From China honeymoon to homespun problems

WHILE President, Juan Carlos Varela and his inflated entourage of ministers are celebrating the signing of 19 agreements in China, civil society in Panama is making sure that he has urgent matters to deal with when he returns to his desk.

The Odebrecht scandal is front and center with expanding  allegations of bribery money being funneled to the coffers of the Panemenista Party, headed by his brother, Deputy “Popi” Varela. accused of lobbying for the Brazilian construction company which continued to receive billions of dollars in contracts from the current administration while  Brazilian authorities were uncovering a network of illegal payments across Latin America.

On Friday,  the China signing was eclipsed by an expose by NBC and Reuters, of the key players in the construction and selling of the Trump Ocean Towers While the report might  attract more wheeler-dealers to  the country, its portrayal of Panama as a haven for money laundering through real estate  is a red flag for genuine investors.

Adding to the problem folders in the presidential in-basket is an open letter from at least 10 civil society organizations expressing  their concern about the “serious deterioration” in the management of the Ministry of Environment (Miambiente).

Questioning the  administration of the Minister of Environment, Emilio Sempris, over possible concessions to developments in protected areas such as the Wildlife Refuge of  Islas de Cañas, in Los Santos, Donoso, in Colón and  Mata Oscura, in Veraguas, where there are complaints about  concessions for tourist developments without technical studies,  the  NGO’s   have asked  Varela, to intervene before it is too late  ‘… and They refer to the “silence” of the entity on the subject of protected areas.

The letter  says: “We ask that you urgently request the Minister to take strong, effective and consistent actions in order to avoid further breakdown of the environmental institutional framework of the country and the lack of protection of protected areas and ecosystems.”

Sempris, says that he has scheduled a meeting with civil society groups for next week. It may be too late to save his head. His hope for survival is that the president is not renowned for making quick decisions  and while he was away the inbox filled with problems that may be considered more urgent, and the environment folder can be moved to “pending”