panamanian police kill indigenous protesters
What began with villagers at Ojo de Agua in Chiriquí province using trees and rocks to block the Pan-American highway earlier this month – trapping hundreds of lorries and busloads of tourists coming over the border from Costa Rica for six days – has now placed Panama at the forefront of the enduring and often violent clash between indigenous peoples and global demand for land, minerals and energy. Carrera is emerging as a pivotal figure in the conflict.
“Look how they treat us. What do we have to defend ourselves? We don’t have anything; we have only words,” Carrera protests. “We are defenceless. We don’t have weapons. We were attacked and it wasn’t just by land but by air too. Everything they do to us, to our land, to our companions who will not come back to life, hurts us.”
At the height of the protests, thousands of Ngäbe-Buglé came down from the hills to block the highway; in El Volcán and San Félix they briefly routed police and set fire to a police station. In Panama City, students and unions joined with indigenous protesters marching almost daily on the residence of President Ricardo Martinelli. Some daubed walls near the presidential palace with the words “Martinelli assassin”.
Carrera pulls from her satchel a hastily drawn-up agreement brokered by the Catholic church that obliges the Panamanian national assembly to discuss the issue. It did not guarantee that the projects would be halted. Neither she nor the Ngäbe-Buglé people expressed optimism that the government would keep its word on the mining issue.
“The village doesn’t believe it,” she says, “and it wouldn’t be the first time that the government threw around lies. They do not listen to the village. There was a similar massacre in 2010 and 2011, when there were deaths and injuries. Some were blinded, some of our companions lost limbs.” A cry goes up: “No to the miners! No to the hydroelectric!”