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Union members protest the slaying of Isla Viveros construction worker Luigi Argülles
archive photo by Eric Jackson
For abuse of authority in favoring Isla Viveros company union against SUNTRACSAttorney General starts criminal case against Labor Ministry official
by Eric Jackson
In a November 6 speech to the Organization of American States, Minister of Labor Development Edwin Salamín said that "in Panama there is labor peace, dignified and decent work, and an effort to include young people in the labor market." Panamanian unions, both moderate and militant, scoffed at that, many of them pointing out that by the government's own figures some 44 percent of the national work force is in the informal economy, without any real protections by the labor laws that theoretically apply.
The largest and most militant of Panama's private sector unions, the SUNTRACS construction workers' syndicate, whose leaders are aligned with the November 29th National Liberation Movement (MLN-29), tends to scoff first and foremost at the claim that there is labor peace here. Three of their members have been killed by police or with police collaboration in the past 15 months.
In August of 2007 the National Police did a disappearing act at a picket line where there had been trouble the previous day and thugs hired by the Brazilian multinational corporation Norberto Odebrecht SA attacked, leaving Colon SUNTRACS leader Osvaldo Lorenzo dying of gunshot wounds when the smoke cleared. Five employees of Odebrecht or its subcontracted security guard firm are facing criminal charges in that matter, with prosecutors pointing to one Luis Coronado as the gunman.
Two days later, a police officer shot and killed 23-year-old SUNTRACS member Luigi Argüelles on Isla Viveros, as the latter approached a worksite armed with a piece of paper from the mayor, ordering a stop to work on a luxury residential and resort development. Two police officers are facing criminal prosecution for that.
Earlier this year, after a confrontation on the Transistmica in Colon, a police officer shot SUNTRACS member Al Iromi Smith in the back as he was walking into the Policlinica Hugo Spadafora (former Coco Solo Hospital) to seek medical attention for a birdshot wound. Two police officers were fired and one of them is facing homicide charges for that incident, which set off several days of rioting in which more than 1,000 union members were arrested.
Now there is a new criminal charge against a government official arising from one of those deadly labor disputes.
Grupo Viveros, the consortium developing Isla Viveros, has its unsavory features. The consortium was fined for violating environmental laws and destroying several archaeological sites on Isla Viveros, which is in the Perlas Archipelago. Then one finds among its principals one Andre Beladina, a Frenchman who used to be a lawyer until he was convicted of embezzling from the Belgian bank where he worked. The main spokesperson for Grupo Viveros is one Gustavo De La Cruz, a Colombian who stated in La Prensa that if the SUNTRACS construction workers' union wasn't removed that people would be killed.
And the government obliged Mr. De La Cruz, both by killing Argüelles and by removing SUNTRACS.
The second of those acts is now also the subject of a criminal prosecution, this time against Rodolfo Stanziola, who serves as Director General of Labor in the Ministry of Labor Development. Back in 2007 SUNTRACS complained that Stanziola had altered records to fraudulently decertify SUNTRACS and certify a company union brought in by Grupo Viveros as the official representatives of the construction workers at the project. The Public Ministry, more than one year later, has now opened a formal criminal investigation against Stanziola, who remains at his post in the Ministry of Labor Development.
So, other than the familial
blood feud that dates back to even before President Torrijos's father,
the late General Omar Torrijos, had leftist leader Floyd Britton killed
and secretly buried that November 29, 1969 at the Coiba Island penal
colony, why would the government of Panama go so far out of its way,
and out of the law's bounds, to support a sordid outfit like Grupo
Well, one of the other
Grupo Viveros principals is a PRD legislator, Héctor
Alemán. He managed Martín Torrijos's presidential
in 2004, and is currently the campaign manager for the ruling party's
2009 presidential standard bearer, Balbina Herrera.
In an attempt to win US
congressional approval of a US-Panama free trade pact, Panama has
agreed that labor laws are enforced in Panama.
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2008 by Eric Jackson
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