Entries in Panama (4)


Princess Cruises to Investigate Why Captain Ignored Distress Call

Steve Mason/Photodisc/Thinkstock (file photo)(NEW YORK) -- Princess Cruises is conducting an internal investigation after the captain of one of their ships reportedly ignored a passenger's report of a distress signal and continued on course, rather than coming to the rescue of a stranded Panamanian fishing vessel.

Two of the fishing boat's three crew members later died of dehydration -- just one day after the encounter with the cruise ship.

On Feb. 24, 2012, Adrian "Santi" Vasquez, 18, set out on a fishing trip with two friends, Oropeces Betancourt, 16, and Fernando Osario, 16.  The trip turned deadly when the trio discovered that the outboard motor on their small fishing vessel "The Fifty Cent" would not start, leaving them stranded in the middle of the ocean.  The three Panamanian fishermen drifted at sea for over two weeks, hungry, hot and dehydrated, before they spotted the Star Princess cruise ship and started desperately signaling for a rescue.

"It was a really big, white ship.  I was waving a red t-shirt, and Fernando was waving a bright orange life jacket over his head.  For a minute it looked like they were going to turn to come for us, but then they just went on their way," Vasquez, the crew's sole survivor, said in an interview with

Meanwhile on the deck of the Star Princess, Judy Meredith of Bend, Ore., and Jeff Gilligan were bird watching with Jim Dowdall of Dublin, Ireland, when they spotted the Fifty Cent far off the ships starboard side.

Equipped for bird watching, the group was armed with high power binoculars, spotting scopes, and cameras fitted with telephoto lenses -- all of which gave them a good view of the fishing boat in the distance.

"I saw a young man in the front of the boat waving his shirt up and down.  Big motions, up over his head and down to the floor, waving it vigorously.  Frantically I would say," Meredith told ABC's Good Morning America.  "That signal told me that they were in trouble.  They were trying everything they could to get our attention."

Meredith said that they told someone at a desk they wanted to call the bridge and be sure they checked on the boat.  She said that the man at the desk made a call, then came back out and looked through their spotting scopes at the boat, then went back inside.

"Nothing happened," she told GMA.  "The ship didn't slow down.  It didn't seem to change course.  And so I went back in and asked what the captain was going to do. And he said he didn't know."

Not pacified by the encounter, Meredith returned to her room where she wrote down the ships coordinates and sent an email to U.S Coast Guard in hopes that they would take action.

The Coast Guard did not find the Fifty Cent, however, and the boat floated aimlessly for another two weeks, during which both Bentancourt and Osario died of dehydration.  On March 24, Vasquez, the sole remaining fisherman was rescued at sea by an Ecuadoran fishing boat.  He was found 650 miles off shore, having thrown the bodies of his two friends overboard.

"It's really frustrating that those young men were at sea two more weeks and two of them died!  Two of them died because the ship didn't turn around," Meredith said.

Princess Cruises confirmed in an email that they have launched an internal investigation into the matter, writing "We're aware of the allegations that Star Princess supposedly passed by a boat in distress that was carrying three Panamanian fishermen on March 10, 2012.  At this time we cannot verify the facts as reported, and we are currently conducting an internal investigation on the matter."

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Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Former Dictator Manuel Noriega Returns to Panama -- As a Prisoner

Stephen Ferry/Liaison(PANAMA CITY, Panama) -- Former Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega returned home on Sunday for the first time since being ousted by the U.S. more than 20 years ago and jailed, but his homecoming was not joyous.

The 77-year-old was extradited from France and returned to Panama as a prisoner to face three 20-year jail sentences for crimes committed during his rule in the 1980s, including the murder of political opponents.

Noriega, once a U.S. ally, was removed from office in January 1990 after American troops entered Panama in response to his growing power and what many had said was his willingness to turn the strategically-important Central American country into a drug trafficking hub.

Noriega ended up taking refuge in the Vatican embassy in Panama while more than 26,000 U.S. troops clashed with government loyalists.  American troops finally removed Noriega from the embassy and he was flown to Miami, where he was convicted of drug trafficking.

He served 17 years and then was extradited in 2010 to France, where he had been convicted in absentia of laundering drug money through banks and using the cash to buy property in Paris.

Now back in his native Panama, Noriega's new home is a cell in El Renacer prison.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Commerce Confident Trade Agreements Will Pass

Comstock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- As the battle of the job plans reaches its pinnacle Thursday night with President Obama’s speech to a joint session of Congress, trade agreements have emerged as one of the only areas of consensus in the field of polar opposite ideas for how to reduce America’s 9.1-percent unemployment rate.

Trade agreements with Panama, South Korea and Colombia have made the list of job-creating policy priorities in every job plan from House Majority Leader Eric Cantor to GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney to President Obama.

Despite this broad -- and rare -- agreement, the fate of these bills still hangs in the cloud of congressional procedural tactics and partisan wrangling that Capitol Hill became notorious for during the debt ceiling debate.

“The standing of trade is actually pretty high in terms of an area of growing bipartisan consensus,” said John Murphy, the vice president for international affairs at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. “Unfortunately, this is a city where trust is in short supply.”

The chamber estimates that opening trade with these three countries could create 380,000 jobs. The free trade agreement with South Korea alone could add a quarter of a million American jobs, Murphy said.

But Democrats have made it clear that they will not consider the trade bills until Republicans vow to pass the Trade Adjustment Assistance, a program that aids workers who lose their jobs because of increased imports or outsourcing that the trade agreements create.

The TAA, which the Congressional Budget Office estimates will add nearly $3 billion to the deficit in five years, has been a tough sell for Republicans. The assistance and job training program’s budget, which was originally slated to cost $5.4 billion over five years, was slashed by nearly a third in order to pull in enough Republican support.

“We believe the numbers are there for passage,” Murphy said. “At a time of fiscal austerity it passed muster on that score so on that basis we believe that there will be a significant number of votes in support of Trade Adjustment Systems.”

Murphy said House freshmen, some of the most conservative members of Congress, have been “very receptive” and “strongly supportive” of the trade agreements, but will almost surely vote against the TAA.

Senate Democrats plan to attach the TAA to the Generalized System of Preferences program which reduces tariffs on imports from 130 countries. The House passed the GSP Wednesday night.

While Murphy said it is “highly likely” that the president will mention the trade agreements in his jobs speech Thursday, the Chamber of Commerce does not think it is necessary for the President to lay out his agenda for how to move the agreements through Congress.

“We are not focused on words, but on what is unfolding,” Murphy said. “And that process started last night with the GSP bill passing in the House.”

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Free Trade Agreement Trio, if Colombia Meets Benchmarks

Stockbyte/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- A trio of long-delayed trade agreements hinge on whether Colombia shows progress in implementing labor-rights benchmarks. Colombia is due to report to the Obama administration Friday.

The Obama Administration has been pushing to open trade with Colombia, Panama and South Korea since appointing Ron Kirk as the principal trade advisor last June in the U.S. Trade Representatives. The Colombia trade agreement would eliminate tariffs and other barriers to U.S. exports, which totaled $12 billion last year. It will also provide U.S. companies access to Colombia's $134 billion services market, which would open job opportunities for U.S. service providers.

"Colombia is one of our strongest allies in South America and increased trade between our two nations will bolster the economic partnership. Expanding markets for American goods and services will help create jobs in the U.S. and strengthen our economy," said House Speaker John Boehner. "That's why it's important for the administration to work with Congress to implement all three pending trade agreements -- Colombia, Panama, and South Korea -- in tandem with one another as soon as possible."

Prior to Congressional approval, Colombia's president, Juan Manuel Santos, must assign 95 additional full-time police investigators to support prosecutors in charge of investigating criminal cases involving labor union members and activists. Colombia has also committed to launching a public outreach campaign to promote awareness of illegality of undermining rights to organize and bargain collectively.

"The legislation may pass if Colombia meets the benchmark set in place by labor agreements earlier this month, but Colombia should not be rewarded with the agreement. They have killed 2,800 [people] since 1986, 51 last year, and three teachers this year," said Robert Scott from the left-leaning Economic Policy Institute.

The administration and Congressional supporters hope to fast-track the agreements, giving it 90 days to go through Congress. The fast-track requirement allows the President to negotiate agreements with Congress prior to the 90-day clock, but they cannot add amendments or filibusters once it has been submitted to Congress.

Talks with the three countries have been in the works since before 2008, but the difference this week is that Colombia is displaying progress, preparing for the free trade agreement. All three countries are moving forward: a deal with South Korea was announced in December, Panama this week, and today Colombia's progress submission. Obama may be put in a tight spot as the 2012 campaign revs up as many of his supporters are strong advocates for organized labor and human rights. These groups are generally opposed to the trade agreements.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio 

ABC News Radio