Could another Hugo Chávez arise in Panama?

chavezPANAMA CITY.-  According to former OAS ambassador Guillermo Cochez, the social unrest reflected in situations as the recent arrest of educators, some signs of extreme poverty – as the existence of latrines in many humble homes of the capital city – as well as the corruption scandals that have recently taken place in the country could be the breeding ground for the isthmus experience a process that similarly was activated in Venezuela from the attempted coup of February, 1992.

Guillermo Cochez, a Panamanian politician and lawyer, not only made his name opposing throughout his life the military dictatorship in his home country, especially during the two terms when he had a seat in the Isthmus Legislative Assembly. Also, he was granted merits when serving as a Major of Panama City following the US invasion that overthrew military dictator Manuel Antonio Noriega in December, 1989, not without first leaving the city almost totally destroyed because of the intense battle between the US marines and shock forces defending the “Strongman of Panama”.

But the leap into international fame of Cochez came with his role as ambassador to the Organization of American States, between July 3, 2009 and January 10, 2013.

From that position, he assumed critical views facing difficult situations as the coup in Honduras in 2009 against President José Manuel Zelaya, the transparency of the management of the OAS Secretary General José Miguel Insulza, the border conflict between Costa Rica and Nicaragua occurred in 2011, the presence of FARC camps in Venezuelan territory, the violation of Human Rights in Ecuador and Venezuela, as well as the legitimacy of the Cuban Government. But his most controversial performance took place during regular meeting of the OAS Permanent Council on January 10, 2013 when he questioned the institutions of the Government of Venezuela against misinformation about President Hugo Chávez’s state of health and what Cochez labeled as “illegal ascension to power of Nicolás Maduro”, then vice president of the country. That view would end up costing him the position.

With such background, it is easy to infer that Guillermo Cochez dares to analyze the current political, economic and social situation of Panama to conclude that, quite possibly, on the isthmus the conditions are given so that at any time a re-incarnation of the late Hugo Chávez arises.

The scenario

It is impressive to hear the former ambassador to mention the contrasts existing in Panama. On one side, is the euphoria at the progress that brings the Canal expansion, the increase of foreign investments, or the rise in the flow of passengers at international and domestic airports. On the other hand, however, situations cringe like the recent strike of educators, the statistics revealing that every 48 minutes there are reports about a pregnant teenager and constant corruption scandals.

The ambassador has been tremendously touched by acknowledging that in the capital magnificent and modern skyscrapers coexist with very humble homes where are still latrines. Of course, we refer to rural holes in the ground used to defecate, and those that the current president Juan Carlos Varela has declared war on. Well at least he said that in a televised propaganda which highlighted his achievements in two years of management and in which he said that 70 latrines have been replaced by toilets.

Amid all this reality, Guillermo Cochez has focused on exposing public opinion the inadequate management of the State resources. Among his most recent claims he highlights a request made to the Office of Comptroller General of Colombia to independently audit the National Assembly since the possible existence of workers or hired professionals earning substantial salaries, but without really providing service to this body. He also said the alleged existence of lease contracts of cars and helicopters for political actions of some deputies, completely unrelated to the interests of the Legislature.

Déjà vu

“When in 1968 the military staged a coup, they justified it with similar situations to those that Hugo Chávez promised to end up in Venezuela when he was elected in 1998. He promised a real democracy, end up the corrupt political parties; he also promised to repair the justice of bribed judges and end the endemic poverty,” said Cochez.

The “Diplomatic inconvenience,” as ever cataloged by the international noise of his views on Chavism, also explains us that what happened in Panama on October 11, 1968, when the military prevented the newly elected President Arnulfo Arias from taking office, “was seen coming before”. The crude distribution of power among politicians on duty was excessive and scandalous. The criminal behavior of some deputies was to be feared. The same parties that sponsored electoral fraud against Arnulfo Arias in 1964 joined him as if nothing had happened in 1968. Nobody already knew who he was,” he said.

When looking at how the same situations are repeated only with other actors, Cochez does not hide his pessimism and warns that – unless many deficiencies of the system are addressed – it is only a matter of time for the emergence of a figure similar to the late Hugo Chávez in Panama.

Translated by Verónica Padilla

Panamá Today / Eliana Pantoja Wed, 07/27/2016 – 12:53