Panama: Peasant protests against hydroelectric project suffer repression

Photo by Robin Oisín Llewellyn

Peasant’s protesting against hydroelectric project suffer repression; Economic freedom index worsened; Murder rates decrease, but robberies increase.  

Photo by Robin Oisín Llewellyn

Peasant protests against hydroelectric project suffer repression

Indigenous populations and peasants suffered repression on January 9 and 10 in the first violent protests of 2013.

Clashes took place in both the provinces of Veraguas and Chiriquí, where indigenous and peasant groups are demanding the end of two hydroelectric projects, Las Cruces and Barro Blanco.

The police used tear gas to disperse protestors that were seeking to close various roads, including points of the Vía Interamericana (Inter-American Highway).

Indigenous and peasant groups spent various days close to the San Pablo river, waiting for government to answer a petition to stop the projects. They claim the hydroelectric plans will negatively affect 27 communities.

They fear their land will be flooded, which would make them loose their homes and crops. The indigenous leader of Ngöbe Buglé, Silvia Carrera, stated the hydroelectric plant “won’t bring development to the people, rather the opposite”.

The government of Panama is in favour of developing hydroelectric plants to reduce the country’s dependency on oil.

Economic freedom has worsened

According to The Wall Street Journal and the Heritage Foundation’s study on Economic Freedom, the situation in Panama has worsened.

The Index of Economic Freedom, which examines and compares 177 countries, found that Panama lost points in six out of ten categories. It was ranked number 71 – a lower score than the previous year. It was also among the ten countries that suffered the most significant downgrade.

Reasons for this negative outcome have been attributed to both an increase and a lack of transparency in public spending. The ineffectiveness of anticorruption laws has also been pinpointed. The continued vulnerability of the judicial to political interferences is also to blame.

Scandals, such the Financial Pacific, don’t help to give Panama a good image at the international level.

This case sees government officials, including president Ricardo Martinelli, allegedly involved in the manipulation of Petaquilla Minerals shares and the embezzlement of millions of dollars from Financial Pacific, the brokerage firm from which this scandal gets it’s name.

Notwithstanding, authorities are confident that the financial system remains strong. Others have said that the situation will worsen.

All in all, Panama is also ranked 13 out of 29 Latin American countries and remains well above the regional average and what can be considered relatively free economies.

Murder rates decrease, but robberies increase

Panama is the fourth country in Central America with the highest murder rates. Homicides have decreased since 2012, although robberies have increased.

According to the report on crimes and offences, 665 crimes were committed in 2012, 94 less than in 2011. Laptops and mobile phones were the objects that were stolen the most.

Homicides have decreased to 18 for every 100.000. In 2011, the rate was of 20.8 for every 100.000 and in 2009 it reached up to 23 for every 100.000.

45% of the victims were aged 18 to 29, with Sunday being the day where most criminal activity took place. 29.2% of homicides took place on Sundays.

For José Raúl Molina, Ministro de Seguridad Pública (Minister for Public Security), it’s the second year in a row that assassinations are more due to social violence, street violence and domestic violence than to organized crime, such as drug trafficking.

Molina added this “means that Panama has a violent society” and that putting policemen in front of every house would not solve the problem.

About the Author

Charlotte Serres
Charlotte Serres is Pulsamérica's writer for Panama and Costa Rica. She obtained her first Degree in Politics and International Relations from the University of Bath. In 2012 she completed an MSc in Latin American Studies at Oxford, specializing in Political Economy and Governance of Natural Resources. Charlotte's areas of interest include Central American politics, regional integration and international relations.