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Panama's ex-leader faces graft case, retains UA ties

By Jaime Adame

This article was originally published June 4, 2017 at 3:42 a.m. Updated June 4, 2017 at 4:30 a.m.

ricardo-martinelli-who-served-as-president-of-panama-for-five-years-kneels-at-the-spot-on-the-university-of-arkansas-fayetteville-campus-senior-walk-that-bears-his-name-as-a-graduate-in-this-undated-photo

Ricardo Martinelli, who served as president of Panama for five years, kneels at the spot on the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville campus Senior Walk that bears his name as a graduate in this undated photo.

Ricardo Martinelli, at the time the president of Panama, signals a strike after throwing out the ceremonial first pitch at a Razorbacks baseball game ...

University of Arkansas System President Donald Bobbitt bestows an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree to Ricardo Martinelli in May 2013.

Ricardo Martinelli addresses the 67th session of the U.N. General Assembly as president of Panama on Sept. 25, 2012.

Four years ago, Ricardo Martinelli stood smiling on a Bud Walton Arena stage as president of Panama and the recipient of an honorary degree.

Ricardo Martinelli, at the time the president of Panama, signals a strike after throwing out the ceremonial first pitch at a Razorbacks baseball game ...

University of Arkansas System President Donald Bobbitt bestows an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree to Ricardo Martinelli in May 2013.

Ricardo Martinelli addresses the 67th session of the U.N. General Assembly as president of Panama on Sept. 25, 2012.

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EricJackson says... June 6, 2017 at 1:02 a.m.

Begin typing here... The bribery and theft were massive and flagrant, easy things for people to understand up there in the USA. But in Panama's political caste there are few innocents and no heroes, plus Martinelli left a Supreme Court with a majority of his appointees and a successor with whom he had fallen out but who had been a coalition partner during many of the abuses. Thus all these obstructions about our legal and political systems in Panama actually doing anything about the guy.

But consider if you will freedom of the press. As in Martinelli's expulsion of two Spanish journalists and a Canadian public television producer. As in constant threats of arrest for things like taking a photo of a money launderer's Maserati parked in the acting attorney general's reserved parking spot. As in pre-election hacks against virtually all online media that Martinelli did not control. As in how he bought a media empire of newspapers, radio stations and a television channel, led by the country's largest circulation newspaper, in leveraged buyouts financed by government advertising.

Me? I gave the guy the benefit of the doubt until a particularly odious human rights violation. But Mr. Martinelli purported to pass a law legalizing any act of violence by any police officer while on the job. Shortly thereafter the inmates at the boy's juvenile detention center were denied water for eight straight days, and of course a rebellion broke out. The boys in one cell did not participate in the disturbance, but rather shut themselves in their hideously overcrowded cell. In a televised extrajudicial execution, the police set the cell on fire and taunted the boys as they screamed and died. Days later, the rotting remains of those who were killed were delivered to their families in plastic garbage bags. Yes, I am a gringo, born in Panama to American parents and thus a dual citizen by birth. When I opined on the radio that no journalist with a sense of decency could remain neutral about Mr. Martinelli after that, one of his publicists went into this gringo bashing routine on me. But see, even if there is a totalitarian element in the USA which would approve of such things, there are certain human rights standards and certain common denominators of ordinary human decency that are universal.

The space is too small for a full litany of the Martinelli regimes abuses. The 15 cases that have been brought before the Supreme Court are but a small sample that has been filtered by a reprehensible system in which impunity for crimes in high office is accepted as a norm.

The University of Arkansas is not well served by this ugly association.

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