Editorial, The Electoral Tribunal and opportunist politicians reach too far

Don Ricky
Ricky rails against La Prensa, way back when. The man has a record in office, a part of which is documented in the New Business judgment. It’s everybody’s right to criticize the press, but this guy seeks to get his old job back and, like Donald Trump in the USA, is out for revenge. All shades of political appointees – like the magistrates of the Electoral Tribunal – may cry foul, but it’s legitimate for Panamanians to defend fundamental freedoms during this campaign season. Archive photo by the Asamblea Nacional.

Martinelli, Roux, Carrizo and the Electoral Tribunal
move against freedom of the press

So NOW, it’s the election crime of “dirty campaigning” to use the image of a candidate without that person’s permission. Especially so if one criticizes that candidate.

So far it is not being applied to the establishment media, not due to any written exception, but just because. It is, however, applied to the social media, and not only to the Twitter/X, Instagram and Facebook accounts of the candidates, but to small media which may or may not be subject to the orders of or even tied to political factions here. The individuals under investigation are not necessarily members of the candidates’ troll teams. More than 20 social media accounts are being investigated for the use of candidates’ photos, including the feeds of such news and commentary media as FOCO Panama and the Voz de Veraguas. Media that were neither consulted before nor invited to sign the supposed “Ethical Pact” are being treated as renegade signatories to an agreement that they never made.

The tribunal purports to ban political “insults.”

It purports to ban news reporting about in-everyone’s-face election crimes like vote buying that identify such acts as such, unless and until months or years after the election some court declares someone guilty of, for example, using public funds to distribute bicycles to the children of voters whom a candidate seeks to sway.

There are more than 1,300 cases now being investigated by electoral prosecutors, and the Tribunal is soliciting more. The sheer volume of the cases means that screens and filters will be devised to drop legitimate cases. Panamanian history suggests that with overly broad definitions, political motives and economic snobbery will play into decisions about which cases to pursue.

Rather immediately Ricardo Martinelli charged FOCO of using his photo without permission. Rómulo Roux has filed a complaint against his opponent Ricardo Lombana, who ran Instagram posts that compared his stands on issues compared to those of other candidates. Gaby Carrizo followed with his denuncia of Lombana’s video. The three complaining would-be presidents would ban anyone but authorized sycophants from referring to them.

Imagine the presumed discount on just about any endorsement that these guys might receive. It’s the baggage that comes with a mind that’s heavy on the authoritarianism and lacking much imagination.

Lombana appears to have revised his photographic editing policies, but says that if the Electoral Tribunal cites him for any dirty campaigning, he will appeal. As well he should.

Panamanian voters have lived through infamous times. Political figures from past administrations are in prison, in hiding to avoid serving prison sentences, appealing criminal convictions, practicing law again after having served sentences arising from public corruption, or awaiting trial for alleged roles in Odebrecht kickbacks or other notorious crimes. Perhaps more galling are the ones who got away based on questionable court or prosecutor decisions, or because Panama has not general purpose law against conflicts of interest when doing the public’s business. People are fed up and a lot of them will say so.

Now, however, a discredited old establishment seeks to suppress the voices of those who are annoyed, and discussion of the reasons for their annoyance. That won’t go over, any more than Noriega times bans on pineapple references worked to save the PRD in the 1989 elections.

The basic issue here is freedom of the press. It’s universal induvidual right, belonging just as much to somebody who tells a mean Gaby Carrizo joke on Facebook or who calls Ricardo Martinelli a crook on Elon Musk’s platform as it does to corporate media like Medcom or La Prensa. The stands that the presidential candidates take with respect to freedom of the press are legitimate campaign issues.

Call center defamation, organized by a political campaign to look massive? Such trolling on the public dime? The Electoral Tribunal has never effectively dealt with those sorts of things in the past. Even if they may have a proper concern about such abuses now, the attempt to shut everyone up, to impose a “nice news” filter on the entire nation, is not a proper response.

What might be the proper response? Perhaps a celebration of our long-standing cultural category of insults. It’s not just the tame stuff of Calle Arriba and Calle Abajo queens’ references to one another. The remedy for insulting speech should be speech responding to that, whether or not insulting. Let our national senses of humor and decency sort out the good insults from the crude ones.


Anton Chekhov. Painting by O. Braz.

Man is what he believes.

Anton Chekhov


Bear in mind…

The best armor is to stay out of range.

Italian proverb


Nothing is really work unless you’d rather be doing something else.

James M. Barrie


My lesbianism is an act of Christian charity. All those women out there praying for a man, and I’m giving them my share.

Rita Mae Brown


Contact us by email at thepanamanews@gmail.com

To fend off hackers, organized trolls and other online vandalism, our website comments feature is switched off. Instead, come to our Facebook page to join in the discussion.

These links are interactive — click on the boxes