Overview: As Panama is a transit country for illicit goods, money, and migrants, its government’s willingness to engage on bilateral and multilateral counterterrorism initiatives is critically important for regional security. Under President Laurentino “Nito” Cortizo, the Government of Panama (GoP) continued to cooperate with the United States on counterterrorism, especially through effective implementation of maritime-related provisions of UN and U.S. sanctions, including through revocation of the registry of vessels implicated in the evasion of sanctions. Since the beginning of 2021, the GoP has de-flagged dozens of ships for violating U.S. or UN sanctions. Through the Transnational Criminal Investigations Unit and different partnerships, Panama cooperated with U.S. authorities on several CT-related cases in 2021 and continues to lead the region in enrollments in the Biometric Identification Transnational Migration Alert Program (BITMAP). However, Panama has been on the FATF gray list since 2019 for deficiencies in its anti-money laundering regime and has completed only nine of 15 items on its Action Plan. Panama remained the first and only Latin American member of the Defeat-ISIS Coalition and continues to be involved in the Coalition’s Counterterrorism Finance Working Group.
2021 Terrorist Incidents: There were no terrorist incidents in 2021.
Legislation, Law Enforcement, and Border Security: Although Panama does not have comprehensive CT legislation or a robust CT legal framework, it has an executive decree to control dual-use goods and has adopted a national control list for dual-use goods consistent with UNSCR 1540. Panama also has an executive decree to address chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear incidents. While the country does not have a formal coordinating authority on migration below the cabinet level, officials from the GoP’s National Security Council, National Border Service (SENAFRONT), National Migration Service (SNM), and National Police (PNP) met frequently among themselves and with U.S. government officials to efficiently coordinate and act on migration alerts and detain and deport travelers who represented a security risk. Panama furthered its UNSCR 2396 obligations to collect biographic and biometric data, share information with regional partners, share advance passenger information, and participate in INTERPOL.
A U.S.-Panamanian Joint Task force that shares information on Known and Suspected Terrorists (KSTs) and detains and/or deports them as needed cooperated on several CT-related cases. The task force continued to process Panama’s BITMAP data and provide intelligence information, analytical products, and migration trends to Panamanian officers. The GoP’s biometric enrollments provide U.S. agencies with information on foreign partners’ law enforcement and border encounters with KSTs, gang members, and other persons of interest.
The Ministry of Security and the National Customs Authority (ANA) made progress to address the country’s lack of cargo scanners. At the time of this report, the scanners project was in the final stages of approval, with a late 2022 anticipated delivery, leaving the ANA to rely heavily on just three Customs and Border Protection/Crime Scene Investigation scanners operating at the ports of Colón and Balboa. The lack of scanners significantly limits the GoP’s ability to analyze cargo transiting the country, including at Tocumen International Airport — which has the highest number of passenger movements in the region — and entry to and exit from the Colón Free Trade Zone. Limited scanner capabilities, along with a lack of proper institutional and interagency protocols at ports, greatly increases the risk of illicit cargo transiting undetected to and through Panama. Current GoP efforts, supported by Embassy Panama City, will increase interagency information sharing and expand situational awareness in the land, air, and maritime border security environments.
Panama continued to cooperate with U.S. law enforcement on ongoing counterterrorism cases this year, including investigations of individuals linked to Hizballah. However, the GoP’s ability to investigate financial support to terrorist-related organizations remained limited.
Countering the Financing of Terrorism: Panama belongs to the Latin American Financial Action Task Force. One of the departments of Panama’s FIU covers CFT-related reviews of information and prevention efforts. Panama belongs to the Egmont Group.
The government is making slow progress to demonstrate effective supervision, information sharing, risk management, and prosecution of financial crimes as outlined in its FATF Action Plan.
In 2021, the Panama Maritime Authority, which oversees the world’s largest ship registry, de-flagged dozens of ships for facilitating violations or evasion of U.S. or UN sanctions related to Iran, Venezuela, North Korea, Syria, and Cuba.
For additional information on money laundering, see the 2021 INCSR, Vol. 2: Money Laundering.
Countering Violent Extremism: There were no changes for 2021.
International and Regional Cooperation: Panama continued working to strengthen its implementation of UN resolutions that promote the nonproliferation of weapons of mass destruction. The OAS Inter-American Committee Against Terrorism received funding from the Export Control and Related Border Security Program in 2021 to strengthen Panama’s implementation of UNSCR 1540 and contribute to increasing the effectiveness of customs administration in Panama.
The project focuses on providing legislative assistance to help Panama comply with international instruments and obligations; promote outreach to the private sector, industry, and academia to increase awareness of potential proliferation risks; and build capacity to strengthen national capabilities to mitigate and combat potential risks. Funding in 2021 expanded on the initial program that focused on government representatives to support engagement with the private sector and industry, including the Authorized Economic Operator program and the Colon Free Trade Zone.
Panama continued its active participation in regional security initiatives. The U.S. Department of State’s Office of Cooperative Threat Reduction and the U.S. Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory hosted virtual workshops on CFT in Panama, focusing on proliferation financing and sanctions evasion. The workshops included detailed overviews of best practices for risk assessment and mitigation strategies for government regulators and representatives from the judicial sector. In 2021, Embassy Panama City carried out training for Panamanian prosecutors, judges, police, forensic experts, bank supervisors, stock market personnel, and Financial Analysis Unit staff on money-laundering investigation techniques, trade-based money laundering, and cryptocurrency as a method of money-laundering.