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TITLE:  PANAMA HUMAN RIGHTS PRACTICES, 1994
AUTHOR:  U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE
DATE:  FEBRUARY 1995









                             PANAMA


Panama is a representative democracy with an elected executive 
composed of a president and two vice presidents, an elected 
72-member legislature, and an appointed judiciary.  President 
Ernesto Perez Balladares took office on September 1 at the head 
of a multiparty coalition.  He was elected in May in elections 
conducted under the auspices of the independent Electoral 
Tribunal.  International observers described the elections as 
free, fair, and violence-free.

Panama has had no military forces since 1989.  The Legislature 
approved a constitutional amendment October 4 to abolish a 
standing military.  The amendment went into effect October 24 
and contains a provision for forming a "temporary" force under 
certain national security circumstances.  The Panamanian 
National Police (PNP) under the Ministry of Government and 
Justice are responsible for law enforcement.  The Judicial 
Technical Police (PTJ) perform criminal investigations; the PTJ 
is under the Public Ministry, headed by the Attorney General.  
There continued to be credible reports of abuse of detainees 
and prisoners by members of both police forces.

Panama has a free enterprise, service-oriented economy which 
uses the U.S. dollar.  It grew at least 5 percent in real terms 
in 1994, the fifth consecutive year of growth.  Poverty is 
pervasive, however, with great income disparities between rich 
and poor, and continued high unemployment and underemployment.

Principal human rights abuses continued to be prolonged 
pretrial detention, an inefficient and often corrupt criminal 
justice system, and overcrowded, oppressive prisons.  There 
were also three extrajudicial killings in January.  Violence 
against women remained serious, a problem compounded by 
socio-cultural factors that inhibited recognition and 
treatment.  The Government continued to prosecute some of those 
responsible for abuses committed during the 21 years of 
dictatorship from 1968 to 1989.  For example, in May a court 
sentenced three former National Guardsmen to 15-year prison 
terms for the 1971 kidnaping and murder of Hector Gallego, an 
activist Roman Catholic priest.

RESPECT FOR HUMAN RIGHTS

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

     a.  Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing

There were no reports of political killings perpetrated by 
government agents.

A presidential decree regulates the use of force by members of 
law enforcement organizations.  The authorities are 
investigating three unrelated incidents in January in which 
seven different PTJ agents may have violated this decree by 
using deadly force to stop fleeing suspects.  After an 
independent investigation, a review board relieved two of these 
officers from duty, administratively reassigned two others 
pending outcome of internal investigations, and referred two 
officers to the PTJ's legal advisor for consideration of 
criminal prosecution.  The seventh officer was in PTJ custody 
awaiting trial at year's end.

     b.  Disappearance

There were no reports of politically motivated abductions or 
disappearances.

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

The Constitution prohibits use of measures which could damage 
the physical, mental, or moral integrity of prisoners or 
detainees.  There were no substantiated reports of torture of 
either prisoners or detainees during 1994.  Anecdotal evidence 
suggests police still use physical violence to control 
detainees, particularly during initial arrest and holding 
phases.

The PTJ and the PNP have offices of professional responsibility 
that act as internal affairs organs to hold officers 
accountable for their actions.  Both have staffs of independent 
investigators and administrative authority to open internal 
investigations which, upon completion, go to their respective 
inspectors general for submission to review boards.  The review 
boards, in turn, recommend to the service's director the 
appropriate action; the service director has the final 
authority to determine the disposition of each case.  Penalties 
can include reduction in rank, dismissal, and, in severe cases, 
criminal prosecution.  As of December, the PTJ had investigated 
153 cases of all categories of misconduct; it dismissed at 
least 52 officials for their actions and forwarded 16 cases for 
possible prosecution in the courts.  Similarly, as of December, 
the PNP had investigated 967 cases of all categories of 
misconduct; it imposed administrative sanctions on 157 officials
for their actions and forwarded at least 46 cases for possible 
criminal prosecution.

Due to a growing number of use-of-force complaints lodged 
against the PTJ, the Supreme Court, in collaboration with the 
Attorney General, named a commission in March to revise 
training procedures, including firearms instruction, for PTJ 
personnel.  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.  Future PTJ police cadets are to receive human 
rights instruction as part of their basic training.

Prison conditions throughout Panama remained deplorable and 
threatening to prisoners' health.  Most prisons were built in 
the 1950's and are dilapidated; medical care is inadequate; and 
escape attempts were frequent.  There were credible reports of 
corruption by guards, as well as abuse of prisoners.  The 
National Corrections Administration has authority to discipline 
prison guards for abuse of detainees or prisoners with either 
penal or civil sanctions, depending on the severity of the 
abuse.  In practice, however, few prisoners or detainees have 
used these measures to seek redress for alleged abuse by prison 
guards.

In order to relieve overcrowding, the legislature passed a bill 
on December 21 which would quicken the pace of prosecution, 
thereby reducing the number of pretrial detainees.  The 
Ministry of Government and Justice has also begun a program of 
conditional release of certain categories of prisoners.  
Neither of these measures has yet had a significant effect in 
reducing overcrowding.

In March prisoners at the David public jail in western Chiriqui 
province held a hunger strike to protest the lack of prison 
space and the slow movement of their cases in the judicial 
system.  The strike quickly spread to the public jail in Colon 
and to Panama City's notorious Modelo prison, provoking hunger 
strikes at both facilities.  The Government promised to have 
qualified personnel visit the prisons at least once a month to 
check on the welfare of both detainees and prisoners.  It also 
promised  to quicken the pace of prisoner transfer to the new 
1,000-bed La Joya facility, even though it still lacked basic 
amenities, such as furniture, sufficient potable water, and a 
trained administrative staff.

The Government has made only limited efforts to comply with 
these promises.  It did arrest the Modelo Prison Director on 
December 15 on charges of corruption.  However, the prison 
overcrowding that caused the earlier hunger strikes still 
persists.  Although the National Corrections Department depends 
on PNP personnel, who are not properly trained, to supply its 
guard force, the guard response in the riots at Modelo prison 
in March and again in December was restrained and appropriate.

The authorities transferred administration of La Joya prison to 
trained correctional officers.  For the first time, prison 
administrators also classified inmates, a process intended to 
determine the appropriate security level needed for prisoners 
while also separating them from pretrial detainees.  Although 
this was a significant step forward, the La Joya prison houses 
only a small fraction of the total prison population.  All 
other prisons use PNP guards and intermingle convicted 
prisoners with pretrial detainees.

Conditions on Coiba Island Penal Colony continued to be 
deplorable.  Approximately 75 percent of the 550 prisoners 
still on Coiba await trial, and the majority will have served 
almost two-thirds of their potential sentences before reaching 
trial.  Despite a plan to transfer prisoners to other detention 
facilities, Coiba continued to receive new prisoners from other 
prisons as part of an effort to defuse the violence caused by 
overcrowding.  Prisoners and detainees reportedly suffer 
greatly from malnutrition and shortages of potable water.  
Medical care is practically nonexistent.  Reversing a decision 
late in the Endara administration to place Coiba under police 
control, the new Government named a civilian administrator for 
Coiba.  The guard force, however, continued to consist of 
police guards instead of civilian correctional officers.  
Geographic isolation, plus lack of mail and communications, 
separated detainees from their attorneys and caused many to 
miss trials.

Conditions at women's prisons were better than those at men's 
prisons.  Still, there were credible allegations that guards 
and staff at the Women's Rehabilitation Center (CFR) sexually 
abused female detainees and convicts.  Female prisoners also 
reportedly suffered from overcrowding and poor medical care.  
Guards and administrators allegedly trafficked in telephone 
access, medicine, and personal hygiene items.  A human rights 
group credibly charged in July that the prison administration 
intentionally turned a blind eye toward such activities by 
guards and staff.  This led to the investigation and temporary 
removal from office of the CFR director in July.  The Perez 
Balladares Government named a permanent administrator in 
September.

     d.  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 
law requires the arresting officer to inform the detainee 
immediately of the reasons for arrest or detention and of the 
right to immediate legal counsel, to be provided by the State 
for the indigent.  There were charges of arbitrary detentions 
by the new Government during a September operation dubbed 
"energy and courtesy" that featured police roundups of street 
criminals in heavily populated areas of Panama City and Colon.  
The PNP suspended four officers for excessive use of force in 
this operation but found no grounds for the arbitrary detention 
charges.  Human rights groups confirmed that there had been few 
instances of police abuse in the operation.

The Constitution provides for judicial review of the legality 
of detention and mandates the immediate release of any person 
detained or arrested illegally.  The law prohibits police from 
detaining suspects for more than 24 hours without bringing them 
before a competent authority.  In practice, the authorities 
rarely met legally mandated time limits and often violated the 
24-hour time limit for detention by several days.  The 
preliminary investigation phase often lasts from 2 to 4 months, 
due to extensions granted by the Public Ministry and additional 
communications with the court.  While the Public Ministry can 
legally grant extensions up to 14 months in most cases, it 
often allows case processing to exceed the approved extensions, 
leaving the accused in incommunicado detention.  This problem 
is exacerbated by an inefficient case tracking system and a 
slow, inflexible notification phase.

Extended pretrial detention of those charged continued to be 
one of Panama's most serious human rights problems.  According 
to government statistics, pretrial detainees comprised 79 
percent of the prison population as of August, about the same 
proportion reported in July 1993.  Analysis of these statistics 
indicates almost 25 percent of the total prison population is 
under detention beyond legally permissible time limits.  
According to public defenders, the average period of pretrial 
custody for a defendant was approximately 16 months; pretrial 
detention in excess of the maximum sentence for the alleged 
crime was common.  A legal mechanism exists to hold the 
gvernment accountable in cases where a detainee spends a 
significant amount of time incarcerated only to be found 
innocent.  Although the redress procedure is not excessively 
complicated, few former detainees seek redress for their time 
in detention.

The Constitution prohibits exile, and there were no reports of 
forced exile in 1994.

     e.  Denial of Fair Public Trial

The President appoints nine Supreme Court magistrates to 
10-year terms, subject to Legislative Assembly confirmation.  
The Supreme Court magistrates appoint appellate court judges, 
who, in turn, appoint circuit and municipal court judges in 
their respective jurisdictions.  The Attorney General, who 
heads the Public Ministry jointly with the Solicitor General, 
appoints the superior and district attorneys.

At the local level, municipal mayors appoint administrative 
judges similar to justices of the peace.  These justices 
exercise jurisdiction over minor civil and criminal cases in 
which they may impose fines or sentences of up to 1 year.  This 
system has serious shortcomings:  Defendants lack adequate 
procedural safeguards, the officials need not be (and normally 
are not) attorneys, and some allegedly engage in corrupt 
practices.  In practice, appeal procedures are nonexistent.  
More affluent defendants tend to pay fines while poorer 
defendants go to jail, one of the chief factors leading to 
current prison overcrowding.

The Constitution provides that persons charged with crimes have 
the right to counsel and are presumed innocent until proven 
guilty.  If not under pretrial detention, the accused may be 
present with counsel during the investigative phase of the 
proceeding.  Judges can order the presence of pretrial 
detainees for the rendering of statements, amplifications, or 
confrontation of witnesses.  Trial proceedings are conducted 
orally with the accused present.  The Constitution establishes 
trial by jury in some circumstances; by law, however, jury 
trials are not an option in most cases.

The Constitution obliges the Government to provide public 
defenders for the indigent.  Although many public defenders are 
still appointed after the investigative phase of the case, many 
more public defenders than in past years were assigned to cases 
prior to commencement of the investigative phase, increasing 
the defense's opportunity to present evidence.  Public 
defenders' caseloads remained staggering, numbering hundreds of 
cases per attorney and seriously undermining the quality of 
representation.

Panama continued to hold political prisoners in 1994.  Eduardo 
Herrera Hassan, an ex-member of the former Panama Defense 
Forces (PDF) who became director of the National Police force 
and reportedly attempted to foment action against the Endara 
Government in December 1990, was held without charges until he 
received a presidential pardon in September.  In addition to 
Herrera, the Government has held an additional 30 to 50 persons 
in pretrial detention since December 1990, for offenses related 
to the coup attempt.  The presidential amnesty of September 23 
released some of these prisoners, but many remain in extralegal 
detention.

The judicial system continued to prosecute those responsible 
for human rights and other abuses committed during the Noriega 
period.  The Government brought to trial, convicted, or 
sentenced a number of the most notorious defendants.  In 
January courts sentenced former Panamanian Defense Force (PDF) 
members Felipe Camargo, Luis Cordoba, and Nivaldo Madrinan to 
5-year terms in prison for the 1988 illegal arrest and torture 
of Eduardo Sanchez Pena, an anti-Noriega activist.  In May 
Madrinan, former head of the National Investigation Directorate 
(DENI), received an additional 5-year prison term for his role 
in the 1971 murder of Colombian priest Hector Gallego.  In 
September the courts found six ex-PDF members, including 
Camargo, guilty of human rights violations against anti-Noriega 
activists Alberto Conte and Leonardo Figueroa, as well as 
former anti-Noriega coup participant Milton Castillo.  Over 25 
cases are pending against ex-PDF major Felipe Camargo 
(convicted of human rights abuses both in 1992 and 1994).  
Ex-PDF major Luis "Papo" Cordoba and Lt. Colonel Madrinan, both 
defendants in the Spadafora trial, were also scheduled to stand 
trial for the 1985 kidnaping and torture of Dr. Mauro Zuniga, 
president of the National Civic Coordination, an organization 
opposed to the Noriega regime.

In June President Endara granted individual pardons to over 500 
Noriega-era officials and politicians who had committed 
"political" crimes, i.e., support for antidemocratic policies.  
On September 23, President Balladares granted amnesty to 216 
persons whom he described as having been convicted or detained 
for crimes of a political nature.  He granted conditional 
release to 46 more detainees.  The amnesty included five of the 
six suspects in the slayings of U.S. citizen Raymond Dragseth 
and U.S. Embassy employee Fernando Braithwaite, civilians the 
PDF executed during Operation Just Cause in 1989.  This left 
only 1 of the original 23 defendants charged with either 
homicide, kidnaping, or conspiracy to stand trial in connection 
with these brutal killings.

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

The Constitution provides for the inviolability of the home and 
communications.  The authorities may not examine personal 
documents, monitor communications, or enter and search private 
residences except by written order.  However, there were 
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.  Such complaints continued during the 
first months of the Perez Balladares Government.

Despite the view of some that the Constitution prohibits all 
wiretapping, the Government maintains that wiretapping with 
judicial branch approval is legal.  Under the guidelines 
established by new antinarcotics legislation passed in July, 
the Public Ministry may engage in undercover operations, 
including the use of "videotaping and recording of 
conversations."  The Supreme Court will ultimately have to 
decide whether wiretapping is constitutional and, if so, under 
what circumstances.

Section 2  Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

     a.  Freedom of Speech and Press

Panamanians generally enjoy freedom of speech and press as 
provided for in the Constitution.  Six national daily 
newspapers, 3 commercial television stations, 2 educational 
television stations, and over 95 radio stations provide a broad 
choice of informational sources; all are privately or 
institutionally owned.  While many media outlets took 
identifiable editorial positions, the media carried a wide 
variety of political commentaries and other perspectives, both 
local and foreign.  Panamanian and foreign journalists worked 
and traveled freely throughout the contry, and the population 
had access to foreign media.

There were no substantiated cases of Government harassment of 
journalists.  The Government has legal authority to place both 
direct and indirect restrictions on the media but took no such 
actions in 1994.  This election year was characterized by a 
high level of official tolerance of the media, which openly 
reported on candidates and their platforms.

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.   
The Government did not use the antilibel provisions of the law 
to restrict freedom of the press, but the existence of the law 
may inhibit some writers' self-expression.

President Balladares took steps to abolish certain laws which 
restrict freedom of the press.  The media opposed these steps 
since complete abolition of the laws would also end many press 
privileges.  Among these laws is one which establishes a 
censorship board.  There were no reports of the board taking 
any restrictive actions in 1994.

The law provides for academic freedom, which was 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 assembly, 
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 participate 
in national campaigns.

During the 1994 election campaign, citizens frequently gathered 
and marched to protest as well as to support government 
policies.  There were no reported instances of inappropriate 
government action against such marches.

     c.  Freedom of Religion

The Constitution provides for religious freedom.  All religious 
groups are free to worship and to proselytize without 
government restriction or interference.  Clerics are 
constitutionally prohibited from holding public office, except 
as related to social assistance, education, or scientific 
research.

     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 depart and return freely.  These 
rights are respected in practice.  There were no cases of 
forcible repatriation of refugees or asylees.  A 9 p.m. curfew 
for minors under 18 years of age in Panama province, imposed in 
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 by secret ballot of the president, two 
vice presidents, legislators, and local representatives every 5 
years.  The independent National Electoral Tribunal arranges 
and supervises elections.  Panamanians enjoy the right to join 
any political party, to propagate their views, and to vote for 
candidates of their choice without government interference.  
The Government respected these rights throughout the year.  The 
Electoral Tribunal implemented the June 1993 electoral reforms 
during the 1994 campaign, resulting in a transparently free 
national election.

There are no legal barriers to participation by women or people 
of African, Asian, or indigenous descent, but in fact their 
presence in senior leadership positions in government or 
political parties is not yet proportionate to their numbers 
within society.  However, representatives of these groups are 
increasingly visible in midlevel political and governmental 
positions.  The Government provides semiautonomous status to 
the San Blas reserve, populated mainly by indigenous Kuna 
Indians.  San Blas has two representatives in the Legislative 
Assembly, proportionate to its population.  Locally, the 
reserve is governed by tribal chiefs, who meet in a general 
congress twice a year.

A woman ran for president and finished second with over 28 
percent of the vote.  The newly elected President of the 
Legislative Assembly is a woman, and Panama City residents 
elected a woman as mayor.  However, women held only 5 of 72 
Legislative Assembly seats and 3 of 11 Cabinet positions.

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

Panamanian human rights organizations, including both church 
and secular groups, generally operated without governmental 
restrictions.  These organizations carried out a full range of 
activities, including investigations and dissemination of 
findings.  Human rights advocates generally had free access to 
government officials while investigating complaints.  The 
Government did not favor an investigation by the Inter-American 
Commission on Human Rights in response to a complaint filed 
about Operation Just Cause, but it did not obstruct inquiries 
related to the investigation.

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.

     Women

Women generally do not enjoy the same economic opportunities as 
men.  The law does not recognize property in common, and 
divorced or deserted women are often left destitute.  However, 
the Legislative Assembly approved a new Family Code in April 
which will recognize joint or common property in marriages.  
The new Code will take effect in early 1995 after the executive 
branch identifies the financial resources necessary to fund 
additional tribunals and related activities.

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.  A United 
Nations report published in August noted that women occupy only 
4 percent of the managerial positions in Panama.  Although 
statistics are lacking, there are credible reports of sexual 
harassment, firings for pregnancy, and hiring practices based 
on age and "attractiveness."

Domestic violence against women continued to be a serious 
problem.  A late-1993 report by the reputable Center for the 
Development of the Woman estimated that victims report as few 
as 20 percent of the sexual assaults committed against women in 
San Miguelito and Panama City--two of the most densely 
populated areas in the country--to law enforcement 
authorities.  The Foundation for the Promotion of the Woman 
released an informal study that stated that the emergency room 
of the largest public hospital in Panama City treated 1,222 
domestic violence victims during 1993.  As of September, that 
foundation itself assisted almost 400 victims of domestic 
violence or abuse.  Other private groups and government 
agencies also operated programs to assist victims of such 
abuse.  The Government acknowledged the seriousness of violence 
directed against women by signing the Inter-American Convention 
on the Prevention, Punishment, and Eradication of Violence 
against Women.

A number of private women's rights groups, including groups for 
indigenous women, concentrate on disseminating information 
about women's rights, countering domestic abuse, enhancing 
employment and other skills, and pressing for legal reforms.  
Indigenous women vocally criticized male government 
administrators and politicians for overlooking indigenous 
women's rights.  In response to pressure by women's 
organizations, the Government created a Women's Department at 
the Ministry of Labor in July 1993 to report on abuses in the 
workplace as well as larger social issues.  The office, 
however, was given little funding and has been relatively 
ineffective.

     Children

The Tutelar de Menores, a quasi-judicial authority with 
additional administrative roles, plays a role in the protection 
and care of minors, but the Government has no specific office 
charged with protecting children's rights.  A women's advocacy 
group reported that 72 percent of children are born from 
nonstable, short-term relationships.  Many children suffer from 
malnutrition, neglect, and inadequate medical care.  Juvenile 
courts report a high incidence of juvenile delinquency in major 
urban areas.  The new Family Code calls for restructuring the 
underfunded and overtasked juvenile court authority that 
includes a rehabilitation program, an orphan care authority, 
and a juvenile detention authority.  It also clarifies 
reporting authority and strengthens preventive protection 
powers in suspected juvenile abuse cases.  It would also create 
a mechanism to record and report suspected domestic violence 
cases involving minors.

     Indigenous People

Panama's indigenous population of approximately 194,000 (8 
percent of the population) theoretically has all the same 
political rights as other citizens.  The Constitution protects 
the ethnic identity and native languages of 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.  The 
Legislative Assembly in November created an indigenous affairs 
commission to address charges that the central Government has 
neglected indigenous needs.  Despite legal protection and 
formal equality, indigenous people generally endured relatively 
higher levels of poverty, disease, malnutrition, and illiteracy 
than the rest of the population.  In practice, language 
problems also weaken the formal protections offered by the 
law.  Since indigenous populations infrequently master Spanish 
well enough to use appropriate legal terminology, they often 
have difficulty in understanding their rights under the Legal 
Code.  This language barrier also hamstrings efforts by 
indigenous people to defend themselves in court.

Panama's indigenous population, particularly the Embera, Choco, 
and Ngobe-Bugle, has grown increasingly vocal in requesting the 
Government to create more indigenous reserves.  Indigenous 
people began to organize themselves but, despite a November 
1993 convention for national coordination of indigenous 
peoples, met only limited success in lobbying the Government to 
protect their rights.  The Government did grant the Embera 
tribes in Darien semiautonomous reserve status.  The President 
appoints a governor who administers two nearby administrative 
areas in conjunction with tribal advisory councils.  Medical 
care and potable water supplies on the reserves remain 
inadequate.  Ngobe-Bugle groups complained that private 
landholders restricted access to tribal lands.  The Government 
supported the landholders' claims that legal leases were still 
in effect.

Indigenous people have legal rights and take part in decisions 
affecting their lands, cultures, traditions, and the allocation 
of natural resources.  During the 1994 presidential elections, 
the Coordinator for Indigenous Peoples--an umbrella 
organization promoting indigenous rights--called upon 
indigenous peoples not to vote for any presidential candidates 
until the Government met demands for a Ngobe-Bugle reserve and 
development funds for indigenous organizations.  Ultimately, 
however, few refrained from voting.  The new Family Code 
recognizes traditional indigenous cultural marriage rites as 
the equivalent of a civil ceremony.

     National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

The law does not discriminate against any social, religious, or 
cultural group; however, naturalized citizens may not hold 
certain categories of elective office.  While anecdotal 
evidence indicates that a constitutional provision 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, 
however.  Chinese and Indian residents of Panama, as well as 
Panamanians of Chinese and Indian descent, operate much of the 
retail trade, particularly in urban areas.

Leaders of the over 100,000-member East Asian and South Asian 
communities credibly claimed that Panamanian society at large 
treats Panamanian-resident Chinese and Indians as well as 
Panamanian citizens of Asian origin as second-class citizens.

     People with Disabilities

Government policy and support for citizens with disabilities is 
the responsibility of the Workers with Disabilities Office of 
the Department of Labor and Social Welfare.  Created in 1980, 
it is responsible for placing qualified disabled workers with 
employers.  The office was in charge of implementing a June 
1993 executive order which provided employers with tax 
incentives for hiring people with disabilities.  As of 
September, 89 employers had hired a total of only 166 disabled 
employees under this program.  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

Private sector workers have the right to form and join unions 
of their choice, subject to registration by the Government.  
However, unions have criticized government requirements for 
registration, including the minimum number of workers necessary 
for union formation (currently 51).  With a large percentage of 
small shops and businesses having fewer than the required 
number of employees to meet registration requirements, many in 
the work force cannot organize.  In addition, organized labor 
has complained that the Government has rejected efforts over 
the past 20 years to organize in several "strategic sectors" 
such as banking and the Colon Free Zone.

According to Ministry of Labor statistics, approximately 10 
percent of the total employed labor force is organized.  There 
are 256 active unions, grouped under 6 confederations and 48 
federations representing approximately 79,000 members in the 
private sector.  Although the new Perez Balladares Government 
has closer ties with organized labor than did the Endara 
administration, neither the Government nor the political 
parties control or financially support any unions.  Union 
organizations at every level may and do affiliate with 
international bodies.

The new Civil Service Law of June 20 permits most government 
workers to form public employee associations and federations 
and established their right to represent members in collective 
bargaining with their respective agencies.  It also provides 
most workers the right to strike, except for certain government 
workers in areas vital to public welfare and security, such as 
the police and health workers and those employed by the U.S. 
military forces and the Panama Canal Commission.  It is too 
early to determine if the new Civil Service Law will meet, in 
practice, internationally recognized labor standards.  
Unionized employees of formerly private and telephone companies 
retain their original right to strike when certain reasonable 
criteria are met.

The International Labor Organization (ILO) Committee on Freedom 
of Association (CFA) reiterated in November 1993 its conclusion 
that the large-scale dismissal of trade union leaders and 
workers in the public sector under Law 25 of 1990 was a serious 
violation of the right to organize.  Even though the Panamanian 
Supreme Court ruled that the dismissal of 120 of the 145 
affected workers was legal (the other 25 were reinstated), the 
CFA again requested the Government to reinstate the greatest 
possible number of dismissed workers and union leaders.  The 
new Perez Balladares Government began reinstating the workers, 
roughly half of whom have reportedly returned to work.

There were a number of private sector strikes in 1994 and, 
despite the prohibition on striking by public sector employees, 
several public sector strikes.

     b.  The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively

The law affords most workers the right to organize and bargain 
collectively, and unions widely exercised it--104 collective 
bargaining agreements were concluded in 1993.  The law protects 
union workers from antiunion discrimination and requires 
employers to reinstate workers fired for union activities.  The 
Ministry of Labor has mechanisms to resolve complaints against 
antiunion employers.  The new Civil Service Law allows most 
public employees to organize and bargain collectively and 
grants them a limited right to strike.  The Labor Code 
establishes a conciliation board in the Ministry of Labor to 
resolve labor complaints and provides a mechanism for 
arbitration once conciliation procedures have been terminated.

There is an increasingly common practice of employing temporary 
workers in order to circumvent what are perceived by employers 
as onerous Labor Code requirements for permanent workers.  One 
owner of a construction firm has noted that up to 35 percent of 
workers on some of his projects are employed on temporary 
contracts.  These workers were discharged just short of the 
time necessary for them to be granted permanent status and then 
rehired in other job categories, thereby circumventing the 
Labor Code.  None of these temporary workers received pension 
or other benefits.  The practice of blank contracts is, 
according to union sources, becoming more widespread.

Labor law is equally applicable to export processing zones.

     c.  Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

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

     d.  Minimum Age for Employment of Children

The Labor Code prohibits the employment of 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 night work.  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.  The Ministry of Labor enforces these 
provisions in response to complaints and may order the 
termination of unauthorized employment.  The Government has not 
enforced child labor provisions adequately in the rural 
interior of the country, claiming insufficient staff to monitor 
abuses.  Accord to a recent ILO report, 11,600 children between 
the ages of 10 and 14 are in the labor force--primarily in farm 
or domestic labor.

     e.  Acceptable Conditions of Work

The Labor Code establishes a standard 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.  The minimum wage, last increased in 
January 1993, is $0.94 per hour in the districts of Panama, 
Colon, and San Miguelito, and for workers in financial 
services.  It is not enough to support a family above the 
poverty level in Panama's relatively high-cost economy.  Most 
Panamanian workers employed in urban areas earn the minimum 
wage or above, but most workers in the large informal sector 
earn below the minimum wage.  Unions have repeatedly alleged 
that contractors operating in the Canal area pay less than the 
required minimum wage.  The Ministry of Labor does not always 
enforce the minimum wage, due to insufficient human and 
financial resources.

The Government sets and enforces occupational health and safety 
standards.  An occupational health section in the Social 
Security System is responsible for conducting periodic 
inspections of especially hazardous employment sites, such as 
those in the construction industry, as well as inspecting 
health and safety standards in response to union or worker 
requests.  The law protects workers who file requests for 
health and safety inspections 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.  Health issues, however, continue in the banana sector 
as well as the cement and milling industries.

(###)


[end of document]

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