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Monday, September 01 2014 @ 05:05 PM EDT

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UN helps Panama strengthen maritime security to curb illicit trade

Drug Trafficking22 June 2010 – In an effort to strengthen maritime security in Central America, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and Panama today launched a joint programme intended to prevent illicit and counterfeit goods from entering markets through sea ports. The programme includes the launch by UNODC of the Centre of Excellence on Maritime Security in Panama City and the opening of a regional office for Central America, Cuba and the Dominican Republic, with financial support from the Panamanian Government. The centre will help identify threats to maritime security and serve as a resource of expertise, training, data collection and analysis. UNODC’s new operational hub in Panama City will also allow the organization to provide more effective advisory services to countries in the region. The flow of narcotics from the Andean countries to North America is a key concern.

“Seventy per cent of crimes in Central America are directly linked to drug trafficking,” said Juan Carlos Varela, Panama’s Foreign Minister. “This reinforced focus on maritime security will help the governments in the region to tackle the common threat of organized crime,” he said. Most of the world’s trade is carried out in shipping containers, meaning that containers are also the main delivery methods for illicit goods, UNODC’s Deputy Executive Director Francis Maertens said during a visit to the port of Balboa in Panama. “Better container security can raise the risks and lower the benefits to organized crime,” said Mr. Maertens. Less than two per cent of the 420 million shipping containers used globally every year are inspected, creating major opportunities for drug traffickers and smugglers to conceal illicit cargo, according to UNODC.

Improving container security in Panama’s ports is a priority since more than 11 million containers pass through the Panama Canal every year. Since joining UNODC’s World Customs Organization Global Container Control Programme last year, Panama has significantly increased the number of seizures of illicit goods hidden in containers. “Thanks to improved intelligence and information-sharing, in just seven months Panamanian authorities have managed to confiscate 146 containers transporting drugs and counterfeit goods, with a value of over $20 million,” said Mr. Maertens. Highly sophisticated concealment methods are part of the problem, but law enforcement agents at ports are often hampered by inter-institutional mistrust, corruption, complex port processes, lack of resources and dangerous conditions.

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Puerto Rican (US Citizen) Heroin Drug Mule Busted at Tocumen

Drug Trafficking A man who is supposedly a Puerto Rican was arrested at the Tocumen International Airport when he tried to board a flight to Istanbul, Turkey. Omar Antonio Curbelo García raised the suspicions of the authorities when he acted with nervousness, and he was submitted to an x-ray test, which revealed he had 63 tablets containing heroin in his body. The man was carrying a US passport as identification, as well as a copy of the Puerto Rican anthem, despite having a Colombian accent. (Telemetro)

Editor's Comment: What? Smuggling heroin to Turkey? That doesn't seem to make any sense...

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Panama Government Wants The Drug Money Noriega Laundered

Drug Trafficking The Paris Court of Appeals decided today that the lawsuit filed by Panama, which seeks compensation for laundering of drug money attributed to former Panamanian dictator Manuel Antonio Noriega, will be addressed during the trial against him, to be held starting next Monday. The court split the Panamanian demand against Noriega's wife, Felicidad, who has not yet appeared before the French courts, and who will be the subject of another hearing scheduled for 24 January 2011. Panama's ambassador in France, Henry Faarup, told the press today that during the hearing next week against Noriega before the Correctional Tribunal of Paris, Panama would claim "all or part" of the money confiscated by French Customs from the former Panamanian strongman when he was convicted in absence in France in July 1999 to ten years in prison.

In that ruling, the State of Panama only received only nominal damages of one franc, because the judges felt that the money laundered by Noriega and his wife in France did not come from Panamanian state coffers, but rather from drug trafficking. The lawyer representing the government of Panama before the Appeals Court, Benot Lavagne, said during the hearing next week Panama would ask for a specific sum that he would not disclose today, and he only said it was justified due to "moral and material damages." Faarup stated, in any event, because theirs is a private accusation, their demand is limited to asking for compensation, and not to enter into the question of a criminal conviction against Noriega. In 1999, the Justice French also sentenced the former dictator ten years in prison for laundering some $3.1 million dollars. Noriega, 76, was extradited to France on April 27 from the United States, where he served 20 years in prison. (La Prensa)

Editor's Comment: Huh? Noriega get caught and convicted of laundering about $3.1 million dollars of drug money in France, and now the government of Panama is trying to get the money? In his original conviction the French Court awarded practically nothing to Panama because it wasn't state funds, but rather laundered drug money in France. So, now Panama is going after back after the $3.1 million dollars? That seems weird to me...

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Entire Family Arrested And Charged With Money Laundering

Drug TraffickingBetween nine to ten people have been arrested for their connection with a money exchange business presumed to be involved in laundering drug money. Javier Caraballo, Panama's Anti Drug Prosecutor, said this is the third phase of an operation that resulted in the capture of a group of people who made frequent transfers of large amounts of money to Mexico and Colombia. Caraballo said they are performing a financial analysis to confirm the suspected relationship to drug trafficking. He said the case involves the arrest of an entire family as well as other relatives who are involved, who will be charged with money laundering. (Panama America)
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Don't Lie On Your Custom's Form - Or You Will Go To Prison

Drug TraffickingBy DON WINNER for Panama-Guide.com - In Panama, the cocaine goes North and the money comes South. In recent years it has become common for Panamanian law enforcement and customs officials working at the Tocumen International Airport to discover "tourists" who are actually trying to smuggle large amounts of cash into the country. Up until now this has been an administrative infraction of the Custom's laws. As part of the recently passed Law 30 (9 in 1 law) anyone caught trying to smuggle in money or other financial instruments without having declared them on the customs form are now subject to two to four years in prison. Article 24 of Law 30 says:
  • Article 24: Article 375-A is added to the Criminal Code, as follows; "Article 375-A. Who, at the moment of entering the country, fails to declare or who declares totals that do not correspond to the money, valuables, or negotiable instruments carried in quantities of more than $10,000 dollars will be sanctioned with from two to four years in prison."

Another "Tweak" I see this as just one more little "tweak" that was tossed into this law, another element that will be used to clamp down on drug traffickers and money launderers who flow through Panama like water. Anyway, when you fly into Panama make sure to fill out your customs form, especially if you're carrying more than $10,000 worth of anything.

Copyright 2010 by Don Winner for Panama-Guide.com. Go ahead and use whatever you like as long as you credit the source. Salud.

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$2.3 Million For New Naval Air Stations

Drug TraffickingPanama's Security Minister, Jose Raul Mulino, appeared before the Budget Committee of the National Assembly explain the transfer of $3.8 million dollars, of which $ 2.3 million will be allocated for construction and improvement of six new Naval Air Stations in Quebrada de Piedra, in Chiriquí; bahía Piña in the Darién; Punta Coco in the Las Perlas islands, Coiba in Veraguas; Metetí in the Darién, and Mensabé in Los Santos. (La Critica)
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Five Colombians Busted in Punta Pacifica With $3.8 Million in Cash

Drug Trafficking The National Police, in coordination with officials of the Anti Drug Prosecutor's Office, seized more than $3.8 million dollars in cash. The seizure came after a raid on one apartment in the Mystic Park building in Punta Pacifica, resulting in the arrest of five Colombian nationals, ages 20, 22, 29, 30 and 40 years old, respectively. The authorities also seized three vehicles: a white Chevrolet Aveo white license plate number 855202, a gray Hyundai Santa Fe license plate number 454049, and a Toyota Land Cruiser Prado with license plate number 561890 plate, police said in a statement. (La Prensa)
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Ten Years In Prison For Making A "False Bottom" Truck

Drug Trafficking By DON WINNER for Panama-Guide.com - Here's another element that was included in the "Lobster Law" recently passed by Panama's National Assembly that I think everyone can support. The United States has spent billions of dollars over the past fifteen years to shore up the security forces in Colombia. In 1995 the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC), together with the drug traffickers, had practically taken over the country. The US launched "Plan Colombia" and started with the training of several Counter Drug Battalions, and provided airlift and mobility with Blackhawk helicopters, arms, weapons, training, logistics, intelligence, communications, and basically whatever else the Colombians needed in order to take back control of their country.

Moving Operations To Panama: Now, fifteen years later, the bad guys are moving here. They are now shifting their methodology to use more overland routes to transport drug shipments, and one of the things they do is to modify trucks or cars to add "false" or "double bottoms" to create places to hide shipments of cocaine. Recently in Panama law enforcement authorities have busted several shops apparently dedicated to the modification and manufacture of these kinds of trucks with "false bottoms." I think most of the busts have come from intelligence rather than searches - meaning - the authorities already had information from other sources that "the red truck, right over there" had a false bottom, and when they went looking for it, they were able to detect it.

That Has Been Made Illegal: Now, if you are caught in the act of modifying any means of transportation to transport drugs or launder money you are guilty of a crime that can get you five to ten years in prison. Here is the text of the law.

Original Spanish As Adopted: Artículo 17. Se adiciona el artículo 319 -A al Código Penal, así: "Artículo 319-A. Quien altere o modifique la estructura fisica o técnica de un medio de transporte terrestre, marítimo o aéreo, con el objeto de destinarlo a la elaboración, almacenamiento, distribución, venta o transporte de droga o a actividades relacionadas con el blanqueo de capitales, será sancionado con prisión de cinco a diez años."

English Translation: Article 17. Article 319-A is added to the Penal Code, thus: "Article 319-A. Those who alter or modify the physical or technical structure of a ground, maritime, or air means of transportation, to allow for the preparation, storage, distribution, sale, or transportation of drugs or activities related to money laundering shall be punished with imprisonment from five to ten years."

The Cat And Mouse Game Continues: I've been a participant or observer of the drug war since about 1987, and there has always been this cat and mouse game between the drug traffickers on one hand and law enforcement on the other. Up until yesterday it was perfectly legal to build trucks in Panama with double bottoms. Now, having that same truck in your shop will get you five to ten years in La Joya. You have to applaud the efforts of the Panamanian authorities to hit back, however and wherever they can. Granted, this one article won't make a huge difference, but it's the small and incremental steps that matter.

Copyright 2009 by Don Winner for Panama-Guide.com. Go ahead and use whatever you like as long as you credit the source. Salud.

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Panama To Purchase Three Special Incinerators To Destroy Seized Drugs

Drug TraffickingEnvironmental pollution caused by the burning of drugs in Cerro Patacón could disappear. Panamanian authorities are considering the purchase of three special incinerators, one which will be used in Panama City and another two to be used in the interior of the country. Currently, illegal drugs that have been seized are destroyed by burning outdoors and the use of gasoline to light the drugs on fire, which causes even more pollution to the environment. Authorities started burning drugs outdoors at Cerro Patacón after the incinerator that was in the headquarters of the Judicial Investigation Department of Ancon was damaged. (TVN Noticias)
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One-time anti-drugs police commissioner arrested for alleged money-laundering

Drug TraffickingVHeadline News Editor Patrick J. O'Donoghue reports: Former Police Detective Branch (CICPC) general commissioner, Norman Puerta has been placed under arrest in the tiny European enclave of Andorra on charges of money-laundering. The 51-year old Puerta -- who is retired -- is said to have nested a $1 million account in an Andorran bank. The financial intelligence unit of Andorra claimed that the account is a transfer of funds from a narco-trafficking offshore society based in Panama. It appears that the Andorran police waited three years for Puerta to step foot in the country to access the account before they could take action against him. Puerta ran the CICPC anti-drugs unit for a little more than over a year ... he was a detective for 29 years. A report in Las Ultimas Noticias cited Puerta as being close to top-ranking CICPC general commissioner, Marcos Chavez. Police in the Andorra principality said they are continuing investigations to see if there are ramifications and others involved.

Editor's Comment: Interesting. This guy ran the anti drug division in Venezuela for a long time. He knows where a lot of bones are buried. Any chance he might be able to plead a deal to tie Hugo Chavez to drug trafficking. Hey, Noriega's cell is now available...

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"High Profile" Prisoners Transferred from El Renacer to La Joya

Drug Trafficking On orders of the President of the Republic, Ricardo Martinelli, about 26 "high profile" inmates that were being held in the El Renacer Penitentiary were transferred on Friday to the La Joya and La Joyita prisons. There were transferred under strict security measures, mostly foreigners, and mostly with links to drug trafficking cases. (Telemetro Reporta)

Editor's Comment: The La Joya and La Joyita prisons are much worse than the facility at El Renacer in Gamboa. For years prisoners with a lot of money could buy practically anything they wanted and have it in their "private suite" in the Renacer facility in Gamboa. It's considered to be "soft" time compared to doing "hard" time at the other facilities. This is another action taken by Ricardo Martinelli to send the message that things are now being done differently. He's just going down a long laundry list of "open secrets" in Panama and turning them off, one by one... (applause sign lights up)

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David Arévalo Cuevas Captured in Mexico

Drug TraffickingFourth Circuit Criminal Judge in Chiriquí, María de Gracia, said she has not yet received an official notification about the reported capture in Mexico of David Arévalo Cuevas (a.k.a. "David Placencia"), who was charged with money laundering as part of an operation called "Ley Patriótica’." De Gracia, said that when Placencia's capture is confirmed, she might issue a request for extradition to Mexican authorities. Placencia who was arrested in Chiriqui in 2007, but then escaped from prison in March 2008, from Pavilion 6 of the La Joya prison, just hours before he was to be extradited to the United States where he faces charges for allegedly being the leader of a drug trafficking ring in California. The court delayed the notification of Féliz Sánchez Sánchez and Placencia - the Superior Court of the Third District opened a criminal case against them for money laundering in March 2010. (La Estrella)

Editor's Comment: In Panama drug traffickers and money launderers can and have bought their way out of prison. There is absolutely no chance Mexico will extradite this guy back to Panama. What for, so they can let him escape again? He will most likely be either processed in Mexico, or extradited to the United States.

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Panama Repeats Request for Information to Mexico

Drug Trafficking Five months ago Panamanian authorities requested judicial assistance from their Mexican counterparts in the case where three individuals have been arrested, including Ramón Ricardo Martinelli, the cousin of the Panamanian president Ricardo Martinelli, said Javier Caraballo, Panama's Anti Drug Prosecutor. Caraballo said Mexico is conducting their investigation for alleged money laundering. At the same time Panama began a preliminary investigation, during which no strong evidence was uncovered, but those results were sent to Mexico. Information on the frequent trips between Mexico and Panama made by one of those involved, and the fact that one of them owned a currency exchange business were part of the data collected during the investigation, said Caraballo. Caraballo said they still have not received a response to their requests from the Mexican authorities, and within a month they would repeat their request for information. (Panama America)

Editor's Comment: I don't know why, but I just got an unexplained craving for a "Billy Beer."

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SENAN More Effective in Combating Drug Trafficking At Sea in Panama

Drug Trafficking Four naval operations have resulted in the seizure of more than seven tons of cocaine at sea off the coasts of Panama, and authorities are alert to the use of new techniques by drug trafficking networks. So far this year the National Naval Air Service (SENAN) has seized 7,864 kilos of cocaine. This is the result of four operations conducted at various points along the coastline, during which a total of 13 people have been arrested. The coasts of the provinces of Colon and Darien are still the most commonly used by drug traffickers. The trend indicates the total amount of drugs seized by the SENAN during 2010 could exceed those reported last year which closed with more than 17 tons of drugs. The Director of SENAN, Jacinto Tom, said that although additional equipment is still needed, the newly opened naval air bases are yielding positive results. Usually Panamanian patrol boats are able to intercept the drug trafficking speedboats, whose occupants usually manage to escape by fleeing into the mangroves and estuaries, abandoning their shipments of cocaine behind. But Panama is on alert over reports that drug traffickers could be using semi-submersible craft, a sort of submarine that might allow them to avoid detection. The Air Service is expecting the purchase of new patrol boats and new technology to improve their capabilities to detect drug traffickers. It is expected that by the end of the year the purchasing program will be complete. (TVN Noticias)

Editor's Comment: Panama as a nation, in total, seized more than 50 tons of cocaine last year, all services. In this article when they talk about 17 tons of cocaine seized last year, they are only talking about the SENAN. In general the SENAN gets the busts at sea, in boats, and along the coasts. The National Police units get the busts on land, in trucks, warehouses, that kind of thing.

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Three Arrested and "Thousands of Dollars" Seized from Money Launderers in Panama City

Drug Trafficking A large amount of money was seized and several foreign nationals were arrested, including one Colombian woman, as the result of an operation conducted in coordination with the Anti Drug Prosecutor's Office, the National Police, and the "Sensitive Unit" of the Direction of Judicial Investigation (DIJ). The operation began on Calle 50 with a police surveillance operation of three individuals who were driving in a Suzuki Swift, who had thousands of dollars in cash in the vehicle they were driving in the area if Via Israel. This police action led investigators to a fast food restaurant in the area of Calle 50 where the Colombian woman was arrested in possession of a bag full of cash. Later the operation moved to the Terra Mar building (Torre 2000) where more money was seized in apartment 25-C. Anti Drug Prosecutor Javier Caraballo said they have sufficient evidence indicating the detainees were involved in money laundering. (Panama America)

Editor's Comment: In Panama, the cocaine goes North and the money comes South. Law enforcement authorities fighting the drug war focus on both flows, and if they can't stop the drugs then they do everything they can to try to stop the money from the proceeds of the drug trafficking. Simply moving around large amounts of cash is a logistical problem for the drug traffickers. One million dollars in $20 dollar bills weighs about 110 pounds. Every year experts estimate about 250 tons of cocaine passes through Panama. That converts to 226,796 kilograms. Each kilogram of cocaine has a street value of about $100,000 dollars. That means the sale of the cocaine on the street will generate a whopping $22,679,600,000 dollars in cash - that's $22.6 billion dollars. You can convert that number to 22,679 million dollars. Since one million dollars in $20 dollar bills weighs 110 pounds, the cocaine traffic passing through Panama generates about 2.5 million pounds of cash every year that the drug traffickers have to try to smuggle back out of the United States, one way or another. They can't just stick it in banks anymore - any large sums of money with unexplained sources immediately draw attention. There are now "money sniffing dogs" that check things coming back South - bags, containers, packages, etc. And, if you're caught with more than $10,000 dollars in cash that you can't account for, you're arrested and charged as a money launderer.

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Drug Bust On The Shores of Isla Grande - 600 Kilos of Cocaine

Drug TraffickingPanamanian authorities on Monday seized 600 kilos of cocaine discovered inside a speedboat that was abandoned on the shores of Isla Grande, in the province of Colon on the Caribbean coast, according to the spokesman of the Naval Air Service (Senan), Vladimir Rodriguez. The boat, named "The Costeñita", was reportedly carrying five people when it was spotted by a Senan coastal patrol ship in the area of Isla Grande, where it was abandoned by its occupants who fled the area and hid, said Rodriguez. Upon inspection, the staff of Anti Drug Prosecutor's office from Colon discovered 17 "bundles" containing a total of 600 kilos of cocaine inside of the boat. The load was delivered to the Directorate of Judicial Investigation (DIJ) of the National Police (PN) for the Anti Drug Prosecutor's office for safekeeping. (Telemetro)

Editor's Comment: 600 kilos is about 1,300 pounds. This load has a street value of about $60 million dollars. This shipment had 17 bundles, each containing about 35 kilos, weighing about 75 pounds each. They package the drugs in these bundles this way, because that's about the most weight that one man can move by himself. Now, the bodies will come floating up... Every time there's a drug bust like this, within a couple of days the authorities find several bodies executed here and there, those who were responsible for making sure this shipment gets to its destination with no problems.

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Panama Seeks To Expand and Upgrade Counter Drug Helicopter Fleet

Drug TraffickingPanama's Minister of Government and Justice, Jose Raul Mulino, expects to acquire a fleet of twelve helicopters to combat the movement of drugs through Panamanian waters, through the use of the twelve Naval Air Stations (four of which have already been opened) the government intends to establish along Panama's coasts. There are currently eight helicopters assigned to the National Naval Air Service (Senan) but only three are operational. The other five are being repaired by a Canadian company, whose name was not revealed by Mulino. It will cost $6 million dollars to repair these helicopters said SENAN Director Jacinto Tom. In addition five of these helicopters will be outfitted with a nighttime navigation capability. The idea, said Mulino, is to purchase four additional aircraft. Two would be funded from the budget of the Ministry of Government and Justice in 2010, and the other two will be acquired thanks to donations from European countries. (La Prensa)
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PRD Secretary General Says US Troops Are Deployed To The Darien

Drug Trafficking The Secretary General of the Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD), Mitchell Doens, reiterated his claim that there is currently a large contingent of US military personnel deployed to the area of the Darien, and that government authorities have not announced anything about it or the reasons thereof. Two months ago Doens said on RPC Radio that ne made a visit to Metetí in Panama's Darién province and he tried to use the airport in the area, but he was told it was restricted for civilian use, although it met all of the necessary conditions to operate. He said after a meeting with PRD members in the area, he was told there is a large contingent of US military personnel, with 18 wheel cargo trucks and containers, that were operating in the Darien province. The PRD Secretary said President Ricardo Martinelli and Minister Jose Raul Mulino Minister must explain why this mobilization is taking place. (La Critica)

Editor's Comment: First of all, if US military personnel are deployed to the Darien, I would not be surprised at all. Secondly, working under the premise that US troops are in fact currently deployed to Panama, it also makes perfect sense for the government of Panama to try to keep it quiet. Most importantly is the potential negative domestic political impact - many Panamanians have a strong knee-jerk reaction against any kind of US military presence, and are afraid the US military might try to take the country back over or something like that. Therefore, the Panamanian government normally does not announce these kinds of deployments. They recognize things like Medical Readiness Exercises that are deployments of Reserve medical doctors and nurses who work in Panama to practice their skills, deployments of the US Comfort, and major exercises such as Panamax, and other high profile things like that.

Joint Combined Exchange Training (JCET): The US Southern Command, through the Special Operations Command South, regularly and routinely deploys teams of Special Operations Forces (SOF) on Joint Combined Exchange Training (JCET) missions all over Latin America. There are several types of missions, and the composition of the troops you send to do the training normally corresponds to the types of troops who will be getting trained on the receiving end. If you need to train guys who will be doing basically ground infantry kinds of things, you send the Green Berets of the 7th Special Forces Group. If you have to train boat operators in riverine skills, you send the guys from the Special Boat Units. And, if you're going to be out in the jungle doing sneaky Pete kinds of things, the SEALS are great for that. However, the host government will simply not discuss deployments of small teams of special forces troops who are in the jungle training Panamanians how to better fight FARC guerrillas, combat narco terrorists, and patrol in the dense jungle that exists along the border of Panama and Colombia.

Why Talk About It Publicly? Operationally, why tell the other side what you're doing, where you are, how many, when you got there, and when you will be leaving? It makes no sense, whatsoever. Doens, being a political nug who only wants to cause political problems for Martinelli, apparently doesn't care that he might be increasing the danger levels to those who may or may not be deployed. No matter, really, if they are who I think they are, they can take care of themselves. Public announcements about these kinds of deployments are best done on the last day, once the training has been completed, the bags are packed, and everyone is heading home. On 16 April 2010 a FORCECOM weekly report contained the following - "Fleet Logistics Support Wing Transports SEALs to Joint Exercise in Panama. VR-64 recently provided valued airlift capabilities transporting a detachment of Sailors and equipment from SEAL Team Two ISO the Joint Combined Exchange Training (JCET) in Panama." So, yeah, Doens is probably right. And yeah, Martinelli isn't going to talk about it in public. Personally, I think it's a great thing that SEALS are teaching Panamanians how to operate in the jungle. In fact, it happens all the time, all over Latin America.

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Are Mexico and the United States Withholding Information on Martinelli's Cousin?

Drug TraffickingJudicial authorities from Mexico and the United States have avoided providing information to Panama on investigations being conducted into the activities of Ramón Martinelli Corro, a cousin of President Ricardo Martinelli and three other Panamanians, according to a source close to the investigation. He said authorities from both countries have preferred to remain silent, despite the fact that Panama's First Anti Drug Prosecutor's Office has sent several requests for judicial assistance to obtain information about the investigations. He said the decisions being made by the United States and Mexico seem to be based on their perception that Panama is requesting the information for political reasons. Meanwhile, the investigations being carried out by Panama's Public Ministry continue to advance. On 20 November 2009 Martinelli Corro was arrested in a hotel in Mexico, together with César Enrique Fábrega Sarmiento, Jorge Luis Álvarez Cummings and Ninoska Yariela Escalante Paredes, for their alleged involvement with the Beltrán Leyva brothers drug trafficking cartel. According to a report from office of the Attorney General of the Republic in Mexico, they are "members of a cell who are dedicated to transportation of dollars from the Mexican capital to Panama where, supposedly, they laundered the money for it to be later put into the financial systems of the United States, Europe, and Asia." (Panama America)

Editor's Comment: I suspect Panama has made official requests for information through judicial channels to both Mexico and the United States, and thus far they have not received a response to those requests for information. However, I also suspect the part about how "the decisions being made by the United States and Mexico seem to be based on their perception that Panama is requesting the information for political reasons" is most likely nothing more than speculation or conjecture on the part of the unidentified, anonymous source who is talking to the reporter. Also, rather than "avoiding" the questions, I would think a more likely answer is that they are slow and inefficient government goons, who are exactly the same as slow and inefficient government goons all over the planet. Just because Panama has not received an answer as of yet, doesn't necessarily mean there's a grand plot to "remain silent." Since the articles about Martinelli's cousin appeared in El Pais.cr a couple of weeks ago, everyone wants a slice of the action. OK, the Mexican and US judicial authorities have not answered the mail, yet. Does that mean we have to spin it into an international conspiracy?

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Body Found Floating in the Bay of Panama

Drug TraffickingA man's body was found early Saturday morning, floating in the Bay of Panama near the "Muelle Fiscal" in the area of San Felipe. The dark skinned man was wearing a black shirt and jeans. The victim was carrying no personal papers. Residents of the area sounded the alarm to the police, at about 2:00 am The removal of the corpse was carried out by officials from the Public Ministry. Authorities will conduct an autopsy to determine the cause of death. (La Critica)

Editor's Comment: A big drug bust on Saturday, and early Sunday morning a body is found floating in the Bay of Panama. This is exactly what happens every time there is a big bust. The people who lost out tend to simply execute everyone who knew anything at all about the shipment. That's the problem with being a drug trafficker - the retirement plan sucks.

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Big Drug Bust Off Atlantic Coast Yesterday Morning

Drug TraffickingMore than a hundred packages of suspected cocaine were seized Saturday by the National Air Station (Senan) during "Operation Arrecife" which included a boat chase in the area of Playa Blanca y Escribano in the province of Colon. When authorities obtained information about the presence of a suspicious boat, units from the Almirante Cristóbal Colón base were activated who used a coastal patrol boat to give chase to a 26 meter long white boat, as reported by the SENAN. This operation 'Arrecife' occurred at approximately 9:00 am yesterday morning in a wooded area, and then later the boat ran aground as the crew took the opportunity to flee the area. The drugs seized were being counted and weighed by the National Air Service, Station, at approximately 5:30 pm at the Almirante Cristóbal Colón base (formerly Fort Sherman). (Panama America)

Editor's Comment: This bust might turn out to be the biggest yet this year. When they use the Spanish term "bulto (bundle) to describe what was seized, that normally means a larger package of many kilos of cocaine, bundled together so that the people who are moving the product can quickly and easily pickup and move many kilos in one shot. For example, 25 kilos of cocaine weighs about 55 pounds and that's about the most one "bulto" (bundle) will contain. The law enforcement authorities wanted to get the word out about this large and important bust, but they still had not had enough time to open all of the bundles and to count the individual one kilo packages. If they busted "more than one hundred" bundles, and if each bundle contains 20 kilos, then obviously the total could be as much as 2,000 kilos or more which translates into more than 4,400 pounds or more than two tons, with a street value of more than $200 million dollars. Like I said, when it's all counted, this could be a huge and very significant multi ton bust. The boat that was carrying the load was 26 meters long or more than 85 feet, sufficient to carry this kind of a load.

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Two Venezuelan Drug Mules Arrested at Tocumen - Still Crapping It Out at Santo Tomas

Drug Trafficking Two Venezuelans, 24 year old Karina Yesilani Nieto Rincón and 32 year old Lender Yojander Rozo, were arrested at the Tocumen International Airport Thursday night after authorities detected they had swallowed packages full of cocaine. As of yesterday afternoon, Friday, the two foreigners had expelled more than 40 tablets full of drugs in the Santo Tomás Hospital. (La Critica)

Editor's Comment: How do they detect these guys? "Excuse me sir, you look a little constipated..." I know the new body scanning machines will probably pick up on this kind of thing. And, if people are doing it then others are obviously getting through without being detected. But still, it's a hell of a way to make a living.

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Crew of Netherlands-Flagged "Wanikiki" Arrested After 302 Kilos Of Cocaine Discovered Aboard

Drug Trafficking Four South Americans and three Central Americans have been arrested in Panama for their alleged association with a cache of 302 kilos of cocaine found inside a boat intercepted in international waters and taken to the Atlantic port city of Colon, said an official source. "Linked to this case several people have been arrested; that is to say, the crew of the ship, three Hondurans, two Colombians, a Chilean and Ecuadorian" said Anti Drug Prosecutor Javier Caraballo.

The Netherlands-flagged vessel named the "Wanikiki" was intercepted three days ago about 160 miles north of the coast, said National Naval Air Service spokesman, Vladimir Rodriguez. The drugs were found today in ten bags hidden in one of the ship's water tanks, after the ship was searched for several days, said the Panamanian prosecutor.

The operation was conducted by the Police and the Senan, in conjunction with the U.S. Coast Guard, according to a statement from the Panama National Police (PN). The U.S. Coast Guard alerted the police and Senan of the possibility that the ship, which was in international waters, could be transporting drugs. The vessel was boarded and subsequently towed to Panamanian waters, docking at Pier 6 of the Port of Cristobal, Colon Province, north of the capital. The seven arrested, not identified, were turned over to prosecutors. (La Estrella)

Editor's Comment: The Wanikiki, IMO 88599677, was registered as a general cargo ship with Panamanian registration HP6533, built in 1989. She's one of those relatively little coastal traders that makes runs from Central America down to South American ports. Now the entire crew will claim ignorance and say they didn't know the drugs were hidden in the water tank, which might be true for some of them.

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Manuel Antonio Noriega Protected Pablo Escobar in Panama - 1984

Drug TraffickingThe son of the late boss of the Medellin drug cartel Pablo Escobar Gaviria, confirmed what was an open secret in Panama - that his father, the "boss of all bosses", lived on the isthmus in 1984 under the protection of the then dictator Manuel Antonio Noriega. What's more, the some of the man who at the start of the 90's was the most wanted criminal in the world, revealed that his father left Panama en route to Nicaragua, because he did not trust Noriega, and was afraid Noriega would turn him over to the United States, his allies at the time. Juan Pablo Escobar – or Sebastián Marroquín as he is now called, also revealed his father was upset when he left Panama because his former protector - who even gave him a Panamanian identification card - stole an airplane from him in addition to $3 million dollars. Sebastián Marroquín is an architect who now lives in Buenos Aires, broke his silence 17 years after his father's death, and did so in the documentary "The sins of my father," by Argentine filmmaker Nicolás Entel, whose Latin American television premiere was last Wednesday on Discovery Channel.

In his conversations with the filmmaker, Escobar's son told how he, his sister, his mother, and his father left Colombia the day after the assassination of then Colombian Minister of Justice, Rodrigo Lara, a hit ordered by his father. They left in a helicopter, flying low to evade radar, and arrived in Panama, the sanctuary of Noriega and his military. According to Marroquín, who at that time was seven years old, they were housed in a "mansion" near a golf course. It was not possible to know with certainty the exact location of the "mansion."

Former General Rubén D. Paredes was asked, and he said at that time he was out of the Defense Forces and had no access to information. Paredes said he had not seen the film or does he have any idea of the location of the "mansion" cited. He also said he didn't know anything about the airplane and the $3 million dollars that, according to Escobar's son, Noriega stole from the Colombian drug lord.

In the documentary - which before its TV premiere was broadcast in movie theaters in the U.S. and Europe and awarded, among others, at the Sundance Independent Film Festival - images of Noriega are displayed in full exercise of his functions, but never in the company of Escobar. The documentary also show videos of the visit made by former Colombian President Alfonso Lopez to Escobar in Panama, which led to all sorts of speculation that the leader of the Medellín drug cartel had plans to pay off the foreign debt of Colombia in order to secure the ability to return home. Marroquin said all these speculations were lies. After leaving Panama, the drug boss and his family were received by the Sandinista regime, and later they returned to Medellin. The rest of story until Escobar's death on 2 December 1993, is well known.

The documentary also includes an emotional meeting between Marroquin's son Rodrigo Lara Bonilla - who has the same name as his father, the Justice Minister who was assassinated - and the three sons of Luis Carlos Galán, the leader of the Colombian New Liberalism political party who was killed by Escobar Gaviria in 1989. At that meeting, and the thread of the documentary, Marroquín apologizes to the children of Lara and Galan, who ensure him there is nothing to forgive. "Of what use is drug money, if you cannot use it to buy even a pound of rice," he said as he recalled the times when his family was barricaded in his house, surrounded by money but with no food. The program will be repeated tomorrow at 5:00 pm and Sunday at 10:00 p.m. (La Prensa)

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Gang of Six Panamanian Kidnappers Busted

Drug Trafficking Units of the Judicial Investigation Department (DIJ) arrested a band of six Panamanian criminals. The group, led by 49 year old Pablo Antonio Muren Loaiza (aka Papa Pio) kidnapped 19 year old Mexican Carlos Antonio Nunez, who arrived to Panama on Thursday from Guadalajara, with more than 34 condoms in his stomach, each containing about $600 dollars. Assistant Prosecutor, Naphtali Jaén, said 27 year old Silvia Chávez Rodríguez, who was supposed to be Núñez's contact in Panama, was also arrested. The investigation indicates this woman, a Mexican national, betrayed Núñez to a Colombian member of the gang and led the rest of the criminals to the hotel where he was staying. The subjects kidnapped Núñez, who was in possession of more than $ 30,000 in cash, in a small bus and they moved him to a residence in the Villa de Las Acacias neighborhood. The authorities have the two Mexicans under arrest, however the Colombian escaped together with two other Panamanians. (Panama America)

Editor's Comment: I think this is the first time that I've ever heard of a mule swallowing cash and using his body to smuggle drug money to be laundered. The first people to use this trick was heroin smugglers - it made sense because pure heroin is very "dense" money wise. A relatively small amount of pure heroin can be cut many times and it's value multiplied on the street. So, even just a couple of condoms stuffed with heroin might be worth $100,000 or more. Cocaine is much less "dense" in that respect, so it makes less sense to try to smuggle cocaine this way. People do it, but the real money in cocaine is when you can move tons at a time, not ounces. The risk is obvious - it the condom full of heroin ruptures in your stomach during the flight you die of an overdose. There's much less of this kind of a risk with money, obviously. And it might just be flat out ignorance on my part, but I've never heard of a mule swallowing money before. I just hope it wasn't in nickels. Man, the drug traffickers are apparently getting desperate to find ways to move the money back down South. You might want to sniff those $100 dollar bills from now on, who knows where they might have been...

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Three DIJ Officers Arrested For Selling Intelligence Information to Drug Traffickers

Drug TraffickingThree investigators working for the Judicial Investigation Department (DIJ) were arrested by the First Anti Drug Prosecutor, accused of giving information to a drug gang. The First Anti Drug Prosecutor, Javier Caravallo, said the officers were arrested last Friday and were charged with "crimes against the public health." He said seven members of the drug trafficking group were arrested with a truck that had a false bottom, which they suspect was used to transport drugs, but no drugs were found. In this regard, Caravallo admitted that it is likely the arrest of the police officers alerted the drug traffickers and they managed to hide the shipment of drugs. The leader was arrested six months ago with $150,000 in cash and charged with money laundering, but he was released on bail. The prosecutor added that they continue to investigate the case and does not rule out that there might be more arrests to follow. (La Prensa)

Editor's Comment: What? Drug traffickers are responsible for the murder of one person every ten hours in Panama, and when law enforcement officials catch them in the act, they are released on bail? This guy was caught with $150,000 in cash - money they used to bribe DIJ officers to obtain intelligence information to allow them to avoid detection and arrest - and he's released on friggin' bail? WTF, over? Man, I tell you, the justice system in Panama is completely and totally screwed. Useless. It is 100% skewed in favor of the bad guys. Look at the cases of Jaime Salas and the two Education Ministers - who used a farm that is actually worth about $2,500 dollars to outright lie and obtain millions of dollars in bail. Have those guys been thrown back into jail? The top priority for Panama in order to face the threat of drug trafficking and money laundering has to be to fix - for real - the criminal justice system. Right now it's totally broken. Money buys you freedom. Period. It's a joke. The cops can arrest them, the prosecutors of the public ministry can bring the case to trial, and then the judge lets them go free. Case in point - Debra Ann Ridgley who (in my opinion) got away with the murder of Toni Grossi Abrams. She was found innocent by a jury trial, although the evidence against her would have resulted in a conviction almost anywhere else in the world. There is no "justice" in Panama.

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Woman imprisoned in Panama losing her job, health: sister

Drug Trafficking By LEO GAGNON (Toronto Sun) - MONTREAL - A Quebec woman who has been imprisoned in a Panama jail since August says she is now being forced to sell her house. In addition to the financial woes, Sandra Mallon's health is also deteriorating and Panama authorities cannot track down her file in their computer system. Facing all of these difficulties, Mallon is suffering from panic attacks and is becoming aggressive, according to her sister, Maureen. Maureen said she had to break the news to her sister that she had to sell her house because her financial institution has refused to defer her mortgage payments. Maureen added that she would be out of a job as of June and would no longer be able to take on her sister’s mortgage payments. As if all of that wasn’t enough, only 10 people responded to an invitation to a fundraising bowl-a-thon that was planned to help pay for Mallon’s legal costs. “It’s not working at all,” said Maureen. “It’s really discouraging.” Her sister says Sandra has begun to have problems moving around and continues to have issues with her vision.

“I lost my job, my health and I’m now losing my house. What good is coming back if I don’t have anything left,” Maureen said her sister told her the last time they spoke. Sandra was arrested for drug trafficking at the customs area of the Tocumen airport in Panama City as she was set to return to Quebec. Two weeks after her arrest, 16 customs officers from the same airport were fired after being taped committing alleged “acts of corruption”. This had led those defending Mallon to believe that she may have been caught up in something that she had no control over.

Editor's Comment: It's too damn bad this woman from Quebec was apparently arrested for trying to smuggle drugs from Panama to Canada. If she didn't try to become an international drug trafficker maybe she would not be losing her house. And I'm sure her health was perfectly fine as she was packing the drugs for the flight, and it only began to deteriorate once she was arrested and thrown in prison. The firing of the sixteen customs officials at the airport for "acts of corruption" were probably just taking small bribes to let small stuff pass. They were just fired (and not criminally prosecuted) which means their infraction was most likely administrative or political in nature. Remember, these guys were fired in the middle of August 2009, just six weeks after Ricardo Martinelli took over in Panama. More than anything else, the firing of these sixteen guys was most like a "house cleaning" so that Martinelli's people could put customs inspectors in place who they know and trust. In any case, this article's attempt to link the two - the arrest of Sandra Mallon for drug trafficking and the firing of the sixteen customs workers at the airport - is, in my opinion, disingenuous at best and a blatant attempt to shift the blame from the most likely guilty party. The article says the firing of the sixteen customs works "had led those defending Mallon to believe that she may have been caught up in something that she had no control over." Yeah, right. If that's her defense then she's likely going to spend about a decade or so in the women's prison on Tumba Muerto. Welcome to Panama. I wanted to highlight this story because - besides the obviously blatant attempt to use the (ignorant) press to appeal for sympathy in Canada - the message for everyone else could not be more clear. Trying to smuggle drugs from Panama to your home country is a really, really bad plan. People try it all the time, and they get caught all the time.

Computer System? What Computer System? The criminal justice system in Panama operates on the "paper case file" system. There is one folder full of paper and written evidence that is passed around by whoever currently has responsibility over the detainee. Sandra Mallon's case file is almost certainly on the desk of one of Panama's Anti Drug trafficking prosecutors. About 250 tons of cocaine is smuggled through Panama every year, and last year Panamanian authorities managed to bust about 50 tons of that flow. With every drug bust about five people are arrested, so the prisons are literally overflowing with drug traffickers. And, the prosecutor's are overwhelmed with drug trafficking cases. There's a tendency in the Panamanian justice system to spend less time and effort on those offenders who are caught red handed. When it's a "slam dunk" case, instead of cranking those out quickly and easily the attitude is more like "she's guilty anyway, so what's the rush?" But anyway, I just wanted to point out that Panama is just now, very recently, starting to put case files in some kind of a computer system. This article laments that the "Panama authorities cannot track down her file in their computer system." Again, this is a disingenuous attempt to shift blame and/or to generate worry or concern. I know her file is not "lost" - it's sitting on the Anti Drug Prosecutor's desk - and it's also probably not in the computer system. In reality Sandra's sister Maureen probably tried to get information over the phone and the people simply said "we can't find it" but the real message was most likely "we don't give information over the phone" (because they never do), especially to family members. They will speak to the accused or the lawyer representing the accused, but no one else. Not even Maureen. In any case, her case file isn't "lost" or some such nonsense.

Remember the case of Billy Cook? I interviewed him at La Joya back in 2005 and intervened with the Panamanian authorities on his behalf to get him moved to the more comfortable facilities at the Renacer prison - simply on humanitarian grounds. He's from New Zealand and has no friends or family in Panama, and the Panamanian prison system basically depends on outside support from friends or family members for things like toiletries, money, extra food, books, etc. Billy was screwed, is screwed, and he will remain in that same prison until 2013. He's already done five years and has three left to go. The Panamanian prisons are full of (friggin' stupid) gringos who thought they were smarter than everyone else, who expected to get away with it. This woman is apparently no different. Of course, I suspect she's been arrested and charged, but her case has probably not been before a criminal judge and therefore she has not yet been convicted, so there's the "presumption of innocence" thing, however the vast majority of the people who spend a year in jail await trial are, in fact, eventually found guilty. And now she's losing her house. Newsflash - she's probably not going to be needing it for a long time anyway. And, I suspect nobody showed up for the fund raising event because this woman generates about as much sympathy as - well - a person who got caught in Panama trying to smuggle drugs. Not a very compelling figure, to say the least. Wisdom means being able to learn from the mistakes of others. If you're thinking about trying to smuggle some blow - think about this woman first, then forget about it.

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Body Discovered in Arraiján

Drug Trafficking The lifeless and decaying body of 30 year old Javier Ruiz was found in the middle of a grassy field near a stream in the area of El Chumical, district of Vista Alegre, in Arraiján. The man had been missing since Sunday when he was last seen by his relatives, who upon hearing that a body had been discovered went to the area and confirmed it was Javier. When the scene was investigated by the Public Ministry and Criminology specialists, in one of this pockets they found a wallet with $12 dollars in cash and six plastic straws containing a white substance presumed to be drugs. At the time it could not be determined if the body had injuries or wounds due to the advanced state of decomposition and because it was dark, so authorities will await the autopsy to determine the cause of death. (Mi Diario)

Editor's Comment: This is a "typical" murder in Panama - one way or the other related to illegal drugs in the country. Basically if you stay very far away from anything having to do with illegal drugs or activities related to drug trafficking or money laundering, Panama becomes a much safer place. It is expected that about 1,000 people will be murdered this year in Panama, the vast majority of those related to drug trafficking. There is one murder in Panama every ten hours or so, or 2.4 murders every day. The murder rate in Panama has practically tripled or quadrupled in just the past few years. What changed? Thanks to the billions of dollars the United States has poured into Colombia over the past decade they now are regaining control of their country. Since Colombia has pushed the bad guys out, they came here. Isn't that special? Obviously Panama and the rest of Central America will be asking the United States for more aid to help clean up the mess they made. Colombia is now a much safer place than it was fifteen years ago, Panama is now a much more dangerous place. Thanks a lot. Somebody should highlight the section about "the law of unintended consequences" for the State Department.

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Reactions to Articles in Costa Rica About Ricardo Martinelli

Drug TraffickingA wave of rumors generated by the publication of two separate reports supposedly containing information from security and intelligence organizations but without official or named sources that appeared in the Costa Rican online newspaper El Pais that attribute criminal acts to Panamanian President Ricardo Martinelli, which also allege a supposed diplomatic distancing or pullback by the United States from Panama as a result of those criminal acts, as well as pressures supposedly being applied against journalists Jean Marcel Chéry and Fernando Correa, were dismissed on Monday by various official sources. El País, a publication relatively unknown in Panama, said in two different publications that were widely distributed in Panama via the Internet that Panamanian President Ricardo Martinelli and his company were tied to dirty business. None of the allegations were substantiated with any official investigation, US Agency, or serious publication.

Another rumor that was being passed around on Monday morning was that the Secretary of Communications of the Presidency, Alfredo Prieto, had been fired. HORA CERO was able to determine that in fact Prieto remains in his position.

Panama's Vice President and Foreign Minister Juan Carlos Varela called for an investigation of the stories based on anonymous sources published in El Pais in Costa Rica, which he attributed to unidentified Panamanians. Varela who traveled on Monday to the United States denied the existence of any kind of a rife with Washington. Varela recalled that he, President Martinelli, and other members of the government were businessmen before entering politics.

Sources within the government who requested not to be identified were surprised by the articles published in the El Pais online newspaper in Costa Rica, the contents of which they rejected when speaking to HORA CERO. But the reports that were published in El Pais in Costa Rica on Firday circulated like hot cakes among thousands of email users in Panama.

HORA CERO asked if there was any truth to the emails that have been circulating during the last three days regarding pressure supposedly being applied by the government asking that the El Siglo newspaper fire its director Jean Marcel Chéry and the director of the Open Debate program of the MEDCOM corporation, and both versions were rejected by members of the government consulted by HORA CERO. "There are a number of rumors and misinformation being spread through chats, e-mail and the SMS system trying to discredit the government and cast doubt on the relationship with local and international press, which are tendentious, false and removed from reality," said a high ranking government official. According to the sources those who are spreading the rumors are trying to create a climate of "hostility" between the media and government "and to cast doubt on the honesty of government officials." (Hora Cero)

Editor's Comment: First of all, extra credit to the source for having used the word "tendentious" which means "marked by a tendency in favor of a particular point of view, biased." Excellent word which perfectly describes a couple of the other sources of English language news in Panama - tendentious. I'm going to stick that one in my back pocket for later use, so thanks.

About The Article: Now, in regards to the content of this article I think it's right on. The El Pais articles have been blasting around Panama for a few days now. There are no official investigations or complaints that have been raised by anyone with regards to the primary allegations and speculations in the articles. It is a fact that Ricardo Martinelli's cousin has been arrested in Mexico and charged with money laundering. It is a fact that the US Ambassador to Panama, Barbara Stephenson, has been promoted and will assume the position in the United Kingdom. However the allegations that drug money was supposedly funneled into the campaign of Ricardo Martinelli by his cousin are unfounded and unsubstantiated with any official source or solid information.

Recurring Theme: Just last week Balbina Herrera made the illogical and wacky allegation that Martin Torrijos and the PRD had supposedly given $4.5 million dollars to Ricardo Martinelli's campaign. And remember back in November 2009 when Mitchell Doens, the Secretary General of Panama's Partido Revolucionario Democratico (PRD) was trying to do as much damage as possible with his allegations regarding Panama's Minister of Economy and Finance, Alberto Vallarino, and supposed allegations that Vallarino appeared in a DEA document with connections to money laundering through the Banistmo bank. In Panama the cocaine goes North and the money comes South. The PRD is absolutely convinced that businessmen like Juan Carlos Varela and Ricardo Martinelli simply have to be tainted in one way or the other with money laundering, however they don't have any real solid evidence that they can latch onto.

New US - Panama Spin: I see these articles that appeared in El Pais in Costa Rica as nothing more than the most recent efforts to gain traction with these themes, and they added in the extra "spin" this time that supposedly there is a breach in the relationship between the United States and Panama. Ironically, the first article was published on exactly the same day that Arturo Valenzuela, the Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs of the US State Department was visiting Panama. Valenzuela is the highest ranking State Department official for Latin America, and his boss is Hillary Clinton. His presence in Panama signals exactly the opposite of what the article alleges - for example Valenzuela didn't go down to Caracas to have his picture taken with Hugo Chavez, right? Of course conspiracy theorists point to Valenzuela's visit and proclaim "See? I told you there's a serious problem between Panama and the US. If not, then why would they send down such a high ranking official?" Because he was visiting several Central American countries to help determine the best way to send more aid to help fight against drug trafficking and organized crime, that's why.

Why Costa Rica? First of all, the "El Pais" online publication is both new and relatively unknown. Working from the premise that the basic allegations appearing in the articles are, in fact, both untrue and unfounded, then there are only a couple of possibilities of what might be motivating the people at El Pais in Costa Rica;

  • They Like The Traffic: In this business, money from advertisers can be directly related to the volume of traffic to the website. There are unscrupulous websites that portray themselves as "news" outlets, but in reality they are nothing more than machines used to manipulate information space. Think information warfare. The explosion of the Internet now means that anyone with a website who is willing to publish the most outlandish crap will have their headlines picked up and spread quickly. In this case, the articles about Ricardo Martinelli went ricocheting around Panama at light speed. Why? Because the stories were well crafted enough to be intriguing. The allegations they contained started from a known point (like - Martinelli's cousin was in fact arrested in Mexico) and then spin off into speculation and conjecture. These are the things that make for good soap operas, and therefore they generate interest and traffic to the website. More traffic means bigger numbers, bigger numbers means more advertising, and more advertising means more money. Ask yourself - before this weekend had you ever visited the El Pais website? I had not, and now I've been there about four or five times. So if that was their objective, it's working. I imagine their editors are giddy over the traffic and attention they have received.

  • Ideological Bent: That goes back to the use of the word "tendentious." If the editor's of the El Pais website are politically biased, and if they want to find ways to help the PRD in Panama and to cause damage to Ricardo Martinelli and his government, then this is the way to do it. The editors simply pointed to unnamed DEA sources that supposedly connect Martinelli to money laundering. Sound familiar? Personally I think the El Pais publication went down this road for both reasons. They apparently have a political bent (tendentious) towards anything anti-Martinelli, and they also wanted the traffic and notoriety the publication of such allegations would create.

  • Pay to Play? These kinds of gutter level, biased fake "news" outlets generally have no journalistic ethics or morals. Some of these take payments from people who want to cause damage to their political or business opponents in order to publish damaging information about them. The fact that El Pais is based out of Costa Rica is convenient for whoever wanted to do the damage, because no Panamanian publication in their right mind would have touched this stuff. Giuseppe Bonissi would send over the National Police to beat the hell out of the journalist, before launching an official investigation that would end in a conviction, confirmed by the Supreme Court. In Panama, Ricardo Martinelli is now firmly in control of every rein of power that matters - in the Executive, Legislative, and Judicial branches of government, as well as the supposedly independent centers of power such as the Office of the Comptroller, the Public Ministry, and even the Electoral Tribunal. He's taken over, and in short there's nothing left (except the media.) This weekend a photographer from the Panama America was beaten by a police officer because he took pictures of the Attorney General who was at a party with some women. One of Bonissi's body guards even told the photographer "today is the day you go to prison" for taking the photos. While the photographer was wrestling with the police, they were trying to erase the pictures he took. So, now that Martinelli has taken over everything else, is the news media next? Anyway, it makes perfect sense for the people who want to do harm to Martinelli through the publication of slanderous news articles to do so from Costa Rica and not Panama City. If those allegations had come out here, people would already be in cuffs.

What If It's True? There is always some small degree of possibility that the allegations published in the El Pais online newspaper in Costa Rica might be true, however remote those possibilities might be. Political leaders in Latin America are frequently corrupted by the lure of drug money. Just yesterday I ran a story about a Mexican politician who got paid $500,000 for every shipment of cocaine that he let go through Cancun. Manuel Antonio Noriega would traffic cocaine through Cuba, and now Hugo Chavez is doing the same thing. Panama is a well known banking and financial center, and I have published countless stories about how people who have gotten caught in one scheme or another always seem to have money and accounts in Panama. And, there is an undeniable culture of corruption in Panama which dates back to the Conquistadors. People here want to be politicians because they can make money by selling their position and influence. So, while I think at this point the majority of the allegations in the El Pais article are baseless, politically motivated, and stemming from the Panamanian PRD and their efforts to drag down Martinelli, in this country one must always keep an open mind and remember that anything is possible. Maybe Pedro Miguel Gonzalez is actually innocent. Did I really just say that? Wow. Anyway, in 1995 nobody would have through that the all powerful Ernesto "El Toro" Perez Balladares would be on house arrest for corruption. Lets see where Ricardo Martinelli is in 2025 - that's the only valid position to take from a strategically logical point of view.

About Freedom Of The Press: Another element were the allegations about supposed efforts to shut down dissenting journalists in Panama. When I was serving in the military we had a tongue-in-cheek expression that "the beatings will continue until moral improves." Who knows where it came from, but the same sentiments seem to be appropriate for the current situation on the ground for journalists in Panama. "Excuse me, Mister Attorney General, will you have me beaten if I take your picture or ask the wrong question?" For many years it was my standard practice to take my SLR camera with me everywhere I went. Due to the growing crime wave I stopped doing that to a certain extent, not wanting to either draw attention to myself or make myself a target for crime. Thanks to the events of this weekend I will be taking my camera with me everywhere I go, and I'll be searching out opportunities to take photos of police officers in public spaces. The simple idea that this kind of thing can first happen at all, and then secondly be brushed aside by the government like nothing happened, is simply appalling, and an indication of what this government is capable of. Bonissi was embarrassed by the photos of him with the women. Does he have another girlfriend? Why was it "uncomfortable" for him? I don't believe his denials for a second - he's full of shit. I really don't need to know anything else about the man at this point. He's the wrong man for the job, but Martinelli wants him there, so this whole thing will be glossed over. Those are the facts of the matter. Everyone knows it, and there is nothing anyone can do. Welcome to the police state. The government's denials and statements to the contrary are just so much more spin and bullshit. This was a photographer from the Panama America, for crying out loud...

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Former Mexican governor facing charges of laundering cocaine smuggling money through Lehman Brothers

Drug TraffickingBY ALISON GENDAR - DAILY NEWS STAFF WRITER - A former Mexican governor is in the United States to face charges he took massive bribes from coke smugglers and laundered millions through Lehman Brothers. Mario Ernest Villanueva Madrid, once head of the state that includes Cancun and other beach resorts, got up to $500,000 for each shipment the notorious Juarez Cartel smuggled through his turf, prosecutors charged. "Villanueva Madrid placed the police and state government infrastructure of Quintana Roo at the disposal of the Cartel," prosecutors alleged. He allegedly set up bank and brokerage accounts in the United States, Switzerland, the Bahamas, Panama and Mexico, some in the name of shell corporations. At Lehman, he worked with a registered rep who was later convicted. The accounts were seized and forfeited.

Villanueva had been on the run since 1999, but was nabbed in 2001, soon after being indicted by a federal grand jury in Manhattan. He was extradited from Mexico to the United States on Sunday and is expected to appear Monday in Manhattan Federal Court.

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