Today, at this moment, thousands of indigenous Ngobe Bugle people are fighting against “reforms” to Panama’s Mining Codes rushing through the National Assembly. The “reforms” are devised to allow copper mining on Colorado Mountain in the Talamanca’s. The proposed mining activity by a South Korean company is expected to produce up to $300 million a year in revenues but news reports don’t say who will enjoy the $300 million. The fight is over preservation of the pristine environment and protection of the rivers in these mountains.
For the last six days protesters have blocked traffic on the Inter-American Highway between San Felix in Chiriqui Province (where we live) and Santiago which is in la Provincia de Veraguas a stretch of road over three kilometers long. Other roads blockaded include the road between Boca Grande in the Province de Bocas del Toro. I have heard that there are five roads blockaded in Bocas. No traffic can get in or out of Bocas. Dozens of people are trapped within the blockade in their cars and some have been stranded with little water and food (no toilets) for several days. The president sent five helicopters to the biggest blockade on the InterAmericana Highway to rescue hundreds of stranded people who have had little water, food or bathroom facilities. These seem to me to be innocent victims of an ideological battle that may not end with these protests.
Our friends, Roseanne and Pete, from Tallahassee, had been visiting us in Boquete for a week. We had a great time, drove over the Talamanca Mountains for a few days at some villas on Isla Colon in Bocas del Toro. We decided to return to Boquete on Saturday. Good thing because otherwise we could well have been sequestered on the highway for several days. Not a good idea in the tropical heat we experience in these parts this time of year!
Thousands of people have taken over the road between Panama City and the frontier with Costa Rica, blocking delivery of gasoline, food and other vital things like newspapers etc. traffic is passing between San Felix and David. We couldn’t get a newspaper here in Boquete this morning and people are worried that the supply of gasoline will soon dry up. Chiriqui Province provides a tremendous amount of vegetables and meats for the rest of the rest of Panama and these supplies are not moving through the human blockade.
Panama’s president, Ricardo Martinelli, has come to Chiriqui but no one knows whether he will meet with the protest leaders. Yesterday there were arrests and beatings sending people with various injuries to the regional hospital in David. Police had attempted to disperse the crowds with tear gas, pepper gas and by shooting rubber bullets into the crowd. Everyone is alert to the action and there are some groups attempting to support the indigenous forces by sending food, water and clothing to the protest site.
Alberto Montezuma, Chief of the Ngöbe Bugle General Congress, has called an extraordinary meeting to oppose President Martinelli offering of Cerro Colorado to the South Koreans.
Montezuma said, “I have called all of the representatives of our congress’s three regions to let our opposition and the steps we will take be known,” adding that Martinelli can not give away Cerro Colorado to foreign mining interest knowing that the mountain is part of indigenous lands.
Reactivation of the Cerro Colorado mine would produce more than 600 million tons of copper per year, ranking Panama sixth in World copper production behind Chile, the United States, Peru, China and Russia, according to reports in La Prensa. Our understanding is that there is a division of opinion between the different groups representing teh nGobe Bugle peoples with some groups wanting to assert their rights to the increased income that owuld come from the mining while others are hanging tough for a “no mining” rule to protect the land, rivers and streams. We’ll see!
Since we hope to get out of Chiriqui somehow next Sunday the