16, Number 10
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Focus on Bocas
by Kevin Harrington-Shelton
With the dust settling on civil disturbance there, it appears the government's brouhaha on Wild Bill's regrettable Bocas del Toro rampage has proved insufficient to mask that province’s mismanaged and as yet unaddressed issues.
The remit on its non-judicial investigative panel carefully selected Monday 5 July 2010 as its starting point, so it will apparently be reporting on riot effects rather than its underlying causes.
Still looming large is the burning question as to why field laborers' wages were withheld from 2 through 6 July, thus getting the snowball rolling towards the subsequent bloodletting.
It is unconscionable that, given its checkered-past as the United Fruit Company throughout Central America and Colombia, that the US Chiquita Banana's subsidiary should have failed to meet its payroll promptly --- without prior approval from the very highest levels of government. Yet, despite having faulted the Bocas Fruit Company with violating workers' salary rights once violence did break out, government has not come through on its threats of multimillion-dollar fines (quite tellingly backdated to 2 July). And, as part of its well-publicized reconstruction aid to the province, Martinelli even relieved the fruit company of its obligation to supply power to third parties and bought out its aging, oil-fired utility --- thus buttressing suspicions of connivance.
Yet in the deepest background of the Bocas riots are issues of union and/or Indian affairs.
Riders spuriously attached to Law 30 of 2010 in a slam-dunk legislative effort intentionally passed while the world was distracted by soccer kicked off the riots, by seeking to override the obligation of withholding of union dues entered into by Bocas Fruit via decades of collective bargaining. Unions are the key to political stability in a province gearing up for international tourism. And with the distant Panama City government habitually selling field laborers out to their employers, workers view their unions as the sole power countervailing industry abuse. Martinelli's cunning move to thus emasculate union finances would naturally not be well received in Bocas.
Indian affairs loom large in Bocas, not least inasmuch as they dominate the banana industry's workforce.
Since Christopher Columbus first dropped anchor in Bocas del Toro in 1501, its original inhabitants have felt swindled by outsiders at almost every turn. The admirable social coherence within tribes surviving even subsequent arrivals from the West Indies is today endangered by the world’s unrelenting need for non-fossil energy, as the province's potential for hydroelectric generation appears limitless. Most of this involves rivers and dams on Indian territories. The plight of the Naso is particularly poignant, as they literally walked 500 kms to Panama City, camping out in the shadow of the Presidential Palace without as much as how-do-you-do from its occupant. This despite that, on the hustings, Mr. Martinelli had promised a new Ministry for Indian Affairs; now playing at president as he did prior to the crisis, this appears very unlikely to materialize.
Things thus do not bode well for Bocas.
Also in this section:
Editorials: Three reasons to oppose Law 30, and An egregious lie
Harrington, Focus on Bocas
Human Rights Everywhere, Report on Bocas (PDF)
Asamblea Ciudadana, In defense of Human Rights in Panama
Gandásegui, The crisis continues
Venables, A consumer complaint about Panama
Watts & Dannels-Ruff, PRODEC's last gasp?
Trumka, The stakes for Latino workers
Human Rights Watch, European companies violate US workers' freedom of association
Franken, Net neutrality is the First Amendment issue of our time
Barrett, Hardline immigration reform
Greenpeace, A welcome report on the UN climate change organization
Baker, Advice from the IMF
Amnesty International, Mexico releases indigenous rights activist
Mello Franco, The environment, Lula and Marina Silva
Reporters Without Borders, Crackdown continues on Honduran radio stations
Avnery, Damage control
Leis, Interview with Bolívar's mentor
Bernal, Wandering around like ants
Sirias, The question of place
Letters to the editor
2010 by Eric Jackson
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