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Wednesday, April 16 2014 @ 03:02 PM EDT

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Medcom (Channel 13 - Telemetro) Refuses To Air Controversial Political Advertisements

PoliticsFollowing the guidelines established in the Electoral Ethics Pact, Medcom informed all advertising agencies and political parties of its decision to refrain from transmitting - via channel 13 Telemetro and RPC TV - any political advertisements with content that is "clearly libelous" or which violates the spirit of the Pact. (more)

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Challenge Filed Asking For Pinilla's Credit's From The University of Panama

Law & LawyersJavier Alexis Bosso Campbell filed a request for information with the General Secretary of the University of Panama in order to see if the President of the Electoral Tribunal, Erasmo Pinilla, graduated as a lawyer from the university. (more)

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Two Fires This Afternoon: Multiplaza and DoIt Center in El Dorado

Safety & SecurityBy Don Winner for Panama-Guide.com - There was a fire this afternoon in the Multiplaza shopping center in Panama City. (more)

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Quijano Steps Down From Ministry of Trade and Industry Position To Work On Arias' Campaign

PoliticsPanama's Minister of Trade and Industry Ricardo Quijano left office to take a month off, according to government spokesman Eduardo Camacho. (more)

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Teachers Union Will Strike On Friday Over Wage Issues

Protests & DemonstrationsAfter a week of picketing, the teachers' unions announced they will walk off the job in a "militant" strike this Friday, April 11, demanding a general salary increase. (more)

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Italian Justice Planning To Investigate Martinelli - Who Says He's "Pissing Myself Laughing"

CorruptionPresident Ricardo Martinelli will face Italian justice, according to judicial sources. (more)

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Panama to build second subway line with tender due in April

Infrastructure UpgradesBY ELIDA MORENO (Reuters) Panama will build a second subway line, with a tender expected before the end of April for construction of the project costing up to $2 billion, the head of the subway said on Wednesday.

Panama's metro, a 13.7 kilometer line that also cost $2 billion, began service last week, becoming Central America's first subway. The second line would stretch 23 kilometers (14 miles) with 17 stations, said Roberto Roy, the executive secretary of the subway.

Roy said he hoped to present potential bidders with details of the project before the end of April, although he added there is no set date.

"Then there will be three months for them to present their bid, and then a month-and-a-half for us to decide," he said.

Panama is in the midst of an infrastructure boom, thanks to the multi-billion dollar expansion of the Panama canal, which has given the small Central American nation the fastest-growing economy in the Americas.

Panama, with a population of around 3.7 million, escaped the worst of the global recession, expanding at an average rate of 8 percent over the past six years.

Editor's Comment: They will be extending the Metro service to Panama's most populated residential districts. Line 1 covers the massive population of San Miguelito. Next will be Tocumen, and I think Line 3 will make it out to Arraijan and La Chorrera, with a dedicated new bridge over the Panama Canal. So they will be spending at least $1 billion per year over the next five years to improve and expand on what they have already built. So just point those TBM's in a different direction and tally ho, bitches ... it's all good.

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Martinelli Inaugurated Cinta Costera 3 - Then Sits Down To Eat Fish

Infrastructure UpgradesThe president, Ricardo Martinelli, inaugurated the new Cinta Costera 3 - the third phase of the larger "Coastal Strip" project - this evening, with a big party that was attended by his Ministers, the heads of institutions, and the residents from the neighborhoods of El Chorrillo, Barraza, San Felipe and Santa Ana. (more)

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ANAM Seizes 13 Containers Full Of Illegal Cocobolo Wood

Environmental IssuesA total of 13 containers loaded with the highly prized "cocobolo" wood that were to being smuggled into Hong Kong and worth about $4 million in the Chinese market, were seized by the Customs authorities of Panama, an official said Tuesday. (more)

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Still No Trace Of Missing Two In Panama

Expat TalesPANAMA CITY – Emergency services have searched the Panamanian Boquete area several times without any trace of the missing Dutch woman. According to a spokesman of the services, the quest is now at its end and now it becomes primarily a police matter.

Normally they will search for missing people for three days, the spokesman said. “We have been searching for Lisanne Froon (21) and Kris Kremers (22), who were last seen a week ago, six days already. If the two will be found in the mountains around Boquete is now almost impossible.

Apparently a man spoke with them last week Tuesday at a footpath near the Pianista Trail, which they initially wanted to take. In the last few days, according to aid organization Sinaproc, there were no new relevant reports of possible witnesses.

“We always keep hope,” the spokesman said. The police has been already in action in order to detect the two.

Editor's Comment: I understand the SINAPROC was still searching today, so the effort has not been completely called off, yet. But at some point a "search and rescue" effort to find a missing person has to naturally change to something else, a police investigation into what happened. It seems that if they were lost on the mountain somewhere they would have been turned up by now.

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Panama's Government Announces Mandatory Power Conservation Measures

WeatherBy Don Winner for Panama-Guide.com - This afternoon the government of Panama issued an order announcing mandatory energy saving measures. (more)

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Panamanian Economy Creates More Than 6,000 New Jobs Per Week

Employment & JobsAccording to Panama's Ministry of Labor and Workforce Development, the economy generated 6,472 new jobs in the first week of April 2014. (more)

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Panama's Economic Growth Will Lead Latin America Again in 2014 - IMF

Money MattersPanama is the only country in the Americas whose economy will grow by more than 6%, according to the 'World Economic Outlook' report presented yesterday by the International Monetary Fund (IMF). (more)

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180,000 People Rode Panama's New Metro Subway System on Monday

Infrastructure UpgradesMany Panamanians have begun to use the new Metro train system, some to commute to work, others out of simple curiosity or just to take a ride, so much so that the number of people using the system is increasing every day. (more)

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Panama Is At The Brink Of An Energy Shortage

Infrastructure UpgradesElectrical power generation in Panama could fall below demand, due to the reduced levels of electricity being generated by the country's hydro electric plants, caused by the delay in the arrival of the rainy season, and a lack of water in the reservoirs behind the dams. (more)

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Fake death conman John Darwin 'has repaid just £121'

Expat TalesConvicted canoe death fraudster John Darwin has repaid just £121 of a £679,000 proceeds of crime order, a court has heard.

Darwin, 63, of Seaton Carew, Teesside, faked his own death in 2002 so his then-wife Anne could claim £500,000.

He served three years of a six-year jail term for insurance fraud.

Teesside Crown Court heard he may now have to use a recently matured pension to repay the cash he cheated out of insurance companies.

The father of two appeared in court after police began fresh proceedings under the Proceeds of Crime Act.

A judge had previously ordered he should repay £679,073, but the court was told divorced Darwin, who is claiming benefits, has only been able to hand back £121.

The Crown has now applied for him to repay more, as a pension has matured. A hearing to decide the matter will be held in May.

Darwin did not speak during the brief hearing before Judge Howard Crowson.

Anne Darwin, now split from her husband, has repaid more than £500,000 under a separate Proceeds of Crime order.

John Darwin was reported missing in a canoe in the North Sea in March 2002.

His wife collected more than £500,000 in life insurance payouts, while he hid in their home, leaving their two sons believing he was dead.

In December 2007, he walked into a London police station, claiming he had amnesia, and was reunited with his sons who were stunned to hear he was alive.

His wife, who had fled with him to Panama, pretended to be shocked until a photograph emerged of them posing together after his supposed death.

She was later jailed for six-and-a-half-years for fraud and money-laundering.

Earlier this year police said John Darwin was being investigated again under the Proceeds of Crime Act regarding possible "undeclared assets".

After the pair were jailed, assets including a fourth-floor apartment in Panama City and an overgrown plot of land near the artificial Lake Gatun were seized and sold.

The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) was granted a confiscation order to retrieve the money Mrs Darwin received from her insurance companies and pension funds.

All the money held in accounts in the UK and Panama, which totalled about £9,000, was also seized. (BBC News)

Editor's Comment: Ah, yes. The Darwins. Also known as "the gift that keeps on giving" for the UK press. They are obsessed with these people over there. John Darwin farts and it's a "stop the presses" moment.

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There Will Be No Special Supreme Court Meeting To Hear Ballesteros' Allegaions

Law & LawyersThe Supreme Court will hold a regular meeting of the full body of nine judges on 10 April to debate whatever the members propose, instead of a special meeting today to discuss the complaints filed by the former judge Alexis Ballesteros. (more)

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Former (PRD) Minister of Agricultural Development Convicted And Sentenced To Prison

CorruptionThe Fifth Circuit Criminal Court convicted the former Minister of Agricultural Development Alejandro Posse Martinz of the crime of "theft with breach of trust" and issued a sentence of 20 months imprisonment against him. (more)

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Coastal Strip III To Be Inaugurated Tomorrow

Infrastructure UpgradesPanama's Secretary of Goals announced that the Third Phase of the Cinta Costera ("Coastal Strip") infrastructure project, part of the government's larger New Road Network Plan, will be inaugurated in a ceremony to be held tomorrow, Wednesday, 9 April. (more)

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Candidates Participated in Presidential Debate Last Night

PoliticsFor the first time the presidential candidates had the opportunity to discuss among themselves their proposals and ideas in a debate organized by the Chamber of Commerce, Industries and Agriculture of Panama, dubbed "Country Agenda." (more)

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Arias Continues To Lead In New Polling Data

PoliticsThe presidential candidate for the ruling Democratic Change (CD) political party, José Domingo Arias, maintains his lead over the PRD and Panameñista candidates, according to the most recent polling data from Dichter & Neira, with 38%. (more)

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SENAFRONT Arrests Two FARC Guerrillas In The Darien

Drug TraffickingTwo alleged members of the 57th Front of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), a man and a woman, were captured by units of the State Border Service (SENAFRONT) of Panama near the border with Colombia in an indigenous village, reported an official source. (more)

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Panamanians Swarm Metro On First Day Of Operations

Infrastructure UpgradesJust as in a large city, urban traffic in the capital area was fragmented yesterday between those who will stick with the traditional public transportation systems and those who have become infected with "metromania" and will be riding one of the 19 trains of the new mass transit system. (more)

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Martinelli Says Panama Is Doing Everything It Can To Find Missing Dutch Women

Expat TalesTwo Dutch women went missing in Panama last week. President Ricardo Martinelli has emphasized that the country is doing everything to find them.

During a press conference on Sunday, Martinelli thanked the Dutch embassy “for the confidence” during the search party, De Telegraaf reports.

The missing women are 22-year old Lisanne Froon from Amersfoort and 21-year old Kris Kremers from Utrecht. They have been missing since Tuesday.

According to sources, the travelers had difficulty choosing between two walking routes, one of which is El Pianista Trail.

Ingrid Lommers, director of a language school the women visited, says that they turned back to Boquete after 30 minutes, exhausted.

Thick clouds are hampering the search party now, a rescue service member tells. Rescuers are also battling with the Panama landscape, needing ropes to travel downwards, sometimes 500 meters.

According to the Dutch ambassador, Wiebe de Boer, cooperation between Panama’s authorities and the Netherlands is “very good.”

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Panama’s president unveiling subway ahead of vote

Infrastructure UpgradesPANAMA CITY (AP) — Counting down his final weeks in office, Panamanian President Ricardo Martinelli on Saturday is inaugurating the most-emblematic project of a five-year term marked by fast economic growth and more than a hint of hubris — Central America’s first subway system.

The metro will surely alleviate the booming capital’s dreadful traffic. But critics say the $2 billion spent on the 9-mile (14-kilometer) rail line would have been better used building a higher-capacity surface transport network and expanded bus system.

The critics also are unhappy about what they consider Saturday evening’s over-the-top party, with a free concert and fireworks, to celebrate the new subway. They call it a political stunt a month before Panama’s elections to drum up support for Martinelli’s preferred successor, former Housing Minister Jose Domingo Arias.

Trains themselves won’t start running a full schedule until Monday.

Martinelli, who leaves office July 1, isn’t fazed by the criticism. Notably brash with friends and foes alike, the 62-year-old supermarket magnate hasn’t tired of boasting that he has accomplished more in five years than was done in the previous 50. He has an approval rating of 60 percent, and relishes the chance of getting his chosen successor elected, which no incumbent Panamanian president has done since democracy was restored in 1989.

“This is a project that makes the opposition burn,” Roberto Henriquez, a presidential aide, said in a recent television interview. “But gentleman, I’m sorry: The metro is a reality, and next week we’ll be delivering the benefits to all the people.”

Since Martinelli took office in 2009, Panama has spent upward of $15 billion on infrastructure improvements, including new hospitals, airports and 990 miles (1,600 kilometers) of highways. The subway is Panama’s second costliest project in the past century, surpassed only by the current $5.25 billion expansion of the Panama Canal that began before he became president.

“Never has a government done so much for a country and its people,” proclaims a TV ad featuring the subway and a catchy, merengue-tinged chorus of “Promises Fulfilled.”

The government hasn’t announced how much a ride will cost. Instead, it is waiving fares for the first few months in what analysts say is a clear attempt to boost the candidacy of the little-known Arias, who holds a narrow lead in most polls over former Panama City Mayor Juan Carlos Navarro.

Panama’s region-leading infrastructure is a point of pride for many of the country’s 3.4 million people, although the spending hasn’t been without controversy.

Vice President Juan Carlos Varela broke with Martinelli in 2011 and later accused the president and his two sons of taking kickbacks from Italian state-controlled Finmeccanica in exchange for government contracts.

No charges were filed against the president, but the allegation has reinforced perceptions that the construction — which has propelled economic growth averaging 9 percent a year since 2010 — is also fueling corruption and waste. Panama fell 20 places to 102nd in Transparency International’s latest annual ranking of 177 countries on corruption.

The subway cost 30 percent more than the price budgeted when the contract to build it was awarded to Brazilian construction giant Odebrecht SA in 2010. Roberto Roy, the metro’s top executive, says costs rose because of design changes, including construction of two additional stations.

Martinelli’s penchant for self-promotion led to the two giant boring machines used to dig the metro’s more than 4 miles (7 kilometers) of tunnels being named Marta and Carolina, in honor of his wife and daughter.

First lady Marta Linares is Arias’ running mate, a sign that Martinelli will remain influential if his political disciple wins. The president was barred by the constitution from seeking re-election.

Carolina Rodriguez, who works as a maid in the downtown district of flashy, high-rise apartment buildings, doesn’t much mind the political overtones of the subway’s inauguration so long as the train reduces her pre-dawn commute and remains affordable.

“It’s all very pretty and Martinelli says the train will help us,” said Rodriguez, who spends 90 minutes every day commuting in from San Miguelito, a poor neighborhood on the subway’s northern terminus. “Hopefully the train will relieve my daily headache.”

Editor's Comment: I have a massive problem with the paragraph which says "Vice President Juan Carlos Varela broke with Martinelli in 2011 and later accused the president and his two sons of taking kickbacks from Italian state-controlled Finmeccanica in exchange for government contracts." That's simply not accurate.

In fact, Martinelli fired Varela and broke the alliance between the CD and the Panameñista political party, precisely because it was VARELA who was leading the charge on the Finmeccanica deal. When the Lavitola scandal broke in Italy (over his attempt to blackmail the Italian Prime Minister) then all of a sudden the shady dealings with Panama came to light. This, of course, was before the bribes had been paid to the Panamanian officials.

So Martinelli fired Varela for dragging him into the mess. They reduced the Finmeccanica contracts down to the amounts where they should have been at, in the first place, and removed the additional money that would have gone to pay bribes to Varela and others in the Panamanian government (including Martinelli.)

Now Varela is trying to make it look like he quit. That could not be further from the truth. He was tossed out on his ass, and he bears most of the responsibility for having put the whole (corrupt) Finmeccanica deal together in the first place.

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Search Continues For Two Missing Dutch Tourists in Panama

Expat TalesPanama's Civil Protection Service and National Police continue to search today for two young Dutch women who have been missing since last Tuesday in the district of Boquete, in the Northern part of the province of Chiriqui, in the Western area of the Republic of Panama. (more)

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Water Levels Falling To Critical Levels Behind Panama's Hydroelectric Generation Dams

WeatherYesterday the Fortuna hydroelectric dam was only 9.5 meters above the minimum water level necessary to operate, putting additional pressure on the country's generation network. (more)

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Electoral Prosecutor Files A Complaint Saying His Privacy Has Been Violated

PoliticsAt 11:00 am the Electoral Prosecutor Eduardo Peñaloza, who remained anonymous, appeared before the Attorney General to request an investigation into the alleged violation of his privacy and that of his two adult children, through articles published in the La Prensa and Mi Diario newspapers. (more)

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Panama Capitalizes On Glimmers Of Resurgence

Real EstateBy Kevin Brass (NY Times) PANAMA — At the tip of Punta Pacifica, a neighborhood in Panama covered with skyscrapers, a narrow bridge leads to a new 25-acre artificial island.

The island, which covers 10 hectares, is the first part of a residential and marina development called Ocean Reef, originally announced in 1998 by Empresas ICA, a Mexican conglomerate.

Today, Grupo Los Pueblos, a Panamanian company hired by Empresas ICA to develop the project, is handing over the first lots to buyers planning to build homes there.

The project, with a marina and resort-style amenities, has all the elements of a development designed for international buyers seeking a second home. But of the 63 buyers so far, 56 are from Panama, said Alfredo Aleman, executive vice president of Grupo Los Pueblos.

Sales to foreign buyers dried up here after the 2008 global economic crisis. But developers like Mr. Aleman are reviving their global marketing efforts amid signs of renewed interest from international buyers in a city that is often called the Miami of Latin America.

Such optimism in the residential market is fueled by the continued strength of the local economy, analysts say. The $5.2 billion expansion of the Panama Canal is scheduled for completion in 2015, although it has been mired in dispute and work suspensions. And First Quantum Minerals, a Canadian company, is planning a $6 billion copper mining operation in western Panama.

In the residential market, “a lot of the growth will come from existing multinationals that already have moved here,” said Justin Boyar, who tracks the market for Jones Lang LaSalle, a property consulting firm.

There is no central source of reliable real estate data in Panama. But agents say that prices increased 10 percent or more in the last year, with a jump in buyers from Venezuela, Colombia and North America.

For example, apartments selling for $186 a square foot six months ago now are selling for $205 to $214 a square foot, said Duncan McGowan president of Punta Pacifica Realty, a local estate agent (Panama real estate is typically transacted in dollars.)

The price increase is a contrast to the steady declines of recent years. After a building boom in which dozens of residential towers were completed, prices in many projects dropped 30 percent to 50 percent from 2008 to 2012, according to industry estimates. At the time, more than 300 towers were in the planning stages, under construction or recently completed in the city.

More than 50 percent of the buyers in Trump Ocean Club — which opened in 2011 as the tallest building in Central America at 932 feet — forfeited their deposits rather than complete the purchase of units that had significantly dropped in value.

Even as the global economy recovered, prices in the city were slow to rebound. And projects completed after the downturn have added more than 4,000 apartments to the market over the past three years, according to data tracked by Panama Equity, a local estate agency.

Yet many say that they believe that the canal and mining projects will attract more buyers.

“I think there will be two Panamas: the Panama before the expansion of the canal and the Panama afterward,” said Jose Bern, president of Empresas Bern, one of the most prolific residential builders in the city along Avenida Balboa, the main road on the central city’s waterfront.

Industry supporters and local residents also hope that the completion of a long list of infrastructure projects will help ease the city’s longstanding problems with sewage and traffic. A citywide subway system, the first in Central America, is scheduled to open this spring.

“The biggest hope is that it will release us from the massive amount of cars on the road here,” said Sandie Davis, a Seattle native who invested in real estate even before she moved to the city five years ago.

In 2006, Ms. Davis paid a preconstruction price of $117,000 for a three-bedroom, 1,100-square-foot apartment in the Costa del Este, a fast-growing master-planned, 310-acre development a few miles outside the city center. She rented it out for $1,800 to $2,000 a month, finally selling it in 2012 for $180,000.

Ms. Davis now lives in a 2,368-square-foot, two-bedroom apartment in an older building in Obarrio, the city’s banking district, about a block from a new metro station. She paid $240,000 for the apartment, including the furniture, in 2009.

With the market in decline at the time, “it was a little bit of an emotional play,” she said, adding, “I’d seen the apartment a year before and fell in love with it.”

Most of the new residential activity in the city has come from Costa del Este. Empresas Bern is shifting its emphasis to the newer area, said Mr. Bern, the company president.

"We’ve completed delivery of our last building on Avenida Balboa,” he said.

Development is also increasing in Panama Pacifico, a 3,450-acre project at the former Howard Air Force Base, on the west side of the Panama Canal. Developed by the British company London & Regional Properties, the project plans for more than 20,000 residential units as well as office and commercial space.

So far, about 800 homes have been sold, most in the past two years, said Marco Ruiz, London & Regional’s director of residential development. As for construction, 270 homes were built in 2013, with 600 scheduled for completion this year, he said.

Eric Carrasco, a Panamanian who runs a tour company, recently purchased a four-bedroom, 3,330-square-foot home being built in Panama Pacifico. He says the new house will give his family a different life than what they now have in a congested Panama neighborhood.

“Now I drive my kids to school and it takes 45 minutes,” Mr. Carrasco said. “There, they will be able to ride their bicycles to school.”

About 80 percent of the buyers in Panama Pacifico are Panamanian, but the developers expects international sales to account for a larger percentage in the future.

“We know it’s going to turn around,” Mr. Ruiz said. “The demographics are there. They’ve always been there.”

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Mulino Corrects Varela - "Murders Have Gone Down"

Crime & PunishmentThe seizure of 210 tons of drugs, a decrease in homicides in the last five years, the construction of 82 police stations in different communities in the country, and the purchase of technological equipment are some of this administration's achievements in security. (more)

Editor's Comment: (And once again, the comments on this article are why you should subscribe. Either you know what's going on, and why, or you don't...)

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