REPORT ON THE SITUATION OF HUMAN RIGHTS IN PANAMA
THE RIGHT TO
RESIDENCE AND MOVEMENT American Declaration: Article VIII: Every
person has the right to fix his residence within the territory of the state of
which he is a national, to move about freely within such territory, and not to
leave it except by his own will.1
Article 29 of the Constitution of 1972 prohibits exile of Panamanian
There is no penalty of death, expatriation, or confiscation of
In response to the Special Commission's request for information
concerning persons allegedly sent into exile, the Government of Panama replied
in a Note of January 5, 1978, as follows:
THE RIGHT TO RESIDENCE AND MOVEMENT
Every person has the right to fix his residence within the territory of the state of which he is a national, to move about freely within such territory, and not to leave it except by his own will.1
1. Article 29 of the Constitution of 1972 prohibits exile of Panamanian Citizens:
There is no penalty of death, expatriation, or confiscation of property.
2. In response to the Special Commission's request for information concerning persons allegedly sent into exile, the Government of Panama replied in a Note of January 5, 1978, as follows:
In the same note of January 5, 1978, the Government of Panama also forwarded, as requested by the Special Commission, a list of those persons whose return had been previously authorized. The return of the persons listed below was authorized as of April 26, 1977:
ALMENGOR TAFT, Víctor
ALVARADO MARMOLEJAS, Rafael
ARAUZ, Eric Orlando
ARMATRADING G., Manuel
AROSEMENA SIANCA, David
BURGOS GONZALEZ, Francisco
CASTILLO PEREZ, Mauricio
EDWARDS WALTERS, Kenty Sieberto
GONZALEZ SANTIZO, Almecias
GONZALEZ SANTIZO, Antonio
GONZALEZ WELL, Axi Nodier
GONZALEZ SANTIZO, Encarnación
GONZALEZ ROSALES, Prudencia O.
HOWARD PINZON, Luis Antonio
MENA GARCIA, Luis Antonio
MIRO GUARDIA, Carlos
MORAN MARCON, Román
NELSON AUSTIN, Herbert George
PEREZ TAJUN, Rafael
RITTER DOMINGO, Luis Eduardo
ROSERO HERNANDEZ, Máximo
SERRACIN DE LEDEZMA, Miriam Inés
SIFRIDA LOPEZ, Saul
TRUJILLO MIRANDA, Edilberto
YANEZ DURAN, Tarquiño José
The Government of Panama failed to reply to the Special Commission's request for information concerning the alleged exile of the persons listed below:
BERNAL, Dr. Miguel Antonio
CARLES JR., Rubén Darío
DE ARCO, Juan Manuel
10) EISENMANN, Roberto
11) FORD, Guillermo
12) JIMENEZ, Humberto
13) KING, Thelma
14) LOPEZ, Eudoro
15) LOPEZ, Humberto
16) MARTINEZ, Boris
17) MEDRANO, Luis
18) QUIROS GUARDIA, Alberto
19) ROBLES, Iván
20) ROBLES, Winston
21) RODRIGUEZ, Félix
PIMENTEL, Dr. Guillermo
23) ROMERO, Máximo
24) SANJUR, Amado
25) SANJUR, Fidencio
26) SANJUR, Rubén
27) SILVERA, Ramiro
28) WEEDEN, Alvin
29) WEEDEN, George
30) EILSON, Carlos
3. The Commission has been informed by some exile groups that the category "self-exiled" employed by the government to describe the situation of a number of Panamanians abroad is correct in some cases. They emphasize, however, that some persons were forced into exile by government harassment, including threats and arrests, and others chose exile only in order to join immediate members of their family who had been exiled or forced into exile by the government. They also note that a number of those whom the government says it will allow to return are afraid to return because of the lack of guarantees.
4. Individual Cases
The Commission takes special note of the fact that, with the exception of the case of Carlos González de la Lastra, the Government of Panama did not respond to its request for information with regard to the persons mentioned in the individual cases that follow.
Rolla Pimentel, Dr. Guillermo Antonio
According to a communication received by the Commission, Dr. Rolla Pimentel, a well known gynecologist and member of the Socialist Party, was forced into exile in 1969 as a result of his opposition to the Government. Following the coup d'état in 1968, Dr. Rolla was arrested and detained on three occasions, but was never formally accused. On the first occasion, he was held for several weeks at the orders of G-2. The second time he was held for a few days and then placed under house arrest at his office for several weeks. He was allowed to receive his patients, but could not leave his office. On the third occasion, he was held in the Model Jail and later set free.
Upon being informed that the police were looking for him again, he went into hiding and called the Minister of Government, Juan Materno Vásquez, to request a safe-conduct to abandon the country. This request was denied, so Dr. Rolla left the country clandestinely.
He was in Chile when Allende fell, and at that time went to the Panamanian Embassy in Santiago to ask permission to return to Panama. A cable signed by Antonio Noriega, Chief of G-2 was allegedly sent to the Embassy in reply, accusing Rolla of stealing $86,000 dollars from the government. Rolla denied he had ever been responsible for any government funds and offered to return for a trial, but the government refused to accept the offer and his passport was taken up by embassy officials.
Carles Jr., Rubén Darío
On January 20, 1976, Rubén Carles Jr., ex-Minister of Finance and Vice-President of Chase Manhattan Bank in Panama, was sent into exile along with nine other persons. The motive for his expatriation was attendance, as a representative of the Panamanian Association of Business Executives, at a large public meeting in David, on January 18, which had been organized by groups opposing the government's economic policy. (See p. 84)
Mr. Carles was visited at his office in the bank on the morning of January 20th by two agents of G-2. They insisted that he accompany them to the National Guard headquarters, but they showed no order for his arrest. Mr. Carles hastily summoned a lawyer, Dr. Tomás Herrera, who also requested some explanation, but no order for the arrest was presented. Threatened with the use of force, Mr. Carles finally agreed to go to their headquarters.
Once he was in their car, the agents took him directly to the buildings of the Panamanian Air Force at Tocumen International Airport where he was shown into a room already occupied by other prisoners, Roberto Eisenmann, Antonio Domínguez, Iván Robles, and Alberto Quiros Guardia. They were joined later by Winston Robles, from Panama, and four gentlemen from Chiriquí Province, Alvarez, Santa María, Aizpurúa and Samudio.
Mr. Carles narrates the events that follow:2
After a while of being together in the classroom, apart from one another and partially incommunicados, two officers told us to go one by one into the building next door. They did not say for what. So that's what we did. It was for a search and the taking away or plunder of our documents. Upon passing next door, in the middle of the patio they took individual photographs of us and then they had us go into a room where there were some six guards under the command of two officers. There they ordered us to take off our clothes and hand over everything we had. When I asked if we had to strip, in a crude manner they told us yes, completely, even the socks. They put the clothes to one side, while stark naked, we watched them go through the billfolds and papers we were carrying with us. I did not understand, nor do understand now the reason or that search.
Perhaps it was a psychological technique, for the purpose of and hurting the morale of the prisoner. With unnecessary brusqueness they searched and examined everything I had in my wallet, returning only the I.D. card. The guards kept all the credit cards and other documents. Lastly, they jerked out the photograph of my wife. The officer said rudely: "You're not going to need this where you're going."
Mr. Carles and his companions were then taken to a DC-3 in which they were flown directly to Guayaquil, Ecuador. On the following day, they were joined by Guillermo Ford, who had been arrested and sent on a special flight, and three days later, by George and Alvin Weeden who had taken asylum in the Venezuelan Embassy in Panama and were later allowed to leave for Caracas. In February, still another exile, Dr. Miguel Bernal, arrived in Guayaquil.
c. Ford Boyd, Guillermo Alfredo
"On January 20, 1976, Mr. Guillermo Ford was detained by members of the National Guard at his country home located approximately seventy miles from Panama City. He was not informed of the reasons for his detention, and he was forced to go with three uniformed members of the National Guard and four plainclothesmen to an unknown destination."
"He was then driven to Santa Clara, where the Lieutenant in charge made several phone calls, after which he was taken to the detention area of the National Guard at Tocumen International Airport. Soon afterwards, he was taken to the quarters of the Panamanian Air Force where he was interrogated by an Air Force lieutenant and members of the Panamanian G-2. He was stripped of his clothes; his personal belongings were searched, and they only returned his Panamanian identification card, his family pictures and $11.00 in cash, keeping all credit cards and other valuable documents."
"He was then sent back to the Guard's detention area in Tocumen where he spent the next nineteen hours under arrest. On the morning of January 21st, he was taken by military vehicle to board a two-engine plane belonging to the Social Security of Panama. On board that plane, in the custody of three armed members of the National Guard, he flew out of Panama to an unknown destination. No answers were given to his questions, and he was ordered to 'shut up'."
"After approximately one and one half hours of flight, the plane apparently ran into mechanical problems and returned to the original base in Panama. Ford was then kept in custody until approximately 1:00 p.m. when he was forced to board General Torrijos' jet. Some two and one half hours later, he was left in Guayaquil, with no passport, with his I.D. card and $11.00.
"Upon his arrival in Ecuador, he learned that on January 20, his eldest son, 17 years old, had been arrested and taken to G-2 where he was held without any explanation, allegedly as a hostage until the detention of his father could be effected. He was released at 2:00 p.m. on the same day."
"On several occasions, Mr. Ford has made written requests to the Panamanian Consul in Miami, Florida, and to the Panamanian Ambassador in Washington, D.C., trying to obtain a passport, but he has never received a reply."
Quirós Guardia, Alberto José
"On January 20, 1976, at about 7:00 a.m., the home of Professor Alberto Quirós Guardia was invaded, one of the doors being broken down, and he was forced into a car that was later found to belong to G-2. From there he was taken to the hangar of the Air Force of the National Guard in Tocumen where they took all of his personal belongings and that afternoon sent him in a plane of the National Guard to the city of Guayaquil, Ecuador. During the trip he was not informed of the reason for his arrest nor where they were taking him, which made him fear that he would be thrown into the sea as reportedly happened to Father Gallego.
"That same day his seventeen-year old son was arrested when he inquired about his father. Radio Impacto (owned by Quirós) was shut down and the persons who worked there were arrested. . .
"At no time has there been a formal accusation to justify the closing of Radio Impacto and the exile of Mr. Quirós Guardia . . . . And when on the day of his arrest a local attorney presented a habeas corpus in his behalf, the President of the Supreme Court answered that no one was detained, that 'a few Panamanians had taken a trip to Ecuador.'"
e. Bernal Villalaz, Dr. Miguel Antonio
"The Government of the Republic of Panama . . . has kept Dr. Miguel Antonio Bernal villalaz in exile since the 18th of February of 1976.
"Dr. Bernal, a lawyer and Doctor in Political Science from the University of Bordeaux, France, was a professor in the School of Law and Political Science at the University of Panama when he was deported. At the beginning of January of 1976 he went to France to take his sister who was going there to study, and upon his return to Panama on February 18, members of the National Department of Investigations and of the National Guard arrested him at Tocumen Airport, and in the presence of his sister, they handcuffed him and without permitting him to speak with anyone, they took him to the headquarters of the National guard in Tocumen. They kept him there until the following night when they put him on a plane for Ecuador, accompanied by a member of the National Guard of Panama . . . .
"Neither General Torrijos nor Colonel Noriega have ever said why they sent him into exile . . . . I should point out that at the time of his exile, he had had a Monday program for about a year on Radio Impacto, a station whose owner, Alberto Quiros Guardia, was also exile by Torrijos in January of 1976, and his station closed down . . . In his program, he generally referred to our national struggle to recover the zone of the Canal, the need to negotiate the Canal treaties in consultation with, and not behind the backs of the people, the high cost of living and necessary products, the administrative corruption, the nepotism in high government posts, the populist demagogy of the government officials and the urgency of correcting government policy for the benefit of the needy classes, among other things . . . .
"In Panama, due to the existence of a military government, due process does not exist for the protection of the rights of Dr. Bernal, and he was not permitted access to any recourse to keep from being put on the plane and sent into exile . . . ."
González de la Lastra, Carlos E.
At the time of the protest meeting in David and the subsequent exile of a number of businessmen on January 20, 1976, Mr. González was President of the Panamanian Association of Business Executives (APEDE). Following those events, on January 29, National Guardsmen allegedly invaded the locale of APEDE, confiscating the records of the organization, along with all the office furnishings, and placed guards at the entrance.
As President of the Association, Mr. González, brought, to no avail, a writ of amparo invoking the constitutional guarantees against the Head of Government, General Omar Torrijos.
A few days later, he participated in a businessmen's strike in protest of the government's action in exiling Rubén Carles Jr., and others mentioned previously.
In early September, after several days of student protests of the high cost of living and the economic situation, the Government allegedly decided to force Mr. González into exile.
The following excerpts are taken from a document in Mr. González' own words which was made part of a communication sent to the IACHR:
On Wednesday afternoon September 15 at about 5 p.m., some members of G-2 came looking for me at my office. When they did not find me, they arrested my chauffeur and took my automobile. The employees who were present informed me what had just happened. Then I took precautions, while I tried to find out what was happening.
On Thursday morning, when I went to my office, I found it surrounded by functionaries from G-2. I decided it was prudent not to go there until I knew what the Government's intentions were . . . .
The President of the Chamber of Commerce told me there was an order for my capture, and I told him I would give myself up if they guaranteed my physical and moral integrity, and, feeling I was not guilty of anything, they would also guarantee me an impartial trial.
Shortly afterwards, I spoke again with the President of the Chamber of Commerce, and he informed me that the Minister of Government and Justice had called him to tell him to transmit to me, on the part of the National Guard that they did not guarantee my life. That meant that to give myself up and to think of having an impartial trial was foolish. It was clear that what they wanted was for me to flee from the country . . .
On several occasions, the family of Mr. González was reportedly told by members of the National Guard (G-2) that they should advise him to leave the country, that they did not guarantee his safety. When one member of the family asked the Director of the Departamento Nacional de Investigaciones, Darío Arosemena, who had given such an order, he allegedly replied: "It's an order from above."
As a result of the above threats, Mr. González de la Lastra abandoned the country on October 21, 1976.
In response to a request for information regarding the situation of Carlos González de la Lastra (Case No. 2509), the Government of Panama replied to the IACHR in a Note of January 16, 1978, enclosing a photocopy of the answer prepared by Jorge Emilio Castro, Minister of Government. The pertinent parts o that document are transcribed as follows:
In the month of September of 1976 there were in the City of Panama incidents alterating public order caused by students of secondary schools, resulting in destruction of private property and with the participation of some elements at the service of the Government or the Armed Forces of the United States.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Although the investigations pointed to some degree of participation in the financing of said events by Mr. Carlos Ernesto González de la Lastra, the National Government did not take any action against him.
. . . Some of the students that participated in the events declared, without any pressures, that Mr. González de la Lastra had given them the amount of two thousand balboas in cash, for them to organize the disturbances.
Knowing, perhaps, the seriousness of his participation, Mr. González de la Lastra remained hidden in the Panama Canal Zone, in the residence of one of his brothers-n-law who is a policeman in that area in the service of the United States Government.
With the feeling of guilt hurting his conscience, Mr. González de la Lastra sent some emissaries to talk with me, inquiring about his situation in the investigation that was being carried out.
In the case, which is doubtful, that Mr. José Chirinos, at the time President of the Chamber of Commerce of Panama may have made the assertion spoken of in Case 2509 (Panama), there must have been a misinterpretation of the conversation he had with me and a quote out of context. As Minister of Government and Justice I have never made such a statement, in relation to any Panamanian citizen, whatever his political tendency or activity.
Afterwards and by his own initiative, Mr. Carlos Ernesto González de la Lastra, arrived at Tocumen International Airport on October 21, 1976, accompanied by some policemen of the Canal Zone dressed in civilian clothes and by some of his relatives and boarded flight 776 of the Royal Dutch Airlines, for Caracas, Venezuela.
Mr. González de la Lastra abandoned, as on other occasions, the national territory of his own free will. His degree of danger to society had not been noticed before by the authorities as in the event mentioned here.
With regard to the content of the alleged conversation between the President of the Chamber of Commerce and the Minister of Government, the complainant supplied a statement signed by the President of the Chamber of Commerce and a certified copy of the minutes of that entity corresponding to September 17, 1976, which support the version of the government's refusal to guarantee Mr. González' safety if he remained in the country.
4. The Ineffectiveness of Legal Remedies
a. Assuming that an order to send Panamanian citizens is an unconstitutional act under the Constitution of 1972, the proper remedy is the petition provided for in Article 49:
Every person against whom a public official shall issue or execute a mandatory order of an injunction violating the rights and guarantees established by this constitution shall have the right to have the order revoked upon his own petition or that of any other person.
Protection of the Constitutional guarantees to which this Article refers shall be sought through summary proceeding and shall be within the jurisdiction of the courts of law.
b. Acting through their lawyer, the wives of Roberto Eisenmann, Antonio Domínguez, Guillermo Ford, Iván Robles, Alberto Quirós, and Rubén Carles Jr., brought a writ of amparo before the Supreme Court of Panama on January 21, 1976.
c. The law implementing Article 49 of the Constitution is Law No. 46, 24 November 1956 (Gaceta Oficial, No. 13.117, 6 December 1956), which establishes the writ of amparo to test the constitutionality of orders or injunctions. The pertinent parts of that law are as follows:
1) Article 43. Competent to take cognizance of the writ of amparo to which Article 51 [now 49] of the Constitution refers, are:
a) The Supreme Court of Justice in Plenary when it
is a matter of acts originating with the President of the Republic;
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
2) Article 45. The parties shall name those who have the power to represent them.
3) Article 46. The person bringing the writ shall make in the writ express mention of the order imparted by the functionary or body in question, he shall expound the reasons of fact and of law on which the writ is based and will accompany the evidence he considers convenient.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
4) Article 48. The Tribunal to which the writ is addressed shall receive it without delay, if it is duly formulated, and at the same time shall require of the authority accused that he send the order or, in its place, a report of the events on which the writ is founded.
5) Article 49. The functionary of whom the request is made shall comply with the order given within two hours of receipt in his office of the note containing the order, he shall suspend immediately the execution of the act, if it were being carried out, or he shall abstain from carrying it out, while the writ is under consideration; and he shall so inform the tribunal where the writ was brought.
d. The writ of amparo presented in behalf of the exiles is analyzed below in its pertinent parts:
1) Fulfilling the requirement of Article 45, the text of the writ is preceded by a power of attorney by which the wives of the persons in exile designate Dr. Fabián Echevers as their attorney for the purpose of presenting the writ.
2) Since the writ was for the purpose of relief against an order from the President of the Republic, it was brought before the Supreme Court, in compliance with Article 43.
3) As required in Article 46, the writ makes express mention of the order whose constitutionality is questioned:
I, Fabián Echevers . . . come in exercise of the faculties bestowed upon me . . . to interpose, as in effect I interpose, an extraordinary writ of amparo of constitutional guarantees against the order given by Mr. Demetrio Basilio Lakas, which consists in not allowing to remain in the country . . . [Names of the above follow], who at present are in the city of Guayaquil, Ecuador.
Consequently, in the most respectful manner, I request that this extraordinary writ of amparo . . . be received and that the revocation be ordered of said order given by the President of the Republic of Panama, and that it be considered in violation of the Constitutional guarantees contained in Title III, Chapter I, Article 17, 29 and 31 of the Fundamental Charter of the Republic.
4) In compliance with Article 46, the writ also contains the statement of fact and of law upon which it is based.
Third: Without any kind of judicial investigation and in summary fashion, the President of the Republic . . . gave the order of arrest, first, and of expatriation, afterwards, . . . acts that were verified yesterday, on the 20th of the current month.
Fourth: The gentlemen expatriated are at present in the city of Guayaquil, Ecuador.
Fifth: Notwithstanding the existence of a state of law, . . . they were deprived of their liberty without a written order from a competent authority; they have not been allowed to defend themselves from the alleged and reckless charges that have been attributed to them and they have been expatriated as a punishment, in flagrant violation of Article 29 of the national constitution that expressly points out that in the Republic of Panama, "THERE IS NO PUNISHMENT . . . OF EXPATRIATION . . ."
Sixth: The measures of arrest without a written order from a competent authority involves a grave violation, on the part of the person of the President of the Republic, of Article 17 of the Charter, since in his character of maximum authority of the Republic he must, by express mandate of the Constitution, "assure the effectiveness of the individual and social rights and duties and respect and make the Constitution and the law respected."
Seventh: The order, which consists in prohibiting them from remaining in the country, summarily adopted by the President of the Republic, is also violative of the constitutional guarantee contained in Article 31, since the right of expatriated citizens to be heard has been infringed, therefore due process has been violated also.
Eight: In the same manner, the order of the President of the Republic of Panama, the object of this writ, is an infringement of the Constitutional guarantee contained in Article 29 of the Fundamental Charter because . . . expatriation is not a punishment which exists in the Republic for any act, violation or crime, because it is prohibited, in a clear and express manner by the constitutional guarantee contained in Article 29 of the Constitution.
5) Article 46 does not require proof, but it does state that the person availing himself of the writ "shall accompany the evidence he considers convenient." The writ in question, however, mentions that a copy of the Presidential communique, which presupposes the existence of an order, is included, and it also indicates that a copy of "El Panamá América", of January 21, 1975, accompanies the writ to show that they were actually sent into exile. Below the official stamp of reception by the Secretary, of the Supreme Court, there is a typed-in paragraph, signed by the Secretary, which says that the copy of the communique was not presented. However, persons on whose behalf the writ was brought affirm that their lawyer did attach the proof mentioned.
e. On January 23, 1976, the Supreme Court in a plenary session refused to admit the above writ of amparo for the following reasons:
The order which they are attempting to invalidate by means of this writ is not properly identified, nor is any relevant evidence presented which would tend to do so, given that attached is only a copy of the newspaper El Panamá América of the 21st of the current month and in the section on evidence, although it says a copy of the Presidential communique is attached, it is not. That is evident from the Secretary's Report.
Even more, in the power of attorney that the complainants give, it is stated that the order consists "in allowing them to remain in the country from which they have been expatriated . . .", and nevertheless, in the writ, in reference to this same order, it is stated that it consists "in not permitting that the gentlemen remain in the country . . ."
As one can see, there exists an impreciseness and lack of concrete identification insofar as the order given, that constitutes a formal error in the intrinsic elements of the writ, because without knowing for sure the order against which one is seeking protection, which cannot be presumed nor requested officially, consequently, it is not known if that order can be revoked by means of the writ of amparo presented.
5. Political Exiles May Return
By cablegram of April 14, 1978, the Minister of foreign Relations of the Government of Panama notified the IACHR that those in political exile would be allowed to return:
I inform you His Excellency the Head of Government, General Omar Torrijos Herrera, has just announced publicly by radio and television that all Panamanians who are abroad in a true or apparent state of political exiles may return to their country without worries or fears of any kind. Thank you for your cooperation in publicizing this measure.
Since the receipt of this cablegram, the Commission has taken notice of the return to Panama of some of the exiles.
American Convention on Human Rights
Article 22. Freedom of
Movement and Residence
Every person lawfully in the territory of a State Party has the right
to move about in it, and to reside in it subject to the provisions of the
Every person has the right to leave any country freely, including his
3. The exercise of the
foregoing rights may be restricted only pursuant to a law to the extent
necessary in a democratic society to prevent crime or to protect national
security, public safety, public order, public morals, public health, or the
rights or freedoms of others.
The exercise of the right recognized in paragraph 1 may also be
restricted by law in designated zones for reasons of public interest.
No one can be expelled from the territory of the state of which he is
a national or be deprived of the right to enter it.
2 Rubén Carles Jr., "Constitución de
Artículo 29: X," (n.p.:
n.d.), p. 7.