We really have no strong opinion about the land of the Free Zone. But that’s not the point. The point is that governing means that you make plans, budget them, and present those, explain what you want to do and why. And then you have a debate about that, out of which one or two suggestions will be adopted, or the whole thing rejected, or replaced with a better idea, and then that becomes policy.
It could very well be that the value of the CFZ land can be put at much better use for Panamanians, or for Colon, than by just collecting rent on it. If that is the case, Martinelli should have explained it, presented his plans, convinced everybody. But he never does, because all he and his goons want to do is steal. The only reason he is never transparent about his policies and the finances that support them is that he is a crook, a criminal with his greasy hands constantly in the cookie jar.
Even though Martinelli had to cave and promise that he would cancel law 72 as soon as he comes back from vacation, Panama has not seen a more chaotic and violent day as today, 26th of October, in decades.
Protests at the National Assembly at Plaza 5 de Mayo got out of hand when the police started firing tear gas into the crowd. Battle ensued, and within an hour the TV channels were broadcasting images of people looting various stores in Calidonia. A SUNTRACS march heading to the area was dispersed as well, and street battle and even gun fights ensued.
Albrook Mall was closed, with hundreds of shoppers caught inside. A prison uprising started in the women’s penitentiary, and various inmates escaped. Protests and riots in Colon, as well as looting. Protests in the interior, in Bocas. Road blocks are going up everywhere, and even air traffic from Tocumen is affected.
Anonymous Panama took down the website of the National Assembly, while legislators were starting to panic about what to do. Ongoing statements by the government on how they were really planning to cancel law 72 did not do anything to stop the protests and the violence. Legislators did not even seem to have any idea on how to proceed with the cancellation of the law and their master, Ricardo Martinelli, is still abroad.
The “gladiadores” – Martinelli’s dignity battalions - are doing whatever they can to limit the damage for their sponsors, without much success. Even Martinelli’s own legislators were saying that they had been hoodwinked into approving law 72 without having read it. And then, while former journalists now working for the government – like Carmen Boyd and Tomas Cabal crony Britanico Quesada – were trying to spin a story how Varela with his seco got SUNTRACS to start looting, government spokesman Camacho tweeted that it would be unfair to blame SUNTRACS for the looting. In the face of that much stupidity, what’s a gladiador to do?
Most of the right-wing tactics – from the Martinelli camp as well as the usual gringo crowd – comes down to blaming the protesters for the looting. However, infiltrating protests with hoodlums and goons is a tried and tested Noriega tactic, and it wouldn’t be the first time Martinelli applies lessons he learned from the narco-dictator. Further evidence that something’s rotten with the looting-spin is a picture showing one of those looters being picked up by a government car (see above). Many believe that Chello Galvez mobilized some of his friends from El Chorillo to discredit the protests by taking some flatscreen TV’s with them.
But even if there has been genuine looting, the question is how surprised we should be about that. Martinelli and his accomplices have been looting for years now at wholesale level, by the millions, so why get upset about a dozen guys helping themselves to a new fridge?
Just like Martinelli is the product of the internal rot of Panama’s entrepreneurial and political class, the violence and shoplifting are the result of decades of ignoring Colon, of ignoring the fact that Panama has one of the highest differences between rich and poor in the hemisphere, of allowing massive corruption and exploitation. The stones, the burning car tires, the broken windows of Banco Nacional – they pale in comparison to what our ruling class has caused in damages to the people who are out in the streets this week.
Martinelli’s repeated attempts at imposing laws and his plans to sell off Panama for his own benefit are just the culmination of a process for which the groundwork has been laid equally by the PRD, the Panameñistas, de PP, Molirena and each and every other political party. It is exactly because there is no reliable and trusted channel for political discontent and real opposition that we’re having the situation of today, in which people from all over the place see no other option than to battle it out in the streets.
Is this the beginning of a Panamanian Spring? It’s way too early to tell. But the fact that the protests continue despite the fact that the battle over law 72 has already been won should very much call our attention.