Think about the labor unions in general and SUNTRACS in particular what you want, but they are the only opposition forces in this country that actually get things done. Forget the environmental groups, the Civic Pro-Justice Alliance, Transparency International and what have you. It were the banana plantation workers who made all the sacrifices, literally risked their lives and brought the government down on its knees. It was when the indigenous people came down from the hills to join the Battle of Bocas that the police had to withdraw.
SUNTRACS leader Sául Méndez isn't slowing down the struggle, and today announced yet another initiative against the corporate interests that threaten the livelihoods of his people: He's taking on the media.
Panama's media are controlled by a small group of families that control most of all economic activity in this country. For these media owners, press freedom equals the freedom to run their economic fiefdoms as they see fit. Watch an hour of Panamanian television and you'll see that everything, including news content, is dominated by commercial interests. Even sports commentators talk more about free cellphone minutes and car insurance than about the actual soccer game. In most media, journalists are encouraged - euphemistically said - to actively find advertisers. The media, like everything else in Panama, are rife with corruption. The majority - yes, the MAJORITY - of radio hosts was secretly paid by the Canal Authority during the campaign for the expansion project, and they never disclosed it. Just a random example. And of course none of our distinguished "journalists" ever wants to touch the subject of corruption in journalism in Panama during endless forum discussions and conferences (we've come to avoid these events like the plague).
So when Bocas del Toro erupted, the media went to do their jobs as they always do: By simulating the truth.
The media directors and owners, having had a meeting with president Martinelli, openly admitted that they had censored the images that were shown to the public, saying that they did so to prevent violence from erupting further. The net result was of course that the myriad of crimes committed by the police were never divulged. By thus protecting the government from public outrage, the media didn't stop, but facilitated ongoing violence and police brutality.
A video with a Red Cross worker denouncing the police for firing teargas grenades into homes was never shown on TV, even though the assembled microphones in the pictures prove the reporters were there.
A video showing the police handcuffing and taking away small children (7 or 8 years old) was never shown on TV, even though the media were there.
Video that exists of the police firing from helicopters at the crowd was never shown on TV.
Sául Méndez, as angry about the media distorting and falsifying the news as we are (we did publish some of the YouTube footage here), has now called upon the good Bocatoreños to give him pictures, cellphone videos, and any other type of imagery, so that the truth can be revealed in a concerted effort.
Méndez understands what many, if not most, activists in Panama don't: That Panama's so-called free press is not our friend, but an enemy. It's an instrument of those who continue to control Panamanian society, not of those who seek to have more democracy, equal rights, and a dignified life. Panama's media serve repression, not progress.
If he pulls this off, it would be an important victory. Just like Panamanians will simply switch to Costa Rican news sources to be informed about the involvement of Martinelli & Co with money laundering and drug trafficking if the Panamanian impostors on Avenida Eisenmann 12 de Octubre are prohibited from investigating; they will as easily switch to YouTube to see what went on in Bocas that Copa Air Canal Motta doesn't want to show us. It'll be citizen journalism at its finest, ordinary people using what they have to bring the truth out in times of crisis, exposing the corporate simulators for the liars they are.
Méndez will have accomplished in about a week what endless conferences, workshops, subsidies, congresses and what have you about "press freedom" haven't accomplished in over a decade. The importance of winning this battle, dear reader, can not be overstated. Maybe all those activists who never accomplish anything can lend a helping hand, for a change.