Last February, the most famous Panamanian in the world went for a routine medical check-up. The authorities used a decoy, and General Noriega, the country’s former military governor, was spirited back to his luxury detention centre, safe from prying eyes and a hungry press. Nonetheless, acres of news print around the world were lavished on the event, while a far more urgent unravelling Panamanian story dropped under the radar.
Panama’s largest indigenous group, the Ngabe, had decided to take a stand against the unlawful encroachment of their homeland. Since the time of the conquistadors, the Ngabe have been pushed to the margins of the country - forced to live on the land that no one else wanted. Twenty years ago the Panamanian government finally ceded what was considered a useless tract of land to them. The Ngabe had in fact lived there for centuries, so by rights it has always been theirs.
But now this land, rich in mineral deposits and rivers, is considered priceless. And Ricardo Martinelli, Panama’s authoritarian president who is a close friend of former Italian premier Silvio Berlusconi, wants it back.
His plan is to open the Ngabe heartland to foreign mining companies and push hydroelectric power projects onto an unwilling population. The problem is that the Ngabe have nowhere else to go. So the scene was set for a dramatic showdown, which started when the Ngabe closed the Pan-American Highway in Chiriquí province in the west of the country - bringing Panama to a standstill.
Their demand: an audience with the president. Martinelli’s response was extraordinary for this relatively peaceful country with a constitution that forbids the formation of an army. The police, who human rights observers say have become increasingly militarised since Martinelli became president three years ago, launched a vicious crackdown, cutting communications with the outside world, and allegedly shooting innocent bystanders as well as peaceful protesters.
Harrowing reports surfaced of rapes and the mistreatment of detainees, as scores of Ngabe men, women and children were arrested. At least two people were killed and many more were injured. The crackdown lasted for three days and proved so unpopular with Panamanians, that Martinelli was forced into negotiations with the Ngabe.
At around 4min 50sec into the video a woman named Belinda Yimenez breaks down the stance of the Ngabe beautifully succinct. These people aren’t even really against anything that the government is trying to do. All they want is for the government to do those things without taking and/or destroying everything these people are or have.
I don’t think they’re asking for very much.
Also, in addition to the police having “become increasingly militarised since Martinelli became president three years ago,” please note that they’ve been corrupt FOREVER. When I was about 14 and the police showed up around a neighborhood function goin’ down in my fam’s area [Chilibre!] I was warned not to speak to any of them; and if they forced me to, I was to speak to them only in Spanish and pretend I wasn’t American. Hearing that fucking idiot say he believed the police acted responsibly makes feel something so wretched I cannot describe it.
Mexico, Ecuador, Bolivia, PANAMA. Same story, different time.En Mi Mente, Por El Momento