Accord halts bloody protests by natives in Panamá

Presidencia de Panamá photo Jorge Ricardo Fábrega, minister of the Gobierno, signs the accord on behalf of the government while Silvia Carrera, the cacique general, does the same to his right.

The government of Panamá and unhappy native residents have reached an accord that ends a week of protests, blockades and bloodshed.

The accord opens the way for Costa Rica to lift its ban on land travel to its neighbor to the south. This is expected today.

Meanwhile, some expats and tourists have taken to the sea to avoid the closed border at Paso Canoas on the Pacific coast and Sixaola on the Caribbean.

At least 24 tourists arrived from Panamá in three boats to Manzanillo Tuesday, according to the security ministry.

The Presidencia in Panamá confirmed the accord Tuesday night. The deal was brokered by José Luis Lacunza Maestrojuan, Roman Catholic bishop of David and head of the Conferencia Episcopal Panameña.

The protesting Ngöbes and Buglés peoples were represented by Silvia Carrera, the cacique general or grand chief. The native peoples agreed to cease their protests, and the government agreed to reconsider a hydro power law that is now in the legislature.

The agreement took place in San Lorenzo in the province de Chiriquí, said the Presidencia.

More than 500 Costa Ricans and travelers or other nationalities as well as 300 trucks had been caught in the blockades on the Interamericana highway on the Pacific side of Panamá. The protests lasted 200 hours, said the Presidencia. That is more than eight days.

One native university student, Jerónimo Rodriguez Tugrí, known by the name Montezuma, died in a confrontation with Policía Nacional Sunday, and several others have been reported to have died since.

An expat resident of the area objected to A.M. Costa Rica’s coverage of police brutality and characterized the news stories as lies. “I live here,” said Larry Traw of San Felix. “The Indians burned down the police station and damaged the national bank. Destroyed personal property, and the police did nothing until it got out of hand. Your eyewitnesses are a bunch of liars. I don’t even believe you have eyewitnesses. No armored vehicles. They should have arrested them all.”

There were arrests, and, as part of the accord, the government of Panamá has agreed to release them. The government also agreed to provide urgent attention to those affected by the protest and to provide permanent help to the family of Rodríguez and others killed by police. The government also agreed to cease its repression and not prosecute the demonstrators and others who participated in the fighting.

The government also agreed to restore cell telephone service that has been shut down to disrupt communications among the protesters. The government also agreed to withdraw immediately anti-riot police and to stop helicopter overflights.

The Costa Rican security ministry said the foreigners who arrived by boat Tuesday were U. S., Australia, German and Canadian citizens. The Fuerza Pública transported them to Sixaola where they were to have had their passports stamped with entry visas.

Informal travel between countries is illegal, but an immigration official in Sixaola said that there would be no penalty given the situation in Panamá. Celso Gamboa, security vice minister, said the group that arrived on three boats were tourists traveling in Panamá and who could not enter the country through a normal route so they resorted to the improvised route.

Other tourists took water taxis from Bocas del Toro to the border where they crossed normally, according to reports received by reporters.

A police officer in Talamanca said it is important that new arrivals are checked through immigration so as to not encounter problems later on by traveling within the country without an entry stamp in their passports.

The Costa Rican travel ban prohibited anyone except Panamanian citizens and permanent residents from crossing the border. Public buses also were not running because of the blockade.

The Organization of American States and an expert on native rights from the United Nations urged negotiations earlier Tuesday. The expert is James Anaya, an Arizona professor who holds the title of special rapporteur on indigenous rights. He urged an investigation into the death of Rodríguez so that those responsible can be brought to justice.

Meanwhile, representatives of the Emberá and Wounaan native groups publicly denounced the lack of legalization for their lands and said they would start their own protest movements in solidarity with the Ngöbes and Buglés peoples, according to the United Nations.

Supporters of the protesters in Panamá scheduled a demonstration in San José this morning at that country’s embassy. Tuesday night it was not known if the protest here would take place.

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