A free press is fundamental to modern democracies, but nations sometimes find the media more a troubling annoyance than a pillar. Take Panama, where Gustavo Gorriti, a respected editor and occasional contributor to The Times' Commentary page, is threatened with deportation because his reports have displeased a few powerful politicians.
Labor Secretary Mitchell Doens has told the Peruvian that his working visa will not be renewed when it expires at the end of this month. Government officials say there are plenty of Panamanian journalists who could fill Gorriti's position as associate publisher of the newspaper La Prensa. Maybe so, but what has Gorriti done to have his visa pulled?
Was it his reports of questionable dealings by now-President Ernesto Perez Balladares in the 1994 election campaign? Or perhaps a Gorriti investigative team's expose on the collapse of the Banco Industrial y Comercial de Panama and the bank's association with an alleged Cali drug cartel boss who reportedly put $51,000 into the Perez Balladares campaign fund?
Admittedly, Gorriti can be a difficult man to have around. In 1992, he was forced to leave his native Peru after an army unit snatched him from his home and held him for 48 hours. Presumably the soldiers, or someone who gave them orders, did not like Gorriti's critical articles about the authoritarian rule of President Alberto Fujimori.
Having been bounced from his homeland and now facing expulsion from Panama, Gorriti is digging in. He says he will hole up in the La Prensa offices if push comes to shove at the end of the month. Good for him, and good for the Latin American press.