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Monday, December 22 2014 @ 09:55 PM EST

The Tale Of The Prick Who Cried "Wolf" - Hostage, My Ass

Expat TalesBy DON WINNER for Panama-Guide.com - You know, one of the things that really pissed me off is when I get "played." People contact me all the time when they want help in one matter or another, and God Dammit if I'm going to take the time to try to help someone, then the very least they can do is be totally straightforward and honest with me. In the case of Dan and Jean Miller who bought a house in the El Banco area in the District of Dolega, province of Chiriquí, it has now become apparent this conflict between the Millers and the Citricos S.A. company, represented by Guillermo Cárdenas Pelaez, has actually been fought in the courts for more than two years. In fact, it now seems that the Millers won the case initially but then lost the case on appeal. Actually they have lost the case on two appeals, one to the Governor of Chiriqui and another to the Third Superior Tribunal in David. Now, they have a pending appeal before the Supreme Court of Panama. It took me a couple of days to get all of the documents, which, by the way, were sent to me by the represenatives of Citricos S.A., and to figure this whole situation out. Now, I learn that in fact the lawyers for the Millers have filed and lost several appeals to legal decisions, and in fact they now have an appeal pending before the Panamanian Supreme Court. And when I just spoke to them again about all of this, I'm supposed to believe that they didn't know all of this was going on? I'm supposed to believe they didn't know they had lost their appeal to the Superior Court? I'm supposed to believe they didn't know they had filed an appeal to the Supreme Court? Yeah, right - bullshit. This isn't the first time someone has gone running to the press with a sob story in an attempt to gain sympathy for a cause they have lost in legal channels.

Man, I'm Pissed: Do you have any idea how much time I've wasted on this bullshit? The fact of the matter is the Millers simply don't want to build a new access road through the property to their east, and they are trying to convert a private road used by Citricos S.A. into a public access road for their own personal use. No one else uses that road (except Citricos S.A., of course, to harvest their oranges.) but I mean there are no other houses at the end of that road except for the Millers. The Millers point to a letter from the MOP dated from January 2007 which was considered in evidence but dismissed. It's come to a head just now because the Millers have lost on all of their appeals, and the only thing they have left to do is appeal to the Supreme Court, which they have done. But since that can take years to be decided, in the meantime the Citricos S.A. company is perfectly within their legal rights to close that road to the Millers. So what do the Millers do when they lose the case in court? They tore down a gate that has been there on the Citricos S.A. property for more than 12 years. In response, the company dug the ditches.

A "Police Action" This case started as a "police action" and the Municipal court level, and initially they won the case in the form of a decision by the local Mayor. Citricos S.A. then appealed that decision to the Governor, and they won on appeal in a resolution handed down by the Governor on 25 May 2009. Dan Miller then appealed that decision to the Superior Tribunal, which they lost in a decision dated 26 June 2009. The Governor then handed down another ruling on 29 June 2009, and the combination of those two rulings, the most recent one from the Governor and the decision by the Superior Court, define the current status of the case.

The "Finca Madre" and "Servidumbre" - When the Miller's purchased their property several years ago, it was owned by a woman who had three sons. She divided the property into three parcels. The Miller's purchased the parcel that was in the "back" of the property. The family that has owned and farmed this property for generations has always gained access to the property on the eastern side, where the red arrow indicates and the image above is annotated "road access on this side." According to Panamanian law every parcel of land has to have what's called a "servidumbre" which basically translates to "right of way." According to Citricos S.A., when this parcel of land was subdivided, they never properly established a "servidumbre" as required according to Panamanian law.

What The Governor Did: I know there's a tendency to think "the big bad rich company paid somebody off to get the Governor to decide in their favor." Well, not so fast. What the Governor actually did was send out third party inspectors to figure it out and report back. They determined that in fact when the Millers bought their land just a few years ago, it was separated from a larger farm, and at that time the sellers failed to properly establish a right of way as required by law. And, now, the Millers pretended to basically "usurp" the access road used by Citricos S.A. to gather their harvest and convert that into a public road, which it ain't.

Go Buy Some Road Building Equipment: My advice to the Millers now is that they should drop all of this "woe is me" bullshit, own up to the fact that they took their case to the Panamanian legal system and lost, and start working on building a road to their property to the east, through the farmland of the guys who sold them this bill of goods. I also advised them that, in my opinion, they should drop their appeal to the Panamanian Supreme Court because it now seems, upon an objective review of the legal documents, that they will most likely lose. So, why throw more good money after bad. Basically, they don't have a leg to stand on. And, they know it. Of course, the Millers will have to build an access road to get to their property, and in short they simply "don't want to." There is an existing access road which passes through the citrus orchard, owned by the Citricos S.A. company, and the Millers simply started using that road to get to their farm. They didn't want to have to incur the expense of having to build a road, but in fact they probably should have known that when they bought the land. Now that argument has been heard and lost. Get over it.

Saying And Doing All The Right Things: I spent a lot of time this afternoon talking to representatives from the Citricos S.A. company and Guillermo Cárdenas Pelaez, who is the President, legal representative, and manager of that company. He told me they would be willing to "reopen the road right now" if Mr. Miller does in fact have a pressing humanitarian need or medical issue," provided that the Millers sign a document acknowledging the permission is being granted by Citricos S.A. is provisional, that they are doing it as a humanitarian gesture for 60 days, that the Millers recognize and acknowledge that they have in fact lost their legal case, and that their use of this access road is temporary in nature. When I presented that to Mr. Miller, he said he would "not be prepared" to sign such a document. When I explained the entire position of Citricos S.A. to Dan Miller, he said "I understand that is their position" but he refuses to accept it. If the Millers were smart, they would sign such a document today, ask for forgiveness, and ask the Citricos S.A. people very nicely if they could please, pretty please, be allowed to use the access road while they build their own new access road to get to their farm. They should drop this whole "we are the victims" charade, stop wasting everyone's time, and sign any document the Citricos S.A. guys put before them. Then, they should identify an access right of way to the east, and start building a road.

"Police Action" vs. "Judicial Action" First of all, what is a "police action" in this case. The local Mayors have relatively wide ranging powers to resolve administrative disputes over things like this, specifically land access and rights of way. As you can probably imagine people fight over this kind of stuff all the time. And decision handed down by a local mayor is referred to in Panamanian law as a "police action" because specifically the Mayor is not a judge. And, if you don't like the decision that was made by the Mayor then you can appeal his decision to the Provincial Governor. that's the pecking order. In a letter sent by Citricos S.A. to the Mayor of Dolega, they explained how Article 1741 of the Administrative Code describes how and when resolutions handed down as part of a "police action" have precedence and jurisdiction, and when and how those types of decisions can be overturned or overruled. With regards to rural rights of way, specifically referring to land access in cases such as the Millers, the law clearly states that the resolution handed down in the "police action" will remain in effect if and until the results of that decision are struck down by a court from Panama's Judicial branch of government. They go on to explain that since Citricos S.A. won their case on appeal to the Governor, then the only course of action remaining to the Millers would be to address the matter in the Judicial branch with a legal claim, which they did with their appeal to the Superior Tribunal, and they lost that appeal. Therefore the decision of the Governor and the decision of the Superior Tribunal will stand as the legal outcome of this case until the Supreme Court decides, which should happen by about 2015 or so.

The Millers Should Not Be Surprised: This has been going on for more than two years. This is not a new conflict. The Millers have had ample chance and opportunity to do what they quite simply do not want to do - build a road through the "finca madre" to the east, using the "servidumbre" which should have been legally allocated to their land. They have no legal right to continue to access their property through the orange groves owned by Citricos S.A. According to Guillermo Cárdenas Pelaez, "Mr. Miller is simply trying to use the press to win a case he has lost in court."

Happy Now? I hope the Miller's are happy about all the press attention they have managed to attract to their "plight." There's only one other option - there exists the slight possibility they were either lied to or misled by their lawyers. That the lawyers kept them in the dark. That they didn't know they had actually lost the case in the Superior Tribunal. That's a possibility, but I'm not buying it at this point. I think the Millers simply didn't like the answer they got so they took matters into their own hands and paid someone to yank down a metal gate, prompting all of this drama. So please, stop wasting my damn time on these kinds of things. I'm very sorry to hear Dan Miller has health problems, but that doesn't change legal rights over access to land and rights of way. There's also the argument of "we didn't understand what our lawyers were saying." Well, maybe you should have gone down that road before calling in the press. In other words, take the time and effort to figure out what's actually going on before wasting all of our time.

We All Got Played: Everyone who owns a website and covered this story. Everyone who wrote and email in support. Basically, I'm not happy. Can you tell? Screw this... I still get suckered into this kind of bullshit every now and again. The only difference is that now it takes me less time to figure it out.

Copyright 2009 by Don Winner for Panama-Guide.com. Go ahead and use whatever you like as long as you credit the source. Salud.

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The Tale Of The Prick Who Cried "Wolf" - Hostage, My Ass | 11 comments | Create New Account
The following comments are owned by whomever posted them. This site is not responsible for what they say.
The Tale Of The Prick Who Cried "Wolf" - Hostage, My Ass
Authored by: Anonymous on Tuesday, August 18 2009 @ 09:15 PM EDT

Wow! The entire Expat community was totally blindsided by this. Don, you must feel absolutely sick...geez man...you even woke up the President and asked him to intervene....oh shit, I'm really glad I'm not you! But not only are you screwed, but the rest of can't do enough community service to dig our way out of this. I mean Expats from all over Panama are planning boycotts, chain letters and mass e-mail drives. It's like everyone retired in Panama suddenly has a purpose! We've been unfairly slamming Citricos big time. I even called my cousin Guido in Jersey to ask for a favor. Worst of all, I think this story might have even made it to Reuters and CNN was ready to pick it up. Oh man, I can't stop laughing...I really hope our Panamanian friends keep this story in their hip pocket to periodically remind us that we can really screw-up! Actually, I hope they have a sense of humor.

My sincerest apologies to Citricos. I better get a hold of Guido now before he buys a plane ticket.

Rusty

Quality of Journalism
Authored by: Anonymous on Wednesday, August 19 2009 @ 06:33 AM EDT

This is exactly why journalists are taught to ALWAYS ask the other side for a comment before publishing anything.
Getting only one side's perspective is never accurate.

This will undoubtedly hurt the reputation of everyone who supported the Millers without due diligence and the expat community as a whole.
Worse still, the next time someone really needs help, they won't be believed.

The Tale Of The Prick Who Cried "Wolf" - Hostage, My Ass
Authored by: Anonymous on Wednesday, August 19 2009 @ 07:41 AM EDT

Don, Since I only have a long distance relationship with Panama I really enjoy your website and it certainly helps keep me up-to-date. But this whole story shows what a silly bastard you sometimes can be. "Boy, These Guys From Citricos S.A. Are Being Real Pricks..." That's hilarious.

The Tale Of The Prick Who Cried "Wolf" - Hostage, My Ass
Authored by: Anonymous on Wednesday, August 19 2009 @ 08:33 AM EDT

Don as you know I have tried to stay on top of this on the BoqueteGuide.com. Wheile you received documents from Citrico I met with both the new Governor and the attorneys for the Millers. I was not shown all the documents you were shown, but I might have been shown some you were not.

One document I was shown from 2007 from MOP documents to road as a survidumbre. Another is an August 10 2009 letter from the Alcalde of Dolega requesting the road be opened. I posted both of thiese documents at http://www.boqueteguide.com/?p=4340

To my understanding Citricos despite the old Governor ruling n their favor acted inappropriately in closing the road while the Supreme court has not yet ruled on the case.

I could be wrong, my Spanish skills are not 100% but I do not think this is over yet and at this time I do know their is not way for the Millers to leave their farm and that the Dolega community has resoundingly supported their claim tha the road has been a survidumbre for many years.

The Tale Of The Prick Who Cried "Wolf" - Hostage, My Ass
Authored by: Don Winner on Wednesday, August 19 2009 @ 09:46 AM EDT

How's It Going, Lee: I know how you feel. What's most troubling to me is that the Millers convieniently neglected to send me copies of the most pertinent documents. They only sent me finely selected snippets which support the "story" they were trying to sell me. Anyway...

About The Jan 2007 MOP Letter: I know all about the famous MOP letter from January 2007, and I also have a copy. This document was considered as evidence by the higher courts and dismissed. The overriding fact is the following - the people who sold the land to the Millers three years ago failed to establish a proper "servidumbre" (right of way) when they segregated the parcel purchased by the Millers from the larger farm, as required by law. This simple fact formed the primary premise of the decision handed down by the Governor on 25 May 2009. The Millers appealed this lower court "police action" decision to the Third Superior Tribunal, which rejected the Miller's appeal and upheld the Governor's earlier decision in their decision dated 26 June 2009. Following that ruling, three days later the Governor then reiterated his earlier decision in another resolution dated 29 June 2009. Following all of this, the Millers then appealed the Third Superior Tribunal decision to the Supreme Court of Justice. The January 2007 MOP letter has been submitted as evidence in that case file and its content has been considered by both the Governor as well as the three Justices of the Third Superior Tribunal in their decision. The Millers keep pointing to that one document, as well as line on a Tommy Guardia map to say "see, it's a public road." I understand that's the position of the Millers, and that's what they would want everyone to think, however both the Governor and the Third Superior Tribunal disagree. They asked and they have been denied. It's that simple.

About The MOP: Please consider the following. The Ministry of Public Works (MOP) in Panama is an element of the Executive Branch of government. They do things, like build roads and bridges. They can state an opinion, like they did in this January 2007 letter, however the contents of that letter were considered and not found to be the overriding or most important element of information pertinent to the case. So, with that, so much for the MOP letter.

About The Letter From The Mayor's Office: This letter you have posted on your website clearly indicates the Mayor's office understands that their earlier decision has been overturned by the Governor, that the Governor's decision has been upheld by the Third Superior Tribunal, and that the case has now been sent to the Supreme Court on appeal. So, the Mayor's office "get's it." And it's precisely documents like this, which clearly state the legal status of the case, which make me think the Millers knew exactly what was going on the whole time and they were quite simply lying to me, covering up some elements of information, misrepresenting others, not telling me the whole story - in short, feeding me only what they wanted me to know in an attempt to manipulate me and the articles I might publish on my website. That worked, for about two days. As soon as I made contact with Citricos S.A. it all fell apart. Anyway, this letter from the Mayors office, which makes reference to the Resolution passed by the Municipal Council, is basically a "mother may I" letter. In short, they are asking nicely for the road to be opened on humanitarian grounds so that Mr. Miller who is suffering from cancer can attend his medical appointments and seek treatment. I asked Mr. Guillermo Cárdenas Pelaez, the President and General Manager of Citricos S.A. specifically about this request. He said they would be prepared to open the road right now, if Mr. Miller does in fact have a genuine humanitarian need, provided they would sign a document acknowledging they have in fact lost their legal case, that the road they are using is in fact the private property of Citricos S.A., that they permission being granted by Citricos S.A. is temporary in nature for humanitarian reasons. I presented that offer to Dan Miller myself and he said "I am not willing to sign such a document." So, therefore, so much for that. Obviously Citricos S.A. is in a tremendously strong legal position - there's nothing in the law that requires them to allow the Millers or anyone else to use their orange groves as a personal or public right of way. And since the Millers apparently want to take their chances with their appeal in the Supreme Court, they don't want to sign any documents. And what's more, they are now required to build their own access road to the East anyway, and there is absolutely nothing requiring Citricos S.A. to grant them access.

Dan Miller Has Been A Real Prick: From what I am now being told apparently Dan Miller has conducted himself in a very unbecoming manner in several occasions at public hearings attended by Guillermo Cárdenas Pelaez and other representatives from Citricos S.A. He used heavy equipment to illegal tear down a gate that was on their property. He has destroyed several orange trees that were on the Citricos S.A. orchard. In short, he has done absolutely nothing to deserve anything from this company. What's more, its the Millers who are playing the part of "juega vivos" in trying to use the Panamanian legal system to effectively "usurp" the private road belonging to Citricos S.A. and to have it converted into a public right of way. So now that he's lost the case, the people at Citricos S.A. are still being the more mature and adult side of the argument, and they offered to allow the Millers continued but conditional access. In response to this offer, the Millers refused and tore down the gate. Responding to that action, the company dug the ditches. Can you blame them? Why should we, the rest of the members of the English speaking community of expatriates, support or defend this type of conduct. Speaking personally for me, that ship has sailed. The Millers need to knock off the bullshit and get a grip. Spend some money, build a road, and get on with their lives. I'm pretty much sure at this point I know all I need to know about this case, and the amount of time I'm willing to dedicated to this is dropping to zero, really fast...

The Tale Of The Prick Who Cried "Wolf" - Hostage, My Ass
Authored by: Anonymous on Wednesday, August 19 2009 @ 09:00 PM EDT

I love the Panama Guide. I know countless others do too. I think Don does a great job getting interesting news out to the Expat community. He works hard at this and he did not deserve to have some jerk prey on his passion to do "what is right" to further Miller's own cause at Don's professional expense. The Millers simply did Don wrong by holding back information. I really hope they make an attempt to apologize to Don...and the Expat community too.

But, I'm not giving up on Don or the Panama Guide. I am proud that when it appears that people are in danger or in some form of harms way, Don comes to their aid...such as he recently did when there were reports of fishermen over-due. I was very proud of him for his effort to "make safe" right away rather than wait until a crisis or catastrophe was confirmed. As I scroll back through the stories I see an editor who refuses to sit idle. It is clear that Don is willing to accept some risk in an attempt to make Panama a better place for everyone to live. For this, I am willing to endure a few turds in the punch bowl and I am sure Don's followers feel the same way.

Slap a steak on that sucker punched black-eye Don and get back into the fight. We're all rootin' for you.

Sincerely,

Rusty



The Tale Of The Prick Who Cried "Wolf" - Hostage, My Ass
Authored by: Anonymous on Wednesday, August 19 2009 @ 10:32 PM EDT

Keep your chin up Don... Still doing a good job. Chuck it up to experencia...

The Tale Of The Prick Who Cried "Wolf" - Hostage, My Ass
Authored by: Don Winner on Friday, August 21 2009 @ 02:11 PM EDT

According To Panamanian Law: If I own a large parcel of land and I want to sell a piece of that land to you, I can legally do so. However, Panamanian law states that every parcel of land must have a "servidumbre" or a right of way to allow for public access to that parcel. In other words, there can be no "land locked" parcels. When the Millers bought their parcel from the Arauz family three years ago, the "servidumbre" was never property established as required by law. The Millers just looked at the access road that ran through the land to the North, owned by Citricos S.A. and said "we will use that." They quite simply did not want to have the new "servidumbre" created as it should have been through the land to the east, because they would have had to build a road and a bridge to reach the land. It was easier and cheaper for them to attempt to "usurp" the access road used by Citricos S.A., so they went that route instead. So, there's plenty of blame to go around. The sellers should have established the "servidumbre" when the sold the land, as required by law. The Millers basically created this entire conflict by trying to take over land that was not theirs. They should have known better when they bought their land. They screwed up, and Citricos S.A should not have to pay for the "juega vivos". And, that's exactly what the Governor and the Third Superior Tribunal decided. Game over.