COLON, PANAMA – October 22nd, 2012 (InsideCostaRica.com) – The government of Panama sent special troops to the Caribbean city of Colon, 50 kilometers north of the capital of the country, as protests continued in the streets on Saturday. The protests are against the approval of a law that allows the sale of land in the free zone area of the city to private companies.
As tension mounted, government forces equipped with special artillery took up positions in the “Via Transistmica,” just as thousands of pilgrims were walking through the streets on their way to celebrate the “Cristo Negro de Portobelo” festivities in Colon.
The National Front for the Defense of Economic and Social Rights in Panama (Frenadeso, in Spanish) has called for more demonstrations today in the capital city of Panama and in the cities of David, in Chiriqui, as well as in Changinola, in the province of Bocas del Toro, which borders Costa Rica.
Unions support the protests that became more intense on Friday, when a 9-year-old child died during clashes between the police and the protestors, who are opposed to the privatization of the free zone. Free zone areas are currently rented to an approximate 3,000 companies.
The angry crowd destroyed symbols of authority and a gasoline station, which belonged to the manager of the free zone, Leopoldo Benedetti.
The privatization plan is that of the president of Panama, Ricardo Martinelli.
Colon is the city with the second-largest economy in Panama. Residents, however, say they are not willing to release their main resource, the free zone known as “Zona Libre de Colon” (ZLC), to the hands of multinational companies. In 2011, the free zone imported and exported $29 billion dollars.
During the clashes, thousands of angry young people confronted government authorities, though the government has shown no intention of meeting their demand to remove the controversial law from the National Assembly.
Labor workers and even teachers sprayed graffiti with the words “Colon is not for sale” on walls throughout the city.
The “Law 72”, approved by the President of Panama, allows 30% of the funds obtained from the sale of the lands to be allocated to a Trust for public works, and 70% to the National Treasury. In addition to unions and other labor factions, opposing politicians are also voicing their opposition.
Milton Henriquez, from an opposing party, said that the government is trying to “cover a hole” in that country’s public finances caused by unmeasured spending, of which people have grown tired.
Alfredo Berrocal, from the Public Servants National Federation, said that Panama has come to a point of totalitarian rule, lead by president Martinelli, and made a call for resistance.
The Catholic Church has asked Martinelli to reflect and listen to citizens, in order to avoid the conflict spreading throughout the country.
UPDATE: Local media sources in Panama have reported that security forces shot and killed the 9-year-old boy mentioned in this story. Inside Costa Rica has also witnessed videos which show clear abuses by security forces towards civilians.