Panama: Dialogue with Few Advances, Employers Want In  

The Inter-American Highway reopens, for now

(Photo by Rogelio Figueroa / AFP)

The Executive announced the inclusion of experts from the Ministry of Economy and Finance to present an in-depth analysis of the proposals

By Larish Julio (La Estrella de Panama)

HAVANA TIMES – Negotiations between government representatives and organized groups, including teachers, construction workers and indigenous communities, entered a third day on Saturday with slow advances thus far.

On Friday, one of the few advances was that the Executive presented to the unions the possibility of including 17 products in the price freeze on basic foods. The presentation was made by Carlo Rognoni, Deputy Minister of Agriculture.

The items that would be included in the freezing of imported products are: toothpaste, toilet paper, bath soap, sanitary towels, deodorant for men and women, Clorox, fish preparations, canned fish, vegetable oil, soybean oil, wheat flour, bread and bakery products, corn cream, IMA brand coffee and IMA brand sugar.

While the talks were taking place in the central Panamanian city of Penonomé, in the capital, several owner groups from the industrial and productive sectors called press conferences to ask for their inclusion in the dialogue.

“The ideology and economic system that the various protesting groups are trying to introduce is not an experiment. It has already been proven that it annuls the productive capacity of a country, breaks the constitutional system, and leads to poverty, as demonstrated in the countries where it has been erroneously implemented by lying to the people,” said Luis Frauca, president of the Association of Industrialists of Panama. He also asked for “greater assertiveness in the government’s actions in terms of saving measures, fighting corruption and oversight of justice and democracy.”

In a joint press conference, the Panamanian Association of Executives (Apede) and the National College of Private Enterprise (Conep), requested that the negotiating table be three-party (government, private enterprise and the protesting groups) and criticized the characteristics of the dialogue in light of the fact that street closures continue in some parts of the country.

“Businesspeple are not part of this table. We reiterate, it is the unions and other groups in protest and the government,” said Fernado Abrego, leader of the Teachers’ Association, when questioned by the media.

The popular organizations that sat down to negotiate with government representatives on Friday afternoon and now on Saturday hope to advance the previously agreed agenda of issues, besides the proposed 30% reduction in the price of the basic foods put forth on Thursday.

The government’s proposal, in contrast, was to lower the basic foods by 15%.

Vice President Jose Gabriel Carrizo, is in charge of personally coordinating the analysis by the Executive team in Penonomé.

Meanwhile, President Laurentino Cortizo, held a virtual meeting with the Minister of Labor, Doris Zapata, in charge of the technical secretariat of the dialogue, instructing them to maintain a high-level discussion, listening carefully and respecting the initiatives, ideas and proposals that are received from the different participating sectors.

At the request of the organizations taking part in these days of negotiations, Vice President Carrizo requested the presence of specialists from the Ministry of Economy and Finance to come to the negotiating table to present in detail the current and future commitments of the State in economic matters, as well as the scope and effects on the country’s finances of the subsidy established by the government to set the gasoline price at $3.25 a gallon.

The unified initial 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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The Inter-American Highway Reopens, For Now

Opening of the Inter-American highway in Santiago de Veraguas. Photo: Ombudsman

The indigenous groups clarified that the reopening is conditional on the progress of the dialogue table in Penonomé, otherwise they will return to the streets

By Lourdes García Armuelles (La Estrella de Panama)

HAVANA TIMES – The closure on the Inter-American highway, in the province of Veraguas, was lifted on Friday by the indigenous groups that were in the area.

“We are going to open the streets so that vehicles can travel freely and in this way show the government that we are willing to dialogue and we are waiting for a favorable response for the people, no more deception,” announced Reynaldo, leader of the Ngäbe Buglé comarca, to the La Voz de Veraguas.

Reynaldo noted that if the answers that the various groups have demanded are not forthcoming, they will return to the streets. In the meantime, he said that they will be participating in the dialogue table in the central Panamanian City of Penonome, in Cocle province.

The reopening of the Inter-American highway comes after the harsh clashes between protesters and the National Police, which occurred this week, resulting in several injured, detained and acts of vandalism.

The police intervention occurred at a time when the popular organizations were coordinating with the Catholic Church at a unified dialogue table with the aim of reaching a single consensus on their demands, including the high price of fuel, basic foods, and medicines.

Meanwhile, La Prensa de Panama reports Saturday that some roadblocks continue in the province of Chiriqui, blocking producers from taking their products to market.

Read more news here on Havana Times

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