Panama: Talks Move to Gas Price, Some Roadblocks Removed

By Circles Robinson

HAVANA TIMES – On Monday, the fifth day of negotiations, the protesting social and labor organizations and the Panamanian government achieved an agreement on a significant lowering of basic food prices to consumers. Now a discussion over a lower gasoline price is on the negotiation table.

The price of gasoline was over $5.00 a gallon before the protests and has been temporarily lowered to $3.25 after an initial drop to $3.90.  The protesting groups want a longer-term price cap, initially requesting it be $3.00 a gallon.

Likewise, this Tuesday, July 26, different points that were blocked on the Pan-American highway in the provinces of Veraguas and Chiriquí were reopened. In the highly productive province of Chiriqui the protesting groups said in the morning that the road would be open until 6:00 p.m. The highway unites Panama with Costa Rica and the rest of Central America.

In San Felix, the last of the points that was reopened, there was a caravan of cargo trucks that had been unable to move for more than 24 hours, it is estimated that it was around 500 vehicles; as both directions were blocked, reported Telemetro.

The government and protesting organizations dialogue taking place in Penonome in central Panama, continues for a sixth consecutive day with the Catholic Church representatives as the moderators headed by archbishop Jose Domingo Ulloa.

“We have signed the minutes on point one, the basic food basket, and the document reflects the points of agreement and others still pending,” on this issue, said Ulloa.

A total of 72 products will see their prices reduced by 30% with the agreement reached. The government explained it would use “three mechanisms for implementation: price caps, subsidies and controls on profit margins while reducing tariffs.”

Mediator Ulloa said the signing on Point One “is a light in this process to reach accords so that social peace reigns” in Panama, where despite the dialogue and its advances a nationwide teachers strike continues and some roadblocks remain intermittent on the Inter-American Highway which crosses the country.

Also, on Tuesday, President Cortizo met with business executives who are requesting to be included in the dialogue with the labor and community groups. Cortizo supported their wish to join the talks and asked the Catholic Church mediators to include the businesspeople “so that all Panamanians are included in this great national effort.” 

Cortizo also insisted that his government respects the right to protest but warned that arrests would occur if there are acts of vandalism or other crimes affecting citizen safety.  He said the closing of streets and highways affects everyone and puts people’s health and lives at risk. He said the roadblocks also increase the cost of food while affecting jobs.

Addressing that issue on previous days at the talks, the indigenous community representatives said that years of government failure to address the issues of their territories is what led to the strong protests as their only option. Panama is known as a country of great inequality with a highly wealthy business, political, and professional class and growing poverty among the majority. Covid and global inflation and higher fuel costs acted as a spark to bring the income and purchasing power disparity to the forefront.

The united protesting groups: indigenous communities and several labor organizations including construction workers and teachers, put forth an 8-point agenda for negotiations with the government which led to the dialogue.

  1. A lowering of basic food prices without affecting producers. (The first now agreed on)
  2. A lowering and freeze on fuel prices. (Now under discussion)
  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 mechanism for follow up

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