July 2010: Disturbances due to strikes and other matters

This was originally several entries, so the first entries are at the bottom.  You work your way up.  I will fix this when I have time.

No further disturbances anticiated

July 14, 2010 — garypeg

Wednesday, July 14 2010

As of noon today Peace Corps officials determined that no further disturbances were foreseeable.  Peace Corps volunteers are no longer confined to their locations.

Peg and I are back in our community.

Yesterday’s strikes peaceful

July 14, 2010 — garypeg

Demonstrations in Panama City yesterday came off peacefully.  Martinelli, the President, announced the government would suspend implementation of the so called 9 in 1  law, also called the ‘chorizo’ (sausage) law.  The government presumably will hold dialogues, and would not prosecute strike leaders.

Peace Corp volunteers are still restricted to their present locations.  Further demonstrations are scheduled this week.

Wide spread protests July 12 starting midnight

July 13, 2010 — garypeg

Wide spread protests are anticipated starting after midnight tonight, July 13, 2010.  La Prensa reports a settlement of the strike in Bocas but with only a temporary suspension of implementation of changes to the labor law inhibiting union dues collection.   Other elements are unappeased and plan protests and marches.

All this commotion seems to have sprung up over night although the strikes in Bocas del Toro have been going on for 9 days.

President Martinelli owns a large grocery chain and has no previous government experience.  His pro-business and anti-environmental policies  have angered many segments of the labor unions and almost all the environmentalists.

He issued a statement this evening stating that his doors are open for dialogue- now that he has opened Pandora’s box.

Strikes over 9 in 1 law spread across country, volunteers on alert

July 12, 2010 — garypeg

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.

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