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The right to information
by Miguel Antonio Bernal

How many ministers and legislatros are fluent in the English language, including the technical aspects of the Panama Canal expansion proposal?

In the face of repeated violations of our political rights that continue to be perpetrated by the board of directors and administrator of the Panama Canal Authority, sponsored by governmental complicity, I have sent the folowing missive to the Electoral Prosecutor:

By constitutional mandate and by law, the Electoral Prosecutor must stand up for the political rights of all citizens, and by natural mandate all of us must also stand up for our own rights.

 

The country's news media, in their different ways, have reported that in almost their totality the documents and studies that support the Panama Canal Authority board of directors proposal about a new set of locks are in the English language. This language, apart from not being official in our republic, as Article 7 of the Constitution says, is not recognized as valid for judicial or commercial purposes in our country. In this respect I invite you to review Articles 877 and 878 of the Judicial Code and Article 78 of the Commercial Code. There are also clear dispositions to the same effect with respect to the texts and signatures of contracts, agreements, and conventions, whether they are are national or international.

 

To the above there is added  the evident danger in which human rights are placed by this act, which directly restricts freedom of expression, which encompasses "the freedom to search for, receive and disseminate information and ideas of every sort," as Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights says, and Article 19.2 of the International Pact on Civil and Political Rights (Law 15 of 1976) and Article 13.1 of the Inter-American Human Rights Convention (Law 15 of 1977) also provide.

 

About this particular matter, there have also been pointed out the unfortunate expressions of Mr. Alberto Alemán Zubieta, who functions as administrator of the Panama Canal Authority, indicating that all Panamanians must provide for themselves their own translations of the documentation they desire to review. Whether Mr. Alemán Zubieta wanted to do so or not, he expressed his complete and total lack of knowledge of these elemental norms, as well as his lack of recognition that the Panama Canal is not simply a business nor a private company, but that the ACP is "an autonomous juridical person under public law, constituted and organized in conformance with the terms set down in the Political Cosntitution and present Law" (Law 19 of 1997, Article 1), and we reiterate to him that its activities must be carried out according to the constitutional and legal norms that are in effect (Article 316, paragraph 1, of the Political Constitution).

 

These facts oblige me, as a Panamanian citizen and in the exercise of my fundamental rights, to solicit you to order said functionary to produce the Spanish translation of all of this documentation, in such a form that we Panamanians can be fully informed about the referred-to project and make a decision of yes or no in the obligatory referendum.

 

Your function of safeguarding the citizens' political rights, as Article 144, Number 2 of the Constitution says, is very imperative, as "the freedom of expression is closely linked to the exercise of political rights and thus it's required that those should be exercised in accordance with the demands of a democratic society." (Andrés Pizarro and Fernando Méndez, Manual of the International Law of Human Rights: Substantive Aspects, Universal Books, Panama, 2006, pages 249 and 250.)

 

The adoption of the measure that I solicit you to take up and instruct the administrator will also be necessary to the value of the debates of the citizen government ministers and the citizen National Assembly deputies, as the majority of these neither speak nor read the English language, and thus won't be able to comply with the due procedure to approve or not approve that which has been presented by the ACP board of directors.

 

In this regard, and without hereby obviating the obligation that they limit themselves to the constitutional and legal norms about language, permit us to solicit that you communicate to the country, among other things: How many ministers and legislatros are fluent in the English language, including the technical aspects of the Panama Canal expansion proposal?

 

Legal foundations:

Articles 41, 42 and 144, Number 1 of the Political Constitution of the Republic of Panama

Article 2 of Law 6 of January 22, 2002-05-07

Article 74 of Law 38 of 2000, About General Administrative Procedure

 

Further data:

The debates of the citizen government ministers and the citizen National Assembly deputies, since the majority of them neither speak nor read the English language.

 

The author, whose columns appear regularly in The Panama News, does speak and read English, among other foreign languages, having taught at US universities. He is a tenured law professor at the University of Panama, the president of the Colegio de Abogados (bar association) Honor Tribunal, and host of the Alternativa radio show. Educated in France, he is past president of Panama's chapter of the Alliance Francais and is a member of the Violet Legion, an honor society of intellectuals selected by French presidents, in his case for the work he has done as the correspondent for the newspaper Le Monde Diplomatique.

 

Also in this section:
Torrijos, Remarks when disclosing the ACP canal expansion summary
Bernal, "Full disclosure" --- in a foreign langauge

Leis, Can the political parties sleep securely?

Lettieri, Morales does the unusual: he keeps his campaign promise

Weisbrot, China's bigger than you think

Jackson, Bush and his warrantless wiretaps
Amnesty International, Torture as US policy

Sánchez and Hamel, The rising French profile in our region

Sirias, A monument for an assassin

Silié, Panama's rapprochement with Cuba good news for the Greater Caribbean

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