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Why Us? Panamanians Are Pissed That They're Associated With the Panama Papers

The massive leak of documents from the Panama-based law firm Mossack Fonseca has sparked an outpouring of nationalistic hubris.

by Joe Parkin Daniels
Apr 8 2016, 7:16pm

Foto di Alejandro Bolivar/EPA

Panamanians are not happy about the Panama Papers.

"Panama-stupid-Papers is the only thing on the news now," said Panama City student Barbara Ames. "This happened all over the world, not just in Panama."

Ames' anger is part of a wider outpouring of nationalistic hubris sparked by the massive leak of documents from the Panama-based law firm Mossack Fonseca that has put the world's elite on the defensive about their links to offshore companies.

"We've been internationally catalogued as corrupt money launderers," said lawyer Daniela Arias. "It's a country with almost four million people and we cannot allow it to be denigrated."

The widespread irritation has also found ample expression in the local media. Several newspapers took particular exception to the front page of the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo that featured dubious-looking characters holding signs proclaiming Je Suis Panamá.

Flipping between radio stations, hosts can be heard accusing other countries of badmouthing Panama by tarring the entire nation with the same brush as the murky world of offshore finance.

Panamanians have also come out in force to back Twitter hashtags such as #YoSoyPanama, or I am Panama, and #YoNoSoyMossackFonseca, or I am not Mossack Fonseca.

Related: The VICE News Guide to the Panama Papers

The salsa singer, one time presidential candidate, and former tourism minister Rubén Blades, also waded in. "The outrage shown by France, Britain and other governments looks hypocritical and suspicious," he posted on his website. "Their anger is directed only against a law firm and the nation where its office operates, and not against the laws of their own countries"

Even as he pledged to form an international commission of experts to review Panama's regulation of financial and legal services, President Juan Carlos Varela stressed that the Panama Papers should not be seen as "a problem of our country."

"The reality is that this has damaged our country a lot," said Luis Eduardo Quiroz, a politician and former TV host. "The Panama Papers are damaging the country much more than the law firm."

The founders of the law firm itself, meanwhile, have remained defiant in the face of the leak. On Wednesday Jürgen Mossack told the Wall Street Journal that his company might have "made mistakes," but that this was normal.

"We're not going to stop the services and go plant bananas or something," he said.

He was still far more diplomatic than a woman claiming to be the niece of his partner, Ramón Fonseca.

"I live guilt free, and I don't give a shit all you people making fun of my family in this article and of Panama," Carolina Isabel Fonseca wrote in the comment section beneath a VICE report on Mossack Fonseca published in December. "We are a happy country where nobody works because ALL THE CRIMINALS from others countries, bring their dirty money here. LOL we just spend it."

Some Panamanians, however, say they are confident the furor over the Panama Papers will soon die down, and might even end up helping the country.

"In one week we'll have forgotten about all this offshore stuff because, apart from the canal, offshore is how we bring in a lot of money," said Federico Angulo, a bookstore owner in Panama City. "Like always, any publicity is good publicity. This will bring more tourists."

Related: How the Panama Papers Exposed Secrecy in the Art Market

Follow Joe Parkin Daniels on Twitter: @joeparkdan

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je suis panama