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Panama President Levels Dirty Accusations Against Journalist on Twitter

Every so often, President Ricardo Martinelli (@rmartinelli) [es] riles up the Panamanian online community by tweeting controversial and confrontational statements, even insults.

The most recent example is a tweet directed at journalist Santiago Cumbrera of La Prensa, a newspaper with which the president has clashed in the past:

@rmartinelli: Para el que no conoce el odio de Santiago cumbrera a mi es pq se le despide de Epasa por. coimero y acosador sexual de mujeres. [Nota: en Panamá se le dice "coima" a las mordidas o sobornos]

@rmartinelli: For anyone who doesn't know why Santiago Cumbrera hates me it's because he was fired from Epasa for being crooked and sexually harassing women.

Throughout his term, which is in its final year, the president has had constant altercations with the media, which he insults, accuses of antagonism, and then apologizes to, promising to change.

The accusation against Cumbrera has a history. EPASA [es] is a daily publisher of three widely distributed newspapers: La Crítica, El Panamá América and El Día a Día. El Panamá América used to maintain a line for investigation and complaints against the government, but the publishing group was bought a few months ago by an organization affiliated with government interests.

The sale precipitated a change in editorial policy across the various papers, and although it is not official policy, it is common knowledge that El Panamá América is the government's mouthpiece.

Given this change, several journalists left EPASA, some voluntarily, like Santiago Cumbrera; others were fired for not following the newspaper's new approach.

Santiago Cumbrera published a letter in La Prensa [es] sharing his reasons for resigning. In the letter, he makes it quite clear that his convictions weren't up for negotiation:

Presidente Ricardo Martinelli, foto de Luis Carlos Díaz en Flickr  (CC BY-NC 2.0)

President Ricardo Martinelli, photo by Luis Carlos Díaz on Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)

En esa coyuntura, y otras que me reservo, prefiero renunciar antes de aplaudir las cosas que ayer criticaba. De lo que sí pueden estar seguros los lectores es que no claudicaré a mis convicciones y principios. Tampoco me prestaré para publicar informaciones que ya vienen procesadas por alguien intencionado y que, además, buscan distraer la atención de asuntos de interés nacional. Yo no vendo mis convicciones al mejor postor, como aquellos que dicen ser independientes, pero tienen la libertad de un títere y que buscan fama aunque tengan que mentir y manipular informaciones.

At this juncture, and others that I won't discuss, I would rather resign than applaud that which I previously criticized. What readers can be sure of is that I will not waver in my convictions and principles. Nor will I loan myself out and publish information that comes to me already assembled by someone else, and that furthermore is trying to distract everyone from issues of national importance. I don't sell my convictions to the highest bidder, like some who claim to be independent but who have all the freedom of a puppet, and seek fame even if they have to lie and manipulate the facts.

The president's accusations against Cumbrera stem from an article published in La Prensa on May 20, 2013, “The Hydroelectric Industry: A Business of Power” [es], in which Cumbrera links the president and his cohort to hydroelectric power companies.

Santiago Cumbrera (@santcumb) [es] defended himself against the president's accusations on his Twitter page, clarifying that he was not fired, but rather resigned for reasons that he made clear in his open letter:

@santcumb: Yo renuncie a Epasa días después de que se concretó la venta del diario. Las razones constan en una carta que hice pública.

@santcumb: I resigned from Epasa a few days after it finalized the sale of the paper. My reasons are in a letter that I made public.

Another former EPASA journalist, Eduardo Soto, published a brief post on his blog Hojas Sueltas [es] in which he reflects on his departure from the company and reports that in the new editorial guidelines suggest “concealment, double standards, and deception.” Soto also comments on Santiago Cumbrera's resignation:

Recordemos que hasta antes de que cambiara de manos, Panamá América estuvo semana a semana destapando escándalos y jugadas chuecas del actual equipo de gobierno. El nombre de Santiago Cumbrera coronó la mayoría de esas notas. Santiago no esperó que lo echaran; presentó su renuncia diciéndole a la nueva directiva que eran unos impostores.

Let's recall that until it changed hands, Panamá América was constantly uncovering scandals and crooked moves by the current government. Santiago Cumbrera's name was on the majority of these articles. Santiago didn't wait to be kicked out; he tendered his resignation, telling the new board that they were imposters.

Twitter lit up with reactions to the president's remarks.

Luis Castillo (@Luis03Castillo) [es], for example, reminded the president that Cumbrera resigned and was not fired, and asked him to be serious and act in accordance to his position:

@Luis03Castillo: @rmartinelli yo trabaje con Santiago Cumbrera en EPASA y el renuncio. Me consta. Sea serio y no olvide su investidura.

@Luis03Castillo@rmartinelli I worked with Santiago Cumbrera at EPASA and he resigned. I'm sure. Be serious and don't forget your inauguration.

Others, however, insisted that the accusations were true. Abel D Pereambro (@AbelDPereambro) [es] said that he had spoken to one of the victims himself:

@AbelDPereambro: @RicardoLombanaG yo hablé con una de las víctimas del acosador sexual Santiago Cumbrera. Pidio favores sexuales y coima. Es un degenerado!

@AbelDPereambro: @RicardoLombanaG I spoke with one of Santiago Cumbrera's sexual harassment victims. He asked for sexual favors and bribes. He's a pervert!

Yodalys Vasquez (@YodalisYodi) [es] says that the president also has the right to freedom of expression:

@YodalisYodi :el presidente TAMBIEN debe tener libertad de expresion!

@YodalisYodi: The president ALSO should have freedom of expression!

Edgardo Vidal (@EVidal1507) [es], though, demanded that the president provide evidence to back up his accusations:

@EVidal1507: Q el Presidente Martinelli presente las pruebas de sus acusaciones al periodista Cumbrera… Que bajo lenguaje para un presidente!

@EVidal1507: President Martinelli must show proof of his accusations against the journalist Cumbrera… What base language for a president!

The Panamanian online community is waiting for clarification from the president, although no one has been surprised when previous situations ended with a brief apology and a charge of wrongheadedness.

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