Negotiations Continue in Panama with Intermittent Roadblocks

The united protesting organizations and the Panamanian government t meet Sunday in the fourth day of negotiations. Photo: Ismael Gordon / La Estrella de Panama

The social sectors and the government seek to sign an agreement on the first of eight demands. The government now proposes a 28% reduction in the cost of the basic foods.

By Ismael Gordon Guerrel (La Estrella de Panama)

HAVANA TIMES – The Panamanian government and protesting organizations established a subcommittee to review a proposed 28% discount on basic foods this Sunday, June 24. The partially paralyzed country has seen nationwide protests over the last two weeks. Government – Protesting Groups negotiations began in earnest on June 21st.

The unions and other citizens’ groups and the government seek to sign the first of an eight-point agreement. The government proposes a 28% reduction in the cost of basic foods.

With the proposed reduction, the basic foods would cost at $209.19. The same foods were costing $289.92 in June, which would represent a reduction of $80.73, according to Oscar García, an advisor to the government.

The unions initially requested the reduction of the basic foods by 30% and expanding to other products using a list previously issued by the Ministry of Health for healthy living.

The Government now promises to include 69 products in price controls.

The added products include chicken, fish, cucumber, chayote, celery, broccoli, carrots, sweet peppers, yellow onions, cassava, brown sugar, papaya, mango, seasonal fruits and others.

The Minister of Labor, Doris Zapata, insisted that the proposal be analyzed and discussed immediately to determine if there is consensus, especially due to the need to lift the road closures. She proposed creating a subcommittee made up of the Executive, unions and other organizations that participate in the dialogue, to review the proposal and achieve agreement on point one regarding basic foods.

The Executive proposes to establish a national commission to define the components of the basic food basket “in accordance with the times and realities of the country”, while, through the Office of Price Regulation, it works to present a draft Law so that the agreement has a binding regulation.

On the other hand, the creation of an Advisory Council on the matter will be the subject of debate in the National Assembly. [Nonetheless, several speakers of the protesting groups expressed little confidence in the legislators.]

Meanwhile, the issue of food distribution costs will be analyzed at the intersectoral table for agriculture, as well as an inter-institutional payment table with the participation of the Comptroller General of the Republic and the Ministry of Economy and Finance.

The government promised to have the Farm Products Distribution Institute (IMA) open food distribution stores in several provinces before the end of the year and more in 2023, to strengthen access to products at discount prices. Likewise, the IMA will also buy and distribute the products through private commercial establishments. To facilitate this, two IMA stores will be opened in Llano Tugrí and Muná, in the Ngäbe Buglé indigenous region, with much less road infrastructure.

Similarly, the Ministry of Agricultural Development will be an intermediary with the municipalities so that producers can sell their products directly to consumers at community fairs.

The negotiations between the Government and the protesting parties began on Thursday afternoon, with the Catholic Church, as facilitator.

Leaders of the United People for Life Alliance, the National Alliance of Organized People, the Teachers Union, and members of groups from the Ngäbe Buglé region and peasant communities participate in the talks with the government taking place in the central Panamanian province of Cocle.

President Cortizo assigned the Minister of Labor, Doris Zapata, as the Executive’s technical liaison at the table.

Meanwhile on Saturday, the Panamanian Association of Business Executives accused “the Government of inaction by not guaranteeing the livelihood and property of those of us who live in this country (…) seriously affecting free transit, health, education, work, private property and has even sabotaged food security.”

“The Executive repeated on Saturday in a statement its’ call for an end to the roadblocks, in which it maintained that “any person who commits acts of vandalism will be prosecuted according to the laws.”

The unified demands of the different protesting groups are:

  1. A lowering of basic food prices without affecting producers.
  2. A lowering and freeze on fuel prices. (Already lowered to $3.25 a gallon for two-three months)
  3. Supplying the Ministry of Health and Social Security pharmacies with sufficient medicines and lowering their price, without privatizing them.
  4. Complying with a mandate for 6% of the PIB to be earmarked to Education
  5. Lowering the price of electricity
  6. A discussion on Social Security Fund issues.
  7. Addressing corruption and transparency
  8. Establishing a multi-sector table for follow up

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