Posts Tagged ‘Ricardo Martinelli’

Panama: And now, price controls UPDATED

Saturday, May 10th, 2014

This is ri·dic·u·lous:
Panama President-Elect Promises Price Controls

Let’s step away from the link for a moment, and ponder an economy with

  • 8% average annual growth for the past four years
  • 4.1% unemployment rate
  • 4% inflation – double what it was in 2009.

The inflation part is troublesome, since according to official data, the current $335 price of the basic food basket (50 products that officials say is enough to feed a family of four for a month) has increased by 25% in the last four years.  The basic food basket has outpaced the country’s inflation rate. Minimum salary is $475 to $625 a month.

So now President-elect Juan Carlos Varela, formerly top executive for Panama’s biggest liquor company, has the brilliant idea of

imposing emergency price controls on 22 basic goods, everything from rice and eggs to cuts of meat.

The AP article mentions a woman who earns $500/month who

has to pool her income with other family members to feed the five adults and three grandchildren who live in her zinc-roofed home

If you lived with four other adults, wouldn’t you expect them to pool in?

But I digress.

While campaigning Varela used to point out the price of lentils,

“You can’t be allowed to mark up basic-need items 60, 70 or 80 percent,” Varela said in a meeting with foreign journalists two weeks before the vote.

Of course, this has nothing, absolutely nothing to do with the fact that outgoing President Ricardo Martinelli is the billionaire owner of the country’s biggest supermarket chain, Super 99, and Varela may be wanting to stick Martinelli one where it hurts, so to speak:

In 2009, Varela was elected vice president on Martinelli’s ticket but they split acrimoniously two years later over Martinelli’s effort to engineer a constitutional change that would have allowed him to seek re-election.

Every time price controls are installed, shortages follow, which will avail Varela with the opportunity to blame the shortages on Martinelli.

Hugo Chavez must be smiling in his grave.

UPDATE:
Panama elected-president pledges to normalize relations with Venezuela and Colombia
Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro and Panamanian president-elect Juan Carlos Varela have pledged to waste no time in normalizing relations and re-launching diplomatic, economic and trade ties cut off two months ago, Venezuela’s foreign ministry announced. Varela takes office next July first


Panama: The Mrs. next?

Monday, April 14th, 2014

Of the women presidents in Latin America, Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner and Isabel Peron of Argentina, and Mireya Moscoso of Panama became presidents because of their husbands. Now Panama may get a wife as VP, coupled with lack of transparency:
Panama’s King Moves the Queen
President Martinelli can’t run for re-election, so he’s picked his wife to be the candidate for VP.

Center-right Panamanian President Ricardo Martinelli is an outspoken critic of Venezuelan strongman Nicolás Maduro. Back home in Panama, though, Mr. Martinelli is laying the groundwork for a power grab of his own. If he prevails the region will take another step backward on the freedom trail, yet the Obama State Department remains silent.

Mr. Martinelli’s term ends on July 1 and the constitution bars him from re-election. But the wealthy supermarket magnate is not letting go so easily. He has made his wife, Marta, the vice-presidential candidate on his Democratic Change Party (CD) ticket for the May 4 presidential election. The presidential candidate is José Domingo Arias, his former housing minister.

The Panamanian Constitution anticipates the caudillo who tries “moving the queen,” as this tactic is known elsewhere in the region, to get around a prohibition on re-election. Its Article 193 states that relatives within “the second degree of marital relations of the President of the Republic” may neither be president nor vice president immediately following his term.

A constitutional challenge to Mrs. Martinelli’s candidacy has been brought to the Supreme Court. But the president seems to be betting that the five—of nine—judges who regularly vote in his favor will do so again.

The Panamanian democracy is on the ropes once more. This time Mr. Martinelli has asphyxiated it by waving money under the noses of the political class.

Sometimes it feels like I could replace the dates in old news articles, doesn’t it?

Panama: North Korean ship with Cuban ‘military cargo’ held at the Canal

Tuesday, July 16th, 2013

Panama’s resident Ricardo Martinelli tweeted photos of the Cuban missiles smuggled below a cargo of sugar in a North Korean ship:

North Korean ship with ‘military cargo’ held by Panama

Panama’s president says his country has seized a North Korean-flagged ship carrying “undeclared military cargo”.

President Ricardo Martinelli said the ship, held in the Panama Canal as it sailed from Cuba, contained suspected “sophisticated missile equipment”.

He posted a photo of what looked like a large green object inside a cargo container on his Twitter account.

The president said the 35-strong crew had resisted the search and the captain had tried to kill himself.

They didn’t just try to resist the search:
Panama’s search of North Korean ship triggers ‘violent’ confrontation

Few details of the confrontation were available, but the ship’s North Korean crew of 35 resisted arrest, said Panama’s security minister, Jose Raul Mulino. He described it as “violent,” saying that the crew tried to sabotage the ship by cutting cables on the cranes that would be used to unload cargo.

As it is, authorities now have to remove 255,000 sacks of brown sugar by hand, Mulino said.
During the struggle with Panamanian authorities, the ship’s captain suffered an apparent heart attack and then tried to kill himself, according to President Ricardo Martinelli.

The crew also refused to raise the ship’s anchor, Mulino said, forcing Panamanian authorities to cut the anchor loose to move the ship.

Jane’s proposed two theories why the equipment was on board the ship. “One possibility is that Cuba could be sending the system to North Korea for an upgrade. In this case, it would likely be returned to Cuba and the cargo of sugar could be a payment for the services,” the Jane’s statement said.
Jane’s other theory was that “the fire-control radar equipment could have been en route to North Korea to augment Pyongyang’s existing air defense network. North Korea’s air defense network is arguably one of the densest in the world, but it is also based on obsolete weapons, missiles and radars.”

Ros-Lehtinen: Ship caught with missiles headed to N. Korea from Cuba serves as wake up call to Obama Admin. It should, but I don’t expect it to.

UPDATE:
The ship’s AIS (Automatic Identification System) had been inoperative for weeks, so it’ll be difficult to trace its prior route. The AIS transmits to a satellite a continuous signal tracking a ship’s location.

The problem with Panama

Monday, June 18th, 2012

Mary O’Grady looks at the changes in the Martinelli administration, as he moves Panama, a strategically-important country, towards totalitarianism:
Panama’s Democracy Goes South
When supermarket magnate Ricardo Martinelli became president in 2009, free-marketeers celebrated, but the honeymoon was short-lived.

The erosion of Panamanian pluralism under Mr. Martinelli seems to have originated in the 71-seat unicameral national assembly. In the last election, his party, Democratic Change (CD), won a mere 13 seats. But since then Mr. Martinelli has been able to persuade 23 other deputies to either defect to the CD or to vote with him in a coalition, thus providing the simple majority he needs for passing laws and confirming judges even as former supporters have become adversaries.

It is not entirely clear how Mr. Martinelli won over all those politicians. But it is worth bearing in mind that the Panamanian constitution was written during the military dictatorship and as such centralizes a lot of power in the executive. Thus Mr. Martinelli has enormous discretion in steering funds to selected congressional districts, and he seems to have used it.

Like Mr. Chávez in Venezuela, who also has a majority in a unicameral national assembly, Mr. Martinelli’s legislative advantage has allowed him to govern unchecked, despite loud protests from the independent press. And like Mr. Chávez, Mr. Martinelli has understood the power of the public purse.

His critics charge that he is corrupt. But that’s hard to know. What is troubling is that close Martinelli cronies have too often been named to posts that ought to be manned by politically independent professionals. One example is the comptroller general. She is a long-time Martinelli associate and the former internal auditor of one of his own companies, leaving the public wondering whether there is anyone really watching the till. He also seems to prefer no-bid contracts for the many public works that he is launching. This has heightened suspicions about the misuse of public funds.

Meanwhile he is reaching for more. Since 1997 privatization revenues have been cordoned off in a special fund with the stipulation that only the interest from the principle could be spent. But this government is creating a new vehicle for future privatization proceeds, and it will have no such constraints. Mr. Martinelli has announced that he will be the one to name its entire board of directors.

Now the president is hinting that he would like another term. Consecutive re-election is not permitted under the constitution, and changing that would require Supreme Court cooperation. He has already named four of the high court’s judges. (One of those, who is now president of the court, handled press censorship for the Noriega dictatorship.) A fifth is a reliable ally. Throw in the three new seats that he advocated for and filled, and two-thirds of the court is his.

And now let’s pause for a moment and thank Jimmy Carter for turning over a vitally important hub of commerce to a string of dictator wannabes.