanian border police to launch bilateral actions to improve the fight against drug trafficking in the region. (more)

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Panama's (Martinelli's) Anti Corruption Czar Facing Criticism

CorruptionYesterday some elements of the "civil society" in Panama demanded the resignation of the Chief of the National Authority for Transparency and Access to Information (Antai), Abigail Benzadón, after she issued a self-assessment report, highlighting the fact that the institution has not brought sanctions against the institutions or officials who have restricted the public's access to information. (more)

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Coast Guard Seizes 719 Kilos of Cocaine Near Panama

Drug TraffickingMIAMI BEACH, Florida — The Coast Guard is reporting an operation in the Caribbean that netted more than $23 million worth of cocaine.

Roughly 719 kilograms of cocaine will be unloaded Thursday at the Coast Guard station in Miami Beach.

The drugs were confiscated during a Sept. 8 interdiction. Officials say a Coast Guard crew was on routine patrol when they spotted a suspicious 208-foot cargo vessel in international waters northeast of Panama.

According to the Coast Guard, the crew found multiple packages of contraband throughout the ship. Thirteen people aboard the ship were taken into custody.

Cmdr. Timothy Cronin says drug smuggling organizations are continuously trying to change their tactics to avoid interdiction.

Earlier this month, the Coast Guard seized about $93 million worth of cocaine during separate operations in the western Caribbean. (AP)

Editor's Comment: About 200 tons of cocaine makes its way through Panama every year. Combined seizures by Panamanian and US authorities total around 50 tons per year. So therefore, about three-quarters of the product gets through.

These traffickers generally do not represent any sort of danger for the 50,000+ Americans and other members of the English speaking community of expatriates in Panama for one simple reason - they are smugglers who are trying to keep as low a profile as possible. Getting tangled up with a "gringo" (for whatever reason) is the opposite of keeping a low profile.

But if you've driven down the highways of Panama, then chances are good that at one point in time you've been next to a vehicle loaded down with a massive haul of cocaine - guarded by a couple of dudes toting AK-47's. That pretty little speedboat out there on the horizon which made your photo of the sunset against the coconut trees just perfect? 250 kilos of coke aboard and headed North. That very nice gentleman you met at the bank with the perfect English, slight accent, and expensive watch? He laundered about $100 million dollars over the past four years.

Just go on about you life - there's nothing to see here. After more than ten years working as an investigative journalist in Panama I learned there's one thing you leave to the authorities to investigate - the drug traffickers and money launderers. If you leave them alone, they will leave you alone. They do your thing, you do yours. Nothing to worry about. And I bring this up because there are probably people out there who are thinking about relocating to Panama as retirees - come on down. These stories about drug smugglers getting busted are nothing more than a part of the scenery, and they do not represent any sort of a worry or danger to the expat community.

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Panama Facing A "Gang Epidemic" : Gandásegui

Crime & PunishmentAccording to the sociologist Marco Gandásegui, the current crime wave being attributed to feuds between rival gangs is an epidemic resulting from wrong decisions made in the past. (more)

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Government Accepting Bids For Metro Line 2

Infrastructure UpgradesThe government of Panama has published the specifications for bidding on the design and construction of Metro Line 2. (more)

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Crane Loses Brakes - Smashes Into Ten Cars

Traffic AccidentsA crane lost its brakes in Loma La Pava at Edison Plaza and collided with at least ten vehicles that were parked along side of the roadway. (more)

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Panama's Economy Will Grow By 7% in 2014

Money MattersPanama's economy grew 6.2% in the first six months of 2014, putting the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) at $17.31 billion, or about $1 billion more than the amount registered during the same period last year when it was $16.31 billion, according to reports from the National Institute of Statistics and Census of the Comptroller General of the Republic, and analyzed by the Ministry of Economy and Finance. (more)

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5.1 Earthquake South of Panama

EarthquakesBy Don Winner for Panama-Guide.com - An earthquake measuring 5.1 on the Richter scale struck South of Panama at 11:49 am this morning. (more)

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Ten arrested for killing family in La Chorrera

Crime & PunishmentThe number of persons arrested for the murder of a family in La Chorrera has climbed to ten, as revealed by the President Juan Carlos Varela on Monday. (more)

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Just Released: 2014 Panama Luxury Properties Report

Real EstatePanama continues to attract buyers who are spending $1,000,000 plus on properties in Panama City.

But where are they coming from and why do they choose Panama?

How do they find the properties they are searching for and what precisely are they buying?

Panama Equity's benchmark "2014 Panama Luxury Properties Report" is a 24-page compilation that identifies trends in the market by capturing data points from transactions published in the Public Registry, agent surveys, and in-house closed sales statistics.

Over the last four months Panama Equity's research staff has interviewed developers, buyers, and sellers in Panama City’s luxury market who have participated in $1M plus transactions.

The report pairs this wealth of previously guarded information with Panama Equity's 7+ years serving the demographic of luxury buyers and sellers.

The result? A report that is the first of its kind in Panama.

A few highlights of the report include:

  • Exclusive “Closed Sale” Statistics
  • Pricing Analysis By Neighborhood
  • Buyer Demographics
  • Case Studies
  • Complete Sellers Guide
  • Buyers Guide (Including Basket Of Goods Section)
  • What will $1,000,000 Buy You In Panama?

Click here to download the free report today: http://www.panamaequity.com/luxury-panama-real-estate-report/

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Varela Administration Contradicts Itself Regarding Public Spending Policies

CorruptionContrary to the policy of containment of public spending, the government of President Juan Carlos Varela has appointed his relatives with astronomical salaries. (more)

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UAF Used PAN Money To Remodel Offices and Give Contracts To Friends

CorruptionAlthough the National Assistance Program was created to help the poorest sectors of the country, the Financial Analysis Unit (UAF) - under the control at the time of Enma Reyes - used it to purchase imported luxury building materials in order to remodel their offices. (more)

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New Varela Government Will Kill "Melting Pot" Immigration Program

Immigration IssuesPanama's Vice President and Minister of Foreign Affairs Elizabeth Saint Malo said the government will do just one more "melting pot" (to allow foreigners to normalize their immigration and labor status) before ending the program. (more)

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Birmingham gang boss: I won't die in Panama hell-hole jail

Expat Tales Brooding gangland Mr Big Leo Morgan, under lockdown at the steaming Panamanian jail where he has been left to rot, has made contact with the newspaper – to demand an end to inmates’ sewer conditions.

And the former cocaine cartel kingpin, who narrowly escaped death during a mass riot in notorious La Joya, had a simple message for his Birmingham family: “I’m not going to die here. I’ve become acclimatised to it.”

The former boxer turned drug baron has been confined to a 180-bed block, now crammed with 506 lags, since the bloody riot broke out in “Pavilion Six” three weeks ago.

And the 57-year-old, who survived for years in El Renacer Prison’s rancid, rat-infested conditions before being transferred to a high-security nick deemed even more hardcore, has emerged from the carnage to become spokesman for foreign prisoners.

In all, he has been banged up for 11 years – a stretch punctuated by bouts of solitary confinement.

Morgan has been particularly scathing of the treatment meted out to cellmate Mark Bodden, from British overseas territory, The Cayman Islands. The 37-year-old died after falling eight feet from his makeshift bed.

According to a document leaked by Morgan, it was 12 hours before drugs mule Bodden received medical attention for serious head injuries.

“Mark didn’t have to die,” said Morgan. “It could have been prevented. He died because of neglect.

“He didn’t have to go like that. He kept on about fishing in Cayman but he was a fish out of water here.”

Bodden is the 60th prisoner that Witton-raised Morgan, a once well-known, and feared, city bouncer, has seen die behind bars.

The tough regime has slipped from harsh to subhuman since the riot, where one Canadian suffered serious injury after being trampled by a mob desperately fleeing from the mist curtains of CS spray. Morgan helped drag the victim to safety.

“It just kicked off,” he said matter-of-factly. “They were just robbing. People were fighting back.”

Foreign prisoners are now confined 24/7 in a barn-like wing, and eke out an existence on rice and rainwater.

“It is now really bad,” he said. “It is unbelievable. It’s like the Vietnam War, the body count.

“Toilet? You use a bag or bucket and throw it over the wall.

“You have to get past it. I’d like to run away, but I can’t. I want to put this behind me. I just want to get to my family. It’s just bubbling up.”

Morgan, jailed since a £500,000 haul of cocaine was discovered at his Panamanian ranch, has three children in Birmingham. He also has a family in Central America. One of Birmingham’s most high-profile criminals, he fled Britain following a cannabis smuggling probe 21 years ago,

“We are locked down here, son,” he said. “We can’t go out. I can’t do my boxing.”

The hardman scrapes a living inside by fighting fellow prisoners for cash, and the reputation gained during those brutal brawls has helped Morgan avoid the morgue.

“No-one steps over the mark,” he growled. “You have your little battles and people get to know you.”

One of those little battles only days ago left Morgan nursing another stab wound, his family claims.

“Mosquitoes, malaria come around, but you have to get through it,” he added.

In his quest for better conditions, Morgan has met global diplomats, but has hit a brick wall. “They are not bothered,” he snapped. “They can’t get involved, the MP can’t get involved. What do you do? We’re not in Afghanistan here.”

Morgan is in limbo, without a release date in sight, courtesy of a tug-of-war with cops in Chechnya. They want him in the Russian state to face cocaine trafficking allegations.

“I can’t do with the not knowing and things going on and on,” he admitted. “You don’t know what’s going on. It’s madness.”

Morgan’s harrowing account of incarceration in Panama is borne out by official documents.

A 2012 report by the US bureau of democracy, human rights and labour concluded: “Prison conditions remained harsh and in some cases life-threatening.

“Problems included overcrowding, lack of medical services, lack of potable water and inadequate ventilation, lighting and sewage.”

Morgan’s own sister, Birmingham care home worker Linda Hirst, has little sympathy for his current predicament.

“When he got into what he got into, he knew there was going to be a consequence,” she said. “He brought it on himself. All gangsters eventually have to pay the price. I’ve worked all my life and look at the life I got...” (Birmingham Mail)

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