Challenges: Panama remains a transshipment crossroads for illicit trafficking due to its geographic location and the presence of the canal. The United States estimated that more than 80 percent of the primary flow of the cocaine trafficked to the United States first transited through the Central American corridor in 2013. Drug Trafficking Organizations (DTOs), including Mexican and Colombian groups such as the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), move illegal contraband through Panama’s remote Darién region, its coastline and littoral zones, and its transportation infrastructure, including the second largest free trade zone in the world, four major containerized seaports, the Pan-American Highway, and the fourth busiest airport in Latin America. The United States enjoys a strong partnership with all Panamanian security services.
Goals: INL programs seek to increase citizen security by addressing the broader justice sector in Panama in accordance with the CARSI regional strategy. In Panama, INL aims to professionalize Panamanian Police Institutions; increase community involvement; maintain an elite cadre of police and expand to units to cover new areas of crime; strengthen Belize’s ability to secure its borders; and counter criminal gangs by engaging youth and other anti-gang activities.
In 2013, Panama built on past efforts to strengthen and improve its security institutions, enhance interdiction capacity and ensure citizen security. While government agencies in the justice sector continued to suffer cutbacks in the 2014 fiscal year budget, the Ministry of Public Security’s budget increased by 11 percent over 2013 levels, the 5th straight year of increase.
The Panamanian National Police (PNP), with U.S. assistance, began implementation of a comprehensive modernization program in August through the introduction of modern policing philosophies and integration of the COMPSTAT (comparative statistics) model, allowing the real-time mapping and analysis of criminal activity. After completing an initial training and troubleshooting phase, COMPSTAT should lead to more effective police enforcement in the coming year.
Additionally, reform of the Police Academy curriculum and teaching methods has led the Ministry of Education to certify it as an accredited academic institution, enabling it to offer university-level courses.
Panama is replacing its inquisitorial justice system through a phased transition to a faster and more transparent U.S.-style accusatory justice system, which the United States is supporting through a program that provides training countrywide. Despite a two-year delay, the system has thus far been implemented in four of Panama’s nine provinces. In the implemented provinces, case processing times have fallen 85 percent and oral hearings have broken a judicial logjam that had seen basic criminal cases drag on for years.