Tuesday, 7 February 2012

The roadblock at...

The roadblock at Tole on February 1.
Photo by Guaire Mendögüänë Morera Bägämä

Mining crisis becomes ever more desperate
by Eric Jackson

We have now tired of being deceived like children and we demand that Ricardo Martinelli act according to the dignity of his office and comply with his word not to permit mining in the Ngabe Comarca.
Resolution of protesting indigenous communities

The President of the Republic ratified in a decree his commitment not to initiate, nor to approve, nor to permit the exploration or exploitation of mines on Cerro Colorado, or of any other mineral deposit within the indigenous comarcas.
Presidencia's website, February 23, 2011

The deputy explained that there are several groups in the comarca, for example those opposed to mining and one that supports this activity and demands 50 percent of the proceeds.
La Prensa, February 1, 2012, about legislator
Raúl Hernández's reason for breaking the agreement

The situation through which the country is living, with protests and repression in the Ngabe-Bugle Comarca, with violence and imposition in the National Assembly, with political manipulation and intimidation, does not reflect the country of progress, well-being and growth that is being sold abroad.
Environmentalist leader Raisa Banfield

Oh, there was a decree that banned mining in the comarca? But that was then, and now there is a new law which supersedes the decree, and says nothing about that ban. That's the cynical "heads I win, tails you lose" game that the Martinelli regime is playing with its latest move to amend the Mining Code.

There was a section in the proposed law that carried out the promise to ban mining, and further to prohibit any activity that takes the mineral, water or environmental resources of indigenous communities in and around the Ngabe-Bugle Comarca, which was sent by the Cabinet to the National Assembly. But the legislature's Commerce and Economic Affairs Committee cut that paragraph out of the proposed law. The legislature doesn't do anything without marching orders from Ricardo Martinelli. The president has made himself unavailable for comment about the subject, but the decision to break the mining agreement was surely a by-product of one of his notorious mood swings.

The people in the Ngabe-Bugle Comarca, led by their elected General Cacique Silvia Carrera, are furious. After warnings, on January 30 they began protesting along the Pan-American Highway and the roads into and through Bocas del Toro. As these words were written the Pan-American Highway was blocked in at least four places --- Vigui on the Veraguas-Chiriqui border, Tole, San Felix and Boca del Monte --- and there were also other roadblocks along the road between Chiriqui and Bocas del Toro and the road between Changuinola and Almirante in Bocas. At the roadblocks on the Pan-American Highway, police have moved to surround the protesters, preventing the arrival of reinforcements and people bringing in food or water. But more protesters are coming down from the hills and judging from the tactics used in previous confrontations new roadblocks are a possibility.

Truckloads of food from the nation's main vegetable-growing area, the Chiriqui highlands, to the rest of the country have been blocked by the protests and the Chiriqui Chamber of Commerce has expressed its alarm. The local chamber is not calling for prompt suppression of the protests, but for the government to stop treating people in a way guaranteed to provoke disruptions.

On February 1 National Ombudswoman Patria Portugal went to San Felix in an attempt to mediate, and although there were initial conversations between her and some of the protesters, her position in the government is only advisory. Carrera and other protest leaders are not disposed to negotiate with anyone who doesn't have the authority to deliver on any commitment. At this point it appears that Portugal's role will be limited.

Meanwhile, the government is using some of last year's tactics. They have held "negotiations" with servile Cambio Democratico activists from the comarca but with no appreciable base of support there, and have denounced Silvia Carrera and other protest leaders for refusing to participate in talks whose starting point is that the promisd mining ban is discarded. Security Minister José Raúl Mulino has accused opposition parties of inciting and feeding the protesters.

Last year's allegation that foreign journalists were behind the protests isn't being trotted out, due to the government's moves against foreign journalists, but meanwhile Ngabe photographers and reporters, along with videographers from the AEVE teachers' union --- some of them indigenous --- are playing a competent media game on the Internet this year without any foreign help