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Bridge of the Americas

It turns out that Munilla Construction Management (MCM), builder of the Miami bridge that collapsed, also has a controversial record in Panama, though fortunately nothing as tragic as what happened yesterday when six people were killed. The company’s domestic record isn’t reassuring either.

ABC News has reported that MCM was “accused of substandard work in a lawsuit filed this month by a worker injured when a makeshift bridge MCM built at Fort Lauderdale International Airport collapsed under his weight, and had also been hit with a $143,000 judgment over an “arguable collapse” at another Miami bridge project.

Meanwhile, Miami New Times had reported that MCM beat out three competitors to win the bid to build the Florida International University bridge. It suggested that might have been connected to the fact that the company is one of the most politically connected firms in Florida “thanks to years of shelling out hundreds of thousands of dollars to campaigns.” Sometimes, said the newspaper, “their patronage was a little too obvious, even in Miami-Dade. In 2011, the county’s ethics director forced Gimenez to recuse himself from a $50 million contract vote that went to Munilla because the firm employed one of his sons, Julio, and paid another son, Carlos Jr., as its lobbyist.”

Accounts in the Panamanian press and a local source say the company’s projects  have been marked by cost overruns, contract extensions and questions about quality. The firm, which operates locally as MCM Global, has received a number of government contracts, including work on the Bridge of the Americas, which spans the Panama Canal.

The source said the firm, which has been operating in Panama since 2010, has developed very close ties to government officials. He said there have been a number of disputes about its projects and that it has been able to get amendments to contracts that added cash on top of original estimates.

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