Oct 24, 2012

Road Closures and Business Cessations Anticipated

I can't believe what I'm seeing.  I keep thinking I must be missing something.  Why else would the entire country be upset over the passing of a law that is good for it?  According to newscasts, the Ngobe Bugle nation is planning to close streets in Chiriqui tomorrow if Law 72 isn't repealed.  High school students are committing acts of vanalism and violence in the capital without really even knowing why they are protesting.  Their parents are being held responsible for damage to property and businesses.  There is a nurses strike in the ministry of health---not due to the law, but implemented in a timely manner to give it more kick.   Everywhere, everyone, is demanding the law be repealed.  They don't seem to understand the law is to the benefit of the pueblo and repeal is to the benefit of the businessman who have been robbing the country blind for the last 12 years.  It all seems so useless.  I keep wondering if everyone is this uninformed,  or if I am missing an elephant in the room.   Looks as though there are going to be more demonstrations, more closure of business operations, and more highway closures for the rest of this week. 

President Martinelli is in Japan, trying to attract more Asian business investments to Panama.  I think this is fueling anti-administration and anti-law 72 sentiment as well.  His political opponents are taking advantage of the situation to take pot shots at him, and they are probably justified in doing so.  He must have realized the backlash the passing of the law would create.  He is reportedly due back on Saturday.

When people on the street were asked why they are protesting, there is a complete range of vague answers.  Some people are angry at the price of food and staples in the supermarket.  Some are protesting police brutality.  Some are simply "supporting the people of Colon", and others are objecting to what they perceive as selling the country to individuals.    It appears as though negotiations have broken down, since the trade zone business leaders are refusing to come to the table with cabinet members until the law is repealed.  Mediation attempts by the Catholic church have failed.  It's been difficult to get up-to-the minute information because coverage on TVN 2, the national television station, has been off line due to "domain restrictions". 

As a last resort I turned to RPC's "Open Debate" which is a discussion forum of current topics.  This evening the participants included journalists, a political analyst, and the ex-attorney general, who is an open critic of President Martinelli.   According to the political analyst, this President has created a crisis situation that now can only be resolved one way--- by repeal of Law 72.  The crux of the public rejection of Law 72 probably lies with the manner in which this president and his administration have governed since his election.   Indeed, Ana Matilde Gomez, the ex-attorney general, once more emphasized the administration's disregard for dialogue and the democratic process.  The prevalent sentiment is that this President and his administration don't feel a need to include the public in their plans, they pass laws to allow what they think is best for the country without consulting anyone outside their realm, and then, only if there is a backlash, do they retreat. The country in general feels excluded from the decision making process, feels there is something amiss due to the quick and preceived "sneaky" manner in which things are getting done, and resents the increased cost of living brought about by the numerous  improvements implemented since the last election---especially when many of these improvements weren't requested or supported by the public.   The wound has been festering for some time now.  This new law, regardless of the benefits it might bring, is just more salt in that festering wound.   In both this situation and to a lesser extent during the indigenous protests 7-8 months ago, the utilization of the police force to quell the public's need to express outrage and disagreement only fuels the flames higher. 

There's nothing really unique to this political situation.  We see scenarios like it repeated all over the world and throughout history.   Unless perhaps we count the fact that Panamanians lived for several years under a repressive dictatorship with Noriega and the memories are still very fresh.  Everyone is adamant it will never be tolerated  again.  The wounds are scarred over, but they're still right on the surface.  And this president is in tight control and behaves like a benevolent dictator.    He's accomplished much more than many of his predecessors, but he's probably faced stronger opposition as well.   I believe him when he states he has no interest in extending his term of governance.

ADDENDUM:  President Martinelli tweeted the following message yesterday, 10/23/12.  

Si el pueblo Colonense no quiere que se vendan las tierras de ZLC,se derogará la venta.los aumentos de alquileres 100% para Colón.

If the people of Colon don't want the lands of the Colon Free Zone sold, the sale will be repealed.  Rent increases 100% for Colon.