Powerful Panamanians Conspire to Smear Local Editor

October 26, 1999 — CPJ is alarmed about a defamation campaign being waged against Gustavo Gorriti, the Peruvian-born associate editor of the leading Panama City daily La Prensa.

Earlier this month, a mysterious organization called the “Committee for Freedom of Expression in Panama” put up posters all around Panama City that showed Gorriti’s face with the slogan, “Get to know the assassin of press freedom in Panama.” While a labor dispute at the newspaper is the catalyst for the latest attacks, many powerful Panamanians resent Gorriti because of his hard-hitting investigative journalism.

Gorriti, a Peruvian national, has been branded as a foreign spy and as “an unreliable person predisposed to treason.” The irrational, xenophobic tone of the attacks has led many, including CPJ, to fear for Gorriti’s safety.

The campaign against Gustavo Gorriti apparently started after La Prensapublished a series of articles in early August, revealing highly suspicious links between Panamanian Attorney General José Antonio Sossa, two U.S. drug traffickers, a former U.S. citizen named Marc Harris who is now a naturalized Panamanian, and local lawyer Carlos Jones. La Prensareported that Harris was doing business with the drug traffickers; that Jones had carried out several illicit transactions on behalf of Harris; and that Sossa had refused to comply with an FBI request to investigate links between Harris and the drug traffickers.

Since then, according to La Prensa,other Panamanian journalists have been offered money to write negative articles about the paper. Sossa, whose alleged corruption has frequently been covered by La Prensa,publicly accuses Gorriti of waging “a campaign of loss of prestige and lies” against him. And the Independent Lawyers’ Association, which is headed by Jones, has declared Gorriti a persona non grataand asked him to leave the country. Jones himself has been quoted in the local press as saying “Gorriti is more than a journalist, he’s an infiltrated agent disguised as a journalist.”

In a October 15 television interview, Gorriti accused Sossa and Harris of orchestrating the campaign, along with Nicolás González Revilla, the cousin of former President Ernesto Pérez Balladares. Both have been on the receiving end of La Prensa’sinvestigative reporting.

Click here to read La Prensa.