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Monday, April 21 2014 @ 05:37 AM EDT

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The ACP Has A "Plan B" To Finish Panama Canal Expansion Project

Canal ExpansionJorge Luis Quijano , administrator of the Panama Canal Authority (ACP), said he was confident the project to build a third set of locks as part of the project to expand the Panama Canal would be done in 2015 "with or without the Grupo Unidos por el Canal," the contractor for the project, who stopped working on the project completely on this most important aspect of the expansion program.

Quijano made ​​his first public statements after the deadline imposed by the GUPC expired and the parties were unable to reach a negotiated solution to the problem, to avoid a complete shutdown of work on the project.

Flanked by the Vice Presidents of the ACP, in a packed press room, Quijano said "the project can be saved for 2015."

In order to achieve that, "we have to act fast, because the dry season is ending," said Quijano. Much more work can be done during the months of the dry season (mid December to mid April) than during the rainy season.

While declining to go into details, Quijano said the ACP has a Plan B and there is no fear about the work that is left to be done. Right now the entire expansion project is about 70% completed.

Inside the halls of the ACP it is understood the slowdown of progress on the project and the recent cessation of activity by the GUPC is sufficient reason for termination of contract.

In fact , according to the contract, if the consortium "abandons all or a substantial part of the works, or demonstrates the intention not to continue the execution of their duties," is cause for termination of the contract.

However, Quijano refused to discuss further details of the strategy followed by the entity.

"We are going to observe all of the legal steps to be sure that our decisions, after having made a complete and total analysis of the situation, are correct and within the terms of the contract for us to continue this project."

About the eventual takeover of the project, Quijano said they would take action "at the appropriate time" and he said "we have to work with a cool head, although we have a warm heart."

The ACP does not want to make any false steps which could cause the loss of the $400 million performance bond held by the Zurich American insurance company.

Yesterday, both Quijano and the GUPC raised the tone their rhetoric, while the two sides exchanged accusations regarding the causes of the crisis.

With the protocol of negotiations having expired, both sides took off the gloves which in recent weeks had left them making diplomatic pronouncements about the good intentions all around.

Quijano, who has been summoned to speak before the National Assembly, spoke of "threats" and "blackmail," and he said because of the "the intentions of the GUPC against the best interests of Panama and the Canal," they were unable to reach an agreement, due to the "inflexible position of the consortium," that "who tried to negotiate exorbitant numbers that were not sustained, outside of the contract."

Meanwhile, the GUPC spoke about the "unreasonably rigid position" of the ACP, and they warned a breakdown in the negotiations would lead to "years of litigation and arbitration" and cause delays on the project of between three to five years, which would leave a "continuous shadow on the ACP and the Panama Canal."

Paradoxically, both sides said they were open to a possible reconsideration, although Quijano acknowledged that confidence has deteriorated. (Prensa)

Editor's Comment: Boy, I called that one. Now they ACP will very carefully and slowly pick their way through the legal minefield. They will find a way to boot the GUPC, take over the project, cash in the $400 million performance bond, and then sue the GUPC for the rest of the cost of the project. Boy, are the lawyers going to feed off of this one. The only thing I don't know yet is what contractor is going to pick it up. It will either be Odebrect or Bechtel, but I don't know which...

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Panama says canal work suspended, company denies

Canal ExpansionA dispute over a $1.6 billion cost overrun in the Panama Canal's expansion took a new twist Wednesday after a Spanish company leading the project denied it halted work over the spat.

The Panama Canal Authority said the consortium led by Spanish builder Sacyr had halted work after negotiations broke down, but the company later announced that it made a "final offer" to prevent a shutdown.

The two sides have locked horns since December over unforeseen expenses in a project to widen the canal to accommodate massive cargo ships in the century-old waterway, which handles five percent of global maritime trade.

Panama Canal Authority administrator Jorge Quijano said the "inflexible position" of the consortium known as Grupos Unidos por el Canal (GUPC) had derailed the negotiations.

"They put a threat on the table, and today (Wednesday) they carried it out," he said.

"We demand the work be restarted immediately," Quijano said, adding that a proposal to cancel the GUPC contract is still on the table.

In a statement, Sacyr said the Panama Canal Authority had decided to "break off negotiations" but company president Manuel Manrique later said that the company would keep the talks alive.

"What happened is that the ACP (canal authority) rejected our last proposal without proposing a viable alternative, and this is why we released the statement," Manrique told Spain's Cadena Ser radio.

"But later we sent a letter proposing to continue and so we will see what happens... We have made a final offer to the canal (authority)," he said, adding that there was "no concrete date" to suspend the work.

"This depends on the response" from the canal authority, Manrique added.

The project to widen the canal, one of the biggest civil engineering operations in the world, is due to be completed next year but GUPC has said that the dispute threatens to delay completion by up to five years.

In its earlier statement, Sacyr said the collapse of the talks "puts in danger the widening of the canal and up to 10,000 jobs."

Sacyr said that if a solution were not found immediately, Panama would face years of litigation before national and international courts "on the events which have brought this project to the edge of failure."

'Bad' for world economy

The European Union's industry commissioner, Antonio Tajani, who has mediated the dispute, warned that "the interruption of the works would be bad news for employment, for the worldwide economy, for the expansion works of the canal."

Spain's Public Works Minister Ana Pastor called for an agreement be found quickly "because what is at stake is infrastructure that has an impact not only on the economy (of Panama) but also the world economy."

The canal facilities are being widened to permit the passage of ships carrying up to 12,000 containers, twice the current limit.

But the disputed contract to build locks, due initially to be completed this year, was already running nine months late and since the beginning of this year work has slowed down further.

GUPC says that unforeseen costs total $1.6 billion (1.2 billion euros) beyond the initial $3.2 billion value of the contract.

GUPC is in dispute with the Panama Canal Authority mainly over who was responsible for the quality of geological information and who should bear the cost of problems and delays arising from unexpected geological difficulties.

The consortium is proposing that the two sides each pay half of the extra costs until the project is completed.

They would then go before an international arbitration court for a decision on who is responsible for the unforeseen costs and who should pay.

Tajani said the breakdown was unexpected as the Panamanian president had said the previous day that the parties were "very close" to an agreement.

The consortium warned at the end of December that it would suspend work in three weeks' time if Panamanian authorities did not provide the extra finance demanded, and the deadline for progress in the talks ended on Tuesday.

The canal, completed in 1914 to offer a short cut and safer journey for maritime traffic travelling between the Pacific and Atlantic oceans, is about 80 kilometers (50 miles) long and is used by 13,000-14,000 ships each year. (Bangkokpost.com)

Editor's Comment: Man, this should go into the Business Management textbooks on how not to conduct business. First the GUPC guys win the contract by putting in a low-ball bid. Their management of the project has been crap from day one. Now they are talking about geological studies that were supposedly faulty. What happened to their original argument about the concrete being the cause of them falling behind?

The truth of the matter is GUPC gambled, and lost. The mistakenly calculated the ACP would capitulate to their demands, which they timed to fall just a few months before the upcoming presidential elections. They never thought for a moment the ACP would tell them to pound sand, refuse to hand over the $1.6 billion they were basically trying to extort from them, toss them off of the project, and hire someone else. Yeah, there were lots of surprises in the way this went down for the GUPC.

Oh, and when Martinelli told the press the two sides were about to reach an agreement - in reality the decision to tell them to fuck off had already been reached. That was just a play by Martinelli to put some psychological separation between him and Quijano. In fact, they are consulting about this every day, and making decisions together. Now Martinelli can look right at the television cameras and say "I support the independent decisions being made by the Board of Directors of the Panama Canal Authority." He appointed the majority of them, so they are doing his bidding. Trust me on this one - Martinelli is the hard edged negotiator who is making the big play calls here, from the sidelines. He does the "who, me?" thing better than anyone.

Regarding the jobs in Panama - this will just be a short delay. The GUPC had about 5,000 workers and right now about 70% of them are off the job. The ACP will bring in someone else, and those guys will hire the same workers, who will go back to work. Big deal, carnival is coming up, so they will take a break then go back to work.

Regarding economic impact - instead of spending $5.25 billion to expand the Panama Canal, the government of Panama will now be spending more than $7 billion. Most of that money stays in the country in the form of salaries, services, supplies, logistics, etc. So it's just more money flowing through the washing machine. No big deal.

Regarding the additional expense - the Panama Canal generates its own income. The traffic through the Canal will pay for the expansion. Again, no big deal.

Almost everyone quoted in this article from Spain, Italy, and the European Union don't want the GUPC to be tossed off the project. The governments of Spain, Italy and the EU will not be screaming bloody murder. The ACP will quietly execute clauses in their contract with the GUPC, take over the project, and hire someone else. Then, they will sue the GUPC for about $1.6 billion dollars (the additional expense of finishing the project.)

Sacyr said the ACP "rejected our last proposal without proposing a viable alternative." Yup, that's officially the end of negotiations. They were due to fail at some point anyway, and that failure came today. I expect there are phones ringing at Bechtel right now, and there are other companies sharpening up their pencils to take over this project - which will still have about $1.6 billion dollars left of juice in it. That's billion. With a "B".

So now Sacyr is saying "no wait, we're not done yet." Yes, you are. Pack your bags and get out. Game, set, and match.

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Panama Canal officials say work on major expansion halted by financial dispute

Canal ExpansionPANAMA CITY (AP) — Panama Canal officials say work on major expansion halted by financial dispute.

Editor's Comment: That's it. That's the end of the story. It's appearing on practically every news outlet, all over the place. The talks between ACP and the GUPC have broken down, as in done, over, not going to talk any more. And now the ACP has announced that work on the third set of locks has stopped (completely.) Prior to this the GUPC had already laid off most of their workforce at the end of December 2013 (for lack of money to pay them) so work on the project had already fallen to a snail's pace. And now work has stopped.

So, that's it. As I have been predicting for weeks, the GUPC is now toast. The next thing you will hear out of the ACP is a press release about how they are going to be executing or exercising several protective clauses in their contract with the GUPC, which allow them to take over the project in the event something like this happens.

Of course, the ACP will be very careful to stay within the framework of their contract - because they know eventually they will be suing the companies participating in the GUPC for the additional costs associated with their failure to build the project for the price they submitted.

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Talks Break Down in Panama Canal Contract Dispute

Canal ExpansionBy Sonya Dowsett (Reuters) - A planned extension of the Panama Canal, one of the world's most important shipping routes, was thrown into doubt on Wednesday after a group of companies said its talks with Panama's government over how to expand the canal had fallen apart.

Group United for the Canal, a consortium led by Spanish builder Sacyr, said in a statement that the government's canal authority had broken off talks on who will pay some $1.6 billion needed to complete the ambitious project. The Panama Canal Authority said it would hold a news conference at 9 a.m. local time.

The breakdown in talks is the latest setback to a project mired in disputes since the consortium, which also includes Italy's Salini Impregilo as well as a Belgian and Panamanian firm, won a bid to double the capacity of the near 50-mile (80 km) transoceanic cargo route.

Disagreements over cost overruns have already reached international courts and talks between the two sides over how to find the additional cash to finish the project had already been extended twice.

It was unclear whether Wednesday's breakdown was final. In its statement, GUPC - the Spanish acronym by which the consortium is known - said the failure of the talks meant the expansion and up to 10,000 local jobs were at immediate risk.

But the company said it was still seeking a solution for completion of the project, which had been scheduled for 2015.

If the partnership between Panama and the builders is indeed abandoned, it would likely mean further delays while Panama seeks financing and a new construction group.

That in turn, would be a setback for companies worldwide eager to move larger ships through the Panama Canal, including liquefied natural gas (LNG) producers who want to ship exports from the U.S. Gulf Coast to Asian Markets. Delays could also cost Panama millions of dollars in projected revenue from toll charges.

Last month, Panama President Ricardo Martinelli said that Panama had the resources to complete the expansion of the Canal even if talks with GUPC ended.

"We will finish the Canal in 2015 no matter what happens, rain, thunder or lightening," Martinelli told an audience of international investors and executives gathered in Davos, Switzerland. He did not give details as to who would pick up the work or the tab.

Shares in Sacyr plunged over 8 percent on the news before recovering some lost ground while Salini Impregilo fell 1.9 percent.

"I wouldn't be surprised if Panama already had a plan B," said a Madrid-based trader who asked not to be named. "As for Sacyr...they'll push forward with new contracts, but everything they do will be looked at with a magnifying glass from now on."

MONEY RUNS OUT

Disputes over the expansion of the Canal set in almost immediately after GUPC won the bid in 2009. At the time, officials and diplomats expressed concerns over the consortium's ability to complete the project since its requested tab was $1 billion lower than the nearest competitor.

Over the past months, the two sides had been discussing how to fund the $1.6 billion needed to complete the project through a co-financing deal. Disputes about liabilities for the cost overruns, which tally with the amount the consortium say it will cost to finish the work, are being fought out within the terms of the contract and may end up in international arbitration courts.

Spain's public works minister flew out to Panama earlier in the year to mediate talks while the European Commissioner for Industry Antonio Tajani had also offered to mediate negotiations, an offer rejected by the Panamanians.

In its Wednesday statement, the Spanish-led consortium said the Panama Canal Authority had broken off the latest talks, but it did not spell out why. The GUPC said that, in its latest proposal, it had offered $800 million in new and existing funds, while asking the Panama Canal to put in $100 million in funds. It also asked the Canal to extend the deadline by which the consortium needs to return $785 million in advance payments made by the Canal in order to free up cash.

"It is unjust and impossible for the PCA and Panama to expect that private companies will finance $1.6 billion in costs on a project that was to be fully funded by PCA," the consortium said in the statement. It said the Panama Canal had not paid a pending $50 million invoice that had meant to cover salaries this week for subcontractors and workers.

"Without an immediate resolution, Panama and the PCA face years of disputes before national and international tribunals over their steps that have pushed the project to the brink of failure," the consortium added.

For Sacyr, which has 48 percent of the consortium, the work brings in a quarter of its international revenue. Like most Spanish builders, the company relies heavily on foreign orders to offset a sharp economic downturn at home.

Sacyr has provided 476 million euros in cash advances and guarantees to the project. One analyst said this was the worst-case scenario in terms of what losing the project would mean for the builder.

"But the actual impact will only be determined after several years in the courts if there is no final agreement," said Juan Carlos Calvo, analyst at Espirito Santo, adding that losing the contract would not represent a cash outflow for Sacyr as it affected cash advances already paid.

Any loss of the contract would also affect insurer Zurich , which had been involved with discussions. The insurer had proposed converting $600 million of surety bonds into a loan that would free up money to help complete the project a source with knowledge of the matter had said.

Editor's Comment: As predicted. The Panama Canal Authority had all (100%) of the negotiating power, while the GUPC had almost none. Their threats to walk off of the job (originally on 20 Jan, twice extended) fell on deaf ears, because they had, in fact, already laid off most of their work force at the end of the year. So, in fact, they had already stopped working.

Now the ACP can simply hire someone else. They can now spend the $1.5 billion (or more) needed to finish the Panama Canal expansion project. They also have the GUPC companies by the balls - one in each hand - because of the contract they signed. The ACP will be able to argue in international courts that the GUPC should have been able to build the project according to the contract they signed, and they should be able to squeeze the companies for the money necessary to actually build the damn thing. So, who's fucking who now, bitch? Welcome to Panama, where screwing over foreigners is a favorite pastime...

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Deadline looms in Panama Canal dispute talks

Canal ExpansionBy Marcus Hand - The deadline is looming in negotiations between the Panama Canal Authority (ACP) and lock gate contractor Grupo Unidos por el Canal (GUPC) with the Panamanian president Ricardo Martinelli saying they are very close to an agreement.

Talks over resolving a dispute over $1.6bn in cost overruns on the Panama Canal expansion project were extended until 4 February.

"They are very close to arriving at a happy conclusion ... But I prefer for us to give time to the parties, who have set tomorrow as the final day, so that it may be they (who announce results), but I'm sure that they are close to arriving at an agreement," the president told reporters on Monday.

"I'm sure that the parties, before tomorrow, can arrive at an agreement that will be satisfactory for (them all). I understand that they are on the verge of getting there."

As the deadline approaches neither party has yet made a public statement on the outcome of the talks. (seatrade-global.com)

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Solis, Pinilla and Valdes Have Divided Power in the Electoral Tribunal

PoliticsIt seems the Electoral Tribunal has lost its sense independence, and even more so as one of the most disputed elections the country has ever seen draws closer, on 4 May 2014.

All power within the institution is literally controlled by three people who, as if in a privately owned company, divided among themselves key positions within the Electoral Tribunal where they have placed their family members, close friends, and acquaintances.

This situation is most concerning to the Independent presidential candidates, who are openly questioning the Electoral Tribunal's objectivity, upon having learned how the key positions within the institution have been divided up and distributed, including those people whose primary responsibility is to organize the electoral process, count votes, prepare the results, handle challenges, and other important tasks.

This distribution of positions has been going on since Gerardo Solis was the presiding judge, together with Eduardo Valdés Escofery and Erasmo Pinilla.

Although Gerardo Solis left the Electoral Tribunal on 15 November 2012 and is now the Vice Presidential candidate on the PRD ticket of Juan Carlos Navarro, he still controls 27 people who hold key positions of power within the TE, according to documents of the institution, to which the Panama America newspaper had access.

The designations made by Solís, Pinilla and Escofery are not only confined to national level positions, but they also extend to the provisional headquarters of the TE.

The other two judges, Pinilla and Escofery, control another 48 key positions each in the institution, including National Director positions, as well as Coordination Chiefs for the National Electoral System, who are responsible for the transmission of election data, among other strategic positions.

Some of those who are still active on the TE's payroll who were hired and placed by Solis are; Evangelista Ortiz, the Deputy Chief of the Electoral Commission who is also currently in charge of updating and auditing the Electoral Register; Rosalba Chin, Legal Deputy; Francisco Gómez, in charge of Election Results; Myrtha Varela, General Secretary, who is also in charge of the Commission for Appeals and Challenges, among others.

Editor's Comment: (The original article here goes on to name - by name - dozens of people who have been hired and place by the other judges of the Electoral Tribunal to key positions of power within the institution.)

Meanwhile, the judge who replaced Solis, Heriberto Arauz, has only been able to make three appointments within the TE, including his executive assistant and secretary, his bodyguard, and driver.

The Panama America newspaper contacted (several people) within the TE, but all decided to not make a comment.

Pinilla tried to justify the appointments by arguing that everyone goes through an evaluation process and a review of their merits, but he accepted are the judges themselves make the final decision.

" The judges make proposals, but the decisions (to hire) are made in the agreement room," said Pinilla.

What Judge Pinilla did not clarify is that the so called "agreement room" is comprised of the three judges of the TE.

Valdés also accepted that appointments to the TE are made by the judges, and he said that's why there are still people on the staff who were recommended by past judges who are no longer working in the TE. In this case he was referring to Gerardo Solis.

"If anything has characterized the Electoral Tribunal, it is the stability of the staff in their positions, based on their merits," said Valdes.

The Panama America tried to elicit a comment from Solis but he did not respond to the request.

Meanwhile, Eva Aime Alvarado, the Deputy Director of Human Resources, who was appointed by Solis, has denied that the former judge has any influence within the institution.

She said "the people who were appointed by Solis are quite competent, and that's why the other judges decided to stay with them."

Politicians and presidential candidates criticized the handling of appointments within the TE.

José Muñoz, the campaign manager for CD candidate José Domingo Arias, expressed concern about this situation.

"I do not see magistrates appointing persons of confidence to staff positions as a major problem, but that a former TE judge (Solis) with people who still hold positions of trust within the TE is another thing," he said.

"We hope the TE will maintain a level of confidence, as it did during the last elections, where the (legitimate) winner was recognized," he said.

Doris Zapata, the Third Secretary of the Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD) , said key appointments in an institution like the TE should be made through a professional profile.

"For an institution to be transparent, they must fill these characteristics, and have recruitment rules as a priority," she added.

Meanwhile, independent presidential candidate Juan Jované thinks administrative processes within the institution should not be handled by "cronyism, rather - the appointments should be competitive."

This would avoid any uncertainty from being generated in something as important as an election process, said Jované.

He suggested that, as in the education system and the University of Panama, appointments to the TE should be made ​​through merit and contests.

Another independent presidential candidate, Gerardo Barroso, made ​​strong accusations against the judges - related to the control they wield within the institution.

"Not only do they control the institution at will, but they are also abusing their power, and they deserve to be removed for violations of the Electoral Code," Barroso claimed.

The candidate said it was the judges who are imposing a series of obstacles for independent candidates, including the subsidy payment for advertising campaigns. (Panama America)

Editor's Comment: So on the same day and article appears in La Prensa making allegations against the CD and their presidential candidate for using state gathered data for their electoral campaign, the government run Panama America newspaper comes back with their own allegations of abuses of power within the Electoral Tribunal. The fact of the matter is the CD and Ricardo Martinelli do not (currently) control the Electoral Tribunal - the PRD does. The CD only has one of the three judges and the Electoral Prosecutor in their back pocket. The rest are wild cards - and that makes them very nervous indeed.

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State Information - Available to the CD's Candidate Jose Domingo Arias

PoliticsThe ruling Democratic Change (CD) political party created a computer database to support the election campaign of their presidential candidate, José Domingo Arias, in which anyone with a user account and password can access the personal information about any Panamanian, including the details of their family, work and political affiliation.

The website www.josedomingoarias.org, created in August 2013 by a company headquartered in Florida, provides information such as date of birth, political affiliation, if the person is currently working in a government position, or if they are participating in any of the government's social support programs such as 100/70 or the Guardian Angel program.

In order to conduct a search users only need to know the target's cedula number. The database also contains other personal information such as details on parents, siblings and even family acquaintances.

The purpose of this system, as revealed by a source who attended seminars held when the system was rolled out, is to build a network of supporters of the Arias campaign.

When a person registers, users punch in personal information, if they live near a polling station, if they have a car, and if they can transport more voters, or if their house can be used on election day.

There are four categories of participation; circuit leaders who recruit coordinators, they are supposed to each bring in 10 "multipliers," who in turn should represent 20 voters each. That is to say, each coordinator, in theory, should bring in 200 voters to the CD's presidential campaign.

Something similar was proposed by the President of the Republic and the CD political party, Ricardo Martinelli, during the party's convention on 15 December 2013. He called this strategy and "avalanche" of victory.

José Muñoz, the National Assembly Deputy from the governing CD party, who is also the campaign manager for Jose Domingo Arias, said he was unaware of this system. However, he asked for a chance to investigate.

"I get the impression this page was hacked," he said later. (Prensa)

Editor's Comment: Hacked? That's ridiculous. I love politicians who feel they can lie straight to the public's face when caught flat-footed on a question they were unprepared to answer. Of course Arias' campaign manager José Muñoz knew about this computer system. Their entire campaign strategy is built on "getting the vote out" and creating a sort of MLM structure for election day. Each "circuit leader" recruits ten "multipliers", and each "multiplier" then has to sign up 20 votes. Therefore, each "circuit leader" should bring them 200 votes in theory.

Listen, there's nothing wrong with an election campaign organizing their grassroots following in an effort to make sure everyone gets to the polls, has a ride, actually shows up to vote, etc. The real problem comes when the candidate for the ruling party has access to the information contained in official government computer databases, and then they use that same information to structure their recruiting efforts, and their push to get the voters to the polls.

And ask yourself, did the PRD to exactly the same thing when Balbina Herrera was their candidate and Martin Torrijos was president, leading up to the 2009 election? Of course they did, but with less sophistication. Martinelli is much more adept at using technology, so their effort is more likely to be successful. And will there be people who are going to complain about this? Of course. Will anything be done about it? Of course not. The Electoral Prosecutor is in the CD's back pocket. Politics, Panama style...

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Free eBook Helps Make Relocating to Panama Easy

Law & Lawyers

Relocating to Panama, let alone moving to any foreign country, can be stressful. Learning Panamanian laws, customs, and discovering how to get things done can take months, if not longer. That is why we've prepared a detailed Panama relocation checklist which will help make your move easier. And for a complete how to guide, download the free Panama relocation EBook.


Download Free Panama Relocation eBook


Panama Relocation Checklist

1. Research Panama Immigration Visas to see which one would be the best fit for your family. Panama has numerous permanent residency programs for entire families including pensioners, investors, businessmen, job offers, and even for citizens of 48 “friendly nations”. While Panama’s embassy and consulate websites can provide basic information, it is better to consulate with a Panama immigration lawyer as the rules and regulations are constantly changing and securing a visa without legal assistance can take a very long time.

2. Research the Types of Vaccines needed to relocate to Panama. The U.S. Center for Disease Control recommends contacting your doctor to determine what vaccines are necessary depending on your health, vaccine history and which part of Panama you will relocate to. For instance, make sure you are up to date with routine inoculations for mumps/measles/rubella (MMR) vaccine, poliovirus vaccine, and diphtheria/pertussis/tetanus (DPT) vaccine. The CDC website has a map of the world indicating Panama has an intermediate risk of Hepatitis A virus but no risk of contracting Hepatitis B Surface Antigen. Some areas east of the Panama Canal Zone heading towards the border with Colombia may require a Yellow Fever vaccination.

3. Research Customs Duty and Taxes for new vehicles and luxury items being shipped to Panama. As a foreigner on a pensioner visa in Panama, you are afforded special tax incentives when importing a car and household goods. Learn more here.

4. Bringing Pets to Panama requires rabies vaccines and specific forms from your vet and other documents. Learn about the specific steps to take when bring a pet to Panama in our free relocation EBook.

5. Medical Health Insurance covering travel to Panama may be purchased. However if you plan to fly to Panama City’s International Airport (Tocumen), you will receive a brochure explaining the government of Panama’s free medical insurance program covering you and your family for the first 30 days. After that period you can purchase health insurance plans in Panama. For information and contact details on the best hospitals and health insurance in Panama, read more here.

6. Gather Important Documents to take with you and have them Apostilled by your government within 3 months before applying for a Panama immigration visa, a Panama driver’s license, and opening a Panama bank account. These documents include:

  • Marriage and birth certificates
  • Passport, naturalization document, green card, proof of citizenship, etc.
  • Social security cards
  • Vaccinations, dental and medical records
  • Insurance policies
  • Academic records and diplomas
  • Employment records
  • Proof of residency (utility bills with your name and address)
  • Driver’s licenses
  • Original reference letter from your bank (two banks would be better) addressed to a specific Panama bank and signed by a bank official.

An Apostille is an internationally recognized method of authenticating government issued documents such as birth and marriage certificates and driver’s licenses. In the U.S., a state’s Secretary of State Office can do the Apostille.

7. Moving & Shipping: Locate an international moving & shipping company to help facilitate your moving needs. There are many options available, but it is recommended to read some reviews, compare prices, and look for recommendations.

8. Vehicle Insurance should be purchased and used while driving in Panama. Click here to learn more about Panama Vehicle Insurance.

9. Property Insurance is a good thing to have during shipping and relocation. There are international insurance companies who can provide coverage for expats and their relocation. Read this web page explaining Panama Fire Insurance.

10. Maintaining Bank and Credit Card Accounts requires notifying them of your move so they won’t treat you like an identity theft fraudster. Learn more about how to open a Panama Bank Account.

11. Prescription Drugs requires taking a quantity with you and obtaining the pertinent medical records which need to be kept in a safe place.

12. International Driving Permit must be obtained which will be carried with your original driver’s license. Find more information here on how to get a Panama Driver’s License and How to Drive in Panama.

13. Cancel Subscriptions to newspapers, magazines, and anything else which will be delivered or mailed to your former home.

14. Hotel & Flight Reservations should be made as soon as you verify your travel date.

15. VOIP Phone Service (Voice Over Internet Protocol) like the free Skype account to make free international calls.

16. Research the culture, neighborhoods, things you need which are not available (so you can stock up), schools, job opportunities, real estate prices, Spanish language schools, and Panama’s expat community groups and forums for networking. Download the EBook explaining all of these in details here: Panama Relocation EBook.

Panama Offshore Legal Services provides first-class legal advice, consultation, and various services to help make relocating to Panama more efficient and less stressful. Visit our website or download the Panama Relocation EBook to learn more.

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' There is a window of understanding '

Canal ExpansionThe administration of the Panama Canal and its largest contractor have engaged in what is expected to be the last and final attempt to not break the $3.1 billion dollar contract signed in 2009.

Yesterday, the Grupo Unidos por el Canal (GUPC) and the Panama Canal Authority (ACP) agreed to extend until Tuesday, the negotiation process to find a solution to the problems of insolvency faced by the consortium, and to complete construction of the third set of locks.

Jorge Luis Quijano, ACP Administrator, was optimistic in what could be the outcome of the process of conversation.

"There is a small window of understanding and we must seize it. We are willing to listen, and there is an opportunity to approach," said Quijano, who avoided revealing details due to a confidentiality agreement entered by the parties.

This newspaper (La Prensa) learned that the negotiation focuses on two aspects. The ACP would be willing to extend the moratorium (grace period) for prepayments of $783 million the consortium has received. However, the point in question would be how much time to give the GUPC for the grace period.

Furthermore, they are exploring the possibility that the GUPC might get $400 million from international banks, to use as a financial security support - for the same amount - from the insurance company Zurich American. (Prensa)

Editor's Comment: Who knows. Work in progress. I still won't be surprised if they can't reach a deal and the GUPC is eventually gone for good...

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Panama Canal, Contractors Extend Talks On Dispute

Canal Expansion(Fox News Latino) PANAMA CITY, PANAMA – The Panama Canal Authority, or ACP, said Friday that talks aimed at resolving a dispute with the contractors building a third set of locks for the waterway will continue through Feb. 4.

Though the parties set a deadline of Feb. 1 to reach agreement, they have now decided to continue negotiations through the weekend, the ACP said in a statement.

Discussions between the ACP and the GUPC consortium began Jan. 7.

Zurich Insurance Group, the guarantor of the expansion project, joined the process last week and will be part of the extended dialogue, the ACP said.

GUPC, which is led by Spanish construction giant Sacyr and Italy's Impregilo, confirmed Friday that talks would continue and that a threatened work stoppage would be delayed until at least Feb. 5.

The consortium formally notified the ACP on Dec. 30 that it would suspend work Jan. 20 if the canal authority did not agree to pay the contractors an additional $1.6 billion to cover cost overruns.

Since then, the date of the possible shutdown has been postponed twice.

"The objective of the negotiations has been, and continues to be, to reach an a long-term accord for the realization of the Panama Canal expansion project in the shortest time and at the lowest cost, within the contract and the law," GUPC said Friday.

Talks "center on a plan of co-financing the costs for the completion of the project. The ultimate responsibility for the additional costs will be decided through international arbitration proceedings," the consortium said.

Both the ACP and GUPC want to complete the third set of locks and the most convenient way would be "to finish together," but only within the terms of the original contract, canal administrator Jorge Quijano has said.

The ACP said on Jan. 7 it would advance the GUPC $100 million and give the consortium a grace period of two months to repay a previous advance of $83 million, provided the contractors also put up $100 million and withdraw their threat to suspend work.

The consortium countered by proposing the ACP fork out an additional advance of $400 million while also pledging to contribute $100 million of GUPC funds to keep the project running.

Another proposal, presented unilaterally by Impregilo and made public on Jan. 9, called for the canal authority to make an additional payment of between $500 million and $1 billion to the GUPC to cover cost overruns.

Quijano rejected both of those formulas as "outside the contract."

The contract for the locks, which is the centerpiece of a $5.25 billion canal expansion, was awarded to GUPC in 2009 and calls for the ACP to pay the consortium a total of $3.12 billion.

So far, the ACP has paid GUPC $2.83 billion, including repayable advances, plus an additional $180 million for cost overruns.

The Panama Canal, which was designed in 1904 for ships with a 267-meter (875-foot) length and 28-meter (92-foot) beam, is too small to handle modern ships that are three times as big, making a third set of locks essential.

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Drugs and Money Seized in Costa del Sur

Drug TraffickingAn estimated $635,000 in cash and 92 packets of cocaine were seized yesterday at Mansion #11 in the exclusive Sunset Coast housing development, in Costa Sur, located next to the Southern Corridor.

The seizure of drugs and money was achieved through a joint operation conducted by the National Police and Anti Drug Prosecutor.

At the scene police officers arrested one Colombian, two Panamanians, and two Guatemalans.

They also seized six cars, four of which had secret (double bottom) compartments. (Critica)

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Martinelli Fires Foreign Minister (His Cousin) Núñez Fábrega

Panama NewsBy Don Winner for Panama-Guide.com - Panamanian president Ricardo Martinelli fired the Foreign Minister, his cousin Fernando Núñez Fábrega, again. What's this, like the third time for this guy?

When Martinelli first took office in 2009 his cousin Núñez Fábrega was appointed as the "Anti Corruption Czar." He didn't last very long in the position, which he used to make a whole lot of noise. He became such an insufferable pain in the ass, after awhile Martinelli got rid of him (promoted/fired him) by making him the new Governor of the Province of Coclé. Yeah. Send him off to the interior. That'll work...

Nope. That didn't last long, either. It seems wherever this guy goes, he makes waves and creates more problems than he's worth. There were all sorts of allegations of wrongdoing that followed him up to Coclé, that eventually Martinelli had to get him out of there, as well. So what did he do? He moved him again (promoted/fired) to be the new Foreign Minister.

I was amazed when Martinelli made him the Foreign Minister. Martinelli probably thought he couldn't screw that up too bad. But for me it was a real head-scratcher of a decision. Made no sense at the time, and I sort of predicted it wouldn't work out too well.

And now he's been fired again. Well, officially he supposedly resigned to take care of personal and family matters. That's what they all say. He was tossed. End of story. Maybe he will stay gone this time. That would be nice. Maybe he could make us a nice raspado or something.

It looks like Núñez Fábrega will be replaced by Francisco Álvarez De Soto, who was formerly the Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs. He resigned less than 24 hours after learning (at the time) Núñez Fábrega had been appointed as the Foreign Minister and would be his new boss. I like him already...

Copyright 2013 Panama-Guide.com.

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Selection of First Lady as CD's VP Candidate Draws Ire

Politics Sectors of the civil society and recognized political figures repudiated the appointment of the First Lady, Marta Linares de Martinelli, as the Vice Presidential candidate for the governing Democratic Change (CD) and Nationalist Republican Liberal Movement (MOLIRENA) political parties.

The selection of Linares de Martinelli "constitutes an abuse of power and a disrespect for the constitutional and legal standards by Ricardo Martinelli and his government," said the lawyer Ricardo Alberto Arias.

According to him, the "spirit behind this is to control the next government," so that "he [Martinelli] can be elected" in period 2014-2019. (Prensa)

Editor's Comment: Yeah, everyone who is not a fan of the CD and Ricardo Martinelli is gnashing their teeth over this one. Clearly, this move will keep Martinelli at the very least close to the Executive branch of government. After Arias wins and his wife becomes the Vice President, Martinelli can spend five years fishing, making more money, screwing off - and playing the "who, me?" card for the press. He won't have to spend any time looking over his shoulder, either - because both the Legislative and Judicial branches will be dominated by the CD as well. So yeah, anyone who is not in the CD is - pissed. Aghast. Appalled. Unhappy. Frustrated. And screwed...

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Panama Needs to Clean Up Its Act

Corruption(A Bloomberg Editorial) With the world’s second-largest free-trade zone, Latin America’s fourth-busiest airport, four container-vessel seaports, the Pan-American Highway and numerous free-trade agreements, Panama is on its way to becoming the Singapore of the Americas.

And as Eric Sabo reports in the March issue of Bloomberg Markets magazine, the expansion of the Panama Canal now under way “is only part of the massive infrastructure spending that is propelling the Panamanian economy.”

Yet to reap the full benefits of such investment, and to address one of the hemisphere’s worst cases of economic inequality, Panama needs to follow Singapore’s lead in fighting corruption.

Singapore ranked fifth out of 177 countries in last year’s Corruption Perceptions Index compiled by Transparency International (the higher the rating, the less corruption); Panama was 102nd -- a drop of almost 20 places from the previous year’s index.

Executives surveyed by the World Economic Forum have pegged corruption as Panama’s biggest problem for business.

Many of the qualities that have made Panama a hub for global trade and finance also attract malefactors. Drug cartels from Mexico and Colombia take advantage of its location, dollarized economy and free-trade zones to move their products and launder their proceeds.

Panama’s low tax rates (including no wealth or foreign income taxes) make it a haven for those seeking to shelter or hide assets.

Revenues from the canal and huge investments in infrastructure -- a five-year public investment program of as much as $15 billion amounted to more than 50 percent of Panama’s 2010 gross domestic product -- feed temptations for misappropriation, bid-rigging and bribery.

And notwithstanding five successive elected civilian governments since the 1989 U.S. intervention that toppled General Manuel Antonio Noriega, Panama’s civil institutions and democratic culture remain weak.

Its judiciary is seen as lacking political independence: In 2012, the World Economic Forum placed it 132nd out of 144 countries in that regard.

The news media faces intimidation and harassment.

And President Ricardo Martinelli’s administration has been marked by scandals and efforts to amass executive power. As one U.S. diplomatic cable put it, the president “may be willing to set aside the rule of law in order to achieve his political and developmental goals.”

This May’s presidential elections offer Panamanians a chance to bring in a new administration that would attack corruption with greater urgency.

It could start with transparency -- for example, by posting online more details on corporate ownership and taking other steps recommended by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

Panama also has yet to sign on to the World Trade Organization’s government procurement agreement, which would ease concerns about underhanded dealings on billions of dollars in contracts.

Strengthening Panama’s judiciary and building up anti-corruption institutions will take time; in the interim, a few aggressive prosecutions of cases involving corruption and abuses of authority would be a good down payment on reforms to follow.

What has made tiny Singapore such a success is not just its freedom of commerce, after all, but also its outsized commitment to following the rules.

Editor's Comment: Nice thoughts, but it's not going to happen. The problem is that all three of the main presidential candidates are basically equal when it comes to corruption. Panamanians have already tried the Panameñista (Arnulfista) party in Mireya Moscoso - and her administration was seen as one of the most corrupt in the countries history (and, that's saying something.)

The PRD had their turn in office - twice - from 1994 to 1999 with Ernesto Perez Balladares and from 2004 to 2009 with Martin Torrijos. They proved to be no better than the Panameñistas. The news headlines over the past several years have been filled with a steady stream of complaints and legal actions against the corruption activities of these past PRD administrations.

That left the door open to the Democratic Change party and Ricardo Martinelli. His strategy has been simple. They decided early on they would simply build more and get more done in five years in office than in the previous 40 - and then they actually pulled it off. The list of completed infrastructure projects is impressive - and so is the amount of money they've been making off of those contracts.

So the bottom line remains the same. Corruption in Panama among politicians becomes a common denominator, so therefore it gets zeroed out in the political calculus. Panamanian voters already know all politicians are corrupt, so they can stop wasting their time trying to hire someone who is not.

Jose Domingo Arias is now poised to win the election in 2014 and for the first time since the end of the dictatorship era, a political party will "repeat" in office or stay in power after a five year term. That means the CD will end up having appointed each and every judge on the Supreme Court. They will own every judge on the Electoral Tribunal. They will own the Attorney General, and Electoral prosecutor. In fact they already have control of practically every position of power worth having, and those they don't hold now, they will have after the 2014 elections. Their span of control over the Judicial system continues to strengthen every day.

So, clean up corruption in Panama? Dude, what are you smoking? Why shut down the party right after the first round of tequila shooters? Things are just getting warmed up, and it's only going to get worse.

It's a great time to be a CD party loyalist, and a really (really) bad time for anyone with a PRD tattoo. The Panameñista party will continue its amazing shrinking act and will eventually contract down to meaninglessness underscored by insignificance. The CD's allies the MOLIRENA party will continue to grow and prosper as their wingman. The new FAD party and Independent candidates will suck up the left wing radical fringe voters, and will never have a chance of assuming power.

But I agree with the basic premise of this editorial. Corruption is bad in Panama. Cases are investigated and tried selectively as political weapons against opponents - so what little anti-corruption action you do see, even that is tainted. I've been chanting for years that "there's no judicial security in Panama" so don't expect to be able to take your case to the courts and win, because you won't win. The Panamanian on the other side has more money and connections than you do, so you're going to lose. It's a problem, but external pressure isn't going to make it go away. It's not going to be significantly reduced any time soon.

Expect corruption in Panama to get worse, before it gets better. And that's also saying something...

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Panama Canal says extends talks with consortium to February 4

Canal ExpansionBy Lomi Kriel (Panama City) (Reuters) - The Panama Canal Authority said on Friday it had extended a window for talks with a Spanish-led consortium expanding the waterway aimed at ensuring work continues on the project, which faces huge cost overruns.

The authority said it had agreed to continue talks until February 4 with the consortium, which had threatened to stop work on the project unless the canal foots the bill for $1.6 billion in unforeseen additional costs.

Earlier this month, the consortium, which is led by Spanish builder Sacyr, announced it could stop work by January 20. But it later said it would not call a halt on the project before at least the end of January.

"The parties agreed to continue meeting over the weekend to further evaluate the options aimed at reaching an agreement," the Canal Authority said in a statement.

Italy and Spain are both committed to finding a rapid solution to the dispute, Italian Prime Minister Enrico Letta and his Spanish counterpart Mariano Rajoy said on Monday.

The consortium also includes Italian builder Salini Impregilo, Belgium's Jan De Nul and Panama's Constructora Urbana.

Halting construction on the expansion would be a setback for companies eager to move larger ships through the century-old waterway, such as liquefied natural gas (LNG) producers who want to ship exports from the U.S. Gulf coast to Asian markets.

The canal and the consortium have traded proposals and counter-proposals to find ways to raise financing to keep work going while they deal with the cost overruns via arbitration.

The project was originally expected to cost about $5.25 billion, but the overruns could raise the cost to near $7 billion.

Work began on the expansion in 2007. The project, which is some 72 percent complete, will create a new lane of traffic along the canal and double its capacity.

Editor's Comment: Overall, the project is 72% complete. The progress on the largest contract to build the third set of locks - which is at the center of this conflict - is currently 65% complete. The GUPC has practically stopped working already, having laid off the majority of their employees. This is the second time they have agreed to extend their threat to stop working on the project. They clearly overplayed their hand, and now if they walk off the job they will be facing legal actions by the ACP for breach of contract. They keep talking, but in the end of the day there's no way in hell the ACP is just going to hand them (anywhere near) $1.6 billion dollars. My prediction remains. I think the GUPC will eventually be gone, and the ACP will hire someone else to finish construction.

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GUPC and ACP Continue To Negotiate As Deadline Approaches

Canal ExpansionNow with only two days remaining before the deadline set by the consortium Grupo Unidos por el Canal (GUPC) and their threat given to the Panama Canal Authority to walk off the job, representatives from both sides met today to continue efforts to negotiate a deal.

On Thursday, 29 January 2014, representatives from consortium - led by the Spanish company Sacyr - resumed negotiations with the insurance company Zurich American and the ACP.

The GUPC extended their original deadline of 20 January 2014 until 1 February 2014, of a threat to stop work on the project unless the ACP recognizes their demand for $1.6 billion dollars in cost overruns they are claiming.

Roberto Roy, Panama's Minister for Canal Affairs, said the best option continues to be for the consortium to finish the project.

He said they are making their last efforts for the original plan under the contract, to be that which takes place.

For his part, the President of the Republic, Ricardo Martinelli, said as the government he supports all decisions made by the Board of Directors of the Panama Canal. (Panama America)

Editor's Comment: Let's see what happens on Saturday, 1 February 2014. I think the ACP is just going to sit there and look at their watch, to see what the GUPC does when their "deadline" arrives. If they keep working, then all of this was just unnecessary drama. If they actually do walk off of the job, then they violated the contract and they open themselves up to a whole bunch of really expensive legal ramifications. In short, GUPC doesn't have any negotiating position to speak of. The ACP is holding all of the cards. What poor business practices by the GUPC members...

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Panama orders release of crew of N. Korean ship

Panama NewsPANAMA CITY (AP) — Panama's judicial authorities have ordered the release of 32 of 35 crew members of a North Korean ship detained last July for carrying hidden arms from Cuba and they were working Thursday on paperwork needed to leave.

Prosecutor Nahaniel Murgas said the captain and two other crew members will remain to face arms trafficking charges.

He said a search of the ship turned up documents that showed "that the ship's captain, first officer and political officer had been given instructions about what to do if the illegal shipment was detected. There were certain recommendations."

"Together with that were the statements by the rest of the crew, who said they were employees on the vessel, but not responsible" for the shipment, he said. "It was based on that the decided to free the other 32."

The Chong Chon Gang was carrying Cuban fighter jets and missiles. The owners agreed to pay a $670,000 fine this month to release the ship.

The ship was headed from Cuba to North Korea when it was stopped in the canal on July 15 based on intelligence that it may have been carrying drugs.

The Cuban military equipment was found beneath sacks of sugar. Panama has not released the 10,000 tons of sugar or the arms.

After the seizure, Cuba said the cargo included "obsolete defensive weapons" including two MiG-21 fighter jets and 15 motors, nine missiles in parts, and two anti-aircraft systems that were being shipped to North Korea "to be repaired and returned."

A preliminary report by U.N. experts determined that the seized ship violated U.N. sanctions against North Korea.

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Arias Names First Lady As CD Running Mate

Politics Amid a debate regarding the legality of naming the current First Lady as his running mate, and accusations that naming her would in fact be a disguised reelection of the current President Ricardo Martinelli - last night the CD's presidential candidate Jose Domingo Arias officially added Marta Linares de Martinelli to his ticket as the Vice Presidential candidate.

"For me it is an honor to accept the nomination," she said before the board members of the ruling Democratic Change (CD) political party and their political allies of the Nationalist Republican Liberal Movement (MOLIRENA) political party - who ratified her nomination.

"For five years I worked in a responsible and quiet manner," said the First Lady, accompanied by her husband, President Ricardo Martinelli.

As her first proposal, she invited the ruling parties to sign the Electoral Ethical Pact, an initiative that so far has not been supported by these political groups.

The candidacy of the first lady lit off an intense debate over the constitutionality of her candidacy. In other circles it is the opinion of Martinelli's political opponents her election as Vice President would mean the de facto continuation of Ricardo Martinelli in power.

Esmeralda Arosemena de Troitiño , a former Supreme Court justice, thinks her nomination does not contradict the constitution or the Panamanian legal system, but she did call it a "violation" of the "ethical content" of the standard.

She referred to Article 193 of the Constitution, Numeral Five, which prohibits the election as vice president relatives within the second degree of consanguinity or affinity of the President of the Republic.

Meanwhile, the CD political party released a press release, saying the Electoral Tribunal responded to a request made by the party, saying there is no deterrent in law that would prevent the president's wive from accepting the nomination or aspiring to the office of Vice President, because they are not blood relatives but rather related by marriage.

Although she was not a government official, as the First Lady she managed an office with a budget of $12.5 million during her time in office.

Carlos Gasnell, the Vice President of Transparency International, said "during the past year there has been a public over exposure of the First Lady organizing activities." (Prensa)

Editor's Comment: Wow. Well, I'm surprised. You can forget about any legal or constitutional argument against the nomination of the First Lady as the new Vice Presidential candidate for the CD party - mostly because President Ricardo Martinelli appointed the majority of the sitting justices. So even if there is a legal challenge to the nomination (and, you can bet the PRD and Panameñistas will be filing some sort of a suit) it won't get anywhere. So, from a legal point of view it's a done deal.

Politically speaking, Martinelli and the CD's candidate Arias obviously came to the conclusion that Ricardo Martinelli is a relatively popular sitting president. Arias has been running on a campaign promising to basically continue to do all of the things Martinelli did, only more. Having the First Lady on the ticket as the VP is simply further confirmation that Arias will be little more than a Martinelli puppet or clone. They believe this will practically guarantee them an election victory in May.

And now I realize who Martinelli reminds me of. "Gru" from the movie "Despicable Me" - practically a dead ringer...

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SUNTRACS Demands Agreements From Business Owners - Closes Streets in Protest

Protests & DemonstrationsThe Construction Workers Trade Union (SUNTRACS) took to the streets this Wednesday, January 29, to demand that business owners meet their demands.

Various groups of striking construction workers took over several points in Panama City, including Calle 50, to express their demands.

SUNTRACS is demanding the approval of the 156 clauses contained in a list of demands workers handed to the Ministry of Labor and Workforce Development (Mitradel) as part of the 2014-2017 collective agreement convention.

The union's general secretary, Saul Mendez, told the Estrella newspaper the union has decided to go to the streets to picket because employers have not provided any economic proposals during the three months of negotiations.

Of the 156 clauses, 85 have been negotiated, and the employers have not offered any economic proposals.

Among the priorities, SUNTRACS aims to reduce workweek to 40 hours, with the right to receive the corresponding salary for 45 working hours.

According to Méndez this week they will be taking to the streets until they receive a response from the business sector in order to reach an agreement. (Estrella)

Editor's Comment: SUNTRACS is now a shadow of its former self, but they still have enough members to pull off demonstrations such as this, and screw up traffic in the city. Once upon a time, when there was very little construction activity in Panama City, practically every job site was organized by SUNTRACS. Over the past decade or so, and thanks to the explosion of construction in Panama, SUNTRACS now represents less then 10% of all construction workers, but they are still the best organized of all the unions. They are seen as "troublemakers" and most builders avoid them, if at all possible. Recognizing their decline, some of the leaders formed the new FAD political party, seeking greener pastures.

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Chez Titi - Incredible 4.9 ranking on Degusta.

Food & DrinkSpeak to almost anyone in the Panama City foodie scene and you'll get a confirmation that Chez Titi has become all the rage over the past couple of months.

The tea salon and restaurant has risen quickly to top place on the Degusta Panama rankings within its price category. (Degusta is Panama's Yelp equivalent - a great resource when choosing a Panama City dining location!)

OfertaSimple.com now offers you the chance to try Chez Titi's most popular dishes at a fraction of the price. Who could pass up on the change to taste $40 worth of food and drink for only $20.

Among the tastiest bites are the salmon crepes and seafood bisque. It's rare to find a restaurant that receives 4+ stars across the board - for food, ambiance, and service - let alone accompanied with a 50% discount.

OfertaSimple.com - Take advantage now, before the deal ends or vouchers sell out.

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Dengue Claims 8th Victim - a 93 Year Old Man in San Francisco Neighborhood of Panama City

HealthcareThe district of San Francisco, in the capital district, recorded its first death from dengue, the third victim reported so far this year and the eighth since the epidemic was declared in the country.

The Director General of Health, Carlos Galvez, confirmed the death of a 93 year old man who received care at a private clinic, where he died Monday.

The doctor said the name, despite the treatment provided by the hospital, only lasted three days in the hospital.

Upon inspecting the victim's home, health officials found breeding larvae of the Aedes aegypti mosquito.

Galvez said a note has been sent to all health regions, to consolidate the amount of fines that have been issued at the national level, because there are still people who seem indifferent to preventive measures.

The Ministry of Health recently issued more than 5,000 fines during only one day of inspections conducted in the metropolitan (Panama City) region. The fines were issued after health inspectors found mosquito breeding sites. (Panama America)

Editor's Comment: A "breeding site" can be anywhere rainwater can collect. For example, if your dog plays with a Frisbee in the backyard, and if inspectors find that Frisbee on the ground, upside down with rainwater inside, don't be surprised when they issue you a fine.

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Illegal export of Cocobolo

Environmental IssuesThe National Environmental Authority (ANAM ) informed Interpol Panama, on 30 December, of the existence of eight suspected counterfeit permits for the export of cocobolo wood to China and Taiwan.

The alert was sent through a note signed by Ibelice Añino , Director of Protected Areas and Wildlife of the entity, explaining that in 2012 six permits were issued, and only two last year (2013.)

Two of the companies linked to the alleged false permits are owned by Alfredo Perez, who has been linked to five criminal charges for irregularities in the movement, permits, and export permits of cocobolo wood in Chepo.

In one of the cases, the Third Anti-Corruption Prosecutor called for Perez to be brought to trial.

Perez is a political candidate who is running for a position as a Deputy in the National Assembly to represent Chepo for the Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD).

On 15 October 2013, the Sixth Criminal Court denied a request for the five processes against him to be "accumulated" (combined.)

Perez's attorney Euldarín Asprilla, cataloged this as a political attack, saying they want to disable Perez as a candidate through the courts.

COMPLAINT

A criminal complaint was filed yesterday against ANAM officials, for having granted permissions for the uncontrolled logging of cocobolo trees.

Ricardo Renteria, the attorney who filed the complaint, said this activity which occurred in the area of the Darien, causes irreversible damage to the environment.

ANAM had no comment. (Prensa)

Editor's Comment: Cocobolo is a very expensive and highly sought after tropical hardwood occurring naturally in the Panamanian rain forest. Like any activity where there's a lot of money to be made, the people doing the illegal activity have enough money to pay bribes to the people who are supposed to be stopping them.

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Panama Canal Authority hit with second cost dispute

Canal ExpansionBy Rebecca Conan - A US$44mn claim against the Panama Canal Authority (ACP) filed by a consortium led by Mexican construction company ICA has gone to arbitration.

The claim is for supposed cost overruns in relation to the group's excavation contract as part of the US$5.25bn Panama Canal expansion, according to a report from the ACP.

The claim is due to what the consortium calls "different site conditions, modifications to the contract, work interruptions and late responses from the ACP."

The consortium, consisting of ICA, Costa Rican company MECO and Spain's Fomento de Construcciones y Contratas (FCC), was awarded a US$290mn contract to excavate the canal's Pacific entrance in January 2010.

Works were meant to wrap on January 31, 2015 but the consortium is seeking an extension, in addition to payment of the extra costs.

Following attempts to resolve the dispute, the case was referred to arbitration in October last year.

This is the second cost dispute to hit the canal expansion, with the ACP currently locked in negotiations with Grupo Unidos por el Canal (GUPC) in relation to a US$1.6bn overrun on construction of the third set of locks.

GUPC and the ACP have until February 1 to reach an agreement, after which GUPC said it will halt work. (Business News Americas)

Editor's Comment: However this article fails to point out the major - significantly important - difference in these two disputes. This complaint filed by ICA is being done within the framework of their contract with the ACP. The GUPC tried basically blackmail the ACP by demanding payment of $1.6 billion for "cost overruns," and it was done outside of the previsions allowed for in their contract. This tells me the ICA probably has a pretty good case, and the GUPC probably has a relatively weak case. I suspect the GUPC knows if they go through the normal channels as specified in the contract, they will lose their case.

So the fact that the ACP was "hit with" another claim really doesn't mean all that much. Compare the $44 million dollar ICA claim to the $1.6 billion dollar GUPC claim, which is much (much) larger. This one is small potatoes, comparatively speaking. And in the end the decision (if there is one) in favor of ICA will probably be less than the $44 million claimed.

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And Now - The Hackers Have Been Defeated (Do You Have Access?)

Feedback By Don Winner for Panama-Guide.com - Over the weekend hackers figured out how to defeat the "Captcha" protection mechanism. You know, the thing where you have to read the blurry letters and numbers on an image and plug them in to make sure you're a human? I was using that to keep bots and spammers off the website. They run around all over the Internet, trying to create bogus user accounts so they can submit "comment spam" to websites such as mine, containing links to sell things like Viagra or what have you.

As a result a few days ago I started getting dozens (hundreds) of bogus user submissions to the website. My geeky friends got together and I've now deployed an improved protection system. Now those bot generated bogus spammy user submissions have dropped to zero, as of this morning.

It's a never ending cat and mouse game. The programmers create a protection scheme, and the hackers try to get past it. Once they figure it out then the programmers figure you what they're doing, and block the hole. But anyway...

There's a slight chance that some of my valid paid subscribers don't have access to the website, because I was simply mass deleting all of those spammy bot bogus users, without looking at them very hard. Normally I examine each and every user submission, to make sure the authorized users can get in, and the rest can't.

Anyway, please make sure you've got access if you're a paid and valid subscriber. If you don't have access, please shoot me an email and I'll fix it for you.

My annual audit of all User accounts continues. It takes awhile to go through each and every account one at a time to make sure everyone with access has paid. I've got another bunch to go through, then I'll be caught up.

In the meantime, if you still have access and you still have not paid to renew your subscription, please do it now (before I find it, delete you account, and either toss you or otherwise coerce you to do it under duress...)

Thanks again, and have a wonderful day...

Copyright 2013 Panama-Guide.com.

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First Quantum ups Cobre Panama output estimate but start delayed

Gold & MiningBy Sakthi Prasad and Silvia Antonioli BANGALORE/LONDON (Reuters) - First Quantum Minerals Ltd's Cobre Panama project in Central America should produce about 20 percent more copper than previously planned, but initial production will be delayed and development costs will be higher, the company said on Tuesday.

Vancouver-based First Quantum, which bought the huge copper project in Panama via its C$5.1 billion ($4.8 billion) takeover of rival Inmet Mining last year, said after a lengthy review it now expects output of 320,000 tonnes a year, 20 percent more than Inmet had planned.

It also estimated a higher capital cost for the project at $6.4 billion, up $200,000 from the Inmet estimate and said production would start in late 2017, roughly a year later than Inmet had expected.

"The revised scope of the project is broadly in line with expectations, and higher annual production should be broadly offset by higher capital expenditure and a one-year delay to first production," said Jefferies analyst Christopher LaFemina, in a client note.

The miner had promised a revised estimate and project schedule before the end of 2013. But late last year, it delayed releasing the update, saying it had to "correct a number of acquired technical and logistical shortcomings."

While the overall capital expenditure costs are now slightly higher than earlier estimates, analysts noted increased output would lower the project's capital intensity, as measured per tonne of installed capacity.

"We believe the enhancement of the project and reduced capital intensity further improves the project's economics and see these changes as a positive impact for the company," said Goldman Sachs analyst Fawzi Hanano, in a client note.

The Canadian miner also announced a refinancing package and a bond swap proposal to Inmet note holders.

"We see this debt refinancing as an important positive that should alleviate near-term balance sheet concerns," said LaFemina, noting it also better aligns debt maturities when the company's growth projects are scheduled to come online.

REFINANCING EFFORT

The miner said it has signed a $2.5 billion five-year term loan and revolving facility with its banks, primarily to support its capital program.

It has also made an exchange offer to holders of Inmet notes which are currently the subject of litigation.

Some debtholders alleged last year that First Quantum had violated indentures and defaulted on a parcel of debt taken on following its acquisition of Inmet.

First Quantum strongly disputed the claims which prompted credit rating agency Moody's to put the Canadian miner under review for a potential downgrade.

As part of the swap proposal, which needs approval from the majority of the bondholders, $2 billion in notes issued by Inmet will be exchanged for two groups of $1.14 billion new First Quantum bonds which will mature in 2020 and 2021.

"The announcement is a net positive for the stock," Citi analysts said. "While there is yet no resolution on the bondholder litigation it would appear that the group is close to the required sign up for the bond exchange, which would effectively remove past claims."

First Quantum, which owns mines and projects across South America, Africa, Europe and Australia, is poised to become one of the world's largest copper producers over the next five years as a number of projects including Cobre Panama begin production.

Editor's Comment: So, this company is going to pump $6.4 billion dollars into the Panamanian economy between now and 2017 to build this new massive copper mine. Fantastic. Amazingly good news for the Panamanian economy and the Panamanian people. I know there are people out there who are vehement anti-mining types due to environmental concerns. However I strongly believe in this modern era it is possible to mitigate those concerns and conduct mining operations in an environmentally responsible manner. Granted - there's nothing "pretty" about an open pit copper mine. But open heart surgery isn't so pretty, either...

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Security Minister Mulino Warns About Drug Money In Politics

Corruption Three months before the general election of May 4, Security Minister Jose Raul Mulino, again warned about the incursion of drug money in Panamanian politics.

Mulino, who appeared before the National Assembly yesterday to deliver his report for 2013, stated that "the warning continues," without specifying which politicians could be receiving political contributions from drug traffickers.

"To every politician who has asked me, the recommendation I've made is - as a candidate or political party, place a lot of emphasis on overseeing what the (political) activists contract, so there will be no issues of gang rivalries among activists. We hope you have the necessary awareness of the seriousness of it, because it is stretching to our country as has happened in neighboring countries ," he said.

Mulino even called the list of private donors that candidates have to submit to the Electoral Tribunal a "cosmetic issue," because the candidates provide only the information they want to submit.

"It's another kind of money - off this list, the thing with which we have to very careful. Especially, so that the dramas occurring in other countries do not exist in Panama, where criminal gangs are the governing territories. There are donors ... and other donors. There are lists ... and no lists. There must be a lot of responsibility," he said.

Mulino said he has given non judicial information to the Attorney General Ana Belfon, who says over time it can help to prosecute these cases, with their own investigations conducted by the Public Ministry and the Direction of Judicial Investigation.

This is not the first time Mulino has spoken out about this topic.

On previous occasions, and without naming names, he warned about the possible incursion of money from drug traffickers into the campaigns of presidential candidates, and candidates for the National Assembly.

When speaking about his time in office, Mulino said crime rates are down, and he asked for the lawmakers not to see the issue of crime only in murders, because there are other important areas and types of crimes that have decreased from 2009 until now. (Prensa)

Editor's Comment: Allow me to translate. When Mulino says they have turned over "non judicial information" to the Attorney General, what that means is they have illegal recordings from cellular telephone conversations containing details about corrupt politicians receiving bribes or "campaign contributions" from drug traffickers and money launderers. Panama has some technical ability to intercept cellular phones in the country. They can plug in a number and monitor all activity - voice, data, and movements.

But what's even more likely is - the government of the United States and the NSA (or other outside intelligence agencies) have been providing detailed information regarding these sorts of activities to the government of Panama. Mulino, is the Public Security Minister, would be one of the few people in the Government of Panama who would receive that sort of a briefing. Add President Martinelli and the Minister of the Presidency to that list - but it's a short list.

Now, it's practically impossible under Panamanian law for the Attorney General to run out and arrest a political candidate based on NSA intercepts. It's equally illegal for the Attorney General to run out an arrest a candidate based on - illegal domestic wiretaps conducted and collected by the Panamanian government. Notice in this article where the Attorney General said they would use this "non judicial" information as a springboard for them to launch their own investigations. Translation = "now that we know who is dirty, we can try to dig up enough on them using our own investigatory powers to be able to prove it - without the need for the NSA wiretaps..."

It should surprise absolutely no one to learn drug traffickers are spending their money to buy politicians in Panama and to fund their campaigns. It's been happening all over Latin America for decades, and Panama is no different.

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Canal Conflict Will Be Resolved Before The End Of February

Money MattersPanama's Minister of Economy and Finance, Frank De Lima, said the conflict between the Panama Canal Authority and the GUPC consortium responsible for the canal expansion will be solved, and the newly expanded Panama Canal will be opened during 2015.

He said there will be a final solution before the end of February, because uncertainty is not good for the Canal, the country, or the world.

"This situation affects the rest of the countries preparing to expand their ports and receive Post Panamax vessels," he said.

He said ships going through the Suez Canal take more time to reach their destination, so it is in everyone's best interest for the newly expanded Panama Canal to be completed as soon as possible.

Canal Revenue Projections

According to Minister De Lima, they still have not prepared the 2015 budget, nor do they have estimates regarding the contribution (amount of revenue) that will be generated by the Panama Canal.

"What is it intended, is that the contribution received by the government from the Panama Canal is not affected," he said.

He said currently the Panama Canal provides $950 million annually to the state.

"What is happening at this time, is there will be no negative economic impact en the country in these years. When we write the 2014 annual budget we will meet with the ACP, to learn how much to expect in 2015," he said.

The contractual conflict that threatens to cripple work on the Panama Canal expansion project is now going into a third week during which it is hoped there will be some final decisions regarding the future of the project, caused by a lack of liquidity for the GUPC consortium. (Panama America)

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Italy, Spain say want rapid end to Panama Canal dispute

Canal Expansion(Reuters) - Italy and Spain are both committed to finding a rapid solution to a dispute which is threatening to halt work on widening the Panama canal, Italian Prime Minister Enrico Letta and his Spanish counterpart Mariano Rajoy said on Monday.

"We think it is absolutely fundamental that we manage to solve this controversy, this is a primary interest for Italy and Spain," Letta said at a joint news conference with Rajoy in Rome.

A consortium of construction companies, led by Spain's Sacyr, has threatened to halt work on expanding the Panama Canal unless a dispute over cost overruns is resolved.

Rajoy echoed Letta's words, adding that a halt in the works would cause "serious damage."

Editor's Comment: Yeah, serious damage to the economies of Italy and Spain. The largest two companies in the GUPC consortium hold a 96% stake in the project. When those companies make money, they pay taxes to these two governments. So yeah, if the ACP tosses them off of the job then it would be very bad for both Italy and Spain...

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Panama Canal Expansion Delays Will Slow Flow Of New Money To Government Coffers

Canal ExpansionThe delay in the construction of the third set of locks has caused the postponement for at least a year of the entry of additional revenues from the ACP to the state coffers of the Panamanian Government.

The newly expanded Panama Canal was supposed to go into operation this year (in 2014) meaning in 2015 the government of Panama would have started to receive the benefits of the project, thanks to increases in tolls and additional traffic.

But thanks to a delay of at least eight months caused by faulty concrete pourings by the Grupo Unidos por el Canal (GUPC), the country would end up seeing the first $1.5 billion in estimated revenue during 2016.

This would be an optimistic projection, according maritime industry sources, because there might be additional delays caused by the most recent crisis due to a liquidity for the GUPC consortium.

The consortium responsible for the construction of the third set of locks is currently working only at 25% capacity, after declaring serious cash flow problems, leading to a process of negotiation with the Panama Canal Authority (ACP) and the insurer for the project, Zurich American .

The three sides are participating in talks with an eye towards finding a funding mechanism that will allow for construction on the project to continue.

This week will be crucial in this process.

The ACP said they can take over the project and complete the work by 2015, if the GUPC walks off the job. (Prensa)

Editor's Comment: Currently the Panama Canal - before the expansion - receives a total of about $3 billion per year from all sources, tolls, services, selling water and electricity, etc. Of that total, $2 billion is spent on operations and maintenance. The vast majority of the money stays in Panama, so the benefit to the country of Panama is indirect. The remaining $1 billion or so is turned over to the government of Panama to be spent as part of the general budget. Again, these are the numbers right now, before the expansion. 3-2-1.

After the expansion those number will increase to 5-3-2. Meaning, the Panama Canal will be receiving a total of about $5 billion per year from all sources. They will be spending about $3 billion per year on operations and maintenance, and the remaining $2 billion or so will be turned over to the Panamanian government. So yeah (obviously) the sooner the newly expanded Panama Canal is opened, the better it will be for the government of Panama, and in turn all Panamanian citizens.

$2 billion dollars per year is a whole lot of money for a small little country like Panama. Look at it like this - that's enough money to pay for the entire (new) Metro Subway system project ($1.8 billion) - generated by the newly expanded Panama Canal in only one year. So every year they could take that same money and expand the system with Phase II, Phase III, Phase IV, etc. And all the while, most of the money being spent on the Metro subway system will be plowed right back into the Panamanian economy, where it will around and around like water in a washing machine.

These are some of the reasons why everyone is so bullish on Panama. They own a massive money making machine...

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Justin Bieber Hanging Out At Travis Pastrana's Nitro City in Panama After DUI Bust

Expat TalesThe Canadian artist Justin Bieber was spotted at the Nitro City hotel in Punta Chame today, Saturday, 25 January 2014.

The Canadian singer has selected Panama to relax after being arrested.

The young man was seen in the company of other young people and their bodyguards.

On Thursday 23 January Bieber was arrested in Miami for driving under the influence of alcohol and for illegally racing cars.

He was released after paying bail of $2,500. (TVN)

Editor's Comment: Well, at least he knows where to go. Nitro City rocks...

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