REPORT ON THE SITUATION OF HUMAN RIGHTS IN PANAMA
THE RIGHT TO LIFE, LIBERTY AND PERSONAL SECURITY
Every human being has the right to life,
Liberty and the security of his person.1
A. The Right to Life
1. Article 29 of the Panamanian Constitution of 1972 states that "There is no penalty of death . . .", and Article 17 declares that "The authorities of the Republic are instituted for the purpose of protecting all nationals in their lives, honor and property, wherever they may be, and aliens who are under its jurisdiction; . . ."
2. Drawing upon all the sources available to it, the IACHR has compiled a list of 34 persons whose death or alleged death has been attributed to the Government of Panama. During its on/site visit, the Special Commission requested information from the Government of Panama with regard to these persons.
The Government of Panama replied in a Note of January 3, 1978. According to that information, the death of twenty-one of those persons was confirmed and two were presumed to have occurred (Falconett, Gallego). The Government claimed to have no record of seven of the individuals mentioned, and it did not know the whereabouts of three persons. Further correspondence with the government resulted in the confirmation of the death of an additional person (Hazlewood Mitchell).
Fourteen of the cases may be considered of a political nature, six were attributable to other reasons, and the motives in fourteen cases are unclear. Of the cases considered here to be politically-related fourteen occurred in the period 1969-1972. For the purposes of this report, these thirty-four cases will be treated below in two categories --
based upon the Government's acceptance or denial of responsibility for the deaths or alleged deaths and disappearances.
a. Cases in which the Government has Accepted Responsibility
Nine of the deaths, which occurred in the period 1969-1970, were reported by the Government to be the result of confrontations between the National Guard and terrorist or guerilla forces:
Belisario Gántez Gómez, who died in Chepo-Pacora-Cerro Azul on August 9, 1969.
Ariosto González, who died in Chiriquí Province, on January 24, 1969.
Elías González Santizo, who died on October 25, 1970, "when a defective hand grenade went off as he attempted to throw it at a patrol car of the National Guard on Calle 40, Panama City."
Félix González, who died in Chorrera, on October 15, 1970.
died in Chepo-Pacora-Cerro Azul, on August 9, 1969.
Jorge Tulio Medrano, who died on January 9, 1970, in Enrique Malek International Airport in the city of David, "when he attempted to hijack a plane of the now defunct commercial airline RAPSA and take it to Cuba."
Dora Cerafina Moreno Jaén, who died in Coclé Province on February 1, 1969. (Miss Moreno was described by the complainants as "a medical student of the University of Panama who was carnally violated and then shot by the National Guard.")
Teodoro Palacios Hurtado, who died in Chepo-Pacora-Cerro Azul in August, 1969.
Herbert Quintanar, who died in Chepo-Pacora-Cerro Azul, on August 12, 1969.
The Commission informed the complainants of the Government's reply in the above cases, but the complainants had not responded as of the preparation of this report, and the Commission has insufficient information upon which to reach a conclusion as to the actual causes or circumstances of these deaths.
Cases in which the Government denies Responsibility
With regard to the remaining cases, the Government's response may be summarized as follows: eight persons were listed as unknown to the government; it is unaware of the whereabouts of two of the persons listed; four died of natural causes while in prison; one is officially listed as disappeared, and two others, died under various circumstances unrelated to the Government. Because of insufficient information, the Commission has been unable to establish responsibilities in any of these cases. However, some conclusions were reached in individual cases and are noted in the following paragraphs.
Those of whom the Government claims to have no record at all are the following: Aníbal Cedeño, Ramón Cruz, Hildebrando Manson, Waldemaro Osorio, Basilio Rivera, Ubaldo Sánchez, and César Sarmiento. Osorio, according to the complainant, was "a public employee who was in charge of microfilming in the Public Registry of Properties." "His death," said the complainant, "caused alarm in professional circles, and the National Guard was forced to give a public explanation, alleging that he had died upon falling to the pavement when he was expelled, accidentally, from a moving patrol car."
In the cases of Andrés Fistonich and Heliodoro Portugal, the Government was able to identify the alleged victims, but reported that it was unable to establish their whereabouts. Fistonich, who was allegedly "assassinated in one of the internal purges of the National Guard," was said by the Government to have "left the country for Chile in August of 1970." Portugal, described by the government as "an important member of the Communist Party of Panama," was not being investigated, had no record, and his whereabouts were unknown, according to the official reply.
Nine persons died or disappeared while allegedly in government custody, and one while he was allegedly under official surveillance. Even of these cases occurred during the period of unrest between 1969 and 1972; three correspond to 1976 and 1977.
According to a person who was allegedly held in the same wing of the Model jail in Panama, Genaro César Sarmiento Vega "was taken from his cell for interrogation and never returned." The same source stated that "A guard later informed other prisoners that Sarmiento had died of natural causes." The Government of Panama reported to the Commission that Sarmiento "died in a fight in the Model Jail in January of 1969." According to the copy of the death certificate supplied by the Government, he died on January 20, 1969, of strangulation and a broken hycid bone.
A person who claims to have been a cellmate of José del Carmen Tuñón in the Model Jail relates de same story as above with regard to Tuñón's death: "Tuñón was taken from the cell for interrogation, and his cellmates were later told that he had died a natural death." The copy of the death certificate supplied by the government shows that Tuñón died in the Model Jail on July 27, 1969, of a rupture of an aneurysm of the frontal cerebral artery, produced by encephalic arteriosclerosis.
Floyd Britton, a student leader of leftist orientation, died in November of 1969 while a prisoner in Coiba and allegedly as the result of a beating administered by prison guards. As evidence of this, the complainants cited the words of Leopoldo Aragón, a former prisoner in Coiba, who claimed that Britton was placed on a stool with his hands handcuffed behind his back and that guards surrounded him and clubbed him "until his brains flew out." In response to the Commission's request for information, the government of Panama forwarded a xerox copy of a statement of November 29, 1969 entitled "To Whom it May concern," and made out by the coroner, Dr. Fabio Velarde, who states therein that he performed an autopsy on Floyd Britton, 32 years of age, and determined that he died of natural causes--an infarct of the myocardium. A note was added: "There were no signs of violence on any part of the body." The Commission has not yet reached a conclusion in this case.
Rubén O. Miró Guardia, a Panamanian lawyer, died on the night of December 31, 1969, of wounds from a burst of machine gun fire. His body was found early the next morning along the Chepo highway, near Panama City. There were apparently no witnesses to the crime. There was some speculation that his death may have been a revenge-type killing carried out by persons who suspected that Miró had been involved in the 1955 assassination of former National guard Chief and President (1952-55), José A. Remón. Miró had been tried and acquitted of complicity in that crime.
According to the testimony of witnesses in the record of the preliminary inquiry, Miró had attempted to board a flight to Lima at Tocumen Airport on December 14, 1969, but was prevented from doing so by agents of DENI who informed him that he would not be allowed to leave the country because of "orders from above." Other witnesses declared in he course of the official inquiry that between December 14th and the 31st, Miró was followed twenty-four hours a day by agents from DENI and described one of the principal cars used in the surveillance as a blue Chevrolet, license number 922. The agent in charge of the surveillance crew was identified as Angelo Jaspel.
On February 16, 1970, Prosecutor Emiliano Pérez, of the First Judicial District, asked DENI for information with regard to the alleged surveillance. When no information was supplied, he reiterated his request on April 16, 1970, but apparently to no avail. There is no evidence in the investigatory summary that DENI ever responded. Because of lack of information, the case was closed by the Second Superior Tribunal on October 29, 1971.
The Commission is unable to reach a determination in this case. However, on the basis of information supplied by the government, it would appear that an intensive and comprehensive investigation of this case was not carried out and that government officials refused to cooperate with the prosecutor and the court.
A copy of the death certificate provided by the Government of Panama states that Narciso Cubas Pérez died on February 15, 1971, of a bullet wound to the brain. The Government advised the Commission that Cubas, whom it described as a wanted criminal, "committed suicide when he was discovered by the National Guard."
The IACHR received the following denunciation with regard to Father Héctor Gallego:
Héctor Gallego -a Catholic priest arrested in June of 1971 by members of the National according to a witness, Jacinto Peña. His disappearance was never explained. Father Gallego organized peasant cooperatives that affected economic interests of the Torrijos family. As a consequence (of his death) there were created difficult problems between the Church and the Government, later resolved by the Archbishop Marcos McGrath, who was subject to family pressures.
Father Héctor Gallego Herrera, a Colombian, was the parish priest of Santa Fe, a community of about 600 people in the Province of Veraguas.
In addition to his religious ministry among the peasants, he founded an agricultural cooperative which provided loans to individual members and established a store where they could purchase basic necessities without being subject to major price fluctuations. The effect on locally owned stores was significant; some were forced to close.
In an interview five days before his disappearance, Father Gallego declared that the local "bosses" first tried to create a lack of confidence in the cooperative, and when this tactic failed, "they began to take more concrete action." He stated also that the government began to press for the cooperative to become a government institution and tried to exploit it in a political sense, but failed in both endeavors. Finally, he said, the local "bosses" resorted to violence. On one occasion, they broke into the parish house and forcibly took a statue of the patron saint, hitting the Bishop with a club in the process. Then, on May 23, 1971, he continued, "they burned the house where I was living." Father Gallego managed to escape on that occasion without harm. Just prior to the burning of the house, Father Gallego had supported the community of Cerro in a land dispute with Mr. Saúl Ruíz, an employee of the municipality of Santiago, and one of Ruíz's sons had allegedly threatened to kill Father Gallego.
There were allegations that the authorities did not do everything in their power to solve the case. As evidence of this lack of interest, the Movimiento Campesino de Veraguas (Peasant Movement of Veraguas) declared in a public communication of June 27, 1971, that nothing had been done to punish those who had beaten the Bishop and had burned Father Gallego's house, that those persons suspected of participating in the kidnapping had not been detained, yet other persons, beyond suspicion in the community and with no motive, had been arrested in the case. At the same time, it claimed that "when the peasants are making their statement or talking with the authorities, the latter show that they are more interested in certain declarations and not in all those the peasants want to give and can give." It also mentioned that false information regarding the kidnapping and subsequent events were published in the press, and that authorities made no attempt to refute that information. One peasant alleged that he was not permitted to complete his statement.
On the same day that his house was burned, Father Gallego sent a letter to the Director of DENI in Santiago, requesting an investigation. Apparently in response to that letter, Mr. Walker and Mr. Magallón, officers of G-2, called upon members of the cooperative in Santa Fe on Monday, June 7, and asked questions about Father Gallego's relationship to the cooperative and his whereabouts. Afterwards, they went to the house of Jacinto Peña, where Father Gallego had been staying. They asked first for Jacinto, and then for Father Gallego. Informed that Father Gallego was in El Carmen, they left in that direction and found him there, talking with him for about thirty minutes.
Father Gallego returned to Santa Fe from El Carmen late on the evening of Wednesday, June 9, arriving at the home of Jacinto. Around 10 or 11 p.m., a jeep described as somewhat long, with a white hood, and carrying three passengers, was seen in El Carmen. Two of them got out of the jeep and asked for Father Gallego, whom they had apparently expected to find in El Carmen. They were told that Father Gallego had already returned to Santa Fe.
Shortly before midnight, two men who identified themselves as members of the National Guard asked for Father Gallego at the home of Jacinto in Santa Fe. When Father Gallego identified himself and left the dwelling, they said that they had a warrant for his arrest. After some discussion, they used an electric lantern to show him some papers and insisted that he accompany them. Father Gallego believed that he was to be taken to the headquarters of the National Guard in Santiago. When he offered to go alone the next morning, he was told that his failure to accompany them immediately could implicate his hosts.
Their jeep was parked on the other side of a car belonging to the cooperative, thus obscuring the view of witnesses who never left the house. As Father Gallego and his captors walked between the two automobiles, Father Gallego cried out. There were no more sounds except that of the jeep as it sped away. The description of the jeep fit that of the jeep seen shortly before in El Carmen, and according to the declarations of local residents, taped by Radio Hogar on June 19, Mrs. Peña recognized the voice of one of the men who had come to ask for Father Gallego on Monday.
The Special Commission encountered two principal theories with regard to the disappearance and presumed death of Father Gallego. Some persons feel that lower level government officials, probably members of the National Guard instigated by local enemies of Father Gallego, were responsible for his disappearance and presumed death, and that higher government officials helped to cover up what was done. Others believe that local interests were entirely responsible.
During its visit to Panama, the Special Commission inquired into the case of Father Gallego. High government officials alleged that their investigation was hampered by the lack of cooperation by Church officials who conducted their own investigation. Church officials, on the other hand, felt that the Government was not committed to a full and impartial investigation. They did not Appear to believe, however, that senior government officials were involved in the death of Father Gallego.
The Commission is unable to determine responsibilities with regard to Father Gallego's disappearance and death, but as a result of its interviews and its study of published and unpublished sources, it has come to the conclusion that the Government of Panama did not carry out an impartial and exhaustive investigation. Moreover, numerous published reports seem to indicate that the Government engaged in a campaign of arrests and interrogation for the purpose of intimidating persons involved in the investigation and publicizing of the Gallego case.
Justavino Fuentes, a Panamanian, 28 years old, who worked with his father in the jungle and was not involved in politics, disappeared following his arrest and imprisonment and is presumed dead by his family. He was arrested while riding on a bus for reading some anti-government leaflets which had been distributed by other parties. He was held for three months in the jail in David and allegedly tortured. When the government granted a number of pardons, his mother went to the jail and was present when those persons were released, but her son was not among them. She was told that he had already been set free, but his family never saw him again. They were informed on July 25, 1972, in a letter from the Director of Prisons that, according to National Guard records, her son was pardoned and released, and "crossed the northern border, destination unknown." The Commission has requested information on this case from the Government of Panama.
Jaime Alberto Frederick Muñoz, a 19-year-old student, died according to information furnished by the Government, "in a round-up of anti-socials in the city of Panama when the weapon of a Guardsman discharged accidentally." The copy of the death certificate showed that Frederick died on June 26, 1976, of loss of blood due to a bullet wound to the abdominal-thoracic region.
During its visit to Coiba, the Special Commission learned of the death of Cecilio Hazlewood Mitchell, who was allegedly beaten to death by guards during an interrogation on October 8, 1977. When members of the Special Commission inquired about Cecilio Hazlewood, they were informed by prison officials that "he was found dead one morning." No other explanation was given. On their return to Panama City, members of the Special Commission were presented with written complaints from the island of Coiba, which contained more details concerning the alleged beating:
Handcuffed, towards the airport they escorted him for questioning, I can't give any details, but I certainly can imagine since on other occasions they have taken other inmates and on their bodies remains the mark of what they (the prison guards) try to hide. Our companion is now dead after an inhuman beating, thrown on the floor of a cell of the insane, another anomaly since those sick people, should be in hospitals for their proper treatment . . .
In an accompanying document, the authors named the National Guardsmen whom they considered directly responsible for his death. The Commission submitted those names to the Government of Panama, along with allegations that the authorities had refused to surrender the cadaver to the family and that requests for an autopsy had been denied. The Government responded in a Note of May 10, 1978, that the case was still under investigation and provided copies of some of the statements taken as part of the preliminary hearing. The Commission will continue its examination of this denunciation as an individual case.
On the afternoon of October 9, 1977, Roy McFarlane, a Panamanian citizen of Antillean origin, was accused by the mother of two young girls of molesting her daughters in a movie house. The commotion caused the lights of the theater to be turned on, and McFarlane was allegedly chased by a number of people. In a signed statement, Mr. Antonio Vallejo Prince, who works with the National Guard in sports activities and aspires to become a member of the Guard, declared that he saw McFarlane being chased by a group of young men, followed by a woman and two girls. He followed them and intervened as McFarlane was being beaten, making a citizen's arrest and taking McFarlane to the National Guard.
According to testimony given in the official investigatory report, McFarlane was apparently in good condition and showed no signs of having been beaten at the time he was handed over to the Guard, but he collapsed and died shortly after being taken to the patio. An autopsy showed the cause of death to be a blow to the spleen and a blow to the occipital region of the skull that produced "severe cerebral contusion and rupture of the spleen."
According to one communication, Mrs. Ethel McFarlane, the mother of the deceased, went to the morgue to verify the report of her son's death but was not allowed to see his body until October 13. During the visit to Colón, members of the Special Commission spoke to the Head of the Second Military Zone, Mayor Eustacio Smith, who had prepared the original investigatory summary. He informed them that Mrs. McFarlane had viewed the body on the morning following the death. The Special Commission was unable to locate Mrs. McFarlane during its brief stay in Colón.
The official record of the investigatory proceedings indicates that the statement of one of the primary witnesses was never taken. Subpoena servers were unable to find Esther Alvarado, who had allegedly brought the complaint against McFarlane.
The Commission is continuing its inquiry into the circumstances of Mr. McFarlane's death as an individual case.
Six persons whose death or disappearance has been confirmed by the Government are treated in the following paragraphs. Two of them died in 1970 and 1973; the other four died or disappeared in the period 1976-77. Though government responsibility has been alleged in these cases, three of the deaths apparently did not occur while the persons were in custody, and the Commission has received no information which would seem to link the fourth death (Mendizábal) or the two disappearances (Falconett, Wald) with any government action.
Eduardo White Fernández, according to the complainant, "was imprisoned for a long time and died after his release of blows to his stomach and chest which had been inflicted during an interrogation by the National Guard." The Government stated simply that White died on June 6, 1970, of bronchial cancer with metastasis of the spinal column.
Hipólito Cubas Pérez, the brother of Narciso Cubas Pérez mentioned earlier, was electrocuted in an automobile accident on May 12, 1973, according to information furnished by the Government. The copy of the death certificate cited as the cause of death, "deep electrical burns, on more than 60% of his body."
Jorge Falconett and his fiancee, Marlene Mendizábal, disappeared in January of 1976 while on an outing in the Province of Veraguas. Her body was found shortly afterwards. Both were described by the complainants as "recognized opponents of the Regime," and their deaths were attributed to the Government. On the basis of information obtained during its on-site observation, the IACHR came to the conclusion that the fate of these two students was unrelated to their political attitudes and that the government is not responsible for the death of Marlene Mendizábal or the disappearance of Jorge Falconett. Other aspects of this case will be taken up in Chapter Four under the right to due process.
According to a copy of the death certificate provided by he Government, Luis Carlos Monterrosa Díaz, a radio announcer, died of a heart attack on March 19, 1976. The complainant has not provided any evidence to show that the Government was responsible for his death.
Rita Irene Wald Jaramillo, a 17-year old student at the Colegio Colonel José Antonio Remón Cantera in Panama City, disappeared on the evening of March 27, 1977. She had left her home at 5 p.m. to return a car to a friend. According to testimony, she apparently left the car with its owner at approximately 6 p.m. and was last heard from when she called a girl friend at approximately 8 p.m. She told her girl friend that she was in the Canal Zone with a friend named Jimmy. She added that he had a red and black Corvette and would like to take them for a ride. Her friend's mother would not allow her to accept the invitation, however. When Rita failed to return home by Tuesday, March 29, her family reported her missing.
Allegations received by the Commission indicate that Rita was an opponent of the Government and that she had participated actively in the events of September, 1976, when a number of students took part in a demonstration against the Government. The complaints state that her family has protested the unwillingness of the authorities to investigate the case as they should, and some blame the Government for her presumed death.
In response to the Commission's request, the Government of Panama has supplied documents relevant to the investigation of her disappearance. The testimony of various witnesses coincides in that Rita was involved in student politics at her school as a member of Sociedad Estudiantil Democrática, (Democratic Student Society) that her organization was at odds with a group belonging to the government-backed F.E.P. (Panamanian Student Federation), and that she had received telephone threats at home in connection with that rivalry.
On April 1, within three days of the family's complaint, authorities took a statement from the girl who was the last known person to speak with Rita before her disappearance. Authorities also interviewed the owner of the car she had returned and other friends in an attempt to develop leads. Panamanian authorities, as well as Canal Zone Police, tried to find a person fitting the description of "Jimmy", and his car, but were unsuccessful in their endeavors. It is true that statements of some of the witnesses were not taken by Panamanian authorities until the month of August. Government officials did publish Rita's picture and a description in local papers during the month of April and sent requests for information to INTERPOL in neighboring countries.
On the basis of the information presented, the Commission is unable to substantiate the allegations that Rita's disappearance and presumed death were related to her political activities or her alleged opposition to the government, and it is of the opinion that the Government of Panama carried out a good faith investigation of her disappearance.
B. The Right to Liberty: Forced Labor
1. The Panamanian Constitution and I.L.O. Conventions to which Panama is a party do not permit unremunerated forced labor except in the case of persons convicted by a court of law. Article 60 of the Constitution of 1972 states that "Every worker in the service of the State or of public or private enterprises or of private individuals is guaranteed a minimum wage or salary."
International standards, as reflected in Article 2 (2) © of the Convention Concerning Forced Labor (cited in footnote 3) and Article 6 (3) (a) of the American Convention on Human Rights, normally exclude from the definition of forced labor any work or service performed by a person pursuant to a judicial sentence or formal decision. In the case of Panama, the IACHR has received complaints to the effect that forced and unremunerated labor is required of persons who have been detained and are awaiting trial, and moreover, that the desire of governmental authorities to take advantage of such labor on the island of Coiba interferes with the judicial process.
Communications presented to the IACHR before and during its visit to Panama alleged that on the prison island of Coiba forced labor of convicts and of persons awaiting trial or sentencing is employed for the personal benefit and profit of commanding officers of the National Guard. According to the complaints, this labor serves as a basis for agricultural production and other economic activities which not only furnish the colony's basic needs but provide a profit. The need for extra hands, particularly at harvest time, they say, is supplied by "round-ups" or "sweeps" conducted by the National Guard on the mainland. Some of those caught up in the sweeps, it is alleged, are summarily sentenced by police night judges before they have time to consult an attorney or prepare their defense. (See Chapter IV, Due process) Others who are being held in the Model Jail pending investigation, trial, o sentencing, are allegedly sent to Coiba to complement the work force.
During its visit to the penal colony on the Island of Coiba, the IACHR received, in an official briefing, the following information:
The responsibilities of the Director of the penal colony involve the supervision of his National Guard Staff, the Penal Section and the Plan Coiba. The Penal Section includes a social worker, a health center, and a series of shops and programs related to rehabilitation: mechanics shop, literacy program, cobbler's shop, wood shop metal working, tailoring, a tannery, and the production and processing of copra.
The Plan Coiba, for which the Director is also responsible, was formulated by the Government of Panama for the purpose of boosting the island's economy and making the penal colony self-supporting. This development plan includes the raising of cattle, chickens, and pigs, and the production of wood, honey, rice and other grains. The Special Commission was informed by prison officials that the penal colony is already self-supporting and that the monies received from the government for the maintenance of each prisoner are, consequently, invested in the economic development of the island.
At the time of the Commission's visit to Coiba, there were 816 prisoners on the island. Of this number, 175 were being held during investigation of their case. When queried by a member of the Special Commission whether unsentenced prisoners are forced to work, one officer replied: "There is no law in Panama that gives unsentenced prisoners the right to refuse to work. They all work voluntarily." According to prison officials, seventy-five per cent of the prisoners work without remuneration. Those who do receive a salary are not selected on the basis of whether they have been sentenced, but rather on the basis of their particular skills as mechanics, machine operators, carpenters, and drivers, etc.
Prisoners who were interviewed by members of the Commission and its staff felt that many arrests and internments in Coiba were related to the need for a larger work force at various times of the year. They said that anyone who refuses to work is either beaten until he agrees or is thrown into a hole known as the sótano, where he sleeps on the ground and is kept in total darkness until he decides to cooperate. The Special Commission was unable to ascertain the truth of the latter assertion.
The Commission concludes that forced and unremunerated labor is required or unsentenced detainees and that the economic goals of the Government act as an incentive to maintain a sufficient work force. However, it has no evidence to support allegations that forced labor is used for the personal profit of prison officials.
The Personal Security and Integrity of Prisoners
1. In addition to the declaration of the right of every human being to life, liberty and the security of his person (Article I), the American Declaration takes special note, in Article XXV, of the right of the prisoner to "humane treatment while he is in custody."
2. The Panamanian Constitution of 1972 recognizes this right in Article 27: [The prison system is based on principles of security, rehabilitation and social protection. The application of measures injurious to the physical, mental or moral integrity of prisoners is prohibited."
3. The IACHR has received allegations of torture and other physical mistreatment of both political and non-political prisoners. Among the methods of torture cited were beatings with fists and rubber hoses, electrical shocks to sensitive parts of the body, simulated executions, and sexual abuse in the case of female prisoners. Most of the incidents denounced to the Commission indicate that any torture or physical abuse is generally limited to the period of interrogation following an arrest. The Commission has found no evidence of institutionalized torture during the period of incarceration following sentencing.
Cases of persons who died allegedly as a result of torture or beatings were mentioned previously in this chapter under "The Right to Life". Other alleged instances of torture or mistreatment are presented as follows in two categories --political and non-political.
4. Individual Cases: Political Prisoners
a. Aragón, Leopoldo
Leopoldo Aragón, a Panamanian journalist who had been working abroad, returned to establish his residence in Panama in 1971. He set up "Interpress Service", wrote articles for the local press, and developed a daily news analysis program on Radio Impacto. In August 1972, he was arrested by the G-2 (Intelligence) of the National Guard on his arrival from a short assignment to Mexico. The tortures he allegedly suffered during this imprisonment are described in the following excerpts from the testimony of his wife, Rose Marie, before the Foreign Relations Committee of the United States Senate on October 12, 1977:
At last the doors of the prison opened for me and I talked with my husband after more than four weeks. He had been kept incommunicado for four weeks while tortures were inflicted upon him, which he later told us were:
. . . "blows with a rubber hose; first blows to stomach and chest,"
. . . "long questioning under strong lights without sleep,"
. . . "electric shocks to the vital parts of the body, the ears, genital organs and the anus" that made him feel his insides were bursting,
. . . "hanging by the wrists and acted out executions with blank cartridges" so that each time he did not know whether he was alive or dead.
Aragón was held prisoner in Coiba for two years and upon his release was sent into exile in Sweden where he later immolated himself.
Diamantino, Maria Rita da Conceicao
1) The pertinent parts of the communication received by the IACHR are as follows:
On April 24 of the current year (1976), there was detained in a
Hotel of the city of Panama, hours after having arrived in the country, coming from Miami, Florida, the United States, the Brazilian tourist and citizen MARIA RITA DA CONCEICAO DIAMANTINO. She was then taken to the offices of the G-2, Secret Intelligence Service of the National guard, where she was savagely tortured with blows and electric shocks, in addition to being deprived of food and water, and being subjected to prolonged interrogations and forced to sign false declarations.
2) The IACHR has received testimony which tends to corroborate the allegations of physical mistreatment in this case.
3) Other aspects of this case will be considered under Chapter Four, "The Right to Due process and a Fair Trial".
Méndez, Nat, Jr.
One communication accused the Government of employing torture in the Cases of Nat Méndez, Jr., Fernando Ayala, and Francisco Mata (August 29-September 7, 1971) who had been arrested for paining signs accusing the Government of complicity in the disappearance of Father Héctor Gallego. The IACHR, during its on-site visit, was able to determine that allegations of the use of a bone-crushing machine and electrical shocks in the case of Nat Méndez Jr. were unjustified. The Commission has not been able to confirm the alleged use of electrical shock or other tortures in the cases of Fernando Ayala and Francisco Mata.
d. Poore, Antonio
The following allegation is taken from a published version of a statement sworn to by Anthony Keith Poore before a notary public in Miami, Florida, on September 16, 1976. The pertinent parts are transcribed as follows:
On January 20, 1976, the Revolutionary Government deported and expatriated fourteen (14) persons to Ecuador for alleged subversive activities. I was arrested on Wednesday, January 21, 1976, while participating in a Rally held in protest of the expulsion from the country of my employer, Mr. I. Roberto Eisenmann, Jr. This was peaceful demonstration and there was no violence or threats made or used. I was held by the secret police (G-2 Section) of the National Guard headed by strongman, General Omar Torrijos, for questioning.
On the day of my arrest I was handcuffed and taken to the G-2 Section for "questioning". I immediately requested the right to communicate with my attorney; this was denied.
During the several hours of questioning, Poore was allegedly threatened with execution on repeated occasions and was clubbed on the back, head and shoulders. After this session, Poore relates that his eyes were taped and he was taken in a car to another location where a mock execution was carried out:
Then someone came up to where I had been seated and asked me if I was familiar with weapons. I said I was and he then started to dry-fire a revolver next to my ear. I was then asked if I could identify the sound. I said I could, and was then told to lean further forward. The weapon was placed on my left temple and I heard the hammer go back. "If you do not sign a statement admitting to what we have asked you, you will be shot." I felt strangely sleepy and could not concentrate. I kept thinking of how could go to sleep. I felt a blow along the right side of my head, which brought me back to reality. "Answer me." A voice screamed, and again I was struck. My ears were ringing and I had lost all feeling in my arms. The handcuffs had cut the circulation and there was acute swelling of the wrists. "I have nothing to tell." I repeated, and waited for the next blow. It did not come. Again I was left alone.
Poore was later taken to the Cárcel Modelo where he was allegedly tortured with electrical shock: "I was to undergo electrical shock which was administered on several occasions. This consisted of a 12-volt car battery and two cables. I was prodded under the arms, on my nipples and in the groin and crotch area. Faces became blurred and I remember little else."
Poore was then deported on a Lan Chile flight to Buenos Aires, Argentina: "On take off the flight attendants who up to that time were told not to interfere, came up to where I had been placed and together with some passengers helped me into a makeshift bed. Slept through most of the ten hour flight and on reaching Buenos Aires could walk unaided."
The Commission has been unable to make direct contact with Mr. Poore, and therefore, withholds its judgement in this case.
e. Marchosky, Eusebio
According to testimony received by the Commission, at approximately 10 p.m., on September 15, 1976, Eusebio Marchosky, accompanied by his wife, Blanca, and a friend, Fulvia Morales was returning from the Canal Zone to Panama City when his car was curbed by a car containing National Guardsmen. Mr. Marchosky was forced to change cars; his wife and Mrs. Morales were arrested and they were transported in his car, which was commandeered by the Guardsmen.
He was taken to the headquarters of G-2, where he was led into a dark room, forced to lean with his forehead against the wall and his hands on the back of his neck while he was beaten on the arms, abdomen and head with a rubber hose by Captain Madriñán Nivaldo. After being taken to the Model Jail where he spent the night on the floor, he was returned to G-2 where he was beaten in the stomach by one of the guards before being placed again against the wall and kept there until that night. He was taken to a window to see his wife being led from the building and was told that he would never see her again.
After being held for three days, with only one cup of coffee during that time, he was taken to Tocumen Airport and sent into exile. Before his release, the National Guard arrested Mr. Marchosky's brother, whom they allegedly beat up and held for about a week after Marchosky's departure.
Testimony of Common Prisoners with regard to Torture
The testimony of a number of prisoners in various detention centers tends to corroborate allegations that prisoners accused of common crimes are, in some cases, forced to confess or sign other declarations by use of tactics such as the following:
1) holding the prisoner incommunicado for an indeterminate time;
2) physical beatings of male or female prisoners, most often with a rubber hose;
3) threats to rape female prisoners and actual fondling of their private parts;
4) subjecting them to long interrogation periods while depriving them of rest, sleep, food or water.
The Special Commission investigated these allegations in the cities of Panama and David. In the latter city, members of the Special Commission interviewed the head of DENI and one of the persons accused of torture by inmates in the local jail. As a result of these inquiries the Commission concludes that the above charges are substantiated.
Complaints of Conditions in Coiba
A number of complainants provided the Commission with copies of a personal account of conditions in Coiba written by Leopoldo Aragón, a political prisoner who was held in Coiba in the period 1971-73. His manuscript, entitled "Inhuman Slave-Labor practices for Personal Profit in Coiba Island" and written in 1977, describes what he terms one of the most bestial practices in Coiba, the rustling of the prisoners from the jetty to the Central yard":
There on the beach, the other prisoners were running like cattle under the whippings and savage cries of the guards. These were swinging their clubs hitting the prisoners at a gallop, prodding them to run faster. They would run ahead of them, among them and from behind, hitting and whipping in a happy, demoniacal frenzy. If someone fell, several of the guards would converge on him, kick him, whip him, beat him and scream louder or drag him until he was on his feet and sprinted like crazy the remainder of the 300 yard distance.
At the yard other guards would be waiting also with whips and clubs. They'd take up where their colleagues had let off. Like in a relay run, the new "sprinters" would let go with fresh sharpness, this time for the "Body inspection", as they call it. This consists of making the prisoners take off their clothes under a hail of whippings, clubbing kicking, barking orders, guttural screamings and foul cussing, all at one in a melee of confusion and demential excitement.
Aragón emphasizes "the brutal physical and moral abuse of the prisoners" in Coiba. He lists as common punishments in addition to beatings hanging by the wrists from a tree branch, being shackled to a thorny midget palm tree, and being tied on top of ant tunnels. One prisoner was allegedly tied on the ground, and a tree was felled on top of him, breaking his back. The Captain refused to allow a light plane to take him to a hospital on the mainland, and the prisoner died after some five hours of agony. According to his narrative, Indians on the mainland were rewarded with sacks of rice for killing two escaped prisoners.
He portrays general living conditions as unhealthy. Food is said to be insufficient and basically starchy, and medical facilities are woefully inadequate. There is no doctor on the island --only a male nurse. Working hours are "not excessive", though the type of work is described as "hard in extreme, requiring pure physical strength".
Another former prisoner, in a letter to the Commission, described the typical diet as consisting of coffee or tea and a piece of bread for breakfast, bean soup, rice and bread for lunch, and soup and bread for dinner. He noted that no doctors were available, medical treatment was inadequate and said that "most of the inmates are beaten with sticks by the guards continually".
The general nature of these complaints is supported by a published report submitted by another complainant which cites the conclusions of a study done by the university representatives to the High Commission on Penitentiary Reform (Comisión de Alto Nivel de Reforma Penitenciaria) in 1976: "The system of discipline on the Island of Coiba is characterized by the lack of respect for the person of the prisoner, the ill-treatment that is given in the penal colony and punishment as a form of prevention and guaranteeing discipline."
The study pointed out the shortcomings in the proportionment of food, the lack of a balanced and nutritious diet, and the lack of appropriate clothing for the work done by the prisoners. The law students who prepared the study noted also that they had been informed by the prisoners that "the excellent and abundant agricultural and livestock production of the island is used for the benefit of the National Guard and not that of the prisoners." The students emphasized, according to this report, the "subhuman hygienic conditions" in which the prisoners live. In some camps there are no latrines and body wastes pollute the water supply. They insisted, also, that medical attention is inadequate and that the infirmary, run by a prisoner, lacked the necessary instruments and medications to cover emergency situations.
D. Observations of the Special Commission at Various Detention Centers
1) The Prison Colony in Coiba
The Special Commission visited the main camp of the island and a second camp nearby. Members of the Commission and its staff held private interviews with groups of prisoners as well as individuals. The prisoners did not seem undernourished, though this does not necessarily mean that they were receiving a proper diet. Prison authorities claimed that meat or fish was served daily; prisoners said they received meat once or twice a week.
The colony's rehabilitation program includes a small school, training in metal work and carpentry, shoe repair and tanning. Movies are shown on a regular basis, and a small library is available to the prisoners.
Because of the open spaces and clean air, the conditions at the main camp seem more healthy than those at the Model jail in Panama City. However, prisoners have also complained of the allegedly insalubrious areas where the agricultural work is done and clearings are made.
The prisoners also complained of inadequate medical attention. Though there is a dispensary on the island, there is no doctor, only a male nurse. Some prisoners reported that medicines which have been prescribed to them either before they came or after arriving are not available.
There are no separate facilities for first offenders who, along with those awaiting investigation or trial, are quartered with hardened criminals.
Some prisoners alleged that they are subject to cruel and arbitrary punishments. (see the cases of Floyd Britton and Cecilio Hazlewood Mitchell). Informed of the case by other prisoners, the Commission interviewed one prisoner who was allegedly shot in the arm as punishment after having been recapture following an attempt to escape.
The Commission also received numerous allegations that prisoners in Coiba are kept in ignorance with regard to the progress of their individual cases, and often, of sentences handed down against them.
2) The Model Jail (Cárcel Modelo) in Panama City
The most striking thing about the Model Jail in Panama City (built more than 50 years ago) is the degree of overcrowding. The Commission was able to observe as many as 15 or more prisoners in cells meant for 2 or 3. According to prisoners, the 2 or 3 bunks attached to the walls are distributed on the basis of seniority. The other occupants of the cell sleep on the cement floors.
As in other jails in Panama, those accused for the first time of robbery, drug traffic, or murder, are placed together with convicted criminals. Homosexuals are segregated and live in significantly better surroundings with individual beds. They are charged with the washing and ironing of the guards' uniforms.
There was no rehabilitation program, or workshops, and the "library" is hardly worthy of the name.
3) The Jail in David
This jail suffers from overcrowding, and hygienic conditions are in urgent need of improvement. One toilet serves some 180 prisoners. Persons accused for the first time, but not tried, are quartered with sentenced criminals.
In general, the prisoners informed the Special Commission that they had not suffered physical mistreatment at the hands of the prison authorities. However, they did mention beatings suffered at the National Department of Investigations (DENI) at the time of interrogation.
The Women's Rehabilitation Center (Panama City
When women are arrested during the night, they are held, after questioning, in a special room in the Model Jai. Until they can be transferred to the Women's Rehabilitation Center (Centro Femenino de Rehabilitación). The room where they spend that night (and according to some female prisoners, where they may be held several days and nights) has a number of cots with no mattresses or bed-clothing. Prisoners are expected to sleep on the bare springs, if at all.
Whenever they are transferred to the Women's Rehabilitation Center, their conditions improve considerably. The Center is run primarily by nuns, with the supervision of a prison official.
The Women's Rehabilitation Center was one of the best organized and cleanest prisons the members of the Special Commission had seen anywhere. The inmates are divided according to the type of crime committed and are housed, for the most part, in individual, hexagon-shaped, one story units which have cookstoves, beds, and other furniture, including television sets. The units are well painted and clean, inside and out, and are well distributed in a tranquil and pleasant setting of grass, trees and shrubbery. The prisoners themselves appeared well dressed, healthy and in good spirits.
There were no complaints of mistreatment by Center officials; however, there were complaints that women prisoners are taken from the Center by National Guard Officers, ostensibly for questioning, and are sexually abused.
Mistreatment of Detained Student Protesters
The physical punishment of student protesters was denounced in a communication to the IACHR which presented as evidence the letter of the Rev. Fernando Guardia Jaén, S.J., published in October 1976, in Senda, the monthly magazine of the Archdiocese of Panama, which is under his direction. The pertinent parts of that letter are as follows:
On September 20th, a few hundred students,--some say 800, others say between a thousand and two thousand--took the streets in a peaceful demonstration. They were protesting the high cost of living and were asking for a general increase in salaries. They marched, it is true, in disregard of the express prohibitio0n of public demonstrations.
The National Guard turned out to disrupt the demonstration. The means employed was violent. They punished the students systematically and deliberately. Certainly they intended to teach everyone a lesson, making victims of many of those who were simply passing by.
. . . the students' hair was cut against their will.
They took prisoners at least 150. They had about 80 of them standing, with their arms crossed, exposed to the elements, from five in the afternoon until eight in the morning. Another group, arrested in the afternoon, was held under the same circumstances, from approximately seven at night until eight in the morning. In all that time they did not eat anything. At that hour they were led to the dining hall, where after breakfast there was a "Seminar of Political Preparation".
American Convention on Human Rights
4. Right to Life
Every person has the right to have his life respected.
This right shall be protected by law and, in general, from the moment
of conception. No one shall be
arbitrarily deprived of his life.
In countries that have not abolished the death penalty, it may be
imposed only for the most serious crimes and pursuant to a final judgement
rendered by a competent court and in accordance with a law establishing such
punishment, enacted prior to the commission of the crime.
The application of such punishment shall not be extended to crimes to
which it does not presently apply.
death penalty shall not be reestablished in states that have abolished it.
In no case shall capital punishment be inflicted for political
offenses or related common crimes.
Capital punishment shall not be imposed upon persons who, at the time
the crime was committed, were under 18 years of age or over 70 years of age;
nor shall it be applied to pregnant women.
Every person condemned to death shall have the right to apply for
amnesty, pardon, or conmutation of sentence, which may be granted in all
cases. Capital punishment shall
not be imposed while such a petition is pending decision by the competent
The Government of Panama has ratified the I.L.O. Convention (No. 29)
Concerning Forced Labor (1930) and the I.L.O. Convention (No. 105)
concerning the Abolition of Forced Labor (25th June 1957).
Under Article 1 of the Convention Concerning
Forced Labor, each Member of the I.L.O. which ratifies the Convention
"undertakes to suppress the use of forced or compulsory labour in all
its forms within the shortest possible period."
For the purposes of the Convention the term
forced or compulsory labor "shall mean all work or service which is
exacted from any person under the menace of any penalty and for which the
said person has not offered himself voluntarily."
(Article 2, paragraph one).
Article 2, paragraph 2, goes on to clarify
that, for the purposes of the Convention, "the term forced or
compulsory labour shall not include…© any work or service exacted from
any person as a consequence of a conviction in a court of law, provided that
the said work or service is carried out under the supervision and control of
a public authority and that the said person is not hired to or placed at the
disposal of private individuals, companies or associations."
Article One of the I.L.O. Convention Concerning
the Abolition of Forced Labor (1975) defines the obligations of its members
"Each member of the International Labor
Organization which ratifies this Convention undertakes to supress and not to
make use of any form of forced or compulsory labour--
As means of political coercion or education or as a punishmebnt for
holding or expressing political views or views ideologically opposed to the
established political, social or economic system;
As a method of mobilizing and using labour for purposes of economic
As a means of labour discipline;
As a punishment for having participated in strikes;
As a means of racial, social, national or religious
Each ratifying Membr undertakes "to take
effective measures to secure the immediate and complete abolition of forced
or compulsory labour as specified in Article I of this Convention."
American Convention on Human Rights
Freedom from Slavery
No one shall be subject to slavery or to involuntary servitude, which
are prohibited in all their forms, as are the slave trade and traffic in
No one shall be required to perform forced or compulsory labor.
This provision shall not be interpreted to mean that, in those
countries in which the penalty established for certain crimes is deprivation
of liberty at forced labor, the carrying out of such a sentence imposed by a
competent court is prohibited. Forced
labor shall not adversely affect the dignity or the physical or intellectual
capacity of the prisoner.
For the purposes of this article, the following do not constitute
forced or compulsory labor:
work or service normally required of a person imprisoned in execution
of a sentence or
decision passed by the competent judicial authority.
Such work or service shall be carried out under the supervision and
control of public authorities, and any persons performing such work or
service shall not be placed at the disposal of any private party, company or
. . .
 American Convention on Human Rights
Right to Humane Treatment
Every person has the right to have his physical, mental and moral
No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman, or
degrading punishment or treatment. All
persons deprived of their liberty shall be treated with respect for the
inherent dignity of the human person.
Punishment shall not be extended to any person other than the
Accused persons shall, save in exceptional circumstance, be
segregated from convicted persons, and shall be subject to separate
treatment appropriate to their status as unconvicted persons.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Punishments consisting of deprivation of liberty shall have as an
essential aim the reform and social readaptation of the prisoners.