For more than one week now, western Panama has seen violent demonstrations and riots between two opposing forces. First are the indigenous community of the Ngobe-Bugle, Second are the national Panamanian police forces. The protesters have managed to shut down a section of the Pan-American highway(which links the country to Costa Rica). All this has been in opposition to the Government non-enforcement of Article 5 of (proyecto de ley) 415, which cancels and prohibits all national and foreign mining and hydroelectric development within their traditional lands. Although Panama is accustomed to unrest and demonstrations, always for similar reasons, this time it seems to be more violent than usual.
The recent Indigenous demonstrations have already created important economic losses for the country, as the (blocked)province of Chiriquí is Panama’s chief agricultural centre and a strong tourism center at the same time. Many villages are isolated, so when a majority of roads are blocked, many people are not supplied with basic products. For instance, Some Central American travelers are still blocked in Boquete without the possibility of exiting. In response to this popular uprising, anti rioting forces have deployed and repression has started.
Police forces are accused of using excessive force: while I am writing this post, dozens of demonstrators have been arrested or injured, and one 26-year-old indigenous man was shot dead by the police. Unfortunately, if this sad situation continues, it is probably going to compromise Kalu Yala’s research trip in Boquete and Panama’s highlands.
All this is showing us how Ngobes (and natives’ communities all around the world in general) are tied to their land. Many of them are ready to fight to death in order to protect it from big corporations which only are focused on profit, no matter the impact on land and local communities. Governments should have this in mind and realize that land is the most valuable asset a country owns, and even if exploiting it will bring short term profit, it is not profitable to destroy it or the people whom it maintains.
Attached are links that describe the situation in greater detail: