Isthmian Update – Some of the news in Panama

Government to observe “Day of Sovereignty”

According to a statement from the President’s Office, on Friday, January 9, all public and private offices will remain closed for the official observation of the “National Day of Sovereignty” that recognizes the patriotic deeds of January 9, 1964. The new designation of the observance, better known as the Day of the Martyrs, is based on “Law 118 of 27 December 2013” that declares January 9 of each year by the new name. The observance commemorates a student protest against U.S. claims on the Canal Zone that escalated into an altercation resulting in injuries and deaths. As a consequence of the events, Panama abolished the Hay-Bunau Varilla Treaty, which ceded the Canal Zone to the U.S. in perpetuity, and ratified the Torrijos-Carter Treaty, which set the date for the handing over of the Canal to Panama by the end of 1999.

On the trail of missing spy gear

A witness currently under protection reported that the former head of the National Security Council, Gustavo Pérez, bought and manipulated the equipment used to intercept communications. Perez, former director of the police and Deputy Minister of Government during the last administration, denied the version of events stating that he was never trained to operate this equipment. According to the witness, Pérez received such training in Israel, where the equipment was purchased in 2010 for $13.4 million. The funds used for the purchase came from the National Assistance Program (PAN). The investigation comes as the result of efforts by the Anticorruption Prosecutor’s office to locate the equipment, which has since gone missing.

Ayu requests self-audit

An audit of his own assets –bank accounts, real estate and personal property– was requested by the presiding judge of the Supreme Court, Jose Ayu Prado. In his request to the Financial Analysis Unit (UAF) and the Comptroller General of the Republic, Ayu voluntarily gave up protections afforded him due to his position, in a move of transparency intended to show that the asset declaration he made upon taking office stands up to scrutiny. Ayu Prado’s request was part of a report on his first year in office, an act at which President Juan Carlos Varela and other authorities participated.

Worldwide drop in fuel hits Panama

Oil prices continue to show few signs of recovery and are still descending in value. In New York, West Texas Intermediate dropped 5% to end at $50.04 a barrel, while in London, Brent fell 5.86% and ended at $53.11. In Panama, the low fuel prices are forecast to fall once again, with a further decline in the price of fuel expected for the end of this week. The trend, according to the records of the National Secretariat of Energy, shows prices decreasing by 7 cents a gallon for 95 octane gasoline; 10 cents a gallon 91 octane gasoline, and at least 12 cents for a gallon of diesel.

Birds of a feather

“The judges of the Supreme Court are my friends,” said Alberto “Tito” Cigarruista to the newspaper, La Estrella de Panama, upon being elected judge of the Court of Auditors. The friends he refers to are precisely the ones who elected him to his new position, replacing Ileana Turner, whose term expired on December 31. The election took place in a regular session of the Court, in which five of the judges voted in favor. Cigarruista took possession of his new office this week.

New toll structure proposed for the Canal

The Panama Canal announced a proposal for a new toll structure as a result of over a year of informal consultations with representatives of different segments of the maritime industry. According to the Canal Administration, the tariffs are needed to improve the competitiveness of the waterway through incentives and better service to customers. A consultation period, to include a public hearing to be held on February 27, has been opened to formally receive comments on the proposal.

Big changes at the Public Ministry

Days after taking office, Attorney General, Kenya Porcell, began making changes in Public Ministry personnel, beginning with Rolando Rodriguez, the new secretary general, who replaced Ramses Barrera. The new administrative secretary, Berta De La Guardia, replaces Indira Rios de Broce. David Diaz was named deputy secretary general, replacing Marta Gómez. Senior Litigation Attorney, Delia Castro was named, replacing Francisco Ricarte as top prosecutor. According to sources, Porcell will soon restructure the four anti-corruption prosecutors at the agency.

Panama’s first-ever cardinal named

Cardinal-designate José Luis Lacunza, will travel to Rome on February 9 to receive the investiture from the hands of Pope Francis. The current bishop of David stated that he will travel to the Vatican accompanied by the Archbishop of Panama, José Domingo Ulloa, and other religious leaders. Bishop Lacunza also stressed that this has given him the honor of being the first monk of the Augustinian Order who has been chosen as a cardinal. Lacunza, 70, was in David yesterday with President Juan Carlos Varela, at the opening of a proposed affordable housing project in the province of Chiriqui, at which the President congratulated him on his appointment.

Protests over increased electricity tariff

Protesting a recent-announced increase in the electricity tariff, members of the Front for the Defense of Sovereignty (Frenadeso) will march on Wednesday, January 14 from Parque Porras at 4 p.m. to the Presidency, with the intent to deliver a document rejecting the measure. Saul Mendez, leader of Frenadeso, described the tariff as “imposing, in a crazy way, an increase in energy costs when the price of a barrel of oil is the lowest it has been in the last decades. There is no justification other than enriching the pockets of the cufflink-wearing transnational entrepreneurs who govern us.”

ANAM fights illegal logging

With limited information on the number of cocobolo and quira trees being trafficked illegally, the National Environmental Authority (ANAM) began a series of operations that will last until June. The technical advisor to the ANAM, Indra Candanedo, said the operations to be undertaken include the setting up of “fixed and mobile control stations” in Chepo, Genene, Tortí, Agua Fria, Metetí and Yaviza in Darien. Another objective is the prevention of forest fires, for which 100 experts in forest management will be trained. ANAM will invest more than $300,000 in the project. According to the Regional Director of ANAM, Glenón Álvarez, illegal logging has devastated 70% of the wildlife areas in the sector.

Price controls for “drug basket

Beginning this week, pharmacies in Panama will be keeping in plain view a list of the 40 generic drugs now offered to consumers as part of the “basic medicine basket (Cabamed).” Diosa Barahona, head of the Information Department of Prices and Verification of the Authority for Consumer Protection and Antitrust (Acodeco), said that in the last two months the regional agencies have been verifying the prices of medicines in some private pharmacies in each province and the results will soon be released.


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