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Cry Wolf

In the "Cult of Escapism": Cry Wolf

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Cry Wolf

There once was a little boy that worked on a sheep farm. He got bored one day and started screaming “Wolf! Wolf!” just to see how everyone would react. The villagers rushed to the farm, pitchforks at the ready, and found only grazing sheep and a laughing little boy.

The first week of February, the Ngäbes blocked the highway for four days to protest the proposed mining and hydroelectric projects on their land. On February 5th, the riot police used tear gas, rubber bullets and shotguns loaded with rock-salt to remove the protesters. Bulldozers cleared the roads of burning tires, trees and other obstacles. The protesters did not leave without first throwing rocks and occasionally molotovs at the riot police and during these conflicts, many were injured and two killed.
Protests in February

In order to prevent further protests, the government and the Chief of the Comarca signed an agreement claiming there would never be mining in the Comarca. However, they did not come to an agreement about the hydroelectric projects and have been negotiating ever since.

So, every few days for the past month, people in my town have claimed there will be more road-closings and violent protests. “Things are going to get serious, Jack. There will be war.”

At first, I listened intently and expected a repeat of the early February action. However, with each rumored day, I lost faith in their assertions.

The villagers returned home, annoyed, as the little boy smiled gleefully. Two days later, he again cried wolf and the villagers came running.

“Jack, we are closing the road on Friday.”

“We close the road on Monday.”


“This time, the people are serious. We close the road on Wednesday.”

Wolf, wolf, wolf wolf wolf.

Blocked road
To be fair to my people, unlike the boy in the story, they genuinely think they see wolves in the distance. The Chief has set several deadlines for the negotiations and has repeatedly told the Ngäbes to stay alert and wait for her word. And they have. And she hasn't sent them yet.

The emerging issue for the Ngäbes is that, in early February, they enjoyed support across the country. There were 25 separate protests on February 5th, many of them outside heavily Ngäbe areas. Recently however, Panamanians are counter-protesting against the Ngäbes. These protesters carry signs saying, “Move the Ngäbes,” which essentially advocate keeping the road open.

Many Panamanians feel that the Ngäbes won enough with the mining agreement and would now be unduly inconveniencing their fellow countrymen by blocking commerce and civilian travel. The government also promises lower power costs after hydroelectric construction.

A latino supporter
This week, the United Nations stepped in as a facilitator and the negotiations will be held in the UN offices, which are essentially a neutral location. Official press releases of important decisions will also be presented after each session, to prevent the local media from twisting the issue and misinforming the country (most local papers are like the National Enquirer, only not as classy). If anything is to be resolved, this is the environment.

When you cry wolf too often, you lose the trust of your people. The Ngäbes won the mining battle (for now) and made enough noise to attract international involvement. Yet, they threaten to close the road every two or three days and no one believes them anymore. In doing so, they've created a new, larger and more powerful threat for themselves – isolation from their countrymen.

In some versions of the fairy tale, the little boy watches as all the livestock is eaten by the wolf. In the version I'm familiar with, the wolf eats the boy. In the new, Panamanian version, the Ngäbes busily cry wolf, when they should really be concerned about the bear.


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