The Inter American Press Association says a dangerous new political phenomenon - a "drug military" - is running Panama and has closed all independent communications media.
Drug mafias have gained control of the army in Panama and, through that, of the entire country, says a resolution passed Thursday as IAPA, an association of more than 1,300 North and Latin American newspapers, closed its five-day general assembly in Salt Lake City.The resolution condemns the regime of Gen. Manuel Antonio Noriega "for its brutal violations of the rights of free press and free expression and the human rights of journalists and all Panamanians."
The IAPA members also approved 13 other resolutions, including measures:
- Condemning the Chilean police forces "for the brutal mistreatment of journalists following the October 1988 plebiscite";
- Asking Mexico's government to accelerate investigations into the murders of more than a score of journalists in recent years;
- Demanding that the Nicaraguan government cease its aggression against news media and live up to its Esquipulas II commitment to respect press freedom;
- Asking that the U.S.-Canadian trade agreement, if ratified by Canada's Parliament, be amended at its first annual review to remove the provision defining a journalist as someone with a bachelor's degree and three years of experience;
- Condemning the suppression of press freedom in Cuba and demanding free access to members of the Cuban human rights movement for correspondents;
- Asking nations that have signed the American Convention on Human Rights to conform their laws with an Inter American Court of Human Rights ruling against mandatory licensing of journalists;
- Asking Guatemala's government to halt its harassment or pressure against independent newspapers and journalists and assure a climate of press freedom.
A spokesman for Guatemalan President Vinicio Cerezo Arevalo called the resolution regarding his country "quite hard" and said, "In my opinion we do not deserve it."
Arnoldo Daetz Caal extended Cerezo's invitation to IAPA to send representatives to Guatemala to investigate the press situation there. Outgoing IAPA President Ignacio Lozano said he spoke with incoming President Manuel J. Jimenez, and the group will send a committee soon.
In his inaugural address Thursday night, Jimenez, of La Nacion, Costa Rica, questioned some American newspapers' practice of endorsing political candidates or parties.
"Although what is said in the editorial pages is not supposed to affect news decisions, such an open endorsement may limit newspapers' independence vis-a-vis the political process and distort the selection of facts and priorities in the news," he said. "The result will be a negative effect on the practice of objectivity and balance so important to journalism."
Jimenez also said some American newspapers don't have a well-defined editorial policy on Latin American issues, either because of lack of information or internal political reasons.