CHANGUINOLA, Panama – The governor of the northern Panamanian province of Bocas del Toro, Bonifacio Abrego, said Sunday that he had decided against declaring a curfew for the city of Changuinola. Abrego said that calm had returned to the city after three days of violent confrontation between striking banana workers and police. The province of Bocas del Toro borders Costa Rica on the Caribbean coast.
Meanwhile, the Panamanian president, Ricardo Martinelli, vowed that he would uphold the controversial Law 30, which was the cause of the strike.
On Saturday, the Panamanian government ordered the reopening of the Changuinola airport, and police confirmed that the highway that connects the city to the rest of the country had been cleared. The road had been blocked for three days by strikers.
Police sources told EFE that Changuinola was calm Sunday morning after a night during which the offices of the Labor Ministry were attacked and two cars and a boat belonging to the agency were burned. The latest violence threatened to derail negotiations between the government and unions in the city.
The workers are demanding the repeal of recently enacted Law 30, which modifies a series of existing laws, including the Labor Code. Union leaders claim the law significantly weakens the position of workers and unions. Among other things, Law 30 establishes that the payment of union dues is no longer obligatory, contracts of striking workers can be suspended, companies can hire replacement workers during strikes, and police can be used to guarantee the “protection” and continued operation of companies affected by strikes. Labor organizations are challenging the law’s constitutionality.
Martinelli said that the government seeks dialogue and not confrontation, but accused union leaders of wanting to “sow violence in Changuinola,” and vowed that this would not be tolerated.
The strikes in Changuinola, which began last week, have left at least two dead and more than a hundred injured.