Instant Update: Popi Varela has closed the door and civil society is not let into the assembly building, contrary to what was promised. Send a text message, this is illegal! Varela's cellphone numbers are 66728836 and 6670-9836. That of legislator Quirós is 66783783. Text them! We'll have more numbers for you shortly.
Today, Friday, The national assembly continues its second debate about the so-called "ley chorizo" (sausage law), so named because of its hodgepodge of ingredients that are generating increasing protests from labor unions and civil society. The session in the assembly yesterday was interrupted several times, the police closed off the building for "security reasons" and the legislators excelled in their characteristic simian behavior of yelling and shouting, calling names and other vulgarities.
RUMBLE AMONG THE OLIGARCHS
The law's official purpose is to stimulate the aviation industry. In reality, it is Martinelli's olive branch to the Motta family which owns Copa Airlines and can under this law contract a higher percentage of foreign employees than previously, among other things. The Mottas, as they are known, have been on very bad terms with Martinelli for some time now, and given the (economic) power of the family empire Martinelli had to give in one way or the other.
Much more controversial, however, is the provision that eliminates the obligation to have environmental impact studies done on construction and other projects if the government deems such a project of "social interest". This effectively means that Martinelli can then approve of projects that would otherwise be difficult for environmental reasons, such as open pit mines, airports, or opening the Darién gap with a highway to Colombia.
However, the government doesn't seem to have realized that these environmental studies are often a condition for foreign financing for such and other projects. The experiences with BP in the Gulf of Mexico - they had no serious studies done and no contingency plans for accidents - surrounding the massive oil spill make it only more likely that loans and other type of financing as well as a Free Trade Agreement will depend on such studies and other policies to protect the environment.
The law also states that members of the police can not be placed in custody and can not even be suspended in case they committed a crime on the job. With corruption already being the rule in the police force, this puts the door wide open to extortion, drug trafficking, death squads and even more corruption by the police which continues to be headed by a Noriega-era war criminal. One can safely assume that there will be more shake-downs at checkpoints and in the streets, extortion rackets targeting (foreign) tourism businesses and hotels, and even more serious crimes should this proposal make it into law. True to form, Panama's ignorant business sector has not uttered a word about this proposal however, and will most likely start complaining when it is too late.
This law also makes it legal to fire employees who participate in a strike. Together with an earlier law that virtually eliminates the right to have street protests, workers are more and more being squeezed by the ultra right-wing Martinelli government.
The assembly had planned to approve the insane proposal Thursday, however, due to protests and delaying tactics by the opposition no vote was held and the second debate will continue today.
We will provide constant updates right her, so check back often to stay informed.
UPDATE: Varela closes assembly, they'll have this session behind closed doors. Stream works.
UPDATE 2: PRD legislator Avila calls it a shame for the country, denounces riot police inside the assembly, maleantes de mierda. During the campaign they were against mining, now they're facilitating it.
UPDATE 3: La Prensa reports some activists managed to sneak inside, together with PRD legislators.