Martinelli a winner on points
The bottom line for the March 17 presidential debate was that Balbina Herrera needed to score the knockout blow and came nowhere close t...
The bottom line for the March 17 presidential debate was that Balbina Herrera needed to score the knockout blow and came nowhere close to doing anything of the sort. That means that Ricardo Martinelli, who came into the debate with a double-digit lead in the polls, won. One might have expected no-holds-barred ninjitsu, given the tone of the campaigns, but at the debate they were almost civil.
Martinelli kept throwing out these dismissive one-liners and catch phrase reminders of PRD embarrassments. Balbina was slightly more aggressive, for example accusing Martinelli the supermarket baron of having a conflict of interest about food prices. Martinelli, as far as he went, handled that issue well. He noted the large competition in his business, ridiculed the idea of a national price fixing conspiracy, and hammered present and past governments for adding to the problem by high electricity rate policies.
Martinelli didn't, however, mention US ethanol subsidies that have driven up world prices of corn and animal feed. Neither he nor his opponent got into the matter of trade policies that will allow greater access for subsidized North American food exports to the Panamanian market. There is no disagreement between the two candidates on this issue.
On health care, Balbina was right to say that Seguro Social wasn't all that well run when Martinelli was in charge -- but coming from the Torrijos cabinet she had a lot of gall to raise the subject. As a cabinet member she, too, participated in the sordid maneuver by which hundreds of families whose breadwinners or loved ones were poisoned to death by government-issued cough syrup were denied recognition and benefits by the simple expedient of denying the Institute of Legal Medicine the funds to conduct timely toxicology tests on all the bodies, then pretending that diethylene glycol poisonings that were not definitively proven by toxicology tests never happened. Just one brief mention of the chemical was all Martinelli had to say to devastate his opponent.
On transportation, Martinelli offered a train from 24 de Diciembre to Albrook, leaving a lot of the rest to an unspecified mixture of public and private operators. Herrera promised studies, then a monorail going somewhere or the other. Her big problem, again, was that the president in whose cabinet she served deliberately turned what was a traffic annoyance into a transportation nightmare.
Meanwhile, a more important campaign development was brewing elsewhere. One David Murcia Guzmán, cooling his heels in a Bogota jail cell, has alleged that when he was flaunting wealth around Panama, he contributed $6 million in cash to the presidential campaign of Balbina Herrera and the mayoral campaign of Bobby Velásquez, thus buying protection that included personal care by SPI presidential guards. The President and all his men categorically denied this, but Murcia says it has been caught on videotape.
As Richard Nixon's press flack Ron Ziegler might have said, Martín's denial was "inoperative." Three SPI guards have been identified as guarding Murcia and now the presidential position is that it wasn't authorized.