PANAMA CITY—Frustrated Panamanians have taken to the streets in protest for more than a week, building upon anger over fuel prices that have nearly doubled to show their general dissatisfaction with the government.
The protests grew July 12 despite President Laurentino Cortizo’s promise a day earlier to extend a freeze on gasoline prices to all Panamanians rather than just the public transport system.
Thousands marched in the capital and cities across Panama, while roadblocks brought traffic to a standstill on the Pan-American Highway.
Cortizo said that he understood citizens’ dissatisfaction, and he blamed the COVID-19 pandemic and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine for the rise in prices.
Protesters maintained the pressure July 12.
“The cup of tolerance and patience that the Panamanian people showed during various (administrations) overflowed with the price of fuel, which is abusive, among other things,” said Miguel Antonio Bernal, political science professor at the University of Panama. “Additionally, we have the great corruption that has been unleashed.”
Leaders of a teachers’ strike, which gave the initial spark that set off the nationwide protests more than a week ago, criticized Cortizo’s announcement of a fuel price freeze while talks to end the protests were underway.
They called the offer insufficient. Other groups have called for a larger reduction in the cost of gasoline.
“The price of gasoline is overwhelming those of us who have to travel to teach classes in our schools,” said Ilbis Rujano, a public school teracher in the central province of Veraguas who has participated in the protests. “Besides that, the cost of food rose, which is a hit on the poorest familias who have to send their children to school.”
“This can’t be tolerated,” she said.
Panama, a country of four million people, has historically maintained a fairly stable service-based economy that uses the U.S. dollar as its official currency. That has practically made inflation a non-issue in recent times. Now economists put inflation around four percent, which is significant but well below some other countries in the region, such as Mexico, where it is around eight percent.
Protesters say the basic goods necessary for Panamanian families are more expensive.
Indigenous groups from western Panama, among the country’s most impoverished, joined the teachers’ protest as have workers from Panama’s powerful construction industry, who also called for a protest. (AP)