Feb 7, 2012

Confrontation in Volcan

A photo I can't manage to upload has been circulating in the Panamanian press.  It's  of the current President, Ricardo Martinelli, with a long pointed nose that seems to be growing.

Below is a link to a video showing highlights of today's confrontation in Volcan.  It's not pretty, and many Panamanians have denounced the destruction and disregard for property.  But these same  people acknowledge that there is even more than the mining interests involved with this crisis.   

The Panamanian populace seems disenchanted with President Martinelli. He's now viewed as an ambitious politician who has little regard for the common man. His campaign was based on exactly the opposite premise. "Ahora le toca al pueblo" (It's now the people's turn) was his slogan. Instead one of his first actions in office was to raise the sales tax from 3% up to 7%. And rumors circulate that it will increase to 8% before his term ends.   He's also perceived as a bully who pushes his own agenda despite widespread conflicting opinion . He's rumored to be heavy-handed with people who criticize him, and hypervigilant of those who work with or for him.  With the current crisis, he's also viewed as being someone who doesn't keep his promises.  I haven't met a Panamanian recently who admits voting for him or states they like him (But I'm located in Chiriqui province, which is where most of the conflict is taking place. They may feel differently in Panama City.)   Instead people here feel he presented one agenda when campaigning for election, and implemented another once in office. Many people have told me he's trying to turn the country into a dictatorship and they've even compared him to the recently returned ex-dictator Noriega. This is very far-fetched, in my opinion, but people do worry and seem very open about expressing these fears. 

The photo below, taken from a local TV channel's website, states, "Promise Kept, Mr. President" and represents a coffin for the indian man who was shot on Sunday---presumably by a police bullet, though the police are stating the bullet was not from a police issued weapon. 

The Panamanian police are now seen as an extension of the President, his policies, and his disregard for the plight of the average citizen, whose financial situation has significantly worsened since President Martinelli came to office.   Keeping that in mind, the video below takes on a different slant. It shows the indigenous people wrecking and burning the police station in Volcan.  

Although the actions of those involved in the confrontation in Volcan is condemned by most people, it has finally pushed both sides to the negotiation table.  Unfortunately, President Martinelli continues to avoid meeting with the protesters in Chiriqui, but he has sent his Minister of Government, Jorge Ricardo Fabrega, to initiate contact with the Ngobe Bugle leaders and dialogue to end the protests.  I read somewhere that the indigenous leaders expected President Martinelli to meet with them in the center of the blocked highway near San Felix, around a card table, with the indigenous community surrounding them.  Speculation is that security and safety matters  may have affected the President's decision to refuse this arrangement.  (do you think?)

It will be very interesting to see the outcome of the meeting with Mr. Fabrega, whenever it occurs.  Hopefully some type of agreement can be reached that might be more long-lasting than the one implemented last year around this same time.