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Wednesday, June 26 2019 @ 11:01 PM UTC

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Martinelli Appoints Antinori To Head Consultation Process on Constitutional Amendments

Law & LawyersThe window to discuss the issue of constitutional reforms is opening and it seems like the government is hitting the throttle. What has been in preparation for several months is not about to take shape. Panama's president Ricardo Martinelli said he will open an extensive process of public consultations on the comprehensive revision of the Constitution. Through a press release it was reported the lawyer and former Ombudsman Italo Antinori Bolaños will lead a team working under the guidelines of the presidential palace. Antinori, a former "Defensor del Pueblo" (human rights watchdog) will coordinate with the Ministry of the Presidency, and will be responsible for carrying out this "broad consultation process" with all components of society. "We learned about the lack of consultation that has taken place with some recently passed laws such as Law 30 and Law 8. This is not going to be a repeat. We now open a broad consultation process. These comprehensive reforms to the Constitution will not happen overnight," said Martinelli.

Topics - On December 29, 2010, just before the New Year's holidays, the Government in a press release reported their intentions to change the Constitution, which at that time they called an "evaluation." The themes mentioned at that time were: the possibility of reducing from 10 years to five (5) years the possibility for presidential reelection, establish in Panama a second round of national elections (in case a candidate does not win a clear majority in the first round), include the nationwide election of deputies to the National Assembly, the election of governors by direct popular vote, and the approval of the extradition of Panamanian nationals who are linked to acts of terrorism, drug trafficking and murder. In addition, the President had indicated they would consider the incorporation of two new government programs - the universal scholarships and the "$100 for 70" program that benefits the adults over age 70 who have not received any pension or retirement. Two and a half months later, the Government seems to be meticulous about these issues. On this occasion there was no mention of any of these plans, and they said the entire Constitution would be open to review. "The President said that, at present, the issues and targets for reform have not been fully defined, and he said there would be a comprehensive review of the constitution," said the Presidency on Monday 14 March.

Who is Antinori? - The first Ombudsman of Panama was Dr. Antinori Bolaños, chosen by the Deputies of the National Assembly on 27 June 1997, a leading Panamanian lawyer whose term expired on March 31, 2001. In the former Legislative Assembly, he received 49 votes of the 69 deputies who voted, an absolute majority. Antinori's mission would be complicated by opposition (PRD) deputies, if the government realizes his plan on the issue of reelection, president Martinelli could run again for president in the 2019 elections, after having completed 5 years on the sidelines after the 2014 elections. (La Estrella)

Ítalo Antinori Bolaños will lead the consultations on the efforts to reform the Constitution of the Republic of Panama - 14 March 2011

Editor's Comment: If these reforms to the constitution go through then the PRD will probably never rule Panama again from the presidency, or at least not within the current political realities. First of all, by reducing the sideline period from ten years to five, then a team like Martinelli's Cambio Democratico political party and Juan Carlos Varela's Panameñista party could basically take turns in office - five years for you, five years for me, repeat. The PRD has never (ever) won the presidency in the post dictatorship era with more than 50% of the vote - Ernesto Perez Balladares won with about 37% and Martin Torrijos with about 47% - and both of then would have been soundly defeated in a second round of voting between just them and only one other non-PRD candidate. In short, the PRD only wins when the opposition is deeply divided and their votes are thinly spread among several candidates. So, the concept of a second round of voting would be a virtual death-knell for the PRD. Right now the Deputies to the National Assembly are elected by votes in each local region, not by a nationwide vote. Right now the president appoints the Governors so an election would seem to be much more democratic. And finally there's the "Pedro Miguel Gonzalez" clause that would allow him to be extradited to the United States as a fugitive terrorist, wanted for the assassination of US Army Sergeant Zak Hernandez.

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Another Suit Filed Against New Municipal Tax Increase

Law & LawyersThe members of the National Council of Private Enterprise and the Chamber of Commerce, Industries and Agriculture of Panama presented a constitutional claim before the Third Chamber of the Supreme Court of Justice (CSJ), against Municipal Agreement 162 which raises taxes. This is the second appeal against that Agreement, because last week the Ministry of Economy and Finance also filed a similar motion filed before the Supreme Court. Anthony Fletcher, a spokesman for the businessmen, said they would sit and talk with council members and the Mayor of Panama, provided the meetings are not held in the municipality, also said his position is to repeal the Agreement. El Siglo tried to contact the advisor to the Mayor of Panama, Jose Blandon, but he did not answer his cell phone. (El Siglo)

Editor's Comment: I heard today there was a third suit filed before the Supreme Court against these new municipal taxes. There's no doubt - the Supreme Court will take some kind of action to kill this before they go into effect in April. Then, the National Assembly will pass a law making the stunt City Hall tried to pull illegal. Game, set, match. Nice try, though.

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Salas: Martinelli Should Appoint Three New Supreme Court Judges

Law & LawyersThe Chief Justice of the Panamanian Supreme Court, Aníbal Salas, said that after the Supreme Court ruling that declared unconstitutional the law that abolished the Fifth Chamber, it now falls to President Martinelli to appoint the three new judges, and for the National Assembly to ratify his selections. Salas said he has heard about the complaints of the judges who were appointed to the Fifth Chamber when it was eliminated, but he declined to comment, because he believes their case might reach the Supreme Court. Judge Salas made his statements while participating with Judge Victor Benavides at the inauguration of three new District Courts in Santa Fe, Calobre, and San Francisco, all districts in the province of Veraguas. (TVN Noticias)

Editor's Comment: Yup, that nails it. Now President Martinelli will appoint three new judges. There are currently nine judges sitting on the Supreme Court, of those five are "opposition" appointed (non-PRD). Add three more to that, and Martinelli will have an eight to four majority, which means a slam dunk on just about anything he wants to do. I just hope he doesn't decide to change my name to "Shirley" (grin).

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Two Police Officers Charged In Juvenile Detention Fire Take The 25th...

Law & LawyersThis Friday the two police officers who are involved in the investigation of the fire that occurred at the Juvenile Enforcement Center on 9 January, where five young men died as a result of a fire, appeared before the First Superior Prosecutor for questioning. During their appearance Deputy Police Commissioner Luis Ortega and Lieutenant Ernesto Blake opted for Article 25 of the Constitution which provides that no one is compelled to testify against themselves in criminal matters. On this decision, the lawyer Carlos Herrera Morán, who is representing the families of deceased young men, while recognizing that they have this right, called it disrespectful. "They should give their statements and say what happened ... we accept that it is a constitutional right, but I think it is disrespectful to the dignity of the Panamanian people who want to know what actually happened," said Herrera Morán. The attorney said he would push for the prosecutor to call them again to make a statement, and that he would ask to change their pretrial precautionary measure - currently they are confined to the police barracks - for detention, because, as he explained, the crimes they allegedly committed are considered crimes against humanity. "Law 74 does not cover crimes against humanity," he said, referring to the new regulation that prohibits the detention of members of the security forces. (Telemetro)

Editor's Comment: In Panama, "Sub Commissioner" and "Commissioner" are ranks in the National Police, and not necessarily positions. Also, in the United States it's the 5th Amendment to the Constitution which says you don't have to testify against yourself, and here it's the 25th, same basic concept. There's also the 22nd which says a husband can't be compelled to testify against this wife, and vice versa. Anyway, these two police officers are keeping their mouths shut, and it will fall on the prosecutor to prove they are guilty of murder in this case.

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Supreme Court Will Decide Municipal Tax Issue

Law & LawyersAlejandro Moncada Luna, the Supreme Court judge, will be the speaker on the application for annulment filed by the Ministry of Economy and Finance (MEF) against Municipal Agreement 162. Moncada Luna will analyze whether or not to agree with the suspension of the application of these new Municipal Taxes, as requested by the MEF, in the application for annulment. Municipal Agreement 162 establishes new taxes on businesses that are higher than the current tax rates, which are due to take effect next April. (El Siglo)

Editor's Comment: As I have said before, I think these new municipal taxes are DOA. It's just a matter of time before the paperwork is done. There's no way this ends up being a reality. The fight is over already.

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Tear Gas Cannisters Could Have Started Fire in Juvenile Detention Center

Law & LawyersInvestigators have not ruled out that tear gas cannisters could have caused the fire that cost the lives of four young men at the Tocumen Enforcement Center, said the Auxiliary Prosecutor, Dimas Guevara. According to Vergara, in the investigation to determine the cause of the blaze, which still has three young boys in the Santo Tomas Hospital, they have not educed something that indicates that the artifacts in question could not have caused the fire on 9 January. He also did not rule out the possibility that more people could be charged in the case, but said that once the work of the Auxiliary Prosecutor is completed, the case will be forwarded to a Superior Prosecutor. Yesterday, the two police officers who were called by the Auxiliary Prosecutor to testify opted to take Article 25 of the Constitution, which says that they can not be made to testify against themselves. He said charges will also be pressed against the warden of the facility, Lourdes Ortega, to be investigated.

Protest - In front of the Santo Tomas hospital, the Popular Movement Revolutionary Youth (MJPR) made a peaceful protest in solidarity with the death of Erick Batista, Jose Frias, Benjamin Mojica and Omar Ibarra. These youngsters could not withstand the effects of the flames that took hold of their bodies. The three young men who are still in the hospital are in stable condition according to medical reports. (La Estrella)

Dimas Guevara - Auxiliary Prosecutor Of The Republic - In Panama the Auxiliary Prosecutor is usually assigned by the Attorney General to quickly initiate an investigation for the Public Ministry in cases such as this - which are emerging and developing. He will keep the case for no more than 60 days, after which the results of his investigation will be handed over to a Superior Prosecutor who will eventually take the case to trial. This is exactly what happened in the case of the confessed serial killers William Dathan Holbert and Laura Michelle Reese - their case is now in the hands of Luis Martinez, the e Superior Prosecutor in David, Chiriqui, who is responsible for crimes occurring in Bocas del Toro.

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Martinelli Will Appoint Three New Judges to Supreme Court

Law & LawyersIn an extraordinary plenary session, the judges of the Supreme Court declared unconstitutional the law passed in the administration of former President Mireya Moscoso which repealed the Fifth Chamber of Constitutional Guarantees. Alejandro Moncada Luna, the judge rapporteur, made the final results known. He announced that the next step is to write the regulation of the decision and to notify the Attorney General and the Prosecutor of Administration. Now president, Ricardo Martinelli will appoint three new judges of the Fifth Chamber. Eight of the 9 judges decided that law 49, which repealed Law 32 that created the Fifth Chamber, was unconstitutional. Luis Mario Carrasco, the deputy magistrate for Jerónimo Mejía, saved his vote in this decision, which castigates the intrusion of legislators into the powers of the judiciary at the time. The president of the National Bar Association, Rubén Elías Rodríguez, gave his vote of confidence in what will be the Fifth Chamber. He said he hoped that the judges who are appointed in Chamber are independent of the executive's interests, even though they will be appointed by him. For Rodriguez, this room opens the possibility that the processes or procedures are faster. The three judges who would make up the Fifth Chamber would be appointed for five, seven, and nine years. (Panama America)

Editor's Comment: And now, once the three new judges are selected, confirmed, and seated on the bench, president Ricardo Martinelli will have confirmed his control over the Supreme Court for the foreseeable future.

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Panama's Supreme Court Declares Repeal of Fifth Chamber To Be Unconstitutional

Law & LawyersEight of the nine Justices of the Supreme Court voted to declare unconstitutional the repeal of the so-called Fifth Chamber of Constitutional Guarantees, 10 years after it was repealed. At a press conference on Monday January 17, 2011, Supreme Court Judge Alejandro Moncada Luna, confirmed that at a meeting of the full Supreme Court, eight of the nine judges decided that Law Number 49 was unconstitutional, which repealed Law Number 32 of 1999 that created the Fifth Chamber of Constitutional Guarantees. The declaration (and Supreme Court decision) would mean the so-called Fifth Chamber of Constitutional Guarantees would be resuscitated, which operated as a part of the Supreme Court for a very short period of time. It was created by Law 32 in July 1999 during the administration of former President Ernesto Perez Balladares. The Fifth Court had as justices Oscar Ceville, Mariblanca Staff and Elitza Cedeño, but it was abolished (through the use of the now unconstitutional Law 49) during the administration of former President Mireya Moscoso, to fulfill a campaign promise. (TVN Noticias)

Editor's Comment: Feel like you need a scorecard? Let me break this down for you. Back at the very end of his term as president in 1999, one of the last things former President Ernesto Perez Balladares did was to create this so-called "Fifth Court of Constitutional Guarantees." Forget about why it was created or what they were supposed to do. The "real" reason for creating this additional element was to allow Balladares to appoint three additional judges to the court, whom he hoped would serve ten year terms - thereby giving him control over the Supreme Court for a very long time. Mireya Moscoso, who was elected in May 1999, didn't want that to stand so one of the first things she did was pass this Law 49 that repealed the earlier Law 32, and therefore the court returned to it's original nine members (from twelve). Now today the Supreme Court has decided that Law 49 was actually unconstitutional, so apparently now the court will go back to twelve members. Interestingly enough, however, it's not clear if the original three judges who were appointed by Ernesto Perez Balladares will be reinstated (wouldn't that be a hoot) or - more likely - that Ricardo Martinelli will now be able to appoint three more justices to fill those seats. Reindeer games, 101.

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Attorney General Promises Transparency in Jail Fire Investigation

Law & LawyersPanama's Attorney General Jose Ayu Prado, ensured transparency in the investigation into the fire at the Tocumen Juvenile Enforcement facility, where seven inmates were seriously burned, of whom one died. Ayu Prado said they would take the testimony of all who were in place at the time of the incident, to then identify those responsible. "First we will collect all of the proof and evidence to evaluate and make a decision," said the Attorney General Ayu Prado.

On 9 January, an alleged riot ended with a fire in a cell under circumstances that have not yet been sufficiently clarified, as relatives of the burn victims and members of the "civil society" criticized the actions of the officers of the National Police and the civilian prison guards of the prison system, who were in the place and who did not safeguard the lives of the young men. Erick Batista, one of seven who were burned, and who was hospitalized in the Santo Tomas hospital, died last night as the result of being burned over 95% of his body, which caused complications. Relatives of the burned prisoners are demanding the removal from office of each of the guards and policemen who were on duty at the prison, who were caught on tape making fun of their children as the flames charred their bodies. (La Critica)

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Proposal To Criminalize Presidential Critics Withdrawn

Law & Lawyers Following a meeting between the President of the National Assembly, José Muñoz and representatives of different associations of journalists, Muñoz asked National Assembly Deputy Augustine Sellhorn withdraw the draft law which would have made it a punishable offense to offend the President of the Republic or other elected officials. The President of the National Assembly asked for the proposal to be withdrawn before it was even discussed by the full assembly. Muñoz made this decision after listening to the widespread rejection by journalists to this initiative, because according to the journalists the law could negatively impact freedom of expression in the country. In an interview with the media Monday, the President Martinelli pledged to veto the bill if it were approved by the National Assembly. (TVN Noticias)

Editor's Comment: And, that's the end of that. These guys have to come up with a better way of floating "trial balloons" - because doing it this way makes them look dumb. Well, at least it gives us some insight into their true feelings and intentions. Look at the bright side - they realized it was going over like a fart in church so they reacted accordingly, and in time. But make no mistake about it - if Ricardo Martinelli could find a way to control the media and shut down his critics, he would do it. They've already made several runs at the media outlets, individual journalists, and now this. Anyway, life goes on.

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Proposals on Freedom of Speech, Journalism, and Defamation To Be Combined

Law & LawyersThe President of Panama's National Assembly, José Muñoz, said they would merge four proposals (draft bills) related to journalism, freedom of expression, and offenses related to defamation. Muñoz promised a "broad discussion and consultation" before adopting the reforms that could affect the work of journalists. He said last October there were three proposals on the issues of defamation, the freedom of expression, and the right to reply, respectively, all motivated by the need to safeguard the human rights of all citizens, including those of journalists and the media. (La Critica)

Editor's Comment: I think this is a good sign. The other proposals came from the members of the news media which seek to decriminalize slander and defamation. Panama needs to enact legislation that both protects the freedom of expression and the freedom of the press, while simultaneously allowing for a clearly defined means and method for those who have been defamed to seek and quickly obtain civil judgments. And of course the most recent proposal to make it a crime to criticize the president and his ministers will be in the mix as well. Anyway, the debate is ongoing, let's see how it turns out.

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Martinelli Expresses His Support For New "Presidential Slander" Proposal

Law & LawyersPresident Ricardo Martinelli, expressed his support for the draft bill of a new law that would seek to punish with two to four years in prison anyone who offends the President and his ministers. Although he said he did not know the exact contents of the bill, the President attempted to justify the proposal because he said, people in Panama can say or write whatever they want about him and his ministers and this cannot continue. He said there should be a regulation (preventing this) because the President and the ministers are the most important figures in the country, he said. Martinelli rejected the idea that the bill would negatively effect the freedom of expression, because he said freedom of expression is one thing, and it's quite another to say or write lies and slander. (TVN Noticias)

Editor's Comment: Hmmm. Interesting approach. They are doing an "end run" around the news media and going directly against the individuals who use the media to express their views. So, the "freedom of the press" is maintained however each individual will have to be careful what they say on camera or risk going to prison for two to four years. The problem I have is in the definition of "offend." If I call the president fat (because he is) - is that "offensive?" Can I go to prison for that? I mean - is there still a defense in the truth, and who is to decide what's true and what's not in a case like that. Meaning - there are a lot of things that are very subjective in this and it's ripe for abuse.

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Jose Ayu Prado Takes Over As Panama's New Attorney General

Law & LawyersWith a firm handshake Panama's new Attorney General Jose Ayu Prado took possession of the office from the former "supplemental" Attorney General, Giuseppe Bonissi. After this brief farewell, Ayu Prado proceeded to formalize the list of prosecutors who will accompany him on his team until 2015. His replacement as the new Special Prosecutor for Organized Crime (the position he abandoned when he was promoted to Attorney General) will be Marcelino Aguilar. Ayu Prado also announced the return of Yolanda Austin as the Third Anti Corruption Prosecutor. Ramses Barrera was appointed as the Secretary General of the Public Ministry (MP). Mercedes De Leon will be the Chief of Human Resources and Dimas Guevara will be the new Auxiliary Prosecutor.

Before coming to the Attorney General's office and making these changes official, Ayu Prado was presented to the President of the Republic, where he was sworn in by President Ricardo Martinelli, in a ceremony attended by Vice President Juan Carlos Varela. (La Estrella)

Editor's Comment: As the Attorney General, Jose Ayu Prado is basically the chief of the entire Public Ministry. That means all of the prosecutors in the country report to him, either directly or indirectly. This is a position of tremendous influence in the Panamanian judicial system because in Panama prosecutors have a great deal of power to decide what gets investigated, and what gets blown off. Notably, Jose Ayu Prado - when he was the Special Prosecutor for Organized Crime - led the investigation into the allegations of money laundering against former president Ernesto Perez Balladares. And without a doubt his willingness to go after high ranking PRD politicians is why Ricardo Martinelli nominated him for the job. Jose Ayu Prado effectively replaces Ana Matilde Gomez who was removed from her post by the (Martinelli controlled) Supreme Court - and now Ayu Prado will basically finish out the four years Ana Matilde Gomez had remaining on her ten year term, so he will serve at least until 2015.

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President of National Assembly Muñoz Supports Initiative That Would Make It A Crime To Criticize The President of Panama

Law & Lawyers"The figure of the president must be respected," said the President of the National Assembly, José Muñoz, when justifying a draft of a bill that proposes to make it a crime to offend the President. Last night National Assembly Deputy Agustin Sellhorn presented an initiative (bill) to the Panamanian National Assembly which states that anyone who offends the head of the Executive Branch or other elected officials could face jail terms of two to four years. The draft was endorsed by the President of the National Assembly, who said he would push for the measure with full vigor. "It will be discussed, we will take it to a public debate, and we will invite representatives from all sectors (...) to have legislation in this regard, " he said by telephone. Muñoz mentioned the words of former National Assembly Deputy Pedro Miguel Gonzalez, who - according to Muñoz - called President Ricardo Martinelli a thief. The advocate of the measure argued that statements like these cannot be said without being sustained. (La Estrella)

José Muñoz - The President of Panama's National Assembly

Editor's Comment: Hoo boy, here we go. In my opinion this is a step in exactly the wrong direction. Ricardo Martinelli already has his hands wrapped around almost all of the the reins of power of this country - Executive, Legislative, Judicial, Public Ministry, Comptroller (budget and oversight) - the only thing he can't control is the press. It makes no difference if Pedro Miguel Gonzalez (or anyone else) is in their bedroom saying all kinds of bad things about Ricardo Martinelli. The problem arises when that person expresses their views on the morning news broadcast. Martinelli has tried to rein in the press and that hasn't worked. So now they are apparently going to change the law to make it a crime to say bad things about him. Yeesh. Does this mean they intend to file charges against Barbara Stephenson for calling him "childish" because apparently she was right on the money. Sticks and stones, dude, sticks and stones ... This is a major, huge, tremendous mistake. Whoever came up with this idea is an idiot (and, I mean that in the nicest possible way...)

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Conflicts Between Buyers and Developers

Law & LawyersIn Panama as in most countries, dealing with Developers can be complicated. The issue becomes even more complicated when conflicts arise. In almost every case, Developers have very one sided contracts that are very beneficial to them, and not so much for the Buyers. With all the turmoil in the market in the last few years, conflicts between the Developers and the Buyers have become more frequent. Delays in construction, projects that do not get off the ground, failure of payment by buyers, etc., are some or the most common scenarios. If you find yourself in this situation or a similar with a purchase or sale of a property, you should know that you have options. Even if the non compliance is in part attributable to you, there may still be a possibility to get your money back or at least, part of it. We at PANAMA RELOCATION ATTORNEYS specialize in the legal aspects of real estate transactions and now, through our newly opened litigation department, we can assist our clients in cases that need to go to court for a solution. If you find yourself in a situation that you have made considerable down payments towards the purchase of a property and have had problems with the Developer, we are willing to look at your case free of cost to determine if in our opinion you have a case or not. It is very important that you have your original contract signed by the Developer. To take advantage of this offer please contact us at info@prapanama.com and mention that you saw this article in Panama Guide.
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$40 Million Dollars Needed To Update "Pele Police" Databases

Law & LawyersPanama's Attorney General Giuseppe Bonissi said it would take $40 million dollars for institutions like the Supreme Court, the National Immigration Service, the National Police and the office of the Attorney General to update the databases used to feed the data network technology of the "Pele Police." Although there is this mismatch, the official explained that this tool has been effective in combating crime and that this deficiency in updating the database is minor compared to the results in detentions.

Also the prosecutors Geomara de Jones and Dayra Botello, the First and Fourth Superior Prosecutors respectively, recognized that with the Peel Police these investigative units have located more wanted people in less time. Jones said that one of the problems that exists with the device is in the arrest orders issued by the prosecutors do not get removed from the system once the person who is being sought voluntarily reports to the courts or prosecutor's offices, and that due to this delay, people who actually don't have any current want or warrant complain about the data still being in the Pele Police. (El Siglo)

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Ernesto Perez Balladares Requests Freedom of Movement

Law & LawyersFormer President Ernesto Perez Balladares is waiting to see if the judge of the Ninth Circuit Criminal Court, Diego Fernandez, will approve his request to eliminate the restrictions placed on him which keep him from leaving the country, imposed the Special Prosecutor Against Organized Crime. The Court yesterday reported that the prosecutor Jose Ayu Prado justified his order, which prohibits Ernesto Perez Balladares from leaving the country and which forces him to report before the office of the prosecutor every fifteen days, thus opposing the request submitted by the former president. Perez Balladares is being investigated for alleged money laundering, which carries a penalty of up to 12 years in prison. (La Prensa)
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Journalists Ask Inter American Press Association to Intervene in Panama

Law & LawyersRepresentatives of Panamanian media, who participated in the 66th Assembly of the Inter American Press Association (IAPA) in Merida, Mexico, asked the international body to intervene in order to defend the freedom of expression in Panama. The Panamanian delegation focused its concern on the recent opinion issued by the Office of the Attorney General, Giuseppe Bonissi, who says the second paragraph of Article 196 of the Penal Code should be declared unconstitutional, which partially decriminalized libel and slander. Faced with the threat, the IAPA called on the three branches of the Panamanian government to expedite a draft submitted by the journalists, which would prohibit all public servants from presenting complaints for libel. Meanwhile, Attorney General Bonissi declined comment on the request of the SIP, and yesterday it was learned that new complaints have been filed against three journalists from Channel 2 TVN. (La Estrella)
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Lawmakers Approve New Law on Child Support Payment Procedures in First Debate

Law & LawyersThe Legislative Commission on Women Affairs, Youth and Family approved unanimously the first reading of the Bill on Child Support Payments. Lawmaker Marilyn Vallarino, the President of the Commission, said the new elements in the bill they are considering received the total support of all of the other Deputies. She explained these new consultations at the national level has reached consensus with all sectors involved in the issue, and in the international arena will be established as set out in the Hague Convention. On the subject of the "Pele Police" - she said this measure will be maintained for those irresponsible parents who are delinquent in the payment of their obligations. To help this measure in 2011 they will create two new Courts of Children and Adolescents each in the districts of Panama, Arraiján, and Chepo, and one in San Miguelito and La Chorrera. (La Critica)

Editor's Comment: This is a huge problem in Panama. The current law as it stands right now makes it exceptionally hard, to the point of being practically impossible, for the system to crack down on delinquent parents who don't make their child support payments on time. It's good to see they are considering the issue and making fixes to the system.

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Journalists Summoned To Appear As Part Of Murder Investigation

Law & LawyersThe Fourth Superior Prosecutor summoned journalist Victor Mojica to make a statement as the Editor of the El Guayacan magazine. An interview was published in that magazine with the alleged murderer of lawyer Javier Justiniani, an element that was introduced as evidence by the prosecuting attorneys. Mojica was formally notified of the summons on Wednesday, and he also learned that the photographer of the magazine was summoned as well. When the journalist arrived at the Attorney General's Office he clarified that he didn't know of the background of this action. (Panama America)

Editor's Comment: Good. No hysteria about some alleged conspiracy against journalists. If these guys got an interview with the accused murderer and the interview was introduced as evidence in the investigation, this is a normal proceeding.

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Francisco Sanchez Cardenas Wiretap Investigation Closed

Law & LawyersThe Attorney General notified the President of the National Executive Committee (CEN) of the Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD), Francisco Sanchez Cardenas, that the summary investigation into the complaint filed into the alleged "wiretap" of cell phones being used by PRD leaders has been closed. Sánchez Cárdenas went this Thursday morning to the offices of the Public Ministry where he was notified of the decision, and it was explained the case was closed because at this time the complainant could not identify the person who allegedly tapped into his telephone conversations. For its part, the president of the CEN of the PRD said this position undermines the right of all citizens to know who is listening to their conversions, and he also indicated that they will hold a meeting at the headquarters of the PRD to what actions they might take. Francisco Sanchez Cardenas filed the complaint because during the riots in Bocas del Toro someone posted an audio recording of one of his conversations on YouTube. (La Critica)

Francisco Sánchez Cárdenas

Editor's Comment: And that's the end of that. "Pachi" will never be able to prove where the recording came from. And, the effect of leaking the recording has been obtained. Point, set, and match. Hardball politics, Panama style.

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Mulino Presents Resolution To Ban The Importation Of All Weapons to Panama

Law & LawyersPanama's Security Minister Jose Raul Mulino announced today he has presented a resolution before the Cabinet Council that would prevent the legal importation of firearms into the country. Mulino made this during a ceremony to mark the destruction of seized illegal weapons at the headquarters of the National Police in Ancon. Mulino said this resolution will prevent legal arms from entering the country and finding their way into the hands of criminals. At least 1,800 weapons were destroyed in the act of destruction today. According to Eduardo Serracín, the Deputy Director of the National Police, these weapons come not only from the seizures of illegal weapons, but also those turned in as part of the weapons for food program conducted by the governor of the province of Panama. According to police statistics, since January of this year 1,336 illegal weapons have been seized. (TVN Noticias)
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New Case Filed in Lucom Inheritance Dispute

Law & LawyersA new scandal touches the doors of the Supreme Court. Its epicenter: the First Civil Chamber, composed of Judges Oyden Ortega, Alberto Cigarruista and Harley Mitchell. In the ruling (which ended a fierce tangled legal dispute, and which resulted in the opening of 16 court cases, debated in four countries, in a dispute over the multi million dollar estate left by philanthropist Charles Wilson Lucom, to the poor children of Panama), the three judges have ignored the decision of Lucom in his will. After Lucom's death, the case focused on the open objection lodged by the Arias Piza family (the children of Hilda Piza, who was Lucom's wife for 20 years,) because it left his $50 million dollar inheritance to poor children. The Arias Piza family then filed an appeal to the Civil Chamber that allowed the judges to decide the case, and they gave the inheritance to the family. Now, Mario Velásquez Chizmar, who was the notary of the will, has asked the National Assembly to prosecute the three judges. (La Estrella)
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La Prensa Journalist Detained By Police - Even Through He Received A Presidential Pardon

Law & LawyersLa Prensa journalist José Otero was detained today during a "Pele Police" operation in Maria Chiquita, in the district of Portobelo, province of Colon. Otero appeared as "wanted" in the "Pele Police" system because of a subpoena for a libel case from 2001, for which he has already received a presidential pardon. This case is being handled by the Thirteenth Criminal Court. Otero, together with family members, has already been at the police substation for more than two hours, awaiting for notification indicating the case for which he is sought has been closed. What's more, this case should have been closed administratively, because it is more than ten years old. Otero said this demonstrates the persecution of journalists, and he believes that in Panama we are living through times during which there are direct attacks on freedom of expression, referring to recent court decisions. (TVN Noticias)

Editor's Comment: This sounds like an administrative error. The case is from 2001, Otero was pardoned, but it's still on the books of the judicial system, which provides the data to the National Police "Pele Police" handheld data system. And who is responsible to ensure the validity of that data? No one, apparently. So Otero and his family get their weekend squashed because of governmental ineptitude - typical. However I disagree that his detention is a further demonstration of some kind of a campaign against journalists. The more simple answer is most likely correct - just a simple screw up. I mean, presidential pardons are easy to miss, right? (Sheesh...)

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RPC Radio Journalist Fined $1,000 For Libel and Slander

Law & LawyersThe journalist Rafael Antonio Ruiz, from the RPC Radio Station, who has been convicted of criminal libel, said the issue of professional journalism must be viewed with "state vision for the sake of future generations." Ruiz, who was notified on Monday about the sentence handed down against him last Thursday, which requires him to pay a $1,000 dollar fine in order to avoid 500 days in prison, lamented that in Panama there is no penalty for the officials, from the prosecutor to the judges, who are forcing the state to later pay for the mistakes they are committing. "Jurisprudence exists at an international level, but they insist on trials for crimes of libel and slander, and they know there is a precedent in Panama, the case of Santander Tristán Donoso. The Panamanian State was condemned, but they insist on going down the same route," he lamented, referring to judicial officials.

The third journalist to be convicted under the administration of Ricardo Martinelli said it causes "suspicion" that these decisions are coming from complaints that date back to the previous administration. "What is happening, that now the judicial decisions are coming out in sequence, against public opinion,?" he wondered.

El Second Superior Court handed down another decision against this journalist, after the 24 September 2010 decision to condemn journalist Justino González and Sabrina Bacal, the former news director TVN, to one year in prison, and being disqualified from working in the journalism profession for the same period of time, for libel and slander. (La Estrella)

Editor's Comment: Hmmm. There's something missing. Why didn't Ruiz defend his story, say that everything he published was true, that he stands behind his reporting and his sources, etc. And, is Martinelli going to pardon him as well?

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Another Journalist Sentenced for Libel

Law & LawyersThe Second Superior Tribunal of Justice sentenced journalist Rafael Antonio Ruiz on a charge of slander made against him in 2006 by Juan De Leon, the former chief bodyguard of President Martin Torrijos. Ruiz had appealed a decision by the Fourteenth Criminal Court that found him guilty of the crime of libel and slander. The Second Superior Court of Justice ruled against only for the crime of libel, said Rogelio Rene Sanchez, the defense lawyer for the journalist. The journalist has not yet been notified of this decision, so he is expected to read the document to know the extent of the sentence. Sanchez said that after the journalist is notified, they will make additional details on the court's decision available. This case arises from a complaint filed by De Leon in response to a story written by Ruiz on November 14, 2006 in a local newspaper entitled "Presidential Security investigated for drug trafficking." The news article said De Leon was connected to the seizure of 995 kilos of cocaine in 2006 and therefore he had to resign from the presidential escort. Subsequently, the former head of the presidential bodyguards filed a criminal complaint against Ruiz, which was handled by the Seventh Criminal Circuit Prosecutor, Julio Laffaourie, who asked for the case to go to trial. (La Prensa)

Editor's Comment: Another criminal decision against a journalist for libel. Do you think Martinelli will hand down a pardon in this case? Were the facts of the case as reported by the journalist true?

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Martinelli Floats Idea of Changing Panama's Constitution

Law & Lawyers Following the announcement of the approval by the Cabinet Council of the new draft law which changed Law 30, Panamanian president Ricardo Martinelli expressed his belief that there is a need to make changes to the Constitution of Panama. "We complain that we have a Constitution that must be changed, so why don't we take advantage and expand the group, to see what can be changed in the Constitution, to then be changed via the National Assembly," said the president. (Telemetro)

Editor's Comment: Everyone is floating the same trial balloons this morning with regards to changing the Constitution. I expect that in the near future some kind of a negotiating table or commission will be formed to examine the issues and to decide what changes need to be made. It's a long process which Panama has gone through several times in the past. Any changes have to be approved by two successive National Assemblies, meaning this group, and the guys who will eventually be elected in 2014. That's a kind of check and balance to make sure that this administration can't immediately make changes that benefit just them. If the people are against it, they can vote in a new group of people and hand control of the congress back to the other party, who can then stop the process from advancing.

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Negotiations on Law 30 Conclude Successfully

Law & Lawyers The success at the negotiating over Law 30 could set a significant precedent for the future governance strategies of Panamanian president, Ricardo Martinelli. The vice president and foreign minister, Juan Carlos Varela, said the dialog was the formula that allowed the participants to reach a consensus. Secretary of State Communication, Alfredo Prieto, said the government has always been willing to open a dialog with all sectors, demonstrated by what has happened with Law 30. Similarly, Vice President Juan Carlos Varela considered that what was achieved at the negotiating table will be historic. Trade unionists, businessmen and environmentalists also endorsed the results of the negotiations, but warned they would remain vigilant to see what happens in the National Assembly, which will have to approve the agreement. (El Estrella)

Editor's Comment: Remember the banana worker riots in July over Law 30? Well, they have been talking about what to do ever since. There is no doubt that it was a significant strategic and tactical error on the part of the Martinelli administration to try to force through real and important changes to nine laws, all with one package. That allowed the different opposition groups, who are normally at odds with one another, to join forces against a common enemy. Martinelli just wanted to "get it done" quickly, and that backfired right in his face. But the true sign of intelligence is the ability to learn, change, adapt, overcome, shift, and maneuver (and that's what they are doing here.) Law 30 will now be broken up into six different minor parts and handled individually. And, Martinelli learned that he has a lot of power in this country, but not all of it. Never underestimate the power of drunk, pissed off, ignorant banana workers - who are willing to believe whatever their union handlers tell them - to lay down the ultimate "banana peel" for you to slip on. Except in this case the "slip" was a face full of bird shot.

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Talks on Controversial Law 30 Coming To An End

Law & LawyersThe delegates from the different sectors decided yesterday to divide the controversial Law 30 into six new bills covering the issues of labor, environment, judicial, penal, commercial aviation, and public procurement. Negotiators have only two days, today and tomorrow, to reach a satisfactory agreement, because the government insists on sticking to the 90 day deadline agreed to in Changuinola. Last night, they approved ten articles on the subjects of the penal code, procedural, and judicial, in addition to Article 33 on the guide for best environmental practices. But environmentalists are angry because the government inserted a new aspect on electricity. Alida Spadafora, director of Ancon, reported that this is a new problem. The labor issue continues with no changes, regarding Article 14 on the right to strike. (La Estrella)

Editor's Comment: I've been waiting for this 90 days of talks to conclude before covering the whole Law 30 thing again. They are going to end up approving a series of new laws that contain more or less the same elements as the controversial Law 30, but by dividing the issues into six new laws, the government will also be dividing the opposition to the changes they intend to make.

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TVN Channel 2 Strongly Rejects News of Conviction of Two Of Their Journalists

Law & LawyersTelevisora Nacional TVN Channel 2 received news of the conviction against two of their journalists with indignation, not only because it is a legal aberration, but also because the decision is seen as a premeditated attack against the freedom of expression for all citizens of this country. The first to react with frustration and concern were the journalists of the TVN news, not just because of the action represented by the final decision of Magistrates Elvia Batista, Luis Mario Carrasco and Joaquín Ortega, but also because the decision appears to be a warning against the rights of citizens to be informed with liberty, objectivity, and transparency. The internal communication went further, because during the monthly meeting at the television station the General Manager, Augustine De la Guardia, explained to all employees the background to this ruling, so that the legal elements can be widely known, and to understand the reasons to reject the decision. (TVN Noticias)

Editor's Comment: TVN also has the following statement on the header of their website - "The news team of the National Television publicly expresses their strong rejection of the court decision that ordered tvn news director, Sabrina Bacal, and journalist Justin Gonzalez to 2 years imprisonment and disqualification from the exercise of their profession for 1 year." Was this a Supreme Court decision, or am I confused?

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