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On the Possibility of a New Constitution for Panama, and Related Protests

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President promises constituent assembly

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President Juan Carlos Varela,  announced on Saturday, May 5, that the General Election of May 2019  will be used to kick-start consultations leading to a new constitution for Panama.

The President said that he has given instructions to Minister of the Presidency, Álvaro Alemán to meet with representatives of unions, parties, and civil society, in order to explore the possibility of convening a Constituent Assembly with a foundation in Article 314 of the Constitution.

He said that two days earlier he met with the Electoral Tribunal Magistrates to inform them that he had the decision to initiate the consultation process with a view to the creation of a new constitutional order for the country.

He said that he hopes that the debate of the candidates in the next elections will be respectful and will not be based on recriminations, because the commitment of the politicians is to elevate the discourse.

Members of Panama’s three leading parties have been involved in bitter infighting during recent parliamentary sessions, including threats of physical violence, and lawmakers have been at odds with the Executive and the Supreme Court but they band together when voting on their privileges and perks.



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Debate begins on "when" to convene a Constituent Assembly in Panama

Mon, 05/07/2018 - 13:30

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The former ambassador of Panama to the Organization of American States, Guillermo Cochez, described as a "smoke screen" the proposal of President Varela's Constituent Assembly. "I think we all believe that the political system established after 1989 is worn out and has deteriorated in such a way and it is not that Varela ended wearing it, this is a process that comes from Endara, continues very covertly and exacerbated when Martinelli came to the Presidency, we thought that this Government was going to change it, it has not changed it, it has kept it the same," Cochez said in an interview with the Telemetro channel. He believes that there should be a commitment of the candidates for the Presidency in 2019 so that after the Elections the changes to the Constitution can be made concrete.

The Minister of the Presidency, Álvaro Alemán, announced that he will communicate directly with the leaders of Cambio Democrático and the Democratic Revolutionary Party to listen to them during the consultation process before the possibility of convening a National Constituent Assembly. On the criticism he said that there will always be a debate about when the right moment should or should not be for a change to the Constitution. In statements released for TVN, Alemán mentioned some of the issues that should be dealt with in an eventual change of the Magna Carta: "the structure of the Legislative Branch. There are those who feel that it should be modified and changed to a system of provincial and national deputies, I also believe that there is a consensus among many sectors that the way to choose the magistrates of the Supreme Court of Justice should be modified, we will have to enter to discuss what would be that way and there is a third issue that President Varela wants to be reflected in the Constitution and is to grant decentralization constitutional status".

"The President's promise was not to convene a Constituent Assembly, it was to convene a Constituent Assembly for the first two years of the Government. We have to keep that in mind. This is one of the promises that were not fulfilled, that is, two years have passed and the promise was not fulfilled. On the other hand, it is symptomatic that the people and organizations that most advocated the Constituent Assembly have immediately rejected this poisoned gift that the President gave us on Saturday, "the political analyst and former foreign minister of the Republic, Jorge Eduardo Ritter, told the TVN channel, and added that the proposal is unfeasible because it is focused on the electoral process.



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Disagreement between PRD and Cambio Democrático over presidential announcement on Constituent

Sun, 05/06/2018 - 19:10

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The president of Cambio Democrático party, Rómulo Roux, branded the proposal as "irresponsible." From the seat of the Electoral Court where the official announcement of the General Elections of 2019 was made, Roux said: "Playing with the Constituent, playing with the amendments of the Constitution is dangerous. In an election year I think that they are trying to play with us and we are not going to let them do so."

The secretary general of the Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD), Pedro Miguel González, believes that the proposal can wait, "we believe that President Varela missed the opportunity to make the call. In a rarefied political environment like the one we have in the middle of the confrontation between the powers of the State, it is intended to make this consultation. We believe it is unnecessary. In fact we have considered that if on July 1 a new majority with more than two thirds of the Assembly between PRD, Cambio Democrático and other deputies is constituted, we could manage perfectly in the second term of the next period between the months of January and February, before starting the final phase of the electoral process, making the call to clear the table on this issue and not become a topic of discussion in the next election campaign.”

President Juan Carlos Varela announced that the leaders of the political parties are part of the groups of society that have been summoned for the consultation on the National Constituent Assembly.



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Cortizo vows constitution referedum in a year


Michelle Muschett,  and Laurentino Cortizo,

Posted 28/05/2019

Laurentino Nito CortizoPanama’s president-elect seems determined to distance himself from the plodding ways which earned his predecessor the “tortoise sobriquet. , has set a "goal" to convene within a year a referendum - for citizens to decide whether or not to approve the constitutional reforms to be discussed by the National Assembly in  July.

The announcement came after a meeting between  Cortizo and his work team  with members of the National Development Agreement, in order to familiarize themselves with the consensus, proposals, and concerns of the 23 sectors of society that comprise it They   have been meeting  since October 2018 to review the agreed reform proposals and new modifications  that must be validated by all sectors.

Among the proposed changes in the preliminary draft are to diminish the power of the Executive Branch and to modify the process of selection of magistrates.and limits on the re-election of deputies.

Proposals to modify current articles and the incorporation of new issues could define one of the most complete constitutional changes since 1972.

The CCND is composed, among other bodies, by the National Bar Association, the National Council of Private Enterprise, the National Assembly and the Executive Body, and representatives of organizations. 

Cortizo was one of t five presidential candidates who attended a meeting with the CCND in  March when h they were presented with the Panama Vision Plan 2030, and where he was exposed for the first time to ideas that could alter the constitutional framework of the country.

Legal notables
On that occasion, Cortizo and Muschett were accompanied by Enrique de Obarrio, counselor of the CCND and coordinator of the Constitutional Reforms Commission; by Edwin Rodríguez, secretary of the CCND, and by the Expert Advisory Group, all of them "notable in the legal world" -Juan Manuel Castulovich, Esmeralda Arosemena de Troitiño, Mario J. Galindo H., Aura Emerita Guerra de Villalaz, Juan David Morgan and Hermelindo Ortega-, who have met at least five times since October 2018 in search of a consensus on the proposals for a new Constitution. (almost all elaborated in 2011 and re-edited through the decade)

 Cortizo assured  that he will respect the space of the CCND, but that he has a team that will be reviewing the document to pass it to the new Assembly: "The idea is that in a year - and that is a goal - after a broad national consultation, that people feel that they participate, we can be completing that referendum. "

In March, after  meeting with the presidential candidates, the CCND proposed other modifications, including the possibility of raising the minimum age for to be a judge -from 35 to 45 years-, limiting to a single period the immediate reelection of the deputies, and the creation of a Constitutional Court composed of, at least, five magistrates and their substitutes. In addition, the period of the judges of the Constitutional Court and those of the Court goes from 10 to 15 years, and that the elected magistrate has practiced at least 15 years of law.

It is also proposed to establish a shortlist for the election of judges of the Court through the Executive Body, regulating in a more solid manner the criteria for that position.

Some commissioners proposed that deputies cannot accept any public or private remunerated employment and that if they do, the vacancy immediately occurs. This, with the exception of teaching, that may be exercised outside of their working hours in the Assembly.

It is also suggested stated that no citizen can run for more than one elected office.


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  • Moderator_02 changed the title to On the Possibility of a New Constitution for Panama
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Panama Constitution reforms belong to Flintstones


Posted 19/10/2019

Thanks to the reforms that are being introduced by the deputies the Political Constitution, this will no longer be ours, but that of the Flintstones writes Rolando Rodriguez in a La Prensa Oped. Do the deputies bet that Panamanians do not know how to read between the lines that they eliminate or introduce? writes Rolando Rodriguez in a La Prensa Oped.

 It seems that they do everything possible so that the project is rejected when it has to be approved in a referendum. That means we will have to keep what we have. And whatever the scenario, it implies setbacks. But, maintaining the current one, at least, we will not jump into the void.

Let's examine one of the proposals. It was approved last Thursday, amid smoke bombs. The proposal was to modify article 4 of the Constitution, which currently says: "The Republic of Panama complies with the norms of international law." The new thing is that they add a few words that have an unprecedented impact. The new article would say the above, but with the following addition: "... however, the superiority of national law is recognized."

With less than ten words, Edison Broce, Zulay Rodríguez, Leandro Ávila, Corina Cano and Héctor Brands, among others, intend to convert international treaties into norms that may or may not be fulfilled, given that Panamanian law would be above international.

We would not know, for example, the decisions of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights if we felt like it, because the local decisions have superiority.0

Nothing would force the State to pay compensation or abide by its judgments. This is comparable to a tacit waiver of those treaties.

The last link of justice to which Panamanians have access - the Inter-American Court - would be cut off by a mob of unscrupulous robbers, whose consequences are unlimited and unknown, although we can be sure that it will not be good for the country, as we would be isolating from the world

I simply cannot believe that these changes are made without measuring consequences. Precisely, to know them, I am inclined to think that there is a deliberate desire for these reforms to fail even before their birth. These are experienced deputies, with knowledge on the subject, and whose main function is to create and pass laws. There can be no supine ignorance when we all know that they do not take a step without knowing where they will take the next one.

I conclude that the reform process is an unforgivable waste of time. It is the unconfessable desire that things remain the same or make the President look bad because the deputies well know that reforms such as these, and others equally crazy, are the unquestionable guarantee of its amendments rejection.



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Business group  knocks  “alien, unnecessary”  reforms

Discussions among deputies can end in shouting matches

Posted 20/10/2019

Panama’s The Chamber of Commerce, (CCIAP)  has joined the swelling chorus of voices expressing concern about legislators  manipulating the debate on the constitution to protect their own interests.

On Sunday, October   the Chamber warned about the fact that some deputies of the  National Assembly seek to introduce - in the midst of the debate on constitutional reforms - changes "inappropriate, unnecessary or alien" for the purpose of expanding and modernizing , through participation, inclusion and true institutionality, democracy in the country, "as the package recommended by the Constitution committee  recommends.".

The business organization said  that the relationship between the Executive and Legislative body "demands independence", as well as enforcing counterweight roles, and said that it expects the Executive to "support and defend" before the Legislative the draft reforms to the Constitution that it presented and that came from the work done by the Council of the National Development Council .

"We trust that, as one of the most transcendental actions of this five-year period, the Executive Branch will present itself with leadership to protect the aspirations of the majority and not a few. Both our guild and the society that elected the government  will certainly support it" said the group’s weekly newsletter

The CCIAP says it will remain vigilant to what happens in the National Assembly, as the future of Panama is at stake; especially as regards what is proposed with regard to freedom of expression, the re-election of deputies, their judgment and, in general, what concerns the scope of the administration of justice.

On July 15, the President, Laurentino Cortizo, received the constitutional reform package agreed by the National Development Council.

A day later, in full, the Cabinet Council endorsed the bill that includes changes to the country's fundamental charter. The Government Commission of the National Assembly presented on October 11, before the legislative plenary, the report of the citizen consultations carried out on the package of constitutional reforms.

On October 17, the Assembly approved the first block of the reforms (which includes nationality and immigration, fundamental rights and political rights) and the debate will be resumed on Monday, October 21 with the second block (referring to the changes to the Executive, Legislative and Judicial organs).



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Constitutional Reforms Win First Debate

The National Assembly of Panama approved in first debate the proposals for changes to the Magna Carta, which include the titles from 5th to 7th referring to the Legislative, Executive and Judicial Powers.

Thursday, October 24, 2019

According to the deputies, the proposal that was approved on Oct. 23 responds to the assessment of the National Concertation table that comprised more than 20 groups, informed the Assembly.

You may be interested in "Constitutional Reform: Optimism amidst Concerns"

From the National Assembly statement:

When an agreement was reached between government and opposition deputies to withdraw all proposed modifications, the plenary approved the second block of Constitutional Act No. 1, which reforms the Magna Carta, as endorsed by the Council of National Concertation for Development and submitted by the Executive.

The block approved in the first debate included the titles 5th to 7th referring to the powers of the State, the Legislative, the Executive and the Judiciary.

The deputies assured that the modification proposals only reach 2%, since the majority respond to what was valued in the National Concertation table, which was made up of more than 20 groups, made up of some 2,000 representatives, among them from independent society, such as the private sector, universities, churches, nongovernmental organizations, indigenous peoples, as well as politicians and the government sector.


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Tear gas used to disperse constitution protestors


Posted 30/10/2019

RIOT POLICE used tear gas to disperse protesters at the National Assembly on Wednesday, October 30  University students, groups of workers and civil rights groups protested constitutional reforms, approved in the legislature on Monday, There was no afternoon session in  Assembly and most of the officials were dismissed at noon.

 Protesters also closed the streets surrounding the Assembly, such as Plaza 5 de Mayo, Avenida de Los Mártires, Avenida Balboa, Cinta Costera and Avenida México where they vandalized the headquarters of the ruling Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD).

For security reasons Panama Metro closed the 5 de Mayo station. At night, the National Police arrested some alleged participants in the demonstrations.



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52 protesters caught in police net


Posted 31/10/2019

The 52  students and citizens arrested on Wednesday night, October 30, during demonstrations against constitutional reforms , declared Thursday morning before secretaries of the Calidonia Justice of the Peace. They will later receive the date and time for a hearing.

Among those detained were  Richard Morales, former presidential candidate for the Broad Front for Democracy (FAD) and Professor of Political Science at the University of Panama; and the journalist and political commentator, Franklyn Robinson. 

The students - who were released at three am were from the University of Panama and the University of Santa María la Antigua (Usma).

The former attorney general and current dean of the Faculty of Law of Usma, Ana Matilde Gómez, who arrived at the office said the students did not commit any crime. "Nobody wants violence. The students have a critical thought and are part of this whole national event and freely decided to participate in a protest that was evidently peaceful,"

According to Gomez, the National Police made a "serious mistake" because they used a  virtual net and  took anyone as if they  were fishing."

"Our students, There is not a single evidence that our students participated in any act of violence but they were they were pepper-sprayed and tear-gassed" she said. 

Robinson, meanwhile, said the police were arresting randomly and he was recording everything when  the police arrived throwing tear gas. 

"On the Cinta Costera they grabbed me and threw me on the floor, they cuffed me and took  my cell phone. I told them that I had the right to record ... but they took me," he said.

Meanwhile, President, Laurentino Cortizo, said that 11 of the 54 detainees were foreigners.  "There are Cubans, Nicaraguans, one Venezuelan, one Italian, and the others I don't remember," he said. 



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“Don’t mess with me” on constitution - President


Posted 31/10/2019

President Laurentino Cortizo said  on Thursday, October 31 that he will present a report on the progress of the draft constitutional reforms approved in the National Assembly but  some  are inconvenient for the country  and will be deleted

Cortizo said that 90% of the constitutional reforms are good, but there are things we "don't like" and I have the right as President to change them.

" The things in the constitutional reforms are going to be done as they should be done and nobody is going to play with me," the President warned.

He recommended that the population read the content of the reforms, and what the deputies approved in the third debate.

"I am here to defend the interests of the country, no economic or political interests are above the Republic of Panama" , said Cortizo.

"We have to respect the demonstrations, regardless of whether we agree or not, this is part of democracy, but we cannot allow vandalism and disorder in the streets ."

“ I will not allow anyone to disrespect people in this country. What happened a few days ago with a deputy( in reference to Jairo "Bolota" Salazar who discriminated against gays)  upset me greatly, "said Cortizo Executive.

He said that there will be a broad measure of participation and debate about constitutional reforms. This initiative was born of wide debate in the Council of National Concentration, where there is representation of 23 guilds, but there are people who do not like the subject and have different opinions.

"II am not here to impose, I am  here to talk and listen to the people."   "We have to put speed on government goals and projects



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46 more  arrests on fourth day of constitution protests


Posted 01/11/2019

The fourth day of demonstration against changes to the constitution on Thursday, Oct. 31  ended with the arrest of another 46 people, near Plaza 5 de Mayo. 52 were detained the previous day

Through much of the day there had been protests  across the city by professionals, construction workers and university and high school students

Officials from the Ombudsman's Office arrived at around 7:00 pm. "You cannot violate human rights, protest is a right. You cannot stop people who are walking towards the subway," said Anais Quintero, representative of the Ombudsman.

At 7:30 pm, the Transistmica route was closed in front of the University of Panama. A group of students placed barricades and  were met  by  riot police, who used  tear gas and rubber bullets. 

At the  Ancon t the headquarters of the National Police, relatives and lawyers of the detainees  to find detainees were held in an improvised cages

The dean of the Law Faculty of Law of the University Santa María Antigua, former attorney general  Ana Matilde Gómez, said that the police have no evidence that any e of the students in from the college committed acts of violence.

She said that the police made the mistake of arresting the young people through a kind of mesh or network in which they hold those who had not committed any offense.

After 9:15 pm, a press conference was held by National Police director Jorge Miranda and the Minister of Security Rolando Mirones.

Miranda said that a man who launched fireworks will be placed under the orders of the Public Prosecutor's Office and foreigners detained were under Migration orders.  

The rest of the detainees will be brought before a  justice of the peace, who will decide their future, Miranda said. He added that the police used force because of the use of pyrotechnics that endangered the agents' lives.

" When this type of device is thrown into the air it is pyrotechnics and when it is launched horizontally it is a dangerous weapon."

Mirones  said that the man  detained for allegedly attacking police officers with fireworks could be charged with "attempted murder."

"Citizens have the right to protest, what there is no right is to do so violently," he said.

 Ana Matilde Gómez complained about the unspeakable and inappropriate treatment of the detainees, who have them "in a cage."

"They speak of the fact that it is a question of maintaining public order and it is not", since "based on the American Convention, the right to protest is a human right, and freedom of expression can be exercised in different ways and  one of them is the right to meet and gather collectively and publicly to demonstrate, "she added

The detainees will be taken to the peace court, and that place has few staff and the judge is trying to attend in a place that does not have the physical or material capacity to serve so many people´ said Gomez.

What we ask is that they be transferred at once or released with  a personal guarantee, but " the police are uncompromising." 

The lawyer and member of the Iguales Foundation, Iván Chanis, told La Prensa “The police have invented a process .and there is no way to argue, so we can only collaborate, despite the fact that they are illegal detentions.” Chanis said.



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Assembly and police reactions condemned


Posted 02/11/2019

The Environmental Impact Center of Panama (CIAM)  has joined other voices in condemning the inappropriate reaction of both the National Assembly and the National Police, in the face of peaceful protesters demanding the revision of constitutional reforms.

The entity also regretted that the Legislative Body has not met the demands for strengthening the democratic institutionality of society, during the recent debate on constitutional reforms and instead has introduced proposals that promote impunity, corruption and impact on Human rights reports  TVN News.

The feeling of the entity, adds to the position of outrage that other agencies have taken, for the actions of the police force in the country after five  days of protests that have led to at least a hundred detainees, including several foreigners, and multiple complaints of human rights violations and alleged arbitrary arrests.



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Award-winning Panama star backs protests against impunity, corruption


Ruben B;ades

Posted 02/11/2019

Award winning Panamanian singer-songwriter actor  and former cabinet member Rubén Blades has thrown his support behind youth protesting  against "the attitude and actions of deputies" of the National Assembly

Discussing constitutional reforms promoted by the Executive that, said the artist, never reached the necessary to bring down corruption in the country.

"The recent demonstrations in Panama, protesting the attitude and actions of deputies of our National Assembly, offer hope for those who await the national civic renaissance," said the former Minister of Tourism.

In a message published on his social networks, creator author and interpreter of salsa classics such as "Pedro Navaja", said that the recent demonstrations seem to indicate that "finally The patience of Panamanian civil society has run out”.

Since last week there have been street protests in Panama City against constitutional reforms discussed in the National Assembly, with over a hundred detainees on Wednesday and Thursday.

The protests were unleashed after the Assembly, by a  large official majority, added to the reform package presented by the Government of Laurentino Cortizo initiatives that affected public universities, the contents of traditional media and social networks, marriage, and they even extend the powers of the legislature

Blades said that impunity and corruption are "encouraged by the prevailing legal system" with the "assistance and tolerance of all traditional political parties."



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Police force against student protestors condemned


Student press conference

Posted 06/11/2019

The excessive use of force in protests against constitutional reforms, which left some 100  citizens in custody was  condemned at a Wednesday press conference convened by students  and faculty from different universities and members of youth organizations

They consider that the police showed “indiscriminate and violent” action when they arrested hundreds of Panamanians, mostly young people, thereby repressing the right to demonstrate peacefully and warned that the protests will continue

They publicly expressed their disagreement with the constitutional reform package and condemned the anti-democratic way in which the  National Assembly has carried out the process.

"We do not share the hurried and non- inclusive way in which the project was approved," they said, adding that lawmakers’ personal interests have been put above the interests of the country.

"Any change to the norm of greater hierarchy of the country cannot be product of discussion to a beating drum", they said.

In their  opinion the content of the constitutional reforms is "insufficient" and "fails to capture a country model that reflects the yearnings of youth of the 21st century."

The youth also announced that they will continue to demonstrate peacefully against constitutional reforms., Lawyers and student movement representatives rejected the use of force and the method of repression that was used with the students during five  days of demonstrations.

Former deputy and current dean of the law faculty of the Santa María la Antigua Catholic University (USMA), Ana Matilde Gómez, said that what happens before a Justice of the Peace, will make a mark in the collective thinking of Panamanian students who were mistreated.

They were insulted, pepper gas, strength was used and all that was unnecessary because many of the young people had their hands were raised or on the floor, ”said Gomez.

Lawyer Mónica Sánchez said that what is sought is to unreasonably extend the hearing process to keep in uncertainty the people linked to some type of legal case.

USMA, student José Luis Paniza, called for stopping the current process of discussing constitutional reforms and establishing a methodology in which the groups that have been demonstrating are heard.



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Presidential and Assembly dialogue moves ease protests


Posted 06/11/2019

As scores of University students converged on Plaza Cinco Mayo on Wednesday  afternoon, November 6  to continue their protests against the constitutional reforms  proposed by members of  the National Assembly, one group marched to the presidency to begin a dialogue with President Cortizo while another group talked with  the Assembly president Marcos Castillero, who pledged, to "take steps to free" the 93 young  people detained during demonstrations that  began a week ago,

Castillero, spoke with the youth through a fence of the legislative palace.

They requested that the reform package be removed and a dialogue table be installed in the  Assembly, in which they are allowed to enter the stands of the Plenary and the deputies "listen to the people".

Castillero told the young people that they will meet Thursday at 9:00 am, so that deputies from all the benches are present, as the Assembly is not currently in session.

At a  7:00 pm press conference Castillero invited, , all the deputies and the sectors interested in participating in the cycle of consultations that will last several days.

He recalled that the reforms were consulted, and invited youth to be actors in the reforms, which "are not written in stone."

Meanwhile, in the Presidency, students from official and private universities were received by President Cortizo. "We cannot close, we must listen, democracy is listening," said the president.

He reiterated that there are sectors that do not want to change the Constitution, “but we must take advantage of the situation to strengthen the country's institutions, to have a fair Panama”, he said.



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Charges dropped against 93 protesting students.


Posted 08/11/2019

The National Police and the Executive Branch withdrew on Friday, November 8, the charges against a group of 93 young people, who participated in protests against the constitutional reforms following interventions by the Minister of Education, Maruja Gorday de Villalobos, and Social Development,  Markova Concepción, representing President Laurentino Cortizo.

The students have won another victory with a seat at the table in ongoing discussions about reforms



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Constitutional changes will not include marriage definition


President Cortizo

Posted 10/11/2019

The constitutional definition of marriage  in Panama will not  change  to “that the union must be only between a man and a woman”, as lawmakers had approved in recent debate

A "technical commission" appointed by the Executive Branch recommended introducing 19 amendments to the draft constitutional reforms approved by the National Assembly.

Among the changes recommended is to eliminate the power of the National Assembly to increase expenditures in the draft general state budget.

The package of recommendations was presented by the commission to the president Laurentino on Thursday, November 7, and on Friday, Cortizo presented it publicly, accompanied by the National Development Commission,



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Military style surveillance for Panama  protesters


Posted 21/11/2019

Security authorities deployed scores of armed members of the National Border Service (Senafront) and the National Air Service (Senan) at subway stations and points along the route of a peaceful march by hundreds of teachers, students and workers against Panama constitutional reform on Thursday, November 21.

The march began at the Republic of Venezuela school and headed to  Cathedral Park. This is the fifth week of protests and marches against the changes to the constitution approved by the National Assembly.

According to the authorities, the military-style security was due to alleged alerts of the presence of possible “ infiltrators ”that would attempt against public property.

The National Migration Service (SNM) also warned foreigners living in Panama to refrain from participating in demonstrations.

The Executive and Legislative Body have held sessions to listen to the groups that have denounced the reforms, as they move to the second stage of constitutional reforms that must be carried out in the first months of 2020.



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Foreign residents  could be deported for joining protests


Posted 21/11/2019

Panama’s National Migration Service (SNM)  has warned foreigners residing in the country  that they could face  deportation  if they join  in protests or demonstrations,

In a statement issued Thursday, November 21  the SNM said that “in order to avoid legal problems” that could affect their stay in the territory foreigners should refrain "to refrain from participating in protests and demonstrations.

"The peaceful demonstration is part of Panamanian democracy and every citizen has the right to dissent freely, as long as it does not affect the community," said the statement.

The SNM says its warning is based on Article 6 of the Migration Law to “authorize, deny or prohibit the entry or permanence of foreigners in the national territory and order their deportation, expulsion or return”.

Migration added that Article 65 of this Law, empowers them to deport and order the impediment of entry to the national territory to foreigners "for violating public security."



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Panama's Constitutional Reform Conundrum


Panama's National Assembly in session. (AP)

Panama’s National Assembly in session. (AP)

Paola Nagovitch


November 19, 2019


All eyes are on protests in Latin America, but those taking place in Panama, where a series of constitutional reforms are sparking controversy, have been largely overlooked. On July 18, President Laurentino Cortizo presented a series of constitutional reforms to Panama’s National Assembly. The reforms, which Cortizo promised during his presidential campaign, were delivered 16 days after his inauguration. Though the Assembly approved the package on October 28, escalating protests and Cortizo’s skepticism over the approved legislature have complicated the reform process. 

Panama’s 1972 Constitution as a tool to combat corruption has been a hot topic in the country since the Panama Papers. In fact, that 2016 leak and the subsequent Odebrecht scandal made corruption the top voter concern in the country’s 2019 general election. The administration of then-President Juan Carlos Varela, who became ensnared in the Odebrecht probe, tried to include constitutional reforms in the May 5 ballot but was blocked by Panama’s Electoral Tribunal, leaving it up to Cortizo’s incoming government. Varela’s proposal would have let Panamanians choose how to amend the Constitution, either through a Constituent Assembly or, as has been the case, through legislative sessions.

Article 313 of the Panamanian Constitution outlines the process for approving amendments: two National Assembly sessions with three debates each followed by a national referendum on the changes. The unicameral Assembly has 71 deputies in which the current governing coalition comprises 35 members from Cortizo’s Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD) and five members from the Nationalist Liberal Republican Movement, or Molirena.

What are the reforms?

Cortizo, who campaigned on an anti-corruption platform, initially introduced a reform package of 40 amendments largely focused on combating the problem at two levels: the Supreme Court and the National Assembly. Under Cortizo’s reforms, Panama’s autonomous attorney general could investigate Supreme Court justices and National Assembly deputies, effectively eliminating the system that allows the highest court to investigate the Assembly and vice versa. Moreover, the president’s proposal outlined a new process for appointing justices in which they would be chosen by the president’s cabinet from a list compiled by the Panamanian Development Council, a private-public sector agency that has been instrumental in supporting the president’s drafting of reforms. The National Assembly would later confirm these justices to terms of 15 years, up from the current 10 years. Among the other reforms, Cortizo also called for the creation of a Constitutional Court.

After three rounds of debates, Panama’s National Assembly approved its own reform package of 94 amendments and closed the first of two legislative sessions on the matter. Though the Assembly approved many of Cortizo’s proposals related to education, health, and the environment, others were replaced or modified. The body’s package significantly increases its own power and restructures how legislators are investigated, as well as who the Assembly has the power to investigate. Panama’s inspector general—rather than the national attorney general, as Cortizo proposed—would then investigate national deputies. In addition to investigating public officials, the inspector general represents the Panamanian government and administration and defends the interests of the state, and in that aspect, incorporates functions similar to those of the solicitor general in the United States. The national attorney general heads the Public Ministry, under whose auspices the inspector general operates.

Among the other powers, deputies could change the national budget without the president’s approval, set salaries for themselves, and hold a binding vote of no confidence on the president’s cabinet. The National Assembly would also retain its power to investigate and judge the president and be able to supervise investigations of judges and prosecutors.

Two of the most contentious proposals coming out of the Assembly involve constitutional amendments to Articles 14 and 52, which deal with immigration and marriage, respectively. An amendment to Article 14 would scrap the current text stating that immigration regulation should be based on the social, economic, and demographic interests of Panama. Instead, immigration would be regulated based on the protection of the national security, public health, and employment security of Panamanian nationals.

A revision of Article 52—which currently says that “the state protects marriage, motherhood, and family”—would be revised to say, “The state only recognizes a marriage between a man and a woman.”

The National Assembly, currently in recess, is expected to open its second legislative session and resume the next three debates in January. A referendum on the reforms will also take place in 2020, tentatively on October 4.

How have Panamanians reacted?

People have taken to the streets of Panama to protest the reforms. Protests escalated after the approval vote, leading to the arrest of over 90 demonstrators in late October, clashes between police and protesters, fires, and vandalism. In particular, protesters spoke out against the Assembly’s proposal to ban same-sex marriage.

Cortizo expressed concern over some of the Assembly’s proposals, including the body’s ability to change the national budget without executive approval, and ordered a special committee to review the reforms by November 7. The committee argued that at least 20 of the Assembly’s reforms should be modified. The president then reviewed the Assembly’s reform package, with input from the Panamanian Development Council and civil society organizations, and called on the Assembly to scrap four amendments, including the power to change the national budget and the ban on same-sex marriage. Meanwhile, the Assembly also opened up its floor for dialogue with constituents. 

Amid the reform process, messages between Varela and top Panamanian officials, members of the Panama’s private sector, and international officials were leaked on November 5. The Varelaleaks website details revealed WhatsApp conversations from 2017 and 2018 in which the former president discussed the Odebrecht scandal among other topics with Attorney General Kenia Porcell. Following the leaks, the impartiality of the attorney general came into question, and Porcell subsequently announced her resignation as of January. Protesters are demanding an investigation into the messages, in particular the Public Ministry’s role in the Odebrecht investigation at a time when the attorney general’s powers are up for debate in the constitutional reform process. 



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Thanks Doug.

Constitutional reforms are beyond overdue here in Panama but power, greed, xenophobia, and the influence of the Catholic Church threaten to derail them.

 One only has to look to the South at current disturbances in Bolivia, Ecuador, and Colombia to see that ‘the natives are restless’ because they are sick and tired of self-serving políticos and corruption in government.


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