In tragic circumstances Panama international footballer, Gilberto Hernández, has been shot dead in the crime plagued city of Colón.
Gunmen seemingly opened fire on a group of people who had gathered at a location in the Barrio Norte neighbourhood of the city, and the 26-year-old was amongst them, although it is unclear whether he was the target or just in the wrong place.
Seven other people were injured in the attack and in a statement released by the national police, they confirmed the “apprehension of a citizen suspected of the murder of a football player in the province of Colón.”
Probably not the target
Hernández played for Club Atlético Independiente de La Chorrera, in the Panamanian Football League, and there appears no motive for singling him out, suggesting that he may have been on the receiving end of a bullet meant for someone else.
The city has witnessed a rise in murders over the past months, with two rival gangs fighting for control of lucrative drug smuggling routes.
Indiscriminate shots fired
It would appear that two gunmen forced a taxi driver to take them to a building where they had obvious targets, but it is unclear if the footballer was one of them. Here they opened fire indiscriminately before fleeing the scene.
However, a short time later a suspect was arrested in a nearby flat.
Father’s message to gangs
The talented defender had made his debut for the national team back in March of this year in a game against Guatemala, the first of his two caps for his country. His heartbroken father urged the youth of Colón “to stop the violence” and called on the authorities to launch projects to “save them from the unnecessary shootings.”
The Panamanian Football Federation (FEPAFUT) said in a statement, that they regretted the player’s sad passing and extended their condolences to his family and loved ones, as well as to the entire CAI and Panamanian football family.
Strategic positioning of city
The port city of Colón, with a population of around 40,000 has seen more than 50 people killed so far this year. It is its strategic location on the north entrance to the Panama Canal that is the reason for the gangs need to gain control, as it acts as a transit point for cocaine smuggled from South America, through Panama and on to Europe.
Its position on the Caribbean entrance to the Canal has given Colón the world’s second largest free-trade zone, which when it was established back in 1948, put it at the centre of a wholesale redistribution centre for Latin America and much of the Caribbean, but criminal organizations also spotted the potential of its infrastructure and identified it as a global logistical hub for counterfeiting, contraband and drugs, particularly cocaine.
Situation getting worse
Michael Chen, the president of Colón’s chamber of commerce made the point: “Every day the situation seems to worsen with crime gangs finding more creative ways of getting through what’s left of the city. The objective of the gangs is to gain control of the places where containers can be contaminated with drugs in the free zone and the ports.”
Many inventive ways of smuggling the drugs
The lucrative supplies of Cocaine arrive at the zone either directly in container from Buenaventura, on Colombia’s Pacific coast, or through land routes, before being hidden in other containers bound for Europe and beyond.
In the ports, trade unions have been co-opted by the gangs and turn a blind eye as workers stash packages and replace seals. Indeed it it is believed that only a tiny two percent of cargo is passed through a container scanner designed to detect contraband.
Incredibly, underwater, divers are able to weld “”parasites” – which are basically metal containers stuffed with the drug – to the hulls of cargo ships.
The city of Colón has now earned itself a frightening reputation, enhanced in 2008 when it was chosen as the ideal stand-in for Haiti’s troubled capital, Port-au-Prince, in the James Bond movie Quantum of Solace.