Panama police in riot gear enter, leave Trump hotel
By JUAN ZAMORANO
Feb. 28, 2018
PANAMA CITY (AP) — Police in helmets and bulletproof vests on Wednesday entered and then left the Trump luxury hotel in Panama that has been at the center of a management dispute.
Judith Aparicio, the employment director for the Labor Ministry, said ministry officials went to the hotel to ensure workers were being paid.
"Our visit is intended to provide assurance to workers," Aparicio said. The officials and the half-dozen police escorting them later left.
In interviews with several employees at the hotel, chambermaids, bartenders and other workers said they had received their latest paychecks on time.
But the employees — who did not want to be identified for fear of reprisals — said they were worried about their jobs if there is a change of management.
Many had been at the hotel since its opening in 2011 and said they had been drawn to work there because of Trump brand — which the building's new owner now says has become a huge drawback.
On Tuesday, rival teams of security guards grappled in a stairwell.
In a statement Wednesday, representatives of a condo association that operates independently of the hotel but shares the building, accused the private security personnel hired by the Trump organization of trespassing on condo property and carrying guns.
The condo association said it had filed criminal complaints against the Trump organization employees for having used "lethal physical force" in a struggle over a control room at the building.
President Donald Trump's family hotel business is in a bitter fight over Trump Hotels' contract to manage the 70-story luxury high-rise on Panama's waterfront.
Led by Miami-based private equity fund Ithaca Capital, the owners of the hotel units voted to remove Trump's name from the building and fire his hotel management company.
Ithaca's manager, Orestes Fintiklis, has alleged financial misconduct by Trump Hotels dating back years, and has said Trump's statements on immigration have rendered his brand toxic in Latin America.
Trump Hotels has refused to acknowledge its termination, citing a commitment by Fintiklis not to challenge Trump's contract when he bought 202 of the 369 hotel units at the property last year. When Fintinklis, who is also head of the hotel owners' association, invited a team of Marriott hotel executives to tour the property last year, Trump Hotel staff ran them off.
The dispute over whether the president's company can be fired has already led to legal complaints in Panama, the United States and private arbitration. But the arbitration has not progressed significantly in months, with the two sides deadlocked over the selection of the arbitration panel.
The already tense situation deteriorated last week after Fintiklis attempted to fire hotel managers loyal to Trump. According to two witnesses, private security blocked Fintiklis from delivering the pink slips, and refused to let him check into one of his firm's 202 hotel rooms or eat in the property's restaurant.