Sunday, August 27, 2006

The referendum battle gets close

The referendum battle gets close

by Eric Jackson

According to La Prensa's spin doctors, the latest poll shows that the "yes" campaign retains a huge advantage, with both "yes" and "no" camps losing a few points to the undecideds since this past May. The reality is, however, that at best the "yes" side has a single-digit lead now, because in the climate of intimidation that the government and ACP have created many people are afraid to tell any stranger that they oppose the government and virtually all of those "undecideds" are actually on or leaning toward the "no" side.

You can tell who has the momentum by so many signs: the Excedra Books readers' club reaction to Stanley Heckadon's pro-expansion presentation; changes in the lineups of the Torrijos administration's and ACP's publicity teams; "no" campaign messages painted in the back windows of city buses; endorsements for the "no" side from indigenous organizations and leaders.

Nevertheless there are two months before the election and a lot of things can and will happen.

One thing that's happening right now, in a coordinated effort by pundits and letter writers and government policy, is an attempt to portray the "no" campaign as the labor and leftist militants and nobody else, and to provoke key labor sectors into strike actions and bring the student radicals out to block the streets and throw rocks and molotov cocktails at the cops. The bet is that these tired old tactics, which cause annoying traffic jams and are hugely unpopular, will play into the government's and "yes" campaign's hands and change the momentum that would otherwise carry the Torrijos - Alemán Zubieta Plan to defeat.

I get the sense that the Seguro Social clerical workers' leader Priscila Vásquez and educator union leaders like Andrés Rodríguez are smart enough to step around those traps. However, not all of their supporters are. Moreover, there will be government provocateurs and assorted freelance thugs on hand to push them into the traps, as was the case during the Seguro Social strike.

My basic social loyalty is toward working people and my sympathies in these labor disputes are with the CSS workers and teachers. I distinguish between the heads of company unions that front for the bosses and genuine labor leaders, and consider Vásquez and Rodríguez to be the latter, even if they have political disagreements with each other and I have different politics from both of them.

But meanwhile, FRENADESO, the Seguro Social workers and the "street left" factions are far from the entire "no" camp. In fact they don't even comprise its majority. The core of the opposition to the Torrijos - Alemán Zubieta Plan is composed of middle class professionals from across the political spectrum who are appalled by the plan's demagogic presentation and, far more importantly, alarmed by its contents.

How can a pediatrician who treats babies who come in sick because their homes in parts of the metropolitan area lack clean drinking water not be concerned about the expansion proposal's likely effect on the urban water supply? How can a banker whose job it is to analyze business plans believe in the incomplete figures and wildly optimistic assumptions that have gone into the government's and ACP's plan? How can a lawyer who's more than just a paper shuffler or bribe negotiator and who believes in the rule of law accept the open vote buying, the use of public funds for political propaganda, the shattering of the organic law and solemn promises that the ACP work force would not be politicized, and the concerted campaign of specious arguments? How can a teacher who's conscientious about his or her job of turning out informed and discerning young citizens not be alarmed when government policy is to promote a financial scheme that makes no intrinsic economic sense and cover it with rhetoric about how "it's a money machine?" How can an architect or engineer whose job it is to estimate the costs of construction projects overlook the many tell-tale signs that the $5.25 billion pricetag attached to the Torrijos - Alemán Zubieta Plan is a lowball bid? How can any astute observer of world affairs not notice that the company that the ACP has hired as its consultant for the canal expansion, Parsons Brinckerhoff, is the same one that was in charge of Boston's disastrous Big Dig project?

Fernando Manfredo, Tomás Drohan, Guillermo Endara, Jorge Illueca, Luis Chen, Humberto Ricord, Miguel Antonio Bernal, Humberto Reynolds, Jorge Gamboa, Roberto Méndez, Ariel Rodríguez, Keith Holder et al are not young maleantes with a radical cause to be self-righteous about. You won't find them out on the Transistmica blocking traffic and throwing things at the cops. They're serious and accomplished professionals with well considered objections to what the government's trying to do. If President Torrijos and canal administrator Alemán Zubieta think that they can win a referendum by equating these people with the kids at the Instituto Nacional, that's one more foolish risk they're taking.

But of course, all eggs are not in the broad-brush smear basket. There are also now two "private" campaign committees for the "yes" vote, both of them siamese twins of the government and ACP and both sheltered by a lack of transparency about the sources of their money. We know how Parsons Brinckerhoff has behaved in US ballot issue campaigns, so we can be confident that the New York-based multinational corporation will spend heavily to buy this Panamanian election. Given that the Torrijos administration has chosen the congressman from Caterpillar to head its US Congressional Panama Caucus, we should not be surprised if that Illinois-based multinational corporation also sticks its fingers in this country's affairs. An on and on --- it surely hasn't just been endorsements like those from the Houston Port Authority and the Chinese state-owned COSCO shipping line that delegations from the government and ACP criss-crossed North America, Europe and East Asia to solicit. Soon all MEDCOM and TVN programming will pushed to the background in favor of an avalanche of "yes" commercials of questionable provenance.

Ah, but Toro did that too, apparently with money raised for the most part in Asia, and still his 1998 ballot proposal went down in flames. Martín's problem is that ads brought to us by the corporate board in New York or the politburo in Beijing only go so far with the Panamanian electorate.

The true cost of the post-Panamax locks

The true cost of the

post-Panamax locks

by Tomás Drohan Ruiz ---

The post-Panamax project of the Panama Canal Authority (ACP) 2006 is almost identical to the solution (option 5 CAS) of the tripartite commission composed of the United States, Japan and Panama. The truth is that the ACP project is physically more ambitious and a bit more expensive than the CAS 1993 solution for the following reasons:

a) The ACP locks are larger than those of CAS 1993. It is well known that the cost of a set of locks is proportional to the volume of the locks chamber and the ACP Locks occupy 8 percent more volume than those of CAS 1993.

b) The ACP locks have expensive recycling pools and those of CAS 1993 did not have pools or lakes. CAS 1993 underestimated the project cost because it omitted the water augmentation projects.

c) The ACP project raises the level of Gatun Lake to 90 feet and CAS 1993 maintains the level of Gatun Lake at 85 feet. The ACP project will be much more expensive because of the necessity of building a new spillway in Gatun Lake and other measures to protect the existing locks against flooding due to the higher lake level. The ACP forgot to include the cost of the new Gatun Spillway in their project estimate. They also forgot to include the cost of the new tugboat fleet, which will replace the locomotives, the deepening of the canal entrances and the project financing.

d) The ACP and CAS 1993 both use the Atlantic excavations made by the North Americans in1940 in order to build the new Atlantic locks. But the ACP does not utilize the 1940 excavations for the new Pacific locks for one simple reason: those excavations are oriented to use Miraflores Lake. Rather than use Miraflores Lake the ACP has decided to dig a new and expensive excavation to connect the Pacific post-Panamax locks with Gaillard Cut. That will require constructing two enormous rock dams in order to contain the waters of Gatun Lake thereby avoiding a catastrophic flooding of Clayton, Albrook, Balboa and Plaza 5 de mayo. The ACP does not have experience constructing that type of rock dam. The ACP prefers to create the impression that all project components are easy to build because the ACP has built them before. Unfortunately, a set of post-Panamax locks with recycling pools has never been built before.

e) Both proposals contemplate one-way traffic in Culebra Cut for post-Panamax ships and two-way traffic in Gatun Lake where a post-Panamax could meet a Panamax ship. CAS 1993 and ACP 2006 are identical in their strategy for channel width, thus both proposals economize similar amounts of excavation.

f) The ACP proposal is much more costly than option five of CAS 1993 due to the recycling pools and the raising of Gatun Lake to 90 feet. The only item in option five of CAS 1993 which is more expensive than the similar item in the ACP proposal is channel deepening. CAS 1993 requires more dredging due to the design ship draft of 59 feet versus 50 feet for the ACP design ship. But I note with interest that the ACP locks have a depth of 60 feet. The only logical reason to incur in this considerable additional cost would be an ACP intention to deepen the entire canal to 60 feet after the referendum is approved.

g) The ACP recycling pools and the post-Panamax locks they serve occupy similar volumes, therefore the recycling pools will be costly. The cost of the new locks is 60 percent of the cost of the entire project. The recycling pools with all the mitigation measures required to minimize the potential salinization of Gatun Lake could approximate the cost of the new locks thereby doubling the cost of 60 percent of the project. The only item where CAS 1993 is more costly (9 feet of additional deepening) is neutralized by the recycling pools and the raising of Gatun Lake by the ACP. The above preamble is made only to dissipate the notion that the option five of CAS 1993 is a larger project and therefore more costly than the ACP proposal. The truth is that the differences in the two projects are neutralized and the total cost of both are similar in magnitude.

Option five of CAS 1993 cost $5 billion in 1990 dollars without recycling pools, without raising Gatun Lake, and without including contingency cost due to uncertainty. Using US Corps of engineers tables for the construction of locks and navigation channels one notes that a 1990 dollar is worth $1.70 in 2010 dollars. The adjusted CAS 1993 project costs $ 8.5 billion in 2010 dollars without contingency costs, without recycling pools, and without raising the level of Gatun Lake.

Professor Flyvberg in his book (Megaprojects and risks, Cambridge University Press) shows that one should use a contingency factor of 50 percent to attain a 50 percent confidence level AFTER completing the detailed design of the project. Option five of CAS 1993 with a 50 percent contingency factor costs $12 billion in 2010 dollars without including the recycling pools or the raising of Gatun Lake. That 50 percent contingency factor should be higher because the ACP has not completed the detailed design of the post-Panamax locks or their recycling pools. The ACP project will not cost anything near the alleged cost of $5.25 billion. Until the ACP completes the detailed design of the new locks in 2008 one can not know the true cost of the project with any degree of certainty.

In November of 2005 the detail design of the post-Panamax locks and their recycling pools had just started (less than 30 percent completed). The detail design of a system as complicated as the new locks will take at least two or three years to complete. The ACP cannot estimate with any degree of precision its megaproject until after January 2008. It is unfortunate that the Panamanian government is conducting a referendum where the public will have to blindly vote without the benefit of a more precise cost estimate, which will be available in 2008 when the ACP completes the detail design of the new locks. What will happen if after completing the design of the new locks the ACP informs us that the new cost of the project is $10 billion? In recent public forums high ACP officials have stated that the post-Panamax locks is not feasible if it costs more than $6 billion. I imagine that the shipping industry is unwilling to pay the tolls required to amortize a megaproject that costs more than $6 billion. This became abundantly clear when Mr. C.T. Burke associated with K-Line said “shippers are willing to accept a moderate increase in tolls, but are not willing to pay for the total cost of the project.” (La Prensa, 11 June, 2006).

The most fervent apostle of the ACP who wishes to believe in the ACP cost estimate of $5.25 billion (Even though the 28 percent contingency factor used by the ACP appears low because the detail design of the new locks do not yet exist) has to admit the following: there is not much difference between the $5.25 billion ACP cost estimate and the $6 billion which the ACP states would make the project financially unfeasible.

The adjusted cost of CAS 1993 option five is $12.5 billion in 2010 dollars and the ACP cost is $5.25 billion. Because of the enormous difference between these two estimates one needs to look at other sources in order to determine which estimate is more consistent with reality. A US undersecretary of defense, with thousands of engineers at his disposal, has estimated the post-Panamax locks project at a cost ranging between $15 billion and $25 billion. The ACP rejected with displeasure the above Pentagon estimate. Several serious foreign publications have stated that the new locks project in Panama could well cost more than $10 billion. (La Prensa, 11 June 2006). Because Panama’s government is betting the entire country on only one megaproject, I would have to be conservative and favor the $12.5 billion estimate until the ACP finishes the detail design of the new locks in 2008. On the ACP web site there exists a study by US experts where they counsel the ACP that the public should not be given a single number as a true estimate which could cause false expectations… but instead should give a cost range which will become more reliable as the detail design of the new locks progresses towards completion. Until the detail design of the new locks is completed, I believe that range should be not less than $10 billion and not more than $15 billion.

Now that we see that we own a financially unfeasible megaproject we should take the following steps:

a) The Panamanian government should postpone the referendum until 2008 or 2009 when the detail design of the new locks is available along with a more reliable ACP cost estimate.

b) Panama could then use those two or three years to inform the nations using the canal that the post-Panamax locks with enormous risk of a cost over run and uncertain demand cannot be paid for by a small and poor country. Panama is only disposed to make available its natural resources (land and water) and its geographic position to make possible the construction of a post-Panamax locks. The rich countries with maritime economies would have to prove their interest in the new locks by absorbing their entire cost. Those contributions should be made by the major users of the Panama Canal: Korea, Japan, China, the European Union and the United States.

c) Panama, as the sovereign host nation, would operate the new post-Panamax locks. The donor nations would be allowed to provide a rigorous audit of the construction in order to assure that the donated funds are used in the project in a transparent fashion. Panama would negotiate the future tolls to be charged for the next 15 or 20 years with the donor nations. If the canal users are really willing to pay for the new locks with tolls increases in the future, then they should also be willing to pay for the new locks with money up front in exchange for smaller tolls increases in the future.

The unrealistic ACP proposal assumes that shippers are willing to pay whatever toll increase is required to amortize the cost of the new locks. Panama would be running the risk of a large loss on the project if shippers do not use the new locks because they find the toll increases unreasonable. If these negotiations between Panama and the using nations do not conclude with guaranteed profits for Panama greater than those which are possible with the debt-free existing canal, then Panama should not make its geographic position available for the post-Panamax megaproject.

The ACP proposal is not in the best interest of the host country because the entire project risk is placed on Panama’s shoulders. After Panama puts all their money in the new post-Panamax hole, the shippers would have all the advantages to dictate the tolls they are willing to pay because the shippers are free to use other routes since they have no money invested in the new post-Panamax locks. The shippers could use other routes like Suez or California, and Panama could only opt for lesser losses accepting the tolls dictated by the shippers.

If Panama aspires to be a member of the first world rather than be catapulted into the fourth world with a mega project that cannot be amortized because it is generating losses, then Panama must reject the post-Panamax locks if the using nations are unwilling to pay for the entire construction with upfront money. Panama and the ACP should not have to put up any money since they are providing free usage of their land and water.

The author is the retired chief engineer and director of the Department of Engineering, Dredging and Construction of the Panama Canal.


Shell game referendum

Shell game referendum

by Miguel Antonio Bernal

The scent of immorality rises every day stronger from everything that surrounds the so-called "expansion project," and to this now must be added the daily thunderbolts of fraud coming from the Electoral Tribunal. The referendum set for October 22 is by all measures unconstitutional, illegal and illegitimate.

It's clear that any recourse to the Supreme Court is, as a practical matter, an illusion. The proponents and promoters of corrupt canal expansion proposal know this, and thus they are not missing any trick to orchestrate the fraud that has been brewing since the approval of the 2004 constitutional reforms.

So it's not a coincidence that the "vacationers" of the Electoral Tribunal chose the second week of August to meet in Panama with some 60 members of electoral institutions from 24 countries for the VIII Conference of the Inter-American Union of Electoral Institutions, sponsored by nothing more and nothing less than the Center for Electoral Assistance and Promotion (CAPEL), of the Inter-American Human Rights Institute (IIDH). The purpose was more than met the eye: to misspend public funds --- without prior approval --- on an event that only aims to apply makeup to the image of the local election organization, which has by now displayed all of its paraphernalia to carry the referendum for Martín's and Lalo's "¡Sí se puede!" camp.

The Inter-American Democratic Charter, adopted in October of 2001 by the General Assembly of the Organization of American States at an extraordinary session in Lima, Peru, establishes in its Article 7 that "Democracy is indispensable for the effective exercise of fundamental freedoms and human rights in their universality, indivisibility and interdependence, embodied in the respective constitutions of states and in inter-American and international human rights instruments." These considerations are of absolutely no importance to the regents of the Electoral Tribunal and this is corroborated by the decisions that the electoral court has issued about the referendum, which have vacated the democratic environment in which a consultative process belongs.

Maurice Duverger, in his work "Instituciones Políticas y Derecho Constitucional," defines for us the procedures of semi-direct democracy as a species of collaboration among the citizens and their representatives.

Later on he points out that "The citizens can also intervene about a decision taken or prepared by their representatives. The most current procedure in that case is the referendum. The representatives (parliament or government) prepare a text, about which all citizens are called to pronounce by universal suffrage. If they accept it, the text is turned into law; if they reject it, the text does not apply." Ernesto Rey Cantor, in his work "Referéndum y plebiscito," for his part tells us that "The referendum, in its broader sense, it the participation of the citizenry in the approval of a political constitution, or its reform, or of a law, or of an administrative act, its provisions drafted by the government, or the parliament, or a constituent assembly, or a triumphant revolution, with the aim of politically organizing themselves by means of a vote. In its restricted sense, it's the citizens' participation in the approval or repeal of a regulatory text, by means of suffrage."

The management of the referendum as if it were dealing the election of public officials is fully intended to denaturalize the power of citizen participation, to atomize the citizens' constituent power and to take in hand the anti-democratic instruments that will permit a result that accords with the interests and personal agendas of those currently in power. Otherwise, how do you explain the establishment of 41 electora circuits, if it's a national consultation? What are the more than 4,200 polling stations for if it's only a matter of casting a "yes" or "no" vote? What's the basis of the selection of the ballot colors? Why the idiot or siamese ballots, if all the UN technical guides about a referendum establish that, for this type of consultation, there must be separate "yes" and "no" ballots in which no box needs to be marked?

It becomes urgent, then, for us citizens to take action, by all civic means at our disposal, to unmask the fraud that Martín and his clique are orchestrating through the Electoral Tribunal, and keep them from accomplishing their goals of expansion and re-election. We must demand compliance with all of the democratic prerequisites of any popular consultation, which separate the ballots, which exclude the political parties from the voting stations. From now on whe have to prepare ourselves to go to the polls and guard our will so that the same people who have orchestrated other frauds don't get away with it again.

We must, as a people, repeat the lesson we gave them, despite everything, in 1992 and 1998, a red tide of a gigantic "no," which will stop them from getting away with it.

Miguel Antonio Bernal is a law professor at the University of Panama, host of the Alternativa radio show and its new website, president of the Colegio de Abogados Honor Tribunal (the national bar association's disciplinary committee), a member of the Violet Legion (an honor society of intellectuals named by French presidents) for his work as correspondent for Le Monde Diplomatique and a noted Panamanian human rights activist.


La ciudad de Panamá quedará sin agua: Luis Alberto Hooper Domínguez


La ciudad de Panamá quedará sin agua

Luis Alberto Hooper Domínguez

El lago Alajuela tiene una altura máxima sobre el nivel del mar de 76 metros.

Más abajo, el lago Gatún tiene una altura máxima sobre el nivel del mar de 26 metros.

Está claro que el lago Alajuela está 50 metros más alto que el lago Gatún. Por esa diferencia de 50 metros de altitud, las tres obras que proyecta construir la ACP en el lago Gatún, jamás podrán beneficiar a la potabilizadora de Chilibre.

El director del Idaan ha declarado que la potabilizadora de Chilibre será la que proveerá de agua potable a toda la ciudad de Panamá. Y todos conocemos que la potabilizadora de Chilibre succiona los 250 millones de galones de agua diarios del lago Alajuela.

Está más que demostrado que la ACP falta a la verdad, cuando expresa que con la contrucción de las tres obras en el lago Gatún, se garantiza el consumo de agua para la población y de las otras actividades humanas.

Lo que sucede es todo lo contrario. La ACP toma agua del lago Alajuela para compensar los 2 mil 670 millones de galones de agua en los 48.5 esclusajes diarios. A esto hay que agregar los 5 milímetros de evaporación diaria en el lago Gatún, que acepta la ACP. Corresponden a 2 millones 170 mil metros cúbicos; que a su vez equivalen a 572 y dos millones, ochocientos ochenta mil galones de agua, diarios.

En total, entre esclusas y evaporación, el lago Gatún tiene que proporcionar, diariamente, tres mil 242 millones, 880 mil galones de agua.

¿De donde tomará la ACP el agua que le falte? ¡Pues del lago Alajuela! ¡Dejando a la ciudad de Panamá sin agua!

El autor es ingeniero agrónomo

Stanley Heckadon defends canal expansion, expresses his concerns

Former national environmental protection director - PANAMA NEWS

Stanley Heckadon defends canal expansion, expresses his concerns

by Eric Jackson

Stanley Heckadon-Moreno, an anthropologist by education who now works for the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute and was once the director of INRENARE, the predecessor of today's National Environmental Authority, spoke before a tough audience at the Excedra Books Club de Lectores on August 14. His main point was to explain why he thinks that the Torrijos - Alemán Zubieta Plan to expand the Panama Canal is reasonable and environmentally tenable, but the discussion got into a wide-ranging talk about Panama and its many inter-related woes.

Lamenting the fact that mass communications media focus most of their attention on the capital, Heckadon pointed out that "there are more trees being destroyed in Colon now than in the entire canal project." The growth of the Free Zone and urban sprawl up the Colon Corridor and onto the Transistmica have destroyed the Colon forests of this reporter's and Heckadon's childhood, and the process continues.

He recounted how, soon after the old Canal Zone's formal abolition, there were mass invasions of the forests along the Transistmica and soon sediments, garbage and sewage were flowing down once pristine streams into the canal waters. He said the early 80s were the worst time for the canal watershed but that the creation of a series of parks went a long way toward insuring its survival.

Still, he said, "our worst enemy is the loss of water quality."

He showed a PowerPoint projection about the canal area's ecological history and the evolution of national environmental policies, citing 1991 as a key turning point when the government turned its back on the idea of economic development through "the conquest of the forest" and banned further loans for the turning of jungles into cow pastures.

About the canal expansion project, he said he was first worried about the possibility of dams because of the nation's experiences with previous big dam projects, and said that the current plan, with its water saving basins, "leaves me more tranquil --- it's much better than the three dams proposal."

Heckadon noted that the areas to be excavated are grasslands and secondary forests, that the raising of Gatun Lake's level won't affect the Smithsonian's Barro Colorado Island laboratory very much and that there has been some good thought put into less harmful places and methods to dispose of the dredged sediments.

And what about the mangroves? Heckadon pointed out the promise --- part of the ACP's publicity campaign but not their $5.25 billion project budget --- of a world-class institute to study climate change, including how it will affect the mangrove swamps.

Conspicuously absent from Heckadon's presentation was anything about salt water intrusion through the new locks into Gatun Lake. This reporter raised the issue in the question period after the main presentation, but Heckadon ducked the question and merely stated that US Geological Survey hydrologist Robert Stallard says that there is no problem.

(This reporter tried to contact Stallard by email with no success, and also tried in vain to find any public statement or document by which he addressed the specific issues of the canal expansion project.)

However, the crowd contained many skeptics. One was a physician who noted that he sees children from the metro area with gastric disorders caused by the lack of clean drinking water in their urban neighborhoods, and expressed his concern that in terms of both quality and supply the canal expansion could worsen the water problems.

At that, Heckadon noted that the Smithsonian has not done the relevant hydrology studies but in any case opined that "the city has got to get other water sources" than the Panama Canal waters.

"We have to make the decision to rescue the city's rivers," he argued. He said that climate change is happening and it's impossible to predict, and that in the face of urban sprawl the IDAAN water and sewer utility and other governmental agencies really don't have an adequate response.

"The centralist Panamanian model has failed," Heckadon opined, and argued for giving municipalities rather than the national government responsiblity for and power over their own water supplies.

Others in the audience opined that whether or not the canal expansion project is itself viable, the politics here are so corrupt as to make a disaster out of the best plans. There were complaints about a generalized incompetence in public affairs, and few opportunities for citizens to do or say anything about it.

That got the discussion back to the proposed climate change institute and some specific questions about its governance. That, in turn, led to Heckadon's harsh critique of the Panamanian educational system at all levels. "If Albert Einstein were Panamanian and living today, he couldn't be rector of the University of Panama" he lamented, admitting that political considerations trump academic excellence there.

But despite all such concerns, Heckadon remains convinced that it's in the national interest to modernize the Panama Canal and that the proposal before the voters is a reasonable way to do it.

Los sepultureros de la verdad


Los sepultureros de la verdad

Carlos Guevara Mann

Algunos perredistas que están a favor de la construcción del tercer juego de esclusas (hay muchos que la adversan) han sostenido que los mismos que se opusieron a los tratados de 1977 se oponen hoy el proyecto de la ACP-PRD. Aducen, además, que los que adversaron los tratados de 1977 cometieron un grave error, lo mismo que quienes ahora adversan la propuesta del tercer juego de esclusas. Merece la pena estudiar esas aseveraciones propagandísticas que intentan desvirtuar la posición patriótica que muchos panameños asumieron en 1977, de oposición a los convenios de ese año.

El Tratado del Canal de Panamá y el Tratado de Neutralidad surgen de las negociaciones que son resultado de los incidentes de enero de 1964, en los que los sectores nacionalistas panameños exigieron la nacionalización del Canal, su neutralización y el pronto desmantelamiento de las bases militares estadounidenses.

En 1977, después de nueve años de dictadura atroz, con su corolario de torturas y desapariciones, Omar Torrijos presentó al pueblo panameño dos tratados. Uno, el Tratado del Canal de Panamá, prorrogó el control de la vía acuática por Estados Unidos hasta 1999 (un término fijo que ya habíamos conseguido en los proyectos de 1967), legalizó la presencia militar estadounidense en Panamá (que era reclamada de ilegal desde principios del siglo XX por el nacionalismo panameño) y convirtió al país en territorio ocupado por Estados Unidos y la Guardia Nacional, luego Fuerzas de Defensa.

Después de nueve años de propaganda supuestamente revolucionaria, seudo liberadora y pretendidamente tercermundista, el segundo instrumento, el Tratado de Neutralidad Torrijos-Carter —a perpetuidad— permite a Estados Unidos el paso expedito de sus buques de guerra por la vía acuática, autoriza la participación estadounidense en la determinación de los peajes del Canal, permite la negociación de bases militares después del año 2000 y autoriza la intervención militar de Estados Unidos en Panamá en caso de que, a juicio de Washington, la seguridad o integridad de la vía acuática corran peligro.Un patriota con memoria histórica, defensor de los postulados de 1964 y respetuoso del Derecho Internacional y la trayectoria nacionalista panameña, tenía el deber de votar "No" en el plebiscito y aún hoy debe sentirse incómodo por la vigencia del Tratado de Neutralidad Torrijos-Carter, que modernizó el enclave y que nos legó Omar Torrijos, conjuntamente con la enorme deuda pública y las decenas de tumbas anónimas en los cuarteles de la dictadura.Como lo señala el finado Julio E. Linares en su libro sobre el Tratado de Neutralidad Torrijos-Carter, el plebiscito de 1977 fue fraudulento. Votaron más panameños de los que se registraron en el padrón electoral de las elecciones siguientes y los votos los contó el hermano del jefe del G-2, Manuel Antonio Noriega (inspirador y líder de quienes están hoy en el poder). Como ahora, todo el engranaje gubernamental se empleó para promover la aprobación de los tratados, en perjuicio de la opinión de los panameños que valientemente se opusieron a los textos firmados por Omar Torrijos.

Plantear la tesis de que los que se opusieron a los tratados de 1977 desde una posición patriótica cometieron un grave error es desconocer el elevado nacionalismo de individuos como Arnulfo Arias Madrid, Guillermo Endara Galimany, Ricardo Arias Calderón, I. Roberto Eisenmann, Otilia Arosemena de Tejeira, Mario Galindo, Miguel J. Moreno, Carlos Iván Zúñiga, Julio E. Linares, Diógenes Arosemena, Leopoldo Aragón Escalona, Miguel Antonio Bernal, Fabián Echevers y Ricardo Alberto Arias, entre miles de panameños.El absurdo alegato de algunos de los que promueven el "Sí" se desmorona con la comprobación de que varios de los que en 1977 aprobaron los tratados, como Illueca y Manfredo, hoy se oponen al proyecto de la ACP-PRD y varios de los que se opusieron a los tratados de Torrijos —entre ellos algunos de los arriba señalados— son partidarios de dicho proyecto. La campaña perredista en favor de tratados antinacionales como el Torrijos-Carter y de Neutralidad retrata de cuerpo entero a sus expositores como falsarios de la historia.

El autor es catedrático de Ciencias Políticas y consultor internacional.

Coha y la controversia canalera


Coha y la controversia canalera

Betty Brannan Jaén

Washington, D.C. -Un informe publicado la semana pasada en Washington por el Consejo para Asuntos Hemisféricos (COHA) causó algo de alboroto en Panamá por expresar una opinión vehementemente negativa sobre el proyecto de ampliación canalera.

El informe acusa al gobierno de Martín Torrijos de corrupción y de "estar repleto de funcionarios de cuestionable rectitud pública", por lo que es "inevitable" que los allegados del Gobierno y de la Autoridad del Canal (ACP) sean los beneficiados por el enorme flujo de dinero e inversiones que el proyecto generara. Además, COHA acusa que las cifras que la ACP ha dado no son confiables y ataca a Bobby Eisenmann, fundador de este diario, por "supuestamente" haberse beneficiado personalmente de que la publicación de la ACP, El Faro, sea insertada en La Prensa. COHA alega que la ampliación "solo servirá como otro vehículo para que Estados Unidos proyecte su autoridad en Latinoamérica". Entre muchas cosas más, COHA advierte que debemos temer que el "Sí" oficialista haga fraude en el referéndum.

El informe tuvo repercusiones inmediatas en Panamá. Los del "No" lo circularon por doquier y los del "Sí" se enfurecieron. Eisenmann envió una carta de protesta a COHA mientras que los funcionarios de la ACP anduvieron preguntando, iracundos, "¿quién es esta gente de COHA?". En Washington, hasta donde he visto, los medios no tomaron nota del informe pero Larry Birns, director de COHA, alega que este informe generó más tráfico en su página web que cualquier otro en memoria reciente. Más de tres mil personas, me dijo Birns, han accesado la página web de COHA para leer el informe sobre el proyecto canalero. (Disponible en Birns opinó que esto confirma que hay gran interés ciudadano sobre el proyecto canalero, lo que ciertamente es saludable.

Para tratar de desenredar la controversia, comenzaré por explicar que COHA es un think tank (centro de análisis) de Washington, dedicado a temas hemisféricos. Fundado en 1975, COHA es de línea izquierdista y nadie me disputará que su director, Birns, es un tipo excéntrico, y muy inteligente, cuya pluma se inclina hacia la exageración y puede ser muy divertida. En épocas del noriegato, Birns fue un aliado fiel en la lucha para derrocar a la dictadura panameña, por lo que Birns mantiene amistad hasta el día de hoy con muchos líderes civilistas de esa era. La carta que Eisenmann le escribió refutando las acusaciones de COHA se refiere a Birns como "mi viejo amigo".

No obstante, la carta de Eisenmann señala varios errores en el comunicado de COHA y refuta específicamente lo que a él se le acusa. Sobre la acusación de que él personalmente se haya beneficiado de que El Faro sea insertado en La Prensa, Eisenmann responde así: "Falso, y vergonzoso para COHA. Nadie con uso de razón puede pensar que un hombre que arriesgó su vida diariamente por 21 años peleando contra la dictadura, por principios, vendería su alma a cambio de unos centavos destinados a un periódico del cual se retiró hace 11 años y en el que hoy tiene una posición minoritaria de menos de la mitad del 1%".

De allí, Eisenmann descarta que el proyecto de ampliación sea una inserción estadounidense en los asuntos panameños; por el contrario, dice Eisenmann, "esta es la primera vez que no podremos echarle la culpa a los gringos". Eisenmann opina que no hay temor de fraude en el referéndum, pero que sí es necesario crear un "pacto social" que garantice el buen uso de los ingresos futuros del Canal. Eisenmann asegura que su apoyo al proyecto de ampliación se basa simplemente en la idea de que esto convertirá a Panamá en un país de Primer Mundo.

El jueves llamé a Birns. Me dijo que publicará la carta de Eisenmann en su pagina web, junto a una nota editorial que describa a Eisenmann como "un héroe que merece el beneficio de la duda", pero que COHA no cambiará su posición de rechazo al proyecto de ampliación. Le pregunté si COHA no ha tomado en cuenta que la ACP es una entidad autónoma, por lo que no se le puede automáticamente atribuir cualquiera corrupción que exista en el Gobierno. "La ACP es menos autónoma de lo que uno quisiera", respondió Birns.

A todo esto, la ACP ha guardado silencio, lo que yo considero un error, porque el debate ciudadano merece y hasta requiere que la ACP responda seriamente a las dudas y a las críticas.

La autora es corresponsal de La Prensa

Sunday, August 20, 2006

El Big Dig de la Ampliación

El Big Dig de la Ampliación

El hecho de que la ACP confiara aParsons-Brinckerhoff International hacer el estudio del costo de lasesclusas, produce escozor e inquietud.
Miguel Antonio Bernal

EL ESTIMADO de los costos del tercer juego de esclusas delproyecto de ampliación del Canal de Panamá lo realizó la constructoranorteamericana Parsons-Brinckerhoff International. Desde el año 2002 estacompañía ha mantenido contrato de consultora de la ACP. Hace poco elcontrato fue renovado por 10 (diez) años más, es decir para toda la vida delproyecto... si el "sí" gana. La compañía es una de las más grandes yantiguas del mundo. Sin embargo, últimamente ha sido responsable de la"debacle" de tránsito más seria en la historia de Estados Unidos de América.

Durante unos 15 años, Parsons-Brinckerhoff Internationalfue la responsable, con Bechtel, del proyecto de túneles viales en la ciudadde Boston, más conocido como "Big Dig" (excavación grande). Este proyectosobrepasó su presupuesto por 275%, $11 mil millones y ha sido un fracasoespectacular. Hace unos meses, poco después de la entrega de la obra, unalosa inmensa cayó del cielo raso del túnel y aplastó un carro y suconductora. La investigación estableció que los materiales usados parasostener las losas eran de calidad y precio mucho más bajos que los que lacompañía debía haber usado, decía que usó, y cobraba al Estado paracomprar -es decir-, estafa mortal. Y es sólo una de muchas prácticasmalsanas que le han descubierto las autoridades judiciales estadounidenses adicha compañía.

La compañía es una de las más grandes y antiguas delmundo. Sin embargo, últimamente ha sido responsable de la "debacle" detránsito más seria en la historia de Estados Unidos de América.

Hace casi dos años, en noviembre de 2004, Betty BrannanJaén, nos alertaba desde Washington, en un artículo titulado:"Un casoaleccionador: del big dig al big ditch":

"En 1985, las cifras ofrecidas al público indicaban que el"Big Dig" costaría 2 mil millones 600 mil dólares. En 1990, el costoestimado ya iba por 5 mil millones. En 1994, antes de iniciarse laconstrucción, el administrador del proyecto, James Kerasiotes, aseguró queno costaría más que 7 mil millones 700 mil dólares. Pero las cifras eranfraudulentas.... En 1999, con la construcción a más de medio camino, elcosto estimado que se divulgaba públicamente iba por más de 10 mil millones,pero Kerasiotes todavía estaba tratando de esconder el hecho de que el costoverdadero sobrepasaría los 12 mil millones. El estado de Massachusetts sevio obligado a emitir bonos para cubrir el costo adicional, pero lo hizobasado en las cifras fraudulentas proporcionadas por el administrador (queera un funcionario, pero que trabajaba muy estrechamente -según se acusa-con las empresas a cargo del proyecto).

"Ante eso, el Securities and Exchange Commission empezó unproceso contra Kerasiotes por fraude y negligencia; este perdió su puestopero se salvó de ir a la cárcel. Mientras tanto, el costo del proyectosiguió aumentando. Costo final, según cifras actuales: 14 mil millones 600mil dólares (sin tomar en cuenta las reparaciones que se tendrán que hacerpara detener las inundaciones). Si esto es lo que ha ocurrido en Boston,¿qué podemos esperar en Panamá?".

En abril del 2000, la Administración Federal de Carreterasinformó que la compañía engañó al gobierno federal (que pagaba parte delproyecto) en $1,400 millones de sobregastos. Como resultado del informe, lacompañia fue sujeto de investigaciones por parte del Senado, de la UnidadAnticorrupción del FBI, y de la Comisión de la Bolsa de Valores. Mediantenumerosas pruebas, los investigadores establecieron que la compañía emitióestados financieros falsos y así ocultó a los compradores de bonos, elverdadero costo del proyecto. En agosto del 2000, una investigación del diario BostonHerald reveló que dos gobernadores del Estado y varios otros funcionariostenían parientes y compinches en la planilla de la compañía, y en lasplanillas de subcontratistas, que no cumplía ningún oficio sino cobrar ycobrar sueldos que les pagaban con dineros del Estado.

En marzo de 2001, otro informe, esta vez del InspectorGeneral, concluyó que la compañía conspiró con oficiales del Estado paraesconder el verdadero costo de la obra al público, a los compradores debonos, y a la Bolsa de Valores.

Tras los años, la compañía Parsons-BrinckerhoffInternational se ha mostrado muy hábil en manipular la juntas directivasmunicipales, estatales, y federales que la contratan y que la deben vigilar.En 1994 una investigación por parte del diario Times de Los Angeles (dondela compañía hacía túneles para la Autoridad Municipal de Tránsito) encontróque unos pocos miembros de la junta directiva de la autoridad habíanaceptado más de medio millón de dólares de la compañía. Esta generosidadpodría explicar porqué la ACP ha contratado -¡¡¡y esta vez, por diezaños!!!- una compañía con semejante y reciente historia.

Es más que probable que si el proyecto de ampliación se llega a aprobar, Parsons-Brinckerhoff International aplicará para elcontrato de hacer la esclusas. Así se podría esperar costos inmensos, corrupción millonaria, y daños terribles al Canal actual.

El hecho de que la ACP confiara a Parsons-BrinckerhoffInternational hacer el estudio del costo de las esclusas, produce escozor einquietud. En un estudio mundial llamado "Subestimar los Costos de Proyectos de Obras Públicas: ¿Error o Mentira?" el profesor danés Bent Flyvbjerg haencontrado que subestimar costos y sobreestimar tráfico es una tradición enla industria de designar y construir proyectos grandes de transporte. Elobjetivo es asegurar que el proyecto comienza y que se gane el contrato.Cuando el público se da cuenta de que va costar mucho más que lo esperado,es demasiado tarde. ¿No es así Mr. Alemán Zubieta?

Monday, August 14, 2006

Expanding the Panama Canal: A Wider Canal or More Governmental Payola?

Under the Torrijos government, the expanding Panama Canal will not likely serve the needs of the vast majority of Panamanians. Much of the benefits will be tied to the commercial interests of the country’s accountants, bankers and lawyers, as well as their U.S. counterparts, and world trade

Final costs: $5 or $25 billion?

The current government, not yet corruption-free, is not sufficiently professional to be trusted as the steward of such an enormous and lucrative financial venture

Evidence of venality surrounds the Torrijos administration, as well as the canal’s management

Other administration flaws raise questions about Panama City’s capacity to supervise such an enormous project

The Panama Canal, although constructed by the U.S. government and under its control for three quarters of a century, is now under the authority of the government of Panama. The canal has become Panama’s oil, its black gold, generating significant revenues with much more to come. Fearing a potential loss in these revenues due to the transition to larger, post-Panamax ships the Torrijos administration and the Autoridad del Canal de Panamá (ACP) have proposed a project that would not only widen the canal, but would also add an additional third set of locks, allowing the waterway to accommodate increasing usage demands.

Despite the great economic benefits, Panamanians might well be wary when voting on the issue in the October referendum. The estimated cost projections being used by the government are of questionable accuracy according to some experts, and the project is likely to go way over budget, with the construction costs ranging from the official projected figure of $5.25 billion to as much as five times that amount. Furthermore, the Torrijos administration has not followed through on its pledge of greater transparency, allowing the administration, the judicial system, and the educational infrastructure to be inundated by a myriad of cases of corruption. In addition, the pressure on press freedom has limited the transparency of the expansion project. Further problems, such as domestic violence, human rights violations, and common crime plague the country, with the vast potential funding that would be made available through current and future canal revenues, becoming a veritable bonanza for some of the country’s less savory elements. But one thing is for certain: to launch a canal project under the Torrijos presidency — no matter how much the nation and world trade need it — is not just unlocking the hen house for the Torrijos fox to gain entrance, but would be akin to throwing its door wide open. Before deciding whether this is the time to undertake such an enormous venture, all aspects of this major initiative deserve to be examined and then re-examined.

In early May of 2006, Panama’s President Martin Torrijos announced the publication of the official summary of the proposed canal expansion project and rallied the nation to support the single largest public works project in that country’s history, after the construction of the Panama Canal. The fate of this project will be determined in the referendum scheduled for October 22 of this year. The expansion, proposed by the Autoridad del Canal de Panamá (ACP), includes the construction of a third set of locks as well as the expansion of existing ones, allowing for a faster transit of ships as well as accommodating larger “post-Panamax” vessels.

According to the ACP, an increase in tolls and foreign loans will pay for the estimated $5.25 billion project. While the government boasts that the project will generate a vast number of jobs for its large numbers of unemployed citizens, many Panamanians are coming to the conclusion that canal expansion may not be in their best interest at this time.

The Torrijos administration, like previous Panamanian governments, is packed with officials of questionable public rectitude who lack even minimal accountability. Therefore, it could be questioned whether the president and the ACP, as it is now constituted, can be trusted with such an enormous project without the further elaboration of internal controls as well as additional external protections being built into the project.

But one thing is for certain: to launch a canal project under the Torrijos presidency — no matter how much the nation and world trade need it — is not just unlocking the hen house for the Torrijos fox to gain entrance, but would be akin to throwing its door wide open.

In 1904, the United States signed a treaty with the newly constituted nation of Panama to build the waterway and to insure Washington’s control over the new facility through the continuous bribery and intimidation of its newly elected officials. In 1914, the 77 kilometer S-shaped passageway was finally completed. It consisted of two artificial lakes, several improved channels and enhanced natural waterways, as well as two sets of mechanical locks, connecting the Atlantic Ocean via the Caribbean Sea to the Pacific Ocean by way of the Gulf of Panama. Under U.S. jurisdiction, plans were formulated to expand the canal, and digging began for a third set of locks. But the project was soon abandoned once funds were forcefully diverted because of WWII. Even though the U.S. at the time abandoned the expansion project, it maintained firm control over the canal’s operating agencies for decades more.

Over the years, however, Panama began to feel uneasy over the question of foreign ownership of the passageway, and in 1977, Panama and the United States signed the Torrijos-Carter Treaty after years of sometimes violent confrontations. This treaty negotiated the transfer of sovereignty and on December 31, 1999, Panama obtained full autonomy over the canal. Now, President Martin Torrijos, whose father signed the 1977 treaty, is proposing to complete the canal expansion plans first initiated by the United States nearly a century ago.

The Expansion: Continuing the U.S. Legacy
The proposed expansion project has been eagerly supported by Washington, the canal’s major beneficiary. Julio Yao, of the Panama daily Estrella Panama, concluded that Washington fully supported the expansion project, noting that President Bush stated that the canal is vital to U.S. security interests. But critics insist that Panama should not carry out the project simply to satisfy global commercial interests and the narrowly defined security concerns of the United States. Even though global trade and the shipping industry will undoubtedly benefit from canal renovation, critics claim that locals will not fare as well, as government officials will simply pocket a hefty chunk of the revenues, nor will they necessarily benefit from the greater trade access and enhanced security derived by the U.S. Their conclusion is that the project will only serve as another vehicle for the U.S. to project its authority in Latin America and to further heat up the country’s explosive mix of corruption, drugs, money laundering, contraband, and other illicit transactions.

Current Economic Benefits of the Canal
According to the ACP, revenues from the canal in the 2005 fiscal year were $489 million, which represents approximately sixty percent of the national investment budget. The canal revenues go directly to the National Treasury, making it difficult to determine what social projects can be attributed to the funds generated from the canal. In an effort to ensure that the revenues were in fact benefiting Panamanians, the government has proposed a $500 million budget, operational for the next ten years. The 610 districts of Panama will split the funds, using the money for the construction of social projects that directly benefit communities across the country.

Proposed Project
As the forces of globalization concentrate on promoting heightened levels of trade around the world, the relative importance of an expansion of the canal has increasingly become a more widely debated issue. Both the ACP and the government of Panama are now focused on enlarging the facility, thus maintaining the country’s competitive position in international trade. As the Latin Business Chronicle has noted, the unprecedented increase in trade between the U.S. and China, in large part, has been responsible for the longer delays in waterway transit. Since trade between these two countries will likely grow exponentially in the near future, Panama, as well as international trade circles are worried about the canal’s ability to accommodate higher trade volumes. According to the Washington File, “Panama is concerned that without the [canal’s] expansion, a competing project might be built in Central America or Mexico, making the [Panama] canal into just a ‘regional’ waterway.” In this context, the modernization project would maintain the canal’s status as an important means of trade, because with relatively modest improvements, according to its proponents, it would be able to “handle almost twice the current volume of cargo and would speed the movement of ships that now must wait in long lines at the canal’s entrances.” Another reason for its expansion is the development and coming on of post-Panamax ships, which are too wide to fit through the existing locks. Panamax vessels are the most common among ocean fleets now in service, ranging from 91-105 feet wide, just small enough to fit through the 110 ft wide canal. The new generation of post-Panamax ships, however, are much larger and therefore too wide to fit through the canal, forcing shippers to use other sea routes. Such cargo ships are not an immediate problem, because only the U.S. navy is currently operating with a fleet of this size.

The Blinded Government
The expansion project has been very controversial from its outset due to, among other things, claims of high opportunity costs, including an 8-year renovation time-line. However, the Torrijos administration has been insistent over supporting the ACP-sponsored project and has expended considerable energy and funds on campaigning not only within Panama, but across the globe, in favor of canal expansion. The government has been presenting the project as a benefit to the entire world, and as a catalyst for economic change in Panama, as well as an eminently affordable and self-financing project. Samuel Lewis, vice-president and foreign minister of Panama, addressed the OAS in June and claimed that “Expanding the existing size of the Panama Canal would benefit Panama and the entire Western Hemisphere.” The ACP also feels that it possesses the numbers to prove conclusively that the project will facilitate world trade, which is not being debated.

In a recent exchange regarding the canal proposal, ACP architect Francisco Miguez claimed that expansion would encourage the growth of East Asian and U.S. East Coast trade, which at the present time already is “the most important part of the canal’s business.” Furthermore, according to Greg Miller of Fairplay weekly, and an eminent expert in such matters, the expansion project is not only necessary to support the Asia market, but is necessary for “the diversification strategies of the major US shippers.” Companies such as Wal-Mart were “convinced by the 2002 US West Coast port labor disaster and the 2004 congestion crisis in Los Angeles/Long Beach, that they could no longer afford to keep all their supply-chain eggs in the Los Angeles/Long Beach basket.” As a result of the crises, companies determined that “they must diversify import gateways more to the US East/Gulf Coasts via both the Panama Canal and increasingly, the Suez Canal.” Miller also noted that unless the canal is expanded, Panama will continue to lose business to the Suez Canal, which can handle much larger ships. Only by enlarging the waterway, will Panama continue to remain competitive in the global trade arena.

Final Costs $5.25 Billion?
The government and the ACP, however, may be employing somewhat specious, self-serving arguments that do not necessarily reflect the facts of the case. According to the ACP, the project will only cost a relatively low $5.25 billion, a figure that the group claims will include inflation and “all aspects” of the project. This figure, however, is almost certain to be widely optimistic as it fails to include many other factors such as typical indirect costs related to any major development project. As noted by Eric Jackson, the indefatigable editor of The Panama News, the figure neither includes the expenditures necessary to repair the roads that will be damaged from transporting heavy equipment, nor the costs of environmental damage. Lakes near the canal’s trajectory could become so salty that the urban water treatment plants would have to be upgraded, a project that the government is not in a position to readily fund. Even more astounding is the fact that the figures do not include “the costs of accommodating a large temporary construction work force [that will have] to be created and housed on the Atlantic side where housing and infrastructure for these prospective construction workers] does not [now] exist.” This calls into question the breadth and reliability of prior estimates.

Since presenting the initial “official” estimate to Panamanians, even President Torrijos has begun to discuss other associated costs. The Panama News reported that in a speech before the National Assembly, the president proposed constructing a “bridge or tunnel across the canal to connect to Costa Abajo de Colon with the rest of the country.” This project would add at least a $300 million expense to the canal expansion project’s initial budget. Obviously, new side-projects will develop as time goes on, greatly increasing the total cost of the venture. Leading experts have come up with radically different estimates. Civil engineer Humberto Reynolds, a member of the Sociedad Panameña de Ingenieros y Arquitectos (SPIA), conducted a study in which he and his colleagues concluded that the project would likely cost what amounts to $7 billion, considerably more than the government’s $5.25 billion estimate. Reynolds conducted this study because prior research was commissioned by the ACP and had been carried out by its employees. This created a conflict of interests and lead to inaccurate conclusions.

In addition to expected distorted cost estimates, the government is falsely portraying the expansion as the perfect solution to Panama’s current deplorable economic conditions. In his OAS address, the Panamanian vice-president declared that the enlargement of the canal would help “overcome the extreme poverty and the most striking inequalities faced by too many Panamanians,” and further posited that the expansion could “help take us towards higher levels of development and well-being.

”President Torrijos has supported Lewis’ simple-minded view that the expansion will provide the country with heavenly manna, seeing it as Panama’s equivalent to Venezuela’s oil. However, such remarks are sure to prove the product of exaggerated expectations. The jobs generated by the canal project are supposed to be funded by toll increases as well as by loans, which will only increase the nation’s already substantial foreign debt. Furthermore, the project will likely go over budget, generating pressure on the revenue stream while placing long-term financial burdens on Panamanians.

According to Dr. Bent Flyvbjerg, author of Megaprojects and Risks, 9 out of 10 large ventures have underestimated costs and go over budget, with political and self-serving interests as one main cause of misinformation. With such a low budget for a major project, one must question whether or not the expansion, could turn out to be an enormous financial burden, along the line of Boston’s disastrous Big Dig. That project was completed in 2003 after years and a total expenditure of $14.6 billion, $10.6 billion more than the original estimate. The ACP and the Torrijos government should heed to the estimates presented by other engineers and economists, and not repeat Boston’s mistakes. What is needed is a much more sophisticated cost estimate of the project.

Critics insist that before Panamanians can entrust their officials with the implementation of this enormous project, the government must begin to get in the habit of divulging reliable figures to them. Even the $7 billion estimate, however, may be overly conservative. Jackson reminds us that Undersecretary of Defense for the Western Hemisphere Roger Pardo-Maurer, at a 2005 hearing of the US Senate Committee on Foreign relations, set the anticipated price range of the work at between $16 and $25 billion. In addition, according to the Panamanian, Panama’s ambassador to Indonesia reported in a radio interview that the government was expecting the project to cost around $20 billion. The government of Panama could grievously harm the nation’s economy by undertaking an expansion project which will likely enlarge the nation’s debt by over 200 percent. It also should be noted that the Catholic Church of Panama is adamantly opposed to the expansion not only because of the increased debt, because it will prevent the government from focusing on other costly, yet pressing, social issues. Regardless of its multiple suspected inaccuracies, the government continues promoting the project as the perfect economic development plan for the nation.

Economic Benefits of the Expansion
Part of this “perfect” economic development plan is the creation of numerous jobs for now-unemployed Panamanians. According to Pastor Duran on, the ACP and Torrijos government have estimated that the expansion project will generate 252,000 new positions; however, the real numbers could be much lower. The ACP predicts that even by 2010, the culminating point of the project, only 7,000 new jobs will be generated. As Duran notes, if so few positions are generated in the prime year of construction, Panama cannot expect to receive the quarter million jobs promised by Torrijos. Just as the government has not been totally forthcoming about the projected costs of the project, they could be exaggerating the possible scope of employment simply to broaden political support from the citizenry for the decisive upcoming referendum.

The ACP has also projected estimates that the expansion will greatly benefit the entire Panamanian economy. The businesses generated as a result of the expansion will increase the National Treasury contributions by eight times the current amount. Furthermore, the expansion will allow Panama’s GDP to increase by 2.5 times the current GDP twenty years from now.

As it is, the widely fluctuating cost estimates are important warning signs against embarking on the expansion project without extreme caution. Moreover, security, in light of the country’s high potential risk as a terrorist target, must be stronger than it is now the case. Currently, the Torrijos government and the ACP have been the latest administration that has inadequately addressed the pressing security needs of the canal that became evident once the U.S. abandoned its military presence there. Retired Foreign Service Officer David Jones noted in a report for, that “other than a rather cursory inspection of the airport variety at one lock’s observation site,” no other security existed. If Torrijos expects other nations to help fund his proposal, he must first expand the security budget for the canal and ensure that the expansion project will not become a prime attraction for terrorist activity.

Shady Business
Even some who favor canal expansion believe that the project, despite its potential benefits to global trade, should not be funded under the aegis of an administration that has been repeatedly found to be woefully inept and, at times, distressingly corrupt. Despite government reassurances that it will use some of the earnings from the canal to help improve the living conditions of Panamanians, such promises could be unfounded. As sociologist Marcos Gandásegui points out, from 2000 to 2006, Panama received $2 billion in canal revenues, none of which has reached the people. This has led him to believe that “the whole canal expansion project is designed to benefit shipping companies and the financial sector, and has very little to do with creating jobs.” Any funds generated by the expansion could end up in the off-the-books funding of members of the Torrijos administration and others in high places.

Inept and Corrupt Leadership
It also has been claimed that the project has helped spawn a bureaucracy of wasteful and venal officials who have crowded out the professional talent from the bureaucratic ranks. President Martin Torrijos assumed office with promises of zero corruption. Tragically, this vow has not been honored. According to a study conducted by Aart C. Kraay , Daniel Kaufmann and Massimo Mastruzzi for the World Bank, the control of corruption in Panama in 2004 was at -0.06 (out of a -2.5 to 2.5 scale, with higher values corresponding to better government), representing little change in the high negative rating issued in 2002. In addition to the World Bank Report, Transparency International released a Corruptions Perception Index (CPI) Report in 2005, in which Panama did not fare well. It was ranked 65 out of the 158 countries surveyed, with a 3.5 CPI score, less than half of the U.S. score.

Freedom House, which itself has a mixed record when it comes to conforming to its “Cold War” agenda regarding left-leaning regimes, came up with its own evidence of the corruption existing within the Torrijos administration. In its 2005 Report, the organization noted that although the Panamanian president had established a National Anti-Corruption Commission and implemented a Transparency Law, he had since acted to limit the scope of the law, retrenching from both anti-corruption efforts. The Torrijos administration has “exempted cabinet meeting’s minutes from public divulgence under the law and the Solicitor General [has] advised against the disclosure of officials’ assets.” Such actions should frighten off many of those interested in entrusting the Panamanian government with the expansion project. Not having to disclose the ownership of assets or meeting’s minutes can deliberately allow government officials to do largely as they please with the funds generated for the project. The expansion project is an example of the government’s double-standard on transparency. The Panama News’ Jackson notes that the ACP has been open about the amount of funding ($1 million) directed towards a campaign in favor of the expansion; however, the average Panamanian has not been sufficiently informed of where exactly the money would come from, and how it was and will be spent. Also of interest would be how much of the funding will be coming from political parties such as the Partido Revolucionario Democrático (PRD).

Torrijos has specifically permitted a compromised office to operate around him; examples of the lack of transparency are bountiful. According to Okke Ornstein of, Torrijos has refused to reveal the sources of his campaign funds, even though he promised Panamanians that he would be thoroughly transparent. In his presidential campaign, he also promised to establish an independent authority capable of investigating and prosecuting corruption in all of its forms. Instead, he has only established a powerless anti-corruption office which can only provide advice to the administration. Torrijos has also abused the funds provided for his office: during his first 100 days in office, he spent $75,000 simply on furniture. Such a waste of funds is an abhorrence considering the vast poverty throughout his country.

Early Signs of Corruption Surround the Canal
The Panamanian populous has yet to approve the expansion project, yet the Torrijos administration is already cashing its blank checks, lining the pocket books of its close associates. As Panama News has noted, Torrijos and the Electoral Tribunal were determined that that public funds would not be used to promote the expansion; however, as mentioned earlier, the government is now funding propaganda favoring the project under an “educational” banner. Interestingly enough, Torrijos’ father-in-law is the owner of the advertising firm contracted to disperse the canal propaganda. The ACP has also been cashing its blank checks. Bobby Eisenmann, a prominent Panamanian who fought in the human rights battle against the Manuel Noriega dictatorship, purportedly wrote for the ACP’s propaganda journal El Faro, which is included weekly in La Prensa, a publication that Eisenmann partly owns. In exchange, Eisenmann allegedly has received a lucrative benefit from the insertion of the campaign brochure in the newspaper. By spreading around cash, Torrijos and the ACP are amassing plenary power, influencing the minds of Panamanians in order to win the vote in the referendum.

In addition to the use of close affiliates already benefiting from public funds designated for “expansion,” the Constructora Urbana SA, a construction firm, is scheduled to receive a contract from the Torrijos administration and the ACP. This family-owned business, out of which Alberto Aleman Zubieta emerged to head the Panama Canal administration, appears to be wired for the job. Also, the financial institution likely to carry out the project’s financial requirements will be Banco General, whose CEO is the brother of the ACP administrator. The best bidder will not likely be given the contract, but rather, this will inevitably go to close government and ACP affiliates who are likely to be the beneficiaries of the enormous influx of money and investments to be generated by the project.

Corrupt Defender
The extent of corruption has even infiltrated the position office of the Ombudsman (a public official that investigates citizens’ complaints against the government). The most recent incumbent of that office, Liborio García, the supposed defender of the citizenry, was actually appointed with the mission of neutralizing the Ombudsman’s office and to tone down the push for transparency and freedom of press issues. The Torrijos administration, in need of someone who would afford them the elbow room to do whatever necessary to promote its off-the-book interests, went ahead and selected the Ombudsman in an undemocratic manner, choosing García even though he had no particular background in human rights issues or history of upholding ethical standards. After his nomination, Torrijos had Congress cast its approving votes secretly, despite the constitution’s requirement for an open vote. During his nomination process, however, a scandal broke out which involved García in a domestic violence dispute. Embarrassed and pressured by women’s rights groups, congress entered charges against him and then voted to remove him from his post as defender of the people. Interestingly, a new Ombudsman will not be appointed until at earliest December, well after the October referendum, eliminating a vital factor in ensuring Panamanians of a fair vote.

Failed Judicial System
Panama’s Supreme Court was rightly criticized by a Freedom House finding. Even though the judicial system was “revamped” in 1990, “it remains overworked and its administration is inefficient, politicized, and prone to corruption.” The U.S. State Department, in its annual country reports on Human Rights, also concluded that Panama’s judicial system was engulfed by corruption, stating that judicial appointments were made not on merit, as required by law, but by political influence. Furthermore, other government branches greatly manipulate the judicial system, eliminating any hope of maintaining a fair and independent judiciary. The courts are packed with cases against former and current officials, especially those resulting from the period when Manuel Noriega exercised de facto rule. The resulting slow judicial process is not only an offense against those charged, but it is an offense to average Panamanians who deserve a supreme court that can effectively try criminal officials.

Even the “civic” police — the Panamanian Public Forces — are wrought with corruption and are “poorly disciplined,” habitually resorting to use of excessive force rather than fair, humane treatment of suspected individuals. Current cases suggest that the government cannot be trusted to charge anyone caught defalcating funds from the project, if those involved are properly connected. Besides installing shady officials in the decision-making process, the Torrijos administration has failed to address vigorously the accusations brought against former officials. For example, former President Mireya Moscoso was charged with stealing tens of millions of dollars of state funds; yet, the Supreme Court has simply dismissed the case without an investigation and she now has been invited by Torrijos to participate in the canal discussion programs taking place in public forums throughout the country, up until the referendum. Also, Moscoso has never been seriously questioned on her immensely suspicious last minute release of Luis Posada Carriles, a Cuban terrorist who was universally believed to be the mastermind behind the bombing of a Cuban airline in 1976, who was being detained by Panamaian authorities.

Transparency without Freedom of Press?
Torrijos’ promise of transparency has been further clouded by the lack of press freedom, especially regarding the canal expansion project. The administration has clearly attempted to silence any opposition to the expansion. The Panama News reported that Maribel Cuervo de Paredes had been a columnist for La Prensa for 15 years when she was informed by the publisher that her column would be cancelled because her opinions were supposedly not “objective.” Interestingly enough, Maribel had been one of the main critics of the expansion project. In another La Prensa report covering the Catholic Church’s demand for a fair debate over the proposed project, the newspaper gave twice the space to expansion supporters than to the Bishops and granted no space to any opposing views. With the help of a largely compliant media and upbeat reports being published about the project, the Torrijos administration hopes to guarantee a win in the October referendum.

Trouble at the University
In addition to bringing tainted officials like Moscoso into the canal project, the Torrijos administration has closed its eyes on the scandal surrounding García de Paredes, who is not only the president of the University of Panama, but also was the president of the Interoceanic Regional Authority (ARI), “which manages, sells and leases assets in the former U.S. canal zone, and includes a lucrative network of real estate, military facilities and airports.” Miguel Antonio Bernal, a highly regarded professor of international affairs at the university, began to suspect that diplomas were being issued to alleged graduates of the institution who had neither paid tuition nor completed the work necessary for graduation, finally arriving at the conclusion that García de Paredes had simply been giving away diplomas to certain favored individuals. The Torrijos government immediately resorted to damage control procedures by backing the heavily controversial García de Paredes, even to the point of allowing him to run for re-election for his university post, which was both illegal and done over the adamant protests of students and teachers, including Bernal. For his efforts, Bernal – who serves as Panama’s conscience - has been threatened to be severed from the institution and to this day receives threats from García de Paredes as well as other Torrijos supporters. The Supreme Court has ruled that by law, the rector could not run for re-election; but Torrijos officials, quickly pressured the judges to reverse their ruling, and they promptly acquiesced. In the university-wide elections that followed, García de Paredes was re-elected. It is important to note that in such votes, the ballots are weighted in favor of full-time professors, and it was García de Paredes himself who had appointed many of those now holding full-time positions, who now were able to return the favor.

Spotlighting More Torrijos Administration Flaws
Aside from its corruption, the Torrijos government has failed to address human rights and drug trafficking issues in the country, despite the revenues available from the canal. According to the U.S. State Department’s Annual Country Report on Human Rights, domestic violence and trafficking of women remain a common problem. Also, children have not received protection from the judicial system. “Due to inadequate government resource allocations and training, family courts continued to render controversial decisions,” which has forced many children to return to abusive situations. Furthermore, according to the CIA Fact Book, Panama is a “major cocaine transshipment point and primary money-laundering center for narcotics revenue,” while “organized illegal narcotics operations in Colombia operate within the border region with Panama.”

Not the Time for Crime
Eventually, an expansion of the canal will be necessary in order for the waterway to accommodate the ever-increasing demands made by growing global trade. However, critics argue that now may not be the best of times to launch such an ambitious project. The expansion is not of immediate vital importance as post-Panamax ships are not in wide use. More crucial is that the public be made wary over whether the Torrijos administration in particular should be charged with implementing the expansion.

False advertising and deceptively low projected estimates touted by the government are part of an intentional campaign to lead Panamanians to believe that the expansion of the canal will cure all their economic ills if the proposal passes in the October referendum. Furthermore, with the cloud of corruption hanging over public figures, like García de Paredes, who are tied to the canal expansion project, confidence in the government’s integrity, are heavily undermined. Experts around the world cannot let this major global venture pass by without notice. Ecologists will likely be on guard when it comes to Panama and the expansion project, and electoral observers must be vigilant when it comes to ensuring a fair referendum in October in order to prevent the type crisis that is now being witnessed in Mexico.

A government with such outstanding abuses should not be granted stewardship over a project that will pass an enormous amount of discretionary funds to pass through its corrupt fingers. The lack of transparency and the country’s notoriously compromised judicial system should serve as a huge warning sign to investors around the world that this will most likely be a troubled project. The government of Panama is in such short supply of integrity and public rectitude that it cannot be trusted to administer such a project.
This analysis was prepared by COHA Research Associate Ashley Dalman August 8th, 2006 Word Count: 5600
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Referéndum orweliano

Referéndum orweliano
Panamá América, viernes 4 de agosto de 2006
Miguel Antonio Bernal

GEORGE ORWELL es un excelente escritor, lamentablemente nomuy conocido en nuestro Panamá cotidiano. Sin embargo, recurrir a lalicencia de utilizarlo como referencia para describir la "consultaconstitucional" programada para (¡Oh casualidad!), el 22 de octubre, no creoque moleste a los conocedores del gran analista y crítico de los regímenestotalitarios.

En su gran novela "1984", George Orwell nos demuestra que"Fact do not matter". En otras palabras, para los gobernantes, recurrirsistemáticamente a la mentira y al engaño como forma de gobierno, noimporta. Aun cuando usted los confronte con los hechos, con los "testarudoshechos", poco importa. Las más básicas y elementales formas y normas handesaparecido completamente. Preguntarse los motivos de esa situación, esalgo que a ellos en su comportamiento engreído, les disgusta de sobre manerapero, ello no es impedimento para que sepamos que la razón es una sola: laAgenda, las Agendas.

En efecto, esta gente que ha secuestrado los pocosespacios democráticos existentes en la administración pública, estánsiguiendo una agenda o, varias agendas y la fuerza detrás de dichas agendases la corrupción del poder político y todos sabemos que "el poder corrompe"y que el poder ha corrompido a esta gente absolutamente. Entre otras cosas,por la ausencia absoluta de mecanismos de control ciudadano o institucional.Claro que tanto los partidarios, como los aliados y, también, los reciénllegados al cuento de "cero corrupción", se rasgarán las vestiduras cuantasveces sea necesario par hacernos creer que no es así.

Pero lo más orweliano de esta "consulta constitucional",llamada referéndum es que está edificada sobre una pila de mentiras yengaños. Ellos ya no pueden hablar con la verdad. Ellos ya no puedenhacernos creer nada porque todo lo han concebido en base al engaño y lamentira. Se mienten y engañan entre ellos mismos y terminan creyéndose suspropias mentiras y las convierten en sus verdades que quieren que nosotrosnos las traguemos sin chistar. Basta leerles los artículos y discursos queescriben o mandan a escribir. Cualquiera que los lea u oiga pareciera estarante neofundamentalistas tropicales inspirados en la enseñanza del fascismogermano del: "miente, miente que algo queda".

Y no van a cambiar. No tienen por qué hacerlo. Puedenseguir haciendo todo con su premeditación y alevosía. En otras palabras, noles importa mentir y seguir mintiendo. Acaso han sido despedidos por ello?¿Sancionados? ¿Castigados? No, nada que se le parezca. Nada les ha pasadopor las mentiras que durante veintiún años seguidos, elaboraron,difundieron, impusieron, constitucionalizaron. Así es que sus actividades yfábricas de mentiras y engaños han visto poder incrementar su producción,gracias también a los nuevos colaboracionistas que encuentran "deleznable"(Mario Galindo dixit), que se les diga No a su ampliación de la corrupción,pero que hoy encuentran "potable" (Rómulo Escobar dixit) el endeudamiento yel engreimiento. No estamos frente a ningún realismo mágico. Están comopeces en el agua nuevamente. Por eso nos volvieron a traer a Jimmy Carterpor la boca de Robert Pastor, el de la "Oda a Omar"; a Lopez Michelsen, elde Montería; A Tomás Borge, el de la 'piñata sandinista' y, por supuesto, algran Felipe "coloradilla" González, el de las escuchas telefónicas, el delos Gala y Slim.

No nos han pedido excusas por no traernos a los quevinieron y se fueron, pero el hecho que no estén, no quiere decir que noquieran estar como, por ejemplo: nuestros "cedulados compatriotas":Castrillón Henao, Rayo Montaño y Eduardo Masferrer. Todos contribuyentes de"varios políticos panameños para sus campañas electorales en las décadas de1980 y 1990". (cf. Panamá América-29 julio 2006). Por eso es que esimportante no pasar por alto la noticia del 31 de julio en el Panamá Américay volverla a leer con detenimiento: "La dirigencia PRD anda tras lareafirmación del "Pacto de Miraflores", acuerdo suscrito en diciembre de1999 por los partidos políticos donde se comprometían a despolitizar engobierno u oposición el tema del Canal de Panamá. El presidente de CambioDemocrático, Ricardo Martinelli, confirmó ayer diligencias de acercamientoiniciadas la última semana por los dirigentes del PRD Héctor Alemán y HugoGiraud, ambos encargados de lograr que este pacto logre vigencia. Lasreuniones se habrían iniciado de forma reservada y sin el ánimo depublicitar un evento que persigue un desenvolvimiento apolítico del tema dereferéndum del Canal, confirmó el diputado Héctor Alemán". En otraspalabras: ¡ Meta, Mami, Miraflores.. y Olé!

Pero, tal vez lo más orweliano de la ampliación, resultaque para ellos y sus mentiras y engaños, la ampliación es más importante quela educación. Claro, la ampliación es un negocio, la educación estaríallamada a ser una inversión. Mientras tanto, como bien lo denunciaron haceun par de semanas nuevamente, los educadores democráticos:

1. En Panamá, un promedio de 40.8% de los centroseducativos carecen de luz eléctrica y el 23.1% de agua potable. En laprovincia de Colón, por ejemplo, el 49% de los centros educativos no tieneluz eléctrica, y en Veraguas, de las 491 escuelas del nivel básico general,53,9% padecen el mismo mal.

2. En los centros educativos hacen falta bibliotecas,bibliotecarias y libros actualizados.

3. No se cuenta con laboratorios de Ciencias quecontribuyan a la formación científica de los estudiantes.

4. Las infraestructuras van, desde salones divididos contabiques, hasta "escuelas ranchos".

5. El hacinamiento en las aulas de clases viene dado pormatrículas de más de 35 y 40 estudiantes en cada aula.

6. En Panamá existen en la Básica General "Nivel Primariode carácter oficial" 2,906 centros educativos con una matrícula de 385,247alumnos. De ellos, 103,230 estudiantes asisten a centros multigrados, esdecir un docente para varios grados.

7. Las escuelas sin Directores titulares, constituyen parael gobierno el ahorro de una cantidad significativa de dinero al no pagar apersonas idóneas en ese cargo, lo que genera un grave perjuicio a losestudiantes. 8. No se tienen supervisores nacionales, y los existentescarecen de la formación que les permita orientar al docente y, por ende, alsistema educativo.

9. A los docentes se les ha eliminado todo tipo deincentivo en su profesión, eliminando incluso la ley de jubilación con elúltimo salario a los 28 años de servicio, lo que conlleva un peso mayor enel prolongado sacrificio que representa para los educadores trabajar enestas condiciones.

10. El gobierno destina al presupuesto de Educación 504millones de balboas, mientras asigna mil cuatrocientos millones de balboasal pago de la deuda externa, lo que representa el 24% del presupuesto nacional.

11. La política de inclusión en las aulas de estudiantescon necesidades especiales, se ha llevado a cabo sin capacitar al docentepara asumir esta loable labor.

12. El gobierno es el único responsable de la extremapolitización del Ministerio de Educación.

13. Se requiere de gabinetes psicopedagógicos que enequipo con el docente lleven a cabo el proceso educativo de acuerdo con lasnecesidades de cada región escolar.
Dado el costo de vida, los salarios de los docentes soninsuficientes para satisfacer las necesidades básicas. En la actualidad elMinistro gana 16 veces más que un maestro.

Que prosigan con sus mentiras orquestadas y sus yaconocidas actividades que entusiasman mucho a los PGP y a sus promotores.Por más que hagan, tendrán que contar los votos y, ay! de 'foxizar' losresultados. Se podría dar, en palabras también de Orwell, una "Rebelión enla Granja".