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Volume 17, Number 3
February 27, 2011

news

Also in this section:
Scenes from this year's Carnival
Rival congresses, dual power in the Ngabe-Bugle Comarca
Burning garbage not the only complaint at the former Nikki Beach
Gómez and Chato deportations dog Panama's reputation
INMET says it has lots of options as share prices plunge after Law 8 repeal
WikiLeaks: Hillary coordinating gun control strategy for our region
WikiLeaks: Suspected drug racketeers were US "War on Drugs," Afghanistan contractors
Ministry of Social Development email used for "Nigeria letter" scam
US State Department drug policy report on Panama's money laundering scene
Mining law repealed
A wild weekend of rebellion and repression
Scenes from the anti-mining protests


Many things that used to be in a Panama News Briefs feature of the website have now migrated to our constantly updated Facebook page


Environmentalist leader Raisa Banfield. The white minority Martinelli regime put out a propaganda video accusing her of having "dark interests." Archive photo by Eric Jackson

Three journalists among those arrested, with deportation proceedings against a La Prensa columnist
Martinelli sends in cops, lashes out at anti-mining protesters
by Eric Jackson

Some of his own advisors warned President Martinelli not to press the mining issue, that the country as a whole was strongly against strip mining and the rural communities mentioned as mining sites were ready to explode. He went ahead, got the National Assembly to rubber-stamp his bill without serious debate, and the Ngabe-Bugle Comarca predictably exploded. There, mining is a symbol of many other abuses of the past, present or foreseeable future.

The first Ngabe protests on February 7 were dispersed with tear gas, rubber bullets and shotgun pellets. A week later, the protests were bigger and the president's decision to select a general cacique for the comarca raised tempers above the boiling point. Then journalist and activist Claudia Figueroa, who calls herself Prensa En Resistencia on Facebook and whose writings are most often seen on the Comuna Sur website, did a little bit of Internet research and published her findings online: Rogelio Moreno, the alleged general cacique of the Ngabe-Bugle Comarca, is on the Ministry of Government and Justice payroll, at $600 per month. So here was Minister of Government and Justice Roxana Méndez "negotiating" with one of her own subordinates to end the protests. The revelation tore away the last shred of the government's already tattered credibility among Panama's 10 percent or so indigenous population, which is spread among seven ethnic groups with their own languages, cultures and political dynamics.

On February 24, Ngabe came down from the hills in their thousands for their "Days of Resistance" and blocked the Pan-American Highway in half a dozen places, while other anti-mining protesters blocked the road to the Petaquilla gold mine in Cocle, the street in front of the University of Panama and various roads in Bocas del Toro. The main blockades were at San Felix in eastern Chiriqui province and at the bridge at Vigui, at the border between Veraguas and Chiriqui provinces. Further to the west, there was another serious shutdown at Hornocitos, plus a lot of little on-and-off blockages at other points. At about sundown on the 24th the protesters withdrew for the night, as reinforcements --- some of whom had traveled from remote roadless villages --- continued to pour in.

At 10 a.m. on Friday the 25th, the roadblocks went back up. A lot of people were trapped, but some who waited patiently were let through by the protesters. One of The Panama News readers who lives in Volcan and was headed home got stuck for four hours at a roadblock in Veraguas, which was opened at 6:00 p.m., to start "the Panamanian Grand Prix to David."

The next morning the crowds grew and the roadblocks went up again. That afternoon, the police began to move in on several points where the highway was blocked, and protesters began to make their way toward the legislature in Panama City to object to the police action.

In the Interior, pitched battles left a number of protesters and a number of police officers injured, and resulted in the arrests of about a dozen protesters by police and the capture of four or five police officers by protesters in San Felix. The cops withdrew without having been able to break the larger roadblocks. It probably dawned on the government that success in opening the road at one point would in the short term just lead to the road being blocked at another point.

The political score was emphasized in the comarca and in San Felix. Comarca police officers seized the offices of the presidentially appointed governor and effectively served notice that they would not be taking orders from Rogelio Moreno. Virtually all government officials abandoned San Felix.

In the city the police had more success, as they moved in to arrest people moving toward the legislative palace. The chief targets were three journalists: Paco Gómez Nadal and his companion Pilar Chato, both of them Spaniards; and Claudia Figueroa. All three are members of the Human Rights Everywhere group. Gómez Nadal has a weekly column in La Prensa that is said to infuriate Ricardo Martinelli and strings for a number of foreign publications. Chato is an editor with El Diario Montañes in Santander, Spain. The government began deportation proceedings against Gómez Nadal and released --- both on the presidential website and on the RCM television news channel that the president at least partly owns --- some strange videos purporting to show how La Prensa's resident Spaniard was instigating violence. Those who were arrested with him say that Gómez Nadal was covering the protest, taking pictures, but that once he was arrested the police destroyed evidence of that by erasing the chip in his camera.

On the morning of the 27th, protesters agreed to an hour's truce to let stranded drivers through, but about 15 minutes into that period a government vehicle attempted to pass. Its two occupants were detained by protesters and the truce was cut short. As the sun went down the road was still blocked but a government delegation was in San Felix negotiating with indigenous leaders, with the Catholic bishop of David, José Luis Lacunza, serving as mediator. The government promised to promulgate a law barring mining in the Ngabe-Bugle Comarca, the protesters agreed to lift the roadblocks, and the two sides agreed to further talks about a series of outstanding issues. All persons held were released and there were promises of no further legal actions over the roadblock confrontations.

The biggest of the unresolved disputes would be about who holds legal authority in the comarca, and a confrontation over that issue is looming for the weekend of March 5 and 6 if no compromise can be reached. It's a safe bet that Rogelio Moreno will not be general cacique, but there is a possibility that there will be rival sets of comarca officials.

On the afternoon of the 27th, all of those arrested the previous day near the legislature were released, except for Paco Gómez Nadal and Pilar Chato, who were being held by Migracion and on a fast track toward deportation. The proceedings against the two Spaniards have prompted international attention and protests from journalist groups in Panama and abroad.

Scenes from the power struggle



Above and below, protesters getting gassed at Hornocitos on February 26




Hornocitos: tear gas on a side road. Photo by FRENADESO Noticias


Indignation in Hornocitos


Wounded protester. Photo by FRENADESO Noticias


A message for Martinelli from protesters in San Felix


Police move in on protesters near the legislature


Propaganda video from the RCM news station, which Martinelli at least partly owns. So, can you tell from the circles and arrows how the foreign agents are directing and inciting the indigenous protests more than 200 miles to the west? And if the president very clearly sees this, should we worry about a hallucinating head of state?


Quite frankly, a racist screed from a white administration that treats indigenous
people like children and is terrified of black architects and foreign journalists.


People gathered outside the Ancon corregiduria, where those arrested near the legislature, except
for the two Spaniards, were being held on February 27. Photo by FRENADESO Noticias


San Felix protesters greet government negotiators






Also in this section:
Scenes from this year's Carnival
Rival congresses, dual power in the Ngabe-Bugle Comarca
Burning garbage not the only complaint at the former Nikki Beach
Gómez and Chato deportations dog Panama's reputation
INMET says it has lots of options as share prices plunge after Law 8 repeal
WikiLeaks: Hillary coordinating gun control strategy for our region
WikiLeaks: Suspected drug racketeers were US "War on Drugs," Afghanistan contractors
Ministry of Social Development email used for "Nigeria letter" scam
US State Department drug policy report on Panama's money laundering scene
Mining law repealed
A wild weekend of rebellion and repression
Scenes from the anti-mining protests



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© 2011 by Eric Jackson
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email: editor@thepanamanews.com or

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Eric Jackson
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