Authorities evacuated nearly 100 Costa Ricans from the town of Changuinola, Panama, after violent protests had left tourists stranded in the country’s Caribbean region.
The Ticos made their exit just as the weeklong banana workers’ strike was coming to an end following violent clashes between protesters and state troops. Over the course of the protest, at least two people were killed and dozens more injured (some news sources reported as many as six deaths) as a result of a conflict that Panamanian President Ricardo Martinelli said was based on “lies.”
“The problems in Changuinola have been the product of misinformation and a series of lies,” Martinelli said in a press statement issued Sunday. “The intransigence of a group of trade unionists can not end with the banana industry in Changuinola.”
The conflict emerged when the Bocas Fruit Company withheld the portion of workers’ salaries that normally goes toward paying union fees. The company subtracted the union membership fee in response to a recently enacted law that makes such fees optional.
“The government regrets the misunderstanding on the part of this company,” the Martinelli administration said in a press statement. “It is not in the power of this business, nor any other, to retain workers’ salaries because it constitutes a violation of workers’ rights.”
Under the law, the employees must decide whether to pay membership fees and the decision cannot be made for them by their employers.
The protest ended Sunday, when the government signed an agreement with the striking workers. According to the document posted on the Panamanian government website, the original law will not be changed, yet, the government committed to providing more resources to help workers confront the high cost of living.