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Panama’s oldest newspaper prepares to write its own obituary

Owner of ‘La Estrella’ is accused by US authorities of having links to drug trafficking

San José (Costa Rica)

La Estrella de Panamá, one of the oldest newspapers in Latin America, is preparing its own obituary, and is due to close down at midnight on January 5. Set up in 1849, the daily has been dying a slow death for the last seven months after its owner, Abdul Waked Fares, a Lebanese-born businessman with dual Colombian and Panamanian nationality, was added to the so-called Clinton List, created by the US Treasury Department to tackle money laundering and drug trafficking.

The paper is forbidden from engaging in any kind of economic activity.
The paper is forbidden from engaging in any kind of economic activity.

US authorities granted La Estrella’s editorial group, GESE – one of some 70 businesses owned by Waked – a temporary operating permit that runs out on January 6 to allow it to break all ties with its owner, either through its sale or some other mechanism, but the businessman refused.

An investigation in Panama into allegations that Waked was involved in money-laundering activities and drug trafficking closed in November. No charges have yet been brought against him and he remains free.

The Panamanian government last month asked the United States to extend La Estrella’s permit, but the paper, along with sister publication El Siglo – which was founded in 1985 and is also affected – remains part of Waked’s business group. Both and are thus subject to US sanctions.

Other newspapers in the region have closed after the US Treasury took action against them

In response, the paper has launched a campaign calling on readers to help save it. “Whenever a media outlet closes, there is an attack on freedom of expression, “ Eduardo Quirós, the president of GESE, told EL PAÍS. “There is an attack on the freedom of the press and of expression, and on the right of Panamanians and foreign readers to information,” he added, explaining that US companies and their affiliates or subsidiaries are forbidden by Washington from doing business with GESE as part of a series of measures that prevent the paper from making international bank transfers, buying insurance policies, selling advertising or buying airline tickets.

Diario Tiempo, a newspaper from nearby Honduras, closed at the end of 2015 after its owner, the Rosenthal group, was accused by the US Treasury Department of involvement in drug trafficking and money laundering.

English version by Nick Lyne.

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