Category Archives: Panama

Cubans – lost in Panama

Mario Penton has an interesting story on what has happened to those Cubans stuck in Panama after the US and Cuba agreed to end the "wet foot, dry foot" policy. Once that policy ended, Cubans were no longer guaranteed entry and a path to citizenship should they make it to US shores.

And while Trump has undone some of Obama's deal with Cuba, he has not sought to reinstate "wet foot, dry foot" because that would be too humane  encourage Cubans to make the dangerous trek across the Florida Straits.

The Panamanian government offered to relocate 300 Cubans in the Cáritas shelter in Panama City to "a better place," a temporary shelter in Gualaca in western Panama. However, there was no promise what would happen to the Cubans once they moved to the new location. It was going to be a temporary move until the Panamanian government deported them, normalized their status in the country, or found a third country to accept them. Less than half took the government up on the offer and are instead now living in hiding throughout the country. The government has said they they will deport those who did not take them up on their offer to relocate.

The Panamanian government restricted immigration from Colombia, Venezuela, and Nicaragua after citizens complained that these migrants were responsible for increasing levels of crime. The May restrictions do not bode well for Cuban migrants.

Costa Rica 2007. Panama 2017. Who’s next in Taiwan-Beijing battle?

Panama recently announced that it is ending its diplomatic recognition of Taiwan and instead recognizing China. As Boz and Greg note, Panama was one of the more important remaining allies of Taiwan.

Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen toured Central America earlier this year. She visited Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, and Nicaragua, four countries that still recognize the island.

The Guatemalan Foreign Minister had no comment on whether the country was considering making a change from Taiwan to Beijing - "We don't have an official position on this. It's a matter that concerns other countries." Honduras would not say anything publicly but, speaking on the condition of anonymity, a government source said that the country would maintain diplomatic and commercial ties with Taiwan.

It is somewhat surprising that the leftist governments in El Salvador and Nicaragua have yet to flip diplomatic recognition between Taiwan and Beijing. However, the region has been down this path before when Costa Rica switched its recognition in 2007.

For now, it looks as if Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador will continue to work with Taiwan through SICA (Taiwan is one of the largest financial contributors) and perhaps a new free trade agreement (not sure if there has been any movement since February).

Martinelli detained in FL on extradition warrant from Panama

It feels like old news already, but former Panamanian President Ricardo Martinelli was arrested in Coral Gables on Monday. The US acted on an extradition warrant from Panama, where Martinelli is wanted on political espionage and corruption charges. He should have appeared before a judge sometime today.
Panama's government had requested Martinelli's extradition last September to face accusations that he spied illegally on his political rivals and intercepted the telephone calls of more than 100 people, including politicians, business and labour leaders, and critical journalists, during his 2009-14 term as president.
Just more evidence that wealthy heads of state are not immune to corruption.

It will be interesting to follow whether the Trump administration gets involved in extradition proceedings against Martinelli and El Salvador's Inocente Montano (wanted in Spain). Donald Trump is somewhat of a blank slate when it comes to Latin America and there is some room here for advisors to whisper in his ear. On the other hand, the Trump and Martinelli families have done business together.
Now, the extradition request highlights the potential conflicts of interest that have swirled around Trump: A decision that is usually made on the merits by career diplomats could be complicated by the president’s personal and business ties to Panama. Officials at the State Department could be inclined to approve the extradition, mindful of not antagonizing the current government of Panama, which exerts plenty of influence over the fate of a development that makes millions for the president’s family—or to decline the request out of their awareness of Martinelli’s support for the Ocean Club and his admiration and kind words for Trump.
Martinelli presided over the opening of Donald Trump's hotel in Panama and he sat (sits?) on the board of a bank that manages funds going from that hotel to Trump. Just a slight conflict of interest.

Noriega to the FMLN: Don’t do anything behind my back

A few days ago former Panamanian strongman Manuel Noriega died at the age of 83. Noriega had been imprisoned for most of the last thirty years and had spent the last few in and out of hospitals in Panama. See the New York Times and Wall Street Journal. Noriega built a reputation as a man who worked both sides of the East - West conflict.

During an interview I carried out in El Salvador two years ago, I asked about the FMLN's relations with Panama. Here is what Salvador Guerra responded.
En Panamá, con Torrijos era el apoyo abierto, totalmente. Con la Universidad con... Torrijos directamente ¿verdad? Yo tuve la oportunidad de tener varias reuniones con él, entonces, y con Noriega,
Noriega era el de Inteligencia en aquel momento, en los ochentas, en el ochenta, pues, y nos dijo que ahí podían aterrizar lo que quisiéramos, y nos daba el ejemplo de cuántas armas habían pasado ahí por los sandinistas y todo..., y nos decía de que todo el mercado negro de armas ellos ya sabían de dónde venía ¿verdad? y que Estados Unidos estaba detrás de todo el tráfico de armas ahí en Panamá; entonces nos recomendaba de que no hiciéramos nada a espaldas de ellos, sino que todo lo que nosotros hiciéramos allá en Panamá se los teníamos que informar, porque nosotros habíamos metido un avión brasileño ahí en Panamá lleno de armas y nos lo había secuestrado Noriega, ni lo hizo público, nos pidieron dinero para liberar el avión y el piloto, dimos el dinero, y de ahí se fue el avión brasileño, descargamos las armas y hasta ellos nos ayudaron para ir a las bodegas que teníamos ahí en la zona libre de ahí de Panamá. Entonces la relación con ellos era bien legal, y a partir de ese incidente fue que ellos nos dijeron eso,
Que ahí en Panamá funcionaban todas las agencias de inteligencia del mundo y que ya se sabía qué era lo que hacía cada quien y que nosotros no podíamos estar funcionando así aparte, sino que teníamos que entrar en todo eso ¿verdad?, entonces nosotros después nos metimos en todo lo que fue el tráfico ahí en Panamá ¿verdad? En el primer Libro Blanco que lo presentó allá en Estados Unidos ahí en el ochenta creo yo, para la campaña electoral contra los demócratas, contra Carter, creo que fue contra Carter, ahí en ese Libro Blanco ahí me ponen a mí como el principal traficante de armas, con el seudónimo de Vladimir. Entonces ahí te puedo contar todas las anécdotas que se daban ¿verdad? Entonces ahí decían lo de la influencia de los cubanos, que nosotros teníamos el mercado de armas y el tráfico y todo. Y lo otro es que ahí llegaba armamento de Estados Unidos, y fue en la época de Oliver North y todo el tráfico de armas que había ahí, entonces llegaban armas del sur, llegaban armas de Estados Unidos y todo. 
As I've said before, popular support was valuable to the FMLN. However, so was its ability to work throughout Mexico and Central America. They developed a sophisticated network to funnel people, weapons, and resources in and out of El Salvador and the region under the US' watchful eyes.

Like Panama did with the Sandinistas, they allowed the FMLN to operate relatively freely as long as it did not do anything behind Noriega's back.