PANAMA – October 24th, 2012 (InsideCostaRica.com) – The President of Panama, Ricardo Martinelli, announced that he would halt his proposal for the sale of lands in the Colon Free Zone, arguably the most important Free Trade Zone on the continent. The announcement comes after protests in that city that led to the death of several victims, including and 9-year-old boy, and strikes by the labor unions
“If the people of Colon do not want the lands of the ZLC (Colon Free Zone) (to be sold), the sale will be abolished,” wrote the president on his Twitter account. The president has been on an official tour in Japan and Vietnam since last week, when the conflict began.
“Increase in rent of 100% for Colon,” he later added on the social media network, referring to the rents paid by the thousands of companies located in the free zone.
Previously, the Minister of Finance and Economics, Frank de Lima, had announced in a press release that by orders of Martinelli a part of the law would be modified, and the article which would allow the sale of the lands would be suspended while the sectors that are protesting in Colon are able to speak with the Government.
“We are not going to proceed with any sales while we are having a conversation (…) the article that allows the sales is being suspended,” said de Lima.
The minister announced that the “Law 72” was to be modified, which would stipulate that 100% of the funds from the proposed sales of lands in the free zone would be destined to a trust, which would fund development and social interest programs in the region. The original law committed 35% of the proceeds to the trust.
Despite the offers, some protestors have said they will only speak with the government if the “Law 72” was to be eliminated.
“We do not accept the government’s proposal presented by de Lima, we demand the Law to be abolished (…) these lands are more productive in the hands of the State than in private hands,” responded Felipe Cabezas, from the “Frente Amplio Colonense.”
Colon has been the scene of violent protests which began on Saturday. Clashes between protestors and government forces ended in civilian deaths and injury, including the death of a 9-year-old boy, who some say was killed by security forces. Videos of security forces abusing civilians have since appeared online on web sites like YouTube. The Minister of Government confirmed on Tuesday that “several people had died,” but offered no other remarks by saying the Public Ministry would investigate the circumstances of the deaths.
The Government has defended the controversial law under the premise that it would allow the region to raise a large amount of funding for its development.