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Saturday, April 19 2014 @ 11:22 PM EDT

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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. (more)

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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. (more)

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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. (more)

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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. (more)

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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. (more)

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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 - 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

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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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Israel Captures Panamanian Flagged Vessel Carrying Iranian Weapons - Bound For Islamic Jihad and Hamas

Panama Flagged VesselsBy YAAKOV LAPPIN - Klos-C anchors at port in Red Sea city following IDF seizure on Wednesday; army begins inspection of onboard weapons cache.

Zarif mocks 'coincidence' that arms ship seizure coincided with 'AIPAC anti-Iran campaign'

Final inventory of Iran arms ship: 40 rockets, 180 mortars, 400,000 bullets

IAF strikes terror cell attempting to fire rockets from the Gaza Strip

Israel Navy ships brought a commercial vessel found carrying powerful Iranian rockets to Eilat Port on Saturday evening.

The IDF is to carry out a close inspection of the ship and study the weapons on board, which were destined for the Gaza Strip.

Three days after the navy raided the Klos-C in the Red Sea, some 150 km. from Port Sudan and 1,500 km. from Israel, the ship docked in Eilat. Two missile ships – the INS Hetz and INS Hanit – and naval commandos from the elite Flotilla 13 unit accompanied it.

The Klos-C had sailed under a Panamanian flag, but it pulled into the southern port with Israeli and Israel Navy flags flying from its masts instead.

The IDF will carefully unload crates containing dozens of Syrian-produced M-302 rockets and search the vessel for additional weapons.

On Friday evening, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon spoke with US Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, and provided him with an update on the interception of the Iranian arms shipment.

The operation was “very successful, and the result of a long and combined intelligence effort, as well as the great skill of the IDF,” Ya’alon told his US counterpart. The interception provided additional proof of Iran’s program to fund and arm terrorist elements, he added.

Ya’alon and Hagel agreed to meet in Israel soon.

IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Benny Gantz met Saturday with the navy commandos who took part in the interdiction of the ship.

"All of the rockets that were found on the ship represents a security challenge for Israel and for its citizens, but for every bullet and rocket we have a return address," Gantz told the soldiers.

En route to Israel, the ship’s Turkish captain and 16 crew members of various nationalities told navy personnel their vessel had entered the Iranian port of Bander Abbas and loaded crates without knowing that rockets were inside.

They said they had then moved on to the Iraqi port of Umm Qasr, where cement sacks were loaded onto the vessel.

The cement sacks were used in an Iranian attempt to hide the crates containing the rockets, Israel said last week.

“The captain felt cheated; he didn’t know he was part of a conspiracy, part of an Iranian operation,” one security source said.

When the ship was intercepted, it was heading for Port Sudan, where the Islamic Republic’s Quds Force planned to take possession of the rockets and move them on land to Egypt and then into the Gaza Strip through smuggling tunnels, the IDF suspects.

According to Military Intelligence, Iran initially flew the rockets from Syria to an Iranian airfield months ago, before trucking them to Bander Abbas, where they were loaded onto Klos-C.

Islamic Jihad was an intended recipient of the rockets, and some may have been destined for Hamas.

The M-302 rockets have a range of between 90 and 190 kilometers, depending on the model type, and their arrival in Gaza would have boosted the ability of terrorist groups to attack southern and central Israel.

Last week, a security source said he could not rule out that the Iranians would “hold in-depth investigations [into the shipment’s discovery]. It’s not the first time this has been done to them,” he said.

“This will stop their activities for several months,” he added.

“Until you find the source of the leak, you have no confidence that the next shipment won’t share the same fate.”

But eventually, Iran would try to send weapons.

Editor's Comment: So, what will Panama's reaction be to this? Remember Panama recently seized a North Korean vessel that was passing through the Panama Canal, with Cuban weapons hidden under sacks of sugar. I know, this was a Panamanian "flag of convenience" which normally means less scrutiny - Panama gets paid off and in return they look the other way on a bunch of oversight, regulatory, documentation, and safety issues. It's "convenient" (cheaper) for ship owners to register their vessels under the Panamanian flag, and this sort of thing, where those vessels get themselves in some sort of trouble, happens all the time. What is the nationality of the captain and crew? Will they he held and charged with weapons smuggling - like Panama is doing to the North Korean captain and top ranking crew members? Is the ship's captain a Panamanian?

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Mireya Moscoso Will Campaign Together With The CD's Arias

PoliticsThe former president Mireya Moscoso has officially come out in support of José Domingo Arias, and did so with the blessing of the Nazarene of Atalaya.

Moscoso had previously announced she would reveal during the religious festival which candidate she would support during the upcoming election.

As a result, she was surrounded by the media early on, but she decided to delay her announcement until after the mass had concluded.

When the time finally came, she read three pages before taking questions.

"It has taken months to reach this decision, which I assume after hearing voices from all over the country. It is my conviction that only José Domingo Arias ensures we continue the path of progress we all want," were her first lines.

And she herself anticipating the obvious question - Why not support your party? - She continued her statement: "You have to understand the vision of Dr. Arnulfo Arias, which is the vision we share with true Panameñistas. Panama is first."

Later she said the former president (Arias) always told her the country's interests should come before personal or partisan interests.

"In keeping with these values, I met with José Domingo Arias to express the concerns I heard from Panamanians. He not only listened, but he shares those same aspirations," as she explained her support for the CD campaign.

Moscoso went a little further, encouraging Panameñistas to "accept that our contribution to Panama is to step back in order to support the best choice for our country."


Although José Domingo Arias was not present when Moscoso made her statements, he celebrated this decision in statements made to Panama America.

Arias confirmed recent meetings with the former president in which they agreed - he said - with the vision of governing as close as possible to the people and to know their needs.

"With this formality, President Moscoso became part of our team, and we'll be traveling around the country," he said.

Another who expressed her satisfaction at Moscoso's decision was the former First Lady Ana Mae Diaz. "I, like her, I think José Domingo is the best option for the country," she said .

For the lawyer Ernesto Cedeño, the support from Mireya Moscoso is important for any politician because it has weight from a technical point of view.

Meanwhile, the Panameñista National Assembly Deputy Luis Eduardo Quirós said the former president Moscoso, as all Panamanians, has the complete freedom to choose to vote for whoever she wants in the upcoming elections, and her decision should be respected as a personal choice.

"The call to Panameñista party members is irrelevant, because the members of the Panameñista political party are very clear on who is their candidate, and what their opitions are," he said.

We tried to get a reaction from the Panameñista Party presidential candidate Juan Carlos Varela, but he merely stated: "I have no comment on that." (Panama America)

Editor's Comment: Moscoso's announcement further torpedo's Juan Carlos Varela's chances, but in fact it's just one more stone around his neck. He already had zero chance of finishing any better than third place. Ana Mae's announcement that she is also supporting the CD and Arias will bring in a few old die-hard Endara supporters as well. Arias and the CD already have a solid alliance with the MOLIRENA party which came about shortly after their alliance with the Panameñistas fell apart.

Panamanian voters are savvy - and in Panama there are tangible benefits to supporting the "right" (winning) candidate during any election. Meaning, political activists who bring in blocks of votes are rewarded with jobs (where they get paid but they don't have to work), positions of authority, gifts, cash, favors, access, power, etc. Everyone knows who is who, who is on what team, who had what flag flying in their yard, etc. And most importantly, they all know who is going to win.

I'm a good political analyst but it doesn't take a genius to figure this one out. All of the PRD guys already know Navarro is not going to win - so they are trying to find ways to support the CD and Arias. Some of them have to answer to their father's or grandfathers who are die-hard, PRD tattoo wearing, Omar Torrijos loving dinosaurs. I bet there are conversations going on like "listen man, if my father knew I was telling you this he would disown me, but you know I really am supporting the CD and Arias, and so are all of my friends." In some cases there will be one color of political flag flying from the front of the house, but on election day the vote will go to the CD (clandestinely). Of course Varela will lose (get third place) and the Panameñistas will continue to lose power and clout as a political party, as will the PRD.

Listen, folks. In Panama political parties are very often formed around the nucleus of one strong political leader. Omar Torrijos created the PRD in order to lend some degree of legitimacy to his military dictatorship. Torrijos is dead. His son Martin already had a turn. So that party is now dying a natural death, as it moves further and further away from the glue that created it, and held it together. The same thing is true for the Panameñistas and Arnulfo Arias (who is also dead). His wife Mireya Moscos had her turn, and now that party is also dying a natural death. The CD is strong and growing thanks to the gravity of Ricardo Martinelli, and it's sucking up the bits and pieces of political chaff being discharged by the PRD and the Panameñistas. So my prediction is that the political star of the CD will continue to burn brightly, while the PRD and Panameñistas will slowly die and eventually wink out. This is the primary reason why I think the CD will remain in power for a good long time, and it will be awhile before a new charismatic political leader from whatever orientation arises to form his own party and launch a successful challenge. That challenge will not be coming from any of the old warhorses, such as Jovane for example. It will come from someone who is currently in the first grade, and who just learned how to tie their own shoes...

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Venezuela Announces Criminal Proceedings Against Businessmen For Panama Debt Squabble

Panama NewsThe foreign minister of Venezuela, Elias Jaua, announced yesterday he will proceed criminally against the businessmen of his country, for trying to "embezzle" funds from the Venezuelan government "for merchandise that never left Panama, and they are trying to charge as a debt in dollars."

He estimates more than 90% of the $1 billion in debt would be fraudulent.

Meanwhile, President Nicolas Maduro said only "fair " debt would be paid, "without intermediaries."

Maduro again accused President Ricardo Martinelli of corruption, and predicted he will soon be a "fugitive from justice." (Prensa)

Editor's Comment: This is a classic case of a tin-horn dictator who has serious domestic problems at home, so he creates a foreign demon to fan the flames of nationalism. Panama and Martinelli supported the stance of the US and Canada at the OAS, in saying that the recently passed resolution didn't go far enough to reign in Maduro, or stop the killings of protesters in Venezuela. Of course that pissed Maduro off, so now he's responded by breaking off diplomatic relations, expelling Panama's Ambassador to Venezuela, and refusing to pay a $1 billion dollar debt. In reality this is all about the money, and Maduro trying to cling to power in Venezuela.

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Venezuela's Maduro Announces His Support For The PRD and Juan Carlos Navarro

PoliticsThe socio-political crisis in Venezuela and its respective international impact seems to be sneaking into the Panamanian presidential campaign.

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro announced the termination of political and economic ties with Panama, and he took the opportunity to demonstrate his affinity with the Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD), whose presidential candidate is Juan Carlos Navarro.

After throwing all kinds of diatribes against Panama and his government, Maduro said Chavez "always supported Torrijos" and he named a building after General Omar Torrijos in one of the popular sectors in Caracas.

The Venezuelan president cut ties with Panama claiming a foreign "interference" in local politics.

However, just a few hours later, Maduro immersed himself in the same sorts of problems he was complaining about, intervening in the politics of another country by singing the praises of Torrijos and the PRD.

Panama is in the final stretch of an electoral campaign year and Maduro announced with great fanfare that he will not resume relations with Panama unless the country asks for forgiveness - or with another government, that according to his tastes would be the PRD, said a political analyst.

Contrary to many members of the opposition parties in Panama who have openly rejected Maduro's statements, the PRD and their candidate Navarro have maintained a cautious stance on the issue, and his statements have been "light" considering the seriousness of the matter.

Just so there is no doubt, the PRD leader and former Panamanian Ambassador to Cuba, Rafael Moreno Saavedra, instead of questioning Maduro, claimed that the position taken by Panama to elevate the Venezuela issue to the OAS was an "outburst" - and then he expanded with insults against President Ricardo Martinelli.

"I was shocked to hear a former ambassador who is said to be a member of the PRD party speaking incoherently about Panama's action before the OAS," said the lawyer Ernesto Cedeño via his Twitter account.

Another who has avoided addressing the issue of Venezuela and the insults being launched at Panama is the former president and International Socialist leader, Martin Torrijos.

Do not forget that in August 2004, Hugo Chavez froze relations with Panama after the then-President Mireya Moscoso pardoned Luis Posada Carriles, but then two weeks after the PRD and Torrijos took power, relations between the two countries were normalized.

Editor's Comment: This must be a big day of no surprises. Of course Venezuela is backing the PRD and Juan Carlos Navarro. Just like they backed the PRD and Balbina Herrera in the run-up to the 2009 election. See: Balbina Herrera's Campaign Financed By Hugo Chavez?. This is what Venezuela does. They have supported the winning candidates in Nicaragua, Ecuador, and Bolivia. Those countries then become their partners in drug trafficking. This play shows the difference between Chavez and Maduro. Chavez was smart enough to keep it under the table, while Maduro is apparently a political idiot. The PRD will lose, and he just openly confirmed what everyone already knew, anyway. He's not going to be changing anyone's vote in Panama - if anything the specter of a leftist commie dictator in Panama will send people running towards Arias. People still remember the 21 years of military dictatorship in Panama under Torrijos and Noriega very well, and they certainly don't want to return to anything like that. They will take their right-wing corrupt billionaire over their left-wing corrupt drug trafficker, any day. Don't you just love Latin American politics?

Fast Forward A Couple Of Months: "Panama's newly elected president Jose Domingo Arias announced Panama will be providing moral, political, and material support to the growing right-wing militant movement in Venezuela, trying to overthrow Maduro's increasingly isolated administration. Following months of protests and thousands of deaths, the UN and OAS finally passed resolutions condemning Maduro, and the unprecedented levels of violence and terror he has unleashed in an attempt to squash the rebel movement. Money and weapons from the United States are said to be flowing freely on ships from Panama to clandestine rebel outposts along the Caribbean coast..." Sound familiar? In Nicaragua, the name "Contra" came from "counter revolutionary." Meaning, they were the guys who were trying to overthrow the left wing revolutionary government of the Sandinistas. This sort of stuff isn't new in Latin America. Not by a long shot. In fact, the above paragraph - fiction today - might not be all that much of a reach.

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Mireya Moscoso Surprises No One - Throws Her Support Behind The CD and Arias

PoliticsThe former president of the republic and member of the opposition Panameñista political party, Mireya Moscoso, announced she would be supporting the candidate of the ruling Cambio Democratico political party José Domingo Arias during the upcoming general elections on 4 May.

Moscoso denied her decision was "political payback" against her party's presidential candidate Juan Carlos Varela. "For me, the past is in the past and I am not bitter," she said.  

She also said as the ceremonial "President for Life" of the Panameñista party, she has never been taken into account when Varela makes his decisions.

Moscoso described her title of "president for life" as an "old ruin."

She said she is not afraid of any reprisals her party might take against her as a result of her decision. She said she has received a lot of support from the members of the party.

She avoided talking about presidential candidate Juan Carlos Varela, simply saying "I'm not supporting him," but at the same time she did not have a message for him.

Editor's Comment: The message she had for Varela was "screw you." I hope absolutely no one who reads this website was surprised - at all - by Moscoso's announcement. She's been sucking up to Martinelli almost constantly since the alliance between the Panameñistas and the CD broke up in August 2011. She has appeared with him in public, and done all sorts of things to "signal" her support for the CD. So, no surprise here. Moscoso still has some followers, and she will now bring those votes with her to the polls on 4 May, further increasing the margin of victory for Arias. My prediction remains the same as it has been for years. Arias will win. The PRD and Navarro will come in second. Varela and the Panameñistas have third all locked up. And there will be a gaggle of "also rans" that no one will really care about. I know this. Everyone knows this. The only thing remaining to be done is to wait for the actual elections. The final poll will show Arias with about 45% of the vote, and then he will actually get somewhere between 50-55% on election day. This will be a continuation vote - the Panamanian people want the government to keep doing more of the same...

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Venezuela says near $1bn debt to Panama fraudulent

Panama NewsCARACAS, Venezuela — Venezuela’s foreign minister says 90 percent of his government’s $1 billion debt to Panama is fraudulent and criminal charges are likely to result.

Elias Jaua says the government paid businessmen dollars for the imports and the goods never arrived. So Panama isn’t owed 90 percent of the debt.

Jaua’s comments broadcast Sunday on the Televen television station on Sunday come after Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro broke relations with Panama last week over its call for the Organization of American States to discuss a crackdown on protests in Venezuela. He also froze economic transactions.

Panamanian President Ricardo Martinelli has said he hopes Venezuela’s break in relations would not affect payment of its debts to Panamanian businessmen. (AP)

Editor's Comment: What kind of an idiot would pay $1 billion dollars for something they never actually received. OK, I could see getting ripped off one time, on one order. But we're supposed to believe the government of Venezuela "paid businessmen dollars for the imports and the goods never arrived." That statement almost has to be a bald faced lie. There is of course the possibility that Hugo Chavez (dead commie) was laundering drug money through the Colon Free Trade Zone, and Maduro didn't know what was going on (or something like that). Whatever, who knows. It will be fun and interesting to learn the details, because someone is completely full of shit... In this case a billion dollars worth of shit.

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Maduro and Martinelli Exchange Accusations

Panama NewsThe third day of the crisis between Venezuela and Panama was marked by an exchange of insults between presidents, and an announcement of new new economic retaliation by the oil producing country.

Yesterday Venezuela's president Nicolas Maduro accused his Panamanian counterpart Ricardo Martinelli of charging the businessmen of the Colon Free Trade Zone 20% of the invoices paid by Venezuela, in order to "finance his domestic electoral campaign."

Minutes later, Martinelli demanded payment of the debt owed to the Colon Free Zone businesses, and he called the Venezuelan leader "immature" and a "bad payer."

Meanwhile, Panama's Foreign Minister Francisco Alvarez De Soto denied the allegations being made by Maduro, and he said they are analyzing the economic measures announced by Venezuela in order to determine the actions they will take in response.

Yesterday, the Venezuelan Economic Vice President Rafael Ramirez said they have cut off payments of money (foreign exchange) to people who are residents in Venezuela and who are traveling to Panama.

"This issue will remain frozen while relations with Panama are suspended," he said.

The dispute between the two countries was generated by a failed proposal put forth by Panama Panama, to summon the foreign ministers of the Organization of American States to address the crisis in Venezuela.

Last night, the Permanent Council of the OAS adopted a joint statement expressing solidarity with the situation in Venezuela, called for continued dialogue, and lamenting the deaths among the protesters.

The document obtained 29 votes in favor and 3 against: United States, Canada and Panama. (Prensa)

Editor's Comment: The United States, Panama, and Canada are calling upon the OAS to do more - to be more assertive. “It is not balanced...I expected a greater neutrality from OAS” said the Panamanian ambassador Arturo Vallarino. “The declaration has good pieces but we believe it didn't go far enough” regarding dialogue conditions, said US representative Carmen Lomellin. The ambassador added that the document calls for solidarity with the Venezuelan people, sorrow for the victims and rejection of all forms of violence, 'plus requesting the Council to keep track of the dialogue, but does not specify how it will be achieved'.

This vote by the OAS is being called a "diplomatic victory" by Maduro and the current government of Venezuela. I see it as a bunch of Latin American chicken-shits who afraid to stand up to the thuggish Maduro. There is a real revolution going on in Venezuela, being led by brave protesters who are trying to wrest control of their country back, after decades of abuse by Hugo Chavez and the left-wing (bullshit) government he set up. Let's see how long it takes for them to get their country back. Let's see just how much blood has to flow in the streets before the chicken-shits in Latin America are willing to stand in solidarity with the protesters. I know two things for a fact. Venezuela is a cocaine trafficking nation. They allow planes carrying cocaine to depart from their country to land in Nicaragua, and from there it goes into the US via Mexico. They also allow planes and boats to depart Venezuela carrying cocaine through Cuba. This whole "leftist revolution" spin is nothing more than a disguise for the drug trafficking. And of course, all of the elections for Hugo Chavez were rigged, to make sure he won. Make no mistake about it - they stole the elections in order to take over the country, so they could traffic drugs. Questions?

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Martinelli: "I will not respond to immaturity"

Panama NewsPresident Ricardo Martinelli said via his Twitter account he would not respond to the "immaturity" of his Venezuelan counterpart Nicolas Maduro.

"I already announced: I will not respond to the immaturity from President Maduro, be they attacks of profanity or false accusations used to divert attention," said Martinelli.

Maduro said this afternoon "the businessmen in the Colon Free Zone in Panama told us the Panamanian President Ricardo Martinelli is charging them 20% for every bill coming out of Venezuela through the Foreign Exchange Administration Commission (Cadivi) which is being diverted to his electoral campaign."

He also said "the Government of Panama was left alone, alone and defeated," referring to the negativity within the OAS to hold a meeting of foreign ministers to discuss the crisis in Venezuela, where the Latin American countries refused to make "any interference" in the country. (TVN)

Editor's Comment: Martinelli is right, Maduro is wrong. The UN is calling for investigations into allegations of human rights abuses that are occurring in Venezuela right now. See: It's funny, but you're often "left alone" when you're leading. Panama is out front on this, calling on the OAS to do something. As they should. However the OAS is basically a dysfunctional left-leaning room full of talking heads who really don't do much of anything, no matter what happens, so no surprise there.

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Venezuela cuts ties with Panama, calling country a 'lackey' for the United States

Panama NewsBy Catherine E. Shoichet (CNN) -- Venezuela's President severed diplomatic relations with Panama Wednesday, accusing the Central American nation of being a "lackey" for the United States in a conspiracy plot against his government.

"There are maneuvers by the U.S. government plotting with a lackey government that has a right-wing president who is leaving in the next few months, who is not worthy of his people, who has been working actively against Venezuela," President Nicolas Maduro said in televised remarks.

He accused Panama of pushing for regional organizations to intervene in Venezuela. As a result, Maduro said he was cutting off diplomatic and political ties and freezing trade relations with Panama's current government "in defense of the homeland's sovereignty."

Panamanian President Ricardo Martinelli said in a Twitter post that he was surprised by Venezuela's decision.

"Panama only longs for its brother country to find peace and strengthen its democracy," he said.

The latest bout of diplomatic wrangling comes after weeks of anti-government protests in Venezuela, which are the biggest threat Maduro has faced since his election last year.

In a statement late Wednesday, Panama's government denied Maduro's accusations and said it had tried to encourage action by the Organization of American States to help promote dialogue, democracy and human rights in Venezuela.

"We reject as unacceptable the insults uttered by President Nicolas Maduro against our country and its highest authority. The foul language used is inappropriate for the president of a brother country," the statement said.

Last month Maduro expelled three U.S. diplomats form Venezuela, accusing them of conspiring against his government.

The United States expelled three Venezuelan diplomats last week in retaliation.

The State Department has repeatedly denied Venezuela's accusations that it's funding opposition efforts to topple Maduro's government or involved in other conspiracy plots.

"Venezuela, rather than trying to distract from its own failings by making up false accusations against diplomats from the United States, the government ought to focus on addressing the legitimate grievances of the Venezuelan people," U.S. President Barack Obama told reporters last month.

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