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April 2002 issue of
World Press Review
(VOL. 49, No. 4)
Clouds of Corruption
World Press Review contributing editor
of Panamas democratic institutions faces an extraordinary
challenge as the three branches of national government have
been rocked by allegations of corruption. Charges that bribery
influenced recent legislative votes to confirm two Supreme Court
justices and approve a US$400 million shipping infrastructure
project have brought to light other questionable practices
that spatter mud across the political spectrum, Willy
Carrera Loza and Eric Jackson noted (Jan. 25) in The Panama
News. Popular reaction has been swift, they added, with
a broad section of Panamanian society stirred to protest
by the allegations.
Mireya Moscoso's administration has been tainted by allegations
of corruption (Photo: AFP).
There is no feeling of revolution in the streets, Carrera
Loza and Jackson wrote, but it does seem that the country
has reached a point at which few people have much confidence
in any branch of the government, political party, or individual
leader. The national discourse of the moment is an inquiry about
what can be done to get rid of the corruption thats damaging
Panamas democratic institutions and business climate.
Paulino Romero, a Panamanian academic and diplomat writing in
La Prensa (Feb. 7), argued that President Mireya Moscoso
and the National Assembly are reaping the bitter fruits of Panamanians
experience of anguish, deception, disillusionment, frustration,
and repudiation inspired by repeated failures to punish
and eradicate official corruption. Opposition legislators,
businessmen, educators, workers, lawyers, journalists, and finally,
the entire citizenry have pointed out and denounced scandals
of corruption, nepotism, and other violations of the constitution
and the law, Romero wrote. But at no time has the
government been disposed to swiftly correct it. Quite the contrary,
its response has always been the same, Let them present
the evidenceand nothing more!
Carlos Guevara Mann, former Panamanian director general of foreign
policy, offered an incisive analysis in La Prensa (Jan.
31), tracing the roots of parliamentary corruption back to the
origins in 1984 of the present Legislative Assembly. The military
dictatorship reorganized the national legislature to apply
a democratic veneer to the arbitrary actions of
an authoritarian regime....[It] converted the assembly into
a business for legislators and political parties, who
routinely traded votes for bags of cash and other
special favors. Guevara Mann lamented that the nations
return to democratic rule in the early 1990s failed to produce
the political will to...democratize state institutions,
evidenced by a series of well-publicized vote buying and other
bribery scandals that have roiled the legislative assembly over
the past decade.
As a consequence of that lack of will..., today a frightful
degree of corruption predominates in the legislature,
Guevara Mann concluded. The culture of corruption...has
undermined the foundations of the Panamanian political structure.
Now is the time for us to rebuild on solid and democratic bases.