Special Report: Panama is Burning / Peoples Uprising in Colón: General Strike, Repression and Curfew
Editor’s note: In typical Latin American leftist fashion, this report fails to note that the populations affected by this forced urban dislocation are largely Afro-descended.
The city of Colón is in a state of tension. A general strike began last Tuesday against the government’s “urban renovation” plan. Almost all businesses were closed, construction work paralyzed, there was almost no public transport and schools were empty. Edgardo Voitier, one of the leaders of the Committee to Fight for the Salvation of the Atlantic Coast, explained that the plan is part of a process to “expel the people from the city” and to move over 80% of the citizens—mostly poor and middle-class—to the peripheral areas.
Interviewed in the midst of the protest, Voitier said that the commission “suspects that behind this initiative there’s a plan to use public resources to beautify the city, but only for rich people”, and he reiterated that people are being expelled instead of finding housing solutions in the city center.
The protest was backed by students and professors of the University of Panama, who blocked the capital’s Vía Transístmica, a major artery, with support of workers from the beer and soda bottling plant who are part of the FEMSA union, and from the construction union.
“The plan is part of a process to “expel the people from the city.”
The Secretary General of the FEMSA union said all the main roads of the country were blocked for an hour in solidarity with the inhabitants of Colón, and that new actions in solidarity with this conflict might be taken.
Meanwhile, police forces reported that police cars had been set on fire and that car tires and other flammable objects had been burnt on the streets. They also reported detentions of people who had looted supermarkets. Strike organizers have denied links to these actions. The government has used this as an excuse to declare a curfew on the city. The contract to renovate the city of Colón was awarded in June 2015 to the Nuevo Colón consortium, which is made up of the Brazilian company Odebrecht and the local Constructora Urbana (CUSA). The initial budget is $537 million dollars, although the final cost is expected to be higher. According to a report by Acan-Efe, CUSA demanded its workers to go to work despite the strike because, according to them, the protests “are politically motivated” and not against the company.
This article previously appeared in The Dawn