PANAMA CITY – Management at La Estrella de Panama, one of the oldest newspapers in the Western Hemisphere, say that their happiness with the daily’s success in the National Journalism Prizes is tempered by Friday’s one-year anniversary of the imposition of US sanctions on the publication’s owner.
In May 2016, the US Treasury Department accused Panamanian magnate Abdul Waked, owner of Waked International S.A., of laundering proceeds from drug trafficking.
The inclusion of Waked’s holding company on what is known as the Clinton List was accompanied by legal and financial sanctions against all of his nearly 70 enterprises, including GESE, which publishes La Estrella and El Siglo newspapers.
“It’s a bittersweet triumph because we mark one year of this tragic, unjust, and controversial inclusion on the Clinton List, but it’s also a breath of air to tell the country that we are here, that the difficulty of the situation doesn’t matter because we have overcome it,” La Estrella editor-in-chief Gerardo Berroa told EFE.
La Estrella took most of the print journalism prizes at Thursday night’s awards gala.
The prizes are conferred annually by the Journalists’ Forum for Freedom of Expression and Information.
Washington announced in January a six-month extension of authorization for GESE group to continue operating despite the sanctions against Waked.
The reprieve came just as the affected newspapers were preparing to shut down.
“We don’t want any more extensions; we want a definitive exclusion from the (Clinton) list. It is an aberrant list for a democratic country like the United States,” Berroa said.
“Independently of our getting off the list, we hope that President Donald Trump and the senators eliminate the list because it is an attack on the freedom of commerce and the freedom of expression,” the editor said.
Abdul Waked is not under investigation by US authorities and Panamanian prosecutors concluded a probe of his activities without bringing any charges.
Even so, appearing on the Clinton List is a virtual death penalty for an enterprise, as it means that US citizens and firms are barred from doing business with listed entities.
The list is like “a sword of Damocles” hanging over the newspaper, Berroa said, generating “very high levels of stress” among the staff.
La Estrella de Panama has laid off a quarter of its workforce since the sanctions were imposed.