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Tuesday, July 29 2014 @ 08:56 PM EDT

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Panama orders release of crew of N. Korean ship

Panama NewsPANAMA CITY (AP) — Panama's judicial authorities have ordered the release of 32 of 35 crew members of a North Korean ship detained last July for carrying hidden arms from Cuba and they were working Thursday on paperwork needed to leave.

Prosecutor Nahaniel Murgas said the captain and two other crew members will remain to face arms trafficking charges.

He said a search of the ship turned up documents that showed "that the ship's captain, first officer and political officer had been given instructions about what to do if the illegal shipment was detected. There were certain recommendations."

"Together with that were the statements by the rest of the crew, who said they were employees on the vessel, but not responsible" for the shipment, he said. "It was based on that the decided to free the other 32."

The Chong Chon Gang was carrying Cuban fighter jets and missiles. The owners agreed to pay a $670,000 fine this month to release the ship.

The ship was headed from Cuba to North Korea when it was stopped in the canal on July 15 based on intelligence that it may have been carrying drugs.

The Cuban military equipment was found beneath sacks of sugar. Panama has not released the 10,000 tons of sugar or the arms.

After the seizure, Cuba said the cargo included "obsolete defensive weapons" including two MiG-21 fighter jets and 15 motors, nine missiles in parts, and two anti-aircraft systems that were being shipped to North Korea "to be repaired and returned."

A preliminary report by U.N. experts determined that the seized ship violated U.N. sanctions against North Korea.

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Venezuela sees more airlines suspend ticket sales, demand payment

Panama NewsBy Mery Mogollon and Chris Kraul CARACAS, Venezuela — Three more international airlines on Friday joined the list of companies that have suspended ticket sales in Venezuela, complaining that the government owes them billions of dollars.

U.S.-based American Airlines and United Airlines and Panama’s Copa Airlines said they were halting ticket sales in Venezuela in lieu of the government’s failure to pay arrears that as of last month totaled $2.6 billion. Under Venezuela’s complicated foreign exchange rules, the government acts as intermediary in foreign sales of goods and services transacted in the country.

Airlines that previously announced a suspension in business operations included Air Canada, Tame of Ecuador and TAP Portugal. The $2.6 billion figure for the accumulated arrears came in a statement issued Dec. 12 by the International Air Transport Assn., an airline trade group.

“We can’t let this financial hole deepen on this route because of the lack of payment transfers,” Tame General Manager Fernando Guerrero said during a press conference in Quito, Ecuador, on Wednesday. He said Tame had not been paid for Venezuelan ticket sales since March.

As of Friday, no flights in or out of Venezuela had been canceled by foreign carriers, but the airlines had halted ticket transactions in bolivars, the local currency. Sales of tickets purchased with dollars are still being made, airline officials said.

Venezuela finds itself in a tightening cash shortage partly because of falling oil revenues resulting from declining productivity at oil fields and refineries, which supply more than 90% of government revenue and 70% of export sales.

An increasing percentage of oil output now goes directly to China to repay cash advances that over the years have exceeded $42 billion. Free or discounted oil that Venezuela ships to Cuba and several Caribbean nations generates less than market rate.

Of Venezuela’s estimated 2.3 million barrels of average daily oil output, about 330,000 barrels per day are thought to go to China to pay cash advances. Another 260,000 barrels per day are sent to Cuba and other neighbors at cut-rate prices, while 760,000 barrels per day are refined to meet local demand for fuel sold at a fraction of what it costs to process it.

The country’s dollar shortage is also a result of accelerating capital flight, analysts say, and the fact that sellers of dollars on the black market can receive 10 times or more the official 6.3 bolivars-per-dollar rate.

Last week, President Nicolas Maduro said in a speech to the National Assembly that the government was not planning to devalue the currency.

Domestic companies also claim the government is a deadbeat. Empresas Polar, Venezuela’s largest food products manufacturer, said it is owed $463 million destined for foreign suppliers but which the government has refused to transfer. In a statement this week, Polar said some suppliers have halted deliveries until they are paid.

Another sign of the government’s liquidity crunch can be seen in the scarcities of items at supermarkets in Caracas, the capital, where shelves have been emptied of basic foods and household items, including cooking oil, rice, poultry and toilet paper. (Los Angles Times)

Editor's Comment: Ah, communism. Central planning. Government run economies. Hasn't history shown us how well these sorts of things have always worked? (Err, no.) The fact of the matter is no government has ever been able to run anything better than private business in an open market with free competition. That goes for Venezuela's oil fields, public schools in the US, or healthcare. Governments are great at spending money, really bad at making it...

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Copa suspends flights to Venezuela

Panama NewsAmerican Airlines, United Airlines, and Panama's Copa Airlines have all temporarily suspended the sale of tickets to Venezuela.

The measure comes as the result of a multi million-dollar debt held by the Venezuelan government with these airlines, and recent changes made on the value of the Venezuelan currency by foreign exchange authorities.

There was no response to this issue from the offices of Copa Airlines in Panama City.

However, this week at a Copa press conference, where company executives highlighted their achievements in 2013 and challenges for 2014, the President of Copa Pedro Heilbron indicated they were having problems with the collection of debt from Venezuela.

According to Costa Rica's La Nación, the government of Venezuela owes the airlines more than $3.3 billion dollars.

Added to this, the recent changes made ​​by the Government of Venezuela to the banking system, eliminating the exchange rate of 6.30 Bolívares per dollar for travelers, was also one of the reasons the international airlines and Panama's Copa decided to suspend service. (Estrella)

Editor's Comment: The problem comes from Venezuela not allowing the money for ticket sales made inside of the country to be transferred out. So the flights are not being cancelled, but you cannot buy a ticket inside of Venezuela. If you have a credit card (for example) you could buy a ticket online, pay for it with your credit card in dollars, and fly. So far a total of six airlines have all cancelled ticket sales in Venezuela.

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Panama: North Korea ship owners will pay fine

Panama NewsPANAMA CITY — The owners of a North Korean ship seized by Panama for carrying Cuban fighter jets and missiles are paying a $670,000 fine to recover the vessel.

Panama’s foreign minister, Fernando Nunez, said Thursday that North Korea has agreed to pay the sum.

The nation’s canal authority had initially set a $1 million fine because the crew didn’t declare that it was transporting weapons. The country later reduced the fine.

The ship was headed from Cuba to North Korea when it was seized in June by Panamanian authorities, who suspected it was carrying drugs. Two Cuban fighter jets in perfect condition were discovered inside the vessel.

Panama’s prosecutors said crew members are still in custody but they will soon decide whether they will be freed or held for trial. (AP)

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USA Gives Panama $7.8 Million To Strengthen Security

Panama NewsThe United States will provide $7.8 million dollars in security assistance to Panama through its Central America Regional Security Initiative (CARSI) program. The money will be used for counterterrorism training, counter drug efforts, to enhance public safety, reduce gang crime, as well as for the modernization and professionalization of the police force.

This was announced during a ceremony to sign Amendment No. 18 to the CARSI letter of understanding, the US Ambassador to Panama Jonathan Farrar and Panama's Foreign Minister Fernando Nunez Fabrega, held yesterday in the Bolivar Palace.

Farrar said the assistance offered is part of the "regional security strategy" of his government and that the agreed amount is in addition to the $30 million awarded last year as part of the "strategy of global cooperation," which includes the "implementation of the bilateral trade promotion agreement and the eradication of child labor."

The U.S. assistance program also includes institutional strengthening of the justice system .

The Foreign Minister Núńez Fábrega stressed the importance of this support in the fight against transnational crime through the "training of the members of the National Police to manage their tactical teams, and sensitive investigation units" against trafficking drugs, among other areas of action.

Nunez Fabrega referred to other conflicts of an international character, including that relating to the retention by Ecuador of the Panamanian-flagged ship Doria, in October 2013.

The return of the ship to Panama has been delayed, because the Ecuadorian prosecutor Galo Chiriboga is investigating the case after having discovered 799 kilos of drugs on the Panamanian vessel. In turn, the for President of the Central Bank of Ecuador, Pedro Delgado, is being investigated for alleged acts of corruption. Fabrega said "he has not had time" to consider the Panamanian request for the ship to be returned. The process began in April last year. (Prensa)

Editor's Comment: Good. $7.8 million isn't a whole lot of money but the United States is certainly getting a good return on its investment with regards to the anti drug efforts here. Panama seizes about 50 tons of cocaine per year. The US government should place strong emphasis on corruption in the judicial system. There is no judicial security in Panama. None. It's like a bridge that's built out of mystical, magical clouds. Sometimes you can skip right over it and get whatever you want. Sometimes it looks like it's there and it's real, but when you try to use the system to right some wrong, it melts away and evaporates like it was never there. In Panama big money can "buy justice" at any time. This issue is particularly important to the members of the English speaking community of expatriates living in Panama, as well as those who invest in Panama, own property, or conduct any other sort of business here. I've literally seen people get away with murder, simply because they have money and political connections. The fact that you're a "gringo" is not a positive, but rather a negative. There is no judicial security in Panama - the law is selectively enforced. I'm going to say that a thousand times, until people understand that it's real. And, it's a huge and massive problem, especially for foreigners.

Just this week I received no less than three new cases - one involving the theft of more than $500,000 from an investor. They simply take the money, then use it to pay bribes to make sure they are never prosecuted. Pretty cool gig, eh? The US Ambassador should be screaming this from the rooftops, but he's not. Don't expect any help at all from the US Embassy. Well, they might give you a cup of coffee while they listen to your sob story, but that's about it. They will tell you to "hire a lawyer".

I guess it's not very diplomatic to complain about judicial corruption in the press. The US State Department has bigger fish to fry, I guess. YOU are not their priority.

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Panama demolishes residence of former dictator Manuel Noriega

Panama NewsPanama City (AP) A bulldozer is demolishing a mansion once owned by former dictator Manuel Noriega, after the Panamanian government found no buyers for it.

Panamanian President Ricardo Martinelli said Thursday the rambling, weed-choked residence had become a breeding ground for mosquitoes, rats and other pests.

The estate valued at $2.5 million is in Panama City's posh San Francisco district, but a yearslong effort to sell it received no bids.

Previously, Martinelli proposed using the site as a "Memory Park" to remind Panamanians of the damage Noriega did to Panama.

Noriega was toppled by a 1989 U.S. invasion and served 17 years in the U.S. for drug trafficking.

The 79-year-old was later convicted in France of money laundering and returned to Panama to serve a 60-year sentence on charges including murder.

Editor's Comment: So what? The building itself was worthless. The land it sits on is worth a lot of money, because it's right on Calle 50. The Panamanian government didn't sell it, because they didn't want to. They had offers, but it's going to take a few more years before that particular patch of ground is no longer "Noriega's." No one was willing to pay a premium price any other similar parcel in the same area would have fetched, just because it's been smeared with the ghosts of Pineapple Face.

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Deputy Government Minister Gustavo Pérez Has Resigned

Panama NewsThe former director of the National Police, who is currently the Deputy Minister of Government, Gustavo Perez, resigned from his position on Friday in an irrevocable manner.

The information was confirmed by Perez to Telemetro, who said his resignation was merely personal and he denied there was any sort of conflict in the office or within the Ministry, nor does he have an political aspirations.

He said he would work through 31 December 2013, and that as of 1 January 2014 his position would be open, and he has no idea who would replace him.

Perez presented his resignation to the President.

It was learned that on Thursday night there was a party with a select group of people close to Perez where he made the announcement.

Perez was the first director of the National Police in the Martinelli administration.

He was removed from office in March 2012 over a spat with the Public Security Minister Jose Raul Mulino regarding the establishment of an independent tribunal to try members of the security forces who have been charged with crimes.

Pérez was later appointed as the Deputy Minister of Government. (Telemetro)

Editor's Comment: Gustavo Pérez is one of those very smart and very ambitious guys who will probably remain on the political radar in one way or another for the rest of his life. As a young military officer he was involved in the kidnapping of American civilians during Operation Just Cause, following orders from Manuel Antonio Noriega, which resulted in his dishonorable discharge after the invasion was over and the dust settled. And for some unknown reason Ricardo Martinelli has stuck by him through every controversy - so one has to assume that Perez has some sort of really sticky dirt on Martinelli (or something). But whatever - he resigned. Let's see where he resurfaces, and when.

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A Burnt Body Was Found In Gorgona

Panama NewsOn Tuesday, December 24, a burnt body was found behind the push button Brisas de Amor in Gorgona, Chame. The authorities and the National Police arrived at the scene and started the investigations to determine who this person is.

According to reports, the person was found in the middle of the bushes and some people were burning trash at the place without noticing the body was there. Probably this caused the burns on the body. (Estrella)

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A Child Died After He Was Hit By A Bus In Arraijan

Panama NewsOn Christmas Eve, a child died after he was hit by a bus in Arraijan, an event that has caused terrible grief among his relatives.

The 3-year-old child was with his mother, but surprisingly, he let go of her hand and ran towards the road where he was hit by a bus from Arraijan, according to witnesses.

However, other sources say the child was playing with another kid at the bus stop, when the bus ran over him.

The accident took place at Vista Bella in Arraijan. (TVN)

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The Government Benefits Mireya Moscoso

Panama NewsThe former president Mireya Moscoso, who has not hesitated in supporting the administration of Ricardo Martinelli, obtained a concession to use the bottom of the ocean and the beach next to her summer mansion in Punta Mala, Los Santos.

The Maritime Authority of Panama approved the concession of 1,760.91 square meters, in exchange of an average canon of $8 thousand per year. The benefit is in favor of Linewest International Inc., chaired by Moscoso.

This Company is a member of the directive board of Rio Sereno Foundation, society that received the land 12092, where the mansion in Punta Mala is located.

La Prensa tried to contact Moscoso to know about the transactions but she didn’t reply. (Prensa)

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