PANAMA CITY – An organization of Panamanian campesinos this week reiterated a call for their countrymen to vote against the proposed expansion of the Panama Canal in next week’s historic Oct. 22 plebiscite.
“We’re calling on our people to vote ‘no,’” said María Muñoz, a representative for urban sectors of the Campesino Coordinator against the Dams (CCCE).
The group alleges that canal expansion would require the government to build new dams, which would flood the nearby land farmed by the campesinos.
Dozens of protesters staged two sit-ins in downtown Panama City plazas and held a public forum to reassert their position and warn the population that the “threat” of dams being built to feed the canal has not disappeared.
Panama’s unicameral Legislative Assembly voted on June 12 to repeal a 1999 law that established the limits of the Panama Canal basin and authorized construction of dams for the eventual expansion of the inter-oceanic waterway.
Muñoz said the campesinos think the repeal of the law is a “trick” because “if the ‘yes vote’ wins, (authorities) will likely reapprove the legislation or who knows what they’ll invent” to eventually build the dams.
Another reason to vote against the expansion proposal is that “we know that the money that’s going to enter Panama as a result of the (expanded) canal won’t to go campesinos,” she said.
The CCCE says it represents some 100,000 small farmers in the provinces of Panama, Colón and Cocle, located in the canal’s western basin.
Panamanians will be asked in the plebiscite to vote on an estimated $5.25 billion plan to expand the canal so it can accommodate what are known as post-Panamax vessels, whose carrying capacity is twice that of ships in the Panamax class – currently the largest capable of using the waterway.