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Thursday, July 24 2014 @ 04:01 PM EDT

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Weeden Says Varela Won The Election, But Not Political Power in Panama

PoliticsThe former Comptroller of the Republic Alvin Weeden said the president-elect Juan Carlos Varela won the election, but not the power in the country, referring to the few deputies the Panameñista political party will bring to the National Assembly. (more)

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Panama's Economic Growth Leads The Region

Money MattersEconomic growth in Panama will lead the American continent in 2014 and 2015. (more)

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Strong 6.8 Earthquake South of Panama Last Night

EarthquakesBy Don Winner for - A relatively strong earthquake measuring 6.8 on the Richter scale struck south of Panama last night. (more)

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Balbina Herrera Calls for Probe

CorruptionThe PRD politician Balbina Herrera said issues such as the Valter Lavítola scandal should be reviewed in the next administration.

According to Herrera, it is extremely important and sensitive for the country that President Martinelli has been called to testify in Italy. (Mi Diario)

Editor's Comment: Balbina Herrera keeps coming back, like a bad burrito...

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Panama Still In The Dark

Infrastructure UpgradesThe company La Empresa de Transmisión Eléctrica S.A. (ETESA) said through a press release they have recovered 70% of the electrical load at the substations in Chiriquí, the central provinces, and La Chorrera.

With regards to the capital Panama City area, they said they have started the recovery process, and it may take a few minutes to complete.

According to ETESA, there was an event that occurred in the area of Changuinola in Bocas del Toro at 8:04 am this morning.

The capital city was left without electricity, and according to Vivian Pineda, a spokeswoman for the company Gas Natural Fenosa, the outage was caused by "damage to an electrical transmission line."

ETESA's transmission line forms part of a concession extending from the area of Ave 12 de Octubre in Panama City to the Panama - Costa Rica border, said Pineda.

The blackouts caused traffic chaos in Panama City, due to the lack of traffic lights. (Siglo)

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Varela Appoints Vice President-Elect Saint Malo As Foreign Minister

Panama NewsOn Sunday, the president-elect Juan Carlos Varela said he would appoint the Vice President-elect Isabel Saint Malo as the Minister of Foreign Affairs.

Earlier Varela said he would appoint Milton Henriquez as the Government Minister and Dulcidio De La Guardia as the Minister of Economy and Finance.

Varela previously announced Panama would restore relations with Venezuela, and Saint Malo said Panama can play a role of neutrality in the dialog.

According to Saint Malo, Panama will serve as a bridge to advance the dialog between the parties (in Venezuela) without meddling in their internal affairs, always within the framework of respect for human rights, as well as international and domestic law.

Saint Malo said there is no single recipe.

Since the government of Martin Torrijos, it has been the practice for the Vice President to also serve as the Foreign Minister. Under Torrijos Vice President Samuel Lewis Navarro served as the Foreign Minister, and Vice President Juan Carlos Varela served as the Chancellor until the alliance with the CD broke down. (TVN)

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Roberto Roy Disassociates National Blackout From Damage To Metro Subway System (Godzilla?)

Infrastructure Upgrades The Secretary of the Metro Roberto Roy responded to speculation about a possible relationship between the electrical problems on Monday morning in the new Metro subway system, and the subsequent blackout that affected several provinces.

Roy said there was no relationship between the two incidents via his Twitter account. (Telemetro)

Editor's Comment: In the first incident, a piece of wire mesh fell on an electrical line, and the Metro system was shut down as a safety precaution. Then just a few minutes later, a power transmission line that brings bulk energy to Panama City from Costa Rica failed, putting much of Panama into a blackout. Roy says the two incidents are unrelated. Actually, it was Godzilla who ripped down the power lines, and he's currently marching towards Panama City, eating small sedans and tossing mini buses as he goes...

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Cortizo Hoping For A PRD - Panameñista Alliance To Control The National Assembly

PoliticsLaurentino Cortizo, a member of the Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD), said his party would represent a firm and constructive opposition.

Cortizo said he supports a possible alliance between the PRD and the Panameñista party, in the National Assembly of Deputies, which would allow for the necessary administrative adjustments and to allow for work on the issue of strengthening the institutions of the country, which currently are very weak.

The PRD leader said at this moment in time the country needs to be governed, so they have started initial discussions between the president-elect Juan Carlos Varela and the Secretary General of the PRD, Juan Carlos Navarro.

He warned that the PRD would be a strong and constructive opposition, which would approve all of the projects that benefit the country. (Critica)

Editor's Comment: In order for the PRD and Panameñistas to obtain control of the National Assembly on 1 July 2014, they will need the entire PRD caucus to remain intact. The CD, on the other hand, only has to convince a handful of PRD Deputies to switch over to the CD from the PRD, in order to take control. Both the PRD leadership (guys like Cortizo) and the Panameñista president-elect Juan Carlos Varela know this. Varela said no one should switch parties. The PRD CEN issued a warning that only they could negotiate for control of the National Assembly, and that if any of their politicians switch to the CD, then they would be out of the PRD for good.

My bets are on the CD for this upcoming battle, for a couple of reasons. First of all, remember that Martinelli did not have control of the National Assembly after the 2009 election, and they managed to convince (buy) enough Deputies to switch over to them to gain the 36 seats needed to control. I think the CD simply has an easier chore facing them. However the administration of Juan Carlos Varela will have about 65 billion dollars to spend over the next five years - so it's not like their quiver will be empty. No matter what, it's going to be an interesting fight.

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Blackout In Panama City

Infrastructure UpgradesMany parts of Panama City were without electricity starting at about 8:10 this morning.

According to according to Vivian Pineda, a spokeswoman for the company Gas Natural Fenosa, "it is a damage to the transmission line."

The transmission line is part of Etesa concession. It extends from the area of 12 del Octubre in Panama City to the Costa Rican border, said Pineda. (Estrella)

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Metal Mesh Falls On Power Line - Metro System Knocked Out Of Service

Infrastructure UpgradesService on the new Panama Metro mass transportation system was disrupted this morning, Monday, 12 May, after a metal mesh fell onto an overhead power line that supplies power to the system, said Roberto Roy, the Secretary of the Metro.

Roy said the incident occurred at the new Metro station being built in the area of El Ingenio, forcing them to temporarily stop service, for safety reasons.

He said there was no failure or damage in the transportation system, as had been announced.

He said it was an unfortunate accident which should be resolved as soon as possible by their technical staff.

It was reported that two trains were stranded and riders were evacuated from the overhead rails to the Metro station at 12 de Octubre, in a joint operation by the National Police and the Fire Department of Panama. (Panama America)

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Martinelli Will Leave Office Without Reassessing His Mansion

Money MattersPresident Ricardo Martinelli never updated the assessed value of his mansion and "clubhouse" he owns in the upscale neighborhood of Altos del Golf, in Panama City.

Last year on December 10th the outgoing president promised he would, but he never acted.

On May 4, Election Day, Martinelli said it was not possible to make a new assessment on his compound because the law will not allow it. "The value of a property can only be updated when it's sold. Otherwise the law does not allow me," to do it, he said.

However, he is overlooking that the law does not prohibit anyone from voluntarily updating the assessment.

Martinelli made ​​the confession at the entrance of the mansion, the flagship property of the residential complex, which has an assessed value of only $290,000 when its market value is estimated to be not less than $4 million.

Documents to which this newspaper (La Prensa) had assess indicated at the end of 2013 the assessed values of the Martinelli Linares family, located in Altos del Golf, have not changed in 25 years.

According to the tax calculations, for the entire residential complex Martinelli would only pay about $4,614 per year in property tax, because his properties have such a low assessed value.

Martinelli has complained that the assessed values of properties have not been revalued for decades, while his own home is one of those that has benefited from this situation.

Five months ago he said he was unaware that he was in this position. When asked, he responded "I ask for it to be reevaluated, to set an example. I hope everyone who has not been reevaluated would do the same," he said via his Twitter account.

Neither he, voluntarily, nor the State have conducted the necessary procedures to set the real value of his property, or pay the tax. (Prensa)

Editor's Comment: La Prensa is still coming hard at Martinelli. I would ask the question - has every property, house, and condo in the Coronado complex been recently reevaluated? If asked, would I. Roberto Eisenmann recommend that every property owner in Coronado be held to the same standard? Would they print that in their newspaper? Of course not. As far as I'm concerned, La Prensa has lost all credibility - completely sold out due to politics. And of course, Martinelli should follow through and have the property tax reevaluated. What's more, the Law of Panama should be changed, to FORCE property owners to update their assessed values, and property owners should pay the true and proper tax.

Why don't they? Because the rich own the property. And, the rich own the government. End of story.

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Panama’s Construction Union Ends Strike

Protests & DemonstrationsThe union representing Panamanian construction workers reached an agreement with the CAPAC employers association to end a nationwide strike that began on April 23.

“We reached a collective bargaining agreement and we’ve ended the strike,” Suntracs union chief Saul Mendez told Efe, adding that his members will be back on the job Thursday.

An accord that “dignifies the job construction workers do” was achieved during the strike after a long negotiating process with CAPAC, the union leader said.

He said the union and CAPAC negotiated salary increases over the next four years, with the highest pay hikes going to workers involved in big projects such as a new set of locks for the Panama Canal and a third bridge over that inter-oceanic waterway.

The pay raises will take effect starting July 1, Mendez said.

The salary for assistants, now $2.73 an hour, will rise to $3 an hour this year and in successive stages to $3.71 an hour in 2017, while starting construction workers will see their salaries rise from $3.08 to $3.35 in July, reaching $4.18 an hour in 2017.

Salaries of skilled workers will rise from $3.67 an hour to $4 an hour this year and to $5 an hour in 2017.

Suntracs, which has at least 70,000 members, launched the nationwide job action seeking salary hikes of 80 percent over the next four years, compared to a 25 percent raise proposed by CAPAC.

Panama Canal Administrator Jorge Luis Quijano on Tuesday said the work stoppage affecting construction of the third set of locks was costing the government $1 million a day.

He added that the Spanish-led consortium in charge of building the third set of locks, the centerpiece of a $5.25 billion Panama Canal expansion project, would present a claim for strike-related cost overruns. (Latin American Herald Tribune)

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Control Of The National Assembly Is Still Up For Grabs - Even After The Last Election Results Are Defined

PoliticsAfter long hours of tension, screaming, and fights, the Circuit Election Board (8-6 District) finally proclaimed the winners of the seven seats in the National Assembly, to represent the area of San Miguelito.

From the Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD) were elected Zulay Rodríguez with 14,016 votes, Raul Pineda with 12,673 votes, and Leandro Avila with 12,106 votes.

Avila was fighting for this seat with Marcos González, the Deputy from the Democratic Change (CD) political party who was seeking reelection.

The members of the ruling party denounced alleged irregularities in the count, claims which were rejected by Avila.

For the CD - Dalia Bernal was reelected with 13,877 votes, and Héctor Valdés Carrasquilla, the current mayor of San Miguelito, received 12,196 votes. Francisco Pancho Aleman from the MOLIRENA political party (allied with the CD) was also reelected with 10,589 votes.

José Antonio Domínguez representing the Panameñista political party was elected with 6,752 votes. (Prensa)

Editor's Comment: That should be the final tally. The CD/MOLIRENA caucus has 33 seats. The PRD has 24 seats, and you can add the Independent Ana Matilde Gomez to that, for 25. The Panameñista/PP caucus has 13. That comes to a total of 71 seats, and whoever gets to 36 controls the National Assembly. Today the PRD is talking hard - saying only their National Executive Committee (CEN) has the power to negotiate a deal between the PRD and the Panameñistas to take control of the National Assembly. On the other side, Ricardo Martinelli and the CD will be fighting hard to split three PRD guys over to their side, giving them 36 votes and control of the Assembly. There's a lot of behind the scenes horse trading going on right now - it's a free for all...

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United Airlines to add Denver-Panama City nonstop

Travel & TourismBy Ben Mutzabaugh, USA TODAY - United Airlines will launch a new international route from its Denver hub, announcing on Wednesday that will add nonstop flights to Panama City starting Dec. 3.

The carrier plans daily service on the route from November through August and will reduce the schedule to five flights a week during September and October. United will use 118-seat Boeing 737-700 jets on the route, which still must be approved by regulators. The aircraft are configured with 12 business-class seats, 40 in Economy Plus and 66 in regular coach.

The new route would connect United's Denver hub to the Panama City hub of United's fast-growing Star Alliance partner Copa Airlines. Copa, which has dramatically expanded its U.S. footprint during the past few years, bills its Panama City base as the "Hub of the Americas."

The Panama City route follows United's highly anticipated launch last June of a route between Tokyo and Denver .

"Following the success of our Denver-Tokyo flight, our new service to Panama City will link our Denver business and leisure travelers to the business and finance capital of Central America and open the door to other new, international destinations through our partner airlines," Steve Jaquith, United's managing director of the Denver hub, says in a statement.

"Just as Tokyo opened a gateway to Asia, Panama City will open the Rocky Mountain West to all of South America," Denver Mayor Michael Hancock adds in a statement from Denver International.

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PRD Deputies Can't Decide By Themselves Who To Support

PoliticsThe National Executive Committee of the Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD) met with those who were both newly elected and reelected to serve in the National Assembly on Sunday, May 4.

The PRD must decide whether to support the Democratic Change (CD) or the Panameñista party in the National Assembly, and the CEN made it clear that the Deputies cannot make this decision by themselves.

Benicio Robinson, the President of the PRD, said so far they have not been approached by either side.

He said they are going to let at least 9 days pass after the election to start thinking about that topic.

Diogenes Vergara, a newly elected PRD Deputy to the National Assembly, said he has a preference, and that he owes his party.

Meanwhile, Elias Castillo, who was reelected, said they are always approached, and he said "talking is one thing while making a decision is something else."

But Robinson made ​​it clear that no member "can decide for himself, this will be decided by the party. Anyone who wants to decide (for himself) will have left as an independent."

After the defeat suffered by the PRD in the last elections, with the presidential candidacy, some are pushing for a restructuring of the party.

Pedro Miguel Gonzalez, who returns to the Assembly after being elected, said he does not believe in an anticipated restructuring.

Robinson said they had already agreed that win or lose, in six months there would be changes in the collective.

The former CEN member Mitchell Doens said the party took a "group of people who do not sail for the rest ... gave him the party leadership of this group. They did not meet their responsibilities, and they must leave in an orderly manner with their heads held high, and accept that they could not do the job." (TVN)

Editor's Comment: What the hell is this, wishful thinking day? The PRD leadership is obviously trying to keep their caucus together. Did you notice that Pedro Miguel Gonzalez - who is still wanted as a terrorist in the United States for the murder of US Army Sergeant Zak Hernandez - was elected as a Deputy and will be returning to the National Assembly. He lost his seat in the 2009 election - thanks to an agreement between the CD and Panameñistas to run only one candidate against him, in order to not split the ticket and to make sure he would be gone (my suggestion). I guess this time around they (blew it), split the ticket, and allowed that bastard to get back in. Sooner or later big mama Karma will catch up to his ass. But anyway...

The PRD will probably not be able to prevent three or four of their members from defecting to the CD - in exchange for massive checks. They will flip Robinson the bird as they contemplate the new balance in their bank accounts. If the CD fails to grab control of the National Assembly I'll be amazed. But, I've been wrong on other things lately - so let's see how it actually turns out between now and the end of the year.

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Heavy Rains Cause Problems Around The Country

WeatherThe heavy rain on Thursday afternoon caused certain affectations in the capital city and other parts of the country according to reports from the National Civil Protection System (SINAPROC).

At the entrance to Howard in Arraijána a small privately owned bus that was headed towards the capital ended up in a ditch, and five people received minor injuries.

Firefighters from Howard arrived at the scene of the accident to help the injured.

Minutes later a tree fell on a house on Calle 2 in San Isidro in the district of San Miguelito, causing damage.

SINAPROC members responded to the scene to remove the tree and evacuate the house.

Elsewhere, there was an accident on the Panama-Colon highway, and one of the passengers was taken to the hospital in an ambulance.

SINAPROC recommends everyone to be careful these days when there is heavy rains, and they ask all to drive carefully. (Telemetro)

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Minera Panama, S.A. and Petaquilla Minerals Ltd. Sign $60 Million Agreement

Gold & MiningVANCOUVER, BRITISH COLUMBIA -- Minera Panama, S.A. a subsidiary of First Quantum Minerals Ltd. and Petaquilla Minerals Ltd. today announced the execution of an amendment to the Commercial Agreement Term Sheet dated May 23, 2013 ("Second Amendment").

MPSA is to pay PTQ up to $60 million for a transfer of a range of assets and property rights. The transaction ensures there will be a complete separation of the current operations of PTQ's Molejon Gold mine and the Cobre Panama copper project currently being developed by First Quantum.

$3.3 million is being paid on execution of the Second Amendment with an additional $46.7 million conditional on PTQ meeting specific deliverables before July 6, 2014. An additional $5 million is payable after one year conditional on certain approvals being granted with a final $5 million payable 30 days after the first ore shipment from the Cobre Panama project, provided PTQ has fulfilled all of the obligations and achieved all milestones as set out in the Second Amendment.

Key aspects of the Second Amendment include:

PTQ to transfer 99,735 hectares of exploration concession applications in the region to MPSA;

PTQ to transfer to MPSA 551.5 hectares at the north end of its Molejon mining concession area to support current planning of the Cobre Panama mine development;

Termination of the Aggregates and Screened Rock Purchase Subcontract dated May 23, 2013, without liability to either party; effective June 30, 2014;

PTQ to transfer to MPSA sole ownership of the Llano Grande Road which is the main access road to the Cobre Panama project area, and ownership of other access roads as well as rights of way along MPSA´s electrical distribution corridor;

PTQ to transfer to MPSA 833.3 hectares of land (both title and possessory rights) which comprises all PTQ land holdings within a 30 kilometre radius of the Cobre Panama project (excluding the Molejon concession);

PTQ to waive any rights to the Botija Abajo, Brazo, Balboa, Colina, Botija, and Valle Grande copper deposits or to any mineral deposits outside PTQ´s residual portion of the Molejon mining concession area; and

PTQ to provide future collaboration, assistance and support in connection with MPSA´s current surface rights applications, Law 9 amendments and any possible future expansions of the Cobre Panama project.

Execution of the Second Amendment ensures complete development and operational flexibility for the Cobre Panama project by providing MPSA with ownership of all concession application areas surrounding the Molejon mining concession and control of surface and access rights outside of the defined Molejon Gold mine area.

PTQ will continue its operations of the Molejon Gold production facility and Panama Desarrollo de Infraestructuras, S.A., PTQ's infrastructure division, will continue to operate its infrastructure within the Molejon Gold Project concession.

Editor's Comment: This was released just four days after the election. In short, the much smaller Petaquilla got paid $60 million dollars to get out of Minera Panama's way. Now the massive open pit copper mine project can move forward smartly, and without any sort of blocking or interference by Petaquilla. Good. And I suspect Minera Panama wants to get as much done as possible - right now - while Ricardo Martinelli is still the president of Panama. They've been able to get a whole lot done on his watch. Now the Varela people will be showing up, with their hands out, of course. That's the way things are done in Panama, unfortunately.

And for the record, because I haven't written about mining in Panama lately. I am generally in favor of the development of the mining industry in Panama. There are massive amounts of mineral deposits in the mountains of Panama that rose up from the ocean as volcanoes millions of years ago. However unfortunately, those deposits are also located under thousands of hectares of land that is now covered in virgin jungle. The mining companies should be held to the standards of acceptable practice by the government of Panama. It is possible to conduct mining operations in a manner that mitigates environmental impact and damage. Now with that having been said, there's no such thing as a "pretty" or attractive open pit copper mine. The mining company and their shareholders will be making billions of dollars from these deposits for decades. They should be forced - forced - to do so in an ethically responsible manner. And also unfortunately, the track record in Panama has been to pay bribes to the government officials, and they look the other way, sign off on things, ignore, don't enforce, etc. I hope that won't be happening with Minera Panama and this huge copper project.

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Who Will Be The Allies Of The Panameñista Party In The National Assembly

PoliticsThe general elections of May 4th have left a new political scenario in the National Assembly that will take office on 1 July, requiring the Panameñista party - without a majority in the Assembly - to seek an alliance with one of the two major political parties that are in opposition to the administration of Juan Carlos Varela, because so far the "People First" alliance (Panameñistas and People's Party) only have 12 seats.

In the new Chamber, the Democratic Change will place 30 Deputies in their seats.

The Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD) will have 21 seats as well as the Independent Deputy Ana Matilde Gomez.

There are still another seven seats to be decided and assigned.

This political landscape raises the question of who will be the allies of the Panameñista Party in the National Assembly.

Faced with rumors about a meeting between PRD members and President Ricardo Martinelli, the PRD politician Laurentino Cortizo said "this information is 100% false. The meetings with the PRD Deputies will be with the General Secretary of the party and former presidential candidate Juan Carlos Navarro."

"We will make a constructive opposition for the sake of the country, and we will not obstruct the operation of the government" headed by President-elect Juan Carlos Varela, said Cortizo, who did not rule out "the possibility of coming to an agreement with the Panameñista party on issues of national importance such as the appointment of the Controller, Attorney General, Judges of the Supreme Court, and the Electoral Prosecutor."

Cortizo recalled that during the administration of former president Mireya Moscoso (1999-2004), the National Assembly worked with the Executive. "We reached agreement with Mireya Moscoso on the laws that were important to the country, and at the end of her term in office the president acknowledged this," Cortizo said.

The PRD's National Executive Committee (CEN) met on Thursday, May 8 with its Secretary General, Juan Carlos Navarro. At a meeting they will discuss the issue of the role the PRD will play as part of the opposition starting from 1 July.

Is The CD Seeking Constitutional Reforms

On Wednesday afternoon, May 7, it was learned the current caucus of the Cambio Democratico party met with President Ricardo Martinelli, according to an article published in the El Siglo newspaper, with the aim of exploring the possibility of presenting constitutional reforms in special sessions.

Editor's Comment: The PRD leadership can do the math, and they also know exactly who got elected to the National Assembly. The CD will only need to flip three or four PRD guys, and they will have the 36 seats they need to maintain their complete control of the National Assembly for the next five years. It seems like it's Cortizo's turn for some wishful thinking. Of course there's been a line of PRD Deputies, both current and those recently elected, who want to talk to Ricardo Martinelli. The PRD will be fighting hard to maintain a solid caucus - because if they can keep anyone from flipping, then (and only then) they will be able to have "de facto" control of the National Assembly. Together with the Panameñistas, they will be able to control the agenda. However, that's an unlikely scenario.

Ricardo Martinelli will open up his checkbook. Those three or four guys they need will practically be able to name their price. It will be paid. They will flip. And, the CD will then spend the next five years torturing Varela. He won't be able to get shit done in the National Assembly, without first having to do a "mother, may I" to Martinelli.

Oh, and the thing about the reforms to the Constitution? If they pass those changes right now, this session of the National Assembly (2009 - 2014) will "count" - meaning any changes enacted will be implemented sooner. If they wait until after 1 July 2014, then the implementation date will be kicked back another five years. So, they might try to jam it through quickly. Watch for the line item that reduces the waiting period for former presidents from ten years to five. Martinelli wants to get back in there, as soon as possible.

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Belfon Confirms She Will Finish Her Term In Office (And Not Resign)

PoliticsThe Attorney General Ana Belfon said she would abide by the Constitution of Panama with regards to the length of time she should remain at the head of the Public Ministry, according to a statement released yesterday by the press office.

"The response from the Attorney General Ana Belfon is to continue to follow the Constitution and the laws of the Republic, like all citizens," said the statement in an email from the press office.

Belfon's response comes after the statements made by the president-elect Juan Carlos Varela, who told local media he would demand the resignation of officials whose efforts have been questioned by various sectors.

According to Article 221 of the Constitution, Belfon will remain in office through 31 December 2014, ending the ten years in office of the former Attorney General Ana Matilde Gomez, who was dismissed through a Supreme Court decision. (Prensa)

Editor's Comment: Obviously. There's no way in hell any of the top ranking people appointed by Martinelli are going to resign, in order to make things either easier or more comfortable for Varela. On the contrary, they will continue to do the CD's bidding, in an effort to damage his presidency as much as possible with an eye towards the 2019 election.

As I've been saying for the past couple of days, Martinelli still has the Supreme Court, National Assembly, Attorney General's office, Comptroller, tax collection office, anti-corruption czar - in short Martinelli has more control over the government of Panama than Varela.

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Tension Mount As The 7th Seat of San Miguelito is Defined

PoliticsThe patience of the supporters of the Democratic Change (CD) and PRD political parties is reaching its limits in San Miguelito, at the Circuital Board in the Rubiano school, where they have yet to define the last of the seven seats in the National Assembly for that district.

Marcos Gonzalez and Abraham Martinez of the CD, and Leandro Avila of the PRD are the politicians who are vying for the seventh seat.

Some supporters tried to pass the safety boundries established by the Electoral Delegates and the National Police, but this was avoided.

Campaign supporters denounced alleged movements of the acts, outside of the established boundaries, and they even say there are relatives of the candidates who are supposedly working on the board.

So far Zulay Rodriguez and Raul Pineda of the PRD, Héctor Valdés Carrasquilla and Dalia Bernal of the CD, Francisco Alemán of Molirena, and José Antonio Domínguez of the Panameñista party have secured their seats in the National Assembly for the 8-6 circuit.

Labor Minister Alma Cortés, a leader of the Democratic Change political party, says she has evidence proving election records were altered, and she says there is a family member of Leandro Ávila working on the canvassing board, and an official of that left with the documents in his hand and went to a car - and she says she has the photographs to prove it.

Meanwhile, Leandro Avila denies the allegations being made by Cortés, and he says that besides her, the Housing Minister Yasmina Pimentel is also at the scene.

"The government has turned to take my seat," he cried, and he said that if he wins or loses by one vote, he will accept the results. (TVN)

Editor's Comment: Right now the seven seats representing San Miguelito have yet to be officially defined.

Without these seven seats - right now - the CD and their Molirena allies have 30 seats. The PRD has 21. The Panameñistas and their Popular Party allies have 12. And, there is one Independent.

Six of the seven seats in San Miguelito have been defined. With those, the CD/Molirena caucus will have 33, the PRD will have 23, and the Panameñista/PP will have 13. The CD is working hard to get that last seat in San Miguelito - because that will give them 34. The magic number needed to control the National Assembly is 36. So, they would only need to turn two guys (easy) from the PRD. Fat checks make Panamanian Deputies in the National Assembly flip like flapjacks. There will be a brief bidding war, and then two or three guys will suddenly become CD players. Game, set, match.

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Varela Asks Key Martinelli Appointees To Resign

PoliticsThe president-elect Juan Carlos Varela insisted upon the resignation of several high ranking members of the current administration, including the President of the Supreme Court Jose Ayu Prado, and the Comptroller General Gioconda Torres de Bianchini.

"The Electoral Prosecutor, the President of the Supreme Court, the Comptroller, and the Manager of the Tocumen International Airport, who have not defended the interests of the state, it would be better if they resign," said Varela.

Varela said his request is to allow "the incoming government to arrive with much more agility, and to avoid tension in the beginning."

According to Varela he has designated Álvaro Alemán for the Ministry of the Presidency, who will be responsible for presenting the proposal to the National Assembly in the first week of his administration.

Ricardo Martinelli, the outgoing president, said via his Twitter account "Violating the institutions of the State is to call upon the government officials from other branches of government, to demand their resignations."

The political analyst Menalco Solis said Martinelli is inconsistent. "He has no moral authority. He asked Ana Matilde Gómez to resign, and when she refused, she was fired," he said. (Prensa)

Editor's Comment: Varela is smoking crack if he actually thinks any of these people are going to resign. It's true, having the Supreme Court, Attorney General's office, Comptroller, and all of the other people Martinelli appointed to long terms in office is going to be uncomfortable for him. To avoid tension in the beginning? Nah, the CD and Martinelli are going to be dealing Varela "tension" with the appointments he's already made, and in fact it's only going to be getting more interesting, if the CD ends up with 36 seats in the National Assembly. If that happens, they can conceivably decide to impeach him. Really. Well, no problem. In Varela logic, he can just ask all of those dudes to resign as well.

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Varela Pledges To Conduct Audits, and Change (Stuff He Can't Change)

PoliticsThe President-elect of Panama Juan Carlos Varela announced this morning he will conduct an audit of the costs of building community projects and hospitals.

In an interview with TVN Channel 2, Varela said he will allow there to be more transparency in procurement.

When asked about how the National Assembly was formed, he said "the people voted for a balance. Nobody should change parties."

"We will make a (National) Assembly with a State vision. I see an Assembly interacting with the president-elect, working for Panama," he said.

However, he said he will revoke the laws that were created to protect political issues, because it is the responsibility of the State.

He said during the first week of his Presidency he would submit three Bills to the National Assembly; primarily the issues of the Supreme Court, the Comptroller, and the Transparency Authority.

On another issue Varela said he would also meet with the newly elected mayors, without distinction of party, to build projects for communities. "Projects are going to have a human priority, such as the One Hundred Zero program," he said.

"In the first 30 days we will summon the Representatives and Mayors to be a part of this," he said.

He also promised to make amendments to the Constitution. "I was the only candidate who praised their remarkable work, and who met with them," he said.

On the formation of his new administration, he said he would seek consensus, with names from the civil society.

He added that if someone has the ability to collaborate on improving the country's destiny they will be called upon to be taken into account.

He also promised to not touch existing public officials. "I ask all public officials to be calm, I only ask that they meet their work schedules," he said.

He said there's going to be a "Citizen's Service Center" in the Presidency of the Republic, and he hopes there will be no road closures.

"There will be a 'call center' to receive calls from the Panamanian people, so as not to insult people," he said.

He also promised to respect freedom of expression. "We will provide access to information, transparency and freedom of expression ... We will motivate the investigative reporter to continue with their work."

Government publicity will not be used to attack or to silence anyone. "It will only be used for life and health issues," he said.

It will not be used to improve the image of anyone. He said the image will be defined in the work done in the village, referring to the use of public resources during the Martinelli administration .

Regarding relations with Venezuela, Varela said he will send a personal envoy to Caracas to restore that relationship.

Regarding sports, he said he would create a Sports Secretary, and the Pandeportes would come out from under the umbrella of the Ministry of Education, and would report directly to the Presidency. (Mi Diario)

Editor's Comment: Well, there's a whole lot of wishful thinking in this article. Martinelli was smart. He abolished the old DGI and created a new governmental organization (by law) called the Autoridad Nacional de Ingresos Públicos (ANIP) (National Public Income Authority). As part of that new law, Martinelli appointed Luis Cucalón to be the first Director of the newly created ANIP. He will be serving for seven years, and there's not a damn thing Varela can do about it, without changing the law. And right now it doesn't look like Varela is going to have control of the National Assembly.

Did you notice the line in this article where Varela says "Nobody should change parties"? More wishful thinking. There will be a half a dozen PRD guys telling Martinelli "write me a check for a million dollars, and I'm yours." Badda-bing, badda-boom, and the CD has complete and total control of the National Assembly for the next five years. He also controls the Supreme Court. In fact, Martinelli has more control over Panama than Varela.

The ANIP is the Panamanian version of the IRS. Luis Cucalón will be able to continue to selectively squeeze money out of Panamanian businessmen. The guys who are "friends of Varela" won't be able to get special favors or any sort of dispensation. While those who are friends of Martinelli can keep getting away with whatever they want. This is one of the things Varela would like to do away with.

Varela says he would like to create a new "Secretary of Sports" - but again, hard to do if you don't control the National Assembly.

There are several more. Martinelli created the new "Autoridad Nacional de Transparencia y Acceso a la Información" (ANTAI) (National Authority for Transparency and Access to Information) through Law 33 of 25 April 2013. And, Martinelli appointed Abigail Benzadón Cohen to be the Director General of the new Authority - for seven years. Now there will be a Martinelli-appointed watchdog, backed by the power of law, to make sure Varela can't steal public funds. Varela said he wants there to be more transparency in government. That's a good thing, because the "anti corruption czar" works for Martinelli. He says in this article he wants to strike down or revoke this law. Nope. Not without the National Assembly. Drat.

Another serious problem for Varela is that the Comptroller General of the Republic - the person who has to sign off on all government contracts - is Gioconda Torres de Bianchini. She was Martinelli's accountant for his Super99 chain of supermarkets, before taking over as the Comptroller. And, she will be in the position through the end of 2014. Can Varela remove her from office? Nope. Not without the National Assembly. Varela said he will "conduct an audit" of the way Martinelli spent money. Who does those audits? The Comptroller.

Attorney General? Martinelli appointed Ana Belfon who will also serve through the end of 2014. So Varela won't be in control of Panama's prosecutors until she's done.

There's a line in this article about the "issue of the Supreme Court." Varela's problem is that five of the nine sitting Supreme Court justices were appointed by Martinelli. And, there's not a damn thing he can do about that. Varela will appoint four justices during his term in office, replacing the last of those who were appointed during the administration of Martin Torrijos. But, he will never achieve control of the Supreme Court. And were do all of the really important cases end up in Panama? In the Supreme Court. Martinelli owns it.

And who has the power to investigate wrongdoing by the President of Panama, according to the Constitution? The National Assembly. Any chance those CD dudes might decide to investigate the allegations against Varela, regarding the use of illegal funds and money laundering? Just maybe. They can hold special hearings, summon witnesses, appoint a special prosecutor, and basically impeach Varela. Whoops.

Setting the table and stacking the deck for the next five years was part of the Martinelli grand strategy. Win or lose the election, he will still control much of the Panamanian government. Whether Varela likes it, or not.

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SUNTRACS Blocks Calle 50 In Protest

Protests & DemonstrationsMembers of the Union of Construction Workers and Similar (Suntracs) paralyzed traffic on Calle 50 in the capital to protest for a wage increase.

The workers are marching towards the offices of the Human Rights Ombudsman.

Later they will hold a General Assembly in the Urracá Park, to define what actions to take, and to decide if they will continue their nationwide strike. (Siglo)

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Gates For Expanded Panama Canal Locks Leave Italy

Canal ExpansionThe administrator of the Panama Canal Authority, Jorge Quijano announced a new set of locks, part of the project to expand the Panama Canal, have been sent from Italy to Panama, so therefore he urged the striking construction workers to return to work.

The first four lock gates arrived in Panama on 16 August 2013. The transfer of the remaining lock gates was delayed due to a conflict with the Grupo Unidos por el Canal (GUPC) over alleged cost overruns, because the carrier was not paid.

These first gates that are already in Panama measure 57.60 meters long, 10 meters wide, 30.19 meters high, with an average unit weight of 3,00 tons.

The gates were transferred aboard the vessel M/N Sunrise, in a trip that took about a month, from the Trieste in the Pordenone province, northeast of Italy to Panamanian waters on the Atlantic coast.

The manufacture, transportation, and installation of gates is being done by Cimolai SpA, a subcontractor of the Consortium Grupo Unidos por el Canal, SA.

The gates are designed to roll, placed in a niche on the side of the lock and moved to the other side on little cars, on both ends of the gate.

The movement is perpendicular to the central axis of the lock, unlike the hinged doors of the existing locks, consisting of two sheets, each fixed to a wall of the lock, and swiveling to effect closure.

Although the heaviest gates weigh about 3,700 tons, their design, which incorporates buoyancy chambers in the structure, allow them to move on the rails with an average of 15% of their actual weight. (TVN)

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Fabrega Concedes Election To Blandon - The Newly Elected Mayor of Panama City

PoliticsAfter two days of vote counting, finally the results of the election for the Mayor of Panama City have been made known.

At first, the votes favored José Luis Fabrega, the candidate of the Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD), but later the trend changed and Jose Isabel Blandon took the lead.

On Tuesday morning Blandon said through his Twitter account he received a call from Fábrega, to congratulate him on the outcome of the election.

Blandon said he spoke with the current Mayor Roxana Mendez to start coordinating the transition. The mayor-elect said he has the full cooperation of Mendez.

Meanwhile in the National Board of District Scrutiny of Panama, Farbrega issued a statement and publicly acknowledged the triumph of the Panameñista (Blandon), who will lead the Capital District starting on 1 July. (Telemetro)

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Allegations Of Vote Buying In Los Santos

PoliticsResidents of the community of Llano de Piedra of Macaracas in the province of Los Santos complained before the office of the Electoral Prosecutor of Las Tablas, about vote buying and marks on the ballots.

The PRD candidate for the position of Deputy in the National Assembly Ovidio Diaz is challenging the candidacy of Tito Afu.

The difference between them is 136 votes. (Critica)

Editor's Comment: This fight is over the seat for 7-1 (Las Tablas). The CD candidate Tito Afu has 14,108 votes, compared to Ovidio Diaz with 13,972. All of the votes have been counted, so this result is considered "official." Now the results are being challenged by the PRD candidate. In this race the Panameñista/PP candidate Carlos Sánchez Frías got spanked, achieving just 3,814 votes (11%).

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What Will Happen To The PRD After Their (Second Straight) Defeat?

PoliticsAfter a second straight electoral defeat (2009 and 2014), the question is: Does the PRD need re-engineering?

The former minister Laurentino "Nito" Cortizo, a member of the Juan Carlos Navarro campaign team, has no doubt there is a need to hold people accountable.

"At this moment it is very difficult for me to answer. Yes, we have to make an analysis of the situation that happened, internal to the party," he said.

Cortizo said he expects there to be a review of what needs to be done internally in the PRD political party.

"It's a delicate situation and I will work for party unity," he added.

He said he will not be a divisive factor, but rather he will serve to unite and correct what needs to be corrected.

Meanwhile, the political analyst Mario Rognoni thinks an assessment is necessary, for which the PRD should summon their best players and to make a review of the failed campaign, to adjust accordingly.

He said the studies will determine who is responsible, and if there should be changes in the strategy adopted by the National Executive Committee (CEN).

The PRD party member and political analyst Rafael Mezquita coincided with Rognoni, saying the party will now have to do an internal balance around the elements that lead to this defeat.

He said the Directors of the PRD should consider whether or not the PRD should listen to the call made by the President-elect, Juan Carlos Varela, to participate in his management of national unity. (Estrella)

The PRD's presidential candidate Juan Carlos Navarro, accepting defeat on Sunday.

Editor's Comment: In other words, Varela needs the National Assembly. There are a total of 71 seats in the National Assembly. The "magic number" is 36. If you have that many votes, you can do practically whatever you want.

Not all of the votes have been counted, and not all of the results are known. There are still 7 seats up for grabs. And the numbers make it interesting.

Right now the CD has 28 seats in the National Assembly, with one more from their allies the MOLIRENA party, giving them 29.

The Panameñistas have just 11 seats, with one more from their allies the Partido Popular party, for a total of 12.

The PRD has 22 seats in the National Assembly. This article about making some sort of an internal analysis within the PRD party really means "should we side with the CD, or with the Panameñistas?"

The PRD will stall for time, to await for the final results for the seven remaining seats. Because if they jump right now - too soon - to the Panameñista side, between the two of them they will only have 34 seats - not enough to control the National Assembly.

If the seven remaining seats all go to the CD, then they will have the 36 seats necessary to control the National Assembly, even without the PRD.

But, if a few more seats go to the CD and a few to the PRD - then the PRD will be in a fantastic negotiating position. The individual PRD Deputies will be able to sell their allegiance to the highest bidder (literally) to guarantee a majority to one side or the other.

Obviously the CD is in a stronger position, because they will need less "turncoats" to achieve a majority, like seven or less, depending on the results of the remaining seats.

The Panameñistas will have to strike a high level deal at the top of the PRD - meaning, with Navarro - to try to create an alliance with the whole PRD voting block in the National Assembly. That's a much harder nut to crack, and the CD can still work to wedge out the votes they need to achieve control.

With regards to the question of "just how screwed up is the PRD" look at it this way. In 1989 when Noriega was in the slow process of being overthrown by the Panamanian people, the PRD candidate at the time - Carlos Duque - got 28% of the vote. He was resoundingly stomped by Guillermo Endara and the "civilista" movement to get rid of Noriega, to end the dictatorship. Endara was sworn in on the night of the US invasion of Panama.

In 1994 Ernesto Perez Balladares achieved 33% of the vote - and won the election.

In 1999 Martin Torrijos achieved 37% of the vote, and lost.

in 2004 Martin Torrijos came back with 47%, and won.

In 2009 Balbina Herrera achieved 37%, and lost.

So Navarro's showing in 2014 with just 28% is the worst performance by a PRD presidential candidate in the post dictatorship era. You can't really blame it on the participation of the four Independent candidates because combined they only received 1.3% of the vote. So sure, some of the votes that went to Genaro Lopez or Juan Jovane would have normally gone to the PRD candidate, but there wasn't enough of them to account for the loss, or the overall bad performance.

Also, the PRD has much more in common with the CD than they do with their historical rivals the Panameñistas. I think a handful of PRD lawmakers will jump ship to the CD voting block (in exchange for a large sum of cash) where they will spend the next five years screwing with Varela and making his life miserable.

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President-Elect Varela Vows To Restore Trade and Diplomatic Relations With Venezuela

Panama NewsThe President-elect of Panama, Juan Carlos Varela, said once he takes office he will restore diplomatic and trade relations with Venezuela .  

"I have a good relationship with President Maduro, not from now but from when I was the Chancellor, like him."

Varela said in the coming days he will send a designated person to Caracas, as a mechanism to restore relations and to not allow the break in relations to continue to affect Panamanian businessmen.  

He said he invited the president of Venezuela to the inauguration on July 1, because they have a good relationship.  

On 5 March, Venezuela broke "political and diplomatic relations" with the government of Panama and "froze" commercial ties, after Panama proposed a meeting in the Organization of American States (OAS) to discuss the subject of protests affecting Venezuela. (Panama America)

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Still Counting "Vote by Vote" For The Mayor's Office in Panama City

PoliticsWith the votes counted from 90% of polling stations, Jose I. Blandon of the Panameñista political party showed a slight lead yesterday over his closest contender, the PRD's Jose Luis Fabrega, to win the position of Mayor of Panama City, the largest in the country.

Last night, the District Election Board reported so far Blandon had obtained 36% of the vote, while 35% went to Fabrega.

But there are still records to scrutinize warned the chairman, Ramon Diaz, minutes before declaring a recess until Tuesday, when it is expected the final results will be released.

After more than 24 straight hours of scrutiny - starting when the polls closed at 4:00 pm on Sunday afternoon - each campaign remained in distress, waiting for the final results to be announced.

At times Fabrega was slightly ahead during the count, but then as new information arrived, Blandon passed him, just barely.

The tension climaxed when supporters for both Blandón and Fábrega berated (the board) at the headquarters of the National Lottery, where the canvassing board is installed.

The electoral delegates intervened and limited access to the auditorium to avoid clashes.

But the mood of the militants did not subside. Within the enclosure one could feel the tension in the air as the results were displayed on a projector.

The current Mayor of Panama City and candidate for the Democratic Change political party Roxana Mendez was at the scene. At 6:00 pm she recognized her defeat, and the virtual triumph of Blandon .

Fabrega also arrived at the scene, it was said, to watch the counting process.

He said there are some records with possible irregularities, which was confirmed by the head of the board.

So they agreed to proclaim a recess until the documents could be rechecked with the results. (Prensa)

Editor's Comment: The Mayor's office of Panama City is called the "mini presidency" - because it's the largest municipality in the Republic of Panama. What's amazing to me is the CD had information on Blandon they never used during the campaign. Of course that must mean he had equally incriminating information he could have used to shoot back, if attacked. A sort of dirty politicians mutual assured destruction pact, as it were.

As of this moment according to the website of the Electoral Tribunal, Blandon has received 131,074 votes (35.70%) compared to Fabrega's 126,750 votes (34.52%). The TE says they have counted 88.27% of the vote - then they declared a recess.

Warning! The PRD controls the Electoral Tribunal. Fabrega is losing, and he's the PRD candidate. Hopefully there's enough safeguards in place to make sure there will be no monkey business in the vote counting process. It just seems a little strange that they would declare a "recess." Funny things can happen during a recess. Why not just keep counting until it's done? Smells fishy.

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Juan Carlos Varela Wins - And Surprises The Hell Out Of Me...

PoliticsBy Don Winner for - I was simply amazed while watching the election results as they were posted to the website of Panama's Electoral Tribunal last night. Once some serious numbers started coming in, Varela pulled out to a lead with about 39%, Arias settled in at second place with 32%, and Navarro in third at 27%. I couldn't believe my eyes, and actually went through a period of denial. Like, this can't be happening...

I was completely convinced that Arias was going to win this election. I mean, Martinelli had an 80% approval rating. He built the Metro. He killed the old "Diablo Rojo" buses and upgraded public transportation in many ways. He tore down Hollywood and rebuilt Curundu. He finished the Cinta Costera phases II and III. Improved security. Set records against drug trafficking. Managed the economy very well, and achieved investment grade status for Panamanian debt bonds. His list of accomplishments was long, and solid.

But I made a serious and fundamental mistake by underestimating the importance of the Panamanian cultural memory of the 21 years of military dictatorship under first Omar Torrijos, and then Manuel Noriega. There is a strong "never again" attitude when it comes to who Panamanians trust with the reins of power, especially over long periods of time. They would rather have a guy like Varela in charge, despite his many faults, than allow Martinelli to build a "de facto" dictatorship.

Clearly, with Ricardo Martinelli's wife on the Arias ticket as his Vice President, a vote for Arias was going to be a vote to continue the administration of Ricardo Martinelli. Arias didn't really have anything new he was going to be doing, rather than simply continuing on with the route already set by Martinelli. So it was, in fact, an attempt for Martinelli to sort of remain in office, after leaving office. And that made people very nervous.

The CD's problem is that they don't have anyone who is clearly enough a leader who can fill Martinelli's shoes. Arias was hand-picked to be his successor, mostly because Martinelli would be able to control him like a puppet. Everyone knew this.

In hindsight the CD would have had a better chance if Martinelli had stayed off of the playing field completely. If his wife was not on the ticket, they might have gotten more votes. If they had a stronger and more charismatic candidate, they might have gotten more votes. Shoulda, woulda, coulda...

So if the Panamanian people refuse to keep the CD in power, then that only leaves a choice between the PRD and the Panameñistas. By simple math, the PRD was the last party to hold office before Martinelli and the CD. The Panameñistas have not been in charge since Mireya Moscoso from 1999 - 2004. So I guess it was simply their turn. Besides, the PRD is split and Navarro is weak, even within his own party. A 27% showing for the PRD in this sort of a race is very, very poor - historically speaking. Normally they can count on 35% or better, even in their sleep. There are that many people with "PRD tattoos" as it were...

So it remains true that no political party has remained in power after having served five years in office, since the end of the military dictatorship. It's gone Panameñistas in 1989, PRD in 1994, Panameñistas in 1999, PRD in 2004, CD in 2009, and now Panameñistas in 2014. Six elections, one every five years over the past 25 years, and not one single "reelection."

Obviously, the Panamanian constitution prohibits any sitting president from seeking reelection. In 1998 the PRD's Ernesto Perez Balladarez tried a National Referendum in an attempt to be able to stay in power, and he was answered by the Panamanian people with a resounding "NO" vote of 2-1 (63% against). And if you add the votes achieved by Navarro to the votes achieved by Varela you get 67% of the Panamanian people voting "against" Arias - and a continuation of Martinelli in power.

Well, I blew that one. At least I had the balls to put my predictions out there, a long time ago. I broke out laughing last night as I watched people who have never taken a solid position on anything suddenly come out to claim "their guy" was going to win - after the results were posted. Hilarious.

So what does this mean for 2019? The Panameñista party will not remain in power. No matter what they do in office, good or bad. Martinelli just proved you can build a bridge to the moon, and the Panamanian voters won't reward your party with another trip to the salad bowl. The CD still won't have anyone with the charisma to replace Martinelli as a viable candidate, and Martinelli himself won't be able to run for reelection until 2024. Also, since the CD just left office, that means it will be the PRD's turn to win. OK - I'm calling a win for the PRD candidate (whoever that might be) in the 2019 Panamanian general election.

Biggest winners? Martinelli. He's now probably a billionaire. He's got five Supreme Court justices sitting on the bench, added to the immunity granted to him by the PARLACEN. So, as an individual he's practically untouchable.

Biggest losers? Mireya Moscoso who abandoned the Panameñistas in favor of the CD. And, I. Roberto Eisenmann who abandoned Varela at the last minute, in favor of Navarro. Now it's going to cost him to regain favor. On your knees, boy...

The CD landed 30 seats in the National Assembly, out of 71. They need just six votes from the one Independent Deputy and the PRD to gain control of Panama's lawmaking body. The Panameñistas only got 12 seats in the National Assembly, and they also picked up the Mayor of Panama City position in the form of Jose Blandon, by a hair.

Varela will also have to contend with a hostile Attorney General, Supreme Court, and National Assembly - which could conceivably investigate him for money laundering. It's going to be an interesting few years, as always.

Thank God for Panamanian Politicians. It's like the gift that keeps on giving, for journalists...

Now the real fun starts. Let's watch the incredibly corrupt Panameñista party return to raping the Panamanian public coffers, just the way Mireya Moscoso did. The only difference is, they won't get anything done. Varela was responsible for the Finmeccanica scandal. He received funds from money laundering, and money that was diverted from the consulates in South Korea and Japan. And - despite all that - he still won. Un-friggin' believable. I still sit here, stunned. I accept the results. I understand how it happened, and why. But wow. Varela is one lucky dude. Talk about being in the right place at the right time...

Copyright 2014

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