Panama: BWI condemns attacks on fundamental trade union rights

The Building and Wood Workers’ International (BWI) BWI, the Global Union Federation encompassing 361 trade unions representing 12 million workers in the building, building materials, wood, forestry, and allied sectors across 115 countries, vehemently condemns the attacks against the Single Union of Construction and Similar Industries of Panama (SUNTRACS), which unfolded in months-long blatant acts of aggression culminating with the recent atrocious attacks on its regional office during the night of March 10. This violent act is not only a direct assault on trade union rights and fundamental freedoms but also a gross violation of the ILO Convention on Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organise (C87).

The arson attack on SUNTRACS’ office is not an isolated incident but the culmination of a series of calculated attempts to silence and persecute SUNTRACS and its leaders through repressive and intimidating measures for their prominent role in the nationwide protests that defeated a 40-year mining concession for the Canadian company First Quantum Mineral. These repressive and intimidating measures, including the arrest of SUNTRACS’ Foreign Relations Secretary, Jaime Caballeros, on February 26, the unjust closure of bank accounts previously denounced by BWI, the unfounded accusations against SUNTRACS’ leaders including its General Secretary Saul Mendez, and the manipulation by the Financial Analysis Unit (UAF) to implicate SUNTRACS in a baseless judicial investigation for alleged money laundering, represent despicable strategies to undermine the union’s credibility and operations.

BWI sees these orchestrated acts of persecution, culminating in the arson attack on SUNTRACS' headquarters, as an attempt to erase the union by manufacturing justifications through a combination of criminal proceedings and violent attacks. Such aggression, closely following the announcement of a 24-hour national warning strike on March 19, demonstrates a deliberate effort to suppress dissent and restrict the union’s ability to protest and advocate for justice.

The arrest of trade union leaders and attacks on their premises represent a grave assault on trade union liberties and a stark attack against independent trade unions. These acts show a clear intent to destroy independent voices advocating for workers' rights and environmental justice. BWI stands in unwavering solidarity with SUNTRACS and its leaders, understanding that these arrests, threats, and violent attacks will not weaken our collective resolve to demand respect for fundamental rights. An attack on one of us is an attack on all who champion justice, democracy, and the right to dissent.

We urgently call upon international organizations to intervene and put an end to these attacks against trade unions in Panama, ensuring full respect for inviolable human rights and freedoms, including the fundamental freedom of association.

We insist that the Panamanian authorities conduct a thorough investigation into these attacks and take appropriate measures to protect SUNTRACS and its leaders from oppressive, unacceptable union-bashing tactics, in line with international norms and obligations. The fight for trade union rights and the protection of fundamental freedoms must continue with unwavering determination, undeterred by acts of persecution and repression.

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