Speculators on the offensive in the Reverted Areas
by Marco A. Gandásegi, hijo
The communities of the reverted areas of the Panama Canal are on a war footing. The government has decided to open vast lands to real estate speculation as Avenida Omar Torrijos expands. Since the 1977 Canal Treaties were was signed with the United States, the country has seen a permanent confrontation with speculators who want to make a business of what in the 20th century was called the Canal Zone. The speculators are in collusion with the highest level public officials, promoting ventures of all kinds. It does not matter if they are legal or illegal. Nor if they ruin communities, cultures or landscapes. Moreover, they do not care if they destroy the sources of water that the Panama Canal needs to function.
Now the City of Knowledge, which will suffer the consequences of the arbitrary actions of the Ministry of Public Works that has sent in its bulldozers to knock down everything in its path, join the community protests. The president of the City of Knowledge, Jorge Arosemena, told the government of the need to start a dialogue in order to reach an understanding. The City of Knowledge says that the avenue expansion project began and is unfolding in a “non-transparent” manner. It adds that it has already “produced a massive deforestation in forested areas adjacent to the Panama Canal.”
The government insists on continuing these speculative projects without addressing the needs of the country and, specifically, of the canal areas. Arosemena says that for two years he has been trying unsuccessfully to establish a dialogue with the Ministry of Public Works to find solutions that minimize the negative impacts of the project.
The City of Knowledge has interposed two legal measures to disrupt the government’s project. On the one hand, it filed a writ of habeas data in August. On the other, in October, it file an action in the Supreme Court for the protection of constitutional guarantees. The City of Knowledge calls on the country to show solidarity with its attempt to safeguard its facilities. The communities of the reverted areas are in the same situation — they lack protection when they see how the plans of the government and its ministry of public works are progressing.
Everything indicates that those who come to the government — from whatever political party — come in with a point in invisible ink in their program, which refers to the looting of the country. On the one hand, they plunder the treasury through contracts, addenda and surcharges. On the other, they plunder natural resources such as forests, including those that surround the interoceanic waterway, basins and mineral wealth. Minera Panama, a South African-Canadian company, will start extracting copper from Petaquilla and will receive a multi-billion dollar grant. It has already built a port on the Caribbean from whence it will export copper. The Panamanian treasury will receive only $20 million a year.
The islands and beaches are being sold to foreigners who cheat the fishermen and peasants without the government enforcing the laws or the Constitution. The latter clearly states that islands and beaches can not be sold. The government speculates with the development of a road that links the city of Colon with Bocas del Toro. Likewise with the islands of the Las Perlas archipelago. All without a plan that has in mind the development of the country. All government initiatives are reduced to business deals with the country’s assets.
What seems to be an even more serious problem is the negotiation of a free trade agreement with the Peoples Republic of China. Will the current rulers get legal protection, as did their predecessors in previous situations, to take personal profits from multi-billion-dollar investments by the Chinese?
The residents of the Reverted Areas communities are getting ready to fight. They believe they can successfully confront the government. The old Interoceanic Regional Authority (ARI) enacted a Reverted Areas development plan 20 years ago. It contemplated all the angles for growth that’s harmonious with nature. It also gave the business sector opportunities to invest with land obtained at prices well below market value. The neighbors now demand that the ARI plan be respected. They do not want another plan for the benefit of looters, who would take advantage of it to dispossess communities, bulldoze forests and divert water from the Panama Canal. All for a few more dollars.
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