Most stranded Ticos have returned or soon will

A.M. Costa Rica/Nepenthes graphic Map shows key points relating to blockade. Costa Rica is to the left.

The last groups of Costa Ricans who became trapped in the native blockade in western Panamá are expected to return today. Meanwhile, traffic is flowing on the Interamericana highway after government forces broke the blockade Sunday. One person died and dozens suffered injuries, according to reports received in Costa Rica from the scene.

Some of the Costa Ricans spent up to five days stranded in Panamá, and some said on arrival that they felt like hostages or kidnap victims.

In all, 270 Costa Ricans were stranded on 12 public buses that were caught in the blockade, according to the Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores y Culto here. That number does not include truckers or individuals in private vehicles. Also unknown is if any U.S., Canadian or tourists from other countries were stranded. Costa Rican officials estimated that about 300 trucks were caught in the blockade and that about 100 had crossed into Costa Rica by Sunday night.

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.

There is growing criticism here on the methods used by the Martinelli administration to break the blockade. The Federación Indígena Estudiantil de Costa Rica already has called for a demonstration at the Embassy of Panamá.

The group identified the dead individual in Panamá as a leader of the protest and a student at the Universidad Autónoma de Chiriquí. He was Jerónimo Montezuma and died after violent repression in the morning hours, said the student group. Panamá officials said the cause of death was unknown.

There also were police actions in Ojo de Agua,
Viguí, San Lorenzo, Bocas del Toro, Santiago, Colon, Chepo, David, according to reports from the scene. The foreign ministry warned Costa Ricans and residents Friday against traveling to Panamá.

The native peoples are the Ngäbe and the Buglé, who live on a reservation, which is called a comarca in Panamá. They oppose a hydro project and also mining on their lands.

The blockade was mainly trees and rocks. Some police officers suffered injuries from thrown rocks.

Ricardo 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 office.

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 generators.

The protest was not unexpected. Martinelli changed environmental rules in August that native groups said eliminated their participation and consultations over the hydro projects. There are several planned for various watersheds in western Panamá. The Ngäbe and Bugle are most concerned by the Barro Blanco Project on the Rio Tabasará. Natives in Panamá believe that in addition to displacing some of their number, the hydro projects will disrupt their traditional lifestyles.

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