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Protests in Panama

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The entire country has been in an uproar for a week now. There is an excellent, nine minute video that explains the reasons for the protests much better than I can. The government signed a contract into law allowing a Canadian company to mine the land for copper and other minerals. People feel that part of their country is being sold to foreigners without their consent, foreigners who will take and take and ruin the environment.

These protests have seen hundreds and thousands of people marching in the streets all over the country, and people blocking the roads which essentially shuts the country down. This is typical of protests here, but this is on a much bigger scale than we have seen before.

There is one road through the country, and blocking it and shutting off the flow of traffic is a huge problem for everyone. 3/4 of the population lives in Panama City, to the east. The produce grown in our western province of Chiriqui can’t get to the city. This time, they have even blocked the road to the farms north of us, so we are having shortages here also. Gasoline and diesel can’t get to us from the city and as far as I know, there is none available here. Gas stations are empty. Stores are running out of eggs, chicken, rice, and other staples. Hospitals are low on oxygen and other supplies. It’s a mess with no end in sight.

Last week the president addressed the country and said the contract is a done deal. It was done legally and will stand. Needless to say, this did not calm down the people at all. Complaints have been filed with the supreme court that the contract is unconstitutional, but it will take time to go through the process this will require. Yesterday the president addressed the country again, saying the government has listened to the people and the issue will be put to a vote by the people on December 17th. Rather than calm the situation, it seems to have inflamed it further. People want the contract gone! now! Not something that will allow strip mining for more weeks and then maybe…

The people’s plan is peaceful protests, but there have been clashes with police and tear gas in the city which has impacted residents. Of course there always a few bad apples who take advantage of the situation and rob and extort money from people stuck at roadblocks, or commit other crimes. But this is not how the Panamanian people want things to go. They want to protest peacefully and have their voices heard, and they are committed to continuing the protests until they are heard.

Personally, we are just fine. We heard the warnings before the protests started so we have gas in the cars, food in the house, and we don’t need to go anywhere or do anything. Live music at the brewery where we play is on hold, and we couldn’t get to Boquete anyway because of the roadblocks. We’re spending our time biking, walking the dog, working in the yard, and working on some songs we want to add to our repertoire. But, it’s not so easy for the working people! When you can’t move around freely, how do you get to work? How do your customers get to you? And as gas supplies run out, how do you even get around within your own city or area?

This has been an interesting thing to observe, and of course we wonder how long it will go on and how it will finally sort itself out. The Panamanian people seem absolutely determined to stay the course until they get the results they want, so who knows how this will resolve. They are willing to give up a lot, a whole lot for what they believe is right.

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