"Screaming Banshees" - Protests and Demonstrations in Panama
Wednesday, June 30 2010 @ 01:50 PM UTC
Contributed by: Don Winner
Democracy Alive And Well in Panama: Albeit far from perfect, it's easy to see how democracy is alive and well in the Republic of Panama. Former dictator Manuel Antonio Noriega is currently on trail in Paris, France where he faces money laundering charges because allegedly he and his wife used more than $3 million dollars of drug money to buy property there. After the United States invaded Panama now more than 20 years ago, arrested Noriega and ended the military dictatorship that had a 21 year reign of terror, there have been five elected presidents. Notably, the political parties in Panama are polarized with Noriega's Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD) on one side, and pretty much everyone else on the other. Power has shifted back and forth five times, and since the invasion no government or administration has been able to pull a "repeat" -
- Guillermo Endara - 1989 to 1994 - "Civilista" Opposition Alliance - Anti PRD
- Ernesto "Toro" Perez Balladares - 1994 to 1999 - PRD
- Mireya Moscoso - 1999 to 2004 - Arnulfista (Panameñista) - Anti PRD
- Martin Torrijos - 2004 to 2009 - PRD
- Ricardo Martinelli - 2009 to 2014 - Cambio Democratico / Panameñista "Grand Alliance" Anti PRD
Consistently Yapping Outsiders Throughout: One would expect that during a PRD administration, for example, that most of the street protests would come form the ranks of the Panameñistas or some other opposition political party. Or, that during the current regime of Ricardo Martinelli, that most of the protesters would be PRD guys. However in Panama this is not the case. There is a third, outside element. They are the extreme left - basically communist radicals - who would love to take over the country and run things as they see fit. However, fortunately for the rest of us, their thoughts and beliefs are so far out of line with the vast majority of the population that they will never win an election to anything. The end result is that these people consistently show up for any and every street protest, no matter what, to complain about anything and everything. If they haven't got a current bone to chew they can always fall back on the "cost of living" as a faithful standby. Some examples include;
- SUNTRACS: This is a union of construction workers in Panama. Their core leadership has not changed in years and in fact this organization is in reality little more than an organized racket designed to suck union dues out of their members, and most of that money is spent on kickbacks to win internal elections, and the personal and private expenditures of their leadership. SUNTRACS has about 12,000 members at last count but there are more than 140,000 people working in the construction industry so they do not actually represent even 10% of construction workers in the country. In the recent Law 30 workers can now make their union dues payments voluntarily - before they were mandatory. Obviously this is a kick right to the nuts of the SUNTRACS and they will fight tooth and nail, however in the end there's nothing they can do. I expect the registered membership of SUNTRACS will drop precipitously as members who had been forced to participate now elect to simply not participate. The SUNTRACS leadership has always held radical left-wing ideologies which typically are not shared by the majority of their members. SUNTRACS is on the skids somewhat, and they don't like it.
- Other Unions: If you take any group of workers from any sector of the economy there is always a "minority" element. Take public teachers for example. Most children in Panama attend public schools. These schools are managed by the Ministry of Education, who hires the teachers to instruct the children. Therefore, all of these teachers are public employees. Over the years they have regularly and routinely pressured successive governments and administrations for better pay and benefits. The street protests would start, and quickly it became apparent that the people who were out there protesting as hard core radicals were actually a minority element that does not represent the actual majority. The administration of Martin Torrijos was very adept at identifying the actual leaders who did in fact represent the majorities of workers in these kinds of situations, and then negotiated agreements with them. The minority elements were then left to bitch and complain, but again (like the SUNTRACS) since they don't actually represent a true majority of their sector, there's little they can do.
- Special Interests: The best example of this is a woman named Raisa Banfield. She is an environmental activist who makes a living as a person who does nothing else but protest in Panama about environmental issues. Of course there's no negotiating with this woman on anything. Every blade of grass is sacred. Every fly has to be protected. Her positions are so radical that she simply makes herself irrelevant. Responsible stewardship of the environment revolves around balance. There is a human need for growth and development, which must be balanced by proactive and responsible measures to mitigate the potential for environmental damage. Raisa Banfield has a job for life because she will always be out there bitching, and now with this copper mine project - paradoxically - her stock just went up. She will now become the Panamanian standard bearer for the international radical environmentalist whack-jobs who think like her. These people will come flocking here (on someone else's donated dime) to march, bitch, moan, protest, complain, and light their hair on fire. Why? Because there's copper in the mountains of Panama. Damn the luck.
- Radical Student Minority Groups: I don't mean minorities as in race or religion. I mean minorities in terms of radical political beliefs. There are several "student" groups, mostly based out of the University of Panama, who can be counted on to protest, bitch, and complain about anything. Again, there are literally thousands of students in the University of Panama and most of them just want to study and learn. However these small organizations such as the FER-29 can muster about 20 to 30 activists for just about any march or protest. I say "student" groups because at a couple of these events I documented and photographed old men who were there, coaching and instructing their younger college age minions who obediently held the signs, chanted the slogans, threw the rocks, and got tear gassed. Meanwhile, the old guys were back at Manolo's drinking coffee, watching their handiwork unfold on television.
There Was A Protest Yesterday: All of these dudes got together and marched on the SICA conference. They were protesting about - whatever - it doesn't really matter anymore. These people are firmly in the minority on every level. They have not won any of the elections held since 1989. They have not been part of anyone's government or administration. They protest equally against both PRD and non-PRD governments and administrations. Their thoughts and beliefs are radical and different from everyone else's, which is exactly why they are in the minority. They will never go away, and at the same time if they continue to act in the future as they have in the past, their chances of every assuming any real or important role in the management of the country - beyond that of a perennial ankle biter - is nil. In any case, those are the players, who they are, where they come from, and why they exist. They will be there protesting everything, no matter what. And thank God for them - they give me something to write about and create a few headlines every now and again. But in reality, for the most part it's pretty boring stuff.
Copyright 2010 by Don Winner for Panama-Guide.com. Go ahead and use whatever you like as long as you credit the source. Salud.