Sep 30, 2015

Yes, Virginia...There are Bugs in Panama .

I have no idea what kind of arachnid this is.  Didn't get close enough to investigate.

3-inch beetle of some sort...

Mother scorpion and babies, courtesy of Larry Wilkinson, Boquete expat
Guess who's come for dinner...

Large Huntsman spider on my curtain valence
Bee hive that formed in an hour in front of the house

Received the most surprising email today from someone who lives in Volcan and happened upon this blog.  Apparently she was researching insects in Panama, having been bitten by an ant that she said  "hurt like a wasp".  She had moved on to reading about spiders and apparently my post about wandering spiders surfaced somewhere.   She seemed truly upset and told me she was "FREAKING OUT!"  She wanted me to reassure her that wandering spiders and such didn't live in Volcan where she was, and that they weren't all that common in Panama.  She really needed me to tell her this because she was in the habit of walking barefoot in her back yard and she didn't want to know otherwise. 

It never ceases to amaze me the number of people who pick up and just move down here without doing due diligence.  They have no knowledge of the language, no understanding of hispanic culture in general and Panama in particular, don't understand the lay of the land, and many have never visited Central or South America prior to arriving.  Countless other bloggers have reported similar and even stranger stories, so I don't intend to replay the same broken record.  The usual advice doesn't seem to be that effective anyway.  

What I am going to say, however, is that if you are afraid of spiders, you don't belong in Panama.  If you are afraid of insects in general you don't belong in Panama.  Panama is a tropical country with bugs and snakes and Africanized bees and lots of ugly pesky rodents. If you want to come here you need to get over it.  

Last year I killed 11 scorpions in my house that were over 6 inches in length.  I recently found the above tarantula crawling up my front door screen.  Once, I stepped out of the shower and threw on my bathrobe while yet another tarantula crawled over my foot. Apparently it had been sleeping somewhere inside the robe and fell to the floor when I put on the robe.   This year, I was invaded by "housecleaning ants" that somehow came in through the electrical switch in one of the bedrooms. Not more than a few weeks ago, after getting up from the toilet,  I felt something scratchy in my pant leg.  Down went the pants in a flash, and  I found a 2-inch brown locust trying desperately to escape.  He happened to hop into the wrong place at the wrong time!  There are inch-long black ants that come in the house at night and crunch loudly if stepped on.   I get possums in the garage or on my roof top.   I shoo'ed a baby bushmaster out from my living room three months ago.  I've had about 5 episodes of nesting black wasps that have  an affection for the posts on my back terrace, and I've experienced one instance of Africanized bees that took to my lemon tree. 

It's not that I live in the sticks.  I don't.  I'm in a Panamanian residential neighborhood. Unlike many of my neighbors, I'm fortunate enough to have screens on all windows and doors.  But it's amazing how little space a 6-inch scorpion needs to get inside a house when seeking shade and water.  

A friend of mine in an upscale planned community in Caldera was reading in bed a couple of months ago,  and felt something tickle her elbow.  She looked down and found a scorpion claw gently stroking her.  Another time this same friend opened her sewing basket to get some thread and saw a Fer de Lance curled up in the corner of the box. And one of my Panamanian neighbors recently beheaded a poisonous viper that was in his dining room. I could go on and on about such incidences.  Fortunately they haven't been constant nor continual.  They've happened over a course of 9 years residency here. Typically, they occur during the dry season.

But a person has to be comfortable with nature.  One has to be able to live and let live, and know to use reasonable caution when out in the yard  or if up in the house in the middle of the night. If it  isn't a part of your personality to wear shoes and marvel at the wonders of the insect world,  then you probably have no business being here.  I'm truly sorry, but if the mere mention of a poisonous creepy crawlie on a remote blog is going to "freak you out",  then you will be in a constant state of stress living  in Panama and perhaps should consider other venues.

A Boquete Embassy Outreach Experience

Approximately a month ago we received notice via the expat forums that the US Embassy would hold an outreach effort at the Boquete library today, Sept. 29th.  The representatives planned to be there from 10 am until 3 pm.  I needed to have a one-page document notarized so  I was pleased to hear this and cancelled other activities for the day in order to take care of business.  Thinking there might be a small crowd, I got up early and headed into town to be at the library a half hour before the scheduled start of services.

When I arrived, the line was much longer than anticipated and extended from the 3rd floor meeting room down three flights of stairs and almost out the front door.  I took my place in line, and upon finally reaching the 3rd floor room entrance,  was assigned the equivalent of what should have been number 140. Truth be told, the embassy staff ran out of laminated numbers and gave up assigning them.   Instead I filled in the blank numbered 39 on the 3rd set of  2-pg sign up sheets.

What I found even more surprising than the number of people availing themselves of embassy outreach services, was the fact that I recognized only 2 people in the entire crowd after living here for almost 9 years.  It seemed as though few people knew each other, actually.  Unlike earlier times when any  Boquete expat "event" included lots of gossip and catching up with neighbors, today's socializing  was about new people getting to know others and sharing war stories regarding relocation.  Boquete is just exploding with immigrants, and the US embassy function today was only a small slice of the ever-expanding pie.  People are arriving having never been to Panama before, but with Pensioner Visas in hand while staying in hostals and hotels.

Truly amazing.  The embassy staff were very helpful, friendly, and expedient despite the crowd.  I finally managed to get my document notarized   (at a cost of $50 per page)  at around 3 pm.  Because of the staff's willingness to communicate,  I was able to leave intermittently and return without having to sit the entire time and wait for my name to be called.  I have to hand it to them.  It will be no surprise to me if Boquete doesn't soon see some type of part-time embassy outpost opening in town.  This little mountain hamlet is changing by the minute.

Aug 15, 2015

My Favorite Panama Photos

I'm currently in the states on a short visit.  As usual, I've received a lot of questions about Panama and how I came to the decision to retire there.  Decided it might be time to post a few of my favorite snapshots of Panama.  I think these say a lot. 

Taboga Island

Gulf of Chiriqui

Windward side of Gamez Island

Leeward side of Gamez Island

Caldera River

Pathway in a Chiriqui pueblo

Embera Village

Women and children in a Ngobe village in Chiriqui

Bridge of the Americas in Panama City

School boys at carnival time in Casco Viejo

Municipal building in Panama City

Panama Canal --Miraflores Locks

This is only a very small sampling of Panama's charms and attractions.  Some of the best photos are tucked away for safekeeping, and need to be retrieved for another post.  I will do so, but need to get back there first!  Stay tuned. 

Jul 31, 2015

Paradise or Paradox: Crime Wave in Boquete

Violent armed robberies have increased exponentially in Boquete,  and the customary strategical armor employed by tourism-related businesses to quell such information has finally cracked. Hopefully it will continue to do so.  The public needs to be prepared and pressure needs to be continually applied to rectify the problem. 

It's hard to get the exact details, because news agencies and the police do not routinely release this information.  Word of mouth in small towns tends to function fairly well, however, and I'm not ashamed to admit my following recount was obtained in this manner.  I haven't been able to verify the details, but no one is denying the events occurred.  

In the last two days there have been at least 5 robberies in this sleepy mountain town. Four of them involved use of firearms.  The least frightening incident involved a single woman whose home was broken into while she was sleeping.  The thieves came in through the bathroom window, and stole a 42 inch television, leaving out the front door.  She awoke to find her front door wide open and the TV gone.  Allegedly a downtown gas station was robbed the same night. 

Last night, four more armed robberies were reported via the grapevine. Three youths attacked a couple in Santa Lucia as they were returning home around 4:40 pm.  The woman was hit in the head and the couple was robbed at gun point of credit cards, money, and a white Lexus automobile.  (The nationality of the couple hasn't been disclosed, but the husband reportedly speaks perfect Spanish.)

Subsequently the Terpel gas station in Bajo Boquete was robbed.  Next,  a woman returning home with her children was robbed in Jaramillo Arriba.  Thieves put a bullet hole in her car and stole cash and other items.  (She and her husband own a restaurant in town.  The restaurant has previously been robbed, but this wasn't general knowledge before.)  

Later, there was an attempted home invasion in Palmira Abajo.  The Palmira Abajo residence, gated and equipped with surveillance cameras, was broken into, however the thieves couldn't get past an iron security door and were discovered on camera by domestic employees who called the police. Before the police arrived, however, the property owner, an elderly female with her own firearm, discharged the weapon into her yard and the robbers fled. (She is being hailed a hero by much of the expat community, and that in and of itself, is another concerning matter.)

Finally, whether related or not, a home invasion and robbery occured at 6 am the following morning (today) on the outskirts of David in a community known as La Garita de las Lomas.  Again a firearm was used and violence occurred.  

Compared to US or Canadian statistics five incidents may not seem like much.  However, for this small community it is huge and  cause for significant concern.  It signals the extension and reach-distance of criminal gangs,  and it highlights the inability of police agencies to do anything about them. 

It is a harbinger of problems to come and it marks the shift in status of this retirement haven. There is talk of vigilantism and illegal firearm acquisition.  The talk is sometimes quite frightening.  The property owner who fired into her yard wrote the following on a widely read expat forum, and received nothing but congratulatory comments:

"I was fortunate that I found out about the gun not firing until the third time I pulled the trigger.  I will fire it routinely now to make sure that I am really ready for the next time.  I am a little disappointed though that I did not get to kill a robber and perhaps a murderer. But  at least now I am really ready."

Along with the increased frustration Panamanians are expressing toward gang activities is an abiding concern about such expat enthusiasm for owning or acquiring guns, and for taking matters into one's own hands.  Some facebook comments shared with me read as follows:

  •  Que pena que el área se esté dañando con estos extranjeros irresponsables que al traer estas armas están es despertando un gigante. Si son habladurías o no, el.gobierno debe de investigar que nada bien le hace a el pueblo.
  • Así espero. No quiero que Boquete se vuelva la Abastecedora de Armas, legal o ilegalmente importadas, de esos crímenes y tráfico del cual desconocemos hasta hoy el origen y la razón.
  • El viejo y violento oeste.

  • What a shame that the area is being damaged by these irresponsible foreigners who, upon bringing in these arms are awakening a giant.  If it's just talk or not, the government should investigate for it's not doing anything good for the town.  
  • Such is my hope.  I don't want Boquete to become an arms warehouse, legally or illegally imported, [as a result of ] these crimes and traffic of which up until now we know nothing of their reason or origin.  
  • The old and violent West.

The times they are a  changin', and the attitude of Manifest Destiny is alive and well here in Boquete.   

Jul 27, 2015

Children's Choral Recital at the Library

This Sunday I attended the choral recital by the Niños Cantores de las Tierras Altas at the Boquete Library.  The group is newly formed and has only been practicing for about 6 months under the direction of Carmen Alvarado. They meet and practice each Saturday from 9 am to 12 noon.  

Some of the children are also instrumentalists,  and the young lady above has done extensive self-study in Japanese dance and provided a demonstration for the audience of primarily Panamanians and a few expats.  

It was an enjoyable hour at the library on a Sunday afternoon.  Hopefully there will be more events as the group grows in experience and number.    

Jul 19, 2015

The Other Side of the Coin

I realize it's been awhile since my last post and there are no excuses other than the heart hasn't been in it.   Life had been moving at an ordinary, uneventful pace until a few weeks ago when another home invasion was reported in the Brisas Boqueteñas area.   

This week the news was even more dramatic.   According to posts on Boquete Ning and elsewhere, it's disconcerting.   The community is still reeling. 
  • On July 11th a single man from the US, in his mid-sixties,  was beaten, stabbed, and robbed in his home at 3:00 am in Potrerillos.  Reports indicate one of the perpetrators had a gun and  pulled the trigger in the victim's face three times.  The gun was old and dirty, and didn't fire.  Four young males were involved.
  • On July 14th, Irene Haines, better known as the Tuesday market "book lady" died from a sudden illness in the hospital in David.  
  • On July 17th / 18th, during the night,  Lee Zeltzer of  Boquete Panama Guide, passed away in his home about 24 hrs after being released from the hospital for what he had blogged was "some kind of a bug".   
  • On July 18 at night, there was a home invasion into the residence of Joe and Betsy Potrebenko in River Ranch Farms near Gualaca.  Joe Petrobenko was shot and killed, and the thieves made away with a few old laptops, around  $50 cash, and an old pick up truck.  The victim's wife and mother-in-law survive him, but were tied up next to the bleeding man and forced to witness his slow death. 
Panama is appearing less and less the paradise it once seemed to be.  Despite my continued infatuation with the weather and more laid back  lifestyle, I'm finding it increasingly difficult to make regular upbeat postings as tales of robberies and home invasions become more frequent and generalized gang activity increases. The invasions aren't limited to wealthy expat homes and the motives are less about robbery than about the opportunity for youth and probable gang members to inflict violence and terror on incapacitated and older humans. Panama's liberal treatment of youth offenders doesn't seem to be helping address matters much.  

I have to say that were I to be retiring at this point instead of several years ago, I would think long and hard about proceeding to Panama.  Panama City has become much more violent and congested, and the provinces aren't as safe as they once were.   The cost of living has skyrocketed, and it's no longer easy to survive on even a US pension and social security.  Medical care isn't readily affordable any more,---if you are hospitalized in a private facility you must be able to upfront the costs or leave.   And the social security hospitals are lacking in pharmaceuticals and other necessities to treat patients.  

It's been a rough few weeks and please accept my apologies for the less than optimistic post.  I continue to be more enthusiastic than not about living here.  But I haven't a lot of options, and I was fortunate enough to buy before things got as expensive as they currently are.   

For those contemplating an international relocation to Panama at this time, I strongly encourage you to do your due diligence. Homes for sale many places in the US are now less expensive than lesser quality places here.  And although crime stats may be higher in the US, I've never previously been acquainted with, nor lived as close to home invasion victims (Panamanian as well as expat) as I currently do...   

ADDENDUM:  Today someone posted this link on the Boquete Ning forum regarding a 60% prosecutory failure rate in Panama for homicides.  The article is in English.

May 6, 2015

Big Changes for Boquete


(Photos from the Alcaldía's facebook page)

Radio Chiriqui has morphed into TV Chiriqui,  and Boquete’s mayor, Alcalde Emigdio Walker Vasquez,  recently established a new policy of providing monthly video reports to the community.  The videos are available through the TVChiriqui or Alcalde Boquete websites as well as on you tube. 

The English speaking community is also involved.  Separate videos are being produced with guest speakers commenting in English on the issues the mayor has brought to light. Although these English speaking videos are interesting and informative, they are commentaries, not translations nor even paraphrased summaries, of what the mayor actually says.  Expats who have less than a high-intermediate level of Spanish will miss much of the content of the mayor’s reports, as the guest commentaries to date haven’t addressed some of the  specifics mentioned by Mayor Walker Vasquez.  

I’m not sure if I’ll continue doing it, but here's my summation of the mayor’s actual statements in this most recent, April 2015 report:

He begins by introducing himself, cordially greeting viewers, and mentioning that as of that day he is establishing a policy of providing monthly informative reports on what the municipal government has accomplished and is planning to carry out in the district. 

Then he informs on the state of construction of the new aqueduct and sewage system for the district of Boquete.  He reports that the bidding process is completed and that the contract has been allocated.  The municipality has the order to proceed.  He says that within 45 days, God willing, and “with the presence of the president” the aqueduct and the sewage treatment system will be initiated.  

Secondly, he mentions that they have contemplated the environmental program, and within that program is a district-wide reforestation consideration. The municipality will be participating in conjunction with ANAM.  He then comments that it’s very important to take care of our environment and above all, to reforest the essential areas of the district, the hydrological areas, to preserve water sources.

Thirdly, he mentions that also under consideration is a “NO” determination regarding hydroelectric plants in the district of Boquete. He mentions that, as has been seen in other districts, it’s urgent that we develop a responsible conscience regarding the use and management of our water, because every day we have less water.  He mentions that he is committed to having Boquete be a "green" district and as such is focused on taking care of our waters and protecting our natural resources.

Next he mentions the security program.  He reports the implementation of security cameras in the district.  Initially there are going to be 40 cameras placed in strategic locations, such as the entrance to the corregimientos and entrance to the district, and soon there will also be a security gate at the district entrance.  He says this is very important because in this manner they will be able to know who comes into and leaves the district. 

He states his fourth point involves a re-engineering of the municipal administration with a technical analysis being conducted by Lic. Ennar Arriojas.  He mentions this individual is a person with a lot of knowledge about municipalities and who is focused on the providing better service to the community, in terms of attention, improved efficiency, and above all, being at the disposition of those who utilize the services of the municipality. 

He lists his fifth point as being the development of sports in the district of Boquete. He states that Boquete's youth requests and demands improvement in their playing fields. In Alto Boquete the football field needs to be improved and conditioned because it is the only one in the district and the  committment has already been made to improve the field for all youth who practice different sports, so that it meets the requirements needed to have great athletes.  He adds that they are starting and supporting leagues for softball, soccer, and baseball in the various corregimientos so that the district will have great athletes. 

The sixth point he makes is regarding a beautification program.  He states a campaign of cleanliness and beautification in all of the corregimientos is being carried out in consultation with the community and with the participation of the students of different edcational institutions in the corregimientos. The objective is to have a clean district in which everyone can feel proud.  

In regards to tourism, he mentions the district is implementing marketing efforts through different media at the national and international levels.  He acknowledges that tourism has grown significantly in Boquete.  People who come to Chiriqui want to visit and become familiar with Boquete, and after coming to Boquete, they want to remain in Boquete.  Thus,  there is an impetus to improve the quality of life and  provide great service to all visitors, extending the affection and respect of Boqueteños to all that visit the district.  

He closes by extending thanks to his viewers.  

Apr 11, 2015

Panama's 2015 Cumbre de las Americas

photo via TVN Panama

Spent the weekend glued to the TV watching national news coverage of the Cumbre de las Americas in Panama City.  The coverage was excellent, and Panama performed magnificently as host country.  President Juan Carlos Varela was an exemplary statesman and host. 

The much anticipated encounter between President Obama and Raul Castro of Cuba took place this afternoon around 3:20 pm.  There were lots of speculations about resuming full diplomatic relations, embassies in both countries, and the reopening of trade and commerce. One of the prerequisites, however, is removal of Cuba from the USA's list of countries that support international terrorism, and no promises were made regarding this action. Much pressure from multiple factions, but no declarations on the part of the US president.  

Last night, Panama hosted a state dinner in Panama Viejo.  From photos published elsewhere, it seems lighting technicians transformed the site vastly beyond its true appearance. Conspicuously absent from the dinner were Raul Castro, Daniel Ortega, Evo Morales, and Nicholas Maduro.  Dilma Rouseff, [Brazil] appeared briefly and left before the dinner. Barack Obama attended briefly and left after dinner. 

Photo from First Lady's FB page

At the conference today, multiple leaders addressed the forum to discuss issues of primary importance for their countries.  Each leader was allotted 8 minutes to make an address.  Daniel Ortega, Raul Castro, Christina Kirchner, and Nicolas Maduro, far exceeded the time limits, running over 20-30 minutes in most cases.  President Maduro delivered a letter from a few Panamanian citizens in El Chorillo requesting the US apologize and indemnify family members of  civilian casualties that resulted from the 1989 invasion to remove Manuel Noriega from power.  In a post-conference synopsis, a leftist Panamanian journalist commented that Panama "moved on" from that experience and mentioned the 25 yr old issue isn't Venezuela's to address.  

To give credence to either Castro or Maduro was to believe the US responsible for all the hunger, poverty, and prostitution  problems existing in both countries.  I lean to the left on many social issues, but the poor taste of both men coupled with their thinly veiled attempts to distract audiences from  human rights atrocities and oppression in their own countries moved me temporarily a few paces right.   Daniel Ortega did a reasonably believable commentary on US expansionist practices over the last two centuries, and Evo Morales read a speech obviously prepared by someone else highlighting all the faults of the US and Canada regarding north american foreign policy toward Venezuela.  

Perhaps it should have been obvious, but for me the most surprising aspect of today's discussions was the overwhelming political support given Venezuela in the face of President Obama's presidential decree that 7 individuals from that country pose an unusual and extraordinary threat to the security of the United States.  Nearly all participants in the summit were against the decree and against sanctions on Venezuela. No one spoke out against Venezuela nor Cuba for their oppression of civil liberties and human rights violations.  Several leaders openly opposed the US decree and requested it's revocation. Among those leaders were Christina Kirchner of Argentina,  Evo Morales of Bolivia, Rafael Correa of Ecuador, Raul Castro of Cuba, and the President of Trinidad and Tobago.  But while the criticisms of the US treatment of Venezuela were being expressed inside the summit, Venezuelan expats in Panama City gathered on  balconies of nearby apartment complexes and noisily banged pots and pans to express their opposition to the government of Venezuela.  At the Hotel Riu, Cuban expats from Miami who flew to Panama to take part in a parallel Civil Society forum, were kicked, scratched and beaten by pro-Castro Cuban participants.  They ended up leaving without participating in their forum. 

source: La Estrella, Panama

Topics of focus and concern mentioned by nearly all national leaders included sovereignty, governance, migration, security, violence, global warming, environment, communications, connectivity and education.  The Summit was labeled a success by all of the participants, with emphasis given to the need for dialogue and solidarity.   Many points of view were discussed, but huge gaps in understanding and agreement remain. Although President Obama was warmly received by Panama, his reception was much cooler amongst many of the participating  dignitaries.  Evo Morales mentioned, while interviewed by one of the Panamanian journalists, that he hadn't spoken with President Obama, "nor did he have any interest in doing so."  

Panama deserves acknowledgment for its great management of this major event. 

(And I congratulate myself for comprehending a full two days of political talks by world leaders delivered solely in Spanish.)  

Apr 6, 2015

Panama Hosts the Seventh Summit of the Organization of American States

April 10th and 11th are the dates of the Cumbre de las Americas in Panama City.  Thirty five heads of state are expected to participate, including Raul Castro of Cuba and Barack Obama of the United States. Their attendance is being seen as an historic first attempt at normalizing relations between the two countries. Also expected to be present is Nicolás Maduro of Venezuela, who has been actively campaigning against the US president and vows to present Mr. Obama with a petition signed by 8-10 million people requesting that Mr. Obama repeal his March 9th decree naming Venezuela as an unusual threat to USA security and foreign policy.

Panama is going all out with security and hospitality measures.  President Juan Carlos Varela has declared both the 10th and 11th of April as government holidays in order to decrease traffic congestion in the capital city and to facilitate travel for summit participants. 

Four days ago the AAC (Autoridad de Aeronáutica Civil) held a press conference to announce the prohibition of the use of drones in Panama.  The measure is in effect from April 5th to April 13th,  to avoid any mishaps or setbacks in aerial travel for those coming to the Summit.  Heavy fines of $50,000 will be levied against any person or agency not heeding the restriction.  There is to be a post-event conference involving those entities that use drones for the purpose of establishing norms and routes for modern-world usage of these devices in Panama.

The municipality of Panama City has also issued Decree 18-2015 that establishes civil restrictions against immoral or unbecoming conduct, bearing firearms, wearing “any article that totally or partially covers the face of an individual,” creating noise or any type of scandal that infringes on the provisions of Agreement 141 established on 9/23/14, and prohibits street marketing and hawking in the metro areas of Calidonia, Bella Vista, and San Francisco

Legal inspectors, district council persons, and municipal guards have been granted additional authority to facilitate their being able to remove vehicles and similar abandoned properties compromising the designated perimeters along public thoroughfares to the Cumbre de las Americas. Agreement 138 of 9/9/14 is identified as the legal recourse for this. Other provisions allow for the areas of Bella Vista, Calidonia, Parque LeFevre, San Felipe and San Francisco to take prompt action against any administrative offense occurring in the area where the Summit takes place.  Fines for infingements can range from $50 to $1000.

And then, today, the Metro bus drivers in Panama City initiated an illegal and unjustified work stoppage, blocking the exit of public buses from the barn and leaving millions of workers stranded/unable to get to work.  The bus drivers were protesting the delay in payments they should have received from the company Mi Bus, which failed miserably at providing public transportation and employee compensation during the Martinelli years.  The company is being acquired by the Panamanian government and President Varela has agreed to compensate the drivers for lost wages despite a lack of legal responsibility to do so.   The militant drivers who staged the protest, refusing to give way for buses to leave the barn,  threw rocks at the police and eventually were forcibly removed.  Several of the leaders admitted they hadn’t read the contractual agreements regarding payment of lost wages and apparently had to be informed of their illegal actions.  They have since agreed to ongoing dialogue.  The controversy exists because the government cannot compensate these workers until it actually acquires the Mi Bus enterprise. The take over hasn’t yet concluded.

The latest announcements today are that the strike has been lifted.  Several government agencies have employees trained in the operation of the buses should additional personnel be required to maintain the operation of public transportation in the coming days. 

Feb 2, 2015

Juan Carlos Navarro Files a Criminal Complaint against Ricardo Martinelli

Just in from TVN news:

Ex-presidential PRD candidate Juan Carlos Navarro has just filed a complaint with the office of the district attorney specializing in organized crime.  The complaint is against ex-president Ricardo Martinelli for illegal association for the purpose of committing crime, crime against personal freedom, abuse of authority and infractions in  fulfilling the responsibilities of public servants.  

He commented that for 5 years Panama was governed by a group of organized criminals whose sole aim was to plunder the coffers of the Panamanian state.  He urged all Panamanians to contribute, as he was doing today, their "grain of sand" to dismantle the criminal framework  and allow the full power of the law to fall upon the guilty and help recuperate stolen funds that need to be returned to the Panamanian people in order to construct social works that are so lacking in the country.  

Feb 1, 2015

What Will It Take to Criminally Charge Martinelli ?

I've been watching a lot of Panamanian TV lately hoping to get clear on what is being done to address the accusations against ex-president Ricardo Martinelli.  It seems there's a lot of talk and mud-slinging, but little definitive action. As it's all been occurring, Mr. Martinelli openly announced he would be leaving Panama on a world tour to present his complaints against Panama's current president, Juan Carlos Varela. 

Following the announcement, journalists inteviewed various public figures, among them the mayor of Panama City, Jose Blandón, and PRD national assembly representative, Zulay Rodriguez, for their thoughts.  Both expressed their opinions that Mr. Martinelli was fleeing.  Yet, despite the obvious, politicians, judges, lawyers, and the police all just stood by and let it happen.  The ex-president first flew to Quatemala, then to Miami, then Canada, Ireland, and now his plane has been tracked to Bologna, Italia.   It hasn't been corroborated whether or not Martinelli was actually aboard the plane when it headed to Italy, but apparently he does have residency in Italy.  Of note is that Ireland does not have an extradition agreement with Panama...A few months back Martinelli was refusing to go to Italy because that country wanted to question him regarding extortion scandals involving Valter Lavitola and construction contracts with Panama.  Martinelli could have been detained had he gone as a witness.  So there is room for doubt regarding his physical presence in Italy at this time.  (But perhaps he has some wheeling and dealing to do there...??)   In any event, while Martinelli is playing his own version of "Where in the world is Carmen Sandiego",   the rest of us are wondering if anything will be done to officially charge him for even a small part of the voluminous irregularities and corrupt governance for which he's currently being signaled out.

Thanks to  the national news channel's website, TVN, the following information surfaced in varied articles.  I've gleaned from them the following explanation of the steps required to possibly charge the Panamanian ex-president.

Because Mr. Martinelli has diplomatic privilege as a member of Parlacen, as well as an electoral privilege for being the head of the Cambio Democratico political party, he has the right to be investigated and tried by the judges of the Panamanian Supreme Court of Justice, instead of an ordinary electoral tribunal.  The electoral privilege (fuero) decrees that directors and subdirectors of the Electoral Tribunal cannot be detained, arrested, nor processed without authorization of the Electoral Tribunal, except in cases of "flagrant crime".   The validity of this privilege extends up to three months after the close of the election process.  Although President Varela was elected in May, the electoral process has been ongoing due to the repeated and contested elections of multiple diputados in various regions of Panama.  The Electoral Tribunal officially closed this process on January 30th, which technically gives Mr. Martinelli three months of electoral immunity beginning on this date.

On Jan. 28, 2015, in a special session, the Supreme Court approved the opening of an investigation against Ricardo Martinelli. This was done in response to a complaint filed against him by the Public Ministry after he was linked to irregular contracting practices regarding the purchase of dehydrated food through the Programa de Ayuda Nacional (PAN) in a testimony by Giacomo Tamburelli, ex-director of that same organization.  At the time the decision was reached, two judges were designated to oversee the investigation---Oydén Ortega as the prosecutor and Jerónimo Mejía as the "guaranteeing judge"  (Juez de Garantía.  There is no direct translation in English for this function, but from the definitions I've been given regarding the role of the Juez de Garantía, it would appear this person is the presiding judge.   He is responsible for assuring the accused's rights are protected, intervening in the hearing as indicated, and determining if the evidence presented is convincing enough to go to trial.)  

According to article 491-A of the Panamanian Penal Code, once CSJ [Corte Suprema de Justicia] approval of an investigation is made, the parties have only two calendar months for preparation and investigation before going to hearing.  Martinelli would still be under electoral privilege at the time of the hearing, since the "fuero" extends to April 30th.    

The CSJ has been under criticism by public leaders for not having submitted a petition for the lifting of the electoral privilege in the case of Ricardo Martinelli up to now.  According to most recent reports, however, the CSJ will submit this petition on Monday, Feb. 2nd.  

If the electoral tribunal decides to lift the "fuero",  then the prosecuting judge, Mr. Ortega, will have two months to gather sufficient supporting evidence to present a a case against Martinelli. When Mr. Ortega's evidence is presented, the Juez de Garantía, judge Mejía,  will make a ruling as to whether or not the ex-president should be charged.   If the supporting evidence is acceptable to judge Mejía, then  Mr. Martinelli will be considered "imputado"  (accused) and his case will be tried by the nine judges of the supreme court in a regular court session.   If judge Mejía determines that the evidence presented by the prosecuting judge isn't strong enough, it's possible Martinelli's  case will be dismissed.   

I'm still unclear on what would happen if the Electoral Tribunal refuses to lift the electoral privilege.  I would imagine the complaint filed by the Public Ministry would be moot and a subsequent one would need to be filed at an appropriate time.

According to reports I've been given,  five of the current nine supreme court justices were appointed by Ricardo Martinelli during his administration.

Note: The captioned cartoon above was taken from the internet.  It is a spoof on a local news conference that ex-president Martinelli held in late January, where he commented on national television that he hadn't stolen a "f--king real" (nickel) from Panama.  

Jan 29, 2015

Ricardo Martinelli Tells CNN He Fears for His Life

Photo from internet

The news presses and media are running hot these days as ex-president Ricardo Martinelli launches out to defend himself against accusations of illicit spying, widespread corruption and unsurpassed theft of public funds during his administration.  He has embarked on a personal quest to deny the obvious in a world forum, but is only making a mess of things. While President Juan Carlos Varela keeps plugging away with national issues and preparations for the Cumbre de las Americas in April,  his former boss and 2009 running mate is acting bizarre on an international scale. 

The ex-president was in a Parlacen meeting in Quatemala today, inquiring on the specifics of his diplomatic immunity.   He is accusing President Varela of interference with other branches of government, coercing false testimonies, dictatorship, and disrespect for human rights.  He flew there in his private jet, and is known to have later taken off for Ocaloca airport in Florida this same evening. 

While in Quatemala, he was interviewed via Skype by CNNE journalist Carlos Montero, who asked him the question everyone in Panama is wondering about.  Will he return to Panama or will he remain abroad?  Interestingly enough, he didn't answer the question directly.  Instead he ranted about an alleged personal vendetta President Varela has toward him because he and his party are the President's only opposition.  Getting even more carried away with his own fantasies,  he said he feared for his safety as well as that of his wife and family. He made the accusation that if Varela couldn't succeed in destroying him by all current means, Varela was capable of reaching to the extent of killing him.  Seconds after making this statement, the CNNE audio on the ex-president's Skype call went dead, and shortly after, the phone connection was lost.  Reporter Montero spent another 5 minutes or so ad libbing until connection was re-established  and then Ricardo Martinelli continued his rant on a lesser scale, professing his innocence and promoting the political persecution spin. 

I have tried to refrain from expressing my opinions publicly because of expat community concerns that political involvement can lead to deportation.  I doubt I'm in any danger, but I do avoid active involvement in political dissent or demonstrations for this reason.   Yet following ex-president Martinelli's most recent appearance on CNNE, it's hard to keep quiet.  If ANYONE could be accused of the irregularities Martinelli attributes to Varela, it would be ex-president Ricardo Martinelli. Every Panamanian, and any informed expat, is poignantly aware of this contradiction.  Examples of the Martinelli style of coercive government have been rampant over the past 5 years.   Any high-ranking official in that administration who exhibited  signs of personal and/or political integrity was callously outsted and their reputation impugned. The ones who remained were puppets who did the ex-president's bidding and took the spoils offered them.  Now, having been thrown under the bus by their ex-boss, they are squealing from the recesses of their house arrests, or from their prison cells.  Somehow the two biggest fish, the ex-president and his personal assistant, Adolfo de Obarrio, have managed to get out of the country ---at least temporarily.  It will remain to be seen if they are granted political asylum, and by which country.   Currently there are 16 denuncias against ex-president Martinelli for illicit wire tapping and interference with personal privacy of citizens.  These are just the tip of the iceberg, as an estimated 150 persons have been so violated.  The financial scandals, with testimonials of intermediaries surfacing daily, will hopefully be thoroughtly investigated now that the Supreme Court of Justice has authorized the investigations.  The future is turning dim for Ricardo Martinelli, and desperation has lead him to desperate tactics. Rumors abound,  but I've heard estimations ranging from 600 million to 1500 million dollars in theft of public funds attributed to the ex-president.  The Panamanian judicial arm is attempting to locate and recoup some of these funds,  but red tape and diplomatic privilege has favored Mr. Martinelli up to this point.  The Panamanian populace is outraged and pressuring the Supreme Court to act expediently.  

Jan 17, 2015

Never a Dull Moment in Panama Politics

This holiday season found me a royal scrooge, and I chose not to spread the Bah-Humbug sentiments to others.  Thankfully they have passed, as well as my rotten attitude.   From the looks of things at the start of this new year, 2015 is going to be memorable for Panama. 

After 7 months in office, President Juan Carlos Varela and his administration has made quite the impression.  A number of top government officials in the previous Martinelli administration are currently behind bars or under house arrest.  Several others are quaking in their boots, and it looks as though the Ministerio Público is gunning for the ex-president. 

There is in-depth coverage of everything on  other media and blogsites, and I don't need  to be redundant.   Suffice it to say that  Guillermo Ferrufino,  Alejandro Moncada Luna, Rafael Guardia, Adolfo Obarrio, Giacomo Tamburelli, Alejandro Garuz, and Gustavo Perez have all been questioned and detained by the Ministerio Público on suspicion of miscellaneous crimes related to bribery, use of public funds for personal enrichment and illegal spying on private citizens.  The drama is unfolding faster than I can write about it, and the web of intrigue goes back much further than my knowledge of Panamanian history.  

At least two of the above ex-high ranking officials have been sent to prison---Alejandro Garuz and Gustavo Perez.  Alejandro Garuz is ex-president Martinelli's son-in-law, and was head of the National Council of Security and Defense.  Gustavo Perez held the same position before Garuz. Prior to holding that position, he was Director of the National Police.  His latest position, to the best of my current knowledge, was Vice Minister of Government.  Perez is special ops trained and has been suspected of  involvement in the kidnapping of US citizens under Manuel Noriega during Operation Just Cause.  More recently, diputado Zulay Rodriguez stated he also lead a kidnapping and demolition squadron within the national police.  Both of these men are currently accused of illicit phone tapping and surveillance of private citizens, such as  political opponents to the Martinelli administration, indigenous political and social leaders, and other government and industry leaders. The latest reports indicate more than 150 people have been monitored by means of illegal phone tapping, hacking into cell phone microphones to hear conversations during meetings, photographing and filming them, recording their conversations, etc.  

What strikes me as interesting about all this, however, is that the arrests and detainment of all the above mentioned individuals is  being done while the Ministerio Público is investigating them.  The imprisonments, whether in jail or via house arrest, have been implemented before any trial or hearing has taken place and while both sides are developing their respective cases.   The process is referred to as something akin to preventative or protective detention.    

Giacomo Tamburelli is currently hospitalized and recovering from major surgery.  He was the former director of PAN before Rafael Guardia and has publicly stated he will cooperate with the district attorney and provide information to implicate  Adolfo del Obarrio and Ricardo Martinelli.  

Ex-president Martinelli held a press conference last night.  He alleges that President Varela is a potential dictator who has little respect for democracy or human rights.  He denies stealing even a nickel from the Panamanian public, and accuses the current administration of threatening and pressuring witnesses to testify against him,   He claims that both Tamburelli and Gustavo Perez have been treated in this manner.  He tweeted a little earlier today that Perez was told he'd never get out of prison if he didn't testify against Martinelli.    Rumor has it that two other officials in the Martinelli administration---Lucy Molinar, and Jose Ayu Prado will also be investigated.  Molinar is cited for police questioning related to a PAN funds distribution she received for school supplies, (backpacks) for poor children.  Ayu Prado is currently in office and seems to be fitting in politically with the Varela administration.   He is alleged to have hidden incriminating documentation regarding Gustavo Perez while he was attorney general under Martinelli, and there is public skepticism as to whether or not his role in such matters will be adequately dealt with under the current administration.  

This is just the tip of the iceberg.  There are lots of details I've omitted and more than likely a lot more I'm unaware of.  It's not easy keeping pace with the ever-changing political climate.  Up to now, President Varela seems to be above-board and a breath of fresh air for Panama.  It will take time to determine how it all washes out in the end. 

Dec 19, 2014

Interesting Interview on TVN with Giacomo Tamburelli

Cable and Wireless is yet again experiencing technical difficulties in Chiriqui, and I'm using my cell phone modem to get the latest news.  Giacomo Tamburelli, the ex-director of PAN prior to Adolfo Obarrio's assumption of the position, spoke with a news reporter regarding his willingness to cooperate with investigations into the suspected theft of multiple millions of dollars from the national public assistance fund (PAN).  Both Obarrio and Tamburelli are under house arrest at this time. 

While the interview and Mr. Tamburelli's responses made great viewing material, I was left with the impression that something continues to be amiss.  Mr. Tamburelli admitted no wrongdoing on his part,  but expressed  willingness to openly disclose any information investigators might require.  He also made overt allegations that the ex-president threatened his wife and family. When the reporter questioned the mechanisms of those threats to his family, he said it had to do with voice recordings. He requested public support and protection for his family.  

The interview was too extensive to translate or summarize in a casual post such as this, but it did seem he was promising to reveal a lot of information that would implicate the past presidential administration in signficant corruption.   He frankly stated that he was at all times under direct orders from Adolfo Obarrio, the ex-president's designee, and that Ricardo Martinelli was now trying to buy his silence. .  The interview was intriguing, but something about this man's aspect and demeanor left me unsympathetic toward him, and doubting the veracity of his accusations. It will be interesting to observe what transpires over time.   

Dec 18, 2014

Another Ugly American Story

The following photos were uploaded from facebook pages and are covered with extensive commentary on  I am pasting and posting here for extended coverage of an event that bears ongoing circulation.  The story related below is taken from statements posted by some of the people involved in the incident. 

The man in the photo walked over to a neighbor's home in Santa Lucia, Volcancito on Dec. 16th and shot through their fence to injure the neighbor's two pet dogs who were inside the yard.  He claims to have done so in retaliation for one of the dogs having bitten his child earlier. The child is reported to have only superficial wounds and was observed teasing the dog while it was out on its daily run. The poor animal was shot in the jugular area and is currently in critical condition.  The second dog received a superficial gunshot wound. The man used an air rifle, which apparently is silent. When the animals cried out from being shot, the owners became aware of the action. The owners spoke with the shooter, Justin Whitney Reinholz, following the incident and asked the obvious questions.   Mr. Reinholz warned them he had killed lots of dogs in the US and that he also had "real" guns and wouldn't hesitate to return to deal with the owners if necessary.  He is seen resting on his gun muzzle and smiling at the Panamanian neighbors through their fence after the incident.

Needless to say there is a lot of outrage in our area---not only from an expat community that has two full time charities plus numerous satellite organizations dedicated to the humane treatment and rescue of animals, but also from an increasingly agitated Panamanian population that has just about "had it" with the growing influx of foreigners and the problems they are introducing.  And to top it all off, December 20th is the anniversary of operation Just Cause, which always seems to pour salt into the unhealed wounds of many nationals.

Animal groups in the expat community have reached out to the owners of the wounded dogs and are offering assistance to get the appropriate denuncias filed for legal action to be taken against the shooter.  Apparently, he also has filed a complaint against the dog owners. He is either married to a Panamanian or is the custodial parent of two Panamanian children, so there are multiple issues related to how his actions are handled by authorities.

As is generally the case with the Boquete.ning forum, opinions and sentiments abound.  Some expats are angry at being "profiled" because of nationality. Others are over the top in demanding a meeting with the mayor for the purpose of getting their sentiments of regret publically expressed.   In my opinion, we need to learn restraint and to stop trying to take over.  We should allow the Panamanian legal, regulatory, and social instititions to do what they are meant to do.  I feel demanding a meeting with the mayor is akin to making still another demand for "special"  attention. Why should our concerns be addressed differently or more expediently than that of any other citizen or resident who has a  regret to express?  

I'm amazed at the sudden concern from expats about how we might be perceived. Perceptions are built over time from ordinary, everyday encounters and interactions.  An incident such as this one can certainly add fuel to the fire, but it alone isn't going to make a generalized negative  impression.  If there is a backlash now, it's not because of this single, albeit horrific, event.  It's because of our behavior patterns in everyday matters. It's about the way we continue to conduct ourselves. 

The governmental and social systems currently in place haven't been given the opportunity to function yet.  The ink is barely dry on the denuncias, and we are already demonstrating what pains  in the  #$%&#   we  expats can truly be.  Will we never learn a little humility, deference, respect and patience?  Have a little trust that things will work out as they should.  It happens here more often than any of us are willing to imagine. I am continuously amazed at how efficient things are here as compared to back home.  

Please, people, just chill.  If you need to do something, express your heartfelt apologies to the dog owners.  That might truly help. 

Dec 16, 2014

Another Successful Concert at the Biblioteca

Director Elsa Castillo deserves kudos for organizing another great musical event at the Boquete Biblioteca---this time a youth symphony orchestra from David.  It's the first of it's kind in Panama, and the musicians, ranging in age from 8 to 21, were incredibly accomplished for their short tenures as part of the ensemble.  According to information provided, some students had as little as 6 months of music lessons and the "senior" participants may have had as much as 2 years. They played 6-7 classical pieces, including selections from the Nutcracker Suite and Dvorak's New World Symphony, then ended the afternoon with traditional Christmas music and one latin calypso rhythm.  They received standing ovations from a pleased audience of both Panamanian and expat attendees.  The orchestra is named after it's founder,  Manuel Obaldía Alvarado, and is better known as M.O. A. for short. 

Dec 7, 2014

Mother's Day Program in Caldera

December 8th is Mother's Day in Panama, and it's a big deal here.  Unlike in the states where Mother's Day is always on a Sunday, in Panama Mother's Day is a National Holiday.   Businesses are closed and entire communities get involved in creating a tribute to all mothers in the country.  There are public programs in local parks and town centers where town officials, local politicians, and community groups give speeches, presentations, and donated gifts to  mothers in the community. Cultural groups and students from local schools often provide either oratory, musical or dance performances, and sometimes food or flowers are distributed to the mothers in the assembled crowds. It's a nice way to make women who are also mothers feel special and appreciated. 

Last night I had to opportunity to attend a Mother's Day Celebration in the little town of Caldera.  It was a humble but uplifting event.  It was impressive to see how the school aged boys of the town were utilized as greeters, ushers and servers. Following the program they were thanked for their assistance. One of the youths responded by saying how pleased he and the others were at being able to be of service.  He expressed their ongoing willingness to contribute to the community.   

It never ceases to amaze me how Panamanians of all ages can spontaneously provide gracious, positive, and constructive commentary regarding any topic or content, if asked. I see it over and over again in television "man on the street" interviews and in public gatherings.  I think it must be something inculcated in their education and upbringing. From the humblest of citizens to the most prestigious, it's something they seem to do instinctively.  

The Mother's Day celebration in Boquete is yet to occur.  It will be a larger and more expensive program with bigger and better gifts for some fortunate mothers.  Usually stoves, refrigerators, and many smaller household items are donated by local merchants. I've never understood how the gifting is organized, but somehow the community is aware of who the local mothers are and they are provided with tickets which later are used for drawings after the performances.  I am hoping to see some of my neighbors win  valuable prices this year.