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Thursday, August 21 2014 @ 06:11 AM EDT

Punta Chame Land Grab - Lawyers Sharpening Their Pencils

CorruptionBy DON WINNER for Panama-Guide.com - I must say I was completely unimpressed and frankly disappointed with the interview given by the Director of the National Land Management Authority (ANATI) Franklin Oduber this morning. I met with him yesterday morning for about an hour, and he presented one face or position when talking to me, and a completely different stance during his appearance on the channel 2 TVN morning news broadcast. Yesterday, he told me directly this was "obviously" a case of abuse of power and position, and there's no way it would stand. He said they would freeze the land in question, and investigate to determine if title had been granted on any other lands in Punta Chame in a similar fashion. Oduber said they would be opening up their own official internal investigation, and then turning the results over to the prosecutors of the Public Ministry for them to conduct their investigations into any possible criminal acts. He also said they would grant Rights of Possession and land title to anyone in Punta Chame who already owns titled lands on the Southern side of the peninsula - because they are obviously the people who should have "first shot" at those lands, newly created by the wave action of the ocean, which deposited sand along the beach, making it wider. During our interview, Oduber adopted a relatively aggressive and forward leaning stance, promised to take corrective action, and act against those who might be found responsible. He actually said if someone gets "bloodied" then it's not his concern. I left the meeting with a good feeling that something might actually get done.

But his position on the channel 2 TVN news broadcast this morning was completely different. Most importantly, he injected a massively huge "if" - saying "if" any wrongdoing is found, then they would proceed to investigate further. He pulled way, way back from the relatively aggressive stance he presented in our meeting. Unfortunately, Oduber made no reference whatsoever to the promise he made in my interview with him yesterday, in reference to giving first priority to the existing land owners. The also seemed to insinuate that I don't know what I'm taking about, that persons who don't understand Law 80 might misinterpret the law, and there might be "inconsistencies" in the complaint. In short, his position in the TVN interview this morning was much, much more guarded and conservative compared to the position he took with me.

Make no mistake about it. I suspect elements from both the Panameņista and Cambio Democratico political parties have been caught with their hands in the cookie jar on this one - all the way up to their elbows. Their strategy now seems to downplay the whole thing, to nip it in the bud, and to make it go away as quickly and quietly as possible. Of course, I can understand their needs and desires, from a political perspective. They got badly hurt by the whole Juan Hombron scandal - and it cost Jimmy Papadimitriu his job.

Since breaking this story I have been getting contacted by some of the landowners themselves who are now in the processes of preparing their CRIMINAL complaints against all those involved. Again, there are possibly as many as 64 individual land owners who have been affected by this land grab, all along the Punta Chame peninsula. How much land is actually involved? I have no way of knowing. Lawyers will have to subpoena the ANATI records, for example. I don't have access to all of that, so how can I know?

Franklin Oduber told me yesterday they would be issuing orders to prevent the transfer on "all five" parcels of land, and now he says there's only one. Apparently, they have figured out that I don't have the documents to prove any other land was grabbed in the exact same manner, that I don't know the name of the companies or the finca numbers, so I can't look it up. So, now they say there are not five cases, but just one. Whatever. It's not my job to expose or correct corruption in the Panamanian government. I wish them luck in their efforts to dodge this bullet. Really, I do.

My concern starts and ends with the American landowner - and he will now be filing his complaints in this case. I suspect others will be filing their complaints as well, all along the beach. The La Prensa (Panameņista) newspaper and the Panama America (Cambio Democratico) won't be investigating this case, for political reasons. That leaves the PRD to go after this, if they want to. The Attorney General Jose Ayu Prado is beholden to Ricardo Martinelli, and he won't be investigating anything with any kind of enthusiasm or vigor. The justice system in Panama is driven more by politics than law on these kinds of issues.

Update: I was just contacted by a particularly shrill woman from La Prensa. They wanted to clarify that, in their opinion, they are completely neutral, and their only mission in life is to defend democracy. The deny any editorial slant or bias in favor of the Panameņista political party. However she did concur completely with me that the Panama America newspapers is completely and totally biased in favor of the CD and Ricardo Martinelli. I explained that, as a truly neutral political analyst, part of my job description is to spot bias in the local news reports. And, my opinion of that bias is just that - my opinion. If they don't like it of course they are perfectly capable of responding, sending me an email or whatever, to challenge any of my conclusions. In fact they did immediately respond last Saturday with this article - Punta Chame - Another Case Of Land Titles - which I translated and posted. And she's right, it's only been a couple of days since the story broke. She said they would continue to investigate the case, and their actions would speak for themselves. And, that's fine. The primary thrust of their first article was the same lawyer (Ramos) was linked to both the Juan Hombron and the Punta Chame cases. And now there's a whole raft of lawyers who will be shooting off their complaints, so it's going to grow even more legs. But please, don't try to tell me La Prensa is not biased in favor of the Panameņista political party. I mean, come on... (End Of Update)

Is anyone surprised by any of this stuff? I'm not. I'm not surprised that it happened. I'm not surprised it's now being hushed up. And, I'm not surprised it's not being investigated. I think corruption arrived in Panama with the Spanish conquistadors more than 500 years ago. It's always been this way, and it probably always will. The "lesson learned" for anyone who owns land in Panama is to be vigilant - and to remain vigilant - even if you own "beachfront" land that's "titled." Because obviously, in many cases the title in your hand is not worth the paper it's written on. Heads up. My job is done, and I'm out. I will continue to follow this story if there are any future or additional significant elements of news, but my days of spearheading on this issue are over. I'm not stupid...

Copyright 2012 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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