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Tuesday, July 22 2014 @ 01:39 PM EDT

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One Killed, Several Injured In Rio Hato Bus Crash

Traffic AccidentsBy Don Winner for Panama-Guide.com - At least one person was killed and several injured when a passenger bus crashed in the area of Rio Hato.

The bus - from the Panama to David route - lost control and went off of the roadway. Emergency response personnel are one the scene now. Early reports indicate "at least" one person was killed in this accident.

One pedestrian was killed, and 35 people on the bus received relatively minor injuries.

Copyright 2014 Panama-Guide.com.

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Two Apartments on Fire in El Chorrillo

Safety & SecurityBy Don Winner for Panama-Guide.com - A fire broke out tonight on the fourth floor of an apartment building on 21st street in El Chorrillo tonight.

At least two apartments are on fire, at the time of this report.

As of 8:53 pm the firemen are reporting that the fire has been extinguished, and they are using ventilators to remove smoke.

Firemen from the stations in Calidonia, Plaza Amador and Balboa responded to the multiple alarm fire.

Copyright 2014 Panama-Guide.com.

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Gunfire Erupts At Event To Mark End Of Blandon Campaign - One Killed

Crime & PunishmentOne person was shot and killed this afternoon in the Urracá park in the area of Bella Vista in Panama City, near event to mark the end of the political campaign of Jose Isabel Blandon, who is running for the position of Mayor of Panama City for the Panameñista political party.

The victim was shot several times, and killed. The political activity in the area was suspended. (Critica)

Editor's Comment: Blandon showed up at the event, and was notified by the police that the event would have to be suspended. The shooting occurred close to the area where Blandon was going to be holding his end of campaign rally this afternoon. The young man who was shot ended up face down on the sidewalk, dead, after he was shot several times in the chest at close range. The police have started an operation to try to find the shooter.

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CD's Call Center Employee On The Payroll At The MICI

PoliticsAn audio recording that began circulating on Youtube, containing a conversation between the Mayor of Panama City Roxana Mendez and the former Director of the National Immigration Service María Cristina González, began to unravel a web behind the "call center" of the ruling Democratic Change political party, involving use of state funds to pay the salary of Giancarlo Terán, who works in the call center.

On the morning of Tuesday, April 9th​​, Giancarlo Terán, who said he works as the supervisor of one of the "call centers" for the Democratic Change political party, reported on the program "Panama Today" broadcast by Radio Panama, that "the group of gladiators or operators of the call center receive instructions from the Administrator of the Tourism Authority, Solomon Shamah and from María Cristina González, who issues orders at the different call centers."

Teran also said the money used to fund these "call centers" comes from the National Assembly, and the monthly salary is from $500 to $600 for the employees.

Contradictions of Minister Frank De Lima

The Minister of Economy and Finance, and the current spokesman for the Democratic Change political party Frank De Lima, said today, Wednesday, April 30 on the Telemetro morning news broadcast, that the money used to pay the salaries of the employees in the "call centers" does not come from the National Assembly, but rather from the funds of the CD political party.

However Giancarlo Terán appears on the payroll of the Ministry of Trade and Industry where he charges a monthly salary of $1,000 and he was hired as a temporary employee at the start of 2014 as a "Coordinator of Plans and Programs." (Estrella)

Editor's Comment: These allegations against the CD's "call centers" is the best counter-attack the Panameñistas can launch at this point, in an effort to divert attention away from the "Varela-gate" scandal. It's coming down to the wire, and literally anything can happen between now and Sunday. Stay tuned...

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DIJ Experts Analyzing Varela-Gate Financial Documents

PoliticsThe report written by the Justice Department of the United States, and another written by the Financial Analysis Unit of Panama, over doubtful deposits linked to the presidential candidate of the Panameñista political party Juan Carlos Varela, are in the hands of specialists in accounting matters of the Division of Criminal Investigation (DIJ) revealed Panama's Attorney General Ana Belfon.

The head of the Public Ministry (MP) said the report is under the keen eye of the accounting specialists of the Economic Crimes Division of the DIJ, who will determine whether a crime has been committed, and if the process should be sent to the judiciary.

Belfon guaranteed the Public Ministry is respectful of due process, and she would wait until there is a pronouncement made by the experts, according to which, the relevant authorities will determine whether or not a crime has been committed.

"There is no specific term for delivery of the results of this analysis," said Belfon, who reiterated that the procedural terms have nothing to do with whatever the politicians might do or say. "We only involve ourselves with the law," she said.

In the documents produced by the Financial Analysis Unit, which were first delivered to the office of the Attorney General, and then later handed over to the DIJ, there is evidence that the transactions exceeded the salaries of the diplomats appointed by Varela.

Ana Belfon said the Public Ministry cannot execute any sort of action until the specialists determine whether there are unusual deposits, and whether or not crimes were committed.

"When there is evidence, due process will be followed," she said.

Recently, the Miami based newspaper Diario Las Americas published several documents showing that the funds received in the banking accounts of the Don James Foundation in Panama and abroad exceed the financial profile of the wife, mother and minor children of Jaime Lasso Castillo.

The prosecutor said the Financial Analysis Unit, attached to the National Security Council, has the mission of sounding the alarm and investigating voluminous deposits, anything undeclared over $10,000 and of dubious origin. (Panama America)

Editor's Comment: This is a normal step for the prosecutors of the Public Ministry. They are legal experts, lawyers, and prosecutors - not accountants, bankers, or money launderers. They rely on the expertise of the accountants and technical experts hired by the DIJ who know how to read these things, follow a trail of deposits, back-track the accounts and tie them together with companies, that sort of thing. The prosecutors always to this when they need an expert in whatever field, depending on the details of the case. And now just four days before the election on Sunday, the drip, drip, drip of this story is winding down. If the CD and Martinelli had any more heavy artillery to fire off, they would have done it by now.

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Boquete Garden Inn: 517 Five Star TripAdvisor Reviews and Counting

HotelsBy any standard, Boquete Garden Inn is among the top picks for local getaways. Awarded the coveted TripAdvisor Traveler's Choice the past three years, the Inn has a long history of success. Not surprisingly, Frommer's Travel Guide has ranked the Inn one of the top 10 small B&Bs in Panama. OfertaSimple.com and Boquete Garden Inn are teaming up to offer stays at 66% OFF valid anytime over the next 2 months.

Various room types are available starting at $75/night (normally $220/night). All options include continental breakfast along with a host of additional amenities. Check out OfertaSimple.com for more information and to reserve your nights:

http://ofertasimple.com/ofertas/panama/boquete-garden-inn-queen-king-chiriqui-abril-desayuno

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Martinelli's Replacement Will Make Many Important Appointments To Key Government Positions

PoliticsThe Electoral Tribunal judge Eduardo Valdés Escoffery, whose term in office ends in December, said he will not seek to remain in office. "Not really. I've given my share, so I think that's enough," he said.

He said his replacement will have to meet the legal formalities, after passing through a scrutiny of his democratic convictions and administrative capacity.

He said to be a judge on the Electoral Tribunal it's not enough to just be a lawyer, but you also have to be in tune with the electoral requirement.

His replacement will be appointed by the next President of the Republic.

Whoever is elected on Sunday to replace Ricardo Martinelli will also have the opportunity to appoint the next Attorney General, as well as the Prosecutor for Administration, four new judges on the Supreme Court, the Electoral Prosecutor, six Directors to the Board of the Panama Canal, and the Superintendents of Banking and the Stock Market.

The Dates

Before the end of this year, Ricardo Martinelli's successor must decide who will replace Ana Belfon and Oscar Ceville, the Attorney General and the Prosecutor of Administration, respectively. Both will remain in office until 31 December 2014.

The Prosecutors - and their alternates - will take office on 2 January 2015 and will remain in office for a period of ten years.

Same happens with the Superintendents of the Stock Market and Banking, whose terms end on 31 December.

In the Supreme Court, the four judges appointed during the PRD administration of Martin Torrijos will end their terms in office.

Harley Mitchell and Victor Benavides leave office on December 31, 2015.

Jerónimo Mejía and Oyden Ortega leave office on December 31, 2017.

The presidential candidate of the ruling Democratic Change political party José Domingo Arias said yesterday if he wins the election "with the approach of the new policy" he would make "straight" decisions and "with people who share my vision of building the country."

Juan Carlos Navarro and Juan Carlos Varela, opposition candidates have said they will carry out consultations for appointments. (Prensa)

Editor's Comment: The La Prensa newspaper is conducting a little bit of subliminal scare tactics here. The invisible lines in this article say "don't forget, that if you reelect the CD they will have appointed all nine judges on the Supreme Court, as well as the Attorney General, and other important figures in the government." This is exactly why political power in Panama has shifted back and forth every five years from the Panameñistas (Endara) to the PRD (Balladares) back to the Panameñistas (Moscoso) then to the PRD again (Torrijos) and finally to the CD (Matinelli). It's an entirely new phenomenon for Panama's version of their post-dictatorship democracy to be staring at the possibility of a "reelection" of sorts. They almost don't know what to do, or how to act, or think. This is compounded by a relatively close three way race where the winner could slip into office with less than 40% of the vote. But remember, that Martinelli has about an 80% approval rating, so if Arias wins it will be a clear "continuation" vote - the people want more of the same that's been going on for the past five years.

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CSS Warehouse Fire Destroys Medical Supplies in Juan Diaz

Safety & SecurityA fire occurred in a wooden warehouse of the Social Security Fund on Monday night, located in the area of El Sitio in Juan Diaz.

According to reports from the Fire Department, their efforts to control the fire were supported by units from several stations, and a lack of water hindered their efforts.

A water tanker truck from the Panama Canal Authority was on the scene, as well as another from the Tocumen International Airport.

According to information provided by Fire Chief Pablo Tuñón, medical supplies belonging to the dialysis unit of the Social Security Fund were burned in the fire, and the losses are in the millions.

At approximately 9:30 pm the Institute of Aqueducts and Sewers (IDAAN) reported they were sending two additional water tanker trucks to the scene of the fire. (Telemetro)

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Striking Public School Teachers Marching From Via España to Calle 50 Today

Protests & DemonstrationsThe various teachers' unions came out to protest again this morning, but this time they are marching on Via España, near the El Carmen church.

The public school teachers, who have been on strike for the past six days, are marching from the church towards the headquarters of the Human Rights Ombudsman on Calle 50.

So far there has been no "white smoke" from the authorities of the Ministry of Education and the educators, so their protests continue.

The public school teachers, together with their union leaders, hope the Minister of Education Lucy Molinar will arrive today to give them an answer to their demands, and that she will not send a representative.

The striking teachers are demanding the Ministry of Education agree to pay them a $300 per month raise, without conditions, and especially for the raise to be disbursed before 15 May. (Critica)

Editor's Comment: Again, politically motivated. They are trying to take advantage of the fact that we are now just a few days before the elections, to press their demands.

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Six Killed, 20 Injured In Serious Traffic Accident

Traffic AccidentsA truck, a bus from the Cañazas-Santiago route, and a sedan were involved in a serious traffic accident this morning.

The accident occurred on the Pan American highway, in the sector of Gavilán in La Mesa.

Unofficially it has been reported that six people were killed, and at least 20 were injured.

The Fire Department and ambulances have responded to the scene are and providing first aid. (Estrella)

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Liberals: The Complaints Against Juan Carlos Varela Can Jeopardize Continued Progress

PoliticsThe complaints of alleged money laundering, involving links to the presidential candidate of the Panameñista political party Juan Carlos Varela, caused alarm and concern among members of the International Liberal movement, because they "may jeopardize the prospects for continued progress" of the country.

They expressed their sentiments by adopting Resolution #59.

During the recent International Liberal Congress held in Rotterdam, participants analyzed the state of human rights, free and fair elections, multiparty democracy, social justice, tolerance, free market economy, free trade, and environmental sustainability in the countries of the world.

"The Congress expresses its deep concern before the elections (in Panama) that the allegations of corruption - as in the case of the Vice President (Juan Carlos) Varela - can jeopardize the prospects for continued progress," says the document in the section of the resolution dedicated to Panama.

This report refers to the complaint made ​​by the Miami based Diario Las Americas newspaper, linked the presidential candidate of the Panameñista political party Juan Carlos Varela to a money laundering network, whose resources were used to finance part of his campaign.

According to the investigative report, the funds from money laundering came from illegal Internet gambling operations in the United States, but the money came from more than 26 bank accounts opened in Panama that were used to finance Varela's presidential campaign.

The U.S. newspaper revealed funds from two members of the Panamanian diplomatic corps, appointed by Varela when he was the Chancellor of the Republic, were also deposited to those accounts.

Jaime Lasso del Castillo is the former Consul in South Korea, and Alberto Aristides Arosemena Medina is the former Consul in Kobe, Japan.

Michelle Lasso, the daughter of former diplomat in South Korea, was also a signatory of the accounts, which were closed after her arrest in Florida.

But beyond the bank accounts, there is also a receipt certifying the down payment on a Bertram yacht, model 630, with hull number 5051, revealing Michelle Lasso made the first payment of $175,000 for Varela's luxury pleasure craft.

Discrimination

The organization, which brings together the liberal political parties, also expressed alarm "over the document 'National Commitment for Life and Family' because it discriminates against minorities and people with different orientation and lifestyle. Liberal International believes the prosperity of Panama can only be guaranteed through individual freedom and civil liberties."

The resolution refers to the signing of this document by the presidential candidates during a ceremony held last April 16 at the facilities of the Universidad Santa Maria la Antigua (USMA).

The paper also gives a nod to government administration of President Ricardo Martinelli, and mainly emphasizes the democratic and economic development .

"The Liberal International welcomes Panama's achievements in recent years, in democratic stability and economic progress. The Congress notes the bold decision of the authorities to participate in crucial projects that primarily benefit the people of Panama, but which also provide better conditions for trade and global development."

Organization

The Liberal International is an umbrella organization of liberal parties in the world. It was founded in Oxford in 1947 and has become an important network to strengthen liberal democracy in the world.

Among its principles is to foster the growth of a free society based on personal liberty, personal responsibility, and social justice, and to provide the means for cooperation and exchange of information among members of the organization, and between men and women of all countries that accept its principles.

Among the most important figures who participated in the 59 th Congress, held in Rotterdam, are Ben Verwaayen, the former Director General of Alcatel- Lucent , a multinational company based in Paris specializing in telecommunications; Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson, the Icelandic Prime Minister and leader of the Progressive Party; the Prime Minister of the Netherlands Mark Rutte; Roxana Baldetti , vice president of the Republic of Guatemala; the Commissioner of the European Union for Trade, Karel de Gucht, and Ricardo Lopez Murphy, president of Liberal Network of Latin America.

Arturo González Baso, of the Nationalist Republican Liberal Movement (MOLIRENA) political party, shares the concern of the organization and encourages Varela to respond to the questions that are being asked in this case.

"The situation of Varela and alleged links to money laundering is a concern," he said. (Panama America)

Editor's Comment: Yeah, who cares? I guess the guys at the Liberal International Congress are one of the few outside organizations who are paying any attention at all to the election process in Panama. What matters most are the Panamanian voters, and of course the pro-Martinelli Panama America newspaper continues to beat the daily drum on the "Varela Gate" scandal, created by Martinelli himself by leaking the documents from the Financial Analysis Unit to the Miami based Diario Las Americas newspaper. They have caused so much damage - crippling Varela as a viable candidate - the point where he was abandoned by an important and long standing supporter I. Roberto Eisenmann, the owner of the La Prensa newspaper. As a result, Eisenmann switched his support to the PRD candidate Juan Carlos Navarro, a stunning turn of events for those who follow Panamanian politics closely.

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Companies Should Be On Alert, After Cyber Attack Against TVN: Mejía

Internet & TechnologyThe former Minister of Government and Justice during the administration of former President Martín Torrijos, Severino Mejía, today warned that the cyber attack against TVN- 2.com, coming just five days before the upcoming national general election, should serve as a clarion call, and that all private companies and government institutions should be on alert.

Mejia said last year more than 4,000 cyber attacks were detected in Panama, and the attack against the TVN (channel 2) website was intended to stifle information, and to impose a gag.

"It is not a matter of speculation, it is an alert that should worry all of us citizens in the run-up to the election," Mejia said. (TVN)

Editor's Comment: I noticed the TVN.com website dropped a few days ago, and was offline for awhile. Apparently they've gotten it fixed. Their website is back up and running normally. There's a crew of hackers who either work directly for the CD and Martinelli, or they are at the very least sympathetic and willing to wreak havoc and do harm against the CD's political enemies. They have been responsible for several attacks and other cyber stunts over the past five years.

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Teachers And Construction Workers Maintain Pressure (Politically Motivated Strike)

Protests & DemonstrationsConstruction workers and teachers unions continue the with the strike they began last week.

The construction workers, in ongoing negotiations with Panama's Chamber of Construction, still have to come to an agreement on five clauses that would put an end to the strike which has paralyzed 400 construction projects.

Public school teachers, meanwhile, continued with their actions demanding an unconditional raise of $300 per month.

They closed Calle 50 yesterday, and they have scheduled a march for today.

Meanwhile, the President of the Republic, Ricardo Martinelli, who was unable to attend a scheduled ceremony yesterday to inaugurate a newly constructed hospital in Veraguas, blamed the workers for delaying important projects. (Prensa)

Editor's Comment: And don't forget about the indigenous people who are protesting against the construction of a hydro electric dam, who have been clashing with riot police. All three of these strikes are - in fact - politically motivated. The construction workers, public school teachers, and poor Indians in the mountains for the core of the "extreme left" elements of the Panamanian political spectrum. It's no coincidence that all three of these branches are simultaneously protesting, marching, and clashing with police this week, now just a few days before the national elections on 4 May. Their goal is to create the feeling that the administration of Ricardo Martinelli is not in control, that they have done a bad job of running the country, and they should take over. Genaro López is the Independent presidential candidate for the Broad Front for Democracy (FAD) political party, and he is the former long-time General Secretary of the National Union of Workers of Construction and Similar Industries (SUNTRACS) labor union.

Remember this. Ricardo Martinelli made his first entry into politics when he was appointed as the Director of Social Security from 1994 to 1996. He then served as the Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Panama Canal, and as the Minister of Canal Affairs during the presidency of Mireya Moscoso from 1999 to 2003.

This is why the candidacy of Genaro Lopez is worrisome...

Mireya Moscoso ran for president in 1994 and lost by 4% - in an election with seven candidates. She then came back, ran again, and won in 1999.

Martin Torrijos ran for president in 1999 and lost by 7% of the vote. He then ran again and won in 2004.

Ricardo Martinelli ran for president in 2004 and lost. He then ran again in 2009 and won by a (Panamanian standards) landslide.

So the last three Panamanian presidents ran once and lost, then ran again and won the second time around. This is the power of name recognition. Martinelli basically spent five years campaigning between 2004 and 2009, all to build name recognition.

There is a trend in Latin America towards left leaning governments. Venezuela, Nicaragua, Bolivia, and Ecuador all have elected presidents who are dyed in the wool communists. Here's the full list, with "left leaning" or "Center-left" presidents marked with an *. Far left or communists are unmarked:

Cuba: Fidel Castro (1976–2008), Raul Castro (2008–present) Note: both Cuban presidents as Marxists-Leninists are Far-left politicians.

Venezuela: Hugo Chávez (1999–2013), Nicolás Maduro (2013-present)

Chile: Ricardo Lagos* (2000–2006), Michelle Bachelet (2006–2010, 2014–present)

Brazil: Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva* (2003–2011), Dilma Rousseff* (2011–present)

Argentina: Néstor Kirchner* (2003–2007), Cristina Fernández de Kirchner* (2007–present)

Dominican Republic: Leonel Fernández* (1996–2000, 2004–2012), Danilo Medina* (2012–present) Note: both Dominican presidents party have a centrist position.

Suriname: Jules Wijdenbosch (1996-2000), Dési Bouterse (2010–present)

Uruguay: Tabaré Vázquez (2005–2010), José Mujica (2010–present)

Bolivia: Evo Morales (2006–present)

Nicaragua: Daniel Ortega (1985–1990, 2007–present)

Ecuador: Rafael Correa (2007–present)

Guatemala: Álvaro Colom* (2008–2012)

Paraguay: Fernando Lugo (2008–2012)

El Salvador: Mauricio Funes* (2009–2014), Salvador Sánchez Cerén (2014-present)

Honduras: Manuel Zelaya* (2006–2009) Note: during his presidency Zelaya was a member of the centre-right Liberal Party of Honduras.

Peru: Ollanta Humala (2011–present)

Costa Rica: Luis Guillermo Solís* (2014-present)

And why is this happening? The answer is simple. There are more poor people in Latin American countries than rich people. The left leaning and hard-left politicians spout rhetoric which basically says they will take the money from the rich business elite and use that money to reduce poverty, improve infrastructure, education, and services. For every rich bus owner, there are 500 poor people who ride the bus every day. So, when they all get together to make decisions, and they vote to eat the bus owner, he doesn't stand a chance. That's what's happening in Venezuela today.

Thus far Panama has managed to avoid electing a far-left politician as president. However, it's a possibility at some point in the future. As long as the CD and the Martinelli crew continue to (actually) improve the lives of poor Panamanians then they will probably remain on the job. However if they ever fumble the ball, then guys like Genaro Lopez will be standing in the wings, flush with money donated by all those other communists, who would just love to add Panama to their quiver.

This leftist rhetoric does best when the economy of a country sucks. Panama has been doing so great over the past decade, that the whole "eat the rich" shtick can't get any meaningful traction.

In the meantime, the SUNTRACS, public school teacher's union, and Indigenous organizations continue to lay the groundwork for what they hope will be a brighter future - mostly for them. The reality is that these leftist politicians mostly just use these tactics to obtain power. Once they have it, they become corrupted and bloated, just like any other government anywhere.

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It's A Dry Weekend In Panama - No Booze (Sale or Consumption) During Elections

Nightlife, Bars, and PartyingThe Police Commissioner Aldo Macre, Director of the Traffic Operations Division of the National Police, announced on RPC Radio they will begin an operation on Friday, 2 May 2014, to enforce a "dry" rule for the upcoming national elections.

Macre explained the rule states that 48 hours before the start of this electoral activity, the sale and consumption of alcoholic beverages is prohibited.

In the event they find an intoxicated citizen, first they will lose their right to vote, and then they will be take to the National Police, where the Office of the Electoral Prosecutor and the police will enforce the law, and initiating the process leading to a sanction.

The General Elections will take place this Sunday, May 4, during which Panamanian voters will elect Mayors, local municipal Representatives, the Deputies of the National Assembly, and the President of the Republic who will lead the country. (Telemetro)

Editor's Comment: So be aware - no drinking or sales of booze, starting on Friday. It would be highly advisable to hold your private parties indoors. Don't hold a big beach party. Don't hold a loud or raucous gathering. If you want to drink at all this weekend, buy your booze now, and do so in private, behind closed doors. Don't give the cops a reason to make an example of anyone. Because, they will. Because that's what cops do sometimes. The "spirit and intent" of this law is to make sure everyone is sober when voting - so it's not really aimed at tourists or foreigners who don't get to vote anyway. But still, just be smart...

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Panama's Special Operations Forces Searching For Cop Killers in Nombre de Dios

Drug TraffickingPanama's National Police reported today they are performing a Special Operation in the Caribbean town of Nombre de Dios, where last Friday two police officers were killed by suspected drug traffickers.

According to a police spokesman in Nombre de Dios, a small coastal town in the province of Colon, "there are operations" to attempt to capture a gang that ambushed and killed the two police officers, assigned to the Anti Drug Tactical Operations Unit of the National Police.

The deceased were identified as Corporal Alfredo López and Agent Luis Lee.

La Critica reported today police officers are searching the homes of Nombre de Dios, and they suspect the band is composed of Colombians and Panamanians, who attacked the two police officers on a beach where they were guarding a boat used by the National Police.

The report adds that the residents of the village have complained that the police officers have sprayed pepper spray at them when they enter their houses to conduct the search.

The National Police said there is no restriction on the movement in Nombre de Dios, explaining that the controls they have imposed are in response to the investigation of a double murder, and an operation to search for and capture those responsible. (Critica)

Editor's Comment: Normally the drug traffickers simply drop their weapons and run away into the bush when they are confronted by the National Police. It is highly unusual for any drug traffickers to ambush and kill police officers in Panama. Very unusual. The Panamanian SOF guys are pretty salty. They've got good trackers. I suspect they will round these guys up before too long. In the meantime, avoid this area.

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Electoral Tribunal Assumes Operational Control of Panama's Public Forces

PoliticsThe Electoral Tribunal performed a ceremony on Monday, 28 April 2014, to accept the operational control of the "Public Forces" as established in the Electoral Code.

According to Article 224, six days before Election Day, and until the proclamation of a new president, the Executive Branch shall give operational control of all Public Forces to the Electoral Tribunal, for the sole purposes of guaranteeing freedom, honesty and efficiency of the elections.

During his speech, the Minister of Security Jose Raul Mulino, besides putting the Electoral Tribunal in command of the security sectors, asked each Panamanian to come out to vote. And he asked the Electoral Tribunal, responsible for organizing and executing the election, to be responsible when counting the votes, and to respect the popular will of the Panamanian people.

Electoral Tribunal magistrate Erasmo Pinilla said they are willing to fight to the death to make sure freedom reigns, and he stressed peace as a national desire.  

He added they have been meticulously designing strategies for the development of the election, so that on 4 May peace may confront one of mankind's strongest ambitions, to obtain power.

Pinilla invited the members of the various security agencies to assume the work of 4 May because they will no longer be a docile force to serve the ambitions of power.  

The ceremony was performed in the presence of various authorities of the Ministry of Security, the Electoral Tribunal, and various components of the security forces. (Estrella)

Editor's Comment: Interesting choice of words by both Mulino and Pinilla. Mulino said "don't screw up when counting the votes" (and try to steal the election for the PRD), and Pinilla told the cops "you're no longer Martinelli's puppets." If there is some sort of problem on election day (unlikely) then it will be very interesting indeed to see what happens. Which way will the various units split? How many of them will take orders from Pinilla - if the shit hits the fan? It's easy to follow the plan when it's smooth sailing. That might change dramatically if it looks like the Electoral Tribunal goes off the rails. And, that's a possibility. Remember, this will be a close election. And, the PRD owns the TE. And, both the PRD and the TE want the CD out of power. Stranger things have happened. Panama is no stranger to coups and power grabs.

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What? Eisenmann Is Backing Navarro? Un-Friggin-Believable...

PoliticsThe presidential candidate of the Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD), Juan Carlos Navarro signed a document saying he accepts the support of the "New Republic" movement, made of up politicians and businessmen.

This document consists of more than seven points to be met by Navarro, including the convening of a Constituent Assembly for a new constitution that complies with the principles and values ​of the country.

He also agreed to appoint a Comptroller General, Attorney General, and Supreme Court judges who are independent citizens without a partisan political affiliation, among other things.

According to Navarro, the demands made by this group are the same as the vision of this party, however, this decision has been criticized by some, including the Minister of the Presidency, Roberto Henriquez who says the announcement made by the "five cats of the New Republic" evidence the desperation of the traditional economic powers to regain political power. (Panama America)

Editor's Comment: What? I. Roberto Eisenmann - the owner of La Prensa - is abandoning the Panameñista candidate Juan Carlos Varela? Really? It literally boggles the mind. They understand that Martinelli has successfully thrown a large stone weight around Varela's neck with these "Varela Gate" accusations, the links to money laundering, and the diversion of the funds from the Consulates in South Korea and Japan. Congratulations to them, they finally figured out what I've been saying now for almost three years - Varela will lose the election, and wind up in third place. Not giving a rat fuck about loyalty, they switched their allegiance at the last minute to the PRD and Navarro.

Let me say that again. I. Roberto Eisenmann - the owner of the La Prensa newspaper - is supporting a presidential candidate from the PRD. The same PRD of Omar Torrijos and Manuel Noriega. As someone who lived through the last few years of the military dictatorship and the Just Cause invasion, I find this to be incredible. Unbelievable. A true "holy shit" moment. Wow.

And Henriquez hit the nail right on the head. Eisenmann and his crew are prepared to do anything to get Martinelli (Arias) out of office. I mean, anything. Wow. It boggles the mind. No matter how many times they spit, they'll never be able to get that taste out of their mouths...

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Panama Closes Bribery Case - After US Fails To Cooperate With Investigation

CorruptionPanama's Superior Prosecutor for Organized Crime requested the judges responsible for the case to provisionally close a case involving allegations of the payments of bribes to officials of the Civil Aviation Authority by the US company BizJet, that received the contract to maintain the presidential aircraft between 2004 and 2009.

The prosecutor sent his request in early March 2014, because law enforcement authorities in the United States failed to respond to a second request for judicial assistance in order to clarify key pieces of data (evidence) contained in the Panamanian investigation.

The prosecutor sent their first request for assistance to the United States in May 2012 asking for collaboration, but the answer they sent in response to the Panamanian investigators was not enough (insufficient) for them to continue the investigation.

They sent a second request for assistance in 2013, asking for the evidence that linked the Panamanians to the alleged bribes.

According to judicial sources, these elements would be important to the process.

The director of the AAC, Rafael Barcenas, confirmed that the officials mentioned in investigation in the United States are still working for the entity, and while there is no legal decision his office will not take any action against them.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) opened an investigation into the alleged payment of bribes by BizJet in Panama, Mexico and Brazil.

Later, a Federal Court in the United States sentenced two of the company's executives.

According to Mexican media reports broadcast in April 2013, the Panamanian Civil Aviation Authority paid $2.8 million to BizJet International Sales and Support Inc., between 2004 and 2009, for maintenance of the presidential aircraft.

Two of the four former directors of BizJet who were processed in the United States were sentenced after pleading guilty to paying bribes.

According to the FBI process, BizJet paid bribes to Panamanian officials of the Civil Aviation Authority. (Prensa)

Editor's Comment: What? In the United States there's a law known as the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA). This law is (supposedly) designed and intended to prevent US companies from doing exactly this - paying bribes to corrupt foreign officials in order to secure government contracts for their businesses. In reality however all FCPA enforcement actions have been voluntary disclosures by the companies involved. The BizJet case was also a voluntary disclosure.

There's a good chance the Department of Justice in the United States either failed or refused to respond to the request for information submitted by the Panamanian prosecutor due to the details of the negotiated settlement between BizJet and the US government. If you look at the Deferred Prosecution Agreement (DPA) in this case, "Official 6" is the Chief Mechanic for the Panamanian Civil Aviation Authority who received the bribes and a cell phone, in exchange for securing the government contract to repair and maintain the aircraft used by Panamanian president Martin Torrijos. Specifically, items #25 and #26 on page A-26 of the DPA include the details about the payment of the $10,000 bribe and purchase of a cell phone.

The Panamanian Superior Prosecutor for Organized Crime opened an investigation, and has been trying to bring this "Official 6" to justice within the Panamanian legal system for more than two years now. I first covered the story when the US Department of Justice issued their press release (See: Oklahoma firm fined for paying bribes in Mexico, Panama 15 March 2012). There was one more story a year later, when the sentences were announce for the two former BizJet executives (See: Former US BizJet Executives Convicted For Paying Bribes in Panama 9 April 2013). If you look at the actions taken by the Attorney General's office in Panama, they issued their first request for information when this case became news in 2012. Then they followed up with a second request on April 2013, when the convictions were announced. So apparently the Attorney General's office has been responding to the news media reports on this case. Now, one year later, their "clock" has run out on this investigation.

But notice the prosecutor is asking for the case to be "provisionally" closed in Panama against the as yet unnamed "Official 6," the government employee who received the bribe. This means that, at some time in the future if they get more or additional information, they can come back and ask the court to reopen the case. Like, if the US officials in the Department of Justice respond to their request for information, and provide them with the "smoking gun" information then need in order to bring this corrupt official to trial.

The details of the DPA also make it perfectly clear that the BizJet company did everything in their power to cooperate and assist the US Department of Justice in this investigation. They discovered the illegal activity during an internal audit. Once they figured out what was going on, they disclosed the results of their investigation, and fully cooperated with the investigation. The DPA also requires BizJet to cooperate with the investigations being conducted by foreign law enforcement agencies into corrupt officials. See Item #5 which starts on page 3 of the DPA.

So, both BizJet and the Department of Justice know the identity of "Official 6" who works at the Panamanian Civil Aviation Authority. The DOJ can (if they wanted to) provide that information to Panama's Attorney General, so they can proceed with their investigation and prosecution.

The question remains - why haven't they responded? I called the Department of Justice to ask. The office where the two prosecutors who worked on this case responded by saying "we have no comment, you have to call public affairs" and they gave me the number. I called them, explained what was going on, and asked for a comment or statement from the DOJ. That was early this morning, and I expected to have received some sort of a reply by this afternoon - but nada. Maybe there will be a surprise waiting for me in my email inbox tomorrow, but I doubt it.

I also spoke to Professor Mike Koehler from the Southern Illinois University (SIU) School of Law, who is "the" recognized expert when it comes to issues dealing with the implementation of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. He has published articles related to this BizJet case, and he helped me understand what was probably going on between the DOJ and BizJet, and why.

The bottom line remains the same. Panama is about to drop their efforts to investigate a corruption case, because the US Department of Justice either can't or won't give them enough solid evidence to prove exactly who "Official 6" is - so they can mount a legal case against him. So yeah, obviously the DOJ is all about helping third world countries fight corruption. Sure. We hear you...

And how screwed is BizJet on this deal? They found out about the criminal activity that was happening inside of their own company, and reported it to the government. They helped the investigation, and cooperated completely. And what did they get for their troubles? A fine of 11.8 million dollars. When you compare that to the FACT that the only cases the DOJ has ever prosecuted under the FCPA are those involving companies (like BizJet) who have "self-reported" - the obvious answer for every other US company who is watching this Kluster unfold is simple. BizJet could have simply fired the offending employees, shred all of the documents, delete the emails, and forget it ever happened. The odds are exactly 0% that the DOJ will investigate, sleuthing on their own accord, to uncover these dastardly deeds. And what's the worst that can happen? A fine of $11.8 million? Yeah, good call, BizJet. Gotta make the lawyers happy, first. I'm sure the penalties would probably be much stiffer if you actually did try to cover something like this up, but damn...

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Third Day Of Work Stoppage On Panama Canal Expansion Project

Protests & DemonstrationsThe construction worker strike that has stopped work on the project to expand the Panama Canal, as well as hundreds of real estate projects, is in its third day today while the leaders of the business community and union leaders each accuse the other of intransigence while they insist they want to negotiate.

The National Construction Workers Trade Union (SUNTRACS) began an indefinite strike on Wednesday to demand a wage increase of 80% over the next four years, compared to the offer of 21% over the same period offered by the Panamanian Chamber of Construction (CAPAC).

The executive director of the CAPAC, Eduardo Rodríguez, said Friday the businessmen want a "reasonable" wage increase for the workers, and he accused the union leadership of being "intransigent " by proposing a "disproportionate " wage adjustment.

Increasing the wages of construction workers by 80% over the four years of the new collective bargaining agreement would not only shrink the market, but it would also trigger an increase in housing prices, said Rodriguez.

But the General Secretary of the SUNTRACS Saul Mendez said the only thing that's "disproportionate are the earnings" of the construction companies.

Builders accumulated profits of "337% between 2006 and 2013, while wages grew by 18% in the same time period," said Mendez, who accused the businessmen of amassing "fabulous fortunes on the backs of the workers."

"The strike continues," and he said it is being observed by 98% of construction workers.

This afternoon the SUNTRACS would return to the negotiating table "to see if the business leaders propose something new, because they have maintained a stubborn and uncompromising position," said Mendez.

The Executive Director of the CAPAC said today they would meet with business leaders and others who are linked to the industry to seek a "consensus guideline" that will be taken this afternoon at the negotiating table that has remained open with the union despite the strike.

"This meeting does not guarantee we take an additional or improved proposal (to the bargaining table) unless authorized, but everything will depend on the assessments made ​​and the guidelines to be given to the negotiators," said Rodríguez .

The president of the Chamber of Commerce , Industry and Agriculture of Panama (CCIAP), José Luis Ford, who attended the meeting with Capac, on Friday called the wage aspirations of the construction workers "disproportionate, excessive, and baseless."

Ford said beyond the damages that may have been been caused in the sector during the first two days of the strike, one has to also quantify the damage to the Panama Canal expansion, "the most important project for the country."

The consortium Grupo Unidos por el Canal (GUPC), led by the Spanish Sacyr and in charge of the construction of the third set of locks, the major part of the expansion project, said Wednesday that the strike "impacts the work schedule of the project" that for various reasons has already accumulated a delay of 15 months.

Neither GUPC or Panama Canal Authority (ACP ) have reported on the magnitude of the impact of the strike on the work schedule, expected to culminate in December 2015, the new date set after the contractual dispute between the parties stopped work on the project for 16 days in February. (Critica)

Editor's Comment: The one bald faced lie in this article is the claim that 98% of construction workers are supporting this strike. That's simply not the case. I don't even really understand why the responsibility of negotiating the collective bargaining agreement with the CAPAC falls to the SUNTRACS. They only have 12,000 members and they do NOT represent anything even close to a majority of the workers in this sector. It feels like something that's been grandfathered in, from the days when they were the top dog...

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Former DEA Regional Director Confirms Evidence Exists Against Varela

CorruptionConfirmation that it was Michelle Lasso who paid the initial down payment in 2011 for the luxury yacht being purchased by the presidential candidate Juan Carlos Varela, while she was, at that time an important part of a money laundering network for $150 million of the illegal proceeds of Internet gambling in the United States, could be enough of a reason for the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and other justice organizations to open a new investigation, that could involve the Vice President of Panama.

The former director of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) for Mexico and Central America, Larry Holifield, said yesterday the documents that have been presented in the news media are sufficient grounds for the United States to start an investigation into the case that links Varela to a money laundering network, and a foundation that received money from two consulates that could be, supposedly, acts of corruption.

On 14 April, the Miami based U.S. newspaper Diario Las Americas launched a journalistic investigation in several series, in which they linked Varela with the Don James Foundation, which was financially managed by Michelle Lasso between 2009 and 2011, the period of time during which she was under investigation by the FBI for her involvement in a network of illegal gambling led by Phillip Gurian.

The Don James Foundation and the Lasso family moved nearly 30 million dollars, including deposits of large sums from the Panamanian Consuls Jaime Lasso in South Korea, and Alberto Arosemena in Kobe, Japan.

The Diario Las Americas said in their investigation the bank accounts of the Don James Foundation and the funds diverted from the Consulates Varela controlled during the early years of the Martinelli administration could have been mixed with the money managed by Michelle Lasso from the illegal Internet gambling activities in the United States.

One indication of this is that Lasso paid the initial payment of $175,000 from her personal bank account at the Bank of America for the purchase of Varela's luxury yacht from the Bertram Yacht Corporation.

This bank account could be one of Lasso's bank accounts seized in the United States after she pleaded guilty to the offense of money laundering, where she was convicted and sentenced by a federal court.

"I imagine, and I bet that in this case there are already people interested in the FBI, the Treasury of the United States (IRS), the Justice Department, and the Attorney General of Panama. The U.S. Embassy in Panama should also be interested in this case, because in my experience I've never seen as much documentation such as in this case, and the linking of a person of such importance in a country," said Holifield, who was also the Deputy Director of the DEA in Bogotá between 2002 and 2006.

He said the opening of an investigation should clarify where the money came from, and why it was sent to the bank accounts of the Don James Foundation, and why Vice President Varela is receiving amounts of money from this foundation.

Holifield said in the cases he has had to investigate, he had to deal with many rumors, and there are people who will say anything, but in this case there is a lot of documentation that directly link the people involved.

"There are documents in this case which say a lot, there is a lot of activity that looks like money laundering, and we have Michelle Lasso admitting to having been involved in money laundering. The thing missing are the witnesses which could complete the investigation. With a witness they could have an important case," said Holifield.

The former Regional Director of the DEA also said there would be no problem with Michelle Lasso being a part of any new investigation, even though she has already been convicted of money laundering.

"She lived in Florida during this activity, and what's more they have had recordings as evidence in the gambling case. They already have recordings and who knows what else they have. Another investigation can be opened in the United States against Michelle Michelle because these are different criminal acts," said Holifield .

Despite the documentary evidence, on Wednesday Varela denied having received money from Michelle Lasso, but admitted having received payments from the Don James Foundation, supposedly justified as donations to his campaign and family investments. (Panama America)

Editor's Comment: Well, I really don't see how a new investigation can be opened up against Michelle Lasso, because she has already been investigated and convicted of money laundering. Holified says this is a different criminal act, but where? I don't get it. Maybe I'm missing something. to me it seems like the same activity of money laundering.

However, he does make a great point in that the FBI and Justice Department already have thousands of hours of telephone call recordings of Michelle Lasso. They can certainly look at the $175,000 supposedly spent as the initial down payment for Varela's luxury yacht, and if that money came from the illegal Internet gambling operation, then it most certainly could also be seized. If it's still in Miami, that is. And of course, if her father Jaime Lasso and the Don James Foundation were involved in the money laundering operation, then of course they could also seize all of those funds as well.

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"The Public Ministry Is Not Political" Says Attorney General Ana Belfon

Law & LawyersPanama's Attorney General Ana Belfon said the Public Ministry "is not a political entity," and today she will make a statement on the requests to investigate the allegations published in both local and international news media against the presidential candidate for the Panameñista political party, Juan Carlos Varela.

"The Public Ministry does not live in political times, but rather procedural times," said Belfon.

The Chief of the Public Ministry met on Thursday with representatives from the Special Prosecutor for Organized Crime from Chiriqui, to try to a work plan to confront the increase in criminal activities in the province.

She also indicated a task force lead by the Special Prosecutor Against Organized Crime in Chiriqui is investigating the disappearance of the two Dutch women Lisane Froom and Kris Kommers.

"We are not ruling out any theory in the disappearance of the two young women," she said.

She added that a Dutch organization is collaborating with these investigations. (Prensa)

Editor's Comment: So Panama's Attorney General will make a decision today on how to proceed regarding the "Varela Gate" scandal. Interesting. Let's see - I expect she will announce they have opened an investigation into everyone involved, with the exception of Juan Carlos Varela. She will refer to the Panamanian Constitution and Criminal Procedure Code, and pass the responsibility to the National Assembly to investigate Vice President Varela. There's enough meat on the bone regarding the allegations against Michelle Lasso, her father Jaime Lasso, and others involved in laundering the money from illegal Internet gambling in the United States, as well as the allegations regarding the illegal diversion of funds from the Panamanian Consulates in Japan and South Korea.

All next week there will be still more details coming out in the press. Ana Belfon will call a couple of witnesses and generate a couple of headlines. The National Assembly will begin to talk about what to do about Varela. All of this during the final week before the national election which will decide the next president.

With regards to her statement saying that the Public Ministry is not a political entity? Bullshit. Jose Ayu Prado started off as a prosecutor in the Public Ministry who went after the former president Ernesto Perez Balladares (for Martinelli). As a payback for being a loyal lapdog, Martinelli promoted him to the position of Attorney General, where he continued to target corrupt officials, crooks and criminals who were in the opposition. Later Martinelli promoted him again to the Supreme Court. And today, he is the President of the Supreme Court. Not political? Rather, it's the definition of political.

But no matter. Ana Belfon will investigate crime and follow the law. The Lasso family and others apparently did (in fact) break the law, so I expect the Attorney General will investigate those facts. And of course, while doing so she will say "it's not political" and claim to be simply following the case wherever the chain of evidence takes them. However the truth remains, that a guy like Martinelli would never appoint anyone to a position as important as the Attorney General, without first making sure they were playing for this team. That's simply the way he operates.

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Coast Guard Cutter Seizes a Ton of Cocaine

Drug TraffickingU.S. Coast Guard - ALAMEDA, Calif. – The crew of the Coast Guard Cutter Active seized an estimated 2,300 pounds of cocaine, worth approximately $37 million, in international waters of the Eastern Pacific Ocean some 140 miles off the coast of Panama late last month.

Active, home ported in Port Angeles, Wash., was on routine patrol in the region when it was directed to intercept a suspicious Panamanian fishing vessel sighted earlier by a U.S. Customs and Border Protection P-3 aircraft.

A Coast Guard boarding team was launched as Active approached the fishing vessel.

During an inspection of the vessel, the boarding team discovered more than 40 burlap sacks filled with cocaine. The fishing boat, the contraband, and five suspected smugglers were turned over to Panamanian authorities.

"I am extremely proud of this crew. They have continually lived up to the cutter's nickname, the ‘Li'l Tough Guy’," said Cmdr. Philip Crigler, Active’s commanding officer. “Through their tenacity we have had great success on this patrol keeping illegal drugs from reaching the shores of the United States."

The Coast Guard deploys assets to both the Eastern Pacific Ocean and Caribbean Sea in coordination with other law enforcement agencies and partner nations in the regions to disrupt the flow of illegal drugs into the United States.

Overall coordination of surveillance and patrols is done by an interagency task force based in Florida. U.S. maritime law enforcement and the interdiction phase of counter-smuggling operations in the Eastern Pacific occurs under the tactical control of the 11th Coast Guard District headquartered in Alameda.

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Convicted Money Launderer Michelle Lasso Made First Payment on Varela's Luxury Yacht

CorruptionIn March 2011, the US Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Drug Enforcement Administration already had Phillip Gurian and the Panamanian Michelle Lasso under surveillance, for being behind an international network of money laundering from illegal Internet gambling.

The network operated 54 illegal gambling centers in the United States, London, and Russia, and they moved more than $150 million between multiple bank accounts, mainly in Panama, the United States, and the Bahamas.

While Michelle Lasso handled the financial part of Gurian's money laundering network, she also took care of the personal affairs of Panama's Vice President, Juan Carlos Varela, who today is the presidential candidate for the Panameñista political party, according to bank documents and official records.

The documentation reveals on March 14, 2011 Lasso contacted the headquarters of the yacht manufacturer Bertram Yacht Corporation in Florida in order to make the first payment for the yacht Varela was buying.

Lasso paid $175,000 with check number f011730055101 from one of her banking accounts at the Bank of America NA NY.

Precisely and according to the FBI investigations, several of Lasso's accounts seized by the US Department of Justice, because of their links to money laundering, were in the Bank of America.

Receipt No. 3615 also specifies the payment was directed towards a yacht, model 630, with hull number 5051, data matching the yacht "Centuria" acquired by Varela, in partnership with his brother the National Assembly Deputy Jose Luis Varela.

This payment reveals Varela was not only linked to Lasso through the bank accounts of the Don James Foundation, but also by direct payments from bank account linked to Gurian's illegal gambling network.

Earlier this year both Lasso and Gurian were sentenced in Federal Court in New York after being convicted of money laundering.

Lasso, after having cooperated with the investigation, received as a sentence of two years probation and was deported from the United States.

US federal authorities also seized Lasso's bank accounts containing more than 8 million dollars.

In August 2012, the Panama American newspaper was the first to publish an article about the yacht Varela purchased for $2.5 million, which he tried to hide through a company in the British Virgin Islands called Scorley Assets LTD.

But the records of a mortgage on the vessel with Tower Bank confirmed Varela and his brothers are the owners of the yacht "Centuria", which bears the same name as one of the rums produced by their company, Varela Hermanos S.A..

Documents Extracted

Jaime Lasso, the President of the Don James Foundation, tried to erase all evidence in 2012 that it was his daughter who made ​​the first payment for Varela's yacht.

On this date, Lasso went to the offices of Evermarine, the representative of Bertram in Panama, to request the file documenting the purchase of the "Centuria" but the documents were located in the files of the company's lawyers.

After that, Lasso managed to convince an Evermarine employee to get the file for the purchase of the yacht from the law firm, claiming he needed a copy.

The file was returned with only three pages.

This caused the administrators or Evermarine to fire the employee who helped Lasso extract the documents from the file on Varela's yacht, confirmed sources related to the topic.

Panama America requested an interview with the representatives of Evermarine, but they did not heed the request as the the deadline for this edition.

However, Lasso and Varela did not anticipate the receipt proving Michelle Lasso did in fact make the first payment for the luxury yacht would appear, while she was involved in money laundering.

The yacht is 67 feet (20.40 meters) long, 5.52 meters wide, weighing 45 tons and is built with a fiberglass hull. It has a market value of $2.5 million, according to records of the ship.

On August 9, 2011 just days before the breakup of the alliance between the Panameñista and Cambio Democratico political parties, Varela registered the contract for the purchase of the yacht in the Panama Public Registry, using a foreign company as a front.

The law firm Icaza, González-Ruiz y Alemán registered the yacht in Panama.

One of the law firm's directors, Álvaro Alemán, served as the Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs while Varela was the Minister.

The notarized document revealed the company Evermarine Corp. of Belize sold the yacht named "Centuria" to a British Virgin Islands company named Scorley Assets LTD for one dollar, and "other considerations of value" that are not identified in the document.

The "Centuria" received its navigation permits on July 29, 2011 as a private pleasure yacht under the Panamanian flag, but under the classification of foreign service on behalf of the BVI company Scorley Assets LTD.

Consulates

This week, we also learned Alberto Arosemena, while he was the Panamanian Consul in Kobe, Japan diverted money to the bank accounts of the Don James Foundation and he identified at least three transfers to go towards payments identified as "boat" or "yacht."

Arosemena had transferred more than $150,000 to the bank accounts of the Don James Foundation, according to records found so far.

After that, it is possible the purchase of the "Centuria" also was done with money from the foundation chaired by Michelle Lasso's father, the gynecologist Jaime Lasso. (Panama America)

Editor's Comment: The daily dribble of new information continues. Today we learn the first payment for Varela's yacht the "Centuria" was made by Michelle Lasso, possibly using funds generated by the illegal gambling activity in the United States. If that's the case, then the US Justice Department will almost certainly seize that yacht. Now, won't that be an interesting headline.

It's clear to me Martinelli put pressure on Evermarine in Panama, and that's how they got the documents they reveal in this article. And that means the US Justice Department was probably completely unaware that Michelle Lasso wrote a check for $175,000 from her Bank of America account to make the first payment for Varela's new yacht. That explains why the US authorities didn't seize the "Centuria" when they were seizing everything else. They didn't seize it, because they didn't know about it.

Well, guess what. They know now...

Stay tuned for the next installment of "How The Corrupt Third World Country Spins Thanks To Politicians Manipulating The Media." Wouldn't it be a hoot if the FBI seizes the "Centuria" tonight, before Varela can move it out of Miami? Because, after the publication of this article, they are probably gassing up the tanks and filling up the coolers on the boat with ice right now...

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La Prensa Final Poll Indicates Arias Will Win Panama Presidential Election

PoliticsThe final poll conducted for this newspaper (La Prensa) shows voters favor the candidate for the Democratic Change political party José Domingo Arias.

Arias received 37.5% in the poll, representing a 6% lead over the PRD's Juan Carlos Varela, and an 11% lead over the Panameñista candidate Juan Carlos Varela.

However, there are factors that prevent anticipating what will happen on May 4.

12.4% of respondents said they have not yet made up their minds, and the advantage held by Arias over the second place candidate is not large enough to ensure victory in the event that a majority within the block of undecided voters tilt in favor of the PRD candidate.

Another 13.3% of participants in this poll said they might change their mind and vote for someone else on election day.

This "soft" vote - added to the undecided, could introduce key changes to the indications today, and the end result on election day.

In this poll 22% indicated they are afraid to reveal the name of their candidate of choice, suggesting - but not clearly stating or quantifying - that respondents could have masked their true intentions.

Finally, the trend shows an upward direction, although marginal, for the candidacy of Juan Carlos Varela, who rose 1.1 point compared to March.

This poll was conducted by the company Quantix Panama, of 2,930 people between 19 and 22 April 2014, with a margin of error of 1.81 percentage points. (Prensa)

Editor's Comment: This reminds me of election night in the US in 2012. Although all of the polls indicated Obama was going to win the key "swing" states, Republican "analysts" and "political commentators" on Fox News continuously ripped apart the polling data, trying to find a way for Romney to win. Of course, they were wrong. The polls don't lie, contain magic, or mislead. They are what they are, even if they indicate your guy is going to get his ass kicked.

In this case, the La Prensa newspaper strongly backs the candidacy of the Panameñista party, Juan Carlos Varela. And this last poll indicates (as I have been predicting since August 2011) that Varela will finish this election in third place. However La Prensa paid for this poll to be conducted, and they are obligated to publish the results, even though the results clearly indicate that Juan Carlos Varela is going to have third place all to himself.

So what's a ethically bankrupt newspaper to do? Well, cook the books, that's what! See here? There's undecided voters! And voters who might change the minds! And voters who are afraid to say who they are really going to vote for! Varela could still win!

No, he cant. The margin of error for this poll is 1.8% - which is really pretty small. The results of this poll basically mirror exactly the results obtained by Dichter & Neira for TVN last week. So, now that it's coming down to the wire, Quantix did a good poll, got a relatively big sample (for Panama), and they are predicting a win for Arias.

You can ignore the fact that the La Prensa journalist who wrote this article really (really) wants Varela to win.

It should be pointed out that Dichter & Neira have correctly predicted the winner of every Panamanian election since 1994. That's 20 years of getting it right. I have more faith in their polling data than anyone else's.

The only outlier is the IPSOS poll, conducted for Telemetro, indicating the PRD candidate Juan Carlos Varela now has a very slight 0.3% lead over Jose Domingo Arias. That's laughable. Telemetro is a PRD lapdog. They support Navarro, the same way La Prensa supports Varela. This tells me the IPSOS data is skewed and unreliable. Their results do not reflect the same trends and tendencies as both the Quantix and Dichter & Neira polling data.

I stand by my prediction. Arias will win. Navarro will get second place. Varela will finish in third. And I've been predicting these results for a long, long time. I also thing in the final voting Arias will end up with about five to ten more percentage points, above whatever the last poll says. There will be some last minute moves, but it won't be enough to change the final results.

The last poll to be released will be the Dichter & Neira results for the third week of April, conducted for TVN. Those results will come out tonight.

After that, all polling will cease. According to Panamanian Election Law, there will be no more polling results released between today and the election, now just ten days away. Today is the last day any Panamanian news media outlet can legally release any polling data. Now, watch Martinelli try to get new polling results released in Miami or something. Wouldn't put it past him...

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GUPC Confirms The Project To Expand The Panama Canal Will Be Affected By The Strike

Protests & DemonstrationsThe consortium Grupo Unidos Por El Canal (GUPC) issued a press release today saying the workers on the project to expand the Panama Canal are supporting the strike started this morning by the SUNTRACS construction labor union.

The GUPC said there has been a delay in the work on the project, and their workers are inactive.

The SUNTRACS labor union leader Saul Mendez said this morning their concern is about the wage increase demanded by the union for the workers working on the megaprojects, and that they will remain on strike until there is an agreement.

Mendez said the workers have the right to a raise.

Labor Minister Reynaldo Medina said although the Suntracs rose from the negotiating table and called on its members walk out on strike, the talks will resume at 6:30 pm today. (Estrella)

Editor's Comment: Ah, smart move by Saul Mendez. The SUNTRACS doesn't actually represent most of these workers, but they are asking for a big raise for them at the negotiating table with the CAPAC. So (obviously) the construction workers who are on the Panama Canal expansion project walked off in support, because they want the raise.

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The Coronado Computer Whisperer

Internet & Technology Nestled between two restaurants directly off the Panamerican Highway in Coronado across the street from the Coronado Mall, lies one of Panama’s best-kept retail secrets: Punto G Electronics.

This is a computer store unlike any you've ever seen (or are likely to see) anywhere else in the world. The owner is Vera Bucek, a glamorous and flirty native New Yorker who opened Punto G Electronics exactly six months after she moved to Panama four years ago.

What makes this computer store so unique is the upscale boutique-factor, the personalized customer-service, Vera’s contagious laughter, and her uncanny knowledge of a variety of technology.

After many years in the technology field and a B.S. degree in Information Technology under her belt, Vera moved to Panama in search of a tropical environment and a place where she could add value to a community by sharing her love of technology. Having visited each and every computer store in whatever city she lived or visited, she felt what they all had in common was a lack of warmth and personality.

So, on her first visit to Panama, when she saw there were no computer repair stores in the area and that the construction of the Coronado Mall was nearing completion, on-the-spot she decided to make Coronado her home and open up shop. Her goal was to create a one-of-a-kind retail and repair store that reflects her fun personality where even a non-technical person could feel comfortable, and where the selection of products was unique and interesting. She also felt it was vital to provide Coronado with competent and accountable professional technical support, using honesty and integrity as the building blocks of the store’s culture.

Her dream was realized on 10 December 2010 – the day she opened the doors to Punto G Electronics, S.A. , fondly referred to by locals as “The Computer Ministry.”

Vera easily admits at first, it was very rough going because she was caught off guard by the overwhelming number of Panama’s “obscure” business and employment laws. On top of that, she had no idea of what to charge customers. She recalls the many all-nighters she worked for free because of employee errors and misunderstandings with customers. But what she did know was that she did not wish to emulate any other computer store, and that Coronado needed her.

Immediately when you walk into Punto G, you can’t help but to notice that the decorative style and earth tones make you feel like you’re in someone’s well-appointed home instead of in a computer repair store. While you’re there, you’d be cheating yourself by not enjoying one of the flavorful Jolly Rancher candies always available at the sales counter. Vera personally brings these candies from the States and they are one of Punto G’s signature pleasures you’d be hard-pressed to find anywhere else in Panama. And if you’re in the store for more than a minute, you’ll undoubtedly find yourself tapping your feet and humming to the Motown tunes playing on the store’s stereo system.

Typical Services:

1. Networking (commercial and residential);

2. Computer Repair:

a. Hardware

b. Software

c. Mac

d. PC

e. Linux

f. iPhones and iOS

g. Android tablet and phone customizations;

h. Data Retrieval

3. Computer consulting;

4. Custom Computer Builds;

5. Security Systems.

Unique Services:

1. Cozy entertainment display area with red leather seating;

2. All English new and used DVD’s in manufacturer’s packaging;

3. Apple TV jailbreak expert;

4. Hard-to-find cables;

5. Cool and new one-of-a-kind products;

6. On and offsite technology support;

7. One-on-one computer classes on pretty much any topic;

8. Webstore with real-time product availability;

9. All support staff speaks fluent English;

10. All English computers;

11. Shipping via Courier all over Panama;

After nearly two and a half years in the Coronado Mall, on 22 April 2013, Punto G moved across the street to its current location between California Burger and Asados Del Campo.

As the first computer repair store in Coronado, Punto G has achieved a reputation as a valued asset to Panama’s Gold Coast Beach community. Wherever she goes in the area, Vera is recognized as the Coronado Computer Whisperer and you can easily spot her by the group who invariably gathers around to ask her all sorts of technology questions.

Since nearly all of the store’s products are imported from the United States in very small quantities, Vera rarely needs to explain to her customers that while Punto G cannot compete with the big brand stores in terms of prices, they cannot compete with Punto G in terms of customer-service and attention to detail.

Whenever you’re in the Coronado area, you simply must make a point to visit this gem of a computer store. If you find something you like, you’d best purchase it immediately because their exclusive bleeding-edge products are usually only available in limited quantities, and it’s pretty much a guarantee that you won’t find the same items anywhere else in Panama. You may even want to drop your computer off for a thorough virus cleaning or bring your phone in for an upgrade or custom operating system installation, and experience firsthand how they go the extra mile to please their customers.

You can give them a call at: 345.3877, or visit their website at: www.puntogee.com.

Although Punto G’s business hours are 10a-7p Monday through Saturday, Vera can always be reached at 6911.8760 for any digital emergencies.

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The Road To The Gatun Locks Collapsed - Sinkhole

Canal ExpansionThe roadway of one of the roads used to access the Gatun Locks on the Panama Canal sank yesterday afternoon, near the area where work is being done to expand the Panama Canal, apparently due to damage caused by two large pipes that pass through the area.

"The water began to undermine the land until the land subsidence occurred, affecting vehicular traffic access to the sector of Gatun," firemen and the National Civil Protection System (SINAPROC) who responded to the scene.

A team of security and maintenance personnel from the Panama Canal Authority are working right now to open a provisional roadway, and to restore normal traffic flow. The depth of the sinkhole was not revealed.

There were no vehicles transiting the site at the moment of the collapse, therefore no casualties or injuries were reported.

ACP Press Release

In a statement, the ACP urges drivers to take necessary precautions, after a section of the Thelma King roadway in Colon suffered a collapse as the result of a sinkhole.

"Personnel responsible for the administration of the construction of the third set of locks in the Atlantic sector reported that traffic on the Thelma King roadway, near the entrance at the northern part of the project, passing the railroad tracks, has been interrupted. However, a detour has been enabled that allows drivers to reach their destination," the statement added.

The press release says personnel of GUPC and the Panama Canal Protection established an alternate route for vehicles through a detour, passing through the project site where the locks are being built. All drivers in the area are asked to obey traffic signs and take the necessary precautions. (Prensa)

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Michelle Lasso - Convicted And Deported From The United States

Corruption The Presidential candidate Juan Carlos Varela has tried to minimize the involvement of Michelle Lasso in a case of money laundering in the United States, because she was the key figure in the financial part of the controversial Don James Foundation in Panama.

The Lasso family would have moved $27 million.

The Public Ministry might start an investigation.

Panama's Minister of Trade and Industry, Ricardo Quijano, said yesterday the Public Ministry should eventually launch an investigation into the alleged crimes against the public administration, and for having received funds from money laundering in the case aired by the Miami based Diario Las Americas against the Vice President and presidential candidate from the Panameñista political party, Juan Carlos Varela.

"The Public Ministry should conduct an investigation to see where the money came from, and to ask the Diario Las Americas where it got the information," said Quijano.

But the lawyer Ernesto Cedeño said while the Public Ministry received a criminal complaint on Monday in this case, they can only investigate in the first instance the former government officials who allegedly collaborated with the offense, while Varela should be investigated by the National Assembly, as established in Article 467 of the Criminal Procedure Code.

Panama's Attorney General Ana Belfon also spoke about this case yesterday, and she said the Public Ministry does not have the power to investigate either the President or the Vice President, and she also confirmed they received a report from the Financial Analysis Unit.

The Miami based newspaper Diario Las Américas has reported the Don James Foundation was the head of a structure that allowed Varela to divert funds from two consulates he controlled while he was a part of the ruling alliance, in Kobe, Japan and in South Korea.

These funds also would have allowed him to finance part of his presidential campaign.

However, Varela did not anticipate that the bank accounts of the Don James Foundation would be mixed with money from an illegal activity in the United States.

For Varela the case does not merit importance because Lasso collaborated with the American justice system, ignoring the fact that she pleaded guilty to money laundering and that 8 million dollars was frozen in the bank accounts.

In the United States the case is being treated as as one of the strongest illegal Internet gambling organizations disrupted by the FBI in conjunction with the DEA.

Lasso pleased guilty in April, together with the leader of the network Phillip Gurian, before District Court Judge Mae D' Agostino, during the hearing.

According to the Times Union union newspaper, during the hearing where Lasso was ordered to be deported and sentenced to two years probation, Judge D' Agostino scoffed at the statement made by Lasso in which she claimed she was unaware of the severity of her crimes, saying she comes from a country where gambling is legal.

"You speak as someone who was naive and who really did not know what was going on, but I read the wiretaps. I have had the benefit of listening to you, when you did not know the police were listening. You telling me you did not understand what was happening, in my opinion, is just amazing," said D' Agostino.

During the legal process Lasso spent more than 12 months in prison in the United States along with 34 other people who were arrested for being part of this network of money laundering from illegal gambling.

According to the investigations, Lasso managed the bank accounts, credit cards, and made wire transfers for a global sports betting network operated by Phillip Gurian, 52, of Boca Raton, Florida, who pleaded guilty to money laundering.

Lasso, according to the Times Union, also known as Michelle Marie Lasso-Barraza, transferred money to Panama, Andorra, and the Cayman Islands, and created two fictional entities known as Nigel Holdings Inc. and Nigel Holdings S.A..

Hundreds of hours of telephone recordings were made, including conversations via Skype. In one of these conversations with Gurian, Lasso tried to move $4 million generated by a gambling website to a Panamanian bank. (Panama America)

Editor's Comment: It's true that statements being made by Varela, Jaime Lasso, and others who are trying to defend the Panameñista candidate have adopted the line, saying "Michelle Lasso cooperated with the authorities, and the case is closed." End of story - and they don't want to say (or hear) another word about it.

However it seems clear that the Panamanian authorities are going to be investigating the money laundering activities of Michelle Lasso, as well as the money her father Jaime Lasso reportedly diverted from the Panamanian Consulate in South Korea - through the bank account of the Don James Foundation - money eventually used by the presidential candidate Juan Carlos Varela for this campaign and personal expenses.

I'd like to point out how incredibly stupid it was for Michelle Lasso to "mix" the two illegal activities. Of course we all know there is no judicial security in Panama. At the time when Varela was on top of the world as the newly elected Vice President and Foreign Minister, he probably felt untouchable. It's obvious they expected the bank accounts of the Don James Foundation to the the final resting place for the diverted and laundered money. And, they probably thought that no one would be investigating anything, ever. Times were good.

But a funny thing happened on the way to court. The FBI was listening to the telephone conversations of Michelle Lasso, as she coordinated the details of her illegal money laundering activities. Her statements in court - in which she said she supposedly didn't understand that what she was doing was illegal because she comes from a country where gambling is legal - are typical of the Panamanian elite. The US judge gave her a verbal bitch slap, probation, had her deported, and seized all of the money. So no, nobody bought the "I didn't know..." defense. Stupid.

Using the same bank account from the Don James Foundation to launder the illegal money from Internet gambling that was being used to divert money from the Consulates was also incredibly stupid. Now the Panamanian Attorney General, armed with the official reports from the Financial Analysis Unit, will be ripping through those accounts and banking activities with a vengeance. Lasso has said in public statements that all of those transactions were legitimate, none of the money was pubic funds, and that he did nothing wrong. I suspect he will have ample opportunities to repeat those statements to the detectives, investigators, and prosecutors as the investigation advances.

Varela himself is relatively protected, for now. As I mentioned in previous comments, he enjoys at least two different levels of protection. The National Assembly can open an official investigation into his activities, as the Vice President. As a presidential candidate he's protected by the Electoral Tribunal. But of course all of that changes after 1 July 2014 when Jose Domingo Arias is sworn in as the newly elected President of Panama. Ricardo Martinelli's wife Marta will be replacing Varela as the Vice President (won't that be an awkward photo op) and all of Varela's protections will evaporate in the hot Panamanian sun.

You can expect to see a lot more on this over the next ten or eleven days leading up to the election. The CD and the Panama America will be beating this drum as hard as they can.

Also, don't be at all surprised if the US Justice System eventually makes some kind of a move against the money that ended up in Panama from the illegal gambling activities. In the US, what they care most about is the money. If the Panamanian Financial Analysis Unit can demonstrate to the US authorities where the money actually went and how - then the US authorities might act on that information. What they care about is the money, and demonstrating to those who are involved in these sorts of activities that all of the proceeds - money, cars, houses, boats, planes, or what have you - will be seized. They have already seized businesses and properties in Panama related to this bust, like my favorite place to eat chicken wings and watch football the (former) VIP Sportsbook. Remember when "Big Mike" and "Wild Bill" got busted last year? This is basically the same bust.

Funny, I used to hang out there and bullshit with the President of the National Assembly Sergio Galvez, and the campaign manager for the Jose Domingo Arias campaign Jose Muñoz. Want to know what we talked about?

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Panama Will Have To Fill 100,000 Logistics Jobs In The Next Ten Years

Employment & JobsThe Panamanian economy will create 100,560 new jobs in the logistics sector in the next ten years (2014-2024), of which 65% will be operational and middle level technical positions, according to a study by the Business Logistics Council and the Deputy Minister of Trade and Industry.

The vacancies will be for forklift operators, warehouse operators, packers, transportation route coordinators, and accounting assistants, among others.

Given the lack of available manpower, the Panama Maritime Chamber is coordinating with the public sector to train people in the area of logistics. (Prensa)

Editor's Comment: A story typical of those about the Panamanian economy. Heads up guys, because we're going to be needing an additional 100,000 workers over the next decade - or 10,000 per year - and right now those bodies are not available. Too many jobs, not enough people, full employment (or, 0% unemployment).

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Dutch Police Hint at Criminal Activity in Women's Disappearance

Expat TalesTwo Dutch women who disappeared earlier this month in Panama are unlikely to have gotten lost in the mountainous region, Dutch police said on Tuesday, raising the possibility three weeks into the search that the two may have been the victims of a crime.

Kris Kremers, 21, and Lisanne Froon, 22, were hiking near the town of Boquete on April 1 when they were last seen, police said. The area is known to be a popular tourist holiday destination.

Panamanian authorities launched a widespread search for the women, but found no sign of the two would-be volunteers. On April 14, officials decided to downscale the massive operation.

The women's parents have asked for tips and support via social media.

"After 3 weeks there has been no trace of our daughters and we live daily between hope and fear. These are difficult times for us as you can understand," a message posted Tuesday read. "The search for Kris and Lisanne continues unabated and we hope that you will continue sending your tips and suggestions."

Kremers and Froon had traveled on March 15 to Panama, where they first stayed in the town of Bocas del Toro for two weeks before traveling to Boquete, where they intended to volunteer at a school for the remaining four weeks of their trip. Once they got to Boquete, the women were told they would not be able to start their work until the following week -- so they had a week to fill.

Dutch police said an inn keeper saw them on April 1, when the women asked him for directions for their hike. Tired, they later returned to the man and asked for help getting back to town. Police said the man advised them to take a taxi, but he said he didn't see whether the women returned to town or went back to the mountain.

Dutch police spokesman Bernhard Jens said Tuesday on Dutch media that it was unlikely the women would have returned to their hike.

—Becky Bratu (NBC)

Editor's Comment: Based on this report it would seem there's practically no chance they got lost while hiking. It sounds like they completed their hike and were trying to return back to their hotel. I bet they hailed a cab, and then were abducted. Practically every murder I've investigated started off as a missing person case. Hopefully they are still alive somewhere...

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