Moratorium laws – one of lime, one of sand
by Polo Ciudadano
President Laurentino Cortizo, forced by the popular pressure of more than 50 community protests in the last week of April and the widespread pailazo on Sunday, May 3, on the one hand; and on the other, by allegations of corruption in the purchases of respirators and other supplies to combat COVID-19, wherein citizens called for the resignation of Vice President José Gabriel Carrizo; was forced to partially sign a moratorium on debts and payments to public utilities that popular organizations demanded. The groups insisted on a little reliev from the critical economic situation of thousands of working families that are affected by the COVID pandemic.
It was a partial victory because Cortizo signed Bill 295, concerning the moratorium on the payment for public services such as water, elecriticy and telephone. It also called off the evictions of families who cannot afford their house rents in these circumstances. All of which is a relief that people rightly celebrated. However, that was not a gift from the government, but the product of public pressure.
The president did NOT sign Bill 287, on mortgage payment, loans, credit cards, etc.
On the contrary, Laurentino Cortizó announced his veto to this latest bill to rejoice from bankers who control the Panamanian economy.
Instead of signing Law 287, Cortizo bowed to the economic power of the financial sector, which at all times refused to be regulated by the state in any way. What was presented to the country, instead of a law, was a “deal” with the National Banking Association that establishes a moratorium until next December.
The moratorium agreed by bankers is undoubtedly a relief for employees who have lost their jobs, for professionals and small business owners whose economic lives have been paralyzed. But this debt relief is momentary, partial and controlled by the banks themselves. New conditions need to be individually negotiated.
It should be borne in mind that in January debtors will have to face payments for 2021 plus the accumulated capital and interest of 2020, regardless of whether they have managed to recover their jobs or restored their businesses to normal.
The gift for bankers has been huge, because the president announced that the “sacrifices” they would allegedly make with the moratorium until December would be compensated with $500 million from an International Monetary Fund (IMF) loan, which all Panamanians will end up paying.
Take into account that the Cortizo government, early in the COVID-19 crisis, allowed bankers to use $1.3 billion from the reserve fund to respond for the withdrawn deposits of savers leaving these without that backup. Panamanian banking had previously announced 2019 profits of more than $1.8 billion. That is, the people sacrifice everything and the bankers nothing.
In the face of protests about the inefficiency and political patronage in the Panama Solidarity Plan, with poorly distributed bags and bonuses that do not provide a basic survival diet, the government extended the payment of the “solidarity voucher” through the cedulas of tens of thousands of people. The program still doesn’t reach tens of thousands in need. A bit of lime, a bit of sand.
Do not forget that these partial achievements are a victory of thousands of people who took to the streets, despite fear of contagion, to demand a response from the government suitable to the drama of the moment through which we live. Let’s not forget that several of those protests were harshly repressed and their participants prosecuted, which will require a solidarity campaign to lift the processes.
The capitalist system of class exploitation is incapable of practicing human solidarity — not even in tragic situations such as those that humanity is experiencing right now with the pandemic. Capitalists always seek to take advantage and do business at the expense of public health. They’re already overcharging for medicines and medical equipment, in one way or another passing the bill onto working people.
Once again it is shown that we will only have solidarity and a humane society when we remove the corrupt oligarchs from power and establish a government that responds to the needs of those who are now exploited.
The struggle continues!
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