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15 November 2013 | Opinion/Feature

Adventure In Panama The Singapore Of Americas

Damian Avevor
Adventure In Panama The Singapore Of Americas

Panama is a beautiful nation at the heart of the American Continent and has earned an important place on world map with regard to international and economic development.

This Central American nation is considered the Singapore of the Americas because of its modernity, efficiency, and hospitality. Panama is also the major air travel hub of the Americas connecting Central, North and south Americas and the Caribbean.

As one of the travellers put it: “Panama is the smiling America with a Spanish accent”. It has a population of about 3.5million people and a growth rate of 1.41%.

The southernmost of the Central American nations, Panama is south of Costa Rica and north of Colombia. The Panama Canal bisects the isthmus at its narrowest and lowest point, allowing passage from the Caribbean Sea to the Pacific Ocean. Panama is slightly smaller than South Carolina. It is marked by a chain of mountains in the west, moderate hills in the interior, and a low range on the east coast. There are extensive forests in the fertile Caribbean area.

Explored by Columbus in 1502 and by Balboa in 1513, Panama was the principal shipping point to and from South and Central America in colonial days. In 1821, when Central America revolted against Spain, Panama joined Colombia, which had already declared its independence. For the next 82 years, Panama attempted unsuccessfully to break away from Colombia. Between 1850 and 1900 Panama had 40 administrations, 50 riots, 5 attempted secessions, and 13 U.S. interventions. After a U.S. proposal for canal rights over the narrow isthmus was rejected by Colombia, Panama proclaimed its independence with U.S. backing in 1903.

For canal rights in perpetuity, the U.S. paid Panama $10 million and agreed to pay $250,000 each year, which was increased to $430,000 in 1933 and to $1,930,000 in 1955. In exchange, the U.S. got the Canal Zone—a 10-mile-wide strip across the isthmus—and considerable influence in Panama's affairs. On Sept. 7, 1977, Gen. Omar Torrijos Herrera and President Jimmy Carter signed treaties giving Panama gradual control of the canal, phasing out U.S. military bases, and guaranteeing the canal's neutrality.

On December 31, 1999, the U.S. formally handed over control of the Panama Canal to Panama. Meanwhile, Colombian rebels and paramilitary forces have made periodic incursions into Panamanian territory, raising security concerns. Panama has also faced increased drug and arms smuggling.

In May 2004 presidential elections, Martín Torrijos Herrera, the son of former dictator Omar Torrijos, won 47.5% of the vote. He took office in September.

Panamanians approved a plan to expand the Panama Canal in 2006. It will likely double the canal's capacity and is expected to be completed by2015.

Hosting of Journalists Congress
It had the privilege of hosting 2013 World Congress of the International Christian Organisation of the Media (ICOM) from September 28 to October 6, 2013 of which the writer was awarded in Excellence in Journalism. Journalists present at the event were from Kenya, Zimbabwe, Ghana, Benin, Colombia, Mexico, Brazil, Spain, Switzerland, Bangladesh, Philippines, India, Italy, Switzerland and the rest from Panama

This is the first time ICOM had organized this World Congress in Central America. The novelties of the Congress included partnership with Reporters of Religion especially in the secular media, Press and Media entrepreneurs, and the Panamanian as well as Pan American Organisations of the Media and Journalists.

After studying various offers, the General Assembly of ICOM held at Verbania, Italy in November 2011, unanimously decided to hold the 2013 World Congress in Panama City.

Panama took the first initiative to host the Congress in the 2010 on the occasion of the celebration of the 500 years of the establishment of the Panama City Municipality but could not get the bid.

2013 marks the 500 years of the celebrations related to the increased navigation activities on the Pacific Ocean, the foundation of the Panamanian Diocese, the first on the American Continent's main land.

This year again, the Panama Canal will start celebrating its 100 years anniversary; the Miraflores Locks next to the Pacific Ocean was completed in the year 1914.

The theme of the Congress was related to the realities of today's media and the challenges they pose as well as the realities of the Americas especially Central America.

The World Congress had several aims. First of all, it is a meeting point for internationally minded women and men to get together once in three years and analyse the developments in today's world from journalistic and media perspectives.

The world congress was an extraordinary and exceptional opportunity to meet with young and senior counterparts from all parts of the world in a very convivial and friendly atmosphere.

It was a wonderful opportunity to get to know Panamanian and Central American women and men in their own working and living conditions and thus to have a touch of local realities.

It was an excellent occasion to identify and propose contributions of Journalists and the Media to the well-being of nations worldwide, to humanity at large and to our own environment and nature.

Useful Exposures and Encounters
Congress delegates from all over the world began to reach the beautiful Panama on September 27 during which Local organisers made all delegates feel at home as soon as they arrived. They were taken to the important centers, national and world heritages, as well as the very first political and religious institutions on the mainland of the whole American continent.

This exceptional approach gave the world event a direct touch of the realities of Panama, its history, the present day joys and struggles of its peoples. The Congress was an exposure to the host continent so that delegates could better understand and experience Panama and Central America: history of the recent centuries, old and modern cities, Panama Canal, villages and countryside.

The Delegates got first-hand information on events and places; such information was vital for professional Journalists. The visits and study tours helped Journalists to report about lives and cultures with face-to-face encounters with the individuals and institutions.

The Panama Canal was not only a technological wonder and engineering masterpiece but also represent the essence of the human person in his or her constant quest for travel, elegance, luxury and above all, the search for freedom and wisdom.

Thus, the nation of Panama which was divided by the Canal became another solid brick in bringing together people worldwide. The new locks of the Panama Canal will be ready in the years 2014, 100 years after the Miraflores locks.

The encounters by the delegates with the management of "La Prensa" daily newspaper and the University of Panama were highly inspiring. La Prensa is unique in many ways starting with its more than 5000 owners who guarantee the daily's independence in all aspects in a country where the press freedom is not guaranteed by its institutions and authorities.

It was established in 1980 and currently has about 115 Journalists from the City and 20 outside the City working on the 12 products of the Organisation. About 50% of the staff is made up of women. The La Prensa Daily newspaper has 84 pages of which about 64% are made of adverts. Fresh Journalists with little experience are paid $800 a month while those with long experience are paid between $4,000 and $6,000.It is read by about 300,000 people every day in Panama.

Young participants were also offered the opportunity to visit the Metro station in Panama City which is 92% completed. They were taking round the construction area to ascertain how effectively work was progressing. Work will be completed in February next year 2014 and handed over to the Panamanian Government.

Currently, they are 3,000 workers of 21 Nationals and 7 languages on site working 24 hours. The Metro Station when completed would help ease the situation of spending more time in traffic. Within 23 minutes, you reach your destination than spending 2-3 hours in traffic by road.

The Young Journalists visited the five Departments of Communication at the University of Panama which has about 60,000 students studying different courses in Journalism, Public Relations, Advertising, Audio Visual and Internet.

The visits helped the participants to get comprehensive information on the life of not only the people of Panama but also the role of this centrally located nation of Americas.

Congress theme
The theme of the Congress was based on the formulation, “Challenges and Responsibilities amidst Globalization and Digitalization” and thus gave the possibilities to explore all related themes.

The main themes included “Advantages and Dangers of Digital Journalism”; “Social Networks and Political Uprisings, such as Arab Spring”; and “Has Journalism Become Digital Entertainment?"; “500 Years of Travelling on Oceans, Encountering Cultures, Religions, Peoples”; “Challenges of Reporters of Religions in the Media”; “Role of Owners or Directors of Media Houses and Institutions”.

The Congress discussed the realities of the new media, social networks, the freedom of Journalist as well as the various challenges and responsibilities. One of the preoccupying factors of today's media is the rapid fabrication and angling of news and the propagation of half-truths and lies: Media giants based in the so called developed nations can today bombard mobile phones with one-line or few-words news combined with advertisement.

Thus, people worldwide do not any more regularly receive news and information through radio, newspapers, television or Internet but constantly through their or their neighbours' mobile phones that are often limited to calls and text messages.

The Congress helped explore the impacts of news both secular and religious on persons, nations and our common milieux.

These meetings and encounters with professionals from Central America and all other parts of the world also helped build personal and professional friendships which were indispensable for the everyday work.

It was always good to have friends in different parts of the globe to exchange and share in confidence and mutual trust.

The first lecture given today was about the 500 years of contact with Europe and the changing of the world's cultural landscape with the diffusion of the European Cultural Renaissance in the so called "New World"--The America. The lecture was given by Professor Francsisco Blanco of the Catholic University of Santa Maria La Antigua.

The Second Lecture was about Arab Spring and Social Media by Mexican Sergio Escamilla. Journalists from Africa and Asia presented the situation of Media in their regions.

It was a meaningful exchange of cultural perspectives about the Arab Spring, and the use of Social Media as seen from different nations.

Media giants based in the so called developed nations can today bombard mobile phones with one-line or few-words news combined with advertisement. Thus people worldwide do not any more regularly receive news and information through radio, newspapers, television or Internet but constantly through their or their neighbours' mobile phones that are often limited to calls and text messages.

Young Journalists
The first days of the Congress week was set apart for young Journalists below the age of 35. They exposed their viewpoints, shared their experiences, and built networks in view of future engagements.

The network conventions organised since 1989 had helped blend the dynamism of the young women and men and the expertise of seniors in the profession. Young Journalists from different continents explored the theme and shared their experiences.

The had the opportunity to visit the University of Panama and interacted with students of the Communication faculty which had five Departments of Journalism, Public Relations, Advertising, Digital Media and Audio visuals.

The young journalists' network was the place to meet with one's own counterparts from all regions of the world and to build professional and personal relationships. True friendships are vital to diffuse information with accuracy, objectivity and neutrality.

Censorship: According to journalists and other media experts in Panama, censorship especially self-censorship is at its highest level in the nation's history. They explained that it is worse than in the time of dictatorships. Today everything is decided by market rules and wild capitalism. The journalists are also threatened in many ways putting their lives at risk.

The situation worsened a couple of weeks ago when the national and regional journalists contested and exposed the Panamanian President, his policies and increasing corruption. The journalists do not want to appear in public for the time being or associate with journalism or media events especially international ones. This has affected the congress as well.

Freedom and independence: This exceptional congress week reconfirmed the desire of journalists and other media professionals to keep their freedom and independence as the most precious values of their daily exercise of the profession, as well as the most important elements of the credibility of the world organisation.

The journalists reaffirmed their will to do everything so that professionals worldwide and their associations inspire from this great world event and keep away from pressures from political, business and religious institutions. They resolved not to fall into the sectarian propaganda which kills journalism and prepare grounds for conflicts.

The three Journalists from Ghana, Zimbabwe and Philippines who were recently conferred with international awards in Panama, Central America, paid a courtesy call on the first Secretary to the Apostolic Nunciature in Panama, Rev. Fr. Claudiu-Catalin Cartes.

They interacted with him on the awards won by them in three categories, Excellence in Journalism by Damian Avevor, News Editor of The Catholic Standard ; Women issues by Roselyne Sachiti Madziva from Zimbabwe and Inter-religious Dialogue by Jose Aranas from Philippines.

The Secretary was happy for the visit and congratulated the awardees for their excellent work, encouraging them to continue to write more stories and articles for future prestigious awards.

The three Awardees also visited the Universidad Santa Maria la Antigua, the Catholic University in Panama.

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Disclaimer: "The views/contents expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of Damian Avevor and do not neccessarily reflect those of Modern Ghana. Modern Ghana will not be responsible or liable for any inaccurate or incorrect statements contained in this article."

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