Dr. Miguel Antonio Bernal, accompanied by a multitude of supporters and a swarm of media representatives, entered the University of Panama premises, marched on to the law faculty and gave a class on constitutional law. This was remarkable, because Bernal had been suspended from the university for five years by the academic council, headed by the institution's self-proclaimed rector "magnifico", Gustavo Garcia de Paredes.
BACK TO THE MILITARY DAYS
Bernal, as loyal readers will know, has a long track record of human rights activism dating back to even before the dictatorship days. When the military took power, he was exiled - twice. In between he organized protests and strikes, published an underground opposition paper, hosted a radio show, and once collected literally a truckload of dollar cents to pay a fine he was given by the dictatorial regime - an initiative that became known as centavos para la dignidad. He was almost beaten to death by Torrijos' thugs when protesting the arrival of the deposed shah of Iran. Bernal is incorruptible and will not, under any circumstance, shut up in the face of injustice.
His confrontations with the rector "magnificus" date back a long time. When the country was under the rule of general Omar Torrijos, who had seized power in 1968 while being drunk, Bernal co-organized a teacher strike. The strike was about pay and working conditions, but also against having to live under military rule. The minister of education at the time was Gustavo Garcia de Paredes. Bernal won.
Since over a decade, Bernal has been denouncing, often in words that left nothing to be desired in terms of clarity, irregularities, corruption and incompetence in the University of Panama, headed by this same former education minister Garcia de Paredes.
NAMING STREETS AFTER HIMSELF
Gustavo Garcia de Paredes is a fraud. He obtained his "doctorate" during the military days through some shady Panama-Spain diploma mill which operated during the Franco days, without ever having published any scientific work whatsoever, let alone a dissertation. To this day, his only publication has been an introduction in a booklet about the game of domino. This has not stopped him from naming streets after himself on the university campus in honor of his own accomplishments. Add to that that despite significant budgets allocated to the university, the place is a mess. Studying spaces are not being maintained, equipment - if present at all - is not working or goes missing, there are all kinds of schemes to grant concessions for copy shops and food stalls and what not.
Because of the constant denunciations filed by Bernal and others, the comptroller's office finally started an official audit of Garcia de Paredes' tenure today.
That may or may not include attempts to get some clarity on what happened years ago, when it turned out that students had received diplomas from the rector "magnifico" without having met the academic requirements necessary - an old practice dating back to the dictatorship days as well.
(UPDATE: This might be a good time to remember that Mr. Garcia de Paredes about 10 years ago filed a criminal complaint against your reporter as well, for crimes against the honor of the rector "maginifico" when we wrote about the the fake diploma shenanigans at the University of Panama. The case was dismissed.)
The so-called "disciplinary process" against Bernal is over ten years old. Last week, after the Supreme Court rejected some of Bernal's objections against the process, the rector convened the "academic council" and had them decide to suspend Bernal for five years. Bernal then, undaunted, organized the event that took place this morning and intends to continue to teach classes no matter what.
NOTHING IS EVER WHAT IT SEEMS IN PANAMA: CROOKS AND XENOPHOBES
This may look to you like a clear case of a third world pompous ass trying to shut down those voices who oppose his fraudulent shenanigans. But it isn't, really, no matter what civil society, such as it is, and the media say.
For starters, the law faculty at the University of Panama is headed by one Gilberto Boutin, an acquaintance of Bernal. He has impressive academic credentials (Sorbonne), but is a crook, with a surprising number of people around him having mysteriously disappeared over the years, together with vast amounts of money. Given how vocal Bernal has been about the schemes of Gustavo Garcia de Paredes, it is all the more surprising that he has never uttered a word about the less than stellar track record of the dean of his own law faculty.
Then, Miguel Antonio Bernal has been one of the authors of the crusade against Crisol de Razas, the program that legalized - without the need for a lawyer - the status of undocumented immigrants who had been in Panama for years. In what was apparently an orchestrated campaign, Bernal and a lawyer called Evans Loo filed a complaint against the program at the Supreme Court, while legislator Zulay Rodriguez, a former corrupt judge, started spouting venomous xenophobic bile while defending her law proposal to end the program, showing racist reggaeton videos in the National Assembly and causing a row with the Colombian government when she called Colombians "scum" and accused them of "importing crime and poverty."
While Zulay performed her show, Bernal went out on the Twitters and mingled with an increasing number of what we have dubbed the bananazis, who spend their days tweeting - with Bernal approvingly retweeting - about "Panama for the Panamanians" and how they demand "respect" and "gratitude" from foreign scum and criminals who should face deportation should they dare to "criticize" Panama or its inhabitants.
We don't know about you, but we do have an issue with constitutional law and human rights being taught at the highest educational institution in the country by someone who has extremely nationalist and xenophobic tendencies.
With his support for the xenophobe battalions, Bernal has become a caricature of himself, someone who wishes upon others the same miserable fate he is undergoing himself; shutting down critical - immigrant - voices while complaining about how he is being shut down, approving expulsion of foreigners while he is being expelled, and so on. The reasons for this moral demise are probably better left to psychologists to explore, but the déconfiture is not pretty to watch.
So that, unfortunately, is the reality of the Bernal versus Garcia de Paredes fight: The emperor may wear no clothes, but Bernal isn't very well dressed either.