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Friday, August 29 2014 @ 08:15 AM EDT

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Campos de Pesé (Company) Charged In Water Pollution Case

Environmental IssuesThe Judge in the province of Herrera, Julisa Saturno, accepted yesterday the charges filed against the executives of the company Campos de Pesé for environmental crimes, and for crimes related to land use and public health, in the case of a chemical spill causing pollution in the La Villa river. (more)

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Well Known American Expat Clyde Jenkins Died in Colombia Yesterday at 78 Years of Age

Expat Tales By Don Winner for Panama-Guide.com - With great sorrow and a heavy heart I report the death of my good friend Clyde Jenkins, who passed away yesterday at a hospital in Colombia. A friend of his posted the following on the Colombia Expats yahoo email group;

  • Clyde passed away about an hour ago. He had been in a coma since early Sunday morning. He was sedated and did not suffer. In the last 24 hours his status turned critical as his kidneys had failed and he developed a bad infection.

  • Gina is making funeral arrangements. Since Clyde was a relapsed Catholic, she is arranging a mass for him. As he wished, his body will be cremated and the ashes scattered.

  • I will verify that a death certificate has been prepared and issued and will also make certain that the US Embassy in Bogota is notified. When I inquired Tuesday, I was told they will need the death certificate before the death can be formally processed.

  • Those of us who knew him and visited him when he was in Santuario know that his life was simple but comfortable. He had homemade furniture, some appliances and clothes. There are two very dated hand held GPS units, a Dell laptop and a larger display. Aside from these, the whole bunch would probably bring only a few hundred thousand pesos if sold. He told me last week that he wanted these few things to go to Gina, and the laptop to his Young student friend Jhonny. He was so grateful for their care during his decline over the last weeks. As long as I knew him, he never had a TV.

  • I will remember this remarkable man fondly. He was highly intelligent. He kept his mind active playing games such as Free Cell, but would add complicated rules, play the games backward and so forth. He devoured the news daily by internet. During our friendship which lasted over 5 years, I visited him often, at times along with my brother Dwight. Clyde liked to recount his childhood in Washington and his later life in San Diego. He wrote some beautiful little vignettes about his life and his loves. He had once been quite wealthy, but lived his simple life very happily. He never complained about not having enough, and was blissfully happy in his precious Santuario. He was an accomplished chef. Whenever I would visit, I would bring lots of goodies for him - cheeses, salamis and other stuff he could not find in Santuario or Pereira. He always got a bottle of Gran Marnier from me. He had remarkable recall. Even in his last days, when he became quite fuzzy and would worry about dementia, I would prop him up by pointing out how well he remembered events, people and places. He told me that perhaps the only regret he might feel in his last minutes would be that he did not live to see Orke O brought to justice in Panama.

  • God Bless you friend. Rest in Peace and surely near your beloved Pacific ocean.

  • Your friend Tommy

I first met Clyde about ten years ago at an even organized for expats in Panama. We quickly became friends, and we were close while he lived here. I would pick him up from his small little one-room apartment in Casco and we would go do whatever together.

Clyde was a constant presence on most of the Panama related Yahoo email groups. I asked him to help me moderate the Americans in Panama Yahoo group, and he volunteered to help me clean out the moderated messages and keep the (mentally ill) trolls at bay. He was happy, friendly, and more than willing to give of his time and experience to help the members of the growing community of English speaking expatriates, both in Panama and in Colombia.

Bye, Clyde. Thanks for everything. Rest in Peace, Marine...

Copyright 2014 Panama-Guide.com.

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Emergency Price Controls Take Effect Today

Money MattersThe executive degree signed on Monday freezing prices on 22 basic food products takes effect across the country. (more)

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Hearing Will Be Held To File Charges In La Villa River Contamination Case

Environmental IssuesThis Thursday a hearing will be held, under the principles of the adversarial criminal system, the first formal hearing on the complaint of charges for alleged crimes against public health due to contamination of the La Villa river with atrazine. (more)

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President Varela Repealed Executive Order Providing Protection To Government Employees

Employment & JobsGovernment officials will not be entitled to benefits if they are fired from their public jobs for any cause, now that President Juan Carlos Varela has repealed the Executive Order signed by former president Ricardo Martinelli, which established protection for public employees. (more)

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"We've Only Been In Office For A Week" - Minister Henriquez Responding To Wild Bill Emails

Expat TalesThe messages posted by William Dathan Holbert, commonly known as "Wild Bill", to his social networking account and sent via email to the Editor of the La Estrella newspaper, have reopened doubts regarding security in Panama's prisons. (more)

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Mendez to Blandon: "The People Want To See How You Keep Your Promises, Not A Witch Hunt"

Corruption"I do not understand, because now they have uncovered something I have already explained," said the former Mayor of Panama City Roxana Mendez, in response to questions raised by the new Mayor Jose Isabel Blandon. (more)

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President Varela Expands Pardon Decision

PoliticsAlthough the president of the republic, Juan Carlos Varela, said his Executive Cabinet would make a decision yesterday on the future of the pardons granted by the former president Ricardo Martinelli, the issue was ignored on the agenda the chief executive and his ministers. (more)

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Sunwing Airlines Introduces New Direct Flights to Playa Blanca Airport (RIH) in Panama

Travel & TourismWith effect from August 1, 2014, Sunwing Airlines will be offering year-round direct flights from Toronto to the Playa Blanca Airport (also known as Scarlett Martinez International Airport) in Panama. This winter, Sunwing will also introduce flights to Playa Blanca Airport from several Quebec gateways in 2014, including Montreal starting in November, Quebec City starting in December, and Bagotville starting February 2015.

“The Playa Blanca region is a popular destination with Sunwing travellers and these direct flights will dramatically improve our passengers’ vacation experience,” says Andrew Dawson, COO of Sunwing Travel Group. He continues to say, “There will be no more two-hour transfers from the previously used busy hub airport in Panama City. Now the majority of the resorts will be within a ten minute drive of this brand-new airport, a game changer when making holiday destination choices for our passengers.”

Sunwing Vacations is the only Canadian company to have confirmed flights to the Playa Blanca Airport and to celebrate, Sunwing landed its first flight on April 4, 2014 as part of the Playa Blanca Airport Opening Ceremony.

Sunwing Vacations offers several great resort choices in Panama and direct flights with quick transfers, making Panama a convenient vacation destination in Central America. We will be offering flights from Quebec City and Bagotville for the high season for the first time this upcoming year.

The new flights from Toronto to Playa Blanca Airport will operate weekly starting on August 1, 2014, while Montreal flights will begin November 14, 2014. A one-week vacation package to Sheraton Bijao Beach Resort, a Sunwing Smile™ resort featuring many family-friendly perks, starts from just: $595 + $345 taxes per person, based on double occupancy departing from Toronto on September, 5, 2014 thru October, 17, 2015. From Montreal, prices start at: $1295 taxes included, weekly departures starting on November 14, 2014 thru December, 12, 2014 for double occupancy. From Quebec, prices start at: $1295 taxes included, weekly departures starting on December 12, 2014 based on double occupancy. From Bagotville, prices start at: $1395 taxes included, departures on April, 3 and April 24, 2015 for double occupancy. Sunwing will also operate additional flights during the winter season from December 2014 until April 2015.

Sunwing Airlines has been offering affordable flights since 2005. Operating convenient direct flights from almost 40 cities in North America, to over 30 vacation destinations, savvy travellers choose Sunwing because of the airline’s unbeatable prices, reliability, and award winning service. Sunwing’s modern fleet of Boeing 737-800 aircrafts have helped the airline achieve an outstanding performance record for on-time departures, as well as increased fuel efficiency, contributing to the carrier’s low fares.

All Sunwing Vacations include award-winning Sunwing Airlines’ Champagne Service, which features a complimentary glass of champagne, hot towel service, Hot & Fresh Bistro meals served with a choice of wine at lunch and dinner, and complimentary in-flight entertainment, including first-run movies and a generous 20 kg free baggage allowance. For just $40 more per flight segment, travellers can upgrade to Sunwing’s Elite Plus Service™, which features advance seat selection, separate check-in at a majority of airports, advance boarding, 30 kg baggage allowance, priority baggage handling, and extra legroom seats. (Press Release)

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First Quantum Minerals Reports Resumption of Construction Activity at Cobre Panama Project

Gold & MiningFirst Quantum Minerals Ltd. today reported that construction activity at its Cobre Panama copper project has resumed.

Following discussions with union officials, the site was re-opened on Saturday July 5, 2014 and site activities are ramping up under the new roster of 21 days of work with seven days off. (Press Release)

Editor's Comment: Good. This is the massive copper project that's going to cost more than $6 billion dollars to build. Lots of foreign direct deposit money pouring into the Panamanian economy.

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Arbitration over $1.6 billion Panama Canal cost dispute to begin in July

Canal ExpansionBY ZACHARY FAGENSON (Reuters) - Arbitration to decide who will bear the Panama Canal expansion project's $1.6 billion cost overrun, a dispute that temporarily halted work earlier this year, will begin in closed-door sessions in Miami later this month, according to lawyers arguing the matter.

On July 21 "both sides will submit their terms and draft procedural orders for how things will work," said Carolyn Lamm, an attorney with White & Case representing the Spanish-led construction consortium.

Labor and cost disputes have plagued the effort to expand the 100-year-old canal, fanning fears of delays that could cost Panama millions of dollars in lost shipping tolls and posing a setback for companies worldwide that want to move larger ships through the waterway that links U.S. South and East Coast ports to Asian markets.

Panama's largest construction union resumed work on May 8 following a two-week strike demanding higher wages. Work had also ground to a halt in early February due to the dispute over who would bear cost overruns that boosted the project's $5.25 billion budget to near $7 billion.

In a deal signed in March, the Panama Canal Authority and the consortium led by Spain's Sacyr and Italy's Salini Impregilo agreed to inject $100 million to resume work. Both also agreed to extend repayment of $784 million of advanced payments made by the Panama Canal Authority to the consortium until 2018 at the latest.

Panama Canal Administrator Jorge Quijano in June said between "75 and 76 percent" of the engineering project is completed and a third set of locks to allow bigger ships to pass through the 50-mile (80-km) waterway should open in January 2016.

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Clyde Jenkins - Reportedly On His Deathbed in Colombia

Expat Tales By Don Winner for Panama-Guide.com - The word from Colombia about Clyde Jenkins - who lived in Panama as a member of the English speaking community of expatriates for years - is not good. Reportedly, Clyde has been admitted to the hospital and the prognosis is not good.

Clyde traveled extensively around Panama while he was living here. He volunteered to help manage the Americans in Panama Yahoo email group as a moderator. A thankless job he did for years as the designated resident "bouncer" - Clyde would help me spot the perpetual trolls and toss them, to the betterment of the overall group and membership.

Clyde was a good friend, who made a long list of enemies by simply doing the right thing. I've already seen some malicious slander being put out against him, now that he can no longer defend himself.

I've only got one source of information for this, and have not been able to confirm independently. I tried to call his house and didn't get an answer so I will try again later. But at this point, it looks like Clyde might have typed his last email...

Copyright 2014 Panama-Guide.com

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Condo Absorption in the Panama Real Estate Market

Real EstateTower 300 of Luxor is one of our favorite developments in Panama City, and clearly other people seem to agree, as the 40-story tower now has less than 8 units left for sale.

The Allure, a high-rise just off of Balboa Avenue we’ve been promoting since it started construction has four units remaining and less than 10 on the resale market at any given moment.

Casco View, one of our favorite developments in the Old Town, has more than 70% presold before the start of construction (planned for August 2014).

Rewind to 2009: Panama City was dotted with cranes and everyone was making references to another Dubai, a potentially overdeveloped market where supply had to exceed demand. “There has to be a bubble in this market, this city is overbuilt” were the comments from most visitors, no doubt referencing the bubble in their own markets back home.

And as we reported in our series of reports on new condos on Balboa Avenue, supply did in fact nearly double over a 24-month period from 2009-2011.

But a funny thing happened in Panama. Or more importantly, a funny thing DID NOT happen in Panama.

Prices never came down, and developers kept building. Actually, prices did come down about 10-20% during the financial crisis, but that’s a far cry from markets like Miami, Las Vegas, or Valencia Spain and more a function of the fact that Panama’s always been a market driven by foreign drivers.

So in effect, while we did experience a correction, it was more a function of demand slackening versus excess supply.

Undeniably, there are a few buildings that still have plenty of apartments for sale, but they are concentrated into a few (that I wont name in this article but would be HAPPY to tell you in an email) poorly built properties that only a few agencies are willing to sell. And most of the new projects are commercial developments, which is a cycle seen in many healthy real estate markets: commercial following residential.

Now the cranes in the city are to finish off hotels, office buildings, and new shopping centers versus four years ago when they were finishing the newly built towers you now see dotting our city skyline.

What we are seeing in 2014 is that pre-construction is once again hot and on the heels of a new president coming in and several other factors, we may be ready to go through another real estate cycle.

There are, of course, risks in buying pre-construction with the two main issues being if the market comes down below the strike price and if the development fails to be delivered. But precon is also the best way to hedge your bet by limiting equity instead of plunking down for the full price.

If you know your developer and understand the risks, then the reward can be lucrative and a $40,000 deposit can double over the time that it takes to deliver the project.

If you are interested in exploring the Panama real estate market for properties in construction, both on the beach or in the city, I’m always available at Kent@panamaequity.com. We know the developers, we know the prices, and we are always available to help.

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US soldier suspected of slaying Panamanian woman

Expat TalesPANAMA CITY, Panama — Activists in Panama are demanding that a career U.S. soldier suspected of killing a local woman be tried in local courts.

Master Sgt. Omar Velez is being held at Fort Bragg in North Carolina in connection with the murder of woman in her mid-20s whose body was found in Panama on June 23. He was charged in the military justice system Monday with unpremeditated murder, according to Army spokeswoman Kimberly Hanson. Velez has not made any public statements about the case and Hanson could not supply the name of his military defense attorney.

Joyce Araujo, president of the Foundation for Gender Equity in Panama, told The Associated Press Monday that she believes Velez’ diplomatic immunity allowed him to evade proper investigation.

Her group is among those in a coalition of women’s rights groups that expressed disappointment on Friday in the handling of the case, and demanded that local leaders reassert sovereignty.

“Diplomatic immunity cannot be an opening for impunity when it involves a crime as profound as the killing of women, especially a Panamanian woman on Panamanian soil,” the coalition wrote.

Velez, who has served in the military since 2000, held a leadership position as a senior non-commissioned officer. He was in Panama conducting training as part of a unit associated with the sale of military equipment when the killing occurred.

Local media report that Velez allegedly had been romantically involved with the woman and was discovered near her body with a shovel after an apparent crime of passion. (AP)

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Trial venue for military killing sparks outrage

Expat TalesBy Meredith Clark - An American soldier charged by the military with the murder of a 26-year-old woman in Panama will be tried in the United States, sparking protests by women’s groups and outraged family members.

Army Master Sergeant Omar Antonio Velez, 35, was charged by military authorities Monday with the “unpremeditated murder” of Vanessa Rodriguez and is currently being held in pre-trial confinement in North Carolina, according to Kim Hanson, an army spokeswoman. Velez was in Panama conducting trainings as part of the U.S. Army Security Assistance Training Management Organization.

Hanson confirmed to msnbc that Velez has been charged and is awaiting his Article 32 hearing, which is similar to a civilian preliminary hearing. However, he was not charged with a crime in Panama because he had been issued a diplomatic passport, giving him immunity from local prosecution. Hanson also said that the military’s criminal investigation division is working on the case in conjunction with the Panamanian government.

The military “will fully investigate this incident and take appropriate action,” Hanson told msnbc in an email. The Army also “expresses its deepest regret” over Rodriguez’s death.

Velez allegedly shot and killed Rodriguez, with whom he reportedly had a relationship, before trying to hide her body. He was arrested on June 23, and, according to the Associated Press, he was found with a shovel near the quarry where the woman’s body was discovered.

A coalition of women’s rights groups in Panama has demanded that officials do something to bring Velez back for prosecution and asked that Rodriguez’s family have a voice in whatever judicial proceedings take place around the case.

On Friday, six women’s groups released a statement calling on Panamanian authorities to release information about Velez’s whereabouts and legal status, and requesting that the U.S. government conduct a thorough investigation and remove his diplomatic immunity. They also asked the United Nations to look into whether the U.S. and Panama are handling the case according to international women’s rights treaties.

“Immunity must not be impunity,” the statement said.

It is not unheard of for members of the military or contractors to receive protection and assistance from the U.S. Embassy. The White House said in June that President Obama had received diplomatic assurances that the soldiers being sent to assist the Iraqi government in its fight against militants would not be tried in Iraqi courts for actions they take while deployed there.

In 2011, American officials helped free CIA contractor Raymond Davis from Pakistani law enforcement after he shot and killed two men in Lahore and ran over another. Officials argued at the time that Davis also had diplomatic immunity; he was released from a Pakistani prison after the families of the dead men were given $2.34 million in “restitution.” (MSNBC)

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Family Members Don't Want Vanesa's Murder To Go Unpunished

Expat TalesThe relatives of Vanesa Rodriguez, who was allegedly murdered by a U.S. Army soldier of Puerto Rican descent, are keeping track of the case, and they do not want the crime to go unpunished. (more)

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River Pollution Leaves Thousands Without Drinking Water in Panama

Environmental IssuesThousands of Panamanians were left without drinking water on Friday, after a spill of a herbicide contaminated a major river in the interior. (more)

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Water From The La Villa River Remains Unfit For Human Consumption

HealthcareAfter the problems with pollution of the river La Villa, the regional director of Civil Protection System, José Donderis, announced through a press conference this afternoon that the government will continue to distribute potable water in Chitre and Los Santos until the competent authorities announce that the La Villa river water is fit for human consumption. (more)

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Navarro Bows To Pressure - Resigns From PRD's Top Post

PoliticsThose who have been creating pressure on the inside of the PRD have achieved their goal. The Secretary General of the party's National Executive Committee (CEN), Juan Carlos Navarro, officially resigned yesterday via Twitter. (more)

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Financial Pacific Refused To Submit Reports

Crime & PunishmentExecutives for the Financial Pacific brokerage house refused to provide details of their accounting records, preventing the market regulator from taking an accurate x-ray of the company's financial situation. (more)

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Water Produced In Chitre and La Villa Purification Plant Not Fit For Consumption

HealthcareThe Institute of Aqueducts and Sewers (IDAAN for its acronym in Spanish) announces to its customers and users in the provinces of Herrera and Los Santos, that the water produced in our treatment plants Chitre and La Villa is UNFIT FOR HUMAN CONSUMPTION due to pollution in the Villa River as a result of the presence in the liquid of a chemical that affects water quality.

IDAAN, in conjunction with the Ministry of Health (MINSA for its acronym in Spanish) in both provinces, took the decision to declare water as unfit for consumption after they received reports on June 30, of the tests conducted by the Public Ministry about the presence of a herbicide dissolved in water.

The affected areas are: Chitre, Monagrillo, La Arena, La Villa de Los Santos, Santa Ana, Llano Largo, El Bongo, Los Olivos, Guararé, La Enea, El Jobo, Las Tablas, El Cocal and El Carate. (Source: IDAAN Press Release)

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US Army Master Sergeant Omar Velez Has Been Charged With "Unpremeditated Murder" of Panamanian Woman

Expat Tales By Don Winner for Panama-Guide.com - US Army Master Sergeant Omar Velez-Pagan has been charged with "unpremeditated murder" under Article 118 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) this afternoon.

MSG Velez-Pagan remains in military pre-confinement in North Carolina, pending the date of a pretrial hearing.

U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Command (CID) continues its investigation of this case in conjunction with the government of Panama.

A statement issued today by Kim Hanson of the Public & Congressional Affairs at the Headquarters of the US Army Material Command says "We give our assurances to the Government and people of Panama that U.S. military authorities will fully investigate this incident and take appropriate action."

Editor's Comment: OK, first things first. Velez was charged under Article 118 of the UCMJ - murder. It's very important to point out that he was not charged under Article 119 which is manslaughter. Specifically, Article 118 (1) deals with premeditated murder, and apparently the conditions indicated Velez didn't have a "premeditated design to kill." In other words, Velez didn't plot or plan to kill his girlfriend.

Rather, Velez was charged under Article 118 (2) - which deals with unpremeditated murder. The following elements should exist for the accused to be charged in this way;

  • (2) Intent to kill or inflict great bodily harm.
    • (a) That a certain named or described person is dead;

    • (b) That the death resulted from the act or omission of the accused;

    • (c) That the killing was unlawful; and

    • (d) That, at the time of the killing, the accused had the intent to kill or inflict great bodily harm upon a person.

Head's up, I'm going to speculate somewhat here. Velez is together with his girlfriend. They get into a fight. He punches her in the face - either once or several times. She dies as a result of the injuries inflicted by Velez. If that's the way it went down, then Velez is guilty of "unpremeditated murder" under Article 118 (2) of the UCMJ. He didn't plan on killing his girlfriend, but that's what happened anyway, because he intended to "inflict great bodily harm" when he punched her in the face.

Remember this first article I published last Wednesday - US Army Master Sergeant Omar Velez - Prime Suspect In Murder Of Panamanian Woman - said "The Panamanian woman, nicknamed "La chiricana", had multiple lesions on her anatomy, especially in the face, ranging from beatings to lacerations." So there's a pretty good chance that the potential speculative scenario described above is exactly what happened.

It should also be pointed out that Velez is not being held on Ft. Bragg. He's being held in the County Jail, run by the Cumberland County Sheriff's Office. And although the US Material Command press release says Velez was charged today, the online record available through the Cumberland Detention Center Active Inmate Search system still lists "military hold" under the "charge" section on their database. I'm sure that will be updated soon.

In Panama, there's a tangible concern that the US government will make some sort of effort to cover up, protect, or not fully prosecute Velez for the murder of Vanesa Rodriguez. The US Embassy and SOUTHCOM should make a concerted effort to point out what most Americans consider to be obvious and unnecessary. Things are different in the US. In Panama, people are fully accustomed to seeing no justice whatsoever. The rich and powerful regularly and routinely get away with just about everything. There needs to be a conversation, reinforcing the message that in the US, there is a functioning justice system which is much better at prosecuting, convicting, and punishing criminals. Basically - don't worry. If the evidence indicates Velez is guilty, then chances are the system will work, and he will spend the rest of his life behind bars at Ft. Leavenworth.

Mugshot - US Army Master Sergeant Omar Velez has been charged with murder, in the death of his girlfriend, Vanesa Rodriguez, 25, of Panama. Velez was returned to the United States and arrested on 26 June 2014.

Copyright 2014 Panama-Guide.com.

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Mugshot - US Army Master Sergeant Omar Velez

Expat TalesBy Don Winner for Panama-Guide.com - US Army Master Sergeant Omar Velez has been arrested by the Sheriff's Office of Cumberland County in North Carolina in the United States. He was returned to the US from Panama as a suspect in the murder of the 25 year old Panamanian woman Vanesa Rodriguez.

According to a spokesman speaking for the US Material Command, upon his return to the US the evidence against him was reviewed by a Military Magistrate (judge), who determined there was enough to warrant his continued detention.

Omar Antonio Velez, 35, was arrested last Thursday, June 26, 2014. There is a file on his arrest available on the website of the Cumberland County Sheriff's Department. In the section of the form under "charges" - Velez's status is listed as "military hold." Booking ID: 172833. This is his mugshot:

US Army Detectives assigned to the Criminal Investigation Command (CID) have almost certainly been deployed to the Republic of Panama to gather additional information and evidence, as part of the investigation into the murder. Once that process has been at least partially completed, then the US military authorities on Ft Bragg will formally charge Omar Velez, and the legal proceedings against him will commence.

Copyright 2014 Panama-Guide.com.

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U.S. soldier suspected of murder in Panama likely to face military justice

Expat Tales PANAMA CITY (Reuters) - A U.S. soldier suspected of murdering a Panamanian woman will "most likely" face charges in a military court in the United States, a U.S. military spokesman said on Sunday.

Master Sergeant Omar Velez is being held in pretrial confinement at the U.S. Army's Fort Bragg in North Carolina, but formal charges have not been filed against him, said Colonel William Bigelow, a spokesman for U.S. Southern Command.

Velez was conducting training in Panama as part of the U.S. Army Security Assistance Training Management Organization, a unit generally associated with foreign sales of military equipment, Bigelow said by telephone.

He said Velez will probably face charges in U.S. military courts. He emphasized that a final decision has not been made.

Panama's attorney general's office has not commented on the case.

Panamanian daily newspaper Critica has reported that Velez was apprehended as he was attempting to bury the body of the 26-year-old victim, with whom he was believed to have a romantic relationship.

The U.S. Southern Command cannot confirm those details, spokeswoman Kimberly Hanson said.

The U.S. Army "will fully investigate this tragedy and take any and all appropriate action," according to a statement issued late last week.

Editor's Comment: Finally. With this report the US military has confirmed the identity of MSG Omar Velez as the suspect in the murder of the 25 year old Panamanian woman Vanesa Rodriguez. Is should be pointed out that the Panamanian press is reporting Vanesa's age as 25, while this Reuters report is saying she's 26.

And yes, military members on active duty who commit crimes such as murder always face a jury trial under the Unified Code of Military Justice (UCMJ). It's nice to see that Reuters is following my lead on this story.

Reuters should now ask the US Military and SOUTHCOM if they have this photo of Vanesa Rodriguez holding a military issued firearm, on the training range near the Guarare river where Omar Velez was training members of the Panamanian police and security forces;

At the time of his arrest, MSG Omar Velez was reportedly caught red-handed, standing over the corpse of his dead girlfriend, next to a freshly dug grave, the shovel and pickaxe he used to dig the grave, and a bag of lime he was going to dump on her body to speed decomposition. All of this was found near the shooting range where this photo was taken.

One more minor observation. When SOUTHCOM issued this press release over the weekend in response to the murder of Vanesa Rodriguez and the arrest of Omar Velez, the first sentence of the original version said "The United States expresses its deepest regret over the death of a young Panamanian woman." This was later changed to read "The United States Army expresses its deepest regret over the death of a young Panamanian woman." They made the change because the Commander in Chief of the US Southern Command cannot speak for the United States of America - that's what the President is for.

But, there's a problem. The Commander in Chief of the US Southern Command also cannot speak for the US Army. General Raymond T. Odierno is the Chief of Staff of the US Army, and only he can speak on behalf of, or "express its deepest regret."

General John F. Kelly, a member of the US Marine Corps and the Commander in Chief of the US Southern Command can only speak for SOUTHCOM - not the US Army or the United States of America. This is what happens when military gonks issue press releases over the weekend, when the adults - civilian employees with deep experience and lawyers - are taking a day off to roast hot dogs or whatever.

Now, I don't expect SOUTHCOM will issue yet another correction to fix this gaff. And, it's sort of depressing that I had to be the one to point it out. Aren't the lights on there, somewhere? Hello, Public Affairs Branch? Anyone manning the desk (with a clue)?

But whatever. At least now someone in the US government has finally and officially admitted that US Army Master Sergeant Omar Velez is in fact, in custody as a suspect in the murder of Vanesa Rodriguez in Panama. This confirms the earlier reporting by La Critica as spot-on.

Don't fuck this up, guys. If this asshole murdered his girlfriend, there's no need whatsoever to "protect" him from anything. There are more than 50,000 people living in the Republic of Panama as members of the English speaking community of expatriates. Many of them are former military veterans, and military retirees. If there is any perception - and I mean any little tiny perception whatsoever - that the US government or the US military is going to anything to cover this incident, you can expect blow-back. There should be no effort whatsoever to protect this Velez guy beyond whatever is strictly required by law. He is entitled to a legal defense from a defense attorney, but he is not entitled to any sort of defense of his name (or whatever) by the Government of the United States of America.

In short - Omar Velez should be treated exactly the same as anyone else who has been accused of murder.

One more question. Why hasn't he been charged? What's the time frame? How long can the US military hold Velez as a detainee, without charging him with a crime?

From experience in murder cases, I know there are procedural elements regarding evidence. I'm sure the FBI Special Agents working at the office of the Legal Attache in the US Embassy in Panama are doing their thing. Also, there will be someone (not sure who) in a US military uniform who will be responsible investigating and gathering evidence - with the cooperation of the Panamanian judicial authorities - in order to eventually charge MSG Omar Velez with murder and conduct a trial.

There are many elements of this story that are unfolding as I write this. I'll continue to provide follow-up information as it develops. And of course, I'm working my own angles...

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US Southern Command Issues Press Release (US Army MSG Omar Velez - Murder Suspect - Panama Case)

Expat Tales An Army soldier assigned to the US Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) is under military custody on suspicion of being responsible for the death of a young Panamanian woman, whose body was found near a shooting range used for training.

The Southern Command issued a press release expressing "sincere regret" over the woman's death. SOUTHCOM is cooperating with the Panamanian judicial and law enforcement authorities in the investigation of the case. They call for "this tragedy to be fully investigated" and the US military promises to take "all corresponding actions" resulting from the investigation.

"We are cooperating with Panamanian law enforcement authorities in the investigation, and we want to assure the government and the Panamanian people that the U.S. military authorities will thoroughly investigate this tragedy and take all appropriate action," says the press release that was published on the Southern Command's website.

Last Thursday, the office of the Attorney General issued a press release reporting that on 23 June "the lifeless body of a woman was discovered, on a farm near the bridge over the Guararé river, where firearms training was taking place."

The site of the discovery is located in the province of Los Santos, 284 kilometers west of Panama City.  

The victim was identified by relatives as Vanesa Rodriguez, 25, a native of the western province of Chiriqui and a resident of Panama City.

"A member of the U.S. Army, who is now in custody at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, USA, is a suspect in this case," says the Southern Command statement. (Panama America)

Editor's Comment: Why the FUCK is everyone tip-toeing around using the name of US Army Master Sergeant Omar Velez as the suspect in this case? When the Panamanian National Police first arrested him - while standing over the body of his dead girlfriend next to a bag of lime, a shovel, a pickaxe, and a freshly dug grave - they released his name as the person who was arrested, and identified him as the suspect in the case.

Since then, the Panamanian Attorney General's office issued a statement clarifying for the Panamanian people and the family members of the victim that the suspect (Velez) was working for the US Embassy at the time, so therefore he could not be arrested. No sweat, he was arrested by the US Army, flown back to Ft Bragg, and he's now in custody there. Great.

The US Southern Command finally issued a press release designed to further reduce anxiety over the concept that Velez might not face justice. And of course to express their regret and remorse. Note - that this statement was issued only after I pointed out that the US government and the US Embassy in Panama had remained silent (until then). Whatever, they finally have started to to the right thing, and communicate a little.

But still it makes no sense to try to protect - what - Omar Velez's privacy? When a murder suspect is arrested in the United States does any prosecutor anywhere try to protect his name? Don't they stand up in front of the media and proclaim to the world they've arrested a suspect in the brutal murder case of (whatever)? It makes no sense. I don't get it. In short, WTF?

Speaking as a retired Master Sergeant myself - military guys simply hate it when "one of their own" makes some really stupid decision and does something criminal - whatever it is. I've had friends of mine go down in legal flames for making some bone headed mistakes while serving in the military. But serving in the military is all about levels of trust, personal responsibility, emotional maturity, and making the right decision in the heat of the moment. This guy apparently blew it. And while that's too damn bad (for both him and his victim) it makes no sense for anyone, on any side, to try to "protect" his identity, or to keep his name out of the papers. In short, fuck that guy...

Most civilians don't understand that military members are held to a higher standard. MSG Omar Velez will be held accountable under the US Code of Military Justice (UCMJ). There's an obvious reason for this. If a civilian doesn't show up for his job at Walmart, he's fired. If a military member doesn't show up for his job, that's desertion. A civilian can't get sent to prison for falling asleep on the job, but a soldier can go to prison for falling asleep while manning a forward observation post in a war zone. Things are different for military guys, in many ways.

But murder is murder. Guys in the military are trained to kill. We have guns. We usually have physical superiority over civilians due to strength training and regularly scheduled exercise. We are trained in hand-to-hand combat and martial arts. Military guys have a "keep hitting it until it's gone" mentality sometimes. And when a military guy kills a hostile in a war zone, he gets a medal. We are trained to be lethal, and we are expected to know when to pull the trigger (and of course, when not to...)

Refer to the UCMJ Article 118: Murder - Any person subject to this chapter who, without justification or excuse, unlawfully kills a human being, when he- (1) has a premeditated design to kill; (2) intends to kill or inflict great bodily harm; (3) is engaged in an act which is inherently dangerous to another and evinces a wanton disregard of human life; or (4) is engaged in the perpetration or attempted perpetration of burglary, sodomy, rape, robbery, or aggravated arson; is guilty of murder, and shall suffer such punishment as a court-martial may direct, except that if found guilty under clause (1) or (4), he shall suffer death or imprisonment for life as a court-martial may direct.

And Article 119: Manslaughter - (a) Any person subject to this chapter who, with an intent to kill or inflict great bodily harm, unlawfully kills a human being in the heat of sudden passion caused by adequate provocation is guilty of voluntary manslaughter and shall be punished as a court-martial may direct. (b) Any person subject to this chapter who, without an intent to kill or inflict great bodily harm, unlawfully kills a human being- (1) by culpable negligence; or (2) while perpetrating or attempting to perpetrate an offense, other than those named in clause (4) of section 918 of this title (article 118), directly affecting the person; is guilty of involuntary manslaughter and shall be punished as a court-martial may direct.

MSG Omar Velez will probably say he got into an argument with his girlfriend, got mad, hit her in the face, and she died. If there was no intent to kill her then that's manslaughter. The key words being "in the heat of sudden passion caused by adequate provocation."

But still, why dance around the identity of the suspect? What wasn't his name included in this Southcom press release? Do they have the photo the victim posted on her Facebook page, of her handling a weapon on the same range where MSG Omar Velez was training Panamanians how to shoot? You know, the same place where he was digging her grave?

You won't find me dancing around this asshole, trying to protect anything. If it turns out the victim is someone else, then so be it. As of right now, the Panamanian National Police released his name as being the suspect. Until I hear otherwise, it's on him. Everything else that's flowed since has been in sync with the initial assessment, so I have to assume it's correct. And I also have to assume the US Army, the US government, SOUTHCOM, and everyone else is - for some unknown reason - trying to protect something by not uttering the name of Master Sergeant Omar Velez. Thankfully, I do not drink from the same pitcher of kool-aid as those idiots...

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Panama's Reservoirs Still Not Reaching Optimum Levels

WeatherThe daily flow of water from the lakes of the country's main hydroelectric dams shows they are still not reaching the optimal water levels required to produce electrical energy. (more)

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Murder Victim Identified As Vanesa Rodriguez (US Army MSG Omar Velez's Girlfriend in Panama)

Expat TalesTo the sorrow of her friends and family, the body found dead on the banks of the Guararé river in the province of Los Santos, responds to that of Vanesa Rodriguez, who was 25 years old. (more)

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Student Pilot Unhurt But Plane Destroyed After Crash in Chame

Safety & SecuritySeveral citizens and witnesses reported via Twitter, on the crash and explosion of a small plane on Friday morning at the El Celaje airfield in Chame. (more)

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Minera Panama vs. Workers - Panamanian Government Remains Silent

Gold & MiningFaced with the uncertainties express by a thousand mine workers, Panama's Ministry of Commerce and Industry (MICI) and the Minister of Labor (MITRADEL) have remained silent after the closing of the Minera Panama copper project the company is developing in Donoso, in the province of Colon. (more)

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Panama judge acquits N. Korean crew over arms row

Panama NewsA Panamanian judge acquitted and ordered the immediate release Friday of three North Koreans detained last year for trying to transport undeclared Cuban weapons through the Panama Canal.

The North Korean freighter Chong Chon Gang was stopped last July and discovered to be carrying 25 containers of Cuban military hardware, including two Soviet-era MiG-21 aircraft, air defense systems, missiles and command and control vehicles.

The ship's 35 crewmembers were arrested and the vessel and cargo seized for potential violations of a UN weapons embargo and as a threat to the canal's security.

Panama initially released all crewmembers except three senior officers charged with arms trafficking.

On Friday, Judge Carlos Villarrea finally acquitted and freed that last group, named as Ri Yong Il, Hong Yong Hyon and Kim Yong Gol. He also acquitted the other 32 crewmembers.

Villarreal's decision was based on the fact that the incident "was of international character and outside Panamanian jurisdiction," a court statement said.

Panama only had the right to convene the United Nations Security Council to allow the body to issue its own ruling on the weapons cache found, the judge said.

Additionally, the crewmembers could not be held responsible because "they were executing and obeying direct orders from the state of North Korea," he said.

Villarreal ordered the return of the more than 200,000 sacks of sugar that had been used to conceal the undeclared weapons cargo, but did not release the confiscated arms, saying the rightful owner had yet to be proven.

"The law was applied and this judge will be remembered for being brave and daring to liberate North Koreans despite internal and external pressures against the accused," the sailors' lawyer Julio Berrios told AFP.

"If all goes well, they will be leaving the country at the end of next week via Havana, Moscow and Beijing."

Both Havana and Pyongyang said the weapons were obsolete Cuban arms being shipped to North Korea for refurbishment under a legitimate contract and due to be returned to Cuba.

But neither country explained why the shipment was hidden if it was indeed legitimate.

Panama asked the United Nations to send a mission to determine if the attempted shipment violated a UN embargo on arms deliveries to North Korea.

Panama authorities said in April that a UN team's report confirms that the cargo violated the embargo. (AFP)

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