The fact that former Panamanian President Ricardo Martinelli spent at least $24m on weapons, mostly for the use of his internal security force, has received a lot of media attention in the Republic of Panama this week, but the true purpose of those arms purchases, to give the Institutional Protective Service (SPI), whose primary role is to protect the president, sufficient firepower to be able to conduct a military coup, has not been publicly disclosed.
Fifteen million dollars was reportedly used to obtain not only arms and ammunition for SPI, but anti-riot gear. Those items included, according to published sources, 65,000 tear gas grenades, with launchers, 5000 smoke grenades, 324,000 pepper gas shells, and 35,000 shotgun rounds. The balance of the arms purchased were intended for Panama's small self-defense force.
Reliable sources in Panama advise that ex-President Martinelli, who was reportedly unwilling to step down at the end of his term in office, intended to overturn democratic rule in Panama, using his newly-armed internal security force, and remain as president indefinitely. His plan became known to the United States, and he was allegedly warned that such a move would result in direct American intervention. There is unverified information that both Vice President Biden and Secretary of State Kerrey are said to have played a role in conveying the American position to Martinelli, who cancelled his coup planning.
There is still the question of that massive arms purchase; most of the weapons apparently cannot be located, and the whereabouts of Ricardo Martinelli, who is facing an imminent indictment in Italy for corruption involving kickbacks paid by a government-owned entity to him, are unknown.