Panamá,25º

21 de Jan de 2020

Nacional

The freeze on discourse

PANAMA. This past September, after nearly two years of legal maneuvers punctuated by long delays and pauses, and after a week and one-h...

PANAMA. This past September, after nearly two years of legal maneuvers punctuated by long delays and pauses, and after a week and one-half of waiting after a preliminary hearing, a judge provisionally dismissed a criminal defamation (calumnia e injuria) charge against me.

My accuser, formerly active with the "patriot" militia movement in Colorado through such groups as the American Law Club, the Civil Rights Task Force, the Embassy of Heaven and radio station KHNC, now lives here and uses the Internet to offer unregistered banking services and unregistered investment funds, one of which claims to yield 26 percent monthly return on investment.

The heart of his long and rambling complaint against me was that he said I defamed him by writing that he had been arrested for using a bogus money order and fake ID in Colorado. However, the public record is that not only was he arrested, he was convicted and sent to prison for 18 months for these crimes.

This sort of abuse is getting old.

While this matter was pending, the Supreme Court voided a number of Mireya Moscoso's pardons, including those of some 70 journalists in various phases of facing calumnia e injuria charges. I was one of those.

My case was on its way to being dismissed anyway, and my accuser now lives in a US federal prison, serving time for precisely the sort of frauds that the allegedly defamatory articles that I published noted.

I'm tempted to file a motion asking to expand the case to investigate my accuser's real estate frauds down here, and also the conduct of his Panamanian politician backers.

This annoyance was old back then.

My first run-in with the calumnia e injuria law was brief.

I published an article by a physician about how a US-funded health insurance program for some Panama Canal retirees was spending an inordinate amount of money for kidney dialysis by a clinic that held an effective monopoly on this service and charged accordingly.

The presidential aide who owned the clinic was not pleased.

First he demanded that I reveal the author's identity, and after I refused a police officer came by with papers about a calumnia e injuria complaint.

I let the accuser know that although he might rig things to win his case, if he thought that he'd stay on the US government gravy train after the ensuing scandal he was delusional. He backed down.

This stuff gets very old.

It's worse than just an annoyance to journalists. It encourages sycophants in the media and the people behind them to distort the news with panegyrics and fluff pieces, forcing serious reporting out of public view. It's a systematic attempt to "dumb down" public discourse and opinion.

It's the flip side of the little-reported but pervasive scandal of bribery in Panamanian journalism. It's a tool of corruption. It filters out business information that's necessary to a free market.

Isn't it time that we retire this anachronistic law?