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TITLE:  PANAMA HUMAN RIGHTS PRACTICES, 1993                             
DATE:  JANUARY 31, 1994


Panama's Constitution establishes a representative democracy 
with three branches of government--executive and legislative 
branches elected by direct secret vote for 5-year terms, and an 
independent judiciary--plus an independent electoral tribunal.  
The current Government, headed by President Guillermo Endara, 
is a multiparty coalition elected in May 1989, but unable to 
take office until December of that year.

Panama has no military forces.  Law enforcement duties are the 
responsibility of the Panamanian National Police (PNP) under 
the Minister of Government and Justice.  Criminal investigations
are performed by the Judicial Technical Police (PTJ) under the 
Public Ministry, headed by the Attorney General, who is part of 
the judicial branch.  There continued to be instances of abuse 
of detainees and prisoners by individual members of both forces.

Panama has a free enterprise, service-oriented, dollar-based 
economy.  The economy grew at least 6 percent in real terms in 
1993, the fourth year of consecutive growth following the 
downturn during the last years of the Noriega regime.  Poverty 
is pervasive, however, reflecting high unemployment and 
underemployment in urban slums and in some rural areas.

During 1993, the Government strengthened some institutional 
protections and continued to attempt to prosecute those 
responsible for the human rights abuses during the previous 21 
years of dictatorship.  Manuel Noriega and two others were 
convicted and sentenced for the 1985 murder of Dr. Hugo 
Spadafora.  Progress in key areas was slow, however, and 
Panama's principal human rights problems included prolonged 
preliminary and pretrial detention, an inefficient criminal 
justice system, and an overcrowded, oppressive prison system.  
Violence against women remained a serious problem.


Section 1  Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including 
           Freedom from:

     a.  Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing

No cases of political killings at the hands of government 
personnel were reported.  

There were, however, incidents in which Panamanian police used 
deadly force to stop fleeing suspects, which constitute 
extrajudicial killings, despite a 1992 presidential decree 
regulating the use of force by members of law enforcement 
organizations.  In October a PNP officer fired at a fleeing 
suspect in Chitre, killing the man; the officer was arrested 
and at year's end was in prison awaiting criminal proceedings.  
In May indigenous demonstrators in Darien and Chiriqui 
complained about rough handling and the indiscriminate use of 
tear gas by police.  Indigenous and other sources also claimed 
the death of protester Saturnino Aguirre was caused by a blow 
he received from police during the demonstration in Chiriqui; 
the facts of the incident remain unclear.  Indigenous leaders 
filed charges against the PNP in the death of Aguirre.  In 
other instances, police used birdshot against demonstrators at 
times when use of lesser force would have been more 
appropriate.  In a February 4 police raid in the Curundu area, 
witnesses claimed police shot to death an 11-year-old boy 
during a "social protection" operation (see Section 1.f.).  The 
PNP's Office of Professional Responsibility reported that the 
11-year-old was killed during a shootout with criminal 
suspects.  No evidence was found to indicate whether the boy 
was killed by the police or by others.  No PNP officer was 
charged in the incident.

During 1993 the Government brought to trial two prominent human 
rights cases involving accusations of politically motivated 
murder and torture during the Torrijos and Noriega military 
dictatorships.  In October a judge convicted Manuel Noriega (in 
absentia) and two other defendants for the 1985 murder and 
decapitation of Dr. Hugo Spadafora, a former Vice Minister of 
Health and a critic of Noriega.  All three were sentenced to 
20-year jail terms.  In September a jury found seven other 
defendants not guilty, a decision which took nearly all 
observers by surprise and provoked riots and demonstrations.  
Four former military personnel went to trial in October for the 
1971 disappearance and death of Catholic priest Hector Gallego, 
an organizer of agrarian cooperatives.  In November a jury 
found three of them guilty of murder (the other defendant opted 
for trial by judge and was awaiting the verdict at the end of 
the year).  The three found guilty were expected to be 
sentenced to from 12 to 20 years' imprisonment.

Other Noriega-era defendants continued to be charged and tried 
for offenses involving human rights abuses.  Over 30 cases were 
pending against ex-Panama Defense Forces (PDF) Major Felipe 
Camargo, who had been convicted of human rights abuses in 
1992.  Ex-PDF Major Luis "Papo" Cordoba and ex-head of the 
National Investigation Directorate Nivaldo Madrinan, both 
charged but acquitted in the Spadafora trial, are to stand 
trial also for the 1985 kidnaping and torture of Dr. Mauro 
Zuniga, president of the National Civic Coordination (COCINA), 
an organization opposed to the Noriega regime.  A trial date 
for the defendants in the Zuniga case had yet to be fixed at 
year's end.

Two major cases, however, remained stalled in the court 
system:  the trial of 12 defendants charged with the kidnaping 
and murder of American citizen Raymond Dragseth, killed during 
the 1989 U.S. military action; and the trial of Manuel Noriega 
and 5 others charged with the summary executions of 11 PDF 
members after the October 1989 coup attempt against Noriega.

     b.  Disappearance

No known or alleged cases of politically motivated 
disappearances occurred during 1993.

     c.  Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading 
         Treatment or Punishment

The Constitution prohibits the death penalty as well as 
measures which could damage the physical, mental, or moral 
integrity of prisoners or detainees.  In addition to the 
constitutional prohibitions, Panama has ratified international 
conventions on the prohibition of torture and has incorporated 
them into its domestic law.  However, there continued to be 
scattered cases of brutality and use of excessive force by 
police.  The PNP and the PTJ each maintained offices of 
professional responsibility to investigate claims of police 
misconduct, including human rights abuses.  Sanctions included 
formal reprimand, disciplinary transfer, reduction in rank, 
dismissal, and, in severe cases, prosecution.  Through August 
the PNP had investigated 130 cases; 6 officials were dismissed 
for their actions, and 4 cases were forwarded for possible 
prosecution in the courts.  Through July the PTJ had 
investigated 45 cases; 5 agents were dismissed, and 2 cases 
were forwarded for possible prosecution in the courts.  In 
November the PNP's Office of Professional Responsibility 
reported that the majority of complaints against police 
involved excessive use of force and inappropriate use of arms.  
The office also reported that 50 percent of public claims of 
police abuse were justified.

As part of a 3-week orientation course, the PNP provided 
20 hours of instruction to incoming recruits on laws and 
procedures to protect the human rights and legal guarantees of 
citizens.  The PTJ had no such formal human rights instruction, 
although the Panamanian Committee on Human Rights (CPDH) 
organized periodic seminars on the need to respect human rights 
for new and veteran PTJ personnel.  The CPDH provided the same 
assistance to the PNP.

Prison conditions throughout Panama remained deplorable and 
health-threatening.  The physical plant of most prisons was 
dilapidated, medical care was inadequate, escape attempts were 
frequent, and there were credible reports of corruption and 
abuse of prisoners by guards.  Overcrowding of prisons worsened 
as arrests added to the prison population.  According to 
government figures, the total prison population as of July was 
5,241, an increase of approximately 23 percent over July 1992.  
Modelo prison, Panama's largest, housed over 1,700 prisoners in 
a facility built for 300.  Inmates reported that they slept in 
physical contact with their cellmates on bare cement floors 
that were perpetually wet from plumbing problems.  There were 
frequent press reports of mistreatment of prisoners by guards 
and of inmate attacks on other inmates.

Addressing the inadequate prison facilities, the Government 
inaugurated the 1,000-bed La Joya prison in August, although 
the facility, which has less than 100 inmates, will not be 
fully operational until March 1994.  Similarly, the Government 
announced the completion of a 150-bed wing in El Renacer prison 
in September, but officials reported in December that the 
facility was still not ready to admit prisoners. 

There was a credible report from the CPDH in August that 
officials at a Panama City juvenile detention center were using 
excessive force to keep order at the facility.  Inmates told of 
beatings for breaking the rules, and the director admitted that 
some juveniles were mistreated, blaming the problem on lack of 
space.  While there were no deaths or serious injuries reported 
at the center in 1993, the Government took no concrete action 
in response to the CPDH report.  The CPDH reported in December 
that the Supreme Court, which names the judge of Panama's 
Juvenile Court, favored moving responsibility for it from the 
Ministry of Government and Justice to the Judicial Branch, and 
might propose legislation to that effect.  The CDPH believes 
such a move would help improve protection of children's rights.

Conditions on the Coiba Island Penal Colony continued to be 
deplorable and primitive.  At least five inmate gangs existed 
on the island, and escape attempts were commonplace.  
Allegations of mistreatment at the hands of guards, however, 
notably diminished over prior years.  Unlike the situation 
during the past several years, no inmates died as the result of 
gang violence on Coiba in 1993; one inmate died in an 
accident.  Prisoners who attempted to flee Coiba more than 
three times were confined to antiquated cells with no sanitary 
facilities.  Coiba's isolation hindered communication between 
inmates and their attorneys, often causing delays when its 
inmates were not transported to court on time.

There was no known evidence in 1993 that female detainees or 
prisoners were targeted for sexual assault or other abuse by 
police or prison guards.  Conditions at women's prisons were 
better than those at men's prisons.

     d.  Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile

There were no known instances of arbitrary arrest, detention, 
or exile.  The Constitution stipulates that arrests must be 
carried out with a warrant issued by the relevant authorities, 
except when a person is apprehended during the commission of a 
crime.  The detainee is to be informed immediately of the 
reasons for arrest or detention, and has a right to immediate 
legal counsel, to be provided by the State for the indigent.

The Constitution provides for judicial review of the legality 
of detention and mandates the immediate release of any person 
found to have been detained or arrested illegally.  A suspect 
may not be detained legally for more than 24 hours without 
being brought before a competent authority.  A preliminary 
investigation report by the police must be completed within 
8 days, after which a prosecutor has a fixed period (which 
varies according to the number of suspects) to complete the 
investigative file for judicial review.  The judge, in turn, 
has an additional 15 days to render a decision as to whether a 
trial is warranted.  These time limits were often not met in 
practice.  The 24-hour time limit was often violated; detainees 
were commonly held without charges for several days.  Many 
cases exceeded the time limits as a result of further 
investigation, resubmissions, and, in some cases, additional 
communication between the court and the Public Ministry.

Extended pretrial detention of those charged continued to be 
one of Panama's most serious human rights problems.  According 
to government statistics, the proportion of pretrial detainees 
in the prison population as of July was nearly 80 percent, up 
slightly from the same period in 1992.  According to public 
defenders, the average period of pretrial custody for a 
defendant was 14 to 18 months; pretrial detention in excess of 
the maximum sentence for the alleged crime was not uncommon.  
Further, should a detainee who spent a significant amount of 
time incarcerated be found innocent, there are no legal means 
to hold the Government accountable.  The Government took no 
meaningful action during the year to correct this situation.

     e.  Denial of Fair Public Trial

The nine Supreme Court magistrates are appointed to 10-year 
terms by the executive branch and confirmed by the Legislative 
Assembly.  The magistrates appoint superior court judges, who 
in turn appoint circuit court judges in their respective 

At the local level, administrative judges similar to justices 
of the peace are appointed by municipal mayors.  There are two 
types of local judges, "corregidores" and "night" (or "police") 
judges.  These judges exercise jurisdiction over minor civil 
and criminal cases in which they may impose sentences of up to 
1 year.  This system has serious shortcomings.  The actions of 
corregidores and night judges are not regulated by the Code of 
Criminal Procedure, and defendants lack adequate procedural 
safeguards.  These officials need not be (and normally are not) 
attorneys, and they operate outside the control of the judicial 
branch.  Some allegedly engaged in corrupt practices.  By law, 
jail sentences meted out by these officials can be satisfied by 
paying a fine; in practice, more affluent defendants pay fines 
and poorer defendants go to jail.  Shortcomings in this system 
have a serious impact since the vast majority of minor criminal 
cases are handled by corregidores and night judges.

The Constitution provides that persons charged with crimes have 
the right to counsel and are presumed innocent until proven 
guilty.  The accused may, if not under pretrial detention, be 
present with counsel during the investigative phase of the 
proceeding.  Pretrial detainees can be requested to be present 
for the rendering of statements, amplifications, or 
confrontation of witnesses.  Trial proceedings are generally 
conducted orally with the accused present.  The trial phase is 
a mixed system (written and oral), which includes the call to 
trial, the presentation of evidence, and oral hearing.  The 
Constitution establishes trial by jury in some circumstances; 
by law, jury trials are not an option in most cases.

The Government is constitutionally obliged to provide public 
defenders for the indigent.  In late 1992, the public 
defenders' office reached its legislatively mandated strength 
of 36 defenders and maintained that number throughout 1993.  
Public defenders often were appointed after the investigative 
phase of the case had passed, limiting the defense's 
opportunity to present evidence.  Public defenders' caseloads 
were staggering, numbering hundreds of cases per attorney and 
seriously undermining the quality of representation.

Personnel changes within the Attorney General's office in 
1992-93 reduced efficiency and slowed processing of cases.  
Attorney General Rogelio Cruz was suspended from office in 
December 1992; several of his immediate collaborators also were 
dismissed.  The Public Ministry was slow to undertake needed 
changes, including the implementation of a career law within 
the Ministry and improvement of the work and accountability of 
the first-level prosecutors.

Panama held no political prisoners in 1993.  Various 
pro-Noriega and ex-PDF groups claimed that approximately 50 to 
54 prisoners held for alleged crimes including torture, 
homicide, kidnaping, and other human rights violations during 
the period of military dictatorship were "political" prisoners.
During the year, some of these prisoners were tried and 
convicted.  Many others were still awaiting trial, most since 
early 1990.  Although the judicial branch asserted that these 
cases are being expedited, progress was slow.  (Some of the 
delays, however, stemmed from appeals and other legal motions 
on behalf of the defendants.)  Families of victims of 
Noriega-era abuses vigorously protested bills to grant amnesty 
to all the defendants.  The Legislative Assembly passed no 
amnesty bills in 1993.

     f.  Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or 

The Constitution provides for the inviolability of the home and 
communications.  Personal documents are not to be examined, 
communications monitored, or private residences entered and 
searched except by written order.  However, so-called social 
protection operations in high-crime areas by the PTJ produced 
credible complaints that PTJ agents failed to follow legal 
requirements for arrest and search warrants and instead 
conducted indiscriminate searches of entire apartment buildings 
or housing complexes.

Despite the view of some that the Constitution prohibits all 
wiretapping, the Government maintains that wiretapping with 
judicial branch approval is legal.  Media allegations in late 
November that former Attorney General Rogelio Cruz had ordered 
wiretaps in May 1991 prompted the CPDH to ask the Government to 
investigate.  These allegations also touched off calls for the 
Supreme Court or the Legislative Assembly to define what 
constitutes a legal wiretap in the absence of laws and 
regulations adequately addressing the issue.  The Government 
took no further action before the end of the year.  No evidence 
was available to suggest that official wiretaps were used in 
1993 for other than national security or criminal prosecution 
reasons; the debate centered on what legal limits should be 

Section 2  Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

     a.  Freedom of Speech and Press

Panamanians generally enjoyed freedom of speech and press as 
provided for in the Constitution.  Five national daily 
newspapers (an additional daily opened in September 1993), 
3 commercial television stations, 2 educational television 
stations (1 run by the University of Panama, the other closely 
associated with the Catholic Church), and over 95 radio 
stations provided a broad choice of informational sources.  
While many media outlets took identifiable editorial positions, 
most carried a wide variety of political commentaries and other 
perspectives, both local and foreign.  Local and foreign 
journalists worked and traveled freely throughout Panama, and 
the population had access to foreign media.

Libel is a criminal offense subject to fines and up to 2 years 
in prison.  Opinions, comments, or criticism of government 
officials acting in their official capacity are specifically 
exempted from libel prosecution, but a section of the law 
allows for the immediate discipline of journalists who show 
"disrespect" for the office of certain government officials.  
Several plans to annul or revise Noriega-era press restrictions 
did not reach final debate in the National Assembly by year's 

In early March, the national censorship board initially banned 
the U.S. film "The Panama Deception," which was highly critical 
of the 1989 U.S. Operation Just Cause and the Endara 
Government.  Despite the ban, portions of the film's narrative 
were published in newspapers.  The ban, publicly criticized by 
President Endara and by at least one member of the censorship 
board, was rescinded on March 17.

Academic freedom was recognized and freely exercised in public 
as well as private universities.

     b.  Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The Constitution provides the rights of peaceful assembly and 
association, and the Government generally respects these 
rights.  No authorization is needed for outdoor meetings, 
although prior notification for administrative purposes is 
required.  Panamanians have the right to form associations and 
professional or civic groups without government interference; 
they may form and organize political parties as they like, 
though parties must meet membership and organizational 
standards in order to gain official recognition and run in 
national campaigns.

Freedom of assembly was widely exercised in 1993; citizens 
frequently gathered and marched to protest government policies 
and to demand changes.

     c.  Freedom of Religion

The Constitution provides for religious freedom.  No 
governmental restrictions impinge on the free exercise and 
proselytization of religious beliefs, nor on any particular 
religious groups.  Although Roman Catholicism is predominant, 
Panama has no state religion.  Clerics are constitutionally 
prohibited from holding public office except as related to 
social assistance, education, or scientific research.  Foreign 
clergy are permitted to enter the country and enjoy the same 
religious freedoms as Panamanian citizens.

     d.  Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign 
         Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation

The Constitution grants Panamanians the right to move freely 
within the country and to emigrate and return, and these rights 
are respected in practice.  No known cases of forcible 
repatriation of refugees or asylum seekers occurred in 1993.

A 9 p.m. curfew for minors in Panama province, imposed in 
September 1992, remained in effect although it was enforced 
mainly in high-crime areas.

Section 3  Respect for Political Rights:  The Right of Citizens 
           to Change Their Government

The Constitution provides for a representative democracy with 
direct popular election of the president, two vice presidents, 
legislators, and local representatives every 5 years.  
Technical arrangements for and the supervision of elections are 
the responsibility of the independent National Electoral 
Tribunal.  Suffrage is a right and duty for all citizens; there 
is, however, no penalty for noncompliance.  Voting is by secret 
ballot.  Panamanians enjoy the right to join any political 
party, to propagate their views, and to vote for candidates of 
their choice without government interference.  These rights 
were respected by the Government in 1993.

There are no legal bars to participation by women or people of 
African, Asian, or indigenous descent, although their presence 
in senior leadership positions in government or political 
parties is not proportionate to their numbers within society.  
However, numerous representatives of these groups, including 
five women, are in the Legislative Assembly and they are 
increasingly visible in mid-level political and governmental 
positions.  San Blas, populated mainly by indigenous Kuna 
Indians, has two representatives in the Legislative Assembly. 

During 1993 Panama began to prepare for the May 1994 general 
elections.  Sixteen parties, representing a wide spectrum of 
political views, were legally recognized and are expected to 
participate in the campaign.  In May, under the auspices of the 
Catholic Church, representatives of all political parties and 
parties-in-formation signed an agreement to conduct fair and 
peaceful election campaigns; the Church's Justice and Peace 
Commission began investigating alleged violations of this 
agreement.  In June the Legislative Assembly passed electoral 
code reforms aimed at ensuring fair elections.  

Section 4  Governmental Attitude Regarding International and 
           Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations 
           of Human Rights

Several local human rights organizations, including both church 
and secular groups, operated without restriction or government 
interference, conducting investigations and disseminating their 
findings.  International human rights groups also operated 
without government restriction.

Section 5  Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, 
           Disability, Language, or Social Status

The Constitution prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, 
illegitimacy, social class, sex, religion, or political views.


The Constitution notwithstanding, women generally do not enjoy 
the same economic opportunities as men.  Panamanian law does 
not recognize property in common, and divorced or deserted 
women are often left destitute.  Although the Constitution 
mandates equal pay for equal work, wages paid to women are 
often lower than those for equivalent work performed by men and 
increase at a slower rate.  There were credible reports of 
sexual harassment, threats of firing for pregnancy, and hiring 
practices based on age and "sexual appeal."  Although the 
Center for the Development of the Woman found that Panama has a 
relatively high rate of female enrollment in higher education, 
many of these graduates are shunted into menial and 
lower-paying jobs; only 5 percent of the managerial positions 
in the country are occupied by women.

Domestic violence against women continued to be a serious 
problem.  The Center for the Development of the Woman reports 
that the problem is widespread, but notes that few reliable 
statistics exist on the subject, given the tendency of many 
battered and abused women to disguise the true cause of their 
injuries.  Although clinic personnel are required by law to 
report such abuse to the corresponding authorities for 
investigation, it is seldom done (except in cases of injuries 
caused by firearms).  The Center further claims that police and 
judicial authorities are reluctant to interfere because 
domestic violence is widely seen as a "private" matter not 
subject to legal remedy.  Penalties for wife beating and sexual 
abuse within marriage are also light and do not serve as a 
deterrent.  Private groups and government agencies operated 
programs to assist victims of such abuse; the Center 
inaugurated a municipal center in August 1992 devoted 
exclusively to assisting abused women.

In response to pressure by women's organizations, the 
Government created a Women's Department at the Ministry of 
Labor in May to report on abuses in the workplace as well as 
domestic violence.  The office receives funding through the 
Ministry of Labor's Social Welfare Branch; the Legislative 
Assembly rejected a request in late 1993 for separate funding 
in 1994.  In early December, the Legislative Assembly's 
Children's Commission sent a "Family Code" bill to the full 
Assembly that, among other things, allows for property in 
common in marriages.  The measure did not pass but it is 
expected to be taken up when the Assembly reconvenes in 1994.


Panama is signatory to the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the 
Child; in 1991, the Convention was made part of Panama's 
domestic law.  The Legislative Assembly created a Permanent 
Commission on Children's Rights in 1992 and the Commission 
drafted several measures in 1993 to protect children, including 
a bill to create a Ministry of the Family.  None of the 
Commission's measures, however, have yet been approved by the 
Assembly.  Although the Government was concerned about the 
rights of children, budgetary constraints limit provision of 
educational, health, and social services, particularly in rural 
areas.  There was no unified government response to curbing 
domestic child abuse.  The proposed Family Code bill (see 
above) incorporated measures to guarantee the protection and 
welfare of children and to assure the commitment of the 
Government to safeguarding their legal rights.

In response to the mistreatment of juveniles (see Section 1), 
the CPDH recommended creation of a government office to defend 
children's legal rights, independent of any ministry and funded 
by a separate budget.

     Indigenous People

The Constitution seeks to protect the ethnic identity and 
native languages of Panama's population of about 194,000 
indigenous people, requiring the Government to provide 
bilingual literacy programs in indigenous communities.  The 
Ministry of Government and Justice maintains a Directorate of 
Indigenous Policy.  Despite legal protection and formal 
equality, indigenous people generally had relatively higher 
levels of poverty, disease, malnutrition, and illiteracy than 
the rest of the population.

The Government provides semiautonomous status to the San Blas 
reserve, populated mainly by indigenous Kuna Indians.  The 
reserve is governed by tribal chiefs, who meet in general 
congress twice a year.  During 1993 Kunas objected to squatter 
incursions in areas of Panama province they considered their 
traditional lands and asked the Government to create another 
Kuna reserve.  Ngobe-Bugle Indians in the provinces of Bocas 
del Toro, Veraguas, and Chiriqui also called on the Government 
to create a reserve.  Bills to create the Kuna and Ngobe-Bugle 
reserves and an additional indigenous reserve in Darien 
province were introduced in the Legislative Assembly in 
mid-1993, but failed to gain approval.

The National Coordination of Indigenous Peoples of Panama--made 
up of Kuna, Embera and Ngobe-Bugle leaders--sponsored a 
national convention in November, the first since 1978, to 
discuss strategies to compel the Government to create reserves 
and foster development in Indian areas.  Convention 
participants produced a document calling for the creation of a 
high-level government commission to implement greater 
government investment in indigenous communities in the areas of 
health and education.  President Endara endorsed the document 
in a meeting with indigenous leaders in December.  The 
Government incorporated into domestic law the Convention on the 
Indigenous Peoples' Development Fund during the same month.  
The fund provides economic support to the indigenous peoples of 
Latin America and was among the agreements reached at the 
second Ibero-American Summit in Madrid in 1992.

Indigenous groups claimed that the Government will only permit 
them to take part in decisions affecting their lands, cultures, 
traditions, and the allocation of natural resources when it is 
coerced into doing so.  The Governor of Panama province, for 
example, was held hostage for a few hours in April by a group 
of Kunas who argued this was the only means of drawing 
attention to their demands.

     National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

Panama is a racially and ethnically mixed country.  People of 
African, Asian, and indigenous descent are politically active, 
but--as noted in Section 3--underrepresented in senior 
positions in the Government and the private sector.  The law 
does not discriminate against any social, religious, or 
cultural group.  However, naturalized citizens may not hold 
certain categories of elective office, and the Constitution 
reserves retail trade to Panamanian citizens.  While anecdotal 
evidence indicates that reserving retail trade to Panamanian 
citizens originally was directed at Chinese immigrants, 
government officials have stated that it serves as a barrier to 
keep foreign retail chains from operating in Panama.  The 
measure is not enforced in practice; Chinese operate much of 
the rural retail trade.

While there is no evidence to suggest any organized or 
government-sponsored discrimination against the 100,000-strong 
Chinese community, leaders of this community credibly claimed 
that Chinese were treated as second-class citizens by society 
at large.  The rising Chinese immigration (both legal and 
illegal) has also raised assimilation problems.  Many newer 
arrivals, seeking first to merge into a large and influential 
urban Chinese community, do not attempt to learn Spanish or to 
integrate into Panamanian society at large.

     Religious Minorities

Panama's sizable evangelical Christian and Jewish communities, 
together making up more than 10 percent of the population, take 
part in nearly all aspects of national life.  The same is true 
of practitioners of other faiths, including Muslims, Hindus, 
and Baha'is.  No evidence suggested that religious minorities 
were denied the right to practice their faiths or were 
discriminated against based on their beliefs.

     People with Disabilities

Panama has a number of private organizations to assist people 
with disabilities, the largest of which is the National 
Association of Disabled People, founded in 1985.  The Ministry 
of Labor's Department for Disabled Workers, created in 1980, is 
responsible for placing qualified disabled workers with 
employers.  In 1993 the Department was in charge of 
implementing a June executive order which provided employers 
with monetary incentives for hiring people with disabilities, 
as well as an International Labor Organization (ILO) project to 
provide financial assistance to disabled people who wish to 
start small businesses.  Although some public buildings and 
retail stores have access ramps for disabled people, no law or 
regulation compels the use of ramps or other easy-access 
features in public or private buildings.

Section 6  Worker Rights

     a.  The Right of Association

Panamanian private sector workers have the right to form and 
join unions of their choice, subject to registration by the 
Government.  According to Ministry of Labor statistics, 
approximately 24 percent of the private sector workforce is 
organized; it is estimated that 11 percent of the total 
employed labor force is organized.  There are 284 active 
unions, grouped under 7 confederations and 48 federations 
representing approximately 85,000 members.  From January to 
November, 11 new unions registered with the Government.  Some 
unions formerly affiliated with federations and confederations 
have chosen to function independently in recent years.  
Organized labor, which received various benefits from and was 
largely coopted by the military regime, is no longer identified 
with nor controlled by the Government or political parties.  
Union organizations at every level may and do affiliate with 
international bodies.

Most government workers are not permitted to organize unions or 
bargain collectively, but have the right to form representative 
associations.  Workers in certain state-owned companies, such 
as public utilities, are permitted to organize unions, and 
these are among the strongest in Panama.  Workers from the 
National Telecommunications Institute marched against 
government proposals to privatize the company; electrical 
company workers demonstrated repeatedly to oppose the dismissal 
of workers fired during a recent reorganization.  Workers in 
other state-owned companies do not have the right to form 
unions but, like those in the rest of the public sector, have 
the right to form employee associations.  FENASEP (the umbrella 
organization for the public employee associations) elected its 
executive committee in May and was in the process of 
reorganizing and reactivating its member associations.  Of the 
47 member associations under FENASEP, 24 were active and 
approximately 20 were in the process of reorganizing.

Workers, except government workers and those employed by the 
U.S. Forces and the Panama Canal Commission, have the right to 
strike.  Employees of state-owned enterprises that were once 
private, such as the electricity and telecommunications 
companies, have the right to strike when certain criteria are 
met.  For example, a notice of intention to strike must be 
served at least 8 calendar days in advance and strikers must 
continue working in reduced shifts to prevent public services 
from being completely paralyzed.

While Law 25 of 1990, enacted following the police uprising in 
December of that year, restricted the right of association by 
permitting the firing of public sector employees participating 
in actions contrary to "democracy and the Constitution," this 
law expired on December 31, 1991.  The Supreme Court reviewed 
the cases of public sector workers fired pursuant to this law 
and at the end of 1992 ruled that 25 workers should be 
reinstated.  In the remaining 145 cases, the Court determined 
that the dismissal of the workers was legal.  Regretting that 
the parties concerned did not reach agreement, the ILO 
Committee on Freedom of Association (CFA) reiterated in 
November its conclusion that the mass dismissal of trade union 
leaders and workers in the public sector was a serious 
violation of the right to organize.

The ILO's Committee of Experts (COE) commented on positive 
developments with respect to administrative aspects of trade 
union organizations and the right to strike in 1993.  The COE 
noted that the Government reduced the number of union documents 
it reviews and limited the effects of the provision of the Code 
obligating unions to allow the Government to inspect records at 
least every 6 months.  In reference to restrictions on the 
right to strike, the COE noted the passage of Law 2 of 1993 
which restored freedom of association and collective bargaining 
rights to workers in the private sector.  In particular, the 
COE noted favorably that Law 2 of 1993 repealed the provision 
of Law 13 of 1990 that allowed for compulsory arbitration when 
the continuation of a strike could result in serious economic 
problems for a business.

The COE continued to criticize the exclusion of public servants 
from the right to organize and bargain collectively, noting 
that though the Government submitted an administrative career 
bill to the Legislative Assembly, the bill did not contain 
provisions establishing the right of public servants to 
organize.  The COE asked the Government to take measures to 
address this issue as well as the excessively high number of 
members required to establish a union, the requirement that 
75 percent of union members be Panamanian nationals, and the 
automatic removal from office of trade union officials 
dismissed from their jobs.  The COE reported the Government's 
reply that it would consider in a tripartite forum possible 
reform of Labor Code provisions dealing with numerical and 
nationality requirements for union formation, as well as the 
automatic removal from office of a trade union officer in the 
event of his dismissal from employment.  The COE also noted  
that Panama's Constitution and the Labor Code require that the 
executive board of a trade union be composed exclusively of 
Panamanians.  The ILO judged that government legislation should 
be made more flexible to permit organizations to choose leaders 
without hindrance and should allow foreign workers to hold 
trade union office.

Despite the prohibition on striking by public sector employees, 
there were numerous strikes in both the private and public 
sectors in 1993.  Since the unions did not follow the terms of 
the Labor Code, the Government considered the strikes illegal.  
From March 8 to April 1, sugar cane cutters of the Estrella 
Azul sugar company struck to demand an increase in the minimum 
wage.  (The strike was unsuccessful and 270 employees were 
fired.)  Following a strike by construction workers at the La 
Fortuna dam, Skanska agreed to pay workers a portion of wages 
accrued during the strike as well as previously owed overtime 
and extra wages.  In June banana workers of the Chiriqui Land 
Company called a strike to oppose the Legislative Assembly's 
consideration of a bill which, among other things, would have 
enabled the company to purchase 5,000 hectares of land from the 
Government.  (Ultimately the contract was rejected by the 
Assembly.)  From May 31 to June 4, bus and taxi drivers called 
a strike to protest a transport law that established safety 
requirements and passenger rights.

Panamanian teachers called a work stoppage on August 18 to 
demand a $100 monthly salary increase and improved working 
conditions.  After a 64-day stoppage, the teachers accepted 
minimal gains that included neither a salary increase nor pay 
for the time they failed to work.  The teachers' unions still 
hope the Supreme Court will overrule President Endara's veto of 
a legislative compromise that would have given the teachers 
more of their original demands.  After a brief September strike 
for payment of retroactive salary increases, National Institute 
of Telecommunications (INTEL) workers secured an agreement from 
the Government to resolve the issue.  The increases went to all 
INTEL workers who had received a performance evaluation of 
"excellent."  The Comptroller General had refused to pay the 
increase since 97 percent of the workers had been given this 
exemplary rating.

     b.  The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively

The law affords most workers the right to organize and bargain 
collectively, and the right is widely exercised.  Aside from 
the representative associations discussed above, most public 
employees are excluded from the right to organize, bargain 
collectively, and strike.  Workers in the Colon Free Zone and 
the banking sector are effectively denied this right through 
the de facto exclusion of unions in these sectors.  Unions have 
been excluded when their leaders were fired from their jobs; 
under the Labor Code, this automatically removes them from 
their positions as trade union officials.  In 1990 and 1991, 
three officials of the National Bank Workers' Union were fired 
from Banco Cafetero and Chase Manhattan Bank for union 
organizing activities.  The Government contended that because 
the union was not legally recognized--even though it had 
applied for legal certification in 1972--its leaders were not 
eligible for reinstatement.  The Government, however, brokered 
generous severance payments for the cashiered union officials 
to ameliorate the dispute.  Nevertheless, the result is that 
the workers have been left effectively without an organizing 
force.  During 1993, there were no attempts to organize in the 
banking sector or the Colon Free Zone.

On January 13, President Endara signed Law 2 of 1993 restoring 
full freedom of association and collective bargaining rights to 
workers in the private sector and repealing sections of Law 13 
of 1990.   Following more than 18 months of domestic and 
international pressure, the Government amended or repealed 
those portions of Law 16 (export processing zones--EPZ's) and 
Law 13 (collective bargaining) that the ILO viewed as 
restricting internationally recognized workers' rights.  Law 2 
calls for the resumption of collective bargaining for 
agreements expiring on or after January 1993, based on the 
agreement's original expiration date or the expiration of an 
extension under Law 13.  Law 2 also repealed the controversial 
clause of Law 13 that provided for government-mandated 
arbitration.  Over 85 private sector collective bargaining 
agreements were successfully concluded in 1993.

The amended export processing zone law (Law 25 of 1992) 
reimposed the obligation of firms operating in EPZ's to enter 
into collective bargaining agreements with workers.  There are 
three licensed EPZ's in Panama:  Isla Margarita, Ojo de Agua, 
and Telepuerto.  Isla Margarita is the only EPZ in operation; 
it has one apparel assembly facility.   No organizational 
attempts have been made in this facility.

The Labor Code prohibits antiunion discrimination by employers.
Disputes or complaints may be brought to a conciliation board 
in the Ministry of Labor for resolution.  The Labor Code 
provides a general mechanism for arbitration once conciliation 
procedures have been terminated.  Under law, employers found 
guilty of antiunion discrimination are required to rehire 
workers fired for union activity.  In practice, however, this 
does not always occur.

     c.  Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The Labor Code prohibits forced or compulsory labor, and 
neither practice was reported during 1993.

     d.  Minimum Age for Employment of Children

The Labor Code prohibits the employment of all children under 
14 years of age as well as those under 15 if the child has not 
completed primary school; children under 16 cannot work 
overtime; those under 18 cannot perform nightwork.  Children 
between the ages of 12 and 15 may perform farm or domestic 
labor as long as the work is light and does not interfere with 
the child's schooling.  Enforcement of these provisions is 
triggered by a complaint to the Ministry of Labor, which may 
order the termination of illegal employment.  Child labor 
provisions were generally enforced, although less so in the 
interior of the country because of insufficient staff to 
monitor abuses.

     e.  Acceptable Conditions of Work

The Labor Code establishes a standard legal workweek of 48 
hours and provides for at least one 24-hour rest period.  It 
also establishes minimum wage rates for specific regions and 
for most categories of labor.  Most Panamanian workers employed 
in urban areas earn the minimum wage or above.  Nevertheless, 
Panama has a substantial informal sector, some of whose workers 
earn below the minimum wage.  A tripartite commission 
(government, labor, and business) studied the minimum wage in 
1992.  On January 1, 1993, the minimum wage was increased 20.5 
percent (to $0.94 per hour from $0.78 per hour) in the 
districts of Panama, Colon, and San Miguelito and for workers 
in financial services.  The real purchasing power of the 
minimum wage increased by 9.3 percent, the largest real 
increase since 1972.  The Ministry of Labor is charged with 
enforcing the minimum wage, although it lacks sufficient human 
and financial resources to execute its legal mandate fully.
For example, labor leaders in the Canal area allege that 
contractors operating there pay hourly wages below the $2.90 
required under Decree 52 of 1979 and Decree 3 of 1980 which 
cover employees of companies involved in the maintenance, 
protection, and use of the Canal.

The Government sets and enforces occupational health and safety 
standards.  An occupational health section in the Social 
Security System (CSS) is responsible for conducting periodic 
inspections of especially hazardous employment sites, such as 
those in in the construction industry, as well as inspecting 
health and safety standards in response to union or worker 
requests.  Workers who file requests for health and safety 
inspections are legally protected from dismissal.  They also 
have the right to remove themselves from situations that 
present an immediate health or safety hazard without 
jeopardizing their employment.  They are generally not allowed 
to do so if the threat is not immediate, but may request a 
health and safety inspection to determine the extent and nature 
of the hazard.

The Ministry of Labor is responsible for enforcing health and 
safety violations and generally does so.  The standards are 
fairly encompassing and generally emphasize safety over 
long-term health hazards, according to organized labor 
sources.  An example is the dust hazard in the cement and 
milling industries; health concerns in these industries did not 
appear to be effectively addressed.  Panama does not have a 
large industrial sector.  The construction industry is the 
largest employer, and available figures in 1993 did not 
indicate an unusually high rate of accidents.

[end of document]


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