PANAMA Since the founding of La Prensa 17 years ago, all the reports presented to the Inter American Press Association on press freedom in Panama have emphasized the existence of abundant and sometimes confusing legislation seriously affecting the media and the practice of journalism. These include measures giving the interior and justice ministers power to impose penalties through administrative process, without guarantees provided by normal legal process. Other regulations empower municipal or provincial officials to stop the distribution of any media they consider detrimental to public order. The measures allow government officials to decide what is "suitable" and contain ambiguous regulations that set criminal penalties for libel and defamation, as well as what are called crimes against the state and the national economy. All these measures have been applied at one time or another, and many of them have served as a pretext for shutting down newspapers and other actions of constant harrassment against media not in favor with the government. President Ernesto Perez Baljadares has pledged to ask the legislature once again to repeal these laws. However, one of these laws, number 67 of 1978, was used to justify the refusal to renew the work permit of journalist Gustavo Gorriti, opening the door to deportation proceedings. Chronology of the Gorriti Case: On July 3, 1996, the Labor Ministry granted a work permit to Gustavo Gorriti "in his capacity as a foreign journalist" to work as an associate editor at La Prensa. On July 31, 1997, Labor Minister Mitchel Doens refused to renew Gorriti's work permit, basing his decision on the 1972 Labor Code. Doens contended that there were enough Panamanian graduates of the University of Panama Journalism School to fill the job. On August 6, 1997, lawyers for La Prensa present appeal the minister's decision not to grant Gorriti further permission to work. On August 7, 1997, the Interior Ministry declared that Gorriti "must leave country no later than August 28." On August 8, the Panamanian government for the first time invoked law 67 of 1978 to justify the communique issued by the Interior Ministry's national media director, which stated that the post held by Gustavo Gorriti in La Prensa could only be filled by Panamanians. On August 8, the Presidency issued a communique declaring that the Immigration Department "will cancel" Gorriti's visa and "inviting him to move to the country of his choice" or be deported. Between August 1 and 10, several news media, and free-press and human rights organizations protested the government decision. Among them were the IAPA Committee on the Freedom of the Press and Information, Foreign Correspondents Association of Panama, Forum of Journalists for Freedom of Expression in Panama, Latin American Center for Journalism (CELAP), Committee for the Protection of Journalists, Inter-American Human Rights Institute, Human Rights Watch/Americas, Journalists Without Borders, International Federation of Journalists and National Journalists Association of Peru. Practically all the opposition political parties in Panama joined in condemning the government's stance and offered their support to La Prensa and Gustavo Gorriti. Their protest was echoed by such prominent personalities as writers John Le Carre and Mario Vargas Llosa. On August 15,1997, Human Rights Watch/Americas and the Center for Justice and International Law, in representation of Gustavo Gorriti, presented a formal complaint to the OAS Inter-American Human Rights Commission in Washington. On August 18, the Commission asked the Panamanian government to suspend Gorriti's deportation until it could study the case further. On August 27,1997, lawyers for La Prensa file a litigous and administrative human rights writ the Supreme Court against the labor minister's decision. The next day, they went on to file a further writ, seeking guarantees of due process in the Gorriti case. The writ was dismissed after immigration officials declared that they would observe all the necessary steps in the deportation process. On August 27, the labor minister refused to reconsider the matter, as requested by La Prensa lawyers. On August 27, the IAPA called on President Perez Balladares not to deport Gorriti and also appealed to the Supreme Court Chief Justice to overrule the labor minister's refusal to grant a work permit. Between August 10 and the beginning of September, the case was covered extensively by international media, inkuding The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, Washington Post, The Economist, The Miami Herald, El Pais and El Mundo. On August 14, The Miami Herald reported that "the decision to expel the Peruvian journalist was made after the president's cousin protested that Gorriti's articles got in the way of his efforts to establish a virtual monopoly in Panamanian television." The article mentioned that Perez Balladares had told his ministers that the real reason behind the proposed deportation was knowledge of a conspiracy organized by the Peruvian military to murder the journalist. Perez Balladares argued to his ministers that the journalist was bound to be killed, and that must not happen in Panama. The same day, La Prensa founder Roberto Eisenmann reported the same information locally. On August 25, a commission of Peruvian congressmen arrived in Panama to intercede in Gorriti's favor before Perez Balladares. The group returned to Peru without being able to meet with the president. On August 26, Gorriti's wife and two daughters left the country for reasons of security. On August 27, Gorriti moved into the offices of La Prensa, to await the outcome of the deportation order. Political party leader and prominent local figures came by La Prensa to express their solidarity. The scheduled deportation did not take place. On September 6, after the government assured Gorriti that he would receive due process in the deportation proceedings, he moved out of La Prensa and returned home. On September 19, immigration officers handed Gorriti his deportation order. The journalist filed a writ of appeal, which was rejected the following day. Within the legally specified time, Gorriti appealed to the Interior Ministry. La Prensa lawyers challenged the constitutionality of the measure the Minister of the Interior and Justice was invoking to deny the appeal. The immediate effect of this warning was to remove the Minister from jurisdiction over the case until the Supreme Court rules on the challenge. On October 15, the Labor Minister issued a work permit to Gorriti enabling him to work for La Prensa as a journalist and his migratory status thus began to be put in order. La Prensa and Human Rights Watch/Americas immediately praised the government action, which resolved the tortuous conflict.