El Siglo and La Estrella journalists demanding their newspapers’ exclusion from the Clinton List. La Estrella video on YouTube.
Panama and the undue pressures of larger countries
The Republic of Panama finds itself in the unusual and unenviable position of having the United States government insist that two of the nation’s mass circulation newspapers, one of them among Latin America’s oldest, must be sold. Washington and its ambassador here say that it’s about money laundering, but they refuse to divulge one shred of evidence about that and argue in court that they don’t have to and that those from whom they are trying to strip La Estrella and El Siglo have no recourse under the law. Such are the totalitarian perversions of the “War on Drugs.”
This is a bundle of many issues, involving many compelling rights and principles that are not absolute. The Nuremberg Tribunal found that Julius Streicher possessed no freedom of the press sufficient to excuse his use of Der Sturmer to incite genocide. Decades later, another international court ruled much the same in the case of radio journalists who encouraged and directed the Rwandan genocide. On the opposite extreme the current Panamanian administration jails Okke Ornstein for his truthful reports about politically connected predatory hustlers who were working Panama.
Really, though, freedom of the press, and even due process of law, are side issues in the Grupo El Siglo – Estrella (GESE) case. The critical issue for Panama is whether it’s tolerable for Panama to permit a foreign power to dictate who can or cannot own and operate a mass communications medium in Panama. It’s not an entirely new issue, given the decades of US blacklisting of Panamanian journalists in the Cold War, a practice that never definitively ended with that period. But the present US assertion of a prerogative to vet the ownership of Panama’s media goes several steps beyond and if accepted would subject an entire nation to foreign mind control. Panama, its institutions and its people should never accept this.
Washington’s demand is even more galling because the United States is harboring the fugitive Ricardo Martinelli and probably several other wanted members of his entourage as well.
However, let’s not allow old nationalist resentments against the superpower that was once colonial occupier of part of Panama and for a shorter period of time established a protectorate over all of Panama make us oblivious or hypocritical. Panama faces a variety of pressures from several powers much bigger than itself and each of these should be addressed separately on its own merits.
The Brazilian government and several of Brazil’s public figures lent assistance to corrupt activities in Panama by the Norberto Odebrecht construction company. These shady practices certainly involved the laundering of bribe money and the hiding of evidence from Brazilian authorities here. They probably also involved the bribery of Panamanian public officials and the rigging of bidding procedures to secure Panamanian government contracts for Odebrecht. Now the widespread corruption that has been the norm in Brazil is under attack there, and Panamanian authorities protect themselves or members of this country’s political, financial and legal elites by finding ways not to cooperate with Brazilian prosecutors and by passing a law saying that the findings of Brazilian courts may not be taken into account in Panamanian government contracting. Brazilian interference in Panama’s affairs imposed Odebrecht’s thuggish corporate culture upon us. The rejection of pleas for help from those Brazilians trying to fight that corrupt culture is a most pernicious assertion of fake nationalism.
China has for decades insisted that Panama drop its formal and friendly relations with Taiwan. The geopolitics of the Asian pecking order and China’s economic “pivot” toward Latin America might elevate this insistence. To Beijing, Taiwan is a rebellious part of China and Panama’s recognition of it is interference in Chinese affairs. To Panamanians, Taiwan is an old and loyal friend and no third country has a right to tell us who can or can’t be our friends. But ways have been found around that impasse and Panama’s economic relations with China are stronger than ever despite the lack of formal diplomatic ties.
France has put Panama on a financial blacklist because too many wealthy French citizens evade taxes and either park their money here or conceal it through chains of shell corporations designed by Panamanian law firms. France is not the only country making trouble for Panama’s financial institutions over complaints like this, and if President Varela protests that we have made international agreements to minimize such things, the Panama Papers tell us that Varela’s erstwhile right-hand man was engaged in the egregious flouting of such agreements. Panama has passed a laughable law to retaliate against the French. With them, and with the rest of the world, Panama should settle on sincere and serious terms. This will mean abandonment of some lucrative businesses that have allowed a few Panamanians to live very well, but economic relations are always give and take affairs if they are to be sustainable.
Panama is not about to bomb France, invade Brazil or wreck the Chinese economy. Varela would be well advise to keep his hands off of machetes while talking about the United States. We are a small country. But we are a sovereign country that should not readily endure all insults. Now is the time for Panamanians and our government to resist a US effort to control our news media, as best we can given our limited power and resources.
Human Rights Day
preamble to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights – December 10, 1948
Whereas recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world,
Whereas disregard and contempt for human rights have resulted in barbarous acts which have outraged the conscience of mankind, and the advent of a world in which human beings shall enjoy freedom of speech and belief and freedom from fear and want has been proclaimed as the highest aspiration of the common people,
Whereas it is essential, if man is not to be compelled to have recourse, as a last resort, to rebellion against tyranny and oppression, that human rights should be protected by the rule of law,
Whereas it is essential to promote the development of friendly relations between nations,
Whereas the peoples of the United Nations have in the Charter reaffirmed their faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person and in the equal rights of men and women and have determined to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom,
Whereas Member States have pledged themselves to achieve, in co-operation with the United Nations, the promotion of universal respect for and observance of human rights and fundamental freedoms,
Whereas a common understanding of these rights and freedoms is of the greatest importance for the full realization of this pledge,
Now, Therefore THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY proclaims THIS UNIVERSAL DECLARATION OF HUMAN RIGHTS as a common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations, to the end that every individual and every organ of society, keeping this Declaration constantly in mind, shall strive by teaching and education to promote respect for these rights and freedoms and by progressive measures, national and international, to secure their universal and effective recognition and observance, both among the peoples of Member States themselves and among the peoples of territories under their jurisdiction.
Bear in mind…
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