Former President of Panama Will Face New Trial

Nov 25, 2020
1:22 PM
Originally published at Latin America News Dispatch

Former President Ricardo Martinelli in 2014. Photo Courtesy of World Economic Forum via Flickr.

PANAMA: Panama’s High Court of Appeal annulled an August 2019 sentence that acquitted former President Ricardo Martinelli of illegal wiretapping and corruption, and ruled he face a new trial. Lawyers agreed to precautionary measures that would prevent the defendant from evading justice and fleeing the country. Justices Donaji Arosemena and Yiles Pittí argued that the testimonies by protected witness Ismael Pittí and Júbilo Grael, an agent who participated in the wiretapping, indicated the existence of illegal activities. The justices also stated that the court did not value the information Pittí provided during the trial. During his testimony, Pittí detailed operations that were ordered by Martinelli to track communications from politicians, businessmen, trade unionists and journalists.

Martinelli denied all the claims made against him. He said this was a political move to keep him from running in the 2024 presidential race under his Realizing Goals party.

The ruling gives plaintiffs a second chance to prove Martinelli spied on his political opponents and used “state resources and violated human rights.” In 2015, Martinelli fled the country for the United States, where he was detained in Miami by authorities and extradited back to Panama for trial. Martinelli was detained for one year in prison, and placed under house arrest until August 2019.


PERU: Interim President Francisco Sagasti replaced the commander of the National Police after violent crackdowns on protestors during demonstrations against the government swept the nation. With Gen. César Augusto Cervantes’ designation, 15 police generals will go into retirement. Sagasti also announced he will form a commission to recommend actions to “modernize and strengthen the National Police.” The president’s decision aims to regain citizens’ trust in security forces. Clashes between police and protesters have so far left 63 hospitalized and two people dead.

VENEZUELA: President Nicolás Maduro eased coronavirus measures for the month of December, lifting restrictions on trade, economic activities, travel and leisure. Maduro justified the decision on Sunday by saying statistics show that COVID-19 infections are under control in Venezuela. The move seeks to reactivate the economy and facilitate family reunions over Christmas. Maduro’s announcement comes before Venezuelans head to the polls for the December 6 parliamentary elections. Venezuela has so far reported over 100,000 COVID-19 cases.

COLOMBIA: Four years after the peace deal with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), the country finds itself amid a new cycle of organized violence. Signed on November 24, 2016, the agreement between former President Juan Manuel Santos’ government and the former guerrilla group, now a political party, was meant to end 50 years of armed conflict. Since then, however, Colombians continue to lack security and violence has increased against former combatants, with over 240 militants killed.


CUBA: Western Union Co. officially closed their 407 offices in the country after sanctions were imposed by the Trump administration. The decision could exacerbate already challenging economic situations in the country as families struggle with the pandemic. U.S. President-elect Joe Biden has promised to reverse some of the sanctions on remittance after the international community criticized the U.S. blockade against the country. Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez praised the international community for supporting them. Estimates place remittances to Cuba around $2 to $3 billion annually. This is the third biggest source of income, following industry and tourism. Money transfers through Western Union were estimated around $1 billion.


NICARAGUA: The Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) predicted in their November report that President Daniel Ortega will retain power during the 2021-2025 term. In October, the National Assembly approved a law requiring individuals and organizations that receive funding from outside governments to register as foreign agents, which restricts their ability to support political activities. The EIU said, however, that Ortega’s power might wane due to U.S. sanctions. Part of their forecast also shows that Ortega could reform Social Security, which would be aimed at reducing the country’s deficit. However, the short term fix will not be able to account for a potential seven percent drop in the country’s GDP outlined in the report. The biggest problems outlined are stabilizing COVID-19 infection rates, lack of economic growth and potential political and social instability following the 2021 elections.


MEXICO: Bloomberg’s “COVID Resilience Ranking” project found that Mexico is “the worst place to be” during the pandemic. The country was ranked out of the 53 countries with economies of $200 billion or more. The ranking is based on a “resilience score” calculated from various indicators. The indicators include test positivity rate and case fatality rate, which for Mexico are 62.3% and 8.6%, respectively, as well as the highest in the world. In terms of total deaths per million residents, Mexico ranks ninth in the world. In terms of cases over the last month per million residents, Mexico ranks in the middle at 32. The final indicator is the number of supply agreements a country has for phase III trials of COVID-19 vaccines, of which Mexico has three, with the companies Pfizer, AstroZeneca and CanSino. Right after Mexico, at the bottom of the list, are Argentina and Peru.

MEXICO: Lawyers for jailed former Cabinet Secretary Rosario Robles said she is willing to cooperate with prosecutors in exchange for leniency. Robles reportedly has information that implicates her colleague Luis Videgaray in corruption schemes and absolves former President Enrique Peña Nieto. Robles and Videgaray both served in the Peña Nieto cabinet. The former is accused of organizing the so-called “master scam,” which diverted money from public universities to shell companies while she was secretary of social development. Her lawyer claims that she has evidence Videgaray managed the misallocation of public funding for political campaigns in favor of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) in the 2015 and 2018 elections. Robles was arrested in August 2019, and faces up to 45 years behind bars for the alleged theft of around $250 million.

UNITED STATES: Department of Justice officials have agreed to suspend the deportations of immigrant women who say they were abused by a gynecologist at a Georgia detention facility. Dozens of women who were detained at the Irwin County Detention Center in Georgia say they were given unnecessary procedures by Dr. Mahendra Amin, a gynecologist who worked at the facility. Six of the women have already been deported, and deportation proceedings were opened against at least seven others. The women are potential witnesses in an ongoing Department of Justice investigation against Amin. Last week, over a hundred Democratic lawmakers wrote a letter demanding that the women be released from detention and be allowed to apply for U-visas, which grant legal status to undocumented immigrants who cooperate with law enforcement.


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