Is Panama's President Being Coerced by Cuba's Regime?

Friday, October 3, 2014
Coercion is a favorite tool of Cuba's dictatorship.

This week, we learned how Castro imprisoned one of his closest foreign business partners, Canada's Cy Tokmakjian, and asked for a $55 million ransom for his release -- in addition to confiscating over $100 million of Tokmakjian's company assets.

And, of course, we're all familiar with Castro's taking of an American hostage, development worker Alan Gross, in order to coerce the United States into swapping him for five (now three) Cuban spies duly convicted in federal court.

Thus, new Panamanian President Juan Carlos Varela's insistence on inviting Cuba to participate in next year's Summit of the Americas -- despite Castro's dictatorship clearly not meeting any of the requirements of the Summit's "democracy clause" -- should raise some questions.

Also noteworthy is the blatant dishonesty being displayed by Panama's Foreign Minister, Isabel Saint Malo, who during a visit to Washington, D.C., was told in no unequivocal terms by senior administration officials that the U.S. strongly opposes Cuba's invitation to the Summit.

Yet, thereafter, Saint Malo falsely stated that the U.S. "understood" Panama's decision and jetted off to conduct a big "dog-and-pony" show in Havana, in order to informally invite Raul Castro.

Perhaps Varela and Saint Malo believe they are currying favor with Havana in order to obtain payment on its large financial debt and to secure the release of imprisoned Panamanian businessman, Nessim Abadi.

Similar to Canada's Cy Tokmakjian, Abadi is a prominent businessman in his 70s, who was arrested in the summer of 2012. He remains imprisoned with no known trial or even formal charges.

Abadi, part of a large family of Syrian Jews who migrated to Panama in the early 1900s, is the owner of the major electronic goods chain, Audifoto. He had been selling Asian-made electronic, household and other goods to the Castro regime for years through Panama’s duty-free Colon Free Zone (CFZ).

A story last year in The Miami Herald noted that, "CFZ businessmen said that Abadi has a reputation for total honesty and that they suspected Cuba arrested him to avoid paying its debt to him — and to send a message to its other debtors in Panama to await any late payments patiently and keep their mouths shut."

The Castro regime's debt with Panama is well over $500 million. Moreover, the Panamanian President's family business, The Varela Group, are major players in the CFZ.

Sooner or later, President Varela will learn (the hard way) that he's set off on a fool's errand. And that's fine.

But sacrificing the Western Hemisphere's historic commitment to democracy is a selfish, heavy and irresponsible price to pay.

(For more on this final point, click here.)