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  • Writer's picturePanama Human Rights

President Varela seen defending the interests of his close entourage well Mr President judgement day

Updated: Jul 22, 2019

The close political and judicial entourage of President Juan Carlos Varela has been pivotal in allowing him to consolidate his power within the public administration machinery, and to persecute his political enemies.

The close political and judicial entourage of President Juan Carlos Varela has been pivotal in allowing him to consolidate his power within the public administration machinery, and to persecute his political enemies. Additionally, the president has worked with his close allies to promote their personal interests. The people who form part of President Varela’s close entourage range from former military figures to employees of his family company, Varela Hermanos S.A.

The key operators within the presidential palace include former ministerial adviser Ramon Fonseca Mora, who until recently played a very active role in the president’s close entourage, alongside Temistocles Diaz, also a ministerial adviser to the president; and Alvaro Aleman, minister for the presidency. Jointly, they have ensured that state projects are handed out for the benefit of family members as well as associates of the current government.

Ramon Fonseca Mora was allegedly one of the masterminds of the strategy of persecution and incarceration of political opponents of President Varela. His closeness to the president was borne out when the latter personally and publicly defended him in the wake of the international scandal that struck his disgraced law firm, Mossack Fonseca. The president pointedly avoided ever mentioning the name of Mr. Fonseca, or directly referring to his law firm, in his public declarations, in an attempt to shield his close friend.

The persecution of political enemies allegedly rests in the hands of Rolando “Picuiro” Lopez. Hailing from the military, Mr. Lopez is accused of manufacturing evidence against political opponents. In order to facilitate this task, Mr. Lopez has placed one of his associates, Kenia Porcell, in the Atty. General’s office. Ms. Porcell has been seen to comply with the instructions of her former boss.

For his part, of the minister for the presidency Alvaro Aleman is also involved in the business of creating offshore companies: his firm, Icaza, Gonzalez-Ruiz & Aleman, of which he’s been a partner since 1996, specializes in “tax law and process resolution”.

Multiple experts allege that the current deceleration experienced by the Panamanian economy has been partly caused by the dysfunctional closeness of the judicial establishment with elements of the president’s close entourage. Additionally, the National Assembly itself has blatantly failed to exert control over the government's action, instead passively supporting the judicial agenda of the president.

The president’s own brother, Jose Luis “Popi” Varela, has publicly accepted that the economy has experienced a significant slowdown under the current administration, alleging that this is one of the reasons why the government has postponed the constitutional reform it had promised.

Even members of the ruling Panameñista party have openly argued that the president’s ill-judged decisions have negatively affected the country’s economy. They also claim that the country is been held hostage to the economic interests of some key members of the president’s close entourage, who exerts power over the land almost without limits.

The power behind the throne is embodied by businessman Stanley Motta, President Varela’s main campaign donor; Pedro “Peter” Vallarino, who was roommate with the president while at college in the U.S.; Francisco Sierra, another Motta man working in close contact with the president; Taher Yaffar, a low-profile businessman until 2014, and the main fundraiser for the Varela election campaign within the Colon free zone; as well as Miguel Angel Esbri, who along with the president, belongs to the ultraconservative catholic organization Opus Dei.

According to political veteran Jorge Gamboa Arosemena, the current government is made up of career politicians accustomed to working to "slice up the cake". “They place their men in key positions where the most likely to benefit their economic interest. You see it with the consulates, for example. It happened under Mireya, and more so under Varela", he explained. “The economic slowdown and the extreme concentration of wealth are hurting the people. It flies in the face of President Varela's electoral slogan "The People First", added Mr. Arrosemena.

Adding to its anti-democratic credentials, the government has engaged in the persecution of political opponents, and especially of likely candidates for the opposition party CD in the 2019 electoral contest. A case in point is that of former social development minister (Mides) Guillermo Ferrufino, who had openly expressed his interest in running for office and remains in preventive detention. According to political analyst Jose Isabel Blandon, there is no juridical basis for Mr. Ferrufino’s incarceration.

Sociologist Marco Gandasegui also denounces "the government's blatant attempt to pass laws that favor the private interest of some of his associates." Pointing out that the government has been hijacked by the economic interests that funded President Varela’s campaign, “having assumed power, they have abandoned their electoral promises in return for paying their dues to their donors: that’s what happened” he explained.

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