Total madness in mining standoff

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It's day five in the blockade of the Panamerican highway by the Ngöbe people in protest against mining on their lands, and the Martinelli government is ready for the psych ward as it continues to contradict itself on just about everything.

Yesterday evening, the government and the Ngöbe leaders agreed to meet in San Lorenzo to start a dialog and find a way out of the crisis that has travelers stranded and causes empty shelves in the capital's vegetable markets.

The church, represented by bishop Lacunza, would act as mediator in the rapidly escalating conflict.

However, after waiting for the government representatives for almost five hours, they gave up. President Martinelli then declared that the government wouldn't meet with anyone in San Lorenzo but offered to cook dinner and serve drinks to Ngöbe chief Silvia Carrera if she'd come visit him at his palace. So who agreed to a meeting in San Lorenzo then, just hours earlier? Is there still one government in this country or do we now have several, each acting against each other?

A year ago, the government agreed it would not allow mining, hydroelectric plants or similar exploitation of natural resources in the Ngöbe comarca. Martinelli literally said we could "hang him from the highest tree if he would break that promise". Today they say that without hydroelectric dams electricity prices will go up 30% - a blatant and transparent attempt at blackmailing the population which largely supports the indigenous struggle.

Even more bizarre is the telephone issue. Yesterday evening, all mobile operators cut service to the area of the protests. Cable & Wireless played a message on its information number saying that service had been cut on orders of the competent authorities. This act provoked a flurry of protests as well, because a government can't just cut phone service without any kind of legal order or due process. Human rights lawyer Miguel Antonio Bernal announced that he would sue the government and the phone companies for this illegal act.

But guess what? Minister of national security Raúl Mulino then made public statements blaming the interruption of phone service on "sabotage" and "terrorism", denying that the government had ordered any of it. Maybe it was the other government again, the same one that agreed to meet in San Lorenzo? Why on earth would all phone companies insist they have been ordered to shut down service if it weren't true?

And then, to further illustrate that Mulino is talking crap, we just learned that Cable & Wireless is allowing government robocalls to go through to subscribers in the affected area. How can that be if the towers have been sabotaged?

Then, Martinelli came on again, now saying that there won't be mining in the Ngöbe comarca. If that's true, then what is the problem including such a clause - which was agreed upon already a year ago - in the law they're trying to pass?

Protesting union members in the capital as well as teachers in Veraguas - both in support of the Ngöbe people - were arrested today. Meanwhile, we continue to get reports of a substantial police and SENAFRONT build-up in and around San Felix. SENAFRONT is the militarized frontier police which keeps the entire Darién province under military command already for years.

Another indication that something is in the works is a report we got from the AEVE teachers union, informing that the hospital in David has been told to implement emergency contingency plans for large amounts of wounded people coming in.

There is pressure from the church, civil organizations, the UN and even journalists to avoid a violent confrontation, but violence is exactly where a schizophrenic Martinelli is heading and it won't end well for him.

5 thoughts on “Total madness in mining standoff

  1. Quite a few hydro projects are under construction already, the ones I’ve seen are near Paso Ancho and Caisan, and apparently not a reason for conflict because of the locations involved.

    Instead of more of those projects, the better idea is to reduce energy consumption first, by changing the dress code in offices and exchanging the air conditioners by less energy-hungry ceiling fans.

    Well designed tropical office dress can be an export article and the issue also stimulates behavior to eliminate obesity in Panama. IOW by reducing energy consumption, the extra benefit could be reduced suffering and lower health costs.

    It’s rather unfortunate that many politicos follow the leader of the number one banana republic by favoring the 1% who are busy to transform ever more resources into (soon worthless) greenbacks.
    http://www.nytimes.com/2010/11/07/opinion/07kristof.html?_r=1

  2. Our friend in Panama was arrested, along with 45 other young professionals from Panama City (engineers, doctors, lawyers, etc) as they tried to join the Ngobe-Bugle people in their protest, but were road-blocked by police. They all suffered from being beaten with clubs and attacked with tear gas, and they were held for nearly five days in prison without being allowed any communication with family or legal aid . They were released yesterday, February 4th. Also, telecommunications provider Cable & Wireless cut phone/cable service to the protest area. This is a side of the story that’s not being told in the mainstream. Many Panamanians support the Ngobe-Bugle protest, but their voices are being silenced by yet aniother government that puts profit before people and the planet.

  3. It’s a sad state of affairs. Panama on one hand tries to showcase themselves as this top tourism destination and leading economic powerhouse. And on the other hand, they can’t manage their resources and infrastructure on ANY level. The downward spiral that Panama is on only leads me to believe that there is more conflict and instability on the horizon. Sad.

  4. The Cacique was assassinated. those bullet wounds are aimed at the head. Martinelli is a coward and not qualified to be a leader.

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