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.