Panama’s political puzzle

The enigmatic rise of former Panamanian president, Ricardo Martinelli.

Amazingly, Ricardo Martinelli, the former president of Panama, has emerged as the candidate for the centre right “Realizando Metas” party in the country’s upcoming election. What makes this choice extraordinary is Martinelli’s indictment for money laundering crimes, specifically related to allegations of accepting bribes from Odebrecht, a Brazilian construction company.  

Accused of laundering millions of dollars, Martinelli’s legal troubles extend beyond Odebrecht. He is also implicated in the purchase of a majority share of the Editors Panama America publishing house using state funds. “The testimonies are consistent or coincide in the facts and circumstances of time, manner and place, which point to the former president as the coordinator of the illicit acts carried out,” reports a former prosecutor in Panama. Despite these serious allegations, the former president claims to be a victim of political targeting, even though he is banned from entering the US due to his alleged crimes. 

“The testimonies are consistent or coincide in the facts and circumstances of time, manner and place, which point to the former president as the coordinator of the illicit acts carried out.”

A former prosecutor, Panama

Complicating matters further, Martinelli’s own sons, Luis and Ricardo, have served prison sentences in the US after pleading guilty for their involvement in the Odebrecht money laundering scheme. Their lawyer has stated that the sons were coerced into participating by their father, tarnishing Martinelli’s reputation irreparably. “If he [Martinelli] is acquitted of the charges against him, nationally and internationally he has an accumulation of discredit that has gone from bad to worse;” comments the former prosecutor, “in other words, the political positives are immutable, but the negatives have been increasing exponentially.” Additionally, the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists has uncovered offshore interests held by the Martinelli family, further undermining public trust.  

Surprisingly, instead of dampening his popularity, the corruption accusations against Martinelli seem to have energised his supporters. Current polls indicate that if the election were held today, he would win by a landslide, securing the support of 49% of voters. Panamanians believe that Martinelli is the candidate most capable of addressing pressing issues such as the high cost of living, unemployment rates and improving public health and education, but as the former prosecutor highlights, “It is an indubitable fact that the only name that appeared in the national arena was his, with no rivals in sight.”  For the Panamanians though, the ruling of a court is secondary to their unwavering faith in Martinelli’s ability to deliver positive change. It has been brought to our attention by a renowned Panamanian criminal lawyer that “although the trial could appear to be a normal legal process, political interference by the government should not be ruled out, given that Martinelli leads by a large margin in all polls.” 

“Although the trial could appear to be a normal legal process, political interference by the government should not be ruled out, given that Martinelli leads by a large margin in all polls.”

A renowned criminal lawyer, Panama

The resilience of Martinelli’s support base raises questions about the complex relationship between corruption allegations and public perception. It highlights the importance of addressing the underlying socio-economic issues that drive citizens to overlook or dismiss allegations against their favoured candidates. Panama, like many other nations, is grappling with the delicate balance between justice and the hope and desires of its citizens. “In several interviews with the US ambassador to Panama, Mary Carmen Aponte, was asked what would happen if Martinelli were elected and she replied that her government would work with whomever the Panamanians chose,” exclaimed the criminal lawyer. 

As the election approaches, the case of Ricardo Martinelli will undoubtedly remain the forefront of political discourse in Panama. It serves as a stark reminder of the complexities and challenges that arise when corruption issues intersect with public opinion. Only time will tell whether the faith placed in Martinelli by his supporters will triumph over the shadow of legal accusations. In the end, the outcome of the election will provide insight into the values and priorities of the Panamanian people and the potential election of the “Panamanian Trump”. 

 

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