PANAMA SLAMMED IN UN REPORT
When minister of government and justice Raul Mulino uttered racist comments about Somali victims of human trafficking who had washed ashore in Panama, it was largely treated as a singular incident. But what he said, "Son personas con diferencias de todo tipo que no tienen nada que hacer aquí", is in fact typical for the attitude of Panama's largely white elite towards people of color and the indigenous population.
Mulino denied that his comments were racist, but the overwhelming majority, 70%, of the population believes that racism and discrimination are prevalent in our country, according to a poll by Telemetro and El Panama America. The Coordinadora Nacional de Organizaciones Negras Panameñas, an umbrella organization which includes anti-racism activists, filed a report about the situation in Panama with the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) that was earlier published on Hora Cero (Spanish) and that lists a long list of examples of racist policies and actions by authorities and the business sector.
Young blacks are for example much more likely to be subjected to arbitrary arrest and illegal detention than other groups. Many remain in jail while whites are being released pending trial for the same crime. In Panama, the rule is “blanco que corre es atleta, negro que corre, ladrón” (a white man who runs is an athlete, a black man running is a thief).
Corporations routinely ask for a photo with a job application - which is illegal - and then refuse a black candidate because they don't fit the white bosses' definition of "looking representable". The banking sector as well as other higher end work environments are predominantly white. Advertising hardly ever shows black people.
The activists said that because the government denies the existence of the problem, they refuse to do something about it. Racially motivated crimes are for example not indexed anywhere.
When this reporter exposed how TVN got rid of black news anchor Mayella Lloyd because the station claimed that the audience didn't want a black person reading the news, members of Panama's elite, notably one Juan Ramon Vallarino J., a lawyer with some popularity among the American expatriate community, defended TVN's racist policy as "a legitimate business decision". This, like Mulino's remarks about the Somali people, accurately reflects how the elite sees the race issue in our country.
Meanwhile, the CERD has published a report in which it slams Panama for racist policies towards the indigenous population which sees its rights routinely violated by for example evictions of whole communities - men, women and children - with help from riot police from lands where they have been living for generations. The Nasos people were thrown off their land and had their houses destroyed by the police on behalf of a cattle rancher who claimed title to the land. Other communities have been destroyed because of hydroelectric dams being constructed by local or foreign corporations.
The Commission is also alarmed by the fact that racial discrimination is not even a crime in Panama. But with a minister of government and justice who is a blatant racist himself, we won't hold our breath for that to change.