Monday July 12, 2010

Attached to a bill dealing with aviation issues recently passed was a so-called 9 in 1 law whose inclusion has angered wide swaths of the Panamanian public leading to strikes and violence.

The law allowed workers in union shops to decide not to pay their dues.  It allowed exceptions to the requirement that projects perform environmental impact studies.

“The Bill presented, ostensibly to aid the aeronautical industry in Panama, includes drastic changes to the labor law regarding strikes; in the penal code, making DNA testing obligatory for any suspect, and also instituting an automatic sentence of 2 to 5 years for the failure to properly declare funds or goods over ten thousand, and releasing the police officers of the automatic suspension when involved or accused of abuse of authority. The final change involves the elimination of the Environmental Impact Study (EIA in Spanish) for any government project that is deemed to be “in the public benefit…In Panama  on Saturday, armed riot police ringed a hotel where union and civil activists leaders were meeting to discuss the law (Bill 30) and a general strike, an official reaction  that has been compared to the Noriega years.  Over 50 activists were arrested according to news reports. Source

Protests by union workers in the province of Bocas del Toro have led to several deaths, including reports of two children who died from exposure to tear gas.   The United States Embassy expects continued clashes this week with demonstrations and other events scheduled.

Other protesting groups included construction workers in the Canal zone working on the new canal and medical workers, on unrelated issues.  Some teachers were striking too.

Peace Corps volunteers have been ordered to prepare for evacuation in the event matters deteriorate to the point where safety can not be guaranteed.  Bocas volunteers not in site are not allowed to return.

Peace Corps and US Embassy officials are closely monitoring the situation, sending updates by email, text and Fm radio for those volunteers without telephone or Internet service.