By Tian Spain for LAB, Costa Rica
On 6 February the Panamanian government sent in armed police to end the week-long blockade of nine highways, including the Interamerican Highway that links Panama with Costa Rica. One indigenous man was killed, 32 protesters and 7 police officials were injured and 41 protesters arrested.
Although the government initially denied using arms, a photographer from the Estrela newspaper took a picture of a policeman holding a firearm (see photo). The government accused the protestors of throwing stones at the police and setting fire to the police headquarters in San Felix (Chiriqui Province).The blockade of the highways brought to a standstill four of the country's nine provinces.
The 5,000 protesters mainly come from the country's largest indigenous group, the Ngöbe Bugle, although trade unionists and members of other mass-based organisations also participated. For many years, the 250,000 Bugle living in Panama have been under pressure to leave their land to make way for mining projects and hydroelectric power stations.
The current protest concerns the reform of the mining code, which will allow mining to be carried out and hydroelectric dams built in indigenous territories. An ad hoc commission of the National Assembly and a coordinating committee of indigenous groups had previously negotiated a new bill incorporating indigenous demands for protection of their territory and the environment. But the bill that finally appeared before the National Assembly last October, Act 415, failed to include the crucial Section 5, which protects indigenous lands from being exploited for mining or dam construction. The indigenous people are demanding that this Section be reinstated.
For more information (in Spanish) see:
Two Killed During Panama Mining Protests
by MiningWatch, Canada*
8 February 2012
Two indigenous Ngöbe-Buglé men were killed and dozens more injured in connection with a police crackdown on dissent over mining and hydroelectric developments in Panama, where Canadian mining companies have a significant presence.
Since January 30, thousands of Ngöbe-Buglé blocked the Inter-American Highway at San Felix in western Panama, demanding that the government approve legislation that would annul existing mining and hydroelectric concessions granted in their territory.
Despite calls for peaceful dialogue, the Martinelli government responded with police force on Sunday in an attempt to suppress protests and clear the highway for transit. Jerónimo Rodríguez Tugri was killed on Sunday when police opened fire against indigenous demonstrators. Mauricio Méndez died Monday.
The violence in San Felix has triggered widespread dissent from civil society groups and other indigenous nations throughout Panama. Road blockades, marches, and vigils are taking place across the country, including in the capital city, where universities have also been closed. The banana workers union in Bocas de Toro has declared an indefinite strike until the government complies with the Ngöbe-Buglé's demands.
In response to police violence, indigenous Ngöbe-Buglé protestors have burned down police stations in the towns of San Felix and Volcán.
The Ngöbe-Buglé territory is home to Cerro Colorado, one of the world's largest remaining copper deposits. In recent years, Canadian consulting agency, Kokopelli, recognized locally as working on behalf of Vancouver-based Corriente Resources, has maintained a controversial presence on indigenous lands carrying out activities to promote mining that local indigenous leadership have criticized.
In central Panama, in the town of Coclesito, protestors also blocked the access road to Petaquilla Minerals' mine and the future site of Toronto-based Inmet Mining's proposed open-pit copper mine project. Residents of this area have had long-standing conflicts with Petaquilla Minerals over environmental contamination from the mine. There is also concern that the recently approved Inmet mine will destroy a protected area in the Mesoamerican Biological Corridor. State-owned Korean Resources Corporation is poised to obtain a 20% share in the INMET project, which environmental groups say violates the Panamanian constitution.
International human rights organizations denounce the violent actions taken against Ngöbe protestors. Today, Amnesty International released an Urgent Action urging the international community to condemn the violence meted out by Panamanian authorities. The United Nations Special Rapporteur on indigenous rights and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights have also called on the Panamanian government to halt the police violence and enter into negotiations with the Ngöbe-Buglé.
Dialogue was slated to begin Tuesday between indigenous leaders and government officials.
Proposed mining law reforms to permit foreign state investment that would enable Asian investors to finance Inmet's Copper Panama project have also been subject to protests during the past year. The rights of Canadian corporations operating in the Mesoamerican country could be further strengthened by a free trade agreement, which the Canadian parliament has yet to implement.
To take action:
To respond to Amnesty International's Urgent Action Notice or voice concern to the Panamanian Government, please see this pdf.
Cultural Survival also has an online urgent action that you can respond to here.
*st published in Upsidedown World