A hate campaign targeting certain Panamanian journalists appears to have been prompted by a series of WikiLeaks revelations which their newspapers covered and which are embarrassing for President Ricardo Martinelli’s government. These attacks, which take the form of disgraceful videos, mainly concern journalists working for the daily La Prensa.
“These methods suggest an act of crass vengeance by those in power against the media that relayed the information released by WikiLeaks,” Reporters Without Borders said. “Such information is in the public interest. The judicial authorities must investigate the origin of these despicable videos and the political endorsement they appear to received, even if it means going to the heart of the presidency.”
“The journalists whose reputations were smeared include Alvaro Alvarado, who says President Ricardo Martinelli told him in November 2010 that such practices would cease. Six months later, nothing has changed. Why?”
The latest video, recorded according to our sources on 7 May, targets in particular Santiago Cumbrera of La Prensa’s investigations unit. A previous video posted on 28 April on YouTube denounced Lina Vega Abad, the unit’s editor, as a “manipulator of information”.
A video attacking Monica Palm, editorialist and head of the weekend pages at La Prensa, has also been circulating.
These videos stigmatize the links between those journalists and the Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD), the main opposition to President Martinelli’s ruling Democratic Change party.
The attacks were prompted by La Prensa’s publication of cables sent from the US embassy in Panama to the US State Department in Washington at the end of 2009. These cables, quoting the Drug Enforcement Administration sources, raise questions about alleged links between tourism minister Salomón Shamah (Martinelli’s former election campaign strategist) and drug trafficking, as well as his ties to highly controversial Colombian businessman David Murcia Guzmán, currently held in the United States on “pyramid selling” and “money laundering” charges. According to the cables, Guzman made considerable financial contributions to the campaigns of the country’s two main political parties.