PANAMA CITY – Panama’s Legislative Assembly approved a bill to reinstate the country in the Central American Parliament (Parlacen).
With 40 votes in favor, 3 against and zero abstentions, lawmakers approved Panama’s return to the regional forum.
Opposition lawmakers accused President Ricardo Martinelli of using Parlacen to protect him from any investigations when he leaves office.
Current lawmakers had previously approved in 2010 a bill proposed by Martinelli for the withdrawal of Panama from Parlacen.
Martinelli argued at the time that the regional forum was “burdensome,” “useless” and “a den of immunity” for politicians being probed for alleged corruption.
Opposition lawakers believe that Martinelli changed his opinion on Parlacen because he is seeking immunity from various alleged acts of corruption that have been made public.
“The problem with this government is that they first speak and then think,” said lawmaker Juan Carlos Arosemena, from the Democratic Revolutionary Party. “Martinelli first said [Parlacen] was a den of thieves” and “now we must quickly return,” he added.
The treaty that gave birth to the Central American Parliament, which now includes all Central American countries except Costa Rica, granted regional presidents and vice presidents an automatic chair at the end of their term, which also gives them legal immunity from prosecution.
Currently Parlacen is conformed by El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama and the Dominican Republic, as well as Taiwan, Mexico, Venezuela and Puerto Rico as observer members.