Recognition after 39 yrs
PANAMA. After 39 years, Panama’s government recognized yesterday that the State violated the rights of the workers leader, the deceased...
PANAMA. After 39 years, Panama’s government recognized yesterday that the State violated the rights of the workers leader, the deceased Heliodoro Portugal, as requested by a ruling of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, a division of the Organization of American States.
Besides publicly recognizing its fault within a six month period, the court ruling (dated August 12, 2008) ordered the Panamanian government to pay an economic compensation amounting to more than $250,000 to the victim’s family, which the government also did in an event held yesterday by the Ministry of Government.
What the government did not do, however, was publicly apologize for Portugal’s death, a point the Court ruling specified needed to be fulfilled.
The case of the forced disappearance of Heliodoro Portugal occurred during the military regimen, in 1970.
Portugal was a community leader opposing the military regime, and when he was 36 he was detained by the then National Guard in a restaurant in the capital city.
The case of his disappearance and the violation of his human rights during the dictatorship is the first that reaches the Inter-American Court of Human Rights and also the first that ended in a conviction.
In the trial for Portugal’s disappearance and death in June 2006, the former lieutenant colonel Ricardo Garibaldo was accused, but he died one month later.
In October 1999, Portugal’s remains were found buried in the former “Los Pumas” barracks in Tocumen, which was under Garibaldo’s supervision.
According to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, members of the Panamanian National Guard surrounded Portugal in the once-popular Coca-Cola cafe, forced him to get into their car, and took him to an unknown destination, without explaining the reasons behind his detention.
The Court also mentioned that the the delay in investigating the crime reflects a clear denial of justice and a violation of the right of access to justice, two aspects that should be included in the government’s appeal for forgiveness.
The head of the Ministry of Government and Justice, Dilio Arcia, was in charge of making the public acknowledgement of fault held yesterday.
Portugal’s daughter, Patria Portugal, was not pleased that although the government recognized the human rights violations, it did not offer the public apology.
“The sentence demands the government to recognize everything that happened to my father, from the moment they detained him by force in the Coca Cola cafe,” she said.