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Wednesday, April 23 2014 @ 07:48 AM EDT

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Martinelli Asks Political Parties To Monitor Voting

PoliticsPresident Ricardo Martinelli said he has doubts about the computer company hired by the Electoral Tribunal, which will be responsible for capturing and transmitting the votes cast during the next general election.

"It does not give me a good feeling, knowing the company 'Centauris' is owned by Julio Escobar of the PRD," warned Martinelli.

"I call on the representatives of the political parties to be vigilant, and to make sure that the voting information arrives correctly to the Scrutiny Committee" stressed the president.

"It is necessary that the vote be respected," he said. (Critica)

Editor's Comment: So, what company was counting votes in 2009? I think there's enough safeguards built in to make sure the election can't be stolen.

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Boca Chica, Panama

Real EstateThere are destinations all across Panama that are generating a lot of buzz among would-be expats. And they usually fall into one of several categories.

There are the established cities, with their modern infrastructure, quality shopping venues, and state-of-the art medical facilities. Then there are remote destinations that promise a peaceful retreat in the serenity of an undisturbed natural environment.

Still more claim to be an adventure lover's paradise, offering land and sea attractions sure to keep even the most active expat engaged. Last, but not least, there are the up-and-coming places, still relatively unknown and sure to bring a good return on investment once they start to generate more widespread attention.

While those are all desirable qualities when looking for a new home abroad, what's unfortunate is that most people don't always fit so neatly into one (and only one) of those categories.

Maybe you enjoy the solitude of your own private beach 95% of the time, but then there's also the part of you that gets a hankering to hop in the car and go eat at TGIFriday's on "gringo" night. Perhaps you crave the excitement of surfing 20-foot swells or reeling in a 350-pound yellowfin tuna, but you also want to live somewhere that isn't an overpriced overcrowded tourist trap.

If you previously thought those conditions couldn't coexist, think again. They can. And they do. And you can find them in Boca Chica, Panama.

It's one of the only places in Central America where you can not only improve your state of mind and well-being, but you can also do yourself a financial favor by investing in prime real estate that is still relatively inexpensive despite the area's growing appeal.

That's why Boca Chica, Panama, may be the single best place to buy real estate in Central America.

Be Happier Living in Your Ideal Setting

The town of Boca Chica, as well as its neighboring archipelago, is among the most beautiful landscapes in Central America. From the lush rolling hills of the mainland to the beautiful Pacific with its "myriad emerald isles strewn like jewels in a sapphire sea," as Natural Geographic described them, it's simply breathtaking.

There are deserted sand beaches, ancient rainforests, and ghostly mangroves. And they're all accessible within a short radius. Much of the islands and their surrounding waters are completely untouched and unexplored, with thousands of unclassified species and sights unlike anything you've ever seen.

This wild habitat is juxtaposed against the shoreline of the Chiriqui province, which is home to large cities like Boquete (an expat favorite) and David (which has every service and amenity you could possibly need). It's rare to find a place that feels so primitive, yet lies less than an hour away from shopping malls and a multiplex theater.

Be Healthier Enjoying an Active, Sustainable Lifestyle

Boca Chica is a place for someone who wants more exercise than just the amount they'd get walking back and forth from the pool in their gated community full of other expats. Sure, it's a great place to get away and relax. But it offers so much more than just a nice spot to hang a hammock.

Because of its location, Boca Chica is an ocean lover's dream. Would-be explorers can go island-hopping to one of over 50 islands, most of which are completely uninhabited. It's also a great place for surfing and diving, as well as one of Central America's top spots for sportfishing (boasting many world records).

Boca Chica, Panama, is a very eco-friendly community. Its local residents and expats alike share a desire to preserve the natural environment, and many local businesses are committed to operating sustainably. It's also great for nature lovers, offering a variety of flora and fauna on both land and sea.

And because spending time in nature provides proven benefits to your health, it's the perfect destination for someone who's looking to improve their overall wellbeing. In Boca Chica, you can unplug, recharge, and just...be.

Be Wealthier by Investing in Boca Chica Now

As mentioned, real estate values in and around Boca Chica are still surprisingly low given everything the area has to offer. However, that's soon likely to change.

A massive renovation project that is currently underway at Enrique Malek International Airport in David, less than an hour from Boca Chica, will have a tremendous impact on the surrounding area.

When the airport opens its runways to direct international flights from the U.S., a process that has already been set in motion, what will result is increased traffic to the area, new business ventures, and subsequently a rise in property values.

It's a tried and true formula for real estate appreciation. When infrastructure improves, areas grow, and real estate becomes more valuable.

Be Part of an Adventure Colony

One of the best places to experience all that this region of Panama has to offer is on Boca Chica Island, home of Emerging Terrains' latest Adventure Colony. It's a 400-acre private island with a few lots still available to those who share founders Josh Linnes and Park Wilson's vision for sustainable living, in harmony with the island's beautiful natural surroundings.

If you resolved to be happier, healthier, or wealthier (or all of the above) in 2014, an Adventure Colony could be your 3-in-1 solution. Visit vivatropical.com/bocachicaisland to learn more.

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It's "Back To School" Day in Panama

Schools & EducationBy Don Winner for Panama-Guide.com - It's always a big news day when children go back to school at the end of Panama's summer break.

This year - according to official records - 683,527 children will attend public schools, and 116,815 will attend private schools.

This school year will end on Friday, 19 December 2014, according to Executive Order No. 775 of August 27, 2013, signed by President Martinelli and Education Minister Lucy Molinar.

Here's a rundown of the school year calendar;

Organization: 17 - 21 Feb

First Quarter - 24 Feb to 30 May 2014. Holidays 3, 4, 5 March (carnivals), 17, 18 April (Easter), 1 May (Labor Day).

Break - 2 to 6 June 2014  

Second Quarter - June 9 to September 12. Holiday: 1 July (Presidential Inauguration)

Break - Sept 15 - 19

Third Quarter - Sept 22 to Dec 12. Holidays: 3, 4, 5, 10, 28 November National Holidays). Dec 8 Mother's Day. (Civic Days: Student's Day October 27, Teacher's Day December 1) (Panama America)

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Supreme Court Rejects Coronado's Appeal

Crime & PunishmentThe decision made by the government of Panama to remove the company Desarrollo Golf Coronado from the National Tourism Register will remain in force, after the Third Chamber of the Supreme Court of Panama upheld the decision made by a lower court to reject their appeal.

The decision was issued on 10 February by the Supreme Court Justice Alejandro Moncada Luna, who did not accept the appeal.

The company Desarrollo Golf Coronado was removed from Panama's National Tourism Register on December 7, 2012.

In addition to Moncada, the ruling was signed by Justice Victor Benavides. (Prensa)

Editor's Comment: After the alliance between the Panameñista political party and the ruling Cambio Democratico fell apart in the end of August 2011 (that's to Varela's participation in the Finmeccanica debacle), the La Prensa newspaper began to attack Ricardo Martinelli like a rabid dog. The newspaper is owned by I. Roberto Eisenmann Jr., who also owns the Desarrollo Golf Coronado development along Panama's Pacific beaches. As an obvious retaliatory move, Martinelli sent tax auditors to tear apart Coronado, and they found all sorts of accounting irregularities. The government decided to revoke Coronado's tourism status (tax breaks) mostly because Eisenmann was including things like memberships in the Golf course and his Equestrian Center as tourism activities. The short answer is, tourists don't buy horses in Panama, nor do they buy lifetime memberships in golf courses. They might come and ride a horse or play a round of golf, that's fine. But in reality the guys who are buying horses or gold club memberships are not, in fact, tourists.

This decision to remove Coronado from the Tourism Registry will cost Eisenmann millions of dollars over the next many years. Meanwhile the La Prensa newspaper and Eisenmann continue to lambast Martinelli at every opportunity. The fact of the matter is - Juan Carlos Varela will not be the next President of Panama after the upcoming elections in May - the CD's Jose Domingo Arias will. And that just spells more trouble for Eisenmann, La Prensa, Coronado, and Panameñistas everywhere. Mostly because by the end of Arias' term in office, every Supreme Court justice will have been appointed by a CD president. And in Panama, that's game, set, and match. I will repeat my assessment that the CD is positioned to remain in power in Panama for a very long time - like maybe 50 years or more. The PRD and Panameñistas will wither (but not die completely for a long time). It will take something new and different to emerge which does not yet exist - to unseat the CD.

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Valter Lavítola Going To Trial For International Corruption

CorruptionValter Lavítola, the key link between the government of Panama and Finmeccanica, and Paolo Pozzessere, the former commercial director of massive Italian aerospace and defense company, will face trial as the accused in court number 10 of the court of Rome on 4 March 2014.

The prestigious prosecutor Paolo Ielo accuses them of international corruption for having attempted to divert up to 18 million dollars in bribes, "an amount that the recipients - the President of the Republic of Panama, Ricardo Martinelli, and other government political figures who he said he would identify - covertly, and in any case hidden", according to the conclusion of the final investigation.

This is the preliminary hearing at which the parties involved will set their positions, and at which the prosecutor will make public the requested sentence for those accused of the supposed crimes of corruption in Panama.

After the hearing, the judge will resolve all the issues raised and, if necessary, set the date for the next hearing or, ultimately, the judge may determine that the prosecutors should continue to investigate the crime and bring more evidence.

According to confidential documents to which La Prensa has had access, Valter Lavítola was the center of the political-administrative relations in the Italy, Finmeccanica, Panama triangle, and he created the company Agafea Corp., SA "in the ultimate and effective interest of Ricardo Martinelli," adds the document.

Rome prosecutors determined in the summary that the President of Panama was "the hidden economic beneficiary and final recipient " of the bribes that would have been paid by the Italian companies Telespazio, Agusta Westland and Selex - the companies of Finmecannica - to Agafia Corp, S.A., for counseling and consulting.

However, Martinelli appears as a "passive part to the corruption" and he is "not punishable" because he is a foreigner, because of his diplomatic immunity, and because the crimes being investigated were not committed in Italy.

The offenses date back to 2010, when the Government of Panama signed, as part of a security agreement with Italy, a contract worth about $250 million Finmeccanica to supply six helicopters, 19 radar sets, and digital mapping services.

In another case, in the coming days prosecutors in Naples will set the date for the trial for the alleged corruption involving the failed construction of modular prisons in Panama by the Italian company Svemark, as well as in the Impregilo case in which Lavitola also appears as the accused and in which Martinelli appears as the subject of the so called "passive corruption" but he is "not punishable."

Finmeccanica, the Italian company in which the Italian government holds a 30% interest, has several ongoing legal cases.

The Court of Busto Arsizio, in northern Italy, is trying Giuseppe Orsi, the former Chairman of Finmeccanica, and Bruno Spagnolini, the former administrator of Agusta Westland, of international corruption, because they would have paid bribes of up to $69 million to senior Government officials in India to obtain a contract to sell 12 helicopters for $759 million, also in 2010.

The latest corruption scandal involving Finmeccanica takes us to the capital of Nigeria, Lagos.

Naples prosecutors opened an investigation into the alleged payment of bribes to government officials, precisely based on evidence brought to light by several numbered accounts in Switzerland belonging to Paolo Pozzessere. (La Prensa)

Editor's Comment: La Prensa won't be saying any time soon that the real key player in this entire scandal was Juan Carlos Varela, the presidential candidate for the Panameñista party. This newspaper La Prensa is trying to get him elected, so they are focusing completely on Ricardo Martinelli. They fail to mention that Martinelli fired Varela, precisely because it was Varela who set this whole Finmeccanica thing up, and who brought all of these problems into their camp. This scandal is the real reason why the alliance between the CD and the Panameñistas fell apart on 30 August 2011.

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Panama Canal expansion in doubt yet again as saga grinds on

Canal ExpansionBY LOMI KRIEL AND SONYA DOWSETT (Reuters) - A deal to resume work on the multibillion-dollar Panama Canal appeared in doubt on Thursday, just hours after an apparent breakthrough, in the latest twist in a protracted dispute over massive cost overruns.

The Panama Canal Authority said late on Wednesday that the Spanish-led consortium expanding the major world waterway had agreed to restart work first thing on Thursday after a two-week stoppage.

It said they had given themselves three days to iron out remaining issues such as how to continue financing the project.

While workers gathered at the site on Thursday, works were still idle on Thursday afternoon. Local media said Panama's President Ricardo Martinelli pointed at the consortium, whose main partners are Spanish builder Sacyr and Italy's Salini Impregilo.

"It seems there is some internal difference between the different contractors," local media cited Martinelli as saying.

Officials have in the past cited a power struggle between the two main members of the consortium, saying Salini Impregilo wanted to take over the lead role from its Spanish partner.

The delay in the project, which centers on a dispute over $1.6 billion in cost overruns that the consortium wants the Panama Canal to pay for, could cost Panama millions of dollars in lost shipping tolls.

Delays are also a setback for companies worldwide that want to move larger ships through the waterway that links the U.S. Gulf Coast to Asian markets.

Earlier on Thursday, the consortium issued a statement saying the parties were engaged "in intense discussions and made progress Wednesday on key issues that would allow funding, resumption of works and payments of subcontractors and workers".

Sacyr was unavailable for comment on why work had not resumed. However a source with knowledge of the matter said he understood there would be a "ramp-up" period and that engineers needed to evaluate the site.

A key part of negotiations is the role that insurer Zurich plays and whether it will convert a $400 million surety bond, taken out by the consortium in case the project wasn't completed, into backing for a loan to help raise the $1.6 billion funding needed to finish the project, sources with knowledge of the matter said.

Zurich does not want to put money into the project but has asked banks to do so, another source familiar with the matter said. The banks are asking for counter-guarantees, the source said. The parties of the consortium are each liable for their own obligations, not jointly, the source said.

Shares in Sacyr rose 4.3 percent on Thursday after news of the agreement to restart work. The project represents a quarter of the company's international revenue.

Salini Impregilo shares gained around 3.2 percent.

Zurich said it was in talks with both parties and was comfortable with its level of exposure to the project, which it said was limited due to reinsurance mechanisms and was well within its risk tolerance.

"As the discussions are still ongoing, we are not in the position to provide any further details," it said in a statement.

SPAIN STEPS IN

The Spanish government is likely to agree to change the status of a $200 million state-backed guarantee it gave heavily-indebted Sacyr in 2009 when Panama awarded it the contract, turning it into backing for finance to finish the project, sources told Reuters on Wednesday.

The guarantee was originally drawn up by Spanish state-backed insurer Cesce as a counter-guarantee to the Zurich bond. The government insurance bonds must be changed if Zurich changes its insurance into backing for a loan.

Cesce and Spain's Economy Ministry declined to comment. Italian state-backed export credit agency Sace, also a part of the guarantee scheme with Zurich, was not immediately reachable for comment.

There has been disagreement within the Spanish government over whether to interfere with the private project, one source with knowledge of the matter said, but it is likely to tweak the conditions of the guarantee because the Sacyr-led contract is such a high-profile one for Spanish business.

Spanish builders are working on big engineering projects around the world, from a train linking the Islamic holy cities of Mecca and Medina, to a metro in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Overseas construction has been one of the few bright spots for companies as the domestic economy splutters.

Under Wednesday's deal, the Canal had agreed to pay the consortium $36.8 million to cover work done in December once works resumed.

The project to expand the nearly 50-mile (80-km) transoceanic cargo route was originally expected to cost about $5.25 billion, but that could increase to nearly $7 billion.

Officials and diplomats expressed concern in 2009 when the contract was awarded to the consortium over its ability to complete the work, since its winning bid for the work was $1 billion lower than that of the nearest competitor

The Wood Mackenzie consultancy said on Thursday it expected the cost overrun dispute to be resolved with limited disruption, but cautioned that longer delays would affect U.S. liquefied natural gas producers and created a tighter LNG shipping market.

"If the delays last 6-12 months, it will have limited impact, as trade will carry on much as it does now," Andrew Buckland, senior LNG shipping analyst at Wood Mackenzie, said in a research note.

"But further delays threaten the investments of a significant number of groups that are set to benefit from expanded capacity on the waterway."

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Panama logs murder charges in Dana Point woman's death

Expat TalesBY LINDSEY RUTA / STAFF WRITER - A Panamanian prosecutor has formally filed murder charges against ex-Marine Brian Brimager in the death of Yvonne Baldelli, according to English language website panama-guide.com, which covers the country.

The charges come nearly six months after the remains of the Dana Point woman were found in a green, military-style backpack on Isla Carenero. Panamanian authorities had previously mentioned Brimager as a person of interest in Baldelli's disappearance.

In June, Brimager was arrested in the U.S. on charges of obstruction of justice and making a false statement to a federal officer.

He is in federal custody in San Diego, according to the Federal Bureau of Prisons. Two new charges of falsifying records have been added to his indictment.

The murder indictment alleges Brimager killed Baldelli in 2011 and then tried to cover it up by several means, including disposing of a bloody mattress, later posing as Baldelli in emails to her friends and family, and withdrawing money from her bank account in Costa Rica to make it appear she had gone to that country.

He has pleaded not guilty to all charges.

Baldelli disappeared in November 2011, two months after moving to Panama with Brimager, who was her boyfriend at the time. Brimager, 37, returned to the U.S. in December 2011 and married another woman later that month.

Panama is seeking to extradite Brimager to stand trial for the killing. The country has an international treaty with the U.S. that dates back to 1903.

The treaty does allow for extradition.

However, this would be the first time Panama has ever filed a request, panama-guide.com reported.

Contact the writer: 949-432-5686 or lruta@ocregister.com

Editor's Comment: Here's the funny way this went down. My sources told me the prosecutor had, in fact, filed murder charges against Brimager and was in the process of coordinating with the US embassy to file for his extradition, back to Panama. After I published the article, a reporter from the La Prensa newspaper contacted the prosecutor to ask about the charges. Here's the kicker - the prosecutor lied to the reporter, and that's what the reporter published - that charges had not yet been filed.

However the truth and fact remains that the prosecutor in Panama has, in fact, filed formal and official murder charges against Brimager for the death of Yvonne Baldelli.

I was able to get confirmation through other very reliable sources. I'm assuming the prosecutor might have been worried that if word got out too soon, somehow the extradition process might get screwed up (or whatever). Or maybe the US embassy told her to sit on it.

Before I got involved in this case the US Embassy in Panama explicitly told Baldelli's family members "whatever you do, don't call Don Winner from Panama Guide..." Probably because I tend to make them look very bad, especially during murder investigations. As soon as I started investigating the case (because the family decided to ignore their advice), loads of resources suddenly became available. Go figure ... But I take credit for nothing. Lots of people have worked many long hours on this case both in Panama and in the United States. I just hope maybe I was able to spur them on a little, in the beginning.

No matter. The story is right. Brimager has been charged with murder in Panama, and now the Panamanian authorities are working to have him returned to Panama to face justice. I'm personally convinced he's guilty, so I hope he will spend the rest of his life in a Panamanian hellhole of a prison. Just like William Dathan Holbert, Laura Michelle Reese, Javier Martin, and Daniel Moreno Melendez - others who have murdered Americans in Panama. A little, uncomfortable metal box. Just enough food to keep him alive. No air conditioning, hot and humid and tropical (the same conditions the Panamanian inmates endure, he's no better than them.) Prison is supposed to suck. I hope he reads this, and stays up at night thinking about the hole that's waiting for him...

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GUPC Promises To Restart Work On Panama Canal Expansion Tomorrow

Canal ExpansionFinally, the Grupo Unidos por el Canal (GUPC) has agreed to the repeated calls by the Panama Canal Authority, and tonight after more than five hours of meetings, they promised to resume work on the project to expand the Panama Canal on Thursday morning, said the ACP in a press release.

The ACP announced that when work resumes on the project, they will pay the GUPC $36.8 million, for work billed during December 2013.

This money will be used to pay the paychecks for the workers, as well as to cover other obligations to suppliers.

Another 72 hours were given as a deadline, in order to agree on points such as the delivery dates for the lock new gates, an implementation schedule, a schedule for repayment advances, and other key aspects for the development of the project.

These decisions, adds the ACP statement, occurred during telephone conversations between the ACP and the directors of Impregilo, Sacyr Vallehermoso, Jan de Nul and Constructora Urbana, the companies composing the GUPC.

The press release ends by saying there are still some topics upon which the sides have not yet reached an agreement, but it does not say what they are. (TVN)

Editor's Comment: The GUPC finally came to the realization that if they didn't get back to work, then the ACP really would (no shit) throw them off the job, hire someone else to complete the project, then sue them for the excess costs. They went into this gaggle thinking they had a strong negotiating position, and acted like they could use a combination of extortion and blackmail to simply demand 1.6 billion dollars - above and beyond the contract they signed.

The answer from the ACP was simple. No.

Over the ensuing six weeks, the GUPC came to realize exactly how incredibly weak their negotiation position is, in reality. Now they will be forced to meekly return to work, after having been kicked in the balls. They might be able to finish the project, but they will take a loss doing so. The $1.6 billion simply is not going to happen.

Silly Europeans, thinking they could come to the land of the "juega vivo" and get over.

In short, they got their asses handed to them. They signed the low-ball contract for $3.118 billion then tried to force the ACP to pay them 50% more. Nope. Not going to happen that way, fellas.

Forget about making a profit. They will be lucky if they can get out of this without taking massive losses. So who's low-balling who now? The ACP flipped their gambit on its head. Books will be written about these negotiations for use in future business management classes. The GUPC will be used as an example of how not to do shit, while the ACP has proven themselves to be more than capable of dealing with this situation, admirably.

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Deadline looms as Panama Canal, consortium seek end to cost dispute

Canal ExpansionBy Lomi Kriel and Sonya Dowsett (Reuters) - The Panama Canal and a Spanish-led construction consortium expanding the major global waterway discussed options on Tuesday to keep the multibillion-dollar project afloat amid a dispute over costs, but any deal seemed unlikely ahead of a looming deadline.

The disagreement between the two parties over $1.6 billion in cost overruns and how to maintain financing has already halted work on the project for two weeks and has delayed its projected completion until at least December 2015.

Delays could cost Panama millions of dollars in lost shipping tolls and are a setback for companies worldwide that are eager to move larger ships through the canal, including liquefied natural gas (LNG) producers that want to ship from the U.S. Gulf Coast to Asian markets.

"The Panama Canal Authority reports that despite efforts to agree with (consortium) Grupos Unidos por el Canal to resume work on the new locks project, positions between the parties remain apart," the canal authority said in a statement.

"Although last week the parties seem to have come to an agreement on certain components during the talks, there were serious disagreements at the time of putting it in writing," it added, saying the parties agreed to resume talks on Wednesday morning.

Canal administrator Jorge Quijano last Wednesday set a target of no more than a week to reach a deal to jump-start the project, a deadline that will lapse in the coming hours.

Quijano had previously warned that the canal could terminate the contract with the consortium and push ahead with a third party if a deal proves elusive.

A major sticking point in the negotiations on Tuesday was converting a $400 million bond from insurer Zurich North America into backing for a loan so the consortium can secure a short-term cash injection needed to continue its work, sources familiar with the talks said.

The consortium took out the bond as a required insurance policy in case it did not finish the project. The bond is payable if the project is not completed by the consortium for any reason.

The insurer was ready to provide the loan if shareholders of the consortium, which is led by Spain's Sacyr and Italy's Salini Impregilo and includes a Belgian and a Panamanian company, shoulder the risk and are liable for repaying the loan, one source said.

But the consortium's chief executive officers want the insurer to be the primary risk-holder, which Zurich considers unacceptable, one source said.

A key issue centered on the share of the risk the Italian and Spanish governments would take, one source said.

Spain's majority state-owned insurer Cesce, set up to financially aid international expansion of Spanish companies, provided a guarantee for the Sacyr bid in 2009.

Although Cesce has declined to comment on how much was guaranteed, a source with knowledge of the operation said it was for $200 million and helped underwrite the $400 million Zurich bond.

Officials at Zurich were not immediately available for comment. A spokesman for Sacyr declined to comment.

The parties also continued to debate a weekend proposal by the canal authority that would allow work to restart immediately, with it and the consortium each contributing $100 million.

But a source familiar with the negotiations said the consortium had not yet accepted the deal and wanted to wait on an answer from Zurich.

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

Editor's Comment: The ACP simply can't afford to keep negotiating with GUPC. At some point in time, the ACP is going to have to pull the plug. They will probably make a public statement this afternoon that negotiations with the GUPC have officially ended without a deal, and the GUPC has failed to build the third set of locks as required and specified under the contract. And because the GUPC walked off of the job and stopped working, that means the ACP can then exercise the clauses in the contract which were put there exactly to protect the government of Panama from the sort of shenanigans the GUPC is trying to pull. They will then hire someone else to finish the project, or at the very least to manage the process for them, because the many of the same subcontractors and employees will still be doing the same work, but just answering to a different boss.

My prediction holds. I think the GUPC is toast, and they will be finished today. Remember this whole thing started almost two months ago. It's time to end it, one way or the other. And the "billion dollar bitch slap" foretold the way things were going to go.

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Polls Indicate CD's Jose Domingo Arias Will Win In May Elections

PoliticsBy Don Winner for Panama-Guide.com - We are now just 75 days away from the next general election in Panama, and all polling indicates Jose Domingo Arias, the candidate representing the ruling Cambio Democratico (CD) political party created by sitting president, supermarket magnate Ricardo Martinelli, will win the only poll that matters.

It's important to understand that all of the Panamanian news media has been divided up among the different political parties, so right now there are no important or significant news sources who are truly independent. The La Prensa newspaper supports and defends the Panameñista political party and their candidate Juan Carlos Varela. The Telemetro news broadcast supports the Partido Revolutionario Democratico (PRD) and their candidate Juan Carlos Navarro. And the Panama America newspaper supports the CD. This matters when talking about polling data, because it's the news organizations who pay the companies to conduct the polls, and the results are often skewed (at least slightly) to reflect the thoughts and politics of their sponsors.

I've been predicting a CD win since the breakup of the alliance between the CD and the Panameñistas in the end of August 2011, based on the popularity of president Ricardo Martinelli, the effectiveness of his administration, and their ability to get things done. And, on the math. In a three-way race in Panama the winner only to get the most votes - there is no runoff or a need to achieve 50% of the vote - so it's possible to win with 33% +1, an easy feat for the CD at this point.

All polls show basically the same thing. Arias will win. The PRD and Navarro will come in second place. The Panameñistas and Varela have third all locked up. Then who cares about the Independent candidates and Gerardo Lopez of the FAD, all of whom will be appearing as the "also ran" candidates.

This will be the first time any political party has been able to remain in power after having spent five years at the helm, since the end of the 21 years of military dictatorship in 1989. It's gone Panameñistas (1989 - 1994), PRD (1994 - 1999), Panameñistas (1999 - 2004), PRD (2004 - 2009), then CD (2009 - 2014). Past administrations have had a tendency to do things while in office that make them vulnerable when trying to get reelected. But this time around, things have been different with the CD.

Martinelli had a clear strategy from day one. His plan was to do more, built more, and get more done than any other administration had ever done in the history of the country - then he did it. Panama has been one big construction zone since July 2009. The list of things they have built is long and impressive, including the first subway system in Central America. This election is clearly a validation of the Martinelli administration, and the Panamanian voters will be saying "we want more of the same" when they go to vote on Sunday, 4 May 2014. This is true, to the point that the CD candidate Arias even went so far as to name the current First Lady - Ricardo Martinelli's wife - as his running mate.

I'm even going to predict that Arias will achieve more than 50% of the vote. If you look at the last poll taken in late April 2009 they were all right - and wrong - at the same time. They all predicted a win for Martinelli, but the numbers were actually about 10% low, across the board.

Polling data from Unimer and La Prensa had Martinelli winning with 50.2% of the vote. Data from Ipsos and the Panama America showed Martinelli with 51% of the vote. The La Critica newspaper and the polling company PSMSigmados had Martinelli winning with 47%. The La Estrella newspaper and the Dichter & Neira polling company showed Martinelli winning, with 49%.

Then in the election Martinelli did win (the polls were right), but he did so with 60% of the vote (the polls were wrong). I think the same thing will happen in this election. Arias will win (polls are right) but they will have the percentages too low (polls are wrong). This phenomenon is occurring because when someone is talking to a pollster a certain percentage will say "I don't know" or simply refuse to answer. However 100% of those who walk into the polling station will cast a vote, and most of those people who are now showing up in the polls as undecided will cast their votes for Arias.

Copyright 2014 Panama-Guide.com.

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Billion Dollar Bitch Slap? Panama Canal Authority Will Announce A Final Decision Today

Canal ExpansionThe Panama Canal Authority (ACP) should make a final decision today on the contractual conflict it has with the consortium Grupo Unidos por el Canal (GUPC), which has stalled work to expand the waterway.

Earlier, the administrator of the ACP, Jorge Luis Quijano, said communications with the GUPC never broke down, and during a long teleconference they managed to reach some agreements, and he said there was a significant amount of progress being made.

Editor's Comment: Let's see what they come up with. Considering that one of the lawyers representing the GUPC slapped president Ricardo Martinelli in the face at a private wedding on Saturday night - things are not looking so good for them right now. There are not many "billion dollar bitch-slaps" in the world, but that might have been one of them...

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Three Die in Secret U.S. Drug Spy Mission

Drug TraffickingBy CAMERON LANGFORD - CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas (CN) - A plane crash near the Columbia-Panama border killed an American, and blew the cover on a drug surveillance operation run by a U.S. government contractor, the victim's daughter claims in Federal Court.

Jennifer Moore sued the United States of America, Sierra Nevada Corporation and New Frontier Innovations LLC for the estate of her father, Ralph James Dietz.

"Decedent was employed by Sierra Nevada and/or New Frontier as a part of an intelligence operation called 'Prospector,' a privatized United States counter drug-mission based in Panama operated on behalf of, and for the benefit of, the United States of America. ... New Frontier provided pilots and crews for Sierra Nevada's 'Prospector' mission," according to the complaint.

Dietz was on Sierra Nevada's spy plane the night of Oct. 5, 2013, when the pilot lost control and crashed into mountainous jungle at the border of Panama and Columbia, Moore says in the lawsuit.

"On or before the impact, the fuselage of the airplane ignited, burning the decedent's body," the complaint states.

Dietz was 66.

Moore claims New Frontier's pilot was blind in one eye and unqualified to fly the "modified" aircraft, which was loaded with surveillance equipment.

While the complaint gives no details about Dietz's role in the operation, Moore's attorney told Courthouse News that Dietz was conducting surveillance when the plane went down.

Sierra Nevada Corp., based near Reno, Nev., did not return a phone call and email seeking comment, and nobody answered the number listed for Virginia-based New Frontier Innovations.

Two other Americans and a Panamanian died in the crash, according to investigative reporter Aram Roston.

Operation Prospector was launched by a secret branch of the U.S. Air Force called "Big Safari" that granted Sierra Nevada a no-bid contract to track drug smuggling boats leaving Columbia, Roston reported for Vocativ.com.

Moore seeks damages for wrongful death and the "eternity of pain" her father suffered in the fiery crash before he died.

She is represented by John Curney with Curney, Farmer, House and Osuna of San Antonio. (Courthouse News Service)

Editor's Comment: A couple of observations. First of all (pet peeve) - it's "Colombia" not "Columbia." Secondly, see this related article; Exclusive: A Secret Mission, a One-Eyed Pilot, a Fiery Crash in Colombia which spells out the details of the mission and the crash.

I flew on similar "secret" anti drug missions for years while on active duty in the Air Force. They are "secret" mostly because they are intelligence collection missions, and the goal is to collect information on the drug traffickers, and to pass that intelligence to surface vessels so they can conduct an interdiction, seize the drugs, and arrest the traffickers. Of course if the bad guys knew when you were going to be up, where you would be flying, and your full capabilities then they would be better able to avoid detection. It's a never ending game of cat and mouse.

But it's not really a secret that the US is collecting intelligence information against drug traffickers - but the details of the means and methods are protected. Reporters always tend to get all giddy when something has been classified by the US government - and they want to know simply because they are not supposed to know - simple curiosity. For the most part, the work is thousands of hours of boredom penetrated by moments of excitement, or - as in this case - abject terror.

The details about the modifications to the aircraft are troubling. I flew on highly modified C-130 aircraft carrying the Comfy Levi and Senior Scout SIGINT collection packages. You never want to take changes to aircraft lightly, and on the surface it looks like these guys were playing sort of "fast and loose" with the rules. The aircraft was so highly modified it was only supposed to be used for "crew training and market surveys" according to its FAA airworthiness certificate - and that's not what these guys were doing when the pilot flew them into a mountain. The one-eyed pilot survived, so I'm sure he's been debriefed to exhaustion on this crash. Now he will also be deposed as a witness to this lawsuit.

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Canadian Expat Maeva Beauzile Critically Sick - Fundraising Effort

Expat TalesBy Don Winner for Panama-Guide.com - Maeva Beauzile is a Canadian citizen who is in critical condition. She's 21 years old. Maeva came to Panama from Canada to teach French. She fell ill two weeks ago. It started with a fever, and she was admitted to the Santo Tomas hospital. They thought it was dengue. Then they thought she had a stroke. Then they suspected endocarditis...

To put it bluntly, the Panamanian doctors were unable to properly diagnose and treat her illness, and her condition worsened. Eventually she was admitted to the ICU and her family realized they would have to medically evacuate her back to Canada, so she could receive proper medical care. If they didn't get her out of there, she would die.

Friends and family started a fundraising effort. So far more than $26,000 has been raised. A goal of $45,000 has been established.

The money will be used to pay for the cost of the medical evacuation (very expensive), and to help offset the costs being incurred by her family members who remain by her side.

Please click on this link and donate.

I did some quick vetting on this, and it appears to be real, genuine, and authentic. FYI there's a YouTube video of Maeva that's being used as part of this fundraising effort. It was shot before she got sick when she was working at a language school in Casco, but they don't tell you that anywhere. So you look at the video and wonder "what's wrong with her." Well, she's very sick and currently unconscious. She apparently has some sort of heart infection, and will require surgery.

Editor's Comment: Do what you can. Toss some Balboas into the can. Spread the word. Share the links. Do what you can to help, even if you don't have deep pockets. If you've got deep pockets, write a check. Thanks. I know my readers flat out rock, and you guys know I almost never ask you to help on stuff like this. Just once every three years or so...

Copyright 2013 Panama-Guide.com.

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SENAN Seizes 200 Kilos of Cocaine Off Caribbean Coast

Drug TraffickingPanama's National Air Service (SENAN) seized 200 kilos of cocaine on a boat carrying three suspects near Isla Naranjo, in the province of Colon.

SENAN Director of Operations Ramon Nonato Lopez said the three crew members of the vessel "La Bambina" fled, but an operation is currently underway to capture them.

On a different subject, Nonato spoke about the progress they are making to provide transportation to public school teachers who work in hard to reach areas.

The operation started last Saturday, in support of the Ministry of Education. (Telemetro)

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Frank Gehry Is Still the World's Worst Living Architect

Panama NewsBy GEOFF MANAUGH - While it's been widely known for at least a decade that Frank Gehry is the world's worst living architect, it's not entirely clear why some people—mostly very rich clients—haven't picked up on this yet. The utterly god awful and ridiculous Biomuseo in Panama, an eco-discovery center that cost at least $60 million and took a decade to construct, is only the most recent case in point.

Gehry long ago stopped pursuing any interesting material or tectonic experimentation—and he used to be an interesting architect!—to become the multi-billion dollar equivalent of a Salvador Dalì poster tacked to the wall in a stoned lacrosse player's dorm room, an isn't-it-trippy pile of pseudo-psychedelic bullshit that everyone but billionaire urban developers can see through right away. What's particularly frustrating about Gehry's career is that he's somehow meant to be cool, a kind of sci-fi architect for the Millennial generation, a Timothy Leary of CAD; but he's Guy Fieri, his buildings hair-gelled monsters of advanced spatial douchebaggery.

His work is badly constructed, ravey-balls hair metal, a C.C. DeVille guitar solo that cannot—will not—end until the billionaire clients who keep paying for this shit can be stopped. Worse, no matter how much diagrammatic handwaving someone like architectural theorist extraordinaire Peter Eisenman can do—and he can do an awful lot of it—to convince you that Gehry is, or was once long ago, on to something interesting, these buildings are not even compelling from a theoretical standpoint. So, yeah, he used software normally found in airplane design—great. That's awesome. I can imagine amazing things coming out of such an irreverent mixing of design tools.

But the results are just crumpled Reynold's Wrap on an otherwise white-bread interior, a boring, room-by-room grid surrounded by hair spray, like some lunatic version of Phyllis Diller blown up to the size of a city block and frozen mid-stroke.

Gehry has already built the worst new residential building in New York City of the past five years, and now he's on his way to ruin part of downtown Berlin with a faux-golden Accessorize trinket you'd expect to find in a 1980s roller rink in suburban Wisconsin. It's like a JWoww unsuspecting Germans can live in.

But it's no use. We're stuck with this guy for what feels like forever. It's like being forced to watch M. Night Shyamalan films when you were hoping for David Cronenberg, or being stuck in a room with Steve Vai when you thought you were listening to Andrés Segovia.

No doubt, in a city council out there even as I type this, some doe-eyed general manager is shaking up a can of crazy string and preparing to enfecalize an entire neighborhood near you with the pink slime of another Frank Gehry, a man for whom architecture is all McNuggets, all the time.

The tech world might have Moore's Law, but architecture has found its own unbreakable rule: year after year, Frank Gehry will always get worse.

Editor's Comment: Thank God. Someone who hates this new monstrosity as much as I do. I remember back when this thing was first unveiled. I think it was at an ExpoComer at the Atlapa. There was a booth set up, and a bunch of suits were standing around sipping glasses of champagne. A model (mock up) of the Biodiversity museum was there in the middle of them. Frank Gehry was standing there, and he asked me what I though of it. I told him (to his face) that the building they were proposing to build on Amador was the single ugliest building I had ever seen. I told him I thought it was totally and absolutely inappropriate for the space and the setting. And while it might be his idea of a wet dream, I hoped it would never be built. Jaws dropped all around. I bid them a good day, and left. So here we are now, ten years later. And there it is. It still sucks.

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Solar power plant inaugurated in Sarigua

Infrastructure UpgradesPresident Ricardo Martinelli went to the Azuero Peninsula to the Sarigua National Park where he attended the inauguration of a new solar photo-voltaic plant.

The project has an investment of $9 million and will provide 2.4 megawatts through 11,886 photo-voltaic panels, 30% of the energy consumed annually in the district of Parita.

It is expected that in the second stage, the plant capacity will double to 4.8 megawatts.

Vicente Prescott, Energy Secretary, said "this project marks the beginning of many other projects that are yet to come." The President of the Republic, Ricardo Martinelli said he was happy with this project. (Panama America)

Editor's Comment: Panama has two distinct seasons, wet and dry. The hydro electric generating plants obviously work well during the rainy season, and historically there have been several cases in which the supply of electricity became critical due to extended or abnormally long dry seasons. The installation of these sorts of solar projects will help to carry part of the load, and will be particularly good producers during the dry season. And of course both hydro and solar are renewable energy sources. Anything that has to be burned to produce electricity (bunker, coal) has to be imported from somewhere else, but Panama has lots of rain and sun...

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CD's Jose Domingo Arias Still Leading In The Polls

PoliticsWith less than three months to go before the next national general elections in Panama, to be held of 4 May 2014, the candidate from the ruling Cambio Democratico (CD) political party, José Domingo Arias, is leading in the polls (37.7%), a full eight percentage points ahead of the closest challenger, the PRD's candidate Juan Carlos Navarro (29.7%) .

Vice President Juan Carlos Varela of the Panameñista party remains in third place with 21.4%.

The most recent poll commissioned by the newspaper La Prensa by the company Quantix Panama SA, shows that, with respect to the polling data from January 2014, both Arias and Navarro gained two or three percentage points, while Varela remained stagnant, with the gap between second and third widening to eight percentage points.

The survey was conducted of 1,475 people between 6-9 February 2014, and has a margin of error of 2.55 percentage points. The full results will be published in La Prensa on February 17 in the supplement Pulse of the Nation. (Prensa)

Editor's Comment: And that's going to be the finishing order. Arias will win, Navarro will the highest ranking loser, Varela will lose in third, and all of the rest of the independents will sweep up the trash. In short, the results will be exactly what I predicted at the end of August 2011, when the alliance between the CD and the Panameñistas fell apart due to the Finmeccanica scandal, and Martinelli fired Varela from his position as the Minister of Foreign Affairs. The MOLIRENA party has since replaced the Panameñistas as the CD's ally, and their star continues to rise. The Panameñistas are as dead Arnulfo Arias, and the PRD is as dead as Omar Torrijos. It's going to be awhile before a political party arises that can challenge the CD - but it's not going to be either of these two "traditional" parties. Nor is it going to be any sort of a grassroots extreme left party - because those things only tend to fly during times of economic hardship. It's been party time for the Panamanian economy for the past ten years and everyone is trending towards the better, which means poverty and disenfranchisement is trending down. Not good seeding ground for commies...

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Yankees, Marlins to bring Major League Baseball to Panama in two-game set on March 15-16

Panama NewsA two-game series between the New York Yankees and the Miami Marlins will mark the return of Major League Baseball to Panama for the first time since 1947, Major League Baseball (MLB) and the Major League Baseball Players Association (MLBPA) announced today. The "Legend Series" will be played on March 15th-16th at Panama City's Rod Carew Stadium and will honor the legacy of newly retired Yankees great Mariano Rivera, the game's all-time saves leader.

Rivera will serve as one of the promoters of the event in his native country, along with Magic Dreams Productions and Patricia Lynch. The Legend Series will include charitable events away from the field, including a gala featuring representation of both teams on Friday, March 14th that will benefit the Mariano Rivera Foundation. Proceeds from the dinner will go to Children's Hospital in Panama City, the largest pediatric hospital in the country.

"It is only fitting that one of our game's greatest ambassadors, Mariano Rivera, could help us bring Major League Baseball back to his beloved Panama," said Paul Archey, Senior Vice President, International Business Operations for Major League Baseball. "We look forward to partnering with the Marlins and the Yankees to deliver a groundbreaking sporting event to the fans of Panama, particularly the young fans who looked up to Mariano during his historic career."

"We're delighted to be joining Mariano Rivera and the Commissioner's Office in bringing Major League Baseball to the baseball-loving fans of Panama," said MLBPA Chief of Business Affairs, Tim Slavin. "We anticipate a warm reception, and believe these games will help advance the growth and popularity of baseball in Panama and throughout Central America. In addition to the Yankees and Marlins players and their respective front office personnel, we extend our gratitude to all involved in making these games a reality."

"The Yankees recognize that the sport of Baseball truly belongs to the world," said New York Yankees President, Randy Levine. "It makes our organization proud to support Major League Baseball and the Players Association in spreading the excitement of the game in the international community. Visiting Panama, the homeland of the great Mariano Rivera, will be a privilege for all those involved in this historic endeavor."

"The Marlins are extremely pleased to be playing in Panama and we look forward to introducing our team to our neighbors in Central America," Marlins President David Samson said. "Teaming up with a baseball legend in his home country will be a great experience for our players and fans alike. The Marlins are excited to support MLB's and the MLBPA's continuous efforts to promote our great game internationally."

Rivera said: "As long as I can remember, it has been my dream to bring my team, the Yankees, to play baseball in Panama. I grew up playing in Puerto Caimito, where I developed my passion for baseball and began a journey that brought me to New York. It is my hope that this legacy series will inspire other young players to pursue their dreams. I am very grateful to Major League Baseball, the Players Association, the Yankees and the Marlins in making this dream become a reality."

The Marlins and the Yankees will stay at the Trump Ocean Club International Hotel & Tower Panama.

Donald J. Trump said: "Our hotel will deliver a first-class experience for the New York Yankees and the Miami Marlins during Major League Baseball's Legend Series. All of Panama stands behind the legendary Mariano Rivera, and we are honored to play a part in a sporting event that the people of Panama will remember forever."

The two-game set is part of the 2014 MLB Spring Training Schedule. Tickets for the Legend Series can be purchased at www.ticketplus.com.pa.

The Legend Series will mark a new chapter in Major League Baseball's history in Panama. Members of the Yankees, under Hall of Fame manager Joe McCarthy, trained in Panama in February of 1946 and played against an all-star team from the Panamanian professional league before an estimated crowd of 10,000 fans on February 21st. In the spring of 1947, the Yankees and the Brooklyn Dodgers played several exhibition games in Panama during a trip that also included stops in Cuba, Puerto Rico and Venezuela.

The Marlins-Yankees match-up is a renewal of the 2003 World Series. Both Clubs have participated in previous international events. Most recently, the Marlins squared off against the New York Mets in regular season games held at Hiram Bithorn Stadium in San Juan, Puerto Rico in 2010. The team also traveled to Puerto Rico in 2003 and 2004 for regular season games against the Montreal Expos, who played a portion of their home schedule on the island. In addition, the Marlins played a pair of Spring Training exhibition games against the Houston Astros in Mexico City in 2004. The Yankees opened the 2004 Championship Season at the Tokyo Dome in Japan against the Tampa Bay Devil Rays.

Overall, Panama will become the seventh country to host a contest between two Major League Clubs. MLB and the MLBPA have staged regular season contests in Mexico (1996, 1999), Japan (2000, 2004, 2008, 2012) and Puerto Rico (2001, 2003-2004, 2010) in addition to Spring Training matchups in the Dominican Republic (1999-2000), Mexico (1999-2004, 2008-2010), Venezuela (2000-2001) and China (2008).

There are currently four Panamanian players on 40-Man Major League rosters, including Atlanta catcher Christian Bethancourt; Arizona pitcher Randall Delgado; Philadelphia All-Star catcher Carlos Ruiz; and infielder Ruben Tejada of the New York Mets. Panama has produced 50 Major League players all-time, including Rivera; Hall of Famer Rod Carew, who was an 18-time All-Star and the winner of seven career batting titles; and Carlos Lee, a three-time All-Star who finished his 14-year Major League career with the Marlins in 2012.

Rod Carew Stadium, the most prominent baseball facility in Panama, opened in October 1999 and most recently played host to the Qualifier for the 2013 World Baseball Classic in November 2012. Team Brazil advanced to the 2013 World Baseball Classic after winning the Qualifier, which also featured the national teams of Colombia, Nicaragua and Panama.

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ACP Still Trying To Reach An Agreement With GUPC

Canal ExpansionThe administrator of the Panama Canal Authority (ACP), Jorge Luis Quijano said at no time have they suspended communications with Grupo Unidos por el Canal (GUPC), the consortium responsible for the project, when speaking about the contract dispute that has been dragging on for months, and he said they have established a "long conversation" that could resolve the majority of the issues that remain on the negotiating table.

"We have advanced significantly in the negotiations," said Quijano.

In fact, Quijano reported the GUPC has accepted the ACP will not pay any money out of the contract, and everything that will be negotiated from now on will be made withing the parameters of the contract, after the consortium insisted on demanding they be paid a specific amount of money outside of the contract, he said.

"Now the GUPC has accepted we will not pay them a single nickel of the claims they were making outside of the contract," said the Administrator of the Panama Canal Authority, Jorge Luis Quijano, during his appearance before the plenary session of the National Assembly.

"Maybe we'll lose some of their claims and that will be paid, but not outside of the contract," said Quijano.

The manager said he participated in a conference call with the senior executives of the three major international companies.

Losses To The Canal Because Of The Conflict

The culmination of the expansion of the Panama Canal will be delayed at least until December 2015 which means there will be "lost profits" of more than 95 million dollars, only if they are able to reach an agreement with the GUPC consortium in charge of the project to get them to resume work in the short term.

According to the contract, the construction of the third set of locks of the Panama Canal should be ready by next October, but last year the Grupo Unidos por el Canal (GUPC) , the consortium in charge of the work, announced a delay to June 2015.  

Quijano said the new (additional) six-month delay in the project comes as a result of "two or three months" of a slow pace of work, and "two weeks of total paralysis" on the job site, counting this week during which the negotiations continue, seeking a consensus agreement.

This delay will generate a "loss of earnings of $95.3 million", that is to say, the profits the Canal will not receive "starting from the middle of 2015 when we expected them to finish the project," he added.

The Legal Status Of The Workers On The Expansion Project

Quijano made it clear that the ACP has no connection with the workers, because the employment relationship is maintained with GUPC, however, recognizing that the ACP is responsible to this liability in the labor payment bond "that's another 50 million dollars," and according to Quijano, by priority, the first to receive any compensation for debt cancellation labor liabilities are employees.  

"And the labor liabilities the GUPC may have at any time is well below the figure of 50 million, meaning that workers should have no problem in accessing solutions to their labor liabilities," he said.  

Quijano made ​​it clear they are fully prepared to finish this conflict in favor of Panama, and he said the expansion will be completed. (Panama America)

Editor's Comment: So, the GUPC has given up trying to coerce $1.6 billion out of the ACP, by using threats and extortionist tactics, which are outside of the contract? In that case, they have finally come to the realization that the ACP will - in fact - toss them off the job and carry on without them.

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USS Halyburton Assists in Rescue of Panamanian Crashed Helicopter

Drug TraffickingBy Lt. Mark Day, USS Halyburton Public Affairs CARIBBEAN SEA (NNS) -- A Panamanian helicopter crashed killing one and injuring eight while working together with USS Halyburton (FFG 40) conducting operations in support of Operation Martillo in the 4th Fleet area of operations, Feb. 6.

The names of the victims will not be released until after notification of the next of kin and released by the Panamanian authorities. There were no U.S. service members or personnel hurt in this incident.

The Panamanian helicopter, a Bell 412, had arrived in the vicinity of the beached small craft and assumed monitoring activities from the U.S. helicopter when it crashed with nine people onboard.

The Halyburton, a guided-missile frigate, immediately assumed the role of search and rescue on-scene commander. While Cutlass 466, the MH-60R attached to the Halyburton from Helicopter Maritime Strike Squadron 46, returned to the area to begin search and rescue operations.

Halyburton's helicopter Cutlass 466 transported six of the wounded to a hospital in Panama, while Panamanian forces rescued and are transporting the other two survivors.

Halyburton is currently deployed in the Caribbean Sea conducting counter illicit trafficking operations in support of Operation Martillo.

Operation Martillo targets illicit trafficking routes in coastal waters along the Central American isthmus, and is an international, interagency operation which includes the participation of 14 countries committed to a regional approach against transnational criminal organizations moving illicit cargo.

This deployment is Halyburton's last deployment in her 30-year career, as she is scheduled to decommission later this year. Her keel was laid Sept. 26, 1980 and she was commissioned Jan. 7, 1984. She is named for Petty Officer 2nd Class William David Halyburton, a pharmacist's mate, who was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for extraordinary heroism, May 10, 1945, while serving with the Marine Rifle Company, Second Battalion, Fifth Marines, First Marine Division on Okinawa.

U.S. Naval Forces Southern Command and U.S. 4th Fleet supports U.S. Southern Command's joint and combined military operations by employing maritime forces in cooperative maritime security operations in order to maintain access, enhance interoperability, and build enduring partnerships in order to enhance regional security and promote peace, stability, and prosperity in the Caribbean, Central and South American regions.

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Panama Rallies Behind Engineer in Fight Over Canal

Canal ExpansionPANAMA CITY — He has the weight of Panama's pride and a good chunk of global commerce on his shoulders.

Yet weeks of acrimonious, late night negotiations to rescue the Panama Canal's $5.25 billion expansion haven't taken a toll on Jorge Quijano. The canal's top administrator wakes up at 5 a.m. each day for a brisk 40-minute walk along the bluff atop which sits the century-old plantation home where he resides as successor to the 17 American governors who lorded over the canal zone until 1979.

"I wish there were more crises like this," jokes Quijano, who claims to be growing more fit even as he struggles to find a way out of a dispute over $1.6 billion in cost overruns.

"I've never felt healthier, stronger or more confident."

The extra mettle is needed. Last week, work on the construction of a third set of locks, already nine months behind schedule, was stopped after talks broke down on how to finance the charges. A consortium led by Spain's Sacyr SA and Italy's Salini Impreglio blames Quijano's poor planning and is demanding payment, while the canal says the companies are responsible for the unforeseen costs.

With a lengthy legal battle looming, ports around the world that have spent billions on upgrades in anticipation of a quicker route for giant container ships and tankers between Asia and the Eastern U.S. seaboard are bracing for further delays.

While both sides say they're still open to an agreement, the window for a deal is closing fast, Quijano said in an interview at the canal's office. Meanwhile, he says a plan B that he and his staff have been working quietly on since October is being readied, though he's not disclosing any details.

Panamanians are cheering Quijano on. Since the crisis erupted, the nation of 3.4 million has rallied almost unanimously behind the 61-year-old engineer, thrusting him into the media spotlight to defend the canal, which is almost synonymous with the nation's identity. They applaud him for standing up to public attacks by contractors that he likens to "extortion" and "terrorism."

Quijano likes to point out that the talks broke down on Feb. 4 — 125 years to the day after another European digger from France went bust and declared bankruptcy while working on the canal.

U.S. engineers, riding on the coattails of a military invasion ordered by President Theodore Roosevelt, were then left to complete the work. Washington ran the 50-mile (80-kilometer) waterway and adjacent areas as an overseas territory until President Jimmy Carter agreed in 1977 to cede control gradually.

Ironically, given the resentment the decades-long occupation still stirs here, Americans may have another chance to step in.

That's because U.S. firms have expressed the most interest among international companies in completing the 30 percent of work that remains, Quijano said. One candidate is Englewood, Colorado-based CH2M Hill, the canal's main project consultant and which Quijano says has the know-how and resources to finish the job according to its original design. Tellingly, as talks stalled last month, Quijano gave the U.S. ambassador to Panama a personal tour of the construction.

What's not in doubt is Panama's determination to finish the job in 2015, he said.

"If necessary I'll get down there with you holding a pick and shovel," Quijano, the son of a diplomat who has spent part of his childhood in Japan and Malaysia, recently told a group of workers to celebrate the canal's centennial anniversary.

Quijano joined the canal in 1975 shortly after graduating from Lamar University near the Texas Gulf Coast, an area whose booming natural gas industry stands to be one of the biggest beneficiaries of an expanded canal. He climbed through the ranks, earning a reputation as a hard-charging engineer who held his American managers accountable to their commitment to hand it over in tip-top shape.

"He's an engineer's engineer," said Joe Reeder, a former US Under Secretary of the Army who served as the canal's American chairman in the 1990s. "He's a good listener, very studious and drills down to operate based on the facts."

Reeder says that Quijano shies away from the cameras and would have preferred to manage the dispute quietly through the arbitration mechanisms set forth in the contract. But the same cool and collected temperament serves him well in the media dogfight the dispute has become.

"You want someone who can throw a body blow when it's been richly earned as is the case here," said Reeder, who believes the European consortium's aggressive stance against the canal in the media belies the shakiness of its claims.

Appointed to a seven-year term in 2012, Quijano runs a business that has blossomed since the Americans handed over full control of the canal at noon on December 31, 1999.

Average time to cross the canal has fallen below 24 hours, a feat the Americans, who managed the canal more like a break-even utility, tried but were never able to achieve, Reeder said. The safety record has also improved and revenues have more than tripled under Panamanian management to $2.4 billion last year.

The canal is the linchpin of Panama's economy, providing almost $1 billion in direct contributions to the government and related activities generate nearly 20 percent of the nation's gross domestic product. Almost 6 percent of global commerce passes through the canal.

But not everyone has praise for Quijano, least of all the consortium, which blamed his "inflexibly rigid" position for an impasse that put at risk 10,000 jobs and threaten to blemish Panama's reputation as a magnet for international investment.

It says the extra costs resulted largely from problems with studies conducted by the Panamanian authority before work began and says geological obstacles encountered while excavating have prevented it from getting the basalt needed to make the vast amounts of concrete required. The canal says all bidders had access and ample time to study the canal's preliminary work before the auction.

In the absence of a deal, the consortium is promising years of litigation and can assert some powerful leverage by withholding delivery of massive lock gates made in Italy that would be costly to build from scratch.

Even supportive Panamanians question whether Quijano, who as the top engineering executive oversaw the expansion program's design, doesn't share part of the blame for the selection of a consortium that raised eyebrows when it was awarded the contract by the canal's board of directors in 2009 with a bid $1 billion below that of its nearest rival, San Francisco's Bechtel Group Inc.

"This is a very delicate moment for Panama," said Juan Carlos Navarro, one of three front-runners in May's presidential race, told the AP. "Later there will be time to do a complete analysis of what went wrong and assign responsibilities. But right now everyone needs to support Quijano and demand that the expansion is completed."

Part of Quijano's popularity stems from the canal's track record of not wading too deeply into Panama's messy politics. Panama's constitution guarantees the canal financial and operational autonomy, and a string of canal administrators, all of them trained by the Americans, has built a reputation for above-the-fray decision making that Panamanians jealously safeguard.

Even Panama's President Ricardo Martinelli, a billionaire businessman not known for ceding the spotlight easily, had to back down after meeting with Spanish officials in the early days of the crisis, a move that was widely criticized. Last week he called on Panamanians to "close ranks" behind Quijano.

"Too bad our politicians don't have the same integrity" as Quijano, said Leonel Martinez, a 58-year-old taxi driver who worked as a stevedore in the canal until the Americans pulled out. "Whatever happens we can't let them defraud us." (NY Times)

Editor's Comment: Remember Alberto Alemán Zubieta was the Administrator of the Panama Canal Authority, the position currently held by Quijano, until 2012. He was the person at the helm when they decided to select the GUPC consortium to build the third set of locks. And also remember Alberto Alemán Zubieta was the President of the Panamanian company Constructora Urbana (CUSA) which is part of the GUPC consortium. Zubieta climbed to his position atop the Panama Canal with the help of the former President Ernesto Perez Balladares (1994 - 1999) from the Partido Revolucionario Democratico (PRD) political party, which is currently not in power in Panama.

It's ironic for this article to quote the PRD presidential candidate Juan Carlos Navarro with regards to assigning blame for this crisis - because the blame does not rest on Quijano's shoulders, but rather those of the PRD's Alberto Alemán Zubieta, who with the complicity of the former PRD President Martin Torrijos (2004 - 2009), decided to give the massive $3.118 billion contract to - himself.

The ACP "above-the-frey" of Panamanian politics? Don't be absurd. It's just disguised or camouflaged slightly better than normal, and it's harder for most people to pick out the chunks in the soup, but those chunks are still there.

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Berlusconi Senator buying trial gets underway

Panama News(ANSA) - Naples, February 11 - A trial into allegations ex-premier Silvio Berlusconi bribed former Senator Sergio De Gregorio to change political sides started in Naples on Tuesday.

Valter Lavitola, an associate of the ex-premier's, is also on trial for allegedly acting as a go-between.

Prosecutors have claimed Lavitola also tried to bribe other Senators who have not been identified.

Berlusconi is accused of paying De Gregorio a bribe of three million euros to leave the centre left and join the centre right, helping to undermine the 2006-2008 government of Romano Prodi.

De Gregorio has admitted not declaring to the tax authorities two millions euros he received and plea-bargained a 20-month sentence.

De Gregorio has not gone to jail because sentences under two years are automatically suspended.

Prodi's 2006-2008 government fell after losing the support of the Senate, leading to new elections that Berlusconi won.

Senate Speaker Piero Grasso announced last week that the Upper House would request to be made a civil plaintiff in a trial, prompting howls of protest from Berlusconi's Forza Italia party.

The case is only one of a series of legal woes for billionaire tycoon Berlusconi, the charismatic centre-right leader who was ejected from the Senate and last year after a definitive conviciton for tax fraud at his media group, his first binding conviction in 20 years of judicial battles.

The three-time premier is appealing two convictions by courts of first instance: one for paying for sex with an underage prostitute and abusing his office as premier to try to cover it up; and another for involvement in the publication of an illegal wiretap.

The Forza Italia leader says he has been targeted by politically motivated magistrates since he entered politics in 1994. (www.lagazzettadelmezzogiorno.it)

Editor's Comment: Berlusconi and Lavitola were at the center of the Finmeccanica scandal in Panama, which would have involved millions of dollars in kickbacks for the current Panamanian government. Lucky for Martinelli, it all fell apart before it could get done, because Berlusconi's sex scandal broke in the Italian press, right at about the same time the suitcases of cash were supposed to have been delivered to Panama. This is the real reason Martinelli fired his former ally Juan Carlos Varela, who is currently the presidential candidate for the Panameñista party. Varela was the Foreign Minister at the time, and he is the one who put the whole Lavitola package together. When it blew up, Martinelli fired him.

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Panama president blames former canal chief for crisis

Canal ExpansionPanamanian President Ricardo Martinelli Monday blamed the Panama Canal's former administrator for the current crisis surrounding its massive expansion project -- where work has been halted over a billion-dollar payment dispute.

Martinelli said Alberto Aleman Zibieta was "responsible for what has happened," referring to the row over who will cover $1.6 billion in cost overruns in the project to enlarge the 80-kilometer (50-mile) waterway linking the Atlantic and Pacific oceans.

Aleman Zibieta, a Panamanian engineer, was in charge of the independent Panama Canal Authority in 2009 when it awarded the largest contract in the expansion project -- worth some $3.2 billion -- to the GUPC consortium led by Spanish company Sacyr.

The GUPC bid was $363 million lower than budgeted by the canal authority and well below bids from competing companies.

In an interview on Panamanian television, Martinellii suggested Aleman Zibieta and the canal authority should have anticipated the GUPC was underbidding.

"Everyone here knew the state of the company Sacyr, that it was having financial problems," Martinelli said, dubbing the current situation "the chronicle of a death foretold."

The canal authority and the GUPC consortium have locked horns since December over the overruns on widening the canal to accommodate massive cargo ships in the century-old waterway, which handles five percent of global seaborne trade.

GUPC claims unforeseen geological difficulties have forced them to spend much more on cement than expected. They say that they based their estimates on data provided by the Canal Authority that was incorrect.

The canal expansion is one of the world's most ambitious civil engineering projects and was due to be completed next year -- but the builders have said completion may now be delayed up to five years.

The original canal, built by the United States mostly with workers brought in from the Caribbean, was completed in 1914.

The canal generates $960 million a year for Panama, nearly 10 percent of the country's total annual income. (expatica.com)

Editor's Comment: Called it! Martinelli and the CD was courting Zubieta to be their presidential candidate, even though he's a PRD guy. Zubieta said no, and therefore here we are today. If Zubieta had said yes, then there would be no conflict, and Zubieta would have been Panama's next president. Martinelli is one vengeful dude. Now he's going to be blaming the whole mess on Zubieta and the PRD, which is actually accurate.

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One Last Proposal by the ACP (Before They Give The GUPC The Yuca)

Canal ExpansionTime is running out for the negotiations between the Panama Canal Authority (ACP) and Grupo Unidos por el Canal (GUPC) to find a solution to the crisis that has paralyzed work on the third set of locks.

Last Friday, the consortium composed of the Spanish company Sacyr, Italy's Salini Impregilo, Belgium's Jan de Nul, and the Panamanian company CUSA sent the ACP a proposal, which they said "reflects our continuous efforts to accommodate the ACP's concerns during the negotiations."

The ACP responded with a counter-proposal, that would be their last, in its effort to find a solution to the crisis that has already been dragging on for more than a month, with its origins in cost overruns - not recognized by the ACP - of $1.6 billion dollars in the project to build the third set of locks, the largest single contract of the expansion program.

The ACP's proposal suggests, as requested by the consortium, an extension of the deadlines for repayment of advances, without giving further details on these.

A quick resolution to the conflict is key to the project. Work has stopped since last Wednesday, after a deadline expired and the negotiating parties were unable to reach an agreement.

The administrator of the ACP, Jorge Luis Quijano , said the institution would be willing to take over the project and to complete it by 2015, as currently scheduled, but in order to do it they must act quickly to take advantage of the short dry season. (Prensa)

Editor's Comment: I predicted a long time ago that the ACP would boot the GUPC, hire someone else to finish the job, and then sue the GUPC companies for failure to perform. In that way, the Panamanian people will basically get the $7 billion dollar project for $5.25 billion - and the low ball bid gets turned around and stuffed right up the GUPC's ass. Remember, they were hired by the PRD (for a reason). Can you spell "yuca?" Now do it about 1.6 billion times. Yuca, yuca, yuca, yuca... There's a whole lot of yuca coming down.

Panamanian Spanish Lesson: When someone get's screwed over, Panamanians will say "se le metio la yuca" which literally means "they stuck the yuca in him." As in, they stuffed it up his ass. Yucas typically have a pointy end, but then they get thick at the base, and are about as big as your forearm - perfect for stuffing up someone's ass - and not something normal people would consider enjoyable. This expression is often used when someone thinks they were going to get over because they were going to try to be clever or slick, but then the tables were turned and the person who thought they were going to get over, gets hosed instead. They get in trouble or go to prison or what have you. In this case the ACP is pulling the old yuca trick to the GUPC. Silly Spaniards, thinking they could "out slick" the Panamanians on their home court...

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Varela Hermanos Not Paying Their Workers Minimum Wage, Again

PoliticsPanama's Ministry of Labor and Workforce Development revealed in a press conference Monday the company Varela Hermanos SA owes $102,000, after they conducted an inspection to verify that the company is complying with the new minimum wage that went into effect on 1 January 2014.

For this reason, the company was fined $202,500 which is added to the $107,500 the company already owes due to fines levied by Mitradel in 2011.

Dario Falcon, Vice Minister of Labor, explained the company Varela Hermanos is categorized as processing sugar cane, which has a higher minimum salary rate, and the amount they pay in minimum salary should be based on this activity, "it's not to see if they are doing it or not; they should set an example, and pay their workers," he said.

Meanwhile, Mario Molino, the Secretary General of the Mitradel, said this was not a question of political persecution, but rather they are checking this company in the same way as they check all others, to make sure the they are following the law. "I urge the company to come to the Mitradel and to pay this fine, and with this to be good countrymen," he said.

Mitradel revealed there are about 220 workers on both the permanent payroll as well as those hired to work during the harvest who are owed the wages.

During this inspection they checked the books of about 69 different companies. Of these, they found 12 that were not paying the correct minimum wage.

On 30 December 2013, the Government announced the new minimum wage of $624 per month for zone 1, and $488 per month for zone 2.

The Mitradel inspections will continue on Wednesday. (Telemetro)

Editor's Comment: Doesn't really matter all that much. Juan Carlos Varela, the presidential candidate for the Panameñista political party, really had no chance of winning anyway. It's hard to get elected by a bunch of poor Panamanians, if you don't pay your workers fairly, and as required by the law. And of course this is "political persecution." They are conducting just enough inspections of companies in the surrounding areas, and I'm sure if there are any owned by "friendly" businessmen who vote for the CD, then they will get a heads-up to let them know the inspections are coming, and to give them time to get their books in order. The other 12 companies that were also fined were probably also owned by people who have political tendencies not in alignment with the CD, either PRD or Panameñista. The Panamanian government in general, and this administration in particular, makes an art form out of "selective enforcement" for fun and profit.

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Fire Department of Panama Conducts First Safety Drill on Panama's New Metro Subway System

Safety & SecurityFiremen from the Fire Department of Panama City successfully completed the exercise on Via Transísmtica on Sunday.

They reopened the roadway after the last part of the exercise was over, at about 11:00 am.

They closed the part of the road from the Estrella Azul plant until Monte Oscuro in both directions.

About 30 firemen from the Fire Department of Panama participated in the exercise, using two fire trucks.

As explained by a department spokesman, the goal is to be ready to respond to any emergency that might occur either on the elevated section of the Metro, or in the underground stations of the new subway system.

Panama's Minister of Government Jorge Ricardo Fabrega attended the exercise, who congratulated the firemen.

Fabrega said modifications being made to the Law, to improve the equipment of the Fire Department of Panama. (Telemetro)

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Big Drug Bust in Coronado

Drug TraffickingThe Panamanian national police made a large drug bust in Coronado yesterday.

The Directorate of Judicial Investigation seized 49 kilos of cocaine yesterday afternoon.

They also seized several vehicles with double bottoms, used to transport the drugs.

Five people were arrested. (Critica)

Editor's Comment: No matter where you are in Panama, there could be a massive pile of cocaine just a few feet away, or a suitcase filled with a million dollars in cash...

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Murder Ship exploiting loopholes to frustrate investigation

Panama Flagged VesselsTHE Japanese owners of the Sage Sagittarius - dubbed the "murder ship" - are exploiting a legal loophole to cut operating costs and avoid its national laws.

This "flags of convenience" system is now being blamed for complicating an Australian investigation into two deaths at sea which has blown out to almost 18 months.

Two Filipino ship workers were killed in Australian waters within weeks of one another while on the Sagittarius between late-August and early-September in 2012.

A Japanese safety superintendent was killed weeks later after falling into the ship's conveyor as the Sagittarius docked in Japan.

The Sagittarius is registered in the Central American nation of Panama. By having a flag nation of Panama, ship owners may escape regulations enforced by more developed countries.

Ships like the Sagittarius constantly visit ports near Mackay, Gladstone and Bundaberg in Queensland and Newcastle in New South Wales.

Under international law, the flag nation must investigate incidents involving its flagged ships.

It took until January 5 - three months after the third death aboard the ship - before a single Panamanian investigator inspected the Sagittarius.

By then, the man captaining the ship while two men were killed in Australia waters was long gone. He quit his post immediately after the second incident, while the Sagittarius was docked in Newcastle.

Up to 70% of cargo ships fly a flag of convenience, despite condemnation from the International Transport Workers Federation.

ITF Australia coordinator Dean Summers said the flags of convenience system was "absolutely" delaying Australian investigations.

"It provides for corruption, it is a complete de-regulation of the ship and everything to do with it," Mr Summers said.

"An incident on an Australian-flagged ship would be investigated by the Australian Marine Safety Authority and Australian Transport Safety Bureau using highly-trained seafarers who respond immediately."

Both the Australian Federal Police and New South Wales police have now given a brief of evidence to the NSW Coroner.

Naoya Miyasaka, a spokesman for Sage Sagittarius owners Hachiuma Steamship, denied the company used Panama to avoid regulations.

"The flag of registry has nothing to do with the high standards that are required of us and achieved on all our vessels," he said.

An AFP spokeswoman said it was a complex case involving state, national and international jurisdictions. The AFP would not comment on its work with its counterparts in Panama.

Comment has been sought from Panama's embassy in Singapore. (www.ballinaadvocate.com.au)

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Exclusive Interview: Panama Canal Project Won't Be Held Hostage By Contractor Shutdown

Canal ExpansionBy C. J. Schexnayder (Engineering News-Record) - For the past six weeks the Panama Canal Authority (ACP) has been negotiating a reported $1.6 billion in cost overruns with the contractor building the locks for the waterway's Third Lane Expansion.

On Feb. 5, the contractor consortium, Grupo Unidos Por el Canal (GUPC), stopped work on the project, citing a breakdown in negotiations that threatens the original mid-2015 completion date of the $5.2 billion project. GUPC consists of Spanish construction firm Sacyr Vallehermoso S.A., Italy’s Impregilo S.p.A., Jan De Nul n.v. of The Netherlands and Panama's Constructora Urbana S.A.

ACP Administrator Jorge Luis Quijano, an industrial engineer who has headed the expansion since it began, spoke at length to ENR about the project status and its current options. He reiterated the intention to complete the project by its planned finishing date next year “with or without the assistance of the contractor.”

ENR: What is the current status of the project?

Quijano: We are at a stage right now where [contractors] have stopped work. They say they have not stopped work, but there is no work happening at all. On Feb. 5, there was maybe 1% of work being done by a few subcontractors, but a day later, work is completely at a standstill. [GUPC is] saying they haven't formally notified us that they have stopped work. For me, that has really zero value since it is a de facto work stoppage. We know for a fact they have told workers to go home. They have told subcontractors to stop work. We even have subcontractors ask us if they are going to be paid or not.

We have left a little window of opportunity for continuing to exchange views with the contractor to see if an amicable resolution is possible. However, the more time that passes, the less likely that is to happen. We sent [the contractor group] a four-page letter on Feb. 5 asking them to substantiate their actions because, to us, this is a hostile act and it needs to be resolved immediately. They have already wasted enough time. They began slowing down in November and they continued to keep slowing it down until now they've brought it to a total halt yesterday.

ENR: Is this action sufficient grounds to break the contract and move forward without GUPC?

Quijano: The contract is very clear that if work is stopped or significantly reduced—or any part of the work is substantially reduced—that is sufficient grounds to take them off of the job. We feel very strongly about their actions, and if they decide not to settle this and not return to work, they leave us very little option but to default them.

We are looking at the next few days that will be critical in our decisionmaking process. As time passes, we have less and less of a chance to have a negotiated solution. We are not closing the door but they are leaving us with very little room to maneuver. But we are not going to be held hostage for their work stoppage; we are going to take action. I'd say we are coming to the end of the road and we not talking about weeks to get this taken care of, let's put it that way.

ENR: How long has this situation been developing?

Quijano: This is not the first time we have been at this juncture with the contractor. This is the first time [GUPC has] taken a hostile position by stopping the work but in December 2012, [the contractor] was having similar cash flow issues. They came to us and requested relief by asking for a moratorium on paying back their lines of credit. They wanted some relief so they could last until the return on some of the claims they had made for cost overruns. We agreed and they did not pay back any of their lines of credit in 2013. They took the whole year and didn't win a single claim they put in to the dispute arbitration board.

They had whole year of non-repayment, which amounts to about $300 million to us, to continue work and have the time to substantiate the claims they felt they could win. The moratorium ended in December 2013 and they have to start repaying—and they have to do so very quickly at the rate of about $39 million a month.

According to the contract, they have to continue to work while these claims are being evaluated. This is costing them more than what they expected and what they want to do is make us pay for all the expenses. This is not a cost-plus project.

What we have put on the table is a further deferral of the repayment program, extending the moratorium significantly so they can continue the work. But even with that, they still have not agreed to continue the work. They did not accept that offer and, instead, asked for a moratorium to 2020.

ENR: Several times you have mentioned a 'Plan B' to complete the job without GUPC; what does that entail?

Quijano: Plan A is to continue working with the contractor and finish the job according to the contract. Plan B is to go ahead with the work without this contractor. We don't see any other alternative. It is either one or the other. Some have suggested that we don't have the construction know-how to handle it, but we're not going to construct it.

What remains to be done? About 30% of the work. What remains to be done in concrete? About 20%. All the designs for the project have been completed. Those designs are ours. The amount of work that remains is backfill and about 900,000 cubic meters of concrete (out of the 4.4 million cubic meters total). Outside of that, it is only the electro-mechanical work. And all of the electro-mechanical work was going to be done with sub-contractors. Even GUPC had planned to do that.

Our Plan B is very simple; work with all the subcontractors who were [already] going to perform the electro-mechanical work. We need a small general contractor on the Pacific side. We need a small general contractor on the Atlantic side. These will be needed to continue to provide the general services and construction management activities. But it is not the same size of a project we had in 2009. Taking this job from here onward is not the same as starting from scratch.

ENR: Fabricating new gates for the locks would take longer than a year. What arrangements are there to procure the gates that have already been made?

Quijano: The new locks have 16 gates in total. We already have four gates here along with all the electromechanical elements for them. Four gates have been completed in Italy, and are awaiting transportation. Another four gates are going to be ready in a month's time. And the last four gates will be ready by June at the very latest.

We don't expect Cimolai [the subcontractor in Italy] to give us the gates they have already fabricated for free. Unlike GUPC, Cimolai has done an outstanding job by continuing to work. [The firm is] very professional and we have a very good relationship with [it]. I feel we will continue our working relationship with [Cimolai].

There is very little use for these gates other than in the new locks. They cannot be sold for any other project, and if they are scrapped, it will bring in maybe one-tenth of what they are actually worth.

If the [GUPC] plan is to hold onto those gates and force us to look elsewhere to fabricate [new ones] from scratch, that to me is extortion. And it affects far more than just the Panama Canal. The canal is not being done just for Panama, it is being built for the world. The United States is the number one user. China is number two, and Latin America is the third biggest user. There is a lot of international interest to see this project is completed.

ENR: GUPC won the locks job with a bid of $3.12 billion, more than $1 billion under the next lowest bid submitted by the consortium of Bechtel and Taisei Mitsubishi. Is there reason to believe this was underbid?

Quijano: At the time we fully analyzed this and we fully believed the amount bid was an adequate amount. We had hired consultants who drew up a range of what the bids were expected to be. And we set an estimated range of $3.1 billion and $3.6 billion, which would depend on how each bidder saw the risk.

Many people compare GUPC's bid to Bechtel's bid but forget this was a design-build project; you bid on the basis of your design and the amount of risk you feel comfortable taking. But GUPC is now asking for $1.6 billion, which is far more than the difference in those two bids.

ENR: There were concerns when ACP chose to join both sets of locks into a single contract due to the size and complexity of the job. Was that a factor in the issues you are facing now?

Quijano: Because it was design-build we thought it was much better to have both [sets of locks] done by one general contractor than by two. The design had to be the same for both and by having one contractor do it, you could actually cut down on the time.

We felt [GUPC] could handle it if [it] had done the work with diligence from the very beginning, but, I regret to say, [the contractors] did not. We started to notice that about a year into the program. We started to get the impression they would not be able to complete the job in the allocated time we had allotted.

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Prosecutor Considering Charging Brimager

Expat TalesThe murder of the American woman Yvonne Lee Baldelli, who disappeared in November 2011 in Bocas del Toro, could be a case of either domestic violence or robbery, for the theft of her credit cards, so prosecutors are considering charging her boyfriend for the crime.

This was announced by the Superior Prosecutor of Bocas del Toro, Vielka Broce, who said these are the two main theories they are developing after the investigation they have conducted.

Broce said her office received legal assistance from the United States to confirm the link between Baldelli and her partner Brian Brimager.

The official explained they have also taken testimony from some of the neighbors who lived near where the couple were staying, who claim to have heard some disputes between them.

She said the evidence of theft was generated when Brimager used Baldelli's credit cards in Costa Rica, so therefore that is a possible motive they have not discarded.

Baldelli's body was found on August 21, 2013, almost nine months after her disappearance, by a group of fishermen in a secluded spot on Isla Carenero in Bocas del Toro, in a military-type bag. The remains of the victim were identified by a comparison with the parental DNA and samples taken from the remains. (Prensa)

Editor's Comment: OK, so my source was a little premature. Last week when I saw an article in the US press saying Brimager had been charged in San Diego with two additional counts by US authorities, I reached out to one of my contacts who is close to the case. I was told the prosecutor had already charged Brimager with murder, and was working to coordinate the details related to his extradition.

Apparently, as a result of my earlier article saying Brimager had been charged with murder by the prosecutor, the Panamanian reporters contacted Broce to confirm. Her answer in this article basically says they're close, but they have not charged him yet.

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