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.