When does a negative attack advertisement become a a smear campaign? It’s an issue bedeviling the local political scene only two weeks after high level members of the ruling party advocated peace and civility.
In the eye of the storm is tourism manager Soloman Shama, the man behind a Democratic Change (CD) TV commercial campaign largely aimed at former ally Vice President Juan Carlos Navarro, and the man widely believed to be the sharp end of election dirty tricks with the aid of US Republican advisors.
The latest flare up, raising concerns among civil rights groups and business organizations comes after the revelation by the former Director of Labour, Ada Romero, that video clips used in a commercial alluding to Varela and his family company, Varela Hermanos, were taken by the Ministry of Labour during an office inspection.
Romero said on Telemetro Report that she received a call from the Secretary General of the Ministry asking the staff member who had filmed the video to deliver it to Shamah the man in charge of the ad campaign.
Shamah’s response to the media was that they “should focus on the core issue, which is that Juan Carlos Varela was not paying the minimum wage."
Meanwhile there are warnings that the long standing patience of Panamanian citizens is wearing thin.
The Ministry of Labour, said that the entity is responsible for ensuring compliance of the minimum wage and that the minimum wage is not subject to negotiation and that state officials make constant inspections to ensure compliance .
A press release said : "In the case of the company Varela Hermanos, SA, inspections by our staff, from February 10, 2012 to date, were the result of attention to the claims presented by workers in the industrial and administrative area of the company, these claims were ratified by the union through a list of claims alleging breach of the collective agreement and not paying the minimum wage established by law"
During the inspection a video was taken by a Ministry staff member
The general coordinator of the Front for Democracy, Mariano Mena , said, "This is a practice that this government has put in place, which is totally disastrous, because a video can be used for political reasons, and because they are endangering the job security of workers who are involved in the video."
He stressed that it is wrong for official information to be used to take political advantage or to condemn a person or entity.
“The claims arose, and the situation with the ministry is just because the union made a claim and presents a list of demands a statement that could have ended in a general strike at the Varela company. That is the reason why the Ministry learned of the conflict. That does not mean that I am defending Mr. Varela, but in this case, the Ministry addressed the issue of minimum wage, I have not seen that they have done the same with other businesses.”
Magaly Castillo , executive director of the Citizens Alliance for Justice, said it is very delicate to use the resources of the Ministry of Labor to pursue or affect a political opponent. "That should not happen with any state institution," she said.
Carlos Acuña Gasnell , of the Panamanian chapter of Transparency International also reacted to the claim of the former director of Labour. "Public goods can only be used for public purposes. If the assertion of the official is true, there should be an investigation into improper use of state assets by officials of Mitradel."
Gasnell, added: “What concerns us most is the lack of regulation of smear campaigns outside the election period … This should be regulated in the Electoral Code, as we understand that broadcasters cannot refuse to transmit the attacks" he said
The Chamber of Commerce, Industries and Agriculture of Panama considered the use of the video unacceptable.
Panamenista Deputy Luis Eduardo Quirós speaking in the National Assembly on Thursdays, July 12 said the clip from the Ministry of Labour a smear campaign to attack politically and personally Vice President, Varela.
Quiros said the difference between a smear campaign and a negative campaign. The negative is one in which " they have doubts and confront an opponent’s authenticity, or they are looking for contradictions, to see if the target is or is not consistent in what he does.”
The dirty campaign he said: “seeks to destroy both personally and politically ..The smear campaign, ," is generally using the lie. "
He, said that in order to attack, destroy and damage, in the dirty campaign usesillegal and sometimes amoral means. "Therefore, this campaign which is allegedly using film documentation of the Ministry of works to do harm, is a smear campaign," he said.
The National Assembly president, Sergio Galvez a militant CD member who represents El Chorillo when approached on the subject, said "this is part of our political life "The campaigns sometimes have a dirty side and some things are policy"
Information systems expert James Porcell says that the clips and propaganda war that is taking place in the country is part of politics “This does not mean you should let it continue”
Porcell notes that during the entire period of the attacks back and forth through various media, the patience of the Panamanian population has been "disproportionate", but over time these negative ads will create tensions, psychological and domestic. "
When that happens, he adds, there is a risk that the saturated citizens will resort to "a way that runs counter to social peace."