the A.M. Costa Rica staff
The native protests in
western Panamå have become guerrilla warfare. Costa Rica has closed
the border, and public buses are not running.
States has issued a traveler's warning, noting that while the
Pan-American Highway is reported to be open, protesters continue in
their attempts to block it with rocks, trees, and burning tires at
various points between Chiriqui and San Felix, Panama.
sources in Costa Rica said the protesters are being pursued by
special troops of the Panamá Policía Nacional with helicopters and
Expats who were in the middle of the
protest reported Monday that the national police acted aggressively
and brutally against the natives.
Said one expat who asked
that his name not be used:
“I was in Ojo de Agua en route to
Costa Rica when the police attacked the indigenous demonstrators who
were passively standing near a blockade they had set up. The police
used extreme violence, even against women and children. I saw one
pregnant woman thrown violently to the ground. Others stood around
laughing as she struggled to get up. One policeman chased down a boy
of about 11, threw him down and ground his boot into his head until
he was screaming in pain.”
Another expat who lives in David,
Panama, close to the Costa Rican border said he had to pay a Costa
Rican immigration agent two $100 bribes to be let though Sunday so
he could return home.
In addition to the Paso Canoas crossing
at the Costa Rican-Panamá border, the border post at Sixaola north
of Bocas de Toro also is believed to be closed. There is disruption
in that part of Panamá on the Caribbean, too.
editor of The Panama News, issued this warning:
"This is not
a good time to travel through Panama by car. If you are going to be
driving, take extra water, food, wet-wipes and a good book, in case
you get stuck in a monumental traffic jam. Do not be so foolish as
to try to fight your way through a roadblock. These protests are not
aimed at you, even if they affect you. But foolish behavior on your
part could easily affect you in unfortunate ways."
closure is sure to affect expat perpetual tourists who travel to
Panamá every 90 days to renew their visa. There was no indication as
to how long the border would be closed. There were reports of food
shortages and water shortages in western Panamá
that “There are protests by indigenous people who were promised last
year by the government that their mineral, water and environmental
resources would be protected from exploitation by outsiders, but now
see the government reneging on that commitment by promoting a new
mining law that would supersede and cancel these
The native peoples are the Ngöbe and the Buglé,
who live on a sprawling reservation, which is called a comarca here.
Bonilla, a spokeswoman for the Costa Rican immigration department,
confirmed the border closing. She said travel to Panamá by plane
still was possible. A manager of Tica Bus in Paso Canoas and a San
José agent for Expreso Panama confirmed the buses were not running
Costa Rican officials spent the weekend bringing from
Panamá Ticos and others who had become trapped in the protest, some
for up to five days. Costa Rican officials established what they
called an air bridge to bring citizens from Veraguas east of the
blockade to David, Panama, which was west of the blockade. From
David, Costa Ricans flew to Tobias Bolaños airport in a security
ministry craft and also Nature Air planes. Others crossed the border
at Paso Canoas by land. They received expedited processing at the
border, officials said.
Casa Presidencial said that the last
64 persons who had been trapped entered Costa Rica Monday by
The national emergency commission release a partial list
of those who had been helped to leave Panamá. Although many were
Costa Rican, there were four U.S. citizens and four Canadians among
the 361 names. There also were Hondurans, Panamanians and citizens
of other Central American countries. The U.S. citizens were
identified as Jerry Ling Parker, Olympia Parker, Joglu P. Church and
Rachel Setlambrino. The Canadians were Jacques Richer and Marie H.C.
Richer, Marcel Romero Tardif and Irene Marie Tardif.
Presidencial said that President Laura Chinchilla appreciated the
help of the Panamá government. There was no mention of what some
native supporters in Costa Rica call a massacre of
the native people. Although one person was reported killed and
about 20 injured when the national police attacked at 6 a.m. Sunday
at the Río Viguí and San Félix, there may have been more casualties.
The national government ordered the local telecom company to suspend
cell service as a way to reduce communication among the
The Spanish-language news media in Costa Rica has
reported on the transport of Ticos out of the trouble spots, but
there has been little reporting about the blockades and
confrontations with police.
The U.S. Embassy said that
confrontations have resulted in continued disruptions and
demonstrations along the Pan-American Highway near the San Felix
area in Chiriqui and elsewhere in Panamá. There are reports of
violent confrontations between the Panamanian police and protestors
in the San Juan, San Felix, Horconcitos, and Vigui areas, it added.
There were further reports of demonstrations in the areas of David
and Changuinola in Panama beginning Monday, it said.
Martinelli, Panama's president, said Sunday that the government
never promised to stop building hydro projects as protesters
claimed. He said to do so would cost the country $200 million a year
to generate energy through other means, according to his press
Martinelli met with his ministers Sunday. Juan Manuel
Urriola, secretary of Energía, said electric rates would go up 30
percent if the country had to use petroleum-fired
Jackson called Martinelli a liar in a special posting on The
Panama News Sunday night.