Thursday, April 09 2009 @ 08:11 AM EDT
Contributed by: Don Winner
By DON WINNER for Panama-Guide.com - The following excellent and comprehensive report on recent crime in the area of Potrerillos in Panama's Chiriquí province, was written by Jeanie Miller for delivery to her noticiasdeboquete.org mailing list: "Recent Crime in Potrerillos Area - I was asked by a friend in Boquete to post as much information about recent crime in the Potrerillos area. The following has been approved by my friend in Acequia, just below Potrerillos Abajo, who was robbed and molested.
Let me start by telling you what I have learned about the robberies in our area. I am piecing information together from first, second and third-hand accounts. So some of the information may not be entirely accurate. But, I think it is close. (more)
I went to a meeting on Thursday evening in Potrerillos Abajo. There have been a rash of robberies in their homes. It is not only the rich gringos who are being hit. It was said that about 30% of all the homes in Abajo have been robbed, and I think that estimate is low. Some people have been left without means to buy food. Everyone there is justifiably paranoid and unable to sleep well at night. They think that there are several groups of kids doing these robberies and that most are local and underage teens. One of the things the Mayor is doing to curb all these little groups of maliantes is to put a curfew of 9pm on all underage kids. He has also been lent a local car for the police to use to patrol the area. In the meantime, a collection is being made to purchase a motorcycle, so the police can respond more quickly. Also, there will be a local police station at the the turn off for Potrerillos Abajo that will be able to respond more quickly to emergencies if Dr. Rivera is reelected to his office next month.
Now, I'll tell you what I know of the more serious maliantes. There are a couple of gangs working. The first thing that happened in our area was that a young Indian girl was dragged from the main road into an grove of trees at five o'clock in the afternoon. She was raped. The authorities have captured the three boys who did this. They are all underage from the Granja, which is a minimum security facility for problem youth located in Potrerillos. It was only one boy who raped the girl while the others watched. They have all be sent to a high security facility for youthful offenders in Panama City.
Next is the chain of robberies which is also very serious. First, a few months ago, Avicola was robbed at gunpoint by guys wearing ski masks and armed with two pistols. They got away with $10,000. A few weeks later, Citricos was robbed in the same fashion. The guys, wearing ski masks again, poisoned the watch dog, subdued the guard (who was unarmed) and tied him up. They got away with $20,000.00 which was in their safe to make payroll. Citricos has since hired round-the-clock armed protection. Citricos, by the way, has offered to do what is possible to help curb the rash of robberies happening locally.
Now we move on to the latest series of robberies which may, or may not be the same group of vigilantes. Most people think that the robbers hail from outside the Chiriqui area since this modus operandus has hitherto been unused in this area. The first of which I am aware was of people we know personally. The information is directly from their account to me.
The victims have an alarm system, but had neglected to activate it that evening. They were watching television at about 1am downstairs when they heard a slightly strange noise, but dismissed it as the cat. (Lesson #1-trust your first instincts and check on unusual sounds.) Subsequently, they got tired and retired to their bedroom upstairs. Probably, the noise they heard was the robbers slitting the screen on the window next to the front entry. They sprayed a drug into the house which caused the victims to become very sleepy and head up to bed.
Then, they reached through the screen, obtained a set of keys to the front door hanging next to the window and used the key to unlock the front door. By then, the victims were drugged and sleeping. I don't know what kind of things were robbed, but they told me it was a lot of things. Next thing of which the victims were aware was of waking the next morning. The robbers even moved the bed in which the victims were sleeping without their being aware of it. We spoke with the wife the next morning; she could barely talk, her throat was raw and she was very, very thirsty and somewhat disoriented. Additionally, they had terrible headaches. Having been drugged, they don't know if the robbers carried guns or wore masks. According to my friend, a note was left at the house which was filled with obscenities, stating that the only reason they didn't rape her was that they discovered that she was on her period, which was, indeed, the case. Therefore, they obviously had to have molested her sufficiently to know that she was menstruating. To my knowledge, there were no beatings.
The couple has posted signs all over town offering a $1000.00 reward for information leading to the conviction of the perpetrators of this crime. They have gotten numerous calls every day and are piecing together some very relevant information.
There were two other similar robberies in Potrerillos Abajo which follow similar MOs. One victim was a nurse and the other was a person who sells lottery tickets. I think that both are Panamanian. In each case, they absconded with about $1000.00-worth of cash and jewelry. In the case of the woman who sells lottery tickets (who is not rich, by any means), the robbers tore the entire house apart, including dismantling the bed where they found the proceeds for the lottery tickets she had not submitted taped to the bottom of her mattress. Each woman was about
35 years of age. I don't know if they are married or living alone.
Each woman was drugged in a similar manner to the robbery mentioned above and raped. I just learned that hand written notes were left at those scenes as well. The two ladies were embarrassed by the contents and did not initially report them to the police. After talking to my friend, and realizing that the notes can be used as evidence to convict the robbers, they are searching for the notes which they discarded. I have not heard of beatings.
Let's talk about the drug for a minute. There seems to be no verifiable understanding of what drug was used. The authorities have stated that the drug is ether. From what information I have been able to get, the MO does not fit ether. Ether is very volatile. One needs to administer it directly to the person by way of a mask, and, soon after the mask is removed, the person awakens. If that is so, there is no way that it could have been ether.
We talked to a friend of ours in the States who is a maxial-facial surgeon. He could not think of a drug that could be injected into the house by way of a spray which would have the effect of putting the victims to sleep without the victims noticing the drug. He is checking with his cohorts to see if they are aware of any means of accomplishing the effect of drugging the victim without their being aware of it.
Local lore is that the "Angel Trumpet" flower, also known as jimsonweed, devil's trumpet, jamestown weed, loco weed, moonflower, and thorn-apple and which grows practically as a weed in this area, is used to make the drug. *Datura stramonium* is the botanical name of the plant. All parts of the plant are toxic according to the material I have read.
The plant is boiled and the liquid inserted into a weed spraying tank like those used locally worn on the back to spray week killers. It is then sprayed into the house which drugs the inhabitants (including dogs, I might add). They go into a drug induced sleep within 20 - 30 minutes and the maliantes have a free reign of the house. Here is a website which talks about the effects of the drug from this family of plants including the "Angel Trumpet", though I saw nothing which alluded to boiling the plant to make a spray, I found it most interesting and, definitely, a strong possibility.
Other accounts say it is an unknown drug being brought into the area from Costa Rica. There have also been articles of late that say that, with the help of the U.S., Mexican and Colombian governments are making headway on curbing the cartels in those two countries and that the cartels, in search of less hostile or prepared environments, are moving into other Central American countries, including Panama. Apparently, these drug lords accept the funds and other things obtained through robberies in payment for drugs. I have no idea whether this is an accurate assessment; if it is, it suggests that some of the burglars may be high on drugs, or at least, that they are drug users."