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UPDATE: Panama City bus drivers end strike ahead of Americas Summit

April 6, 2015

UPDATE, Mon., 4:52 p.m.:

Panama struck a deal Monday with bus drivers in the capital to suspend a strike that unleashed transit chaos days before the city hosts the Summit of the Americas.

Panama City drivers launched the indefinite strike Monday morning, stranding tens of thousands of passengers and bringing unwelcome attention to the city as it finalized preparations for Friday and Saturday’s summit.

But hours later the government reached a deal with the drivers’ union to suspend the strike, Communication Secretary Manuel Dominguez announced on Twitter.

The agreement ended a tumultuous shutdown that saw police arrest striking workers who blocked buses from leaving terminals, as desperate commuters tried to crowd aboard the few buses circulating.

Under the deal, the arrested drivers will be released and government officials will meet with union leaders and a delegate from the congressional transportation committee for further discussions.

The drivers are demanding the immediate transfer of $12 million in severance pay to nearly 5,000 workers facing layoffs as the government buys out private bus operator MiBus.

The government has promised the workers will be paid once the negotiations with MiBus are finished, but union leaders accused it of striking a secret deal with the company then stalling on their payouts.

Original story continues here: 

PANAMA CITY – Bus drivers in Panama City began an indefinite strike Monday, unleashing transit chaos as the capital prepared to host the 2015 Summit of the Americas.

The shut-down of a transit system used by half a million people daily brought unwelcome attention to the city as it finalized preparations for Friday and Saturday’s summit, the potential scene of a historic sit-down between U.S. President Barack Obama and his Cuban counterpart Raúl Castro.

“Taking advantage of this critical moment at a time when the government is in a position of weakness — because, obviously, we have an international event approaching — leaves much to be desired of the bus drivers and their leaders,” said Public Security Minister Rodolfo Aguilera.

Tumultuous scenes reigned at bus stops, where desperate commuters tried to crowd aboard the few buses circulating, and at terminals, where police arrested striking workers who blocked buses from leaving.

The strikers are demanding the immediate transfer of $12 million in severance pay to nearly 5,000 workers facing layoffs as the government cancels its contract with private bus operator MiBus over service issues.

The government has promised the workers will be paid once the negotiations with MiBus are finished, but union leaders accuse it of striking a secret deal with the company then stalling on their payouts.

The strike comes with 34 heads of state and government set to meet in the Panamanian capital, including Castro, the first time Cuba has participated in the summit.

The summit, which comes in the wake of the landmark U.S.-Cuban rapprochement announced on Dec. 17, could bring the first substantive meeting between U.S. and Cuban leaders in half a century.

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