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PANAMA

Panama sorry for deadly syrup imported by Spain

Panama's President Ricardo Martinelli apologized on Thursday to relatives and survivors of a 2006 mass-poisoning which was caused by a toxic syrup imported by a Spanish company.

Panama sorry for deadly syrup imported by Spain
At least 400 people were killed after Barcelona-based Rasfer imported 2,300 gallons (9,000 liters) of toxic glycerin from China. Photo: Elmer Martinez/AFP

At least 400 people were killed after Barcelona-based Rasfer imported 2,300 gallons (9,000 liters) of glycerin from China, and then sent it on to Panama where it was used to make sugar-free syrup expectorant for hypertension and diabetes, widely distributed in the public health system.

The syrup was contaminated with diethylene glycol, an industrial product not designed for human consumption.

"I want to ask your forgiveness in the name of the Panamanian state," Martinelli said at a ceremony where he officially delivered life-long benefits to survivors.

"Nothing that any of us can say could possibly make up for the loss of one human life," he stressed.

"Let us hope that this kind if incident, and mass homicide, never happens again," Martinelli said.

A victims' spokesman, Gabriel Pascual, said families still were seeking justice.

"We want justice in the legal system now," he said. "There are people who are still dying from this, and their future is not looking bright."

The conservative government estimate that about 400 have died so far and another 300 were poisoned.

But Pascual said the number of dead has been estimated at as high as 10,000 since 240,000 bottles of the syrup were distributed between 2004-2008.

The massive dimensions of the scandal rocked this small nation of just 3.6 million people. Fourteen people were indicted for a trial in 2011, but then prosecutors decided the number of people responsible was far greater.

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CONSTRUCTION

Spanish company back in Panama Canal deal

Panama has reached partial agreements with Spanish construction company Sacyr that halted work to expand the Panama Canal in a dispute over a huge cost overrun, its administrator said on Wednesday.

Spanish company back in Panama Canal deal
Photo: Rodrigo Arangua/AFP

Agreements in principle have been reached on some issues although others remain outstanding. But the Panama Canal Authority will not negotiate forever and does not rule out resuming the mega-project on its own in a week if a final accord is not reached, administrator Jorge Quijano told reporters.

He spoke after holding videoconference talks Tuesday with executives of the Spanish-led consortium hired to expand the canal linking the Atlantic and Pacific so it can handle larger ships.

Despite the progress, "that does not mean we have given up on the other alternative, which is to take charge of the project ourselves," Quijano said.

He gave no details of what points the two sides had agreed on and what the remaining sticking points were.

"Our patience has limits and we really feel this has to end in a week at the most," Quijano said.

Work to expand the canal was suspended last week by the GUPC consortium made up of construction companies Sacyr of Spain, Italy's Salini-Impreglio, Belgium's Jan de Nul and Constructora Urbana of Panama.

The dispute is over $1.6 billion in cost overruns in the project, the main part of which is to equip the canal with a third set of locks.

GUPC wants Panama to add that sum to the initial contract fee of $3.2 billion.

The century-old waterway handles five percent of global seaborne trade.

GUPC claims unforeseen geological difficulties have forced them to spend much more on cement than expected. They say that they based their estimates on data provided by the Canal Authority that were incorrect.

The canal expansion is one of the world's most ambitious civil engineering projects and was due to be completed this year.

But the builders have said completion may now be delayed up to five years.

The original canal, built by the United States mostly with workers brought in from the Caribbean, was opened in 1914.

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