Foreign companies and political groups are behind the nationwide protests against reforms to Panama’s mining code says President Ricardo Martinelli.
The protests which have included indigenous people, civil rights and environmental activists, workers and university students continued as the National Assembly debated the proposed changes, strongly backed by the president. On Tuesday the second legislative debate was delayed more than six hours when when environmentalists, indigenous peoples and academics, trying to get access, damaged part of the fence surrounding the Assembly.
They were held back by riot police, armed with shields. Inside, a room was set aside for Vice Minister of Commerce, Ricardo Quijano, and representatives of the the Chamber of Mines and the National Environmental Authority (ANAM).
Elsewhere indigenous protestors were dispersed with buck shot and tear gas.
Without specifying the companies he alleged were behind the demonstrations, Martinelli said: "These companies do not want more copper anywhere in the world, they continue to maintain a monopoly and high prices… these are people taking advantage of the situation to cause chaos and unrest among Panamanians."
Vice president, Juan Carlos Varela, weighed in accusing by opposition deputies of creating the protests. "They are the same that prompted the most to protest humble in of Bocas del Toro," he said.
Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD) deputy Yassir Purcait asked the government to shoulder its responsibility for the protests. In a minority report, the PRD claimed that the reforms are damaging to the country, and will affect future generations.
The report was rejected by 43 deputies. Only 17 voted in favor.