Panama 2017: Justice or Impunity, That is the Question

Panama city, Panama/Photo: Web
Panama 2017: Justice or Impunity, That is the Question

The economic and political elite of Panama feels that justice is on their heels, while it takes desperate measures to push back the possibility of facing justice, leading the common people to be skeptical.

‘Nothing is going to happen here’ is the recurrent phrase heard among Panamanians of different social standing, who look impotent the maneuvers of power and accuse the judicial instances of complicity with the white-collar delinquents.

When all arguments and evidence point to the guilt of some, files fall like a deck of cards, many times turning to what experts call ‘shyster technicalities’, which frequently use procedural time to destroy the cause.

International cases, strongly judged in other countries, like that of the Enterprise Finmeccanica in Italy, were dismissed in Panama, previously warning the General Attorney of the nation, Kenia Porcell, as trend of the Judicial Organ that would lead to impunity.

Only two days after this announcement, it was known that a ruling issued by the magistrate of the Supreme Court of Justice (CSJ), Angela Russo, through which a shelter of guarantees was issued to ex-Minister of Security Raul Mulino, who demanded the time given by law and thus was put free.

The ruling referred that the previous government bought radars that the Aeronaval National Service considered not useful for fighting drug traffic and the Prosecution presumes patrimonial damage in its acquisition.

One of tjhe many cases involving exPresident Ricardo Martinelli (2009-2014), referred the use of privileged information to obtain dividends in the Toronto Exchange, Canada, also recently the Prosecjtion filed and the Seventeenth Court ordered the dismissal of the case ‘for lack of evidence’.

Martinelli was arrested since last June 12 in a federal jail in Miami, United States, waiting for the decision to extradite him to Panama, where he will have to answer to justice for telephone spying his opposers.

The inventory of pending demands grows by day and the greatest known offensive against corruption of public officials in Panamanian legal entities seems to founder in a storm, where the battle does not center in demonstrating guilt or innocence, but in finding technical failures in the investigations.

Another thing hindering the processes, according to Porcell, is that some jujdges resist to declare complex cases that require international judicial assistance and information of banking data, which force delays in the instruction, but deny that condition and time delays the process.

That’s what happened in the case New Business, in which the acquisition of a local media Enterprise with money supposedly obtained through bribes; something similar happened with the embezzlement of the stock company Financial Pacific. Both involve the Martinelli family.

Maybe the biggest scandal of these investigations blocked by representatives of the Judicial Organ was that of the bribes made by Brazilian construction company Odebrecht. This case is about the alleged crimes against the public administration and the economic order in the modality of capital laundering, but its detention provoked a reaction in Panamanian society and even the president himself, Juan Carlos Varela, referred to the issue on occasions.


The opinion polls say that skepticism prevails in society, but the media deployment present leaks with elements of the investigations, through which it is presumed the penal responsibility in what constitutes a parallel public trial.

Accusations of the MP to the Judicial Organ for what the first considers blockings that generate impunity, they receive answers from the latter alleging ‘technical errors’ of the prosecutors, violating ‘due process’, while the courts file the cases and stop investigations.

‘The prevailing perception of corruption and impunity above all in high-profile cases’, said a comment of opinion poll company Dichter and Neira when analyzing the government transparency last September, supported barely by 12 percent of people interviewed.

Over the last three years, the justice system only tried and sanctioned one magistrate of the CSJ, while dozens of ministers, other ex-high officials, businesspeople and politicians were investigated, most of them of the past government.

Massive protests of diverse sectors claim that corrupt be tried ‘whoever falls’, although analysts point to countering interests, among those closer to power centers and the lower echelons of society, because they question the sincerity of the high classes.

If it is true that until recently the most relevant cases centered in denounced crimes by state institutions during the Martinelli mandate, the explosión by the Odebrecht scandal, put in tensión all the political and business echelons due to the multiple relations without party differences.

The accusing finger also points to the present president for having received undeclared donations and since the alternative financial scheme of the multinational for the corruption of officials and voices are asking that he be taken to trial for this.

Despite Porcell having repeated the warning, the investigation will extend from the arrival of the multinational in 2006 to the present, but the public only knows those involved related to the previous government, whose investigation was recently stopped by a court.

A political-judicial crisis puts in doubt the capacity of the Panamanian system to judge seriously the facts of corrtuption, on which Panamanians demand to know the truth and the punishment of the guilty, but until now there are only mediatic shows with alleged transgressors.

Maybe what some call ‘the judicialization of politics’ and others ‘the politization of justice’ is the key that the model imposed on the country after the U.S. invasion of 1989 is on the verge of collapse, according to some local analysts, who talk about ‘refunding the nation’.

By Osvaldo Rodríguez Martínez/Prensa Latina

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