I was scheduled to go to the women’s prison in Chiriquí yesterday and things went amiss. My task was to deliver some needed hygiene articles, some informational documents explaining what to expect, a document to be collected when the Embassy Consul makes his first visit, a list of Panama attorneys, and obtain a Privacy Act Waiver to allow the Embassy to communicate with designated people on behalf of the detained.
I will do that today, God willing and the creeks don’t rise. However, in reviewing some of the information that is to be delivered, I felt that it may be worthwhile to share it with you.
There are many reasons a person might be arrested and all might not make sense to those arrested. It could be as simple as being stopped at one of the typical traffic stops and you find that you are a couple days past your VISA expiration date.
It could be that your description fits one of a person seen at a crime site. It could be that your were at the wrong place at the wrong time.
As in the U.S., just because you are arrested, doesn’t make you guilty. However, if you are arrested, you should not expect that the legal system in Panama works the same as it does in the U.S. You should also not assume that the facilities you will be placed in will be the same as those in the U.S. either.
I have been told that if an American citizen is arrested in Panama, that the U.S. Embassy is supposed to be notified within 48 hours. I also understand that sometimes that doesn’t happen as it should.
The U.S. Embassy sends its Consuls to visit incarcerated American Citizens that are being held in Panama prisons. I think the frequency is once every three months. I think the next Chiriquí visitation is set for around the middle of January and that was the reason, I was asked to pick up a few personal items.
Going two more weeks without toilet paper is not a good thing, and this person was just arrested.
The three documents I am putting on my server are 1) Sending Money to U.S. Citizens Overseas, 2) GENERAL INFORMATION FOR AMERICAN PRISONERS IN PANAMA and 3) A SUMMARY OF THE PANAMANIAN CRIMINAL JUSTICE SYSTEM
When you read the three documents I listed above, remember that the U.S. Embassy has no legal authority in Panama. You will see, in the information provided, that the U.S. Embassy cannot give legal advice or recommend lawyers. You will see that the list of lawyers that the Embassy has a large disclaimer at the beginning.
Hopefully, you will never be given any of these documents by an Embassy representative. Reading them may energize you to at minimum have a PAW and a friend that knows where it is kept if you haven’t already sent one to the Embassy.
Consider this. If you were living here and were arrested (rightly or wrongly) and were alone at the time of the arrest, and the system didn’t work and the U.S. Embassy was not notified of your arrest, who would know you were missing?
That is another reason, I think everyone needs a buddy if they are living in Panama. Someone, that if you are not where you ought to be at a certain time, cares enough to start asking questions and begin a search.
These are my thoughts, in my words, and should not be construed as opinion of the U.S. Embassy.