PANAMA CITY – Around 100 people gathered outside Panama’s Supreme Court on Friday to bang pot and pans in a protest against judicial decisions seen as obstructing progress in a massive corruption case.
“If we don’t say ‘enough,’ the politicians won’t. Nobody will pull our country out of corruption if not for pressure from citizens. If we let this pass and don’t do anything, there will be no going back,” said Meritzchabel Carretero, who spent her lunch hour protesting.
Participants held up signs with slogans such as “Panama is not for sale, respect Panama.”
The demonstration followed court rulings widely seen as hurting the efforts of prosecutors in a case centered on bribes paid by Brazil-based construction giant Odebrecht to secure public works contracts in Panama.
Odebrecht executives told Panamanian authorities that the multinational paid at least $59 million in bribes during the 2009-2014 administration of former President Ricardo Martinelli.
Two of Martinelli’s sons are known to be among the 63 people indicted by Panamanian prosecutors in connection with the scandal, while the erstwhile head of state is behind bars in the United States awaiting extradition to his homeland on separate charges.
The recent decision by the 12th circuit criminal court to deny prosecutors’ request for more time to build their case in an Odebrecht-related trial for money laundering provoked widespread outrage.
Panama’s first lady, Lorena Castillo de Varela, went on social media to demand the arrest of Supreme Court chief Jose Ayu Prado.
On Thursday, the 12th circuit court suspended a scheduled hearing to ratify the accord between Odebrecht and the Attorney General’s Office that calls for the company to pay a fine of $220 million and provide information on its illegal activities in Panama.
“It cannot be that the most important corruption case in the history of Latin America goes unpunished. If this case is buried, Panama is in for times of instability,” attorney, journalist and independent presidential hopeful Ricardo Lombana said Friday.