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.