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Wednesday, April 23 2014 @ 02:40 AM EDT

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Will the Panama Canal Expansion Be Complete Before 2016?

Canal ExpansionA Panama Canal expansion, scheduled for completion by December, 2015, may not meet its deadline, says a new American Farm Bureau Focus on Agriculture feature.

Writer Stewart Truelsen for AFBF says almost all work on the canal was suspended at the beginning of the year, with the exception of some excavation. Cranes, costing $40 million each, he reports, were not moving.

Only four of the new gates are in Panama, while a total of 16 are needed. They come from Italy and won't all arrive until the end of the year, he says.

"To make matters worse, this is the dry season in Panama. In a month or so the rainy season will take hold and make work more difficult. What happened? Simply put, contractors ran out of money," he writes.

International hold-ups?

Critics contend that the $5.25 billion project to build a third set of locks was seriously underbid, Truelsen reports.

The contractors – a consortium from Spain, Italy, Belgium and Panama – were likely held up by the debt crisis in Europe, Truelsen says. An agreement to resume work, however, was reached in late February.

U.S. agriculture has a big stake in the eventual outcome, too, as tonnage through the expanded canal is expected to double by 2025. According to the USDA, 17% of world grain shipments pass through the Panama Canal and 90% of them are from the U.S.

An analysis by Rabobank forecasts a 12% drop in the cost of transporting grain from the Corn Belt to Asia when the new locks are in use.

This will make U.S. grain more competitive with Brazil, Argentina and grain-exporting countries in Eastern Europe, Truelsen explains.

The canal expansion could cause other changes in shipping agricultural products. For example, in recent years, more grain, oilseeds and grain products have been loaded on container ships, and the trend is expected to continue. At the same time, the expansion could boost Gulf and East Coast ports that have been losing business to the Pacific Northwest, Truelsen says.

"The Panama Canal route is so important to world trade that China claims to have reached a $40 billion deal with Nicaragua to build a longer canal through that nation to accommodate even larger ships," Truelsen notes.

"In any event, American agriculture should be an important beneficiary of the Panama Canal expansion, if American highways, waterways and ports are properly maintained and upgraded to take advantage of it," he says, "and that's a big 'if.'" (Farm Futures)

Editor's Comment: There are a lot of people in the United States and around the world who are looking hard at the project to expand the Panama Canal. The GUPC has acted with incredible irresponsibility - primarily in the way they underbid to snatch up the contract, then by trying to hold the Panama Canal Authority hostage, and to use methods of extortion and blackmail in an attempt to extract $1.6 billion from the Panamanian people. No matter what, the Panama Canal expansion project will be completed - eventually. However every month of delay will cost Panama money, and will negatively impact those customers who are looking forward to using the newly expanded waterway.

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Health Ministry Malaria Outbreak in Panama - 46 New Cases

HealthcareA malaria outbreak has been confirmed a is confirmed in the area of Madugandí, however health authorities have clarified no one has died, and they have the medicines and supplies needed to control the virus. (more)

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Martinelli Will Announce Free Trade Agreement with Mexico

Money MattersThe Minister of Commerce and Industry of Panama Ricardo Quijano expressed confidence yesterday that President Ricardo Martinelli would announce the completion of negotiations on a Free Trade Agreement with Mexico during his visit to the country tomorrow for talks with his counterpart, Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto. (more)

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PM Thanks Panama for Role in Capturing Iranian Smuggling Ship

Panama NewsPM Netanyahu sent a personal thank you to Panamanian President Ricardo Martinelli for Panama’s role in the interception of the Iranian weapons smuggling ship, the Klos C, according to a report in the Jerusalem Post.

The cargo ship, carrying massive amounts of weapons being smuggled from Iran to Gaza, was sailing under the Panamanian flag, and Israel received authorization from Panama to board the vessel.

“Martinelli is a true friend of Israel and the Jewish people,” Netanyahu’s spokesman Mark Regev said, according to the Jerusalem Post report. (jewishpress.com)

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Panama economic growth slows to 8.4 pct in 2013

Money MattersBy Lomi Kriel (Reuters) - Panama's economy slowed in 2013 after two straight years of double-digit growth, but remained one of Latin America's fastest expanding economies thanks to heavy government infrastructure spending, official data showed on Thursday.

Panama's economic activity rose 8.4 percent last year compared to a downwardly revised 10.2 percent in 2012, the government statistics agency said, figures in line with what the finance ministry had projected for the year.

The easing in growth comes as investments in large-scale infrastructure projects, including the $5.25 billion expansion of the Panama Canal, draw to a close.

The Central American country escaped the worst of the global recession, expanding at an average rate of 8 percent over the past six years and notching double-digit growth in 2011 and 2012.

Much of Panama's growth is credited to the public infrastructure spending, including the construction of the trademark canal's third lane and Central America's first metro.

President Ricardo Martinelli, whose term ends in May, has also poured money into new roads and hospitals and cleaning of Panama Bay, boosting the construction industry's growth by 30 percent in 2013.

The spending has created a budget deficit of 2.7 percent of GDP, Finance Minister Frank De Lima said, which some analysts find worrying given the strong growth the country has had.

Growth has also been lifted by construction and development of a $6.2 billion copper mine on Panama's Atlantic coast, which helped expand the mining industry by nearly a third last year.

The mine is expected to become one of the world's biggest open-pit copper developments and Panama's biggest source of exports, and its first shipments are due in 2016, according to Minera Panama, a subsidiary of Canada's First Quantum Minerals Ltd.

Still, Panama's overall growth was cooled by the worldwide economic slowdown, which dulled trade through the canal and ports.

A delay in the waterway's expansion, which is now projected to finish by December 2015, also persuaded some shippers such as Danish oil and shipping group A.P. Moller-Maersk to use alternative routes from Asia like the Suez Canal, which fits bigger ships carrying more goods cheaply.

Panama's $33.6 billion economy has also been affected by a dispute with two of its biggest trading partners, Colombia and Venezuela, which disrupted Panama's Colon Free Trade Zone, the world's largest duty-free area after Hong Kong.

Venezuelan traders owe the free trade zone about $1.2 billion because of difficulties exchanging the Venezuelan bolivar for dollars. Meanwhile, Colombia has imposed additional surcharges on importing items such as clothes and shoes.

Panama's Finance Ministry has switched to using 2007 base rates instead of 1996, modifying economic back data.

Editor's Comment: Focus on one thing - "...remained one of Latin America's fastest expanding economies..." The amazing expansion of the Panamanian economy remains firmly on track. Only Panama can complain that 8.4% growth is a bit off, after two years of double digit growth. The rest of the economies of Latin America would give their left coffee bean to be growing at 8.4%...

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Eisenmann vs. Martinelli (a.k.a. La Prensa vs. TCT) - Forcing A Judge To Resign

Law & LawyersThe judge of the Fourth Criminal Circuit Court of Panama, Alexis Ballesteros, said he was asked to resign for not "following directions" and for having overridden a decision made by a lower court to throw out the criminal case against five employees of the company Transcaribe Trading SA (TCT), for having blocked access to the office of the La Prensa newspaper on 2 and 3 August, 2012.

Ballesteros put his claims in a letter sent yesterday to the President of the Second Tribunal, judge Secundino Mendieta.

The Second Municipal Court definitively closed the case regarding the blocking of the street in front of the offices of the La Prensa newspaper, in a decision handed down on November 26, 2013.

However, lawyers representing Corprensa (the parent company of the La Prensa newspaper) appealed this decision, and the Court of Appeals was composed of the judges of the Fourth (as rapporteur), Fifth and Sixth Criminal Circuit Courts.

In the letter - to which this newspaper (La Prensa) had access - judge Ballesteros explains he was cited four times by Mendieta and by Judge Wilfredo Sáenz to receive instructions in the TCT process against Corprensa.

"The surveillance cameras of the Second Superior Court of Justice are the witnesses of the number of times that I met with you in private to hear your instructions on this case," he said .

The judge said that "I see with great concern how after the four citations ... today I you have requested my resignation."

We asked for, through the Secretary of Communication of the Judicial Branch an official version from judge Mendieta and the President of the Supreme Court of Justice, Jose Ayu Prado, but there was no answer.

Decision In Favor of Corprensa

This newspaper (La Prensa) had access to the draft decision issued by Judge Ballesteros on 7 March, in which he reversed the lower court's decision of 26 November 2013, which had closed the case. The TCT employees Ariel Garay, Justavino Frías, Félix Aguilar, Ceferino Espino, and Basilio Ríos were being prosecuted for "crimes against freedom" in this case.

What's more, in the decision judge Ballesteros ordered the judge in the lower court, Leslie Loaiza of the Second Municipal Court, to conduct a preliminary hearing.

Ballesteros argued that even if the Fourth Municipal Prosecutor had requested for the file to be closed on 28 February 2013, a preliminary hearing should have been held because there were five defendants.

He decided that the victim in this case, Corprensa, is entitled to be heard by the judge before deciding if the case should be closed.

Ballesteros based his decision on that which is established in the Judicial Code, the Criminal Procedure Code, and the Law on the Protection of Victims of Crime.

"Regardless of what the trial judge decides, the prosecution can reiterate (in the hearing) their concepts held in their prosecutor's opinion. The legal defense can agree to that which is requested by the prosecutor, and the complainant can oppose and ask for the opening of criminal proceedings," he said.

Retaliation

In the letter sent to Mendieta, Ballesteros added "it is regrettable that because I did not accede or abide to your guidelines (to confirm the closing of the case), as retaliation you are now asking me to resign."

The judge called the position of Mendieta and Saenz "preposterous" for obliging him to resign for having acted in accordance with the law, and for "not having followed their instructions."

He warned that "if I had decided in the way you asked me to, I would have been violating the due process of the victim (Corporación La Prensa)."

"As I explained to both of them, no one will stand up for me after that decision is revised later," he said.

Ballesteros said "my honor and my family comes before their particular interests (of Mendieta and Saenz)."

The judge made ​​it clear he will not resign because he believes the procedure is not appropriate.

In that sense, Ballesteros said even if his position is temporary, he was not informed of the reasons why he should resign.

What's more, the position he has been occupying was vacant since Silverio Rodriguez resigned on 3 May, 2013.

Ballesteros even hinted in the letter that in one of the meetings, he was asked if it was true that he was issuing - in exchange for money - decisions of invalidity in drug cases.

In response to this, Ballesteros said he provided documentation as proof that he had not handed down any decisions of invalidity in any drug cases, because these cases are allocated through a the random computerized Single Registry Entry system.

His lawyer, Rosendo Rivera, said "they tried to accuse him of rigging cases, with the intention of pressuring him to decide in the manner they wanted."

He said on Tuesday, March 18, judge Mendieta told judge Ballesteros he had until Friday to submit his resignation.

Rivera said the last meeting judge Ballesteros attended with the judges Mendieta and Sáenz was on February 25.

"If the resignation is because he is in a temporary position, then make him a full judge, explain the reasons and remove him from the position," he said.

According to Rivera, judge Ballesteros has a history of more than 13 years in the judiciary, and he has climbed the ladder with having been involved in any wrongdoing. Prior to being picked to fill the vacancy in the Fourth Court, Ballesteros served as the Eleventh Circuit Court judge.

He added that Ballesteros is not wedded to the position, because his disagreement lies in the manner in which they intend to remove him from office.

"If the judges are going to depend on what they are being told by the presiding judge of the Supreme Court or the judge of the Second Tribunal when it comes to making their decisions in cases, then we are not doing justice," he said.

According to Rivera, their interest was to confirm the closure of the case in the blocking of the office of La Prensa so that would be closed forever, because no appeal is allowed in these instances (there is no secondary instance of appeal).

Judge Brown Resigned

The above draft ruling that revokes the closure of the Corprensa file already has two signatures.

In addition to Ballesteros, the decision was signed by the judge of the Fifth Criminal Court, Enrique Paniza, and it has been pending signature by the judge of the Sixth Criminal Court since 11 March.

Judicial sources said on Friday, 14 March, the judge of the Sixth Criminal Court, Jorge Brown, presented his resignation.

The same sources said on Monday, March 17, Celia de Duncan (who was the First Circuit Judge of Colon) was moved to occupy the position left vacant by Brown's resignation.

What's more, the Third Criminal Court judge Hilda Bonilla has been on vacation since March 6.

Her place has been occupied on an interim basis by Irma Palacios.

CASE TIMELINE

2 Aug 2012 - Workers from the company TCT block the road in front of the offices of La Prensa.

16 August 2012 - Corprensa files a complaint.

28 February 2013 - The Fourth Municipal Prosecutor calls for the case to be closed.

13 December 2013 - Corprensa filed an appeal. (La Prensa)

Editor's Comment: I took the time to translate this article because it clearly illustrates one thing - that there is no judicial security in Panama. Having the law or the evidence on your side really does not matter one bit. President Ricardo Martinelli is locked in a battle to the death with I. Roberto Eisenmann Jr., who is the owner of both Coronado and La Prensa. Eisenmann is 100% Panameñista, and he backs the Panameñista presidential candidate Juan Carlos Varela.

When Martinelli and the CD broke off their political alliance on 30 August 2011 (because of Juan Carlos Varela's involvement in the Finmeccanica case) Eisenmann and La Prensa went on the warpath against the CD and Martinelli. They published a series of articles and reports about government contracts to build highways and roads, issued by the Martinelli administration to the company Transcaribe Trading SA (TCT). David and Daniel Ochy, who own TCT, went ballistic over these articles, and they sent their trucks and heavy equipment to block the entrances to the offices of La Prensa in the middle of the night, effectively preventing the newspapers from being delivered. And then of course, La Prensa filed their complaints.

So you can clearly see how this is anything but a "normal" legal case that's making it's way through the judiciary system in Panama. The two judges who were pressuring Ballesteros to decide to close the case - the President of the Supreme Court and the judge of the Second Tribunal (who are both above the position held by Ballesteros) were trying to pressure him into deciding to uphold the lower court's decision to close the case (forever). In these kinds of cases, there is no allowance for a second appeal, if two decisions in a row go against you. However if Ballesteros decided against the lower court, to keep the case open, then it goes back down for a hearing. In short, La Prensa and Eisenmann would win, the CD and Martinelli would lose - and they did not want that. When he refused to decide in the manner they wanted, they demanded his resignation.

Don't trust the Panamanian judicial system for a second, for anything. No matter what happens to you - and especially because you are a foreigner - the Panamanian on the other side of the table probably has more money, and better political connections than you. You will lose your case, regardless of the evidence, testimony of witnesses, or whatever the law might say. Even if they have to remove a judge to get what they want - they will control and manipulate the system to get what they want. Period.

There is no judicial security in Panama. None. Zero. It simply does not exist. Ricardo Martinelli and the CD own it - lock, stock, and barrel. And if (when) Jose Domingo Arias wins the election in May this situation will only become worse. Their control over the judiciary will deepen, as they continue to appoint more judges and to remove those who are not players on their political team. The only way you have a chance of winning is if your case is too small to matter, and if the Panamanian you are up against is broke, dumb, stupid, and ugly - and a member of either the PRD or the Panameñista political party. If that's the case, then it's a lock...

But seriously folks, if you are an English speaking businessman in Panama, now would be a good time to donate heavily to the campaign of Jose Domingo Arias and proclaim your everlasting love for the CD. I think they are poised to retain control of the country, and to keep it for a very long time. Make friends now, if you have not already. Only those gringos who are flat broke (and I mean, penniless) can afford to buck the system. Look what happens to Panamanians who are on the wrong side of the game. Do you think you would stand a chance?

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DA Rice Announces Sentencing of International Fugitive Who Spent a Dozen Years on the Run

Expat TalesMineola, NY - Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice announced the sentencing today of a man who was captured after an almost 12-year international and multi-agency manhunt. He was the driver in a 2001 hit-and-run incident that killed an 80-year-old woman in Westbury.

Sebastian Barba, 36, formerly of Hicksville, was sentenced by Nassau County Court Judge Angelo Delligatti to 12 years in prison. Barba pleaded guilty today to Assault in the 1st Degree (a B violent felony) and Leaving the Scene of an Incident Without Reporting (an E felony).

“This defendant showed callous disregard for life and law when he committed this horrific crime and then evaded prosecution for over a decade,” DA Rice said. “But justice caught up in the end with his being sentenced to as much time in prison as he spent evading responsibility for his elderly victim’s death.”

Barba was arrested in November 2012 after an almost 12-year international manhunt involving DA Rice’s office, the Nassau County Police Department, the Port Authority Police Department, the U.S. State Department, the U.S. Marshal’s Service, the government of Panama, and INTERPOL.

DA Rice said that at approximately 10:05 a.m. on Feb. 6, 2001, 80-year-old Jean Renison was crossing Post Avenue at the Maple Avenue intersection in Westbury when she was struck by a 1995 Cadillac being driven by Barba. The impact of the collision forced the victim onto the hood of the vehicle. Barba then applied the brakes, causing the victim, who was still alive and moving at the time, to fall to the ground in front of the vehicle.

Barba then slowly drove over the victim’s chest with the front tires and her head with the back tires while a witness screamed at him to stop. He then fled the scene without identifying himself or aiding the victim and then fled to Ecuador, where he has dual citizenship. A grand jury indicted him shortly thereafter and a warrant was issued for his arrest.

While Barba holds dual U.S. and Ecuadorian citizenship, extradition was impossible because the Ecuadorean constitution states that no Ecuadorean national can be extradited to another country.

During the years he eluded capture, police followed multiple leads to locate Barba and to bring him to justice. In May 2005, Barba was featured in an episode of America’s Most Wanted.

Barba was detained by local authorities in Panama when his connecting flight from the Dominican Republic to Ecuador was flagged due to an international arrest warrant issued by INTERPOL. He was escorted back to the U.S. on Nov. 9, 2012 by Panamanian officers and U.S. Marshalls.

DA Rice added special thanks to NCPD Det. Gary Ferrucci, who has worked the case from the beginning, as well as the following for their involvement in this investigation: U.S. Marshals – Senior Inspector, Office of South American Affairs, Mark Espinoza, Anthony B. Walker, Jose F. Espinal. Agents with the U.S. Department of State, Diplomatic Security Service. U.S. Embassy in Panama City – Juan Arturo Rawlins. Panama City Police – Officer Pablo Icaza. Servicio Nacional de Migracion in Panama – Eyda Man’a Garcia. NY/NJ Port Authority PD – Sgt. James Ryan

Assistant District Attorneys Brendan Ahern and Michael Bushwack of DA Rice’s Vehicular Crimes Bureau and Assistant District Attorney Jacqueline R‎osenblum of DA Rice’s Appeals Bureau prosecuted the case. Barba is represented by John Kase, Esq. and Jonathan Marks, Esq.

Editor's Comment: Yet another case. Anyone who is an international fugitive should know by now. Taking a flight that connects through Panama means your passport will be checked, you will be arrested, and returned to face justice. There have been like dozens of these sorts of cases - guys who get popped in Panama and flown back in chains. Glad to see this particular scumbag is in prison.

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Martinelli Yanks Security Detail From Former President Torrijos

PoliticsFormer President Martin Torrijos claimed the bodyguards from the Institutional Protection Service assigned to guard his house have been ordered to leave and not return.

Torrijos, touring the province of Chiriqui to support the candidacy of Juan Carlos Navarro, made the report, and blaming whatever might happen to him or his family on President Ricardo Martinelli.

Torrijos said this action comes as retaliation for statements he made on ​​Tuesday by several PRD party members regarding the Lavítola case.

The organic law of the SPI (as amended in 2008, when Torrijos was President) states in Article 3, paragraph c: ... "To provide the security necessary to protect the life and physical integrity of each of the former presidents of the Republic, who choose up to twelve members of the institution for this purpose, under the provisions of Act 55 of 1996. This amount will increase depending on the household or when circumstances so warrant." (TVN)

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A Note To New Subscribers

FeedbackBy Don Winner for Panama-Guide.com - This is just a quick note for all of the new subscribers.

If you recently subscribed to this website and paid for your subscription via PayPal, you still have to create a User Account on this website.

If you have subscribed and you need to create a new User Account - please click on this link.

I will approve your account, and you will receive a password via email.

When creating your User Account, please be sure to use the same email address that you used when paying for your subscription via PayPal.

Doing so makes it a whole lot easier for me to keep track of who is paid and who is not.

Also, don't forget to send me a quick email saying "I just signed up" so I can approve your request for a user account quickly.

This website is still getting bombarded by spam user account submissions generated by bots. I just deleted a bunch of them, so your submission might have gotten thrown out with the bathwater if you didn't send me a heads-up...

Thanks for subscribing!

Copyright 2014 Panama-Guide.com.

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Cargo Movement Through Panamanian Ports Increased 2.2% in 2013

Money MattersA total of 78.2 million metric tons of cargo moved through Panamanian ports in 2013, representing an increase of 2.2% compared to 2012, according to an official source.

The increase in freight movement in 2013 over the previous year was about 1.7 million metric tons, explained the Secretary of Economic Affairs and competitiveness of the Presidency, Kristelle Getzler, during the presentation of the main economic indicators of the country.

Getzler said the positive trend seen at the end of 2013 has continued into 2014, because in January there was a 22% increase in transfer loads as compared to the same period last year.

A total of 5.7 million metric tons were moved in January 2013, while in January 2014 the total increased to 7.0 million, the official explained.

There were also increases during January 2014 in the movement of containers, up 2.7%, and in the movement of vehicles, up 58.8%. (Critica) (snip)

The number of visitors to Panama also increased by 5.6% according to statistics provided by the Panamanian Tourism Authority (ATP).

A total of 2.2 million tourists arrived in Panama during 2013, compared to 2.08 million in 2012.

Foreign Direct Investment also showed a significant increase, up 61.1% (4.651 billion) in 2013, up from 2.887 billion in 2012.

Finally, levels of poverty (25.8 %) and extreme poverty (10.6%) in 2013 decreased by 0.7 and 0.5 percentage points respectively over the previous year.

Getzler said statistics from the Ministry of Economy and Finance ( MEF) state that approximately 10,000 people moved out of poverty in 2013, while unemployment, according to the latest data last August remained at 4.1 %, the same as in 2012. (Critica)

Editor's Comment: I cut out some relatively boring details on the exact numbers of movement of this or that through the ports - and who cares? What matters is the overall headline, that the ports in Panama are seeing more traffic, which is a good thing on several fronts. This report paints an picture of the Panamanian economy that is in excellent health. Increases in port traffic. Increases in FDI. Increases in the numbers of tourists arriving to the country. Lower levels of poverty and extreme poverty. Low unemployment. I honestly can't remember publishing a "bad news" economic story for Panama - and I've been doing this for ten years.

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Martinelli Accused Venezuela's Maduro Of Meddling In Panamanian Politics

Panama NewsThe tension in diplomatic ties between Panama and Venezuela are taking a new direction, this time as a factor in the electoral campaigns leading up to the next national elections in May.

According to President Ricardo Martinelli, the Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro is supporting the political campaign of Juan Carlos Navarro, the presidential candidate of the Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD).

Martinelli said "I ask President Maduro to keep his hands out of the electoral process in Panama, because it's a party for Panamanians only."

According to a press release issued by the Ministry of Communication of the Presidency of the Republic, the Panamanian president said Maduro has said he hopes the next Panamanian government will be run by someone who follows the doctrine of Omar Torrijos, and the only candidate in the race with those leanings is Juan Carlos Navarro. He said the evidence will be presented in due course.

Caracas broke diplomatic relations with Panama last March 5, saying Panama was "meddling" in the internal affairs of Venezuela.

Panama had requested before the Organization of American States (OAS) for there to be a meeting of foreign ministers of the OAS member nations to discuss the political, social and economic crisis that is taking place in the South American nation. (Estrella)

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Panama Canal expansion critical to the U.S. [Commentary]

Canal ExpansionBy Gene E. Bigler (Baltimore Sun) Work on the expansion of the Panama Canal, led by a European consortium, resumed recently after a disturbing interruption of the project because of a cost dispute. Completion of the work may now have been set back to December 2015 or later. The visit to the canal last November by Vice President Biden, Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and several others from major port cities demonstrated how much we have at stake in Panama. Yet since we turned the canal over to the Panamanians at the end of 1999, most of the rest of us have failed to realize that U.S. global competitiveness may depend even more now on how well the big ditch continues to work for us.

The government of Panama entrusted the job of running the canal to the Autoridad del Canal de Panamá (The Panama Canal Authority), and the ACP professionals have done a tremendous job of operating and modernizing the canal for over 13 years, and U.S. concerns for what was once Ronald Reagan's hot button political issue have all but disappeared. Now with about two thirds of our seaborne trade depending on the $5.25 billion enlargement, the U.S. stakes in Panama have again been dramatically revived.

U.S. interests in the Panama Canal had already been raised a lot. Most of us just did not know about it. When the Panamanians took control in the 1990s, they launched a comprehensive modernization program that widened channels, provided lighting for 24-hour operations, improved navigation aids to increase safety and upgraded equipment to speed transits. Then they introduced a new system of reservations and bidding to determine the place of ships in transit instead of the old first come, first served U.S. practice. Increasingly since 2000, ships have been able to cross the isthmus more rapidly and safely, and the Panamanians have also increased environmental protection and restored some of the watershed the U.S. had allowed to deteriorate.

Yet the success of the ACP in running the canal only tells part of the story of the new advantages for the U.S. When the security of the canal was threatened by terrorism after the 9/11 attacks, the ACP and the government of Panama quickly turned to the U.S. to develop a new security system in which other stakeholders now also share the burden. Panama then took the lead in convincing the International Maritime Organization to adopt the U.S. proposal that has become the new standard for global maritime security, the International Shipping and Port Security Code.

The government of Panama also took advantage of the U.S. return of territory by opening up the former Canal Zone for development of a new hemispheric shipping and logistics hub for which we in the U.S. are also the major beneficiaries after the people of Panama. The four sleepy little ports that moved a couple of hundred thousand containers a year under U.S. control have been transformed into mega terminals that will move over 8 million containers, mostly to U.S. consumers or customers, this year.

The expansion project launched in 2009 to double the capacity of the canal will make the inter-oceanic connections there all the more valuable. Ports all over the U.S. have launched expansion, dredging and other improvements worth at least $12 billion to accommodate the larger ships that will be docking thanks to the canal's new third set of locks, now about 70 percent complete. The reputation of American business is also at stake because the job of managing the expansion project was awarded to the CH2M Hill Inc. of Colorado.

Most importantly, the success of President Obama's drive to deepen our economic revival depends greatly on the effort to boost U.S. export competitiveness, and nowhere is this more important than for the big new ships needed for growing liquefied natural gas exports. Clearly, the U.S. needs to do whatever possible to keep the work on track. The world needs to know that we still trust the ACP to get the expansion completed with the same competence and reliability with which it has run the canal.

Gene E. Bigler is a retired foreign service officer and former professor who has followed U.S.-Panama relations closely since 1968.

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One Guerrilla Killed and Two SENAFRONT Officials Shot in Darien Confrontation

Drug TraffickingTwo members of the State Border Service (SENAFRONT) were injured yesterday during an armed battle with suspected members of a Colombian narco-terrorist group in the Viejo Mijagual Indian village, on the banks of Chucunaque river in the Darien, near the border with Colombia.

Unofficially it was learned that one of the Colombian guerrillas died in the confrontation that occurred on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, the two Panamanian SENAFRONT members who were shot during the confrontation were flown in an SENAN Aviocar aircraft to the old Howard Air Force Base, and from there by ambulance to a hospital in Panama City.

The Panamanian authorities have not released either the health condition nor the names of the two wounded officials.

Another detail obtained by this news team is that the incident came as the result of a complaint filed by a citizen in the area.

The SENAFRONT deployed a Special Forces team in response to the complaint.

It was learned that between three to five people were arrested during the operation, and the prosecutor in the Darien was conducting the removal of the body. (Panama America)

Editor's Comment: The Panamanian government is taking more and more control back in the Darien region. These "narco guerrillas" are basically little more than armed and organized bands of drug traffickers, who move large quantities of cocaine using human "mules" to haul the loads. They require assault rifles such as AK-47's or M-16's to defend both the cocaine and their turf from rival bands. Every now and again these guys will come wandering down out of the mountains and go into one of the remote Indian villages in the Darien, looking for supplies and food. And the villagers have learned that when they see a band of insurgents, the best thing to do is to report them to the SENAFRONT, which responds in force. This is a big change from five years ago. During the administration of Martin Torrijos they basically allowed the narco guerrillas to run wild, and they preferred to avoid confrontation, afraid that confronting them would bring Colombia's problems into Panama.

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PRD's Navarro Demands Appointment Of Special Prosecutor In Finmeccanica Case

CorruptionThe presidential candidate of the Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD), Juan Carlos Navarro, is demanding that Panama's Attorney General appoint a special prosecutor to reopen the investigation into the alleged corruption case involving the president, Ricardo Martinelli, and the Italian company Finmeccanica.

"It is up to the Panamanians get to the bottom of this scandal. In the case file held by the prosecutor in Italy, it is emphasized that the defendants participated in a complex corruption scheme that directly links President Ricardo Martinelli and other political figures of the current administration to collecting bribes for the sale of helicopters, digital mapping services, and radar equipment," he said.

Navarro made his statements just hours after the Italian justice system decided to send Paolo Pozzessere Paolo and Valter Lavítola to trial for this case.

"It's the first time in history a European citizen has been called to trial for having paid bribes to a sitting President. The world now sees us as a country where public officials have a price, starting with the President," he added.

Faced with Navarro's request, Panama's Attorney General Ana Belfon dismissed the idea of reopening the investigation, saying she does not have "documentary evidence, or evidence of any kind (indicating) there is a Panamanian who is the subject of an investigation in that country."

However, Belfon said the Panamanian government will collaborate with the Italian justice system, if they request assistance.

Hours after learning about the events in Italy, president Ricardo Martinelli refused to comment on the issue while attending an event to inaugurate the new "Merca Panama" Food Market.

He said "I do not want to talk more of this drivel, let's talk about what you want," and he called the case a "badly translated soap opera."

At the end of the afternoon, via his Twitter account Martinelli released a private conversation between the president of the PRD, Benicio Robinson, and former President of the National Electoral Commission of the PRD Darisnel Espino, in which they were discussing the Lavitola case.

Editor's Comment: First of all, the Finmeccanica case was an attempted bribery. If the whole Lavitola blackmail scandal had not broken in Italy, then they would have gone through with it. However Lavitola was all over the headlines, so the Panamanian government officials had enough time to "adjust" the Finmeccanica contract to remove the money that was going to be paid as bribes and kickbacks.

Question - Why doesn't the La Prensa newspaper ever mention the fact that it was their boy - the Panameñista presidential candidate Juan Carlos Varela who actually put this whole Finmeccanica deal together. When it all blew up, then Martinelli fired Varela from his position as Foreign Minister, broke the alliance between the CD and the Panameñistas, and threw all of the Panameñistas out of this administration. This is also why Bosco Vallarino (remember him?) was leveraged out of his position as the Mayor of Panama City. This whole thing came about because the really corrupt politicians were the Panameñistas. And this is also why it's always the PRD who's screaming for an investigation, because they were "outside" of this deal and had nothing to do with it.

And of course Martinelli was going to get paid millions of dollars as well, and he was going along with the deal. But he has his own problems, like the fact that he's still regularly and routinely recording the private conversations of this political adversaries, and releasing them via Twitter as if it's nothing ("a'la Nixon"). No matter what, you have to love Panamanian politicians - it's like watching a never ending fish tank of entertaining crap...

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CD and Electoral Tribunal Clash Over Electoral Role Database Scandal

PoliticsSpokesmen for the ruling Democratic Change political party insist that the database being used by their presidential candidate José Domingo Arias to attract voters was created using data provided to them by the Electoral Tribunal.

"It comes from the electoral roll administered by the Electoral Tribunal at the request of all political parties, and we have even seen in the news how they even rent the data to private companies and institutions," said the Minister of the Presidency Roberto Henriquez on Telemetro yesterday.

Electoral Tribunal judge Erasmo Pinilla explained that while the institution does provide some information to certain companies, information regarding political affiliations and family trees, which appears on the Arias website, is restricted. (Prensa)

Editor's Comment: And, there you have it. The Electoral Tribunal made the database available to the Cambio Democratico party, and they used it. Yesterday when questioned about this issue, president Martinelli said simply "we got the information from the Electoral Tribunal, so they should investigate themselves." So maybe the information regarding political affiliations and family tree data was supposed to be restricted, the Electoral Tribunal apparently let the cat out of the bag. This scandal is over a website created by people who are supporting the election campaign of the CD's Jose Domingo Arias. They can log on to a website to view information on practically any Panamanian by using their cedula number. It shows political party registration, date of birth, address, and "family tree" information such as sons, daughters, wives, brothers and sisters, etc. By having all of this information at their fingertips, supporters can "target" specific individuals in small areas or groups, who they think can most likely be convinced to vote for their guy. And of course that "convincing" will include underhanded elements of coercion - like "we will fire your son if you don't vote for..." - stuff like that. Martinelli plays hardball politics, and he's going to win in May.

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Yankees wrap Panama trip on high note

Sports SectionBy Marly Rivera (ESPN) PANAMA CITY -- After the Panamanian people waited 67 years to see the New York Yankees live, the team paid them back amply Sunday afternoon in the second game of the “Legends Series” at Rod Carew Stadium with 15 hits in their 7-0 victory over the Miami Marlins.

Just the night before, the Yankees were the victims of a no-hit game which was the first Major League Baseball game in Panama since 1947, but Francisco Cervelli and Yangervis Solarte took charge in putting an end to an unusual offensive drought with back-to-back hits in the second inning. The Venezuelans, who combined for six of 15 Yankees hits, have been two of the best bats for the team this spring.

“I'm in the books!,” a smiling Cervelli said after remembering that he connected that historic first hit. “It was a nice thing. Today we came to play good baseball and to respect this game like always. This series was incredible and coming here to see all of these people super excited in a beautiful country and all for the support of Mariano.”

Panama played the perfect host for the Yankees' weekend series at Rod Carew Stadium. CC Sabathia had his best outing of the preseason, throwing five innings and striking out five and didn't allow a run nor a hit, retiring 15 of the 16 Marlins batters he faced. Cervelli said he felt satisfied with what he has seen from the Yankees ace.

“[Sabathia] was really good. Today we were trying to control the fastball and the first pitches for strikes and every day he's advancing and has more strength. We worked the changeup a lot and it was fantastic in the zone, did a great job and it will keep improving in the two starts that remain this spring.”

Sabathia himself demonstrated satisfaction with his start and all of the experience in Panama, in particular with being able to throw in such solid fashion in front of thousands of fans that chanted his name and welcomed him to the rhythm of drums at Rod Carew Stadium.

“I know these are only [Spring training games] but you never want to be a part of a no-hit game, and it felt good to go out and get the victory today,” Sabathia said.

“I always feel the responsibility to throw well, doesn't matter the situation. It feels good to have been able to do it today. It was a very fun [event], the people were phenomenal and I know Mariano was very excited.”

Outfielder Carlos Beltran, who just connected his third hit of the spring, stressed that the historic series of the games served not only to continue his preparation work during the preseason but also as an inspiration to the growth of professional baseball in Latin America.

“We came with the mentality of continuing to prepare ourselves for training camp, but I also understand the support of the fans was special and hopefully it will open the doors for more events like these, not only in Panama but all of Latin America so that Latin Americans can have the opportunity to watch baseball from the majors, even if it's in Spring Training,” the Puerto Rican pointed out.

Derek Jeter, who struck out three times and didn't connect a hit in the series while having an unproductive spring hitting just .133, thanked the entire Panamanian fans for the support shown throughout the series, in particular the hand he received when he finally got on base after walking and eventually scoring one of the seven runs.

"The fans have been fantastic. It was an electric thing in the stands," said the 39-year-old shortstop, who joked that he does have a hit in Panama after getting one during a charity softball game sponsored by his former teammate Andruw Jones in 2001.

"It's clear that the fans here love baseball and I'm very happy of having this experience. I'll remember this forever."

Manager Joe Girardi deemed the event was quite a success and without a doubt would love to one day return to Panama.

"It was a wonderful place to play. The people in Panama were tremendous with us. They treated us really, really well. In general, it seemed that it was a great trip and I would like it a lot to return."

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"Hey Venezuela - Get Your Furry Paws Out Of Panamanian Politics!" - Martinelli

Panama News"I would very strongly ask all foreign governments, specifically the government of Venezuela which is making a series of statements which seem to favor one candidate from the opposition, to take their furry paws out of Panamanian politics, and to stop financing Panamanian candidates," said president Ricardo Martinelli on Monday in the province of Chiriqui.

He said the Panamanian people will make their choice of who will rule in the next period democratically and freely, without foreign interference.

On Sunday the Panamanian Foreign Ministry said in a press release the Venezuelan government has stated "on more than one occasion, their preference for the candidate of the political party founded by General Omar Torrijos Herrera."

These alleged preferences "undoubtedly" constitute "interference in the internal affairs of the Republic of Panama, at a particularly important moment for the country, during the electoral process," said the Foreign Ministry.

On March 5, Venezuela's president Maduro broke diplomatic, political, and trade relations with the government of Panama, after Panama unsuccessfully proposed a meeting of foreign ministers of OAS countries to discuss the opposition protests in Venezuela that left 29 dead.

The Venezuelan President accused Martinelli of being a " lackey " of the U.S. and of seeking a foreign intervention to overthrow him, arguments which the government of Panama rejects.

Martinelli made his statements during a ceremony for the last payment that will be made during this administrations "120 for 70" program in Chiriqui, also attended by the Minister of Social Development Guillermo Ferrufino. (Telemetro)

Editor's Comment: I have to repeat my earlier conclusion that Maduro is an idiot. He fails to understand that most people in Panama have a greater fear of a guy like Hugo Chavez (or him), and would rather have a corrupt businessman like Martinelli running the show than a Chavez/Maduro "lackey" like the PRD's Juan Carlos Navarro. Venezuela has been financing PRD political campaigns in Panama for years. Five years ago they dumped a lot of money into Balbina Herrera's campaign, and she lost anyway. It's worked in Nicaragua, Ecuador, and Bolivia - countries which Venezuela uses to traffic cocaine. Maduro is simply trying to expand his network of left-wing commie extremist "revolutionary" puppet countries to include Panama. His efforts will likely send even more voters AWAY from Navarro and towards Arias. And that's why he's an idiot. These sorts of efforts might work when they are done quietly, under the table, and behind the scenes. Doing it "in your face" like this is counter productive. Conclusion - Chavez (dead commie drug trafficking bastard) was smarter than his replacement Maduro (live commie drug trafficking bastard.)

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Business Leaders Support Panama Government's Call To Conserve Energy (Crisis)

Infrastructure UpgradesRepresentatives of the Chamber of Commerce, of Industries and Agriculture of Panama said they agree with the electricity saving measures implemented by the national government, starting on Monday.

The businessmen called upon the citizens, the government, and commercial sectors to make rational and efficient use of energy, and above all obey the suggested measures for this purpose.

They said the contribution by the private sector during Panama's energy crisis in May 2013 was essential to avoiding energy rationing, which would have prevented companies from millions of dollars in sales receipts, and greater losses in national productivity, according to Jose Luis Ford, the president of the Chamber of Commerce, Industries and Agriculture of Panama.

"Last year about 320 companies provided support by disconnecting from the grid, and by generating their own electricity through the use of their emergency power plants," he said. (Critica)

Editor's Comment: There was a fire at a power generating plant in La Chorrera over the weekend, which is causing a shortage in electricity. In Panama they call power plants which burn bunker fuel oil or coal to generate electricity "thermal" plants, so if you see that usage in the translations that where it comes from. Also last year in May there was an "energy crisis" caused by the falling water levels in the hydroelectric plants caused by an extended dry season. These thermal plants pick up the slack during the dry season when the hydro plants have to cut back. If this fire had occurred during the peak of the rainy season no one would have hardly noticed. Panama is working to expand the country's electricity generating capacity through the construction of new hydroelectric facilities as well as wind farms, for example. The economy continues to grow like crazy, and all of that growth and expansion needs juice to run.

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Lavitola Case (Bribery of Panamaninan Government Officials) To Resume in Italy Tomorrow

CorruptionThe preliminary hearing in Italy on the alleged bribery of Panamanian authorities by the former director of the Italian newspaper "Avanti" Valter Lavitola and others is scheduled to resume tomorrow.

The process involves the investigation of alleged bribes paid by the former director of Finmeccanica, Paolo Pozzessere, and the former collaborator of the former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, Valter Lavitola, to Panamanian government officials in return for obtaining government contracts.

The case, which has splashed onto the President of Panama Ricardo Martinelli, who rejects these versions of the events, appears in the investigations for international corruption and blackmail that the Prosecutor of Naples is running against Lavitola.

The investigators are trying to clarify the agreements signed between Italy and Panama in August 2010 to buy equipment from the Italian companies Selex, Telespazio, and Augusta - companies controlled by Finmeccanica.

The investigation also attempts to clarify if Lavitola was able to pay bribes to the Panamanian officials in order to obtain the government contract worth 176 million euros (245 million dollars) in order to carry out projects that were never performed.

The preliminary hearing of the trial began on March 4, in which the prosecutor Paolo Ielo accused Pozzesere and Lavitola of the offenses of corruption, the illegal diversion of funds abroad, and bribery.

After listening to the defense counsel representing the accused, the judge in the preliminary hearing, Maria Bonaventura, decided to postpone the case and to hold a new hearing tomorrow, on 18 March.

Last Wednesday, Lativola, who is in prison for having blackmailed the former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, testified in another case in which he is involved.

That case has to do with an investigation into the alleged payment of three million euros (4.1 million dollars) to Senator Sergio De Gregorio in 2007, to precipitate the fall of the administration of Romano Prodi, who at the time was the rival of Silvio Berlusconi, who is also being investigated in the case.

During his testimony, Lavitola said he would collaborate with the Italian justice system if his collaboration would gain him an early release.

"De Gregorio has encouraged me to do as he did: "to make a pact and to put Berlusconi into trouble! That way he will get out of all of the processes," confessed Lavitola during the hearing last Wednesday at Naples (in Southern Italy).

He added "I intend to work with the Prosecutor of Naples. I will say anything that may lead to my release."

Valter Lavitola has been in prison for the past two years, after he was arrested at Rome's Fiumicino airport on April 16, 2012 upon his return from Buenos Aires, where he stayed as a refugee from his problems with the Italian judiciary.

Specifically, he was accused of blackmailing Berlusconi in relation to his parties with women, a case for which he has been sentenced to 2 years and 8 months in prison.

According to the investigation, the former journalist acted as an intermediary between Berlusconi and the businessman Giampaolo Tarantini, who was presumably responsible for getting the girls who attended the parties thrown by the former prime minister.

According to the prosecutors, Lavitola convinced Tarantini to lie to the judges about the supposed parties held by Berlusconi, with a payment of 500,000 euros. (Estrella)

Editor's Comment: Yeah, a Panamanian president with an Italian heritage. A loud mouthed Italian prime minister, and Lavitola as the go-between. In fact, the bribes that were going to be paid to the Panamanian authorities never fully materialized. The whole thing blew up in Italy (the case over Lavitola blackmailing Berlusconi) right at the time the Finmeccanica deal in Panama was about to become final. The primary person in Panama who put all of that together was the former Foreign Minister Juan Carlos Varela - and that's why Martinelli fired him and broke off the alliance between the CD and the Panameñistas. I call this whole thing "corruptus interruptus" - because they pulled out before the bribe money was actually paid. With a straight face the Panamanians simply "adjusted" the contract (to remove the money that was going to be paid as kickbacks) after the Lavitola-Berlusconi case blew up and became international news. And now Lavitola is willing to say anything so long as it gets him out of prison. What a nice mess we've going going on here. Corruption in Italy and Panama? I'm shocked!

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"Gerardo Solis Is A Promoter of Dirty Campaigns" - Martinelli

PoliticsPresident Ricardo Martinelli blamed the former Electoral Tribunal judge Gerardo Solis, who is currently running for Vice President on the PRD ticket, for being a promoter of dirty political campaigns.

In fact , the president released a photo of Solis with other people, and he said the person wearing glasses is Luciano Yanes "who is responsible for the political ad about the money."

The president reacted after the Electoral Tribunal ordered the cancellation of political ad being used by the PRD to attack the Vice Presidential candidate of the of the Democratic Change political party, showing a $1 dollar coin known in the country as a "Martinelli" - while making reference to a supposed under cover reelection bid.

In the propaganda, the coin had the faces of the current president, Ricardo Martinelli, of his wife Marta Martinelli who is the Vice Presidential candidate for the CD, and the CD's presidential candidate Jose Domingo Arias - and the ad said "no matter what side the coin falls on" the result is a "Martinelli" - implying that if Arias wins the election, it would still be Ricardo Martinelli who will be giving the orders in the Presidency.

Through Chamber Agreement 23-1, it was determined the political ad does not have an interest justified in the common good of the electoral process ending on 4 May, as established by Decree 14 of August 16, 2012.

The Electoral Tribunal also ordered the cancellation of the registration and the authorization by the Association for the Development of Ecotourism of Ubigandupu to buy political propaganda, and it instructs the media to adopt the corresponding measures.

The agreement said the authorization given to the Association for the Development of Ecotourism of Ubigandupu was intended to promote increased participation in the electoral process among the indigenous community in Panama.  

President Martinelli reacted immediately to the news of the suspension of the political attack ad through his Twitter account, saying "It should be noted that no one in the Cambio Democratico party asked them to remove the ad about the money. As we have said, the attacks from the opposition make us stronger."

Even further, president Martinelli said "taking down" a political ad - even though it was going against him - is an attack on freedom of expression anywhere in the world. (Panama America)

Editor's Comment: I don't like this power the Electoral Tribunal has in Panama, to be able to shut down political attack ads because it's supposedly not "for the common good." What the hell does that mean? The underlying fundamental issues in the ad are true. Martinelli is the president today. His wife is running to be the Vice President. And Jose Domingo Arias is obviously a "keep the CD train going" candidate, who is actively campaigning on a "more of the same" campaign. Clearly, if the Panamanian people decide to elect Jose Domingo Arias, it's because they are happy with the job Martinelli has done. So what? The ad is right. And, Martinelli is smart enough to recognize that the ad does, in fact, help them. The CD is campaigning on exactly that strategy. The CD is saying "we've done more in the past five years than all previous administrations have done in the past 40 years." They are bragging about their accomplishments, and they are proud of them. I personally think the Electoral Tribunal screwed up big-time by stepping in to shut down this particular ad. There was nothing in it that wasn't true, so what's the problem? Yeah, it bugs me...

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Review of the Panama City Metro Project

Infrastructure UpgradesBy Randal O'Toole - The Metro rail transit system now under construction in Panama City, and planned extensions to that system, are poor investments for Panama. Depending on ridership, the US$1.88 billion construction cost of the first 13.7-kilometer line of the system could cost as much as $15 per rider. The costs of operating the line are likely to be greater than fare revenues, and maintenance costs for the system will grow until, after about 30 years, much of the infrastructure will need to be replaced at a probable cost of more than $1 billion.

The government says Panama City needs a rail system because buses do not have the capacity to move the large numbers of people who enter and leave the center city each day. But the government has designed and is building a low-capacity rail system that will not be able to move more than about 6,400 people per hour. By comparison, transit buses can move more than 10,000 people per hour on city streets and double-decker buses can move at least 17,000 people per hour.

The Panama City Metro will use three-car trains that the manufacturer says have a capacity of 600 people per train. But this is what transit experts call “crush capacity” in which everyone on board is pressed up against other people and/or car walls. Few people are willing to accept such crowding, so the actual capacity of each train is likely to be closer to about 375 people. At peak operation, the wait between trains will be about 3.5 minutes, which means the system can move about 6,400 people per hour in each direction.

A single train can hold more people than a transit bus, but buses can safely operate far more frequently than trains. Studies have found that a single bus stop can serve 42 buses per hour. If bus stops are staggered, with four stops every 400 feet, they can serve 168 buses per hour.

Double-decker buses can easily hold more than 100 people, so they can move more 2.5 times as many people per hour as the Panama City Metro.

The one thing rail transit does is create winners and losers. The winners include the companies that design and build the expensive rail lines, owners of property near rail stations, and the few people who will find it convenient to take a train from where most people don’t live to where most people don’t want to go. The losers include the taxpayers who have to support the train, owners of property away from the rail stations, and anyone who wants to travel to the many places the trains don’t go who suffers congestion and poor quality transportation because money that could have helped the entire city was spent on the rail line for an elite few. (Cato Institute)

Editor's Comment: This idiot Randal O'Toole has been a "one note piano" for the past couple of decades or so. He has apparently made a living by being the guy who rallies against light rail systems - no matter where they are built. His conclusion is always the same - that you can fit more people on a bus. (Yawn)

In short, he's basically writing the same paper over and over and over again. This time it was Panama City's turn, because Panama is about to inaugurate their new Metro subway system. So the predictable Randal O'Toole times his piece to generate the most waves. And of course this piece will (predictably) cause waves in Panama City, and in Randal O'Toole's mind he will become all that more famous and respected.

This isn't the first time he's done this - urban planners and developers all over the United States know exactly who he is, and he writes these articles for one reason, and one reason only. He can get them published. He remains controversial. He, in short, is a massive troll.

Good thing I'm an expert at spotting trolls. Now of course the local Spanish language media in Panama City will glom onto this report and repeat O'Toole's words as if they were handed down by God himself, just because his crap gets published by "The Cato Institute." Sounds respectable. It's in English. It came from the United States. So, it all must be true and factual, right? (report, repeat, report, repeat, report, repeat, repeat, repeat...)

Do you think any of them (and I mean even one, besides me) will take the time to do a simple Google search on this guy's past writings, or to conduct even the most basic and fundamental bias checks on the source? Nope, they won't. Most journalists are unthinking robots, slaves to their editors, who care more about ad revenues than reporting, the truth, or the facts.

So, you can feel free to basically ignore this O'Toole idiot. He's been wrong lots of times before, and he's wrong now. And I think it's time for this tired old troll to come up with another gig. And if O'Toole can explain to me off of the top of his head the history of the growth and expansion of Panama City, and why it expanded like it did, and how the new Metro system is being built to serve the current and future growth of the city (without spending several days and doing bunches of Google searches to figure it out), I'll buy him a beer and some ceviche.

The real answer is - he has no clue. He doesn't know where San Miguelito is, or La Chorrera, or Tocumen (not the airport.) How many hours has he spent driving in Panama City traffic? And his article (the full version) is even full of errors regarding the right of way being used for Panama's Metro. I don't think he even took the time to research very much, before he cranked out yet another version of this same old report. Basically, this report is a worthless piece of crap. But I'll let the minimum wage workers who will be using this system to get from their homes to their jobs that they are now considered by the Cato Institute to be part of the "elite few." That should get some laughs...

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Panama Canal signs deal to end expansion dispute, awaits consortium

Canal ExpansionBy Lomi Kriel PANAMA CITY (Reuters) - The Panama Canal Authority has signed a deal to end a major dispute over the multibillion-dollar expansion of the waterway, an official said on Thursday, raising hopes that the consortium behind the project will follow suit before the week is out.

The building consortium and insurer backing the plan to expand one of the world's major trade arteries could sign the accord as early as Friday, an official close to the negotiations told Reuters, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The canal and the consortium led by Spanish builder Sacyr and Italy's Salini Impregilo , reached an initial deal in late February to complete work on a project stymied over $1.6 billion in cost overruns.

The deal foresees the consortium finishing work by December 2015, and the sides had been due to sign off on it last week.

Officials from the consortium, which is building a third set of locks for the waterway, said this week that a final agreement would be inked soon, but the canal is still waiting.

In a statement, the Panama Canal Authority repeated that the deal foresaw the consortium and the canal each injecting $100 million for immediate cash flow needs to fully resume work.

The accord would also extend repayment of advanced payments made by the Panama Canal Authority to the consortium that are worth $784 million until 2018 at the latest.

The Panama Canal Authority also agreed that the consortium could use a $400 million surety bond through insurer Zurich North America as backing to seek financing.

The expanded waterway connecting the Atlantic and Pacific oceans was originally due to open this year, but disputes over the funding and delays have pushed that deadline back.

Limited work on the project resumed last month after a two-week stoppage. The dispute has fanned fears of delays that could cost Panama millions of dollars in lost shipping tolls.

The delays are also a setback for companies eager to move larger ships through the canal, including liquefied natural gas producers that want to ship from the U.S. Gulf Coast to Asia.

The overall project, of which the consortium is building the lion's share, was first expected to cost about $5.25 billion, but the overruns could increase that to nearly $7 billion.

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Varela Denies Rumors Saying He's Going To Quit The Race

PoliticsRumors have been spreading this morning, Thursday, March 13 about the possible resignation of the Panameñista candidate for president of the Republic Juan Carlos Varela.

The news spread like wildfire in the social networks.

However political analyst Miguel Antonio Bernal dismissed the rumors and said they are being driven by the government to hurt the opposition political parties.

According to Bernal, it's an old practice that becomes fashionable during all of the electoral contests, and he thinks that the only candidate who's "going down" is José Domingo Arias.

On the topic, the candidate Juan Carlos Varela wrote a message on his Twitter account in which he downplayed the rumors, and he said he does not care about the falsehoods that arise against them.

"We do not care about the rumors, the lies, the falsehoods against us; our concern are the problems of the people of #Panama," he wrote.

In a second message he wrote "attacks on my wife, Isabel. False rumors. It's the same circle 0 of Arias and Navarro who are desperate for my proposal of Price Controls." (Estrella)

Editor's Comment: The only person in Panama who apparently has not figured out that he's not going to win in May is Juan Carlos Varela. And no, Arias and Navarro are not "desperate" for anything Varela can come up with. We are witnessing the end of a political career, whether or not Varela quits the race (he won't quit, and the rumors are false.) Varela will stick it out, he will lose, and then he will slowly but surely fall off of the political landscape. Remember Jose Miguel Aleman? No? That's where Varela will be in about ten years - forgotten.

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The Trip Mariano Rivera Always Dreamed the Yankees Would Take

Sports SectionBy George A. King (New York Post) PANAMA CITY, Panama — Mariano Rivera has five World Series rings, holds the record for saves that will never be touched, earned a place in Yankees history with Ruth, Gehrig, DiMaggio, Ford, Mantle, Berra and Jeter and will enter the Hall of Fame on the first ballot.

Yet having the Yankees in his native country for two games this weekend at Rod Carew Stadium means as much to Rivera as anything he achieved in baseball.

“This is the icing on top of the cake, a cherry on top of the cake,’’ Rivera told The Post over breakfast Thursday morning.

After all he accomplished on the field, Rivera had one dream that will be fulfilled when the Yankees and Marlins play exhibition games Saturday and Sunday.

“This was a dream of mine, to have my team come here and play,’’ said Rivera, who sports the same trim body he used to record 652 saves. “I wanted my people to have the opportunity to enjoy the game of baseball at the highest level.’’

Like all dreams, Rivera’s started a long time before he even contemplated retirement.

“I had it the same time I was established in the big leagues, 1998,’’ Rivera said of his second year as the Yankees’ closer.

Rivera isn’t a stranger to big moments. He closed out World Series-clinching games, set the saves record at Yankee Stadium and raced to the mound to kiss the rubber after Aaron Boone’s homer beat the Red Sox in 2003 and sent the Yankees to the World Series. On the flip side, he gave up Luis Gonzalez’s broken-bat single that lifted the Diamondbacks over the Yankees in Game 7 of the 2001 World Series.

However, Saturday is going to hold enough juice to get Rivera’s heart rate up with his Yankees in his native land.

“I don’t know,’’ Rivera said when asked what Saturday will be like for him. “It’s going to be exciting with a lot of adrenaline and the fans. It’s going to be good.’’

When the Yankees summoned Rivera from the bullpen, he provided them with a thick security blanket. Now, he wants his countrymen to walk away from the weekend satisfied that his dream for them came true.

“I might,’’ Rivera said when asked about throwing out the first pitch. “I want to make sure my people enjoy the game.’’

For 23 years, the middle of February was the end of Rivera’s winter and the beginning of spring training. Last month, he no longer had to scrape Jaziel, his youngest son, off his leg as he left for Tampa. No longer did he anticipate walking onto George M. Steinbrenner Field and commencing with the mundane drills, bullpen sessions and seven or eight exhibition innings to get ready for another season.

“He is happy, he wants me to be his baseball coach,’’ Rivera said of 11-year-old Jaziel.

Now, as he battled the White Plains winter with everybody else in the New York metropolitan area, retirement has penetrated Rivera’s hairless head.

“It’s official because now is the first spring training since 1990 that I won’t be on the field,’’ Rivera said. “It feels different, but the beauty of that is I have been busy with the church, community and family.’’

When Rivera retired last year, he talked about possibly stopping by Tampa to see “the boys.’’ Now the boys are coming to him.

“I can’t wait. I haven’t seen them in a few months,’’ Rivera said. “I can’t wait to share with them in a different scenario.’’

As for the 2014 Yankees, Rivera believes the lineup will score runs and the pitching rotation is solid. His old job will be manned by David Robertson. The new closer has doubters, and the rest of the bullpen has questions.

“The bullpen is the thing where we need to take a look and follow real close,’’ Rivera said. “The one thing I don’t worry about is the Yankees always do what needs to be done to help the team as much as they can.’’

In a recent conversation with his successor, Rivera delivered a simple message to Robertson that covered every facet of his outstanding career. “I told him to have fun, enjoy and be ready,’’ Rivera said.

Across 19 big league seasons, Rivera lived by those words: Have fun. Enjoy. Be ready. It worked for him.

Now, not even a year removed from the final season, a dream he introduced to himself in 1998 comes true.

Panama gets to see Rivera’s Yankees, led by Derek Jeter, in the flesh.

Editor's Comment: If you can get anywhere near the stadium for these games, don't miss it. This will be an historic event for Panama that will be talked about for a very long time. This will be Panama saying "thank you" to Mariano for all he's done to elevate the country's image during the course of his career. And he has been an amazing example and ambassador for Panama, baseball, and the New York Yankees. Personally, I'm a huge fan, I'm going to miss him on the mound - and I wish him the very best in whatever the future might hold.

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ACP and GUPC Still Have Not Signed Formal Agreement

Canal ExpansionAlthough the administrator of the Panama Canal Jorge Quijano announced that the pact between the Panama Canal Authority (ACP ) and the consortium Grupo Unidos por el Canal ( GUPC ) would sign an agreement on March 6th, the two sides still have not reached a final agreement that would ensure the completion of the project by 2015.

Despite the announcement, the pace of work remains low at 25% of capacity, just as it was in January 2014 when the GUPC consortium threatened to suspend work on the project completely, and they reduced the pace of construction.

Now 14 days after the closure of talks between the GUPC and the ACP was announced, and after having achieved a conceptual agreement subject to documentation, review, and final signature by the parties, it is still in the legal review process.

The conceptual agreement falls within the terms of the existing contract between the ACP and GUPC, and it discards any type of claims for payments (for cost overruns).

However, a source said the deal is close, but until documentation is signed, because of the sensitivity of the issue, it cannot be said there is a final agreement.

The source explained that when they went to put everything that was discussed into black and white (writing), discrepancies begin to emerge, however, the source stressed they are very close to getting the document signed this week, and that these discrepancies are almost closed.

The conceptual agreement establishes that the construction of the third set of locks should be completed by December 2015.

In addition, the twelve lock gates that are currently located in Italy must be transported to Panama no later than December 2014, and transported in staggered shipments.

The performance bond for $400 million may only be released to Zurich, in order to obtain additional financing to allow for the project to be completed.

It also includes that GUPC will inject $100 million into the project, and later the ACP will inject the same amount, which will allow a return to the normal pace of work during the month of March 2014.

It also indicates the moratorium on the repayment of advances granted to GUPC will be extended until 2018.

However, the extension of the moratorium is subject to GUPC having to meet certain milestones and other conditions, such as the delivery of the lock gates from Italy this year.

The agreement also establishes that the GUPC must formally and officially withdraw its warning letter of suspension, that they must deliver an updated schedule showing how they plan to work, in order to complete the project under the new plan.

The idea of ​​the ACP authorities was to be able to advance work on the project during the months of the dry season, however this could not be achieved due to the problems that arose starting on 30 December 2013, when the GUPC sent a note to the ACP, that said if the ACP did not recognized their claims of $1.6 billion for cost overruns, they would suspend work on the third set of locks.

Work on the project was suspended for 16 days, and work on the project resumed on 20 February, after the ACP pressured the consortium, sending them a letter worded in strong terms, to notify them that if they did not obey and return to work, then the ACP would end the contract with the GUPC. (Panama America)

Editor's Comment: So, they are still trying to get the lawyers to agree on the wording of the new formal agreement. The GUPC simply does not have the money to keep working. They can't pay their workers or pay for the materials and services needed, which is why they are dribbling forward at only a 25% pace. The $400 million dollar performance bond will be used to help the GUPC secure new and additional funding so they can keep going on the project. And that might be the sticking point right there. Who in their right mind would give them funding, knowing they are going to be losing about $1.6 billion dollars on this project. Oh, I forgot about the governments of Spain and Italy - who will likely be helping their companies in order to save face. So isn't that nice, the taxpayers in Spain and Italy will be helping to fund the construction of the expanded Panama Canal, because their companies managed to get the contract through a low-ball bid process. Funny how things turn out...

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Arias Dodges Questions About Electoral Tribunal Data Complaint

CorruptionThe presidential candidate of the ruling Democratic Change (CD) political party, José Domingo Arias, avoided taking a definite position on the complaint that will be filed by the Electoral Tribunal before the Public Ministry, because they think his campaign used privileged information improperly.

"I understand that the Electoral Tribunal filed a complaint before the Attorney General which is in the hands of the party's legal team, which will give it due course," he said.

Erasmo Pinilla, the presiding judge of the Electoral Tribunal, said the situation is serious that this is the first time "information contained in the institution's database has been used for purposes that have nothing to do with the interests of the country."

CD members only need a cedula number in order to obtain political, social, work, and personal information on any citizen, their children, siblings, parents, and acquaintances.

Magaly Castillo, a lawyer and an active member of civil society, said "there are serious situations that violate the law and tarnished the electoral process."

Meanwhile, Ricardo Martinelli, the President of the Republic, wrote last night on his Twitter account: "free propaganda from judge Pinilla, the opponents and their media increases enrollment in our data acquisition system, thank you." (Prensa)

Editor's Comment: I'm not sure that the CD actually did anything wrong here. They have amassed data on Panamanian citizens, mostly from public sources. The questionable part is - how did the data jump over the fence from being in the hands of the Electoral Tribunal, to being in the hands of the Cambio Democratico political party. I think this is mostly a privacy issue, but I think much of the details in the CD's "data acquisition system" comes from simply exploiting existing security weaknesses regarding how personal or private information is stored and held by government agencies. It seems like they started off with a bunch of basic information, then used programs to tie things together, form links among family members and acquaintances, identify political affiliations, etc. They are obviously driven by a desire to know "who's who" for the election process. This will most likely be used to target voters and to get the vote out. And of course on the opposite side of the equation, they know who their enemies are. Martinelli is a control freak, who understands that money is made using intelligence information. This is an intelligence operation, pure and simple.

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PRD activists detained by PN while conducting leafleting

PoliticsA group of activists of the Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD), were arrested Wednesday afternoon by units of the National Police.

According to a statement released by the Public Relations office of the PRD, the activists were only doing a leafleting in the area of ​​Boca La Caja.

They were directed to the sub station of the National Police in San Francisco.

The activists arrested were Iván Mcklao and David Ramírez.

Javier “Patacón” Ortega - who is a PRD candidate for National Assembly Deputy and Representative - went to the scene. (Telemetro)

Editor's Comment: The channel 13 Telemetro news broadcast is solidly in the PRD camp, so who knows what really happened or why the police officers felt the need to arrest these two guys...

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Moscoso Doesn't Fear Panameñista Reprisals

PoliticsThe former president Mireya Moscoso said she does not fear possible disciplinary proceedings that will be opened internal to the Panameñista political party, after she openly announced her support for the Cambio Democratico candidate José Domingo Arias.

Moscoso met this afternoon with some of her former collaborators. She was apparently seeking additional support for Arias.

Among those at the meeting were the former Minister of Education Doris Rosas de Mata, the former Health Minister Fernando Gracia, and the former Minister of Economy and Finance Norberto Delgado, among others. (TVN)

Editor's Comment: Moscoso can still gather together a handful of votes and political supporters. I'm sure all of the people who attended this meeting held in public were already planning to support Arias anyway - but by showing up with Moscoso they place themselves on her "team" as it were. And it doesn't matter what the leadership of the Panameñista party thinks about Moscoso. The party's candidate Juan Carlos Varela is the party President, and obviously he's going to be pissed off by Moscoso's move. In reality she's just hitting him with some payback for his earlier maneuvers to take control of the party. Varela is not going to win, and the Panameñista party is pretty much "deader'n Arnulfo" anyway - so who cares? All of the really smart Panameñistas left a long time ago, anyway. They are now waving either CD or MOLIRENA flags...

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The Mystical, Magical 50 Days Prior To A Panamanian National Election

PoliticsBy Don Winner for Panama-Guide.com - We're coming down to the wire, folks. You can expect basically anything to happen between now and the next Panamanian general election, to be held on 4 May.

With just a little more than 50 days to go, this is the moment in time where it no longer makes any sense to hold fire, on anything.

Panamanian politicians tend to find out very interesting things about their opponents and then hold on to that information, to be used as ammunition against them, when the moment is right.

This makes for some great fireworks when it matters the most.

Remember the scandal over allegations of payments made to Balbina Herrera by David Murcia? That came up right at the tail end of the 2009 campaign, and it almost certainly took votes away from Herrera and gave them to Martinelli.

You can almost hear the rumble of the engines starting up, as everyone sees the calendar clicking off the days towards May 4th. Or maybe it's more like the sound of fuses being lit for a gigantic fireworks display...

There are a couple of things I've been waiting to see in the press - which I've known about for a very long time - and quite frankly I'm sort of surprised they have not surfaced yet.

Most of these are particularly juicy tidbits to be used against members of the Panameñista party who are running as opposition candidates. And I mean, stuff that could result in arrest warrants and screaming front-page headlines that can't be ignored. The CD and Ricardo Martinelli have been gathering their ammunition for a long time.

So I guess I would say you should expect the unexpected. There's a saying in Panamanian Spanish which goes "there are no surprises in politics, only the surprised."

I'll be surprised if the Arias doesn't win. I also expect Roxana Mendez will win the office of the Mayor of Panama City, and that the CD will win more than enough seats to retain complete control over the National Assembly. I think they will pick up important ground by winning some more Mayor positions around the country, as well as local Representatives to municipal councils.

But between now and May 4th anything can happen. None of it will be dangerous or anything like that, just mostly interesting to political junkies like me. Stay tuned...

Copyright 2014 Panama-Guide.com.

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APEDE Directors On PRD Payroll During Torrijos Administration

CorruptionFive members of the current Board of Directors of the Panamanian Association of Business Executives (APEDE), were employed or benefited from direct government contracts issued during the last government of the Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD) led by former president Martín Torrijos Espino between 2004 and 2009, reveals a report.

The document, to which the Panama America newspaper had access, details the amounts received and the services offered by these businessmen, who today are adversaries of, and who criticize the actions of the current president Ricardo Martinelli and his colleagues.

In other words, the group of businessmen who today are organizing a forum featuring the presidential candidates from the opposition political parties as the only participants, received lucrative salaries from a special fund under the United Nations Program for Development.

For example, David Saied Torrijos, a longtime PRD activist and current member of the APEDE, received fees of $198,250 in just three years.

This salary was earned by serving as the Director of the Technical Unit for Public Policy, of the Ministry of Economy and Finance between October 16, 2004 and December 31, 2007.

Meanwhile, Aramburú Porras and Associates, the consulting firm owned by Fernando Aramburú Porras, who is the current chairman of the APEDE, billed $93,975 for two consulting contracts for real estate and public offices.

Both economic agreements occurred between December 2005 and December 2006. The contract between the company of Aramburú Porras and the government of Panama, worth $44,100 lasted only seven months.

In other words, this man who is now questioning the contracts issued by the government of Ricardo Martinelli, was paid $6,300 for each of the seven months of the contract, which did not go through any sort of competition or bidding process, an official report reveals.

Other members of the APEDE also appear on the list, such as Carlos Ernesto González Ramírez and Aristides Hernández, who had contracts for two and three months for $20,000 and $17,000 respectively.

Besides these, Luisa Turolla was hired by the Secretariat of "Compita" Program of the Ministry of Commerce and Industry (MICI) receiving $14,000 per month.

According to Irvin Halman, the former President of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Panama, this practice is dangerous because there are people who say one thing, but in practice they do something else.

"As an entrepreneur and a citizen one must be consistent in their actions and attitudes," he said. Halman added that the fact of signing a contract with the State is not sinful as long as there is no conflict of interest.

According to the businessman Gaspar García de Paredes, who has links to the business associations of the country, they should criticize when anomalies occur in contracts."They should criticize when due process is not met in a bidding process or contest, or if in one way or the other a business or a natural person makes a contract with the state."

Finally, Garcia de Paredes said this type of activity must have the necessary transparency. (Panama America)

Editor's Comment: Once again, this article appeared in the Panama America newspaper, which is basically owned and operated by the government of Ricardo Martinelli. It's not journalism but rather political propaganda. And of course, the facts contained in the article are true and accurate. The current leadership of the APEDE is solidly in the PRD camp - because they got paid a lot of money by the PRD when they were in power. Those same "business leaders" are currently launching criticism against the administration of the CD and Ricardo Martinelli - mostly because he's not giving them contracts. If they were to "switch sides" then of course they would be getting paid again, and then they would shut the hell up. But that's not likely to happen, so what we are left with is this public bickering over which administration is the most corrupt. It's not news - all Panamanian politicians are corrupt. The level of corruption has basically been the same during the administrations of Mireya Moscoso (1999 - 2004), Martin Torrijos (2004 - 2009), and now Ricardo Martinelli (2009 -2014). So that means corruption is nothing more than a common denominator - so it should just be accepted as standard practice and ignored when trying to decide who to put in office. Martinelli is no better, or no worse, than any of his predecessors in this regard. Well, they've let more contracts, so he's been able to steal more. That just means he's better at it...

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