Kuna outcry over Martinelli choice
PANAMA. The outcry over president-elect Ricardo Martinelli’s choice of a former legislator who is under a number of investigations as g...
PANAMA. The outcry over president-elect Ricardo Martinelli’s choice of a former legislator who is under a number of investigations as governor of the Kuna Yala region continues to grow.
On Friday The Association of Kuna Indian Students added their voices to the uproar over the naming of Rogelio Alba who has six files hanging over him, including one of misappropriation of public funds.
According to Ronaldo Ortiz, the association’s secretary general, they reject Alba’s designation because of the scandals which have surrounded the former legislator, and the six open judicial processes against him.
Ortiz argues that the Kunas learned of Alba’s assignment to the region only after it was formally announced.
He claims Martinelli’s group did not consult with the Kuna caciques, a must for an autonomous territory such as Kuna Yala.
The association sees Alba’s appointment as a punishment from Cambio Democratico and Martinelli to a region which favored PRD candidate Balbina Herrera during the May 3 presidential elections.
His words are echoed throughout the Kuna community and a general Kuna congress will be held by the end of the month to discuss the appointment.
In the meantime, Kuna representatives have asked for a meeting with Martinelli to voice their concerns and discontent, warning that if the appointment is not retracted, the Kunas will submit complaints to national and international entities.
Alba was named Governor of Kuna Yala earlier this week by Martinelli, a move that surprised many and opened the door to criticism against a government that ran with the promise to bring about “change” as the main element of its political platform.
Political pundits have argued this week that for a president who promised to rule “with the best,” Martinelli seems to have forgotten to check Alba’s past record.
There are six open judicial processes against Alba, including complaints for alleged misappropriation of public funds, and for smuggling alcohol.
In 2006, while Alba was a Kuna Yala legislator, he was denounced for embezzlement and misappropriation of public funds meant to be given as a school subsidy.
A group of indigenous people travelled to Panama City to complain to the Public Ministry that Alba was only granting $60 to elementary school students and $80 to high school students, when they were supposed to receive $120 and $240 respectively.
That same year, Heriberto Gonzalez complained that a Social Security document listed him as working with Alba at the end of 2005 for a total sum of $5,000, something he argued never occurred.
Gonzalez claimed the check was cashed by someone other than himself, and he alleged Alba used the funds for personal benefits with a forged signature.
The former legislator was also accused of receiving money from drug trafficking, and for fiscal evasion, after he tried to smuggle alcohol out of the Colon Free Zone without paying the appropriate taxes.
For many, including Angelica Maytin, head of Transparency International’s Panama chapter, “to be consistent with his campaign promises, Martinelli should reconsider this appointment.”
According to Maytin, government officials “should be chosen by merits, for having a record of integrity and professional achievements, and this doesn’t seem to be the criteria taken into consideration when making this appointment.”
After the showers of criticism, Alba defended himself saying the negative comments against him reflected nothing but bad intentions from those looking to tarnish his reputation.
“These have been issues to damage my position as a humble politician,” he said.
Alba said: “Martinelli has seen my capacity, my responsibility. I am going to work and show that I am a humble politicians at the service of the community,” he said.
Jimmy Papadimitriu, future Minister of the Presidency, explained that Alba’s assignment reflects his knowledge of the region. “He is a person who knows the area, its needs, and the people know him well” and none of the charges against him have been proven, he said.