RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Several labor unions, associations, and guilds of Panama protested this Thursday in the premises of the Parliament against the Government, which celebrates its second anniversary today, in a demonstration that ended in skirmishes against the police.
“It is a government more of the same, businesslike, just like the other six governments of the last 31 years (…) we need a new country, to found a new state. New democracy, new rules of the game”, the leader of the powerful construction union Suntracs, Saúl Mendéz, told EFE.
In front of the National Assembly (Parliament), where Panama’s President Laurentino Cortizo (2019-2024) is scheduled to give a speech for his second anniversary in government, more than a thousand people from the education union, construction, and Panama Canal workers, members in favor of a Constituent Assembly, unions and students protested in a massive rally, the largest since 2019.
“What can we expect from them? Nothing. What can we expect the next three years, nothing, that they continue stealing and passing laws against the people,” Mendéz added.
Between chants encouraged by a local artist and banners with messages against corruption, the demonstrators burned two dolls representing President Cortizo and the Vice President, Gabriel Carrizo.
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The different leaders of the unions present gave a rally in a “cabildo”, as they themselves defined it, improvised in the street to present their main grievances.
The protest was peaceful until a small group broke down the security cordon and threw paint at the police, who responded with tear gas and dispersed the gathering. So far, no one has been arrested.
PETITIONS AND COMPLAINTS FROM THE UNIONS
The educational union, represented by teachers, students, and parents, asked for improvements for education in Panama, hit by the covid-19 pandemic.
“We have nothing to celebrate, today the Panamanian people are in mourning because of mismanagement,” student leader Ileana Corea told EFE.
For his part, the secretary-general of the Panamanian Teachers Association, Abdiel Becerra, explained to Efe that they had requested resources, tools, and protection for students on several occasions, requests that “the government has ignored”.
“We are protesting for a better education for our children, that it was not for the most privileged and that the government fulfill its constitutional duty to provide better education for all citizens in that country,” explained the president of the National Association of Parents of Official and Private Educational Centers of Panama (Anpafa), Aldo Bazán.
Panama Canal engineers, accompanied by two people disguised as Administrator Ricaurte V·squez and Panama Canal Deputy Administrator Ilya Espino de Marotta, also voiced their complaints.
“The Vasquez administration has been nefarious against workers’ rights, they believe that with the stroke of a pen they will eliminate all the rights acquired by the mere fact of trying to open a collective bargaining agreement,” Luis Yau Chaw, secretary-general of the Panama Canal Marine Engineers Union, told EFE.
This Thursday begins a new legislative period in the Panamanian Parliament, after the election of the new president Crispiano Adanes of the ruling Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD).
Cortizo’s government has been embroiled in several corruption scandals during the pandemic, including alleged irregular purchases of medical supplies for serious covid-19 patients.
Transparency International said Thursday that opacity and the absence of a fight against corruption had marked the performance of the government of Laurentino Cortizo.
In the first year of Cortizo’s government, there were massive protests, with hundreds arrested and injured, in favor of convening a Constituent Assembly to draft a new Constitution given the country’s institutional “collapse”.