All That Glitters …

For a half-dozen years Panama’s glowing economy has stunned many. Working on ships I get the opportunity to bring people to Panama, many for the first time, and many whose image of Panama is stuck somewhere in the past, frequently a quarter of a century ago when they’d read about Noriega.  When they see Panama City for the first time they are stunned!  Similar thing happens when they fly into Tocumen International either to visit, or just to connect at the “Hub Of The Americas.”  They expect a “third-world” style airport, which frankly is pretty much what it was when we came here 11 years ago.  Today when I get lost in Tocumen I am reminded that it could be any international airport anywhere in the world … yes, and unfortunately, they all are pretty much the same.

I try to present a balanced view of Panama … both the Panama we love and the Panama that drives us nuts.  One of the important chapters that I’ve added through the years as I’ve continually updated my book, THE NEW ESCAPE TO PANAMA: OUR EXPERIENCE LIVING & RETIRING IN PANAMA, is entitled “The Devil You Know” … as in “The devil you know is sometimes better than the devil you don’t know.”

Many people decide to move to Panama assuming that the legal system here is pretty much the same as from whence they came.  Assuming anything is the worst thing you can do it Panama. That is particularly true when it comes to the legal system which is vastly different from that in North America and many other places. The basis of law is different.  Many of us are used to a law that features trial by jury, law based on statutes interpreted from custom and judicial precedent, which is why law students are always searching for cases in the past which can be used to benefit their clients.  In the US, at least prior to the Patriot Act, the accused was entitled to a speedy-of-sorts trial.  Many of us come from places where practicing the law is an honored profession requiring long study and preparation, passing a rigorous bar exam proving that you not only have a paper saying you graduated, but that in fact you know the law.  We have ideas like “time is of the essence” – good luck with that in Panama!, “agency” – oh, what a can of worms here, yada yada.  Get involved with the legal system here and you can sit in prison for months, even years, waiting while folks sort out what, if anything, you are being charged with, and if, and when you might be tried, depending on what connections and how much money you have.  “Justice” can be bought if the price is right and if you have enough political clout and the right family pedigree … but not always as the Former President of Panama, Ricardo Martinelli and his family and cohorts are finding out. Senor Martinelli is apparently on the run, whereabouts unknown although he still has his Twitter account.  Half of his cronies have fled the country, half are in “protective custody”, and half are quivering at home.  I know that three halves don’t generally make a whole, except in Panama.

The current government is obsessed with rooting out corruption … at least the corruption of the previous government … and seeking transparency.  And these are good, and much-needed objectives, but … in the meantime the engine of progress must continue.  Martinelli’s “get ‘er done” style of government pushed ahead approving a myriad of projects without competitive bidding (Ah-ha!) which many allege opened the door for Martinelli and his inner circles … like Versailles there were many concentric circles … to line their pockets with essentially stolen funds which is alleged to be as much as $3 Billion.  But while the mess is sorted out a giant hospital complex, new convention center, hospitals and medical centers across the country sit unfinished and deteriorating.

How successful the current government will be in seeking transparency will depend on what happens when the next government … and democracy in Panama seems to require switching political control in each presidential election … investigates the present government.  Knowing that certainty the present government, the new team that came in when the old team left, are super cautious and almost afraid to move on anything fearing that in five years they will be the ones under the microscope.

A lot of folks are intrigued by the idea of a country that isn’t lawsuit happy … but remember, when you’ve been wronged, or cheated, or the victim of malpractice … what recourse do you have?  “So, sue me!”  Yep.  So unless we both have deep pockets to pay endless legal fees for years and years … and the cost of the suit, should you win, wouldn’t cover your years of legal fees.  The alternative, if either of you has the money, would be to buy off the judge and legal system for settlement.

Before you pick up and decide to move to Panama or any other country you need to really do your homework and know what you are buying into.

The former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court is already sitting in jail.  Then this morning this was the news …

According to research by Assistant Prosecutor Marcelino Aguilar, the group – which included assistant judges, clerks and lawyers — intentionally delayed cases, bribed jurors and tampered with evidence on behalf of defendants.

According to evidence collected in the case, this included at least one case where a judge’s signature was forged reports La Prensa.

The investigation was launched when allegations surfaced that a jury in the case of murder suspect Hilario Chen Quintana had been tampered with. That trial has been suspended until next year so while the corruption investigation takes place.

Evidence collected also included the seizure of whatsapp messages that showed officials negotiating prices for verdicts with lawyers.

So far, 12 court officials and one other individual have been charged. More arrests are likely say sources.  [NEWSROOM PANAMA]

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