Bad news, whatever it is
Do you believe in political violence? If you are like most people, you do --- even if you would never put it that way. Do you think that...
Do you believe in political violence? If you are like most people, you do --- even if you would never put it that way. Do you think that Osama bin Laden needs to be brought to justice for what he did on 9/11? If so, you believe in political violence.
Election violence, that's a different matter. It's hard to have free choice under threat of violence. Our neighbors across the Caribbean Sea in Jamaica have a lot of experience with that sort of thing, so much that they talk about "political tribalism" when a candidate for the PNP can't safely campaign in a JLP stronghold or vice versa. Most Jamaicans consider this a detriment to their democratic system.
So during Carnival in Penonome, someone threw a full beer can at Balbina Herrera, cutting her face. All of a sudden the headlines are about the PRD standard bearer as victim of election violence.
The default presumption is that some drunken jerk who didn't like Balbina assaulted her. Statistically, the odds would be that an adult who dislikes her so much as to do that would be intending to vote for Ricardo Martinelli. But Martinelli, who has a commanding lead in the polls, would have nothing to gain from such a crime. He has denounced it, and should be taken at his word.
Beyond the violent act that hurt Balbina, there are some incongruous or otherwise ugly things about this incident, whatever happened. To wit:
- Balbina's campaign quickly identified the assailant as a Martinelli supporter, but was unable to identify him by name, cedula number or photograph. This despite Balbina always having an entourage with her during her campaign activities, generally with photographers in it. How could Balbina's friends and supporters be so unprotective?
- It was reported that people in the culeco from whence the beer can was thrown were irate at the specific person who threw the can. So how come nobody in the crowd grabbed him, or tailed him and fingered him for the police?
- Penonome's Carnival areas are ordinarily something of a police state during the festivities. Why were there no cops at the scene of the crime?
- In election campaigns past, there were Electoral Tribunal observers at such campaign activities. Where were they this time?
- We have the Institutional Protection Service (SPI), which guards the president, vice presidents, government ministers and visiting dignitaries. Why don't they guard presidential candidates?
There will be an investigation, but the sad thing is that the nation's election officials wear their partisan loyalties on their sleeves. The guys who banned anti-Balbina ads without allowing the other side a hearing; who held that it was OK to use Housing Ministry funds for a Balbina campaign luncheon for 700 because she wasn't a declared candidate at the time; who held that because they have no jurisdiction over the president the PRD can spend as much public money as it wants --- these are our times' version of Noriega's election czarina Yolanda Pulice. No finding of theirs is likely to be universally taken as legitimate.
So what are we really dealing with here? Whatever it is, it's ugly. It raises hard questions about Panama's institutions and Panamanian society itself.