Sectarianism, egos and money divide anti-mining protests

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Today La Prensa revealed that the fake Ngöbe chief Rogelio Moreno is indeed being paid by the government. He receives $600 per month as "cacique regional", the newspaper reports. The Martinelli government earlier signed an agreement with Moreno about ending the protests in exchange for a moratorium until 2014 on the exploitation of the Cerro Colorado copper concession inside the Ngöbe Buglé territory. However, Moreno has never been elected by anyone and is too young to legally hold the position of "cacique".

So how did he rise to prominence? Your Bananama Republic learned that Mr. Moreno is involved with something called the Jädrán Nigwe Nirien. This is a group in the Ngöbe community that was in favor of mining Cerro Colorado. It's president is Adriana Sandoya and the secretary is Hector López. At a meeting, Moreno talked in favor of getting the mine going to the benefit of development of the Ngöbe people, and how he doesn't want to see environmentalists in the territory. See video:


There is something fishy about this Jädrán group. First of all, they have a Canadian consultant, one Don Clarke, himself from the indigenous Black River First Nation. According to our information, he works with the Jädrán group to develop sustainable mining of Cerro Colorado, with one of the components being sharing the concession between the government and the Ngöbe people. They envision jobs, growth and development and lasting benefits such as hydroelectric dams.

This is controversial to say the least - indigenous people and environmentalists have already clashed with the government over the vast number of hydroelectric plants around the comarca - and the Järdán group has been losing support over it to the point that fake chief Moreno most likely will need a police escort should he want to return to his native land.

Undisclosed is also who finances Järdán. Who pays for the consultancy of Don Clarke?

Similarly, the group joined protests against the Martinelli mining law, supposedly because it didn't fit their plans. A video of the protest shows participants marching in sweatshirts of Jädrán - together representing a considerable amount of money - which also begs the question who paid for that.

Conspirational minds may of course theorize that Canadian mining interests have bought themselves an indigenous "civil society" group which will - after first pressing for mines, then protesting against the current law, then signing peace with Martinelli - eventually press for mining-based "development" to which "pressure" our government will then "reluctantly" give in.

Far-fetched or not, the vast majority of the Ngöbe Buglé people does not support Järdán, does not want mining in its territory and is continuing to protest against the Martinelli law regardless of fake agreements with bought "leaders" of their community.


And that is not the end of the troubled protest scene in Panama. Yesterday, in a display of total lack of coordination and disorganization, there were no less than four simultaneous events going on.

First, there was a march called by union coalition Frenadeso, from the Porras park to the 5 de Mayo square. Second, there was a march called by environmental groups, from the Del Carmen church, also to the 5 de Mayo. Third, at the same square, there was already a protest going on by the Ngöbe Buglé. Fourth, there was a forum going on at the Lawyer's Association. We're discarding yet another initiative to fly kites in protest against the mining law.

This confusion - it's impossible to keep track of the cacophony about all the "big marches" the various groups announce, often very late and thus limiting participation - has been a constant feature of the protests so far, and is due not to bungling or inexperience, but to sectarianism and ego-pumping.

Frenadeso, for example, steadfastly refuses to cooperate with the environmentalists, instead choosing to do their own thing. The group is preparing to transform itself into a political party and compete for the presidency in 2014, and thus prefers to maintain a "clear" and "pure" identity over organizing effective protests. What's more, they have an interest in perpetuating issues like the mining law and the sausage law so that they can take advantage of them for campaign purposes.

The environmentalists, on the other hand, narrow things down to a purely environmental issue instead of recognizing that it's first and foremost a struggle for indigenous rights. They made the same mistake during the protests in Bocas last year and were rewarded with finding themselves outside of the game. This self-marginalization keeps their vision "pure" and, more importantly, their leadership intact. Over the last decade they have not won any meaningful battle, thus perpetuating their own "need" to exist.

This, we suppose, is why human rights activist Paco Gómez, the 22nd of this month in La Prensa, apologized to the Ngöbe Buglé people not just for the actions of the government, but also those of the various groups based in the capital:

Y, por último, les pido disculpas en nombre de las organizaciones de la capital. Bienintencionadas todas, pero a las que su fuerza y capacidad de reacción les ha agarrado una vez más por sorpresa. Su lucha requiere de sacrificios difíciles de aceptar para los que estamos acostumbrados a carro, casa y aire acondicionado. Nuestras luchas a veces tienen horario de oficina y su dignidad es de 24 horas.

Overlooking this landscape, we fear that Martinelli and his mining sponsors don't have much to worry about.

15 thoughts on “Sectarianism, egos and money divide anti-mining protests

  1. The Citizens of Panama now know without a doubt that this corrupted Martinelli Government will stoop to pure deceit, pure lies, the unlawful jailing and imprisoning of Peacefully Demonstrating Citizens, just to stay in Power!

    This whole contrived mining agreement is completely and unequivocal unconstitutional under the Panamanian Constitution and Mining Laws!

    Under the Panamanian Constitution are the following Articles:.

    Article 3 of the Constitution states:
    “On the national territory means the land area, territorial sea, continental shelf offshore, subsurface and air space between Colombia and Costa Rica. “The country can never be ceded, transferred or disposed of, temporarily or partially to any other states”

    Article 118 of the Constitution,:
    “States that the State has the duty to guarantee to the population “a healthy environment free of pollution, where water and food meet development requirements proper human life.”

    Article 121 of the Constitution “Determines that the law shall regulate the exploitation of nonrenewable natural resources in order to prevent damage arising from the same social, economic and environmental impact.”

    Article 290 of the Constitution states that “no foreign government or institution or foreign official or semiofficial may acquire control over any part of the country, except in the case of the headquarters of embassies.”

    The Real Question Now ?

    Do the Citizens of Panama have the stomach and the fortitude to defeat these continual attempts by this Panamanian Government to destroy their Heritage, steal their Ancestral Lands, deny proper health care, deny proper Education, deny safe work conditions, deny Safe clean air, water, and soil, above all the denial of their rights under the Panamanian Constitution ?

    Panama has a two tier Legal, Criminal, & Court system!

    One Legal, Criminal, & Court system for those in Political Power, the wealthy families & Businesses, and those associated with the mass corruption and Money laundering!

    The other Legal Criminal, & Court system is used to against, to control movement, to harass, to fine, and to imprison the Poor, underprivileged, and the middle class of Panama!

    As long as the Citizens march and demonstrate peacefully against this Evil Corrupted Panamanian Government they have the power to change the way this country behalves on their behalf!

    No World Financial Bank or Government will lend or Give money to a country that suppresses it”s citizens the use of Lethal force, the Killing of it’s Citizens, and the jailing and imprisoning of Peacefully Demonstrating Citizens.

    The only reasons now that this Panamanian Government is not attacking , arresting and imprisoning these Peacefully demonstrating Citizens is the world is watching us also(North Africa &the Middle East)!

    Also Panama does not have enough Jail cells and prison cells for the 80 Percent of it’s Citizens who are completely against these Mines and the major Corruption of this Martinelli Government!

    “Panama where the numbers never add up”

  2. The only authentic protests are those by the Ngöbes. It’s not just about their environment, but about tradition, dignity, refusing to be exploited. One would think that other groups would rally around them, but most of them are more preoccupied by showing off their involvement and pretending to “own” the issue, so they only do their own thing at the expense of the Ngöbe.

  3. “No World Financial Bank or Government will lend or Give money to a country that suppresses it”s citizens the use of Lethal force, the Killing of it’s Citizens, and the jailing and imprisoning of Peacefully Demonstrating Citizens.”

    Ummm.. the US does and has for years. I don’t see the UN doing much about all the dictators in the world either.

  4. “The only authentic protests are those by the Ngöbes.”

    Sorry, this is a really negative and divisive piece. I attended the Frenadeso protest yesterday and there was a mix of all sorts – environmentalists, Kuna, Naso, and of course, unionists – are they ALL inauthentic? I also attended the march last Sunday and again saw a healthy mix of indigenous peoples and what you witheringly referred to in previous posts as ‘civil society’. Whilst there may or may not be ego issues in the higher ranks of these organisations, and indeed some politicking (as always), I think you are being unduly unfair and dismissive. Thousands of non-indigenous people have taken to the streets to state their objections to Law 8, but perhaps you would prefer it if they all stayed at home, thereby reinforcing whatever prejudices you seem to have about Panama’s ‘civil society’. Your tone is embittered and disparaging – and whilst preferable to Mr Don Winner, right now you are sounding like another miserable ex-pat, enjoying the warmth of the sunshine and complaining about the state of the nation. I enjoy the black humour and misanthropy of Bananama, but negative diatribes about the nascent protest movement are not helping the Ngobe – egos divide anti-mining protests indeed.

    • @ExiledBrit: I haven’t said a word about the protesters, only about the organizations involved.

      I’ve been here for over ten years now and I have NEVER seen those organizations win any meaningful battle, let alone cause any transformational change. Never. And the reasons for that are those mentioned in the article. I think I have as much right to be annoyed about that as anyone else who lives here, has children growing up here. Indeed I think those environmentalist groups are inauthentic when they attempt to “own” the issue while it is the indigenous people who are doing all the heavy lifting, like last year in Bocas and now again about the mines. Indeed it angers me to see Frenadeso refuse to cooperate or even coordinate with other groups because of the political ambitions of its leaders. Indeed I find it outrageous that when half the population of the capital suffers from the garbage environmental disaster, the environmentalist groups don’t organize anything but instead hold a stupid vigil for some old mango trees in Calle 50.

      In the correspondence I had with some activists preceding this article, most of them agreed but were afraid to discuss it openly because they didn’t want to show the government how deep the divisions are:

      Estoy totalmente deacuerdo contigo, pero no puedo permitirme hacer críticas en estos momentos, como dices lo único importante aquí es el pueblo Ngäbe y en pro de ello asistiré a la marcha y llevaré algo de comer a los que estén en el parque. Caminaré lo que tenga que caminar y gritaré lo que tenga que gritar…
      A Frenadeso (Saúl Mendez) le diré en su momento porqué no me inscribiré en su partido y lo que pienso de ellos.

      Again, none of this says anything good or bad about those who participate in the protests. It’s the groups that (dis)organize them that need to get their act together.

  5. @Editor

    Fair enough. The environmental groups are ineffectual, the trade unions are power-hungry. But their participation, whether or authentic or not, can only be useful. The more noise the better, right? The more bodies the better, right?

    What use is complaining that they aren’t doing it properly? At least they’re doing something, at least they’re banging the drums. What use is criticism if it isn’t constructive?

    These groups are the enemies of our enemies, and therefore, to some extent, our friends. Pissing over their efforts might provide relief, but it doesn’t help in any real sense.

    I appreciate you didn’t mention protesters directly, but when you make blanket statements like – “The only authentic protests are those by the Ngöbes” – I hope you can see how that might come across as negative and divisive.

    The protest mantra – ‘esta lucha no es de uno, esta lucha es de todos’ – precisely aims to build support beyond the indigenous sphere. That’s half the struggle – convincing average citizens that this issue has national significance.

    The environmental ‘hook’ seems like a logical one – the unions scare people and the indigenous are exclusively indigenous. Besides, the environment is a resource we all share and enjoy. We want our children to be able to enjoy it.

    All that said, I agree that this is first and foremost a Ngobe struggle. It threatens them more gravely than anyone else.

    By the way, where is your evidence that the environmentalists are trying to ‘own’ this? As far as I can see, environmentalists are always between a rock and a hard place. The right despise them for getting in the way. The left despise them for not doing enough.

    I have only been here a short time, and so have yet to become jaded, but at least one meaningful victory comes to mind, and that relates to the Sendero Quetzales in Chiriqui province – didn’t they successfully prevent that trail from being converted into a highway?

    Also, another thing I have noticed is that the environmental camp does seem to put out handy information, for example – – I do not see anyone else disseminating anything so useful to the public domain.

    • @ExiledBrit:

      Fair enough. The environmental groups are ineffectual, the trade unions are power-hungry. But their participation, whether or authentic or not, can only be useful. The more noise the better, right? The more bodies the better, right?

      What use is complaining that they aren’t doing it properly? At least they’re doing something, at least they’re banging the drums. What use is criticism if it isn’t constructive?

      That’s not the issue. The question is, why protest, risk being arrested and teargassed and what not, if the “leaders” work against those protests being effective? Remember what happened in Bocas? Eventually there was this “dialog” in which the “civil society” and “union leaders” participated (the environmentalists were excluded because they didn’t carry any weight), and NOTHING was accomplished. Again, I’ve seen this happen over and over and over again.

      If I join the Ngöbes in their protest, I want to have a chance at winning the battle. Environmentalists organizing competing events and/or hammering their own agenda at the same time works against that. They may have important things to say, but they could also know by now that people don’t rally en masse behind “for a better environment” or “a sustainable panama”. It’s elitist, and the end result is confusing messaging and even more confusing planning – if you’re not already “in” these protests it’s almost impossible to find out what is being planned for when and where, which in its turn further limits participation.

      Unless this changes, or the Ngöbes steamroll over everything else and become THE central issue, this battle will be lost just like all the others. Mark my words.

  6. What so many Foreigners, Gringo’s, and Expats here in Panama do not seem to under stand or plain fail to understand about this present Panamanian Government is that those who voted for Martinelli actually believed that Martinelli and his cabinet would actually change how Panama does business and at least slow down the massive wave of pure corruption and pure criminal activities within Panama!!

    Martinelli has lied and lied and lied and has done almost absolutely nothing of what he promised he would do for and within Panama during the election process, which got him Elected!

    What has Martinelli done to actually helped or changed the plight of the Poor, the Underprivileged, and the Middle Class of Panama!


    But to enrich himself, the Members of his Cabinet, his friends, and his Foreign Business associates!

    I talk with and meet with many Panamanians during the course of my day within all economic classes and ethnic backgrounds!

    These Panamanian are totally sick and tired of this greedy opportune Corrupted Panamanian Government period!

    Well over 80 percent of the Citizens of Panama disagree with and are totally afraid of what this present Government represents, is doing and has been doing to the Citizens of Panama!

    The Majority are so scared to say or do anything publicly , that would not only put their own economic and Personal security and lives in jeopardy, but the lives of their Families, close Relatives and Friends if their opinions where know by these Politicians, Political Parties, and Ministries of this Right wing Government.

    The Latin Americas as a whole which includes Panamanians will tell one story to the Government and press mostly stating what they assume these entities want and desire to hear!

    Rampant Fear is the Constant among the People of Panama!

    So, yes the Kuna, Naso, and the rest of the indigenous Citizens of Panama along with the environmentalists Groups, the Unions, the teachers, the Transportista, and various other Groups within Panama are grabbing on to this struggle!

    These Present Marches Demonstrations, the Blocking, and the shutting down the streets, roads, and highways are now entirely outside the normality and accepted forms of Protest here in Panama!

    This struggle may be the only Chance the 80 Percent of Panamanian Citizens will get to over come this Tyranny of Deception in this present situation .

    Just look at North Africa or the Middle East Now!

    The norm here in Panama was to Block and/or shut down the streets, roads, or highways between 9:00 AM to 6:00 PM during weekdays never on the weekends.

    Now, there has a been paradoxical paradigm shift to 24 hour Demonstration placement, along with much larger groups of Citizens demonstrating longer hours which now lead onto days instead of hours, which now will lead into weeks!

    Panama can be another Libya if this President, Security Minister, and the head of the National Police Occupational Army have their way!

    This Panamanian Government is so afraid of it’s own Citizens and that it will lose Power!

    This Panamanian Government might and will resort to massive lethal shootings and imprisonment if it has the Chance!

    The Only true Enemy the Panamanians Have is their Government.

    The world is watching Panama!

    “Panama where the numbers never add up.”

  7. The Ngobe always have been the central issue. That will never change. They will be at head of the table in any “dialogue”. They have to be. They are the ones making the sacrifices. There’s no way this can be spun to the benefit of Union leaders. And as you say, the environmentalists are on the fringe.

    But why do their separate events necessarily work against the Ngobe – equally, couldn’t they compliment them? Couldn’t they involve people that otherwise would not get involved? Agreed, coordinated attack is better, but uncoordinated attack is better than no attack at all.

    Part of the problem is a lack of information in the public domain. Nobody has bothered to collate and publish a protest schedule for all the different groups, let alone try to coordinate them. You say there are protests planned in the capital – when, where, by who? Why aren’t they informing people. If you can give me this information, or tell me how to get it, I will publish it myself.

    • But why do their separate events necessarily work against the Ngobe – equally, couldn’t they compliment them? Couldn’t they involve people that otherwise would not get involved? Agreed, coordinated attack is better, but uncoordinated attack is better than no attack at all.

      I don’t agree with that. If you have a decade-long sequence of protests that never accomplish anything, it devalues those protests. It is because of what I pointed out in the article that Martinelli et al know that they can ignore them.

  8. But since the unions/environmentalists are miles from the front-line anyway, what does it matter what they do. The real war is going to be fought on the Interamericana – at the junctions of San Felix and Boca de Monte – not on the streets of the capital.

  9. Pingback: Ngöbes win mining battle, environmentalists lose | Bananama Republic

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