Protests and Unrest in Panama

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Things are a mess in Panama at the moment. We heard about protests when we were back in the USA and now, after more than two weeks, things don’t seem any better. The Panamerican Highway is the one artery through the country, and protesters have blocked it in multiple locations which has pretty much shut down the country. We live in Chiriqui province where a lot of food is produced for the whole country, but the trucks laden with food are stuck on the highway. Going the other way, trucks of fuel can’t make their way west to our area. Gas stations are closed and if there is even a rumor of a truck making it through, huge lines of cars form immediately.

Panama has suffered through the pandemic like the rest of the world, and now we are seeing high fuel prices which is a hardship for many. This is one factor in the protests. The people want the government to help keep fuel costs down and we thought there was an agreement, but not everyone was involved in the decision so the protests resumed almost immediately.

People are also very angry about government corruption. When people see politicians and officials living large and spending piles of money, and putting their friends and family members on the payroll for doing nonexistent work, people who are struggling to keep their families housed and fed are very angry.

There are also others involved. Health care workers are protesting the high costs of medicines and lack of funds for necessary doctors and other health care workers. Teachers are protesting that they aren’t getting paid. Farmers can’t make it with the high fuel costs. Labor unions are joining the fight for better conditions for their workers. Then, the indigenous joined to protest conditions in their lands. It feels like it’s a free for all, and everyone is protesting everything!

Lately they have been opening the highway for short periods of time to let food and fuel pass, but it’s going to take a lot more than this to resupply the country. There was a humanitarian caravan of food trucks that the government insisted be allowed to go to Panama City, but the police escort had to use tear gas to clear the road so they could pass. Unfortunately a lot of the produce was lost because it spent so much time in the trucks. Some fuel trucks are making their way here, but not nearly enough to fill the need.

People can’t get to work. Farmers are losing money on all the food they can’t sell. Tourists are stranded and others are staying away. This is impacting everyone! There are so many different groups, different demands, and different factors I don’t know how it’s all going to get sorted out. People are able to get some diesel which helps. Our veggie guy was able to work yesterday. But, another friend who needs regular gas spent all afternoon in gas lines with no success. One of the neighbors works at the hospital and I hear his car start in the mornings, but how long can he do that without putting more gas in his tank? Even if you are one of the lucky few who finds gas, you are only allowed $20 worth.

I’m starting to hear from people outside of Panama that we are making the news around the world. A google or YouTube search will bring up a number of news articles and videos.

As for us, personally, we are fine. Our veggie guy came yesterday so we have produce, and the freezer has enough food to last for quite a while. We have some gas in the cars and two bicycles, and we don’t have to go anywhere. We should go down the road and pay the electric bill soon but that’s only 3 km away. The band is on vacation for another 10 days until our drummer gets back, and I certainly hope things are better by then. Even if they aren’t, we have enough diesel in the car for quite a few trips up to Boquete.

But, this sure sucks for a lot of people! Cross your fingers that they get this sorted out so people can get back to work and take care of their families.

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