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Tuesday, August 22 2017 @ 06:29 PM EDT

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Varela Appoints Vice President-Elect Saint Malo As Foreign Minister

Panama NewsOn Sunday, the president-elect Juan Carlos Varela said he would appoint the Vice President-elect Isabel Saint Malo as the Minister of Foreign Affairs.

Earlier Varela said he would appoint Milton Henriquez as the Government Minister and Dulcidio De La Guardia as the Minister of Economy and Finance.

Varela previously announced Panama would restore relations with Venezuela, and Saint Malo said Panama can play a role of neutrality in the dialog.

According to Saint Malo, Panama will serve as a bridge to advance the dialog between the parties (in Venezuela) without meddling in their internal affairs, always within the framework of respect for human rights, as well as international and domestic law.

Saint Malo said there is no single recipe.

Since the government of Martin Torrijos, it has been the practice for the Vice President to also serve as the Foreign Minister. Under Torrijos Vice President Samuel Lewis Navarro served as the Foreign Minister, and Vice President Juan Carlos Varela served as the Chancellor until the alliance with the CD broke down. (TVN)

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President-Elect Varela Vows To Restore Trade and Diplomatic Relations With Venezuela

Panama NewsThe President-elect of Panama, Juan Carlos Varela, said once he takes office he will restore diplomatic and trade relations with Venezuela .  

"I have a good relationship with President Maduro, not from now but from when I was the Chancellor, like him."

Varela said in the coming days he will send a designated person to Caracas, as a mechanism to restore relations and to not allow the break in relations to continue to affect Panamanian businessmen.  

He said he invited the president of Venezuela to the inauguration on July 1, because they have a good relationship.  

On 5 March, Venezuela broke "political and diplomatic relations" with the government of Panama and "froze" commercial ties, after Panama proposed a meeting in the Organization of American States (OAS) to discuss the subject of protests affecting Venezuela. (Panama America)

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Panama Court Authorizes Sale of Sugar Seized From North Korean Weapons Smuggling Vessel

Panama NewsThe Third Criminal Court of Colon authorized the sale of 200 million pounds of sugar seized the July 10, 2013 from the North Korean ship Chong Chon Gang, found to be smuggling a cargo of arms and ammunition from Cuba to North Korea.

A judicial source confirmed the court authorized the sale of sugar, after a request by the Attorney General Ana Belfon.

Belfon requested the court authorize the auction of the seized sugar, which is being stored in a warehouse at the Institute of Agricultural Marketing in Penonomé, and that the money from the sale be deposited in a bank account pending resolution of the legal process.

Julio Berrio, the lawyer representing the seafarers in this case, said the money from the auction of sugar should be turned over to the North Korean authorities.

According to Berrio, this cargo had been declared by the ship's crew, so according to the law it is owned by North Korea.

Three of the 32 North Korean sailors who were arrested in Panama remain behind bars under orders of the Public Ministry, charged with transporting an undeclared cargo of weapons of war.

Last March, the prosecutor released 29 sailors and the vessel. (Prensa)

Editor's Comment: This is typical in Panama when there's some sort of valuable items seized as part of a criminal investigation. They hold the items for a period of time, then they finally get around to auctioning it off and putting the money in a bank account. The Panamanian justice system is not very good at this process. They tend to hold things like cars for example, for a very long time. The vehicles just sit in the sun and rot, many times with windows blown out or what have you. Just go to the headquarters of the DIJ in Ancon and you will see rows of cars just sitting there, all of them "evidence" in one case or another. So, anyone want to buy a few hundred tons of Cuban sugar that's been sitting in a warehouse for almost a year? Yum... Bacardi should buy the whole load, and use it to make a Special "Cuba Libre" Rum Edition - complete with the image of Kim Chong Un on the bottle. Never miss the opportunity to make a buck.

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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.

Camacho said the "president has his face clean."

With regards to the case of the extortion of Impregilo, Camacho said at the time they asked the former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi to build a pediatric hospital in Veraguas, because "Lavítola thought he could win another contract."

This Wednesday the court in Naples, Italy there is a hearing to determine if the crime was committed, and prosecutors asked for an immediate trial. (Estrella)

Editor's Comment: Lavitola was the middleman, who acted as the go-between for Martinelli and Berlusconi. The game was to promise the contract to an Italian company, then to artificially jack up the price. All players in this game knew exactly what was going on - the Italians, the company, the middleman, and the Panamanians. The difference in the inflated price was to be kicked back to the Panamanian politicians, in return for giving the Italians the direct contracts.

This whole thing fell apart when Lavitola tried to blackmail Silvio Berlusconi - over the under aged girls who were at one of his parties. That was the first case to hit the press back in 2011. And because of this, all of the other stuff Lavitola was in the process of setting up with the Panamanians fell apart, mostly before any bribes were ever actually paid.

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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).

"How many more have to be killed in Venezuela before the OAS puts their big boy pants on?" Martinelli said in relation to the decision taken by the regional body, to not yield to a petition filed by the opposition in Venezuela, last Friday.

The president attended the Concert for Peace, dedicated by the youths of his party to Venezuela, and he once again called upon the Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro to release all detained opposition leaders, such as Leopoldo Lopez.

The president repeated there is interference in Panama from the South American country. (Estrella)

Editor's Comment: I agree wholeheartedly with Martinelli on this one. Maduro is a dirtbag. His supporters are murdering the opposition. The people in Venezuela - who are fighting for their freedom - need all of the outside support they can get. The OAS is another one of those worthless UN-like organizations that does nothing when it really matters. It's charter was written and rewritten by decades of tin-horn third world dictators, to make sure that the OAS doesn't actually have any power to throw them out of power, when they really need to be thrown out of power. If the people of Venezuela are ever going to throw off the yoke that was placed around their necks by Hugo Chavez, then they are going to have to do it themselves. Some nations have had the balls to stand by their side - the US, Panama, Canada - but for the most part additional words of support from the rest of Latin America has been lacking.

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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.

"If you (Nicolás Maduro) want dialog in Venezuela, then release Leopoldo López and do not remove the immunity from Maria Corina Machado," said Martinelli.

During the interview Martinelli was asked about allegations the Venezuelan government is financing the political campaign of the presidential candidate Juan Carlos Navarro of the opposition Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD). Martinelli said he has "intelligence information verifying the PRD receives money from the government of Nicolás Maduro."

About the debt owed by Venezuelan businessmen, Ricardo Martinelli said "the debt is owed by Venezuelan businessmen and government officials to Panamanians, and I'm sure this debt will be paid, and of the traps that are being set by people in Venezuela."

The Panamanian president used the interview to refer to Nicolás Maduro as "a bad copy of the late President Hugo Chavez." He said he was not a supporter of the late President Chavez, but he also said this would not have happened if Chavez were alive. "He had a sixth sense to negotiate," said Martinelli.

The government of Venezuela broke diplomatic relations with Panama on March 5, while saying Panama had assumed an "interventionist" attitude in the internal affairs of Venezuela. (Estrella)

Editor's Comment: So far 33 people have died during weeks of violent protests in Venezuela. The strife there has not stopped or died down. The protests there are continuing to turn more and more violent. Mostly anti-Maduro protesters march, then they are met with gunfire from pro-government supporters. Venezuela is split, and it's almost ready to melt down into a civil war. Other nations throughout Latin America and the world are finally starting to take notice, and the calls for investigations and intervention are increasing. Hugo Chavez is dead, and his "revolution" is slowly dying with him. Thank God. He basically used leftist rhetoric in order to seize and maintain control of the country, and to spread his "revolution" to Nicaragua, Bolivia, and Ecuado - so he could traffic cocaine through Mexico and Cuba.

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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.

According to President Ricardo Martinelli, the Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro is supporting the political campaign of Juan Carlos Navarro, the presidential candidate of the Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD).

Martinelli said "I ask President Maduro to keep his hands out of the electoral process in Panama, because it's a party for Panamanians only."

According to a press release issued by the Ministry of Communication of the Presidency of the Republic, the Panamanian president said Maduro has said he hopes the next Panamanian government will be run by someone who follows the doctrine of Omar Torrijos, and the only candidate in the race with those leanings is Juan Carlos Navarro. He said the evidence will be presented in due course.

Caracas broke diplomatic relations with Panama last March 5, saying Panama was "meddling" in the internal affairs of Venezuela.

Panama had requested before the Organization of American States (OAS) for there to be a meeting of foreign ministers of the OAS member nations to discuss the political, social and economic crisis that is taking place in the South American nation. (Estrella)

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