Street battle may be over in Bocas del Toro and daily life may slowly resume in the town of Changuinola, but we're only now getting a first glimpse at the size of the stinking mess president Martinelli and his government have caused.
What brought us here? For those who are new in the Bananama Republic and arrive through the nice words about us on the Mex Files; Eric Jackson of the Panama News did a great write-up of events over the last weeks, events that culminated in various deaths, hundreds of wounded, millions of damage and a national strike - and it's still not over.
After protests Monday in front of the Panamanian consulate in Barcelona, Spain, today that country's paper of record, El País, runs a story about events in Panama that is, to put it mildly, skeptical about Martinelli's government.
If Martinelli wished to keep the dirty laundry of his rule inside, he had better forget about that idea. It's only now that human rights organizations are starting to investigate what went on in those fatal days in Changuinola. The National Ombudsman's office send a delagation to Bocas, together with a group of CEASPA, a human rights group. Their report, made available today, concludes that the jamming through of the so-called "sausage law" was really the last drop for the indigenous workers in Changuinola after endless abusive labor policies by Chiquita's local subsidiary and forced displacements. It also concludes that the police had no intention to prevent the violence and loss of life, and that everybody, including national labor leaders, underestimated the fury of the local unionists.
It then gets more specific about police brutality, noting that the vast majority of those wounded had shot wounds from the waste up, a great number in their faces, and many lost sight in one or both eyes.
On that same subject, TeleSur reports that of the 150 people who were treated for wounds, 20 have lost one of their eyes, and 3 both.
Shooting at protesters with birdshot aimed at anything above the waist is illegal in Panama, but the numbers prove that this is what the police has deliberately been doing. Our police chief, the rabid dog and war criminal Gustavo Perez, has been invisible over the last days, but should really be locked up forever. The victims will now sue the Panamanian state to be indemnified. As a side note to the humanitarian aspect of this tragedy, Martinelli's raging mental illness will end up costing the nation more than anyone would have ever benefited from his sausage law.
Deliberately shooting people in the face is no doubt just one of the themes Varela had to explain when he was called to the office of the representative of the UN High Commissioner of Human Rights. After all, not even during the dark days of Noriega and his goons such a high number of people lost their eyes and their sight, Miguel Antonio Bernal said today in La Estrella, adding that this government needs to change course a 180 degrees to avoid the country spiraling down in violence. But under this government, there is no state institution that respects the constitution any more, Bernal said.
SUNTRACS, the construction workers union, demands an independent investigation of the human rights abuses and the resignation of minister of labor and former Martinelli lawyer Alma Cortés. Cortés has clearly failed repeatedly, first by recklessly implementing the disputed changes in the labor code, then by being unable to negotiate a solution with striking banana plantation workers and last but not least by constantly making gross, disparaging and bizarre comments about those who oppose her policies.
And what does the government have to say? Vice-minister of the presidency María Fábrega apologized to the indigenous communities in Bocas today for the language used by her colleagues like Raúl Mulino when referring to them. Mulino has a history of spouting racist vitriol, against African victims of human trafficking, against activists and against the indigenous population. But then, Mulino's foul mouthed slander didn't kill people or maim them for the rest of their lives. The bullets of his police force did - and no apology has been forthcoming about the outrageous use of violence by the police.
Tourism minister Shamah, implicated by the Colombian authorities in arms trafficking, appeared on TV and said that the government had failed to "explain the sausage law" to the people. We think that the people understood that law perfectly well, and maybe Mr. Shamah should worry a bit more about how his government has destroyed not just human life and dignity, but also tourism in Bocas del Toro for a long time to come.