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In the "Cult of Escapism": Protests

Monday, February 14, 2011


Before reading this post, I suggest reading a short article I wrote about the mining effort in the Comarca at It contains things like facts and citations that are generally absent from this blog.  

The road is being built and the bidding has become more competitive, the mine is coming and the Ngobes are not happy about it.

Many community members went to Panama City this past weekend to protest in front of the General Assembly building. Last Monday, hundreds of Ngobes blocked the Inter-Americana (the main highway that goes across Panama and into Costa Rica) until the riot police tear-gassed them. A three year old girl died - it is unclear if it was from the fleeing feet or the gas itself.

The protests continue this week – on Tuesday they will again block the Inter-Americana, in a different location, and on Saturday they will march across David, the provincial capital and second largest city in Panama. I’d like to go watch but that could compromise my neutrality, something we must maintain as volunteers. It could also be dangerous, as a foreigner and perceived enemy (foreigners will be doing the mining).

However, I feel safe in site – no one here thinks I’m siding with the miners. In fact, I had my most productive mine conversation last week, started by a man who simply wanted to know why the government was willing to destroy the environment so completely. I explained the amount of money at stake (an estimated $200 billion) and the significance of the reserves (would be the 2nd largest in the world). I also explained that since administrations are limited to one five year term, immediate financial gain can be a huge motivator, especially for a president like current president and lifelong businessman Ricardo Martinelli, who owns the Super 99 department store chain (think Wal-Mart).

Martinelli acknowledges the environmental damage – he knows the facts and stated that the Ngobes would receive a “fair” financial compensation. I’ve heard 20% from various community members. If that’s true and the estimates are correct, the Ngobes stand to gain about $60 million per year. That’s a lot of money, but apparently not enough for the dozens I’ve talked to in site and the thousands set to protest in weeks to come. I guess money isn’t reassuring when your river is poisoned and your crops cease to grow.

The man understood and thanked me for the explanation but then asked a terrifying question, which I have since been asked three or four times, “What do you think they’d do if we started using guns?”
I need to look up the Spanish word for “tank.”


At February 15, 2011 at 7:30 AM , Blogger Ila said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At December 7, 2012 at 6:29 AM , Blogger bama said...

Heart rending situations. Everyone has their perspective. You are correct in staying nuetral. I tend to side with the environment almost everytime, but feel it is really better not to take sides. Chapter 5 from the Tao Te Ching: "The Tao doesn't take sides; it gives birth to both good and evil. The Master doesn't take sides; she welcomes both saints and sinners." So be it. I could not open your article.


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