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Thursday, April 17 2014 @ 02:47 AM EDT

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Martinelli Didn't Have Anything To Do With The Extortion Case in Italy

Panama NewsThe government spokesman Luis Eduardo Camacho said today on the TVN morning news broadcast that President Ricardo Martinelli has no relation to case against Valter Lavitola for extortion in Italy. (more)

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Panama's King Moves the Queen

Panama NewsBy MARY ANASTASIA O'GRADY - Center-right Panamanian President Ricardo Martinelli is an outspoken critic of Venezuelan strongman Nicolás Maduro. Back home in Panama, though, Mr. Martinelli is laying the groundwork for a power grab of his own. If he prevails the region will take another step backward on the freedom trail, yet the Obama State Department remains silent.

Mr. Martinelli's term ends on July 1 and the constitution bars him from re-election. But the wealthy supermarket magnate is not letting go so easily. He has made his wife, Marta, the vice-presidential candidate on his Democratic Change Party (CD) ticket for the May 4 presidential election. The presidential candidate is José Domingo Arias, his former housing minister.

The Panamanian Constitution anticipates the caudillo who tries "moving the queen," as this tactic is known elsewhere in the region, to get around a prohibition on re-election. Its Article 193 states that relatives within "the second degree of marital relations of the President of the Republic" may neither be president nor vice president immediately following his term.

A constitutional challenge to Mrs. Martinelli's candidacy has been brought to the Supreme Court. But the president seems to be betting that the five—of nine—judges who regularly vote in his favor will do so again.

The Panamanian democracy is on the ropes once more. This time Mr. Martinelli has asphyxiated it by waving money under the noses of the political class.

The economy has grown fast in recent years and to hear Mr. Martinelli tell it, he gets things done like no other president before him. That may be true. According to legend, Mussolini made the trains run on time. But the consolidation of power that allowed the Italian dictator to crush dissent and silence opponents ended in disaster. It may be no different in Panama, where the bombastic president publicly vilifies his adversaries and uses the tax authority against them.

Since taking office in 2009, Mr. Martinelli has nearly doubled the national debt to almost $20 billion. His CD party won only 14 out of 71 seats in the last election, but it has since acquired 23 additional legislators from other parties. Four other legislators have joined in a governing coalition.

Perhaps something metaphysical inspired these conversions. It is also possible that all that borrowed money played a role. Congressional allies who approve Martinelli projects and judicial nominations, according to media reports, are recipients of generous public funding directed by the president, while his opponents receive far less.

It's hard to know how the money is being used because Mr. Martinelli has eliminated credible oversight. The attorney general and the comptroller general are supposed to be independent of the executive. Instead they are presidential cronies. The comptroller general, as I reported here in 2012, is the former internal auditor of one of the president's companies and a longtime Martinelli associate.

This lack of transparency has invited scandals. One includes the allegation that Mr. Martinelli received millions of dollars in kickbacks from an Italian supplier of radar equipment and helicopters partly owned by the Italian government during the time his friend Silvio Berlusconi was prime minister of Italy.

Mr. Martinelli calls the charges "soap operas." But prosecutors in an Italian court, who charged Vlater Lavítola as one of the alleged Italian middlemen in the bribery scheme, have named Mr. Martinelli as a beneficiary of those bribes. Mr. Lavitola's trial is scheduled to begin in June. Curiously no American company—subject to the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act—has been awarded any major contract during what has been the largest public-works spending spree—not related to the Panama Canal—in the history of the country.

If the CD ticket does not win the election, the incoming government is likely to closely scrutinize this and other charges of Martinelli monkey business. That could explain what appears to be heavy-handed campaign tactics. In March the president of the electoral tribunal, one of the last independent institutions in the country, alleged that the CD had gained access to personal and confidential information about voters held by the electoral authority and is using it for the campaign.

Tens of millions of public dollars are being spent advertising the government's public-works projects ahead of the vote. In flagrant violation of the constitutional prohibition on campaigning by the president, Mr. Martinelli openly promotes the CD ticket.

The electoral tribunal will play a key role in oversight and vote counting in a race that is expected to be tight. As such its reputation for integrity is crucial. But in recent weeks Mr. Martinelli has been attacking its reliability and even the impartiality of its president, as if he seeks to undermine the court's authority.

In 2012, Mr. Martinelli tried to pack the Supreme Court by adding three new seats to guarantee his influence and raise the odds that he might overcome the prohibition on re-election the way Daniel Ortega did in Nicaragua. When Panamanians went to the streets to resist, he withdrew the proposal. The lust for power remains. (Wall Street Journal)

Editor's Comment: "If he prevails the region will take another step backward on the freedom trail..." How? Because the Panamanian voters are stupid? Rather, the Panamanian people have already had experience with the other two options - the PRD's Juan Carlos Navarro and the Panameñista's Juan Carlos Varela. They know exactly what Martinelli is doing by "moving his Queen" - and they are going to vote for the Domingo Arias - Marta Martinelli ticket, anyway. Martinelli has an approval rating approaching 80%, something this article totally ignores.

Article 193 of Panama's Constitution specifically says "Relatives within the fourth degree of consanguinity or the second degree of affinity of the President of the Republic (may not be elected to the position of Vice President) for the period following that in which the President has exercised the office." A ten second search of the Internet shows that Marta Martinelli - as his spouse - clearly occupies a position in the "first degree of affinity." So yeah, what they are doing is obviously unconstitutional. I wonder how the Supreme Court is going to find a way to first wait until after the election is over (when it no longer matters), and then to say "yeah, whatever, yadda yadda - we decide in favor or Martinelli..."

With regards to the part about the national debt of Panama "nearly doubling." The bottom line number of the size of the total debt doesn't matter. The author is attacking on the math, while hoping the reader is ignorant. What really matters is the size of the debt, compared to the GDP. In 2005 Panama's debt was 65% of the GDP. Panama passed a "fiscal responsibility" law, and the total amount of national debt is limited. Today the debt is down to just 35.9% of GDP, and it's been improving ever since. So the bottom line is - a nation with a bigger economy can afford to borrow more money. Panama's debt rating has also been improving steadily. This author - like so many others - is trying to attack on the math and economics. You can't do it. Panama's economy has been growing by like 10% over the past ten years. That mean's it's doubled in size. Of course they can afford borrow more money. Don't be an idiot...

And of course Martinelli paid all of the lawmakers to come over to his side. Lots and lots of money for them to spread around in their districts. Those on the other team got next to nothing.

And yes, Martinelli has eliminated all credible oversight. There are no independent institutions. And what's more, he's going to take over what's left after the next election when Arias wins. I've been saying it for a long time, that Martinelli is poised to take over Panama and keep it for 50 years.

Regarding the Lavitola scandal and Finmeccanicca. Remember, that was a case of "corruptus interruptus." It all fell apart before the bribes were actually paid. Yes, of course they were going to be paid, but it never actually went through.

Sorry, but I always feel the need to point out the finer details of these sorts of articles, when the original author glides over things. I agree with most of it, as written...

Oh, one more thing. The Obama administration loves Martinelli. He backed them in the OAS. They seize more drugs than anyone else in Latin America. Martinelli has busted dozens of wanted criminals at the Tocumen airport and sent them packing to Houston or Miami to face justice. He's solidly a "player" for the US. And he's also much better than either of the other two options. The US has a long history of ignoring the faults of third world dictators in Latin America, as long as he's doing the bidding of the US. It's the American way...

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Foreign Students Adapt to Rigors of US Naval Academy

Panama NewsBy Ramon Taylor ANNAPOLIS, MARYLAND — Throughout its long history, the U.S. Naval Academy has produced prominent leaders, like former President Jimmy Carter and Senator John McCain. The academy prepares young men and women to become officers in the U.S. Navy or Marine Corps. But not all of its undergraduate students - known as midshipmen - are American. Dozens are foreign exchange students who return home to serve their countries after graduating.

David Ochy of Panama is one of about 60 foreign exchange students currently studying at the U.S. Naval Academy in historic Annapolis, Maryland.

“Leaving the comfort zone of your country, to come here to a culture and language completely different from your own and adapt, has been a challenge,” said Ochy.

“It opens a cultural horizon so that one understands American culture better, and is more involved in the culture,” said Santiago Gonzalez-Ayer, an exchange student from Spain.

The Naval Academy was founded in 1845 on the grounds of an old fort.

The academy says its mission is to prepare students to serve as officers in the U.S. Navy or Marine Corps. It strives to develop competence, character and compassion in its midshipmen.

International program director Tim Disher said the U.S. Navy also benefits by opening up the program to foreign students, especially in a world increasingly connected through technology and social media.

“It used to be, when I graduated in 1981 from the Naval Academy, only the senior officers were the ones that had relationships with their foreign navies or our counterparts," said Disher. "That’s not the case anymore. We’re a smaller navy and our students, even as midshipmen, have the ability to make an impact with our foreign partners. We are creating young ambassadors ...right off the bat, right after they get commissioned."

He said the exchange also strengthens the education of U.S. midshipmen, by enhancing their international exposure and understanding.

“The world is becoming smaller and smaller. One day our students will be operating in the theaters or environments that they’ve explored in the context of their interpersonal relationships here at the Naval Academy with the foreign cadets, and vice versa. It’s important that our allies know exactly how we function or operate as a military,” said Navy Lieutenant Paul Angelo, who graduated from the academy in 2006.

After finishing the exchange program, Gonzalez Ayer plans to return to Spain and become a naval officer.

David Ochy wants to work as an ocean engineer back home.

“I see my future in Panama,” he said.

The hope is they return home richer for the cultural experience they lived and shared with their fellow midshipmen at the academy. (Voice of America)

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Martinelli Tells The OAS To Put Their Big Boy Pants On

Panama NewsAmid shouts and applause, the president of the Republic, Ricardo Martinelli, called out the Organization of American States (OAS). (more)

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Martinelli Says Venezuela's Maduro is a "Bad Copy" of Hugo Chavez

Panama NewsThe President of the Republic Ricardo Martinelli, in an interview with the Colombian television station NTN -24, talked about the political situation in Venezuela and asked the Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro release the opposition leader Leopoldo López, and to not remove immunity from the lawmaker Maria Corina Machado. (more)

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PM Thanks Panama for Role in Capturing Iranian Smuggling Ship

Panama NewsPM Netanyahu sent a personal thank you to Panamanian President Ricardo Martinelli for Panama’s role in the interception of the Iranian weapons smuggling ship, the Klos C, according to a report in the Jerusalem Post.

The cargo ship, carrying massive amounts of weapons being smuggled from Iran to Gaza, was sailing under the Panamanian flag, and Israel received authorization from Panama to board the vessel.

“Martinelli is a true friend of Israel and the Jewish people,” Netanyahu’s spokesman Mark Regev said, according to the Jerusalem Post report. (jewishpress.com)

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Martinelli Accused Venezuela's Maduro Of Meddling In Panamanian Politics

Panama NewsThe tension in diplomatic ties between Panama and Venezuela are taking a new direction, this time as a factor in the electoral campaigns leading up to the next national elections in May. (more)

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"Hey Venezuela - Get Your Furry Paws Out Of Panamanian Politics!" - Martinelli

Panama News"I would very strongly ask all foreign governments, specifically the government of Venezuela which is making a series of statements which seem to favor one candidate from the opposition, to take their furry paws out of Panamanian politics, and to stop financing Panamanian candidates," said president Ricardo Martinelli on Monday in the province of Chiriqui. (more)

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Venezuela Announces Criminal Proceedings Against Businessmen For Panama Debt Squabble

Panama NewsThe foreign minister of Venezuela, Elias Jaua, announced yesterday he will proceed criminally against the businessmen of his country, for trying to "embezzle" funds from the Venezuelan government "for merchandise that never left Panama, and they are trying to charge as a debt in dollars."

He estimates more than 90% of the $1 billion in debt would be fraudulent.

Meanwhile, President Nicolas Maduro said only "fair " debt would be paid, "without intermediaries."

Maduro again accused President Ricardo Martinelli of corruption, and predicted he will soon be a "fugitive from justice." (Prensa)

Editor's Comment: This is a classic case of a tin-horn dictator who has serious domestic problems at home, so he creates a foreign demon to fan the flames of nationalism. Panama and Martinelli supported the stance of the US and Canada at the OAS, in saying that the recently passed resolution didn't go far enough to reign in Maduro, or stop the killings of protesters in Venezuela. Of course that pissed Maduro off, so now he's responded by breaking off diplomatic relations, expelling Panama's Ambassador to Venezuela, and refusing to pay a $1 billion dollar debt. In reality this is all about the money, and Maduro trying to cling to power in Venezuela.

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Venezuela says near $1bn debt to Panama fraudulent

Panama NewsCARACAS, Venezuela — Venezuela’s foreign minister says 90 percent of his government’s $1 billion debt to Panama is fraudulent and criminal charges are likely to result.

Elias Jaua says the government paid businessmen dollars for the imports and the goods never arrived. So Panama isn’t owed 90 percent of the debt.

Jaua’s comments broadcast Sunday on the Televen television station on Sunday come after Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro broke relations with Panama last week over its call for the Organization of American States to discuss a crackdown on protests in Venezuela. He also froze economic transactions.

Panamanian President Ricardo Martinelli has said he hopes Venezuela’s break in relations would not affect payment of its debts to Panamanian businessmen. (AP)

Editor's Comment: What kind of an idiot would pay $1 billion dollars for something they never actually received. OK, I could see getting ripped off one time, on one order. But we're supposed to believe the government of Venezuela "paid businessmen dollars for the imports and the goods never arrived." That statement almost has to be a bald faced lie. There is of course the possibility that Hugo Chavez (dead commie) was laundering drug money through the Colon Free Trade Zone, and Maduro didn't know what was going on (or something like that). Whatever, who knows. It will be fun and interesting to learn the details, because someone is completely full of shit... In this case a billion dollars worth of shit.

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