Sunday, April 06, 2008

Panama: Negative to lukewarm reactions to letting gays serve as police officers

Well, that didn't take long.

News that Rolando Mirones, the National Police Chief of Panama, would not have an issue with allowing gays ans lesbians as police officers, has elicited mostly negative reactions from public officials, while a gay-rights advocacy group says that his words are meaningless without changes in the law.

Government and military officers, former Chief of Police react negatively: Retired military general Rubén Darío Paredes tells Critica that comments by Mirones are unusual and probably a slip of the tongue.

"I first thought that [Mirones] was joking with the reporters, then I believed that it had been a confrontational or rude response against media. Either way, today - under a more serene and meaningful reflection -, I am certain that [Mirones] has perhaps realized that he made an unfortunate slip."

He also tells the paper that it might be time to bring allow military leaders to direct the nation's police force (in his comments he mentions that the police department has only been allowed to have civilian directors for the past 17 years but that this model, while effective at first, might be "tired" and in need of change).

Over at Panamá America, Daniel Delgado Diamante (above), the nation's current Justice Minister, has harsher words: "I cannot imagine a homosexual policeman, and this is a situation that I completely reject from a purely personal point of view."

He cautions Mirones that the current police regulations call for removal of anyone who participates in a homosexual act within the institution and establishes it as a "grave" act. He added "As long as I am a Minister, I will make sure that the regulations are obeyed."

Delgado also told PA that he was aware that "cases of homosexuality" had been reported in the National Police and that it was up to the police to control the situation (the paper also mentions a case four years ago in which a police lieutenant was booted from the police force after a man sent naked pictures of both himself and the officer to media and the police department).

Ebrahim Asvat, a former director of the National Police of Panama, concurs. Allowing gays, tattooed individuals and people with earrings (as was also suggested by Mirones) are "liberties" that will weaken the discipline required of the institution. "This opens itself to allow the institution to be infiltrated by many delinquents."

The church says there should be no discrimination: Surprisingly, the church is the institution that seems to be asking for a more measured response. Monsignior José Domingo Ulloa told PA that "a person cannot be discriminated" although he also said that it was up to the Police Department to determine who it allows in or keeps out. "What the church asks," he said, "is that the workk gets done in the most serious and responsible manner, because what is most important is to safeguard the security of all Panamenians."

LGBT rights advocate doubts gays will be allowed to serve as police officers, asks Mirones to work with his organization to change written law: In the meantime, back at the Critica article, Ricardo Beteta, President of the Panamanian LGBT-rights organization New Men and Women of Panama (HMNP) says that he doesn't see gays and lesbians serving in the police force anytime soon.

"If the Director says it, it's a very important step;" he says, "What worries me is that the Police Law says: 'If the institution discovers that a unit has a life as a homosexual or lesbian, it is cause for destitution' - and so he should change the regulation that currently is a Law of the Republic so that his words truly have value."

"If this change is not done, when he is no longer Chief of Police, those people who declared their sexual preference will be without protection," he added, "then it will be a announcement made half way. What he should do is to work with us so that the Law is changed."

Critica also asks Beteta if it's not a bit out of place for someone who is a police officer to be gay and to comment on how a gay police officer should behave.

Beteta tells Critica that he knows that there are many gays and lesbians in the police force already and that they do their job like any other officer and that, in as homophobic a culture as in Panama, people are letting their stereotypes define the debate.

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