MAC: Mines and Communities

Panama: Agreement reached between indigenous leaders, government

Published by MAC on 2012-02-14
Source: Prensa Latina, The Panama News (2012-02-08)

After brutal suppression of demonstrations against mining, an agreement was reached last week between Ngobe-Bugle leaders and the Panamanian government.

But this was not before two people had been killed, and dozens of others injured.

Previous article on MAC: Panama erupts in protests against new mining law

Agreement reached between indigenous leaders, government

Prensa Latina

8 February 2012

Ngäbe Buglé leaders and members of the government reached an agreement this afternoon that put an end to the protests that have left two people dead and dozens of others injured.

Protesters block a road during a protest in El Vigui, Panama
Protesters block a road during a protest in El Vigui, Panama.
Source: Indian Country Today

Bishop of David José Luis Lacunza, who served as a mediator between the two sides, announced that an agreement had been reached shortly after 6 p.m. Once the agreement is signed, the indigenous leaders said they would end the protests and the government agreed to remove police from contested areas.

After the signing, it was agreed to resume a dialogue in the National Assembly tomorrow on the subject of the construction of hydroelectric dams and mining in indigenous areas.

The government agreed to release all detainees and drop all charges against protesters. It also agreed to provide medical attention to the people who were injured and provide permanent compensation to the relatives of Jerónimo Rodríguez, who was killed Sunday.

Police also agreed to stop flying helicopters over the contested areas.

The Catholic Church will remain as the mediator in further negotiations between the two sides. Other independent groups will observe the meetings, including the United Nations, the Evangelical Church of Panama and the rector of the University of Panama.


Indigenous People Keep Vigil in Panama despite Agreement

Prensa Latina

8 February 2012

Panama - Panamanian indigenous people have continued with their vigil near the National Assembly in this capital, despite the agreement reached between the Government and the Coalition for the Defense of the Rights of the Ng be-Buglé People's and Farmers.

After an exhausting day when they marched from December 24 Avenue to the Presidential Palace, the indigenous people did not return home and remained at May 5 Square, waiting for the resumption of debates on a draft bill on mining

The situation differs from the one that existed prior to the Ng be-Buglé rebellion last week, when they blocked the Inter-American Highway in San Felix, Chiriqui province, for five days, to protest against the exclusion of an article that protected the aboriginal territory from mining and water exploitation.

As of Wednesday, however, the discussion must go back to the first debate at the Trade Commission to include the article and resume its analysis as part of the rest of the legal document.

The indigenous people, most of whom live in the capital and took to the streets to support their brothers from Chiriqui, Bocas del Toro and elsewhere, said they will not leave the vicinity of the Assembly until Article 5 is approved.


Why the Ngöbe had to die?

http://www.bananamarepublic.com/2012/02/08/why-the-ngobe-had-to-die/

8 February 2012

The violence against the Ngöbe uprising may be over since an agreement was reached yesterday, but many questions remain to be answered and issues are unsolved.

Why was all the violence necessary in the first place, if the government after days decided to negotiate and give the Ngöbe what they wanted anyway?

Why did Panama have to live through such a violent episode for the third time already during Martinelli's administration, each time related to mining and exploitation of water resources? To recount: The first time was Bocas 2010, with one of the main issues being a law that would eliminate environmental impact studies for mining projects deemed of national interest.

The second time was with the Ngöbe in 2011, about mining in their reservation.

The third time was over the last week, when the government tried to break its promise of no mining and no hydroelectric plants in Ngöbe territory - and again they were touting "national energy interests" as the reason for the slaughter.

What interests are big and important enough for the government to have so many people killed and wounded?

La Estrella, in a great hard-hitting investigative piece today, gives us an important piece of the puzzle. The newspaper names two well-known Panamanian entrepreneurs, Gabriel Btesh and Felipe Virzi, as the men behind a big hydroelectric project that has been in the works for years and would seriously affect the Ngöbe reservation.

Btesh and Virzi are well known in the wonderful world of Panamanian megacorruption and crooked deals. La Estrella also calls them out as the driving forces behind a high-profile land scandal in Paitilla, where a flower salesman showed up as the supposedly legal owner of an extremely valuable piece of land which was then transferred for pennies to them.

Both gentlemen are good friends - and probably business associates - of our president Ricardo Martinelli. Virzi is even related to Martinelli. President Doens of the opposition PRD party told La Estrella that the duo had approached him on behalf of Martinelli, proposing that he tone down the opposition in exchange for money.

The violent repression of the indigenous people defending their land and their livelihood went together with endless government spin, repeated by other "friendly" entrepreneurs like Juan Francisco Kiener, president of the Syndicate of Panamanian Industrialists, threatening skyrocketing electricity prices and even daily blackouts if building hydroelectric dams in the territory of the Ngöbe would be prohibited.

However, La Estrella reports that the Btesh-Virzi plant, if built, would only generate 4.5% of Panama's national consumption, according to the project's own studies. On top of that, no less than 17 such plants are already under construction in Chiriqui, outside the comarca.

Those indisputable figures did however not stop Jimmy Papadimitriu yesterday evening from stating that the water resources in the Ngöbe reservation would be protected "as long as that doesn't endanger the energy security of the country" - a revealing glimpse into what Martinelli et al may try next in their quest to enrich themselves, their families and their associates.

Luckily, the Ngöbe are not to be fooled again. The National Assembly is going to be in session from 2:00 PM today to discuss the mining law, this time with the clause that prohibits mining and exploitation of natural resources in their territory. Large groups of Ngöbe have surrounded the parliament and have assembled in various places throughout the country, ready to take action if the agreement turns out to be yet another government lie.

But even if they keep their word, the question is if we really want to live under a government that maims hundreds of people and kills several more, just to safeguard the corrupt business deals of its associates who are already filthy rich.

One of the most distasteful pictures of yesterday - except for the photos of the killed teenager, shot at close range with a rifle - was the one showing the National Police cordoning off Super99 supermarkets. They weren't protecting lives, or banks, or women and children; they stood there, protecting the stores of Ricardo Martinelli.

And that is not a state of affairs anyone should tolerate.


Statement of Silvia Carrera, General Cacique of the Ngabe-Bugle Comarca

The Panama News

8 February 2012

Since I was chosen as general cacique of the Ngabe-Bugle Comarca have have been concerned about answering to my people. Being a woman and with only three months in charge, the commitment is great because the region has many needs.

Today the Ngabe people return to fighting in the streets. It isn't capricious, we are asking for something just: we don't want mining, nor hydroelectric dams.

The blame for what is happening is the government's. They're mocking us. It's how this government of businessmen uses us to entertain themselves, today saying one thing and tomorrow another. And when there are problems, Martinelli simply goes off on a trip.

It appears that what the government wants is war and violence. And so it was this past Thursday night. We were open for dialogue! We want to sit down and talk, but with the riot squad here it's evident that they want to suppress us.

The say that we are financed by political parties --- if they say that, they should prove it and give names. I'm sure they won't find it because there simply isn't any. Thank God many people help us, and they aren't politicians. The Ngabe people are in the strees asking for their rights to be respected: we want neither mining nor hydroelectric dams!

Here we have no politicians, those who only want to divide and never listen to the cries of the people.

What's happening is very painful for us. I know that there are many people in the streets, who were talking to many foreigners, and they are conscious of our struggle. The truth is that we hadn't wanted it to get to these levels, but the government is at fault because they don't want to listen to the people. Since Monday we were calling for dialogue, we wanted to talk, the people wanted to hear them. In the comarca we don't have thugs: we're Christians, peaceful people.

We only want them to comply with the accords that they signed on February 27 of 2011. The government has to understand that the land is our mother, it is because of her that we live. Thus the people defend our mother, who is our family.

In the comarca we have no divisions. We are struggling people, good people. The government's strategy is to divide us, but we have always been united and we will continue to be so in the future.

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