Panamanian workers continue protests amidst deepening economic crisis

Thousands of Panamanians have taken to the streets in recent weeks to protest their government’s poor response to the country’s economic crisis. 

The crisis was the result of a rising inflation rate which is of last May was already at 4.2 percent. Unemployment is also souring to 10 percent coupled by a 50 percent increase in fuel costs. 

The demonstrations began at the end of June in the country’s main cities, which quickly evolved to strikes and road closures after the government refused to sit down and hold dialogues with the leaders of the protesters. 

Representatives of indigenous peoples, peasants, community members, teachers and workers, including the construction workers led by the BWI-affiliated SUNTRACS, demand strong and swift policies to address the economic crisis. They are pushing for a social dialogue with the government.

SUNTRACS Secretary General Saul Mendez derided the country’s uneven social relations. 

“Panama is the richest country in Central America and the Caribbean, yet, it has the worst and most unequal distribution of wealth,” said Mendez, who is also the BWI Regional Committee for Latin America and the Caribbean.  

Even as President Laurentino Cortizo recently announced measures to cut fuel costs and put a cap on the price of basic food items, many Panamanian workers feel that they fall short of what is actually needed by the population. The protesters put the blame to the government’s implementation of neoliberal economic policies. 

“We will continue our street protests until our issues are fully resolved and the needs of workers and their families are met," Mendez said.