Washington/Panama (BLAZETRENDS).- The United States has prohibited former Panamanian President Juan Carlos Varela and his family from entering the country for their involvement in “important” acts of corruption, Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced.
Varela, president between 2014 and 2019, is accused by the Panamanian Justice for money laundering in the Odebrecht case, in which former Panamanian President Ricardo Martinelli (2009-2014) is also implicated.
The decision, Blinken said in a statement, “reaffirms the US commitment to combat endemic corruption in Panama.”
“We hope that today’s action will encourage Panamanian officials and authorities to address entrenched corruption and empower all those who uphold the rule of law,” stressed the foreign minister.
Trial against Juan Carlos Varela
Next August, the trial against Varela and Martinelli will begin in Panama, together with 34 other people, accused of money laundering in the corruption scheme of the Brazilian construction company in the country.
In January of this year, the US also prohibited the entry of Martinelli and his sons, Ricardo Alberto and Luis Enrique, who also face charges in the Odebrecht case.
According to the Panamanian prosecutor’s office, the construction company, which for years was the main state contractor, paid bribes “left and right” to officials and politicians in the Central American country.
The investigation into this case in Panama was opened in 2015, was archived, reopened in 2017 – after the company confessed in the US that it had paid millions in bribes in a dozen countries – and ended in October 2018.
In July 2017, Odebrecht signed an agreement with the Panamanian Prosecutor’s Office to pay a fine of 220 million dollars (about 195 million euros) to the State in 12 years, which is not being complied with.
The Justice of Panama, in “debt”
The Justice of Panama is in “debt” with the country and must do its part, analysts and politicians told BLAZETRENDS after the United States prohibited the entry of former Panamanian President Juan Carlos Varela.
“Panama remains indebted that its own Justice does what it must do to confirm these serious charges” of corruption that the US accuses. “Everything comes from outside, as has been the custom, and locally we do not have concluded processes and that, the It’s true, it’s unfortunate,” the former president of the Panama chapter of Transparency International (TI), Carlos Barsallo, told BLAZETRENDS.
Blinken said that the decision on former President Varela “reaffirms the US commitment to combat endemic corruption in Panama.”
“It is the message of a politician from one country, who urges another country to do its homework. We have to do our homework, we have to investigate and, after due process, punish those who have violated the laws. That is too basic, but it is said easily and not done and we have spent many years in this same litany”, commented Barsallo.
Varela and Martinelli
The former attorney general (attorney general) and candidate for independent deputy Ana Matilde Gómez agreed with Barsallo that now “it is up to the Panamanian Justice to do its part.”
“I hope that others who are needed are added to the list of Ricardo Martinelli and Juan Carlos Varela,” Gómez told BLAZETRENDS, who considers it “opportune that as long as there is sufficient evidence, proceed, by all legal means that appropriate, to bring to light the actions of senior public officials who have used their power to benefit themselves.”
For the constitutional lawyer Ernesto Cedeño, the fact that Panama has two former presidents appointed by the US for corruption shows that the administration of Justice in Panama “is in intensive care.”
“For some high-profile cases and others, Justice does not work as it should, and that has a lot to do” with the fact that the judicial system lacks “full, total and financial independence” that allows it to operate “without having to do with the ups and downs of politics,” the analyst told BLAZETRENDS.
Former President Varela, who was Martinelli’s vice president and chancellor until they distanced themselves in 2011, had not yet ruled on Thursday about the US government’s decision.
The Panameñista Party reaffirms its anti-corruption commitment
The president of the Panameñista Party, José Blandón Figueroa, reaffirmed his “bet against corruption”, after the United States prohibited the entry of the former president of Panama Juan Carlos Varela (2014-2019), who governed under that formation.
“The Panameñista Party, which I am honored to chair, made a firm commitment against corruption in the latest reforms of our statutes. Our commitment to transparency and the fight against corruption is clear and unequivocal,” Blandón said in a statement after the US announcement against former President Varela.
The leader of the Panameñista Party said that it is up to Varela, who is still a member of the formation, “to speak out and give the statements that he deems pertinent” before a decision by the United States that “not only affects his image, but also the of all country”.
“I reiterate what was said when a similar statement was made about former President Ricardo Martinelli. No one who has been included on that list and there is sufficient evidence against him will be able to bring development and employment to Panama if he is elected to the presidency of the Republic”, Blandón stressed.