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Monday, June 26 2017 @ 06:24 AM EDT

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A historic Summit of the Americas - Opinion

Panama NewsBy Isabel Saint Malo - This week, Panama will host the Summit of the Americas, an important gathering of heads of state from throughout the hemisphere, first launched by U.S. President Bill Clinton in 1992.

The first-ever presence of both Cuba and the United States, along with every other nation in the region, makes this Summit an historic occasion before it even begins.

But beyond the breathtaking diplomatic opportunity the thaw between Cuba and the U.S. presents, there is much else on our agenda that deserves attention.

The overarching theme of the Summit is "Prosperity with Equity: The Challenge of Cooperation in the Americas." This could well be the rallying cry of all nations in our region. How do we develop fairly and justly? How do we close the income gap? How do we give everyone a voice in his or her destinies?

There is no doubt that Latin America is on the rise, economically. By 2020, Latin American GDP is expected to reach $10 trillion—double that of 2010—with 640 million active consumers. However, this prosperity has not been sufficiently and broadly shared by our people.

That is where the demand for equality begins. Equality is not just an ethical demand, but also a technical condition for the sustainable growth of our countries and for our future peace and stability.

While the Americas are enjoying a state of peace and--with perhaps one exception--political stability, we know this can be jeopardized if we, as a region, do not attend the most pressing challenges our people face today.

Democracy in our region, for example, is limited by inequality and inequities, and therefore to fight against these challenges is also to fight to strengthen democracy. It is the same for security, immigration, and energy resource scarcity. These in fact comprise the key subthemes of the agenda.

Indeed, the presence of all nations at the table means that we can put all the issues on the table, including sensitive questions like human rights, democracy, and civil liberties. We are a diverse hemisphere, with lots of ideas and many voices on these questions.

In fact, there will be a dedicated platform for civil society organizations at the Summit of the Americas in which citizens from all countries can freely discuss their cares and concerns. Because this forum is being run by a private NGO, not by the Government of Panama, we are all potential subjects of discussion or targets of criticism.

President Obama and President Varela, among other heads of state, are expected to be in the room for that discussion. That's healthy.

The U.S. has much at stake in the discussions in Panama City, which will range from climate change to commerce. Indeed, the U.S.' integration in the hemisphere is growing stronger by the day through our broad economic, security, and political cooperation. Panama, for example, is the fastest growing economy in the region.

Our largest trading partner is the United States -- accounting for approximately 23 percent of all two-way trade. U.S.- Panama trade grew by roughly 20 percent to more than $10 billion in 2012 and has only continued to increase since the U.S.-Panama Trade Promotion Agreement (TPA) went into effect in October 2012.

The expansion of the Panama Canal will only enhance the importance of U.S. trade with Panama and throughout Latin America and the jobs it will support in both North and South.

It is truly fitting that this historic Summit be hosted in Panama. The first meeting of Heads of State from the Americas was held in Panama back in 1956, in what is now the headquarters of the Panamanian Foreign Ministry.

And just a year ago, we celebrated the 100th anniversary of the Panama Canal. This was of course an important historical event that transformed global commerce, but it also symbolically inaugurated what has become our traditional role in promoting dialogue and consensus between nations.

This is precisely the role we wish to play at the Summit by bringing together a group of nations with far more in common than we are separated by. The participation of Cuba and the U.S. is the most powerful symbol of our need and ability to transcend differences and work towards a positive outcome.

It is undeniable that the time for the Americas has come. Prosperity is on the rise. Dreams are awakened. By breaking down barriers and the old dividing lines, we can at last unlock the potential of our people. We can help lift them up. We can give them a stake in the stability of their countries and their neighbors.

The precondition is equity. Our progress towards equity in the upcoming Summit will be the ultimate measure of its success. (CNN)

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Cuba, U.S. renew talks on restoring diplomatic ties

Panama NewsBy Daniel Trotta HAVANA (Reuters) – Cuba and the United States meet for talks on restoring diplomatic relations on Monday, seeking more progress toward an agreement while not allowing differences over Venezuela to impede their historic rapprochement.

Assistant U.S. Secretary of State Roberta Jacobson is due to meet in Havana with Josefina Vidal, the Cuban foreign ministry’s chief of U.S. affairs, with talks possibly continuing into Wednesday.

Jacobson and Vidal led their respective delegations with great fanfare in Havana in January and in Washington in February, but this session will take place with smaller teams and, so far at least, a media blackout.

The United States severed diplomatic ties with Cuba in 1961, and relations remained hostile even after the end of the Cold War.

But President Barack Obama reversed the U.S. policy of isolating Cuba, entering 18 months of secret talks that led to a joint announcement with Cuban President Raul Castro on Dec. 17 that the two adversaries would seek to restore diplomatic ties, as well as a release of prisoners by both sides.

Obama told Reuters on March 2 he hoped the United States would open an embassy in Cuba before a Western Hemisphere summit in Panama set for April 10-11, when Obama and Castro could have their first face-to-face meeting since shaking hands at Nelson Mandela’s funeral in December 2013.

Before agreeing to restore ties, Cuba wants to be removed from the State Department’s list of state sponsors of terrorism and also to find a bank willing to handle transactions for its diplomatic posts in the United States.

For its part, the United States wants to increase staff at its mission in Havana and have unrestricted travel for its diplomats on the island.

Both sides reported progress on these issues after the first two round of talks.

Then on March 9 the United States declared Cuba’s closest ally, Venezuela, a security threat and ordered sanctions against seven officials from the oil-rich country.

U.S. officials have said the Venezuela issue should not affect the Cuba talks, but Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez said any attack on Venezuela was also an attack on Cuba, saying Washington “has provoked serious damage to the environment in the hemisphere on the eve of the Summit of the Americas.”

“I hope that the U.S. government understands that it can’t handle Cuba with a carrot and Venezuela with a garrote,” Rodriguez said on Saturday while visiting Venezuela.

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Lufthansa to fly to Panama for the first time

Panama NewsLufthansa is further expanding its route network to South America. From 16 November 2015, the airline will offer year-round flights to Panama City for the first time, subject to government approval...

Direct flights from Frankfurt from 16 November

Expansion of partnership with Copa Airlines will mean better connections to South America

Lufthansa to fly to Panama for the first time

"For South African travellers this means departing on Lufthansa's daily flight from Johannesburg to Frankfurt and connecting with the Airbus A340-300 that will operate five times a week between Frankfurt and the economic metropolis in Central America", explains Axel Simon, Director Southern Africa for Lufthansa German Airlines and Swiss International Air Line. The new flight takes 12 hours and 25 minutes, returning the same evening landing at Frankfurt Airport the following morning.

"South America has become an increasingly more important trade partner for South Africa. Panama is located between Costa Rica and Columbia and has recorded increasingly strong economic growth in recent years," says Axel Simon. Besides the famous Panama Canal, it has an important banking sector, a favourable geographic location and good infrastructure, providing reasons for a business trip to the Central American country. Untouched beaches and a large number of national parks with their rainforests, mangroves and unique subaquatic world also promise leisure travellers an unforgettable trip.

On board, a total of 298 seats will be available in Business, Premium Economy and Economy Class, featuring the latest cabin design in all classes: seats in the new Business Class can be converted at the touch of a button into a comfortable horizontal bed measuring 1.98m in length. In the new Premium Economy Class, increased legroom and a greater seat pitch await passengers. With the individual in-flight entertainment system, there is a wide range of entertainment on offer for passengers in all travel classes, as well as FlyNet, the wireless broadband internet.

Lufthansa to fly to Panama for the first time

Lufthansa is also expanding its partnership with the Panamanian airline Copa. Lufthansa passengers will in future be able to easily reach a further 50 destinations in Central and South America and the Caribbean with the partner airline. The most important travel destinations in Copa's network include airports in Peru, Ecuador, Costa Rica, Nicaragua and Guatemala. The times of the Lufthansa services are coordinated with Copa's connecting flights in such a way that passengers can transfer comfortably at Tocumen Airport, Copa's "Hub of the Americas".

Further information and flight booking services with Lufthansa can be found online at LH.com or by calling the Lufthansa Service Centre 0861 842538. Flights can also be booked with Lufthansa's travel agency partners and at the Lufthansa ticket desks in airports.

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Panama Becomes The First Latin American Nation To Join Coalition Against ISIS

Panama NewsThe government of Panama has announced that it will become the first Latin American nation to join the United States-led coalition against the Islamic State in the Middle East.

The nation did not specify how it would aid the coalition, a particularly curious question given that Panama has no standing military force.

Panama, its government announced, “has decided to form part of the coalition of nations in the international community against the Islamic State group, which seeks to face the threats against international peace and security imposed by this group.” In its public statement announcing its participating in the battle against the terrorist group, whose most violent activity occurs in occupied areas of Syria and Iraq, the Panamanian government promised to participate in the effort “without compromising the principles of a nation that loves peace and promotes dialogue and peaceful coexistence among all peoples.”

The statement did not specify what, if anything, the Panamanian government will do to aid the effort, other than to “combat terrorism in all its forms and manifestations, as well as acts of indiscriminate violence, derived from religious, cultural, and ethnic intolerance.”

Panama will join a coalition nominally comprised of the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Spain, Italy, Belgium, Jordan, Canada, Bahrain, and others. The United Arab Emirates was listed as a member of the coalition until this week, when the Obama administration announced that the nation had opted against participating in airstrikes since December. While the coalition boasts a long list of nations, in reality, as of February 6, the United States is responsible for 946 airstrikes against the Islamic State in Syria. Jordan, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, and UAE engaged in 79 airstrikes combined in the same amount of time.

Panama’s role in the fight against the Islamic State is especially uncertain as it does not have a standing military. It instead opted in 1990 to invest defense resources into a robust police force that has dramatically reduced the presence of violent drug cartels in the nation.

Given Panama’s lack of an army–and the distance between Panama and Islamic State-affected areas–some question whether the government’s decision to vocally condemn the group, and thus give them a reason to target Panama, was a wise one. Juan Carlos Hidalgo, an analyst for the Cato Institute, described the move to the Pan-American Post as “senseless” given the lack of a direct threat and no army to provide to the coalition.

Others disagree. In the same article, political analyst Renato Pereira notes that the Islamic State’s ideology necessarily includes the conquest of Panama, as “they have declared war on the world to impose their caliphate.” Panama controls the only canal connecting the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans, a coveted prize for a group like the Islamic State. “Panama also has a Cardinal designated by the Pope, and the war against ISIS is a religious war,” Pereira addd. “All Western countries must pronounce themselves against [ISIS].”

While focusing its efforts more prominently against nations with higher Muslim populations in the West, such as France or Australia, as well as the United States, the Islamic State has released videos in Spanish and engaged in recruitment in Latin America. In December, a Chilean Muslim convert was arrested for using the telephone application Whatsapp to recruit slave brides for the group. Another Chilean Islamic State member, Bastián Vázquez, is a prominent spokesman on the terrorist group’s English language outfit, Al Hayat Media. (Breitbart)

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Panama: Gossip trumped security in ex-president's wiretap targets

Panama NewsBy Tim Johnson - When the United States rejected former Panamanian President Ricardo Martinelli’s request for spying equipment to eavesdrop, US diplomats feared, on his political enemies, the former supermarket baron turned to another source: Israel.

Now scores of Panama’s political and social elite are learning that the eavesdropping program that former President Martinelli’s security team set in place sprawled into the most private aspects of their lives – including their bedrooms. Rather than national security, what appears to have driven the wiretapping was a surfeit of the seven deadly sins, particularly greed, pride, lust, and envy.

Nearly every day, targets of the wiretapping march to the prosecutors’ office to see what their dossiers contain, often emerging in distress. Martinelli, who left office in July, is facing a rising tide of outrage not only over the wiretapping, but also over reports of vast corruption. His personal secretary has left the country. The eavesdropping equipment has vanished.

“Martinelli was obsessed with knowing what everybody was gossiping or saying about him,” says Álvaro Alemán Healy, the Cabinet chief for the current president, Juan Carlos Varela. “He used to brag that he had a file or dossier on everybody who is important here in Panama.”

Martinelli’s request for US assistance in setting up such a program – and the US rejection – has been known for years; it was detailed in one of the tens of thousands of State Department cables made public by WikiLeaks.

But new details of what happened after that rejection are just now emerging, and Panama is shocked.

A few days ago, prosecutors summoned legislator José Luis Varela, the current president’s brother, to review a partial dossier of emails and transcriptions of conversations that government snoops had culled from him and his family. Among them was an email his wife had sent to one of his grown sons.

“It said things like, ‘You never finished university, you’re sleeping too much, and you don’t have a goal in life,’” Varela recalled.

Varied targets

Wiretapping scandals are not new in Latin America, even under democratically elected governments. Colombia was rocked by a tapping scandal in 2008 that eventually led to the dissolution of its domestic investigative agency. Around the same period, reports of wiretapping under Peru’s then-president, Alberto Fujimori, were partly responsible for his eventual jailing.

Mr. Alemán says the government believes Martinelli’s security team kept active wiretaps on “between 150 to 175 people,” among them the Roman Catholic archbishop of Panama, opposition political leaders, rival business tycoons, supreme court judges, US Embassy personnel, his own Cabinet members, and even the woman identified publicly as his mistress.

Some of the targets say they long suspected that Martinelli’s security team spied on them, but they voice abhorrence at new details of the surveillance that have emerged in recent weeks.

“What shames me about this is how they used this information to destroy families, harm marriages, obtain business, hurt rival business, and even affect diplomatic relations,” says Miguel Antonio Bernal, a law professor and human rights activist who has filed a criminal complaint against Martinelli over the wiretapping.

When Martinelli first approached US diplomats about helping him with wiretapping, he asked them to expand a US program aimed at suspected drug traffickers, known as Matador, according to multiple secret US diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks in late 2010. When US diplomats noted that US and Panamanian law forbade such wiretapping, Martinelli turned to Israel, purchasing a $14 million package from MLM Protection Ltd., which offers “cutting edge, customized security solutions.”

Two of Martinelli’s former top security chiefs, Alejandro Garuz and Gustavo Pérez, were detained earlier this month in the wiretapping scandal, while two other security technicians are fugitives. An employee of the National Security Council has cooperated with prosecutors and is now under protection, apparently overseas.

“Former President Martinelli has no relation to these supposed events,” a spokesman, Luis Eduardo Camacho, said in a brief telephone interview.

Once Martinelli left office, Alemán says, “the (wiretapping) equipment disappeared. It’s not here. We don’t know if it’s been taken out of Panama.”

Sophisticated technology

The Israeli equipment offered sophisticated capabilities to the Panamanian snoopers, allowing not only the monitoring of cell and fixed-line telephone calls and emails but also Whatsapp and Blackberry texts. Moreover, the techs could burrow into hard drives and extract data and video, and remotely activate functions. They could also detect signals of nearby cellphones to determine who might be meeting.

“They can turn on the video (function) of your cellphone when it is resting on a table, and can turn on the microphone to hear who you are meeting with,” Mr. Bernal says.

Among the victims angriest about the surveillance is Zulay Rodríguez, a lawyer and legislator from the leftist Democratic Revolutionary Party.

“They stole a video of my husband and me – intimate,” Ms. Rodríguez said. “They use a technology that lets them take intimate scenes inside your bedroom.”

Unlike many of those affected by the domestic spying, Rodríguez found out about the video not from the boxes of files and printouts and hard drives at the prosecutors’ office, but from officials close to Martinelli long before he left office.

“They called me to threaten and say they had the video,” Rodríguez says.

Rodríguez believed them, because cellphone conversations that she’d had with her husband while they were in a period of difficulties had been tapped and uploaded to YouTube earlier in the Martinelli administration to embarrass her.

Rodríguez says prosecutors told her they have only a fraction – 20 percent – of the material captured by the National Security Council spies. Most of it was carted away when Martinelli’s handpicked candidate lost the presidential election in an upset last year, but the team overlooked a hard drive.

When Rodríguez went into the prosecutors’ office to peruse the dossier gathered on her earlier this month, she found a stack of material.

“They had transcripts of conversations I had with my family, my father, with party leaders, with activists,” she says.

Rodríguez has joined Bernal and many others in demanding that the former National Security Council members and Martinelli face criminal trial.

Taking precautions

Panama, a nation of less than 4 million, has a small ruling elite, and many power brokers socialized with Martinelli even as they learned of his propensity to regale them with outrageous details of others’ personal lives, relishing the most intimate “information.”

Party leaders and legislators took action to protect sensitive discussions.

“When politicians would meet, it was almost like a ritual. They would leave their cellphones outside the room,” says Guido A. Rodríguez, a former editor of the Panama America newspaper who is now a prosecutor overseeing the auditing of public accounts.

“There was almost a collective paranoia,” he added.

Even the most innocuous incident could unleash the talents of the spy team.

One politician recalled that he’d been at a social event with Martinelli and his mistress. When he raised his phone to snap a photo, the two raised their middle fingers at the camera.

“I sent (the photo) to him. He told me his people erased it from my phone,” said the politician, who asked not to be publicly linked to the incident. (Christian Science Monitor)

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Hurtado sent back to Colombia

Panama NewsShe will face charges related to illegal surveillance she allegedly ordered while head of the Colombian Security Department. (more)
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Tomb Of Famous Panamanian Historical Figure Abandonded

Panama NewsThe tomb containing the mortal remains of one of the most notorious figures in Panama's breakaway from Colombia, Dr. Juan B. Amador G., is abandoned in the municipal cemetery of Santiago. (more)

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Discussions To Change Panama's Constitution Coming Next Year

Panama NewsThe president of Panama, Juan Carlos Varela, said on Sunday November 2, consultations to discuss possible changes to Panama's Constitution will begin on July 1, 2015. (more)

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Mass Exodus From Panama City For Independence Day Celebrations

Panama NewsBy 10:00 am on Saturday morning more than 13,000 cars had already departed Panama City, headed towards the interior of the country, to take advantage of the time off for the upcoming National Holidays. (more)

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Manuel Noriega case against Call of Duty is dismissed

Panama NewsA judge has dismissed a legal action brought by Manuel Noriega, the former dictator of Panama, against the publisher of the Call of Duty video games.

The ex-military ruler had tried to sue Activision after a character based on him featured in the title Black Ops II.

Noriega had sought damages.

But the judge at Los Angeles Superior Court ruled that the inclusion of the character was protected under free speech laws.

"This was an absurd lawsuit from the very beginning and we're gratified that in the end, a notorious criminal didn't win," said Rudy Giuliani, the former mayor of New York, who had defended Activision in the case.

"This is not just a win for the makers of Call of Duty, but is a victory for works of art across the entertainment and publishing industries throughout the world."

Noriega is currently serving a jail sentence in Panama for crimes committed during his time in power, including the murder of critics.

Manuel Noriega objected to the use of his image in fictional sequences In the video game, the character based on him initially helps the CIA capture a Nicaraguan terrorist, but later turns on the Americans and is hunted himself in fictional scenes.

In reality, Noriega did work as a CIA informant before the agency broke ties with him. After the US became concerned about his violent rule, President George Bush ordered the invasion of Panama in 1989, which resulted in his capture.

Call of Duty games have featured other real-life characters including Fidel Castro, ex-CIA director David Petraeus and President John F Kennedy, among others.

Activision had warned that had the legal action been permitted to proceed, it could have encouraged other political figures to object to the use of their appearance in films, television programmes and books in addition to video games.

"Today's ruling is a victory for... global audiences who enjoy historical fiction across all works of art," said Bobby Kotick, chief executive of Activision's parent company, Activision Blizzard.

Editor's Comment: I object because the video game depicts Noriega on the field of combat, holding a weapon. In fact he was nothing more than a punk-assed bitch, who ran away while allowing his troops and civilians to die for him. Then he tried to hide behind the Catholic church once he was cornered. The video game assigns too much courage to him. But bad-guy characters who curl up in a ball in the fetal position, wet their pants, and cry for their mommies don't sell very well. Whatever. Case dismissed...

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