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Monday, March 18 2019 @ 01:28 PM UTC

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Bill 529 On Colon Free Zone Land Sale Passed in Third and Final Debate (Approved by National Assembly)

Law & LawyersWasting no time, the full body of the National Assembly approved Bill 529 in the third and final debate, which allows for the government to sell the lands of the Colon Free Trade Zone. There were 41 votes in favor and 4 against to approve the controversial project, which is causing protests in the province of Colon. Sergio Galvez, the President of the National Assembly, signed the instrument of approval. Now it just needs the sanction of President Ricardo Martinelli. (Telemetro)

Editor's Comment: That was quick.

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Martinelli Says Bill 529 Would Be Good For Colon

Law & LawyersThe president, Ricardo Martinelli, insisted that the sale of the lands of the Colon Free Trade Zone will bring benefits to the province of Colon. He said 35% of the funds generated by the sale of the lands of the free zone will be used to solve many social problems affecting the province, and he categorically denied that the state has run out of funds to continue running social investment programs. According to Martinelli, the people who oppose the initiative, do so for "purely political" reasons, and they are people who "do not love their country."

Martinelli said a foreigner is inciting the protests, and they will start an investigation process, because he has serious legal problems regarding his nationalization. Martinelli said on the channel 2 TVN morning news that the Bill allowing for the sale of the lands of the Colon Free Trade Zone is supported by all of the people who are in the business class in the province, and he said there is a very small group who is inciting the people of Colon to protest.

Martinelli said "in the land they pay very little in rent, and they are lands where it is preferable that the companies can own the lands where they have made improvements." It is expected that today, Friday, 19 October 2012, the third and final debate will start for the approval of Bill 529. (Panama America)

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Proposal To Sell Colon Free Trade Zone Lands Now In Second Debate

Law & LawyersWhile in Colon protests raged against Bill 529, which allows for the sale of land in the Colon Free Zone, in the National Assembly the Deputies from the ruling party set full throttle, and declared themselves to be in permanent session yesterday, in order to approve the measure. Less than a day after receiving the Bill from the Commerce Commission, the proposal was placed on the agenda of the day, after the Deputy from the ruling Cambio Democratico party Raul Hernandez asked for the proposal to be urgently approved.

The opposition lawmakers from the Democratic Revolutionary party (PRD) and the Panameñista party delivered their minority reports, calling for the proposal to be canned. The requests were denied by the majority pro-government lawmakers. Panameñista Deputy Miguel Salas denounced that the Executive wants to sell the land of the Colon Free Trade Zone to cover the deficit, and to have more money to finance their campaigns for the 2014 elections.

In response, Hernandez denied that there is an rush to pass the bill, and the debates continue today. (Prensa)

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People In Colon Protesting Over Sales of Free Zone Land

Law & LawyersThe approval on first reading of Bill No. 529, which permits the sale of the land in the Colon Free Zone, has caused discomfort among people in Colon, who took to the streets today, Wednesday, 17 October 2012, to express their opposition to the proposal.

At 7:00 am, a group of protesters closed the road in front of the sector Villa de Caribe, but 20 minutes later riot control officers from the National Police reopened the road and arrested 18 people.

Felipe Cabezas, a member of the Broad Colon Front demanded that the government "withdraw the project" and to sit down and talk in order to take the proposal to a referendum, or else they will continue the protest actions.

Also on the channel 2 TVN morning news none of the points supported by the Broad Colon Front had been taken into account, and although the Minister of Trade and Industry Ricardo Quijano, said there was "no rush" they have in fact demonstrated the opposite. Cabezas urged the people of Colon to protest while the issue still has not been resolved. He said tomorrow, Thursday, 18 October 2012, there will be a march from the Paulino San Jose church at 4:00 pm.

Meanwhile, another member of the Broad Colon Front, Mayte Garibaldi, said Colon has not received anything, from any administration, or royalties from the operation of the Colon Free Trade Zone, and she said the many social and infrastructure problems in the province are getting worse.

On Tuesday, October 16, the law was passed on third reading, with some modifications, including that 30% of the dividends from land sales will be directed to the people of Colon. The controversial law has been criticized by opposition parties, including Gloria Moreno de Lopez, the General Manager of the National Customs Authority, who said that Articles 42 and 43 of the project "seem to take from the institution the power to oversee everything that comes to, leaves from, or passes through the country."

Meanwhile, Samir Sayet, the Vice President of the Chamber of Commerce of Colon, said he disagrees with the sale of the land, because it is an asset that must be preserved.

The Vice President of Panama, who is also the President of the opposition Panameñista political party Juan Carlos Varela, doubted that the intention of President Martinelli is to use the proceeds of the land sale to benefit the people of Colon, and he said he disagreed with the sale of these assets, "at a time when the economy grows and the government has extra current income."

For his part, Minister of Trade and Industry, Ricardo Quijano, said that the bill is a good thing, because 30% of the dividends from the sale will go to the town of Colon.

The proposal, which was presented on Tuesday, October 9, by Quijano, amending Decree Law No. 18 of 17 June 1948, which created the Colon Free Zone, would allow for the sale of the land. (Estrella)

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Heriberto Araúz Sánchez - New Judge on the Electoral Tribunal

Law & LawyersProfessor and Doctor of Laws Araúz Heriberto Sanchez, 50 years old, yesterday became the sixth judge the Electoral Tribunal after the fall of the military dictatorship in 1990, after being chosen by the majority of the plenary Supreme Court from among 45 applicants. Araúz Sanchez was appointed replacing the current president of the Electoral Court, Gerardo Solis, whose term expires next November 15 after six years on the bench. The full Supreme Court also chose the current Secretary General of the Electoral Tribunal, Myrtha Varela de Duran, 53 years old, as a substitute judge for Araúz for the next 10 years. The announcement of both designations was made by the President of the Supreme Court, Alejandro Moncada Luna. The majority of the sectors of the country validated both designations. (Prensa)

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Bar Association of Panama Investigating Ethics Case (Lawyer - Cell Phone In Prison)

Law & LawyersThe President of the Bar Association of Panama, Cesar Ruiloba said on the channel 2 TVN morning news that they have received from the hands of the Attorney General of the Nation, a report about the case in which a lawyer gave a cell phone to an inmate in prison. Ruiloba said they have referred this report to the Court of Honor of the Bar Association, where they will decide if there was a lack of ethics, or not. However, Rubiola confirmed it is prohibited to give objects to inmates without first informing the authorities at the time.

"This has other trims. There has to be a dialog with the prison system to see the conditions under which an attorney communicates with his client. I am not aware that there is a recording of the lawyer's voice talking to his client, but they have to do the investigations," he said. He also denounced that in the provinces there is no privacy between lawyers and inmates because the visitor sites are very small. (TVN)

Editor's Comment: The Bar Association of Panama is useless. There is no ethics among Panamanian lawyers. If you find an honest Panamanian lawyer, hold on to him, take good care of him, and treat him like solid gold. Someone, anyone - please point out a case in which a dishonest or corrupt Panamanian lawyer was disbarred for misconduct. They continue to get away with this kind of crap exactly because there is no strong enforcement or oversight of their actions. So, they can get away with whatever they want. So, they keep doing it. And they will continue to do it until the fundamental flaws in the system change. Not very likely.

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Panama rolls out rapid, transparent justice system

Law & Lawyers By María Gabriela Córdova for Infosurhoy.com - PANAMA CITY, Panama – The legal maxim “justice delayed is justice denied” is becoming a thing of the past in Panama.

The Accusatory Penal System (SPA), which was introduced last year, has increased efficiency in the Panamanian justice system by 70%, according to official figures.

Under the previous inquisitorial system – which is still in place in two of the country’s four Judicial Districts – a legal proceeding took an average of 172 days. Under the SPA system, the average has dropped to 58 days.

“Panama’s new legal processing system is based on a model that’s been being implemented over the course of the past 10 years or more in several countries throughout Latin America,” said Ramsés Barrera, the secretary general of the Attorney General’s Office of Panama. “The aim is to quickly resolve criminal complaints to reduce congestion in the courts.”

Procedural delays and subsequent overcrowding in several prisons led to reform. In 2011, the country opted for a more expeditious and simpler system, specifically in conflict resolution.

“The written inquisitorial system, which is still in effect in part of the country, is totally inefficient,” said Magaly Castillo, executive director of Alianza Pro Justicia, one of the organizations that promoted the judicial reform and is monitoring the implementation of the SPA. “There are hundreds of cases filled with papers that take months to process, which is why we have citizens who have been locked up without trial or awaiting sentencing. That’s part of what the new system hopes to eliminate.”

There are 13,600 inmates spread over 23 prisons in a system designed to hold 7,400, according to Panama’s prison system.

Given the overcrowding in its prisons, Panama has joined – nearly 20 years later – numerous Latin American countries that have adopted similar strategies to provide a more efficient justice system.

The first was Argentina in 1991, followed by Guatemala (1994), Costa Rica and El Salvador (1998), Venezuela (1999), Chile and Paraguay (2000), Ecuador and Nicaragua (2001), Honduras (2002), the Dominican Republic (2004) and Colombia (2005).

“This system prevents detention without conviction as much as it can and respects the presumption of innocence until guilt is proven,” Barrera said.

Phased implementation - Panama’s Accusatory Penal System, which became operational on Sept. 2, 2011, is being installed gradually in the country’s four Judicial Districts.

A province’s population, its volume of crimes and the workload placed upon the public safety institutions were factors in deciding when an SPA is installed.

The Second Judicial District, which covers the provinces of Coclé and Veraguas, was established in 2011. On Sept. 2, 2012, the system was implemented in the Fourth Judicial District, which includes the provinces of Herrera and Los Santos.

In 2013, the program will be introduced in the Third Judicial District, which includes the provinces of Chiriquí and Bocas del Toro. Finally, in September 2014, the program will arrive in the First Judicial District, which is home to the provinces of Panamá, Colón, Darién and the indigenous region of Guna Yala.

The idea, according to Caballero, is to observe and measure the results obtained in the districts with lower crimes rates so officials can identify areas that are in need of improvement. When it comes time to apply the system in areas with higher crime rates, such as Panama City, the SPA will have the best chance to be successful.

“This process goes hand-in-hand with a plan to settle pending cases that were registered under the previous inquisitorial model to remove the existing backlog in the courts as quickly as possible,” Caballero said.

The new system gradually has changed the way justice is served in Panama. Previously, it was common for judges to issue rulings in cases in which they did the prosecutor’s investigative work, causing the perception that judges were biased.

Ramsés Barrera, secretary general of the Panama Attorney General’s Office: “The aim of the Accusatory Penal System is to quickly resolve criminal complaints to reduce congestion in the courts.” (Courtesy of the Public Ministry of Panama)

“Under the SPA, the Public Ministry, working with a prosecutor, investigates crimes and brings a charge if there is sufficient evidence, and it’s the judge who decides whether the accused is guilty, based on the evidence,” Barrera said.

Now, the presiding judge acts impartially, ensuring the prosecution and defense have the same opportunities to present their cases and no human rights are violated, Caballero said.

The SPA also relies heavily on oral testimony to reduce the time spent on conflict resolution.

The parties and witnesses testify before the judge, who issues sentences verbally, eliminating the written tradition of the inquisitorial system and bureaucratic processes that accompany thick case files.

The importance of mediation - During its first year, the mediation process and alternate conflict resolution measures have expedited the resolution of conflicts within Panama’s new judicial system.

“Alternate methods are essential to the new system, given that many of the proceedings end satisfactorily for the victim and the offender, without having to go through all the steps of the judicial process,” Barrera said.

In simpler cases, such as a breach of family duties, alimony and personal injury, the involved parties can, with the assistance of a mediator, quickly reach an agreement for the plaintiff to be compensated.

This way, a contribution is made to relieving the congestion of the judicial system, allowing officials from the Public Ministry to dedicate their resources to investigating more complicated cases, such as murder, narco-trafficking and fraud.

However, Barrera said reconciliation is not applicable in all cases or advisable in all circumstances.

“There needs to be an analysis of the situations and concrete characteristics of each crime,” he said.

From Sept. 2, 2011 to July 31, 2012, the following 420 case complaints were resolved through alternative procedures, according to Barrera:

  • 134 cases agreed upon a form of restitution;
  • 55 dropped the case;
  • 36 ended through reconciliation;
  • 164 suspended the process, subject to specific conditions;
  • 31 led to plea bargains.

    “What characterizes this system is that it avoids, as much as possible, detention without a conviction. It respects the principle of presumed innocence absent the proof of guilt,” Barrera said.

    The new system has been received positively, Castillo said.

    “Without a doubt, it’s a management model that offers greater respect to the victim, with short oral hearings that provide a rapid and precise resolution to conflicts,” Castillo added.

    SPA’s greatest challenge will begin in September 2013, when it is implemented in the Third Judicial District, Castillo said.

    “In Chiriquí there are currently 1,014 prisoners being held in a facility that was designed for 300,” Castillo added. “This province, which has one of the highest crime rates, is where we will really begin to evaluate the effectiveness of the new penal system in reducing prison overcrowding and easing the judicial backlog.” (infosurhoy.com)

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    Prominent Lawyer Caught Smuggling Cell Phone To Serial Killer in Prison

    Law & Lawyers Faced with accusations of having delivered a cell phone to a high-profile detainee, the lawyer and former Attorney General Rogelio Cruz defended himself this Wednesday, Oct. 10, saying he thought it was just a wristwatch. In this incident Cruz went to visit Fermín Antonio Taveras Ramírez at the prison cell in the headquarters of the National Police located in Ancon, where he is being held, charged with the kidnapping and murder of five young Asian university students in La Chorrera, to talk to him and to supposedly give him a wristwatch that had been sent by a relative, according to the explanation made by the lawyer.

    Meanwhile, about the disclosure via social networks of the video made of him handing over the package, the lawyer said this is a violation of the rights of the detainee, who was being recorded while he was meeting with his legal counsel, because those conversations are private.

    He said the National Police violated the rules of the American Convention of Human Rights and the Criminal Code with the recording. He added that after the visit, he received an anonymous call warning him about the use of the recording to damage his image, because it had already been determined that he had given the detainee a cellular telephone.

    Cruz said he filed a complaint with the prosecutor Sofanor Espinosa for the supposed violation, for the recording of a private conversation. (Estrella)

    Editor's Comment: Yeah, right. "I thought it was a watch." Bullshit. No body believes this guy. Everyone in prison knows the lawyers are the guys who smuggle all sorts of contraband into the prisons, to their clients. Cruz is trying to hide behind defenses of "violation of privacy" arguing that his meeting with the accused was protected. He's also trying to play a "plausible deniability" card by saying he thought it was just a wristwatch. This video was all over the morning news today, and it's the scandal of the moment. Rogelio Cruz is one of the most recognized, highly visible, and best known lawyers in Panama. He's also a former Attorney General. So we're supposed to believe him when he says he didn't know it was actually a cellular telephone? Just watch the video. Cruz obviously knows he's smuggling something to the detainee, just in the way the phone is passed, hidden under a piece of paper. I have no idea what the allowable penalties are for this sort of behavior, but I hope the governmental authorities make an example of him. This guy - Fermín Antonio Taveras Ramírez - is a serial killer accused of having kidnapped five college students, holding them for ransom, extracting hundreds of thousands of dollars from their family members, torturing the victims, killing them, and then burying their bodies under the floor of a house. But Cruz wants to make him out to be the "victim" of a violation of this rights and privacy. Disgusting behavior, and unfortunately this is the type of thing for which Panamanian criminal defense lawyers are well known.

    Rogelio Cruz was the first person to occupy the position of Attorney General after the US invasion of Panama, Operation Just Cause. He was appointed by President Guillermo Endara and took the position on 26 December 1989, replacing Carlos Villaláz. He remained in the position as Attorney General for exactly three years and was removed on 26 December 1992, after the Supreme Court convicted him criminally. To make a long story short, Cruz was involved in "unfreezing" money related to drug trafficking and money laundering. The US Embassy and DEA were involved. He also made documents disappear. He was fired, and replaced. Now he's smuggling cell phones to serial killers, on video.

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    Withdrawn - Bill 377 - A Proposal To Regulate The Internet

    Law & LawyersA day earlier, the Deputy from the Democratic Change political party Abraham Martinez said they might submit Bill 377 to a broad consultation process, but now 24 hours later his position has changed dramatically. Yesterday at a press conference, the government deputy announced his decision to withdraw the controversial proposal that currently rests in the Governance Committee, which had sparked criticism from journalists.

    Martinez said he decided to withdraw the proposal in order to contribute "to the country's social peace" while explaining that "at no time did we intend to regulate or restrict access to information or the free exercise of journalism."

    On the program "Despierta Panamá" (Wake Up Panama) on SER-TV, the Deputy listened to the proposals put forth by the journalist José Miguel Guerra, who recommended to Martínez that he should make room for a broad debate on the subject. (Estrella)

    Editor's Comment: Good call. The draft of Bill 377 was half baked, poorly written, ill conceived, and it left a whole lot of room for interpretation. They were going to try to tackle some of the newly emerging issues regarding the use of the Internet in the modern day (such as adopting a false identity in cyberspace) but they never really thought through all of the unintended consequences. So, back to the drawing board.

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    Panama Passes Intellectual-Property Protection Law

    Law & LawyersPANAMA CITY (AP) Panama's legislature has approved an intellectual-property law that would allow commerce officials to impose fines of up to $100,000 for copyright infringements without a trial or civil suit. The legislation is meant to bring Panama into compliance with a U.S.-Panama free trade agreement approved in 2011. It must still be signed into law by Panama's president. Some civic groups and organizations representing audio-visual artists and musicians are criticizing the measure, saying it threatens free speech. Other artists support the law, hoping it will cut down on pirated versions of their works. Lawmakers passed the measure Wednesday night.
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    Martinelli Might Call For Special Sessions To Approve New Supreme Court Judge in December

    Law & LawyersPresident Ricardo Martinelli might call for special sessions of the National Assembly to choose the new judge of the Supreme Court in December 2012. "We have to see how the legislative agenda develops, and then decide whether to convene or not," he said this afternoon. The new judge will replace Aníbal Salas, who is in the Second Criminal Chamber of the Supreme Court.

    When asked about the lack of anesthesia machines in the Hospital Arnulfo Arias Madrid, the president asked for patience. "I have understood they are renting machines to solve the problem, so I ask for a little patience," said the president. He said he has no doubt that the director of the Social Security Fund (CSS), Guillermo Saez Llorens will solve this problem as he has done with others.

    Martinelli's statements were made during a ceremony to hand over land titles to people in Tocumen. (Panama America)

    Editor's Comment: Ah, so Martinelli gets another seat on the Supreme Court in December. That explains why there were rumors floating around that the Supreme Court would wait until later to appoint a replacement to the Electoral Tribunal, and not necessarily do it in November when Solis leaves the bench. They were probably thinking about waiting for the newly appointed CD vote.

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    National Assembly Passed Three Laws in 15 Minutes - To Implement Free Trade Agreement With The US

    Law & LawyersThe three bills proposed in the National Assembly (AN) by the Minister of Commerce and Industry Ricardo Quijano, to implement the Trade Promotion Agreement with the United States, were approved this Thursday, September 27. All three of the proposals submitted by Minister Quijano were approved in just 15 minutes. There were only two abstentions, by the opposition Deputies of the Democratic Revolutionary Party, Leandro Avila and Eloy Francisco Vega. The first project in question is Bill 511, amending Law 35 of May 10, 1996, which enacts provisions on industrial property. The second initiative is Bill 512, which modifies, supplements, and repeals sections of Law 23 of 1997, on Standards for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants. And finally, Bill 512, through which issues related to wholesale business are regulated wholesale, the content insurance policies, the supervisory powers of the Insurance Superintendent, and Reinsurance. The project also crates procurement rules and regulates telecommunications issues. (Prensa)

    Editor's Comment: I'm glad to see they're taking these issues seriously. These were whisked through quickly, in order to implement the Free Trade Agreement.

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    Bill 510 On Copyright Protection Receiving Mixed Reviews

    Law & LawyersBill 510 on copyright protections, recently approved by the National Assembly, should receive a partial veto, because four of it's Articles were not in the original document. This was stated on Thursday morning, 27 September 2012, on TVN news by the promoter and producer Chris Fawcett, who insisted that the ideal would be for the president to not sign this Bill, and for the National Assembly to pass a new law - one that is more open - covering copyright and related rights.

    The promoter and producer said upon reviewing this law, the General Direction of Authors would investigate who uploads content without paying for the rights, but it does not define how they would accomplish this. In that regard, it adds to the fears that a person's rights could be violated, in the case of a baseless investigation.

    On the other hand, he said the law is good, in that it proves for regulation against cases of piracy taking place in the country. But also, the law should specify a table, to be used as a guide, on what type of intellectual property offense is assigned, stipulating a range of fines up to $100,000, which would be at the discretion of the officer to decide the amount of the sanction, Fawcett said. (Estrella)

    Editor's Comment: So, there are good things and bad things in this law. What matters most in Panama are not the laws, but how they are applied in reality, on the ground. In this case, the National Assembly is just blasting through crap bills which are poorly written and not very well thought out, and the real goal is to implement the Free Trade Agreement with the United States. They can always go back and "tweak" this law later, to fix some of the flaws. I know, it's a hell of a way to do business, but it is what it is. This Bill is receiving mixed reviews, with most calling for a "partial" veto - meaning the President can cross out a few controversial Articles it contains.

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    Bill 510 Passed On Third Reading in National Assembly (Free Trade Agreement Related)

    Law & LawyersThis morning, Wednesday September 26, the full National Assembly decided to approve Bill 501 on third reading, which covers Copyright and Related Rights. The Minister of Trade and Industry, Ricardo Quijano, said the measure will cause the country to have a proper and effective management, to protect the authors of industries, culture, entertainment, information and telecommunications. Meanwhile, the president of the Panamanian Society of Authors and Composers (SPAC), Cristian Garcia, said they agree with some of the items contained in the law and it "has some good things", and others that need improvement. Meanwhile, Amable Marin Moreno, an artistic manager, said the national musicians have "been broken" because there is no protection of their rights. "We, the authors cannot drink a soda with the product of our intellect, and the pirates of our songs, they are already with a pocketful of money from our music production, and that must end," he said. He added the law "is welcomed" as long as it is fully enforced. (Panama America)

    Editor's Comment: The National Assembly is cramming these things through quickly, in some cases even setting records. For example they broke a record today by passing a Bill in the second debate in less than five minutes. The message is clear - they want to get these puppies done so the Free Trade Agreement can be implemented as soon as possible. If they need to tweak some of the details later, then they will. But everyone is lined up to make money off of the new Free Trade Agreement, so there's no opposition.

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    Supreme Court In Battle Over Solis

    Law & LawyersThe heart of the Supreme Court is again immersed in diatribes. This time, over the appointment of a new judge to the Electoral Court. Judicial sources told La Estrella that five of the nine justices are inclined to reelect Gerardo Solis. The rest, including Harry Diaz and Alejandro Moncada do not support the idea. Therefore, the appointment could be delayed until January. Lawyers and civil society leaders considered such a possibility would be contrary to the constitutional deadlines. "It is an obligation to appoint on time," said the former Supreme Court judge Alberto Cigarruista. (Estrella)

    Editor's Comment: There's no way in hell the Supreme Court will reappoint Gerardo Solis for another term. This rumor is nothing more than someone's wet dream, and the odds of it actually happening are less than zero in my estimation.

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    Evil Children In Barney Costumes Threaten Panama's Very Existence

    Law & Lawyers The National Assembly Deputy from the Panameñista political party Alcibiades Vasquez said next week he will remove his proposal for a draft bill banning the celebration of Halloween parties and events at schools across the country, because of the criticism the initiative has generated. Vasquez said once the proposal is withdrawn, which has been on the legislative agenda for more than a year, he will pose a challenge to the authorities of the Ministry of Education to regulate the activity, by decree. (Prensa)

    Editor's Comment: Alcibiades Vasquez raises this issue every year at this time, like clockwork. It's sort of become "his" thing. Halloween is not traditionally celebrated in most Latin American countries, but Panamanians were exposed to the holiday thanks to the presence of the American military personnel assigned to protect the Panama Canal. People who tend to be intrinsically "anti Gringo" like to make Halloween out as some sort of evil anti religious devil worshiping activity or some other such ludicrous bullshit, based on abject ignorance. In fact, Halloween is nothing more harmful than a three year old kid dressing up like "Barney" or whatever, so grandma can snap a photo while saying "isn't that cute." Pure, unadulterated evil, that's sure to tear down the pillars of the Catholic church. Barney Halloween costumes are clearly the genesis of all evil in this world. Obviously. They need to be wiped out, now. What a friggin' moron.

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    Martinelli Signs Bill 508 Into Law, Says Reforms Will Be Good For Panama's Democracy

    Law & LawyersPresident Ricardo Martinelli said today, Tuesday, 18 September 2012, that the recently approved electoral reforms would do well for democracy in Panama. During a public event to inaugurate the new facilities of the National Immigration Service on Via Ricardo J. Alfaro (Tumba Muerto) this morning, the President said he read Bill 508, and found nothing that could be detrimental to democracy, so he proceeded ratify (sign) the bill into law. The President said the new law reforming the Electoral Code of Panama, is not unconstitutional, so the change will be good for the country. About the elimination of the "voto in plancha", Martinelli said there is nothing more fair than "one person one vote." He also said "there is nothing more just than the participation of independents, who can aspire to elected office." (Estrella)

    Editor's Comment: In a poll taken on the day the National Assembly passed Bill 508, some 63% of respondents said they were in favor of the electoral reforms. So that left the PRD and the Panameñistas sucking hind tit with only 37% of popular support for their vehement complaints and rejections of this bill. Interestingly enough, Martinelli won the election in 2009 with about 63% of the vote. Go figure. They did a pretty good job, mostly through the public statements made by the President of the National Assembly Sergio Galvez, of getting the word out about the "one man, one vote" issue, and that's pretty much what it came down to in the eyes of Juan Seis Pack.

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    CD Will File Complaint Against TE Judge Gerardo Solis

    Law & LawyersLawyers for Democratic Change (CD) political party prepared a complaint against the presiding judge of the Electoral Tribunal, Gerardo Solis, for abuse of office and abuse of authority, following the decisions taken against the ruling party. "The actions of the judges is an attack on the institutions of the CD, and its members. They have become an instrument of collective persecution," said the party's secretary general, Alma Cortés.

    The party leader said the complaint could be filed against all three judges, because the decisions issued against the CD have been done by all three of them. Cortes, who is also the Labor Minister, added that Solis is not acting as a judge, and rather is seems like he is acting as a member of an opposition political party. The director of the ruling party called the letter sent by the three judges of the Electoral Tribunal to President Martinelli "unfair and untimely", in which they asked him to veto Bill 508, recently passed in the National Assembly which changes the Electoral Code. They say the judges had the opportunity to participate in the discussion and the adoption of the electoral reforms, to submit comments and contributions if they so wished, but they refused, and decided to removed themselves from the debate, which they considered to be irresponsible.

    What's more, they said the approval of Bill 508 did not violate any of the rules, principles or constitutional guarantees, nor did they ignore the rights of citizens, and the Assembly complied with the provisions of its Rules of Procedure. On Friday, amid confrontations and disputes, the Assembly adopted the electoral reforms promoted by the ruling CD party, which was rejected by the opposition parties. The modifications include the removal of "voto en plancha" and regulates independent candidates.

    Opposition - In hours of yesterday morning, members of the Front for Democracy marched to the Presidency of the Republic, where they delivered a note to the president, which exposed the reasons why he should veto the amendments to the electoral system, considering the disadvantages for the country. (Panama America)

    Editor's Comment: Holy crap! The photo above was taken at the official CD party press conference, to announce the formal complaint they would be filing against the Electoral Tribunal and Gerardo Solis. OK, fine. But look who's hanging onto the back of Alma Cortés' chair with a white-knuckled death like grip, because she knew that was the one place in the room where she was 100% guaranteed to show up in the press photos. That's none other than Maria Cristina Gonzalez - the former Director of Immigration who was summarily fired for corruption - and who is now facing charges in court. It was an amazing blunder by the CD to have her show her face in public anywhere. She did so much corrupt crap while she was in charge of Immigration, it's sad. And now she's the face of the CD. I'm telling you, acts of corruption by their middle and higher ranking officials is going to hamstring them at the polls in 2014. Panamanian voters will be left with trying to decide from among three candidates - all of whom they know to be absolutely corrupt. Great...

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    Interviews For New Electoral Tribunal Judge Start Today

    Law & LawyersStarting today, Monday, 17 September 2012 at 2:30 pm, the Supreme Court will start the process of interviewing the candidates who aspire to be a judge on the Electoral Tribunal. Among the candidates are: Giuseppe A. Bonissi C, Guillermo Márquez Amado, Neftalí Jaén, Ernesto Cedeño Alvarado, Wigberto Quintero, Candelario Santana, and Italo Antinori, among others. The current judge on the Electoral Tribunal Gerardo Solis will be leaving the court in November of this year, after ten years of service. (Mi Diario)

    Editor's Comment: There are three positions on the Electoral Tribunal. Each one of them is filled by one of the three branches of government - Executive, Legislative, and Judicial. In the case of the position filled by Solis, it falls to the Supreme Court to replace him. He is the only judge on the Electoral Tribunal who will be leaving office prior to the next General Election to be held in May 2014. Solis has proven himself, through his actions and words, to be a loyal member of the PRD political party that appointed him. It has been embarrassing to watch his attempts to manipulate the process surrounding Bill 508 on electoral reforms, in favor of the PRD political party. And now of course he will be replaced by someone who is loyal to the CD, so in the end all remains the same, just the faces and the flags they wave change.

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    Opposition Pressuring Martinelli To Veto Electoral Reforms

    Law & LawyersBy DON WINNER for Panama-Guide.com - After the National Assembly passed Bill 508 yesterday on Electoral Reforms, pressure is mounting from several directions on president Ricardo Martinelli, asking him to veto the controversial law. After three weeks of fighting over this issue, by now it's perfectly clear the two opposition political parties - the PRD and the Panameñistas - don't want Bill 508 to be signed into law. However a recent poll taken yesterday indicates about 63% of the Panamanian people are in favor of these reforms. During the three weeks while the National Assembly was wrestling with these issues, the Cambio Democratico party did a relatively good job of explaining why they wanted to make these changes, especially with regards to the "voto en plancha" issue, and portrayed their motivation as wanting to return to a more democratic "one man, one vote" position. Therefore, president Martinelli will most likely endorse the bill and make it the law of the land for the 2014 general elections, simply because it's popular among the people, beyond the fact these changes will help the CD it 2014.

    Zulema Sucre, the representative of the Women's Front of the Panameñista party, asked Martinelli to veto Bill 508, which was approved on Friday, 14 September 2012 by the National Assembly. Sucre told local media she expects the president to be a little more sensible and to "veto this law, which is totally unconstitutional."

    The Front for Democracy will be meeting today, Saturday, 15 September 2012 at the headquarters of the General Confederation of Workers of Panama, in order to determine what actions they will take following the approval of Bill 508 by the National Assembly. The general coordinator of the group, Mariano Mena, said they would march to the Presidency on Monday, 17 September, to demand that President Martinelli veto the law.

    The three judges of the Electoral Tribunal - who through their recent actions have proven themselves to be little more than lapdogs of the PRD political party - sent a nine page letter to President Ricardo Martinelli which says, in part, "Bill 508 contains, in our view, reforms that are inconvenient and evidence of unconstitutionality."

    So it's really no surprise that the PRD, Panameñista's, and their supporters and allies are now turning to President Martinelli to ask him to veto Bill 508. And, I doubt those efforts will be successful. I expect Martinelli will sign this bill into law, if he hasn't done so already.

    Copyright 2012 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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    National Assembly Passes Bill 508 - Electoral Code Reforms

    Law & LawyersAt 2:12 pm this afternoon, Friday, 14 September 2012, the full body of the National Assembly approved the reforms to the Electoral Code with 40 votes in favor, which have been criticized by sectors of organized civil society and opposition political parties. Meanwhile outside the National Assembly groups who oppose Bill No. 508, which establishes the reforms, were controlled by riot control officers of the National Police. The President of the National Assembly Sergio Gálvez said after approval of the reforms, the objections of the Electoral Tribunal are regrettable, and political. Galvez said the Electoral Tribunal has lost credibility. Galvez said the president, Ricardo Martinelli, will not retreat after the reforms were approved in the National Assembly.

    Meanwhile, Bill No. 508 received 22 votes against by the opposition bloc, which are the Democratic Revolutionary Party and the Panameñistas. The head of the Panameñista party caucus, Jorge Iván Arrocha, said these reforms are unconstitutional, and they might file a suit against them after the 2014 elections. (Prensa)

    Editor's Comment: And after three weeks of BS, the end result was changed not one iota. All of these shenanigans simply reinforce and further expose the political weakness of the PRD and the Panameñistas.

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    National Assembly Is Now In "Permanent Session"

    Law & LawyersWith 40 votes in favor and 11 against, the government majority approved a motion today to declare the National Assembly in permanent session. The decision means the session will remain open until the proposed electoral reforms are approved in third debate. In the early hours of today's meeting, about 20 members signed up to speak, each having 10 minutes to present their views. Seizing this opportunity, the Deputy from the Panameñista party Jose Luis Varela proposed citing the Minister of Public Works to explain the delays in the construction of the road from Chitre to Divisa, while the PRD's Crispiano Adames introduced a bill to help people with HIV. Another PRD Deputy Iracema de Dale suggested citing the Minister of Education to respond about wages and salary adjustments for teachers, and Yanibel Abrego from the CD party talked about blackouts in Western Panama. (TVN)

    Editor's Comment: In addition to declaring themselves in "permanent session," the National Assembly has also adopted the same technical tactics they used yesterday to prevent the opposition lawmakers from continuing to delay the debate. They will be passing this thing within a couple of hours.

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    National Assembly Will Probably Pass Electoral Reforms Today

    Law & LawyersBy DON WINNER for Panama-Guide.com - Right now the Deputies of the National Assembly of Panama are participating in the third and final debate of the controversial Bill 508, which reforms the Electoral Code. This debate has been going on for more than a week now, with the Deputies from the opposition Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD) and the Panameñistas vehemently rejecting the proposal, which is being pushed through by the ruling Cambio Democratico (CD) party.

    The simple fact of the matter is there are 71 Deputies in the National Assembly, and the CD has more than 40 votes, so they can do pretty much anything they want, over the objections of the opposition party members.

    The PRD and the Panameñistas have done everything they can think of to halt the debates. Last week they had groups of paid demonstrators show up to invade the public viewing stand area of the National Assembly, with the intention of throwing irritants and rocks - so in response the President of the National Assembly Sergio Galvez closed the viewing stands and prohibited public access for safety reasons. Now only Deputies, employees of the National Assembly, and journalists have access.

    Then large groups of paid protesters would show up outside of the National Assembly to protest, make noise, and try to force their way in. In response the President of the National Assembly asked the Director of the National Police to deploy riot control officers, to secure the perimeter of the National Assembly, and to keep the protesters from forcing their way in to the grounds.

    The opposition Deputies then tried a variety of delaying tactics, such as introducing literally hundreds of proposals - and in response the CD invoked Articles of the internal procedures of the National Assembly to shut that down, and to force the debates to move forward.

    Yesterday Bill 508 was passed in the second (of three) debates. In the Panamanian legislative system, the first debate is held at the committee level. Once a Bill is approved in Committee it goes to the full membership for two more debates and votes. As of this morning, Bill 508 has already been approved in the first and second debates, and it is expected that today it will be passed in the third and final debate. Once approved, it will go to President Ricardo Martinelli for his signature. Once it is signed, it will become the law of the land once it is published in the "Official Gazette" - the state owned newspaper which exists for this kind of thing.

    Right now there are about 20 opposition lawmakers who have signed up to speak against Bill 508 in the third debate. Each will be given exactly ten minutes to speak, so there's 200 minutes (just over three hours). The debates started at about 8:30 am this morning. It is not expected that many of the CD Deputies will ask to speak during this debate, and if any of them do it will be brief. They just want the PRD and the Panameñistas to have their last say (as required by law) and then get to the vote. The final vote should occur in the early afternoon, sometime between 1:00 pm and 2:00 pm or so.

    Bill 508 eliminates a vote counting method called the "voto en plancha" - which means one person can vote for a party instead of an individual. So simply by checking one box, that one person effectively generates seven votes. I know, it's goofy. That's a malformation of the democratic process installed by the PRD when they were in charge of the government from 2004 - 2009. It unfairly tilts the table in favor of their party in those Districts where there are more than one Deputy, mostly in Panama City. With these reforms, now each voter will have to select and vote for each candidate, one vote per person. The PRD argues the CD is doing this in order to help those Deputies who have jumped ship from the PRD to the CD during the administration of Ricardo Martinelli. The elimination of the "voto en plancha" will improve the chances of those guys keeping their seats in the National Assembly.

    And there are other elements of this law about which I have reported earlier. What matters most is - the CD is pushing this through and the opposition hates it. The bottom line is that the CD has control of the National Assembly and they can put through these reforms which will help their chances in 2014. And it looks like finally, today all of this will be coming to an end.

    Copyright 2012 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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    Independent Candidates Would Have To Be Supported By A Political Party (Electoral Reforms)

    Law & LawyersFor more than twelve straight hours, the Deputies of the Democratic Change party, the PRD, and the Panameñistas have been in session and debating on second reading Bill 508 which amends the Election Code. During the session the Democratic Change Party introduced three more articles on electoral reforms.

    One of them provides that any dirty campaign that violates election law must first be submitted to the Electoral Prosecutor, who will then have 15 days to review and to publicize his opinion, and only later if a crime has been committed could it be removed from the air.

    Another Article was added, which says those Independent candidates who aspire to be president, who have collected the necessary number of signatures, may be nominated by a political party.

    The CD also proposes that any candidate running for the presidency would not have to be separated from a high ranking position held internally within the political party.

    According to the Deputy from the opposition Panameñista party Jose Isabel Blandon, currently the Electoral Tribunal can order the removal of any smear campaign without having to consult anyone. "What happened today is extremely serious, and it reflects the true intentions of the government benches," he added. With regards to independent candidates, Blandon said this type of think would not be able to happen in reality. Blandon also denounced that the opposition was not allowed to introduce bills to delay the debate. "As Deputies we have the right to present actions to delay the debate, it is within the rules of procedure of the Assembly," he said.

    For his part, the Deputy from the Molirena party Miguel Fanovich said the full Assembly is sovereign because there has been opportunity to debate. He said from the first day the Panamanian society as well as all Deputies were involved in the reforms. With regards to the delaying tactics that were being used by the opposition, he said this is the first time they have presented so many Bills in order to delay the debate. (Panama America)

    Editor's Comment: OK, three interesting things were introduced by the CD party. First of all, the Electoral Prosecutor is controlled by the CD, but the three judges of the Electoral Tribunal are not. If you will remember a few months ago the judges of the Electoral Tribunal ordered the removal of a political ad that attacked Juan Carlos Varela for not paying his workers minimum wage. It was causing him a whole lot of damage, so he went to the Electoral Tribunal and they ordered it to be removed from the air. Now with this change, any complaints would first have to be presented to the Electoral Prosecutor, and if he determines that no law has been broken, then it would end right there. Therefore, this Article strips a significant degree of power from the Electoral Tribunal, and this is probably one of the primary reasons why the President of the Electoral Tribunal Gerardo Solis - who is a PRD lapdog - has so vehemently opposed these reforms.

    On the second element regarding Independent candidates who want to run for President. This was written specifically to screw over Juan Carlos Tapia and Juan Jované, the two people who are most likely to aspire to the Presidency as Independent candidates. If this Article is adopted, then they would be required to gather a minimum number of signatures, but then they would require a political party to support their nomination in order for it to move forward. There are only (exactly) five political parties in Panama that have been legally recognized by the Electoral Tribunal. They are - the Partido Revolucionario Democrativo (PRD), the Partido Popular (PP), the Movimiento Liberal Republicano Nacionalista (MOLIRENA), the Cambio Democratico (CD), and the Partido Panameñista. There is a chance the Article is being written this way to sort of "force" Juan Carlos Tapia to either run as a CD candidate or not run at all. And this would also force the Partido Popular to either support Juan Jované as their independent candidate, or align with the PRD. In reality at election time three presidential candidates will emerge from these five parties. The PRD and the PP will align behind Juan Carlos Navarro, the CD and MOLIRENA will align behind whoever they pick as their candidate, and the Panameñistas will support either Juan Carlos Varela or Mireya Moscoso, depending on the results of their internal primary. That leaves Juan Carlos Tapia and Juan Jované with basically nowhere to turn, because as a result of this new Article they would need the backing of an existing and valid political party. Not very "independent," but moving on...

    The third point is written specifically for Juan Carlos Navarro and the PRD. Internal to their party, the "dinosaurs" before they were voted out of office injected language to their party rules which prohibits any high ranking party officer from seeking political office. They did this because Mitchell Doens had no intention of running for the presidency, and he just wanted to stay on as the General Secretary of their National Executive Committee. But now in August Juan Carlos Navarro has won an internal party election, and he has taken over the party from the old "dinosaurs." The language in this article would effectively nullify or make illegal the internal PRD party prohibition, and would supposedly allow Juan Carlos Navarro - and the rest of the members of their CEN - to run for office. But one has to ask, why in the name of hell would the CD want to do that? They have to know Navarro is their biggest threat. Wouldn't it make more sense to just allow the PRD to keep screwing themselves? They don't have any other strong candidate who might win in 2014, so why let Navarro out of the bag? Again, there's more here than meets the eye.

    And then to wrap it all up, Blandon complained, and Fanovich supported and justified. No surprise there. I suspect the National Assembly will ram this sucker through quickly, and then let the chips fall where they may. Expect Ricardo Martinelli to hop on his jet to fly to another country in order to reinforce his "plausible deniability" when the final debate occurs and the law is passed, because that's what he always does when another branch of government is doing something on his behalf.

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    Supreme Court Orders Journalists To Pay $20,000 Dollars In Civil Case

    Law & LawyersThe journalists Jean Marcel Chery, Gustavo Aparicio and the Panama America, S. A. were condemned in a civil judgment on appeal to pay $20,000 following a lawsuit filed in 2005 by the then judge of the Supreme Court (CSJ) Winston Spadafora. The opinion, with the presentation of Judge Carlos Raul Trujillo, upheld a judgment of the Twelfth Civil Court handed down in May 2009. Santiago Fascetto, the General Director of the Epasa Group, branded the ruling as an attack on freedom of the press. Meanwhile, Chery - who is currently the Director of the El Siglo newspaper - considered the judgment to be absurd. (Prensa)

    Editor's Comment: This one doesn't make a whole lot of sense. Ricardo Martinelli either owns or controls the Panama America newspaper. And he also controls the Supreme Court. So what's the motivation for this decision? The money means nothing, he can pay that off with the walking around change he keeps in his pocket. In this country politics is everything, and the only thing I can fathom is that maybe this decision is some sort of a change-up to pave the way for a fastball that's coming later, to be thrown against another news media outlet that's not owned or controlled by Martinelli, like La Prensa or Telemetro. There's more to this one than meets the eye, I just don't know what it is yet. Spadafora is a Panameñista from the Mireya Moscoso camp. That might have something to do with it.

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    Electoral Reform Issue Coming To A Head At The National Assembly

    Law & LawyersBy DON WINNER for Panama-Guide.com - The Deputies in the National Assembly from the Cambio Democratico political party have finally had enough of the delaying tactics being used by the opposition Deputies from the PRD and the Panameñista parties.

    Late this afternoon they voted to invoke two articles in the rules of the National Assembly to block these tactics, in order to be able to take the reforms to the second vote (of three.)

    The President of the National Assembly, anticipating problems, protests, and acts of violence, has called upon the National Police to secure the grounds of the National Assembly, and riot control police have been deployed inside the fence.

    They are now preventing anyone from either entering or leaving the National Assembly, and the journalists who are there covering the action are reporting they feel "kidnapped."

    The opposition Deputy from the Panameñista part Jose Blandon has been lighting up the Twittersphere, blasting away at the actions of his CD colleagues.

    According to Blandon, the actions taken by the CD go against the law and the internal rules and regulations that govern the National Assembly, and he says they will file criminal complaints against them.

    All of the opposition Deputies who are against the electoral reforms are strongly rejecting the actions of the CD in every possible way they can think of.

    But no matter, the CD has the votes, and they are going to jam these reforms through. Don't be surprised if by tomorrow morning we wake up to find out that they have already done both the second and third debates, and passed the reforms. Game, set, and match. No sense in delaying once the political decision has been made.

    Copyright 2012 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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    CD About To Halt "Delaying Tactics" in National Assembly on Electoral Reforms

    Law & LawyersThe caucus of the ruling Democratic Change (CD) political party concluded their meeting, during which they discussed the development of the debates over Bill 508 on amendments to the Electoral Code. After the meeting, the CD lawmakers announced they are ready to stop the so-called "delaying tactics" that have used the deputies of the opposition parties, to stop the advance of the second debate of the proposed electoral reforms. José Muñoz, a Deputy from the CD party, said in the Rules of Procedure of the National Assembly there are mechanisms to prevent delaying tactics. He said that, at the right time, the majority of the Deputies in the plenary will use these mechanisms. The CD lawmakers could invoke Article 246 of the Regulation, which states: "Article 246. The manner to fill regulatory gaps. Matters not covered by these rules shall be governed by the National Assembly through a proposition approved by the majority." (Prensa)

    Editor's Comment: The CD is giving the PRD and the Panameñistas enough rope to hang themselves. Recent public opinion surveys indicate the public supports these proposed reforms, so the harder the opposition fights to stall and delay the debate, the worse they look. Everyone pretty much understands that the rules were "twisted" by the PRD when they were in power (2004 - 2009) to unfairly favor them, and now the CD is reversing those changes. In any case, eventually the CD will get tired of screwing around, and just pull the trigger. I know I'm getting tired of talking about it, and I suspect you're getting tired of reading about it.

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    Still Waiting To See If National Assembly Will Resume Sessions Today

    Law & LawyersThe members of the various blocs are in the National Assembly, waiting for the debate on electoral reforms to resume. Representatives from the various political parties were supposed to meet before the debates started again, to try to reach a consensus, however nothing is known about any meeting. Meanwhile, the President of the National Assembly Sergio Gálvez had said yesterday if there was no consensus by 11:00 am on Wednesday, September 12, then the steamroller of the Democratic Change party would begin the debate.

    But at midday today it is still unknown if the members from the various parties are meeting, or whether or not the debate will begin today. It is known that the Deputies from the Democratic Change party are having their own meeting. Both the Panameñistas and the PRD remain firm in their opposition to Bill 508, which amends the Electoral Code. They said they will keep fighting. (Estrella)

    Editor's Comment: Spanish lesson opportunity. The President of the National Assembly has been saying the "planchadora" (steam roller) of the Cambio Democratico party will act on their own, to put these electoral reforms through. However in reality the proper word for a "steamroller" is "apisonadora." Correctly translated, a "planchadora" is a woman who irons for a living. However in this case the President of the National Assembly Sergio Galvez is a relatively humble and uneducated person from Chorrillo, and he's trying to say that the might and weight of the Cambio Democratico voting bloc will crush the opposition, and he's using it in context as if he's trying to say the "steam roller" but in fact he's really misusing the word. He's probably twisting the word "plancha" because they are trying to eliminate the "voto en plancha" (sheet vote) in their reforms of the electoral code. Everyone knows what he means, and they know the just sort of talks that way...

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    Special Commission On Bill 508 In Second Day of Dialog

    Law & LawyersThe Special Commission of the various groups of Deputies in the National Assembly, created to discuss the proposed reforms to the Electoral Code, began its second day of dialog, but with little hope of reaching an agreement. This committee is composed of six members from the largest political parties, and its creation seeks to find a consensus to approve Bill 508, introduced by the Democratic Change and rejected by the PRD and Panameñista lawmakers. Failing an agreement, the plenary session could resume on Wednesday. So far, the sessions have been suspended due to the Commission's dialogue. (Telemetro)

    Editor's Comment: So, this is the next step. They won't go back into regular sessions until these talks fail. And of course all sides will be looking to blame the other for the failure to reach a negotiated settlement. No matter, the CD still has the votes, and they could slam it through today if they wanted to. Sergio Galvez is just taking his time, that's all.

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    Deputies Negotiating - Still No Agreement On Bill 508

    Law & LawyersThis Monday, Sept. 10, there will be no meeting of the full Legislature, until there is a consensus among the different parties on the draft law No. 508 which reforms the Electoral Code. This was reiterated this afternoon by the President of the National Assembly, Sergio Gálvez. The first call was supposed to occur at 3:00 pm today. However, the different sides have not reached an agreement on Bill 508. Talks between the Deputies started at noon today.

    Galvez made his statements as the economist John Jované went to the National Assembly this afternoon. Upon arrival at the Legislative Palace, Jované said was keen to participate in the dialog on electoral reforms. He also advocated for electoral parity and independent candidates. (Prensa)

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