Business leaders, unions, the Church and civil rights groups, have united in protesting the government plan to sell off state owned lands in the Colon Free Zone with a 48 hour strike looming and businesses threatening to stay closed if the law is approved by President Martinelli.
The riots that have ravaged Colon since the Assembly first began debating the controversial Law 72, have already claimed the life of a nine year old boy, and there have been dozens of arrests as observers, claim brutality by security forces with the police backed up by SENAFRONT border guards, the nearest Panama has to a military unit.
Since the fall of Noriega there has been no military, although there have been numerous allegations about the militarization of the police force some of whose senior officers served in Noriega’s “Dignity Battalion” with a long record of oppression against opponents of the dictatorship.
La Estrella carried on the front page of the Sunday edition, photos, taken from a video, of police chasing down a minor and kicking him as he lay on the ground offering no resistance … the sort of scene that led to the Rodney King riots in Los Angeles in 1992.
The paper carried a headline “Bocas del Toro, Ngabes and now Colon, the terrible trilogy of Martinelli” referring to police killing of protestors, at least two banana workers the blinding of others with buckshot, and the wounding hundreds in Changuinola in 2010 and the shooting of a young protestor in Chiriqui earlier this year when indigenous people blocked a highway. At that time La Estrella carried photos of a riot policeman drawing a pistol and firing at the demonstrators.
Each of the events have been condemned by human rights groups, and video images of the confrontations have appeared on TV around the world.
Sunday, October 21 was a day of mourning and tension in the city, aday on which attention in the province is usually focused on the celebration of the "Black Christ" in Portobelo,
Protestors marched through the streets of the city carrying banners “Colon is not for sale” while chanting anti-Martinelli slogans and “Ngäbe deaths Colon deaths”.
Participants said the pilgrimage was to show the Government, that despite religious festivals, Colonense people will not stop the struggle. A rosary vigil was held in San Jose Paulino church.
Meanwhile , the regional director of the Ministry of Education, Ludolph Herrera, announced that classes in public and private schools in the f Colon district are suspended until further notice.
La Estrella reported hundreds of relatives gathered outside of the local police headquarters and hospitals seeking to discover the whereabouts of those who had been taken by police who entered homes without a warrant and took residents away.
The Front for Democracy , seeking to gain information about prisoners who has no access to lawyers, were told that the police entered homes looking for “thugs” related to vandalism.
Leaders of political parties and civil society complained about political persecution said Estrella.
Meanwhle two lawyers filed an injunction before the Commission on Human Rights to protect Walid Saied, a lawyer who had been accused by President Martinelli of 'inciting and financing” unrest and whose whereabouts are unknown.
MINOR BRUTALIZED BY POLICE
Social networks have circulated a video showing a police agent running up to an arrested minor, throwing him on the ground and while not resisting, and kicking him repeatedly.
A local doctor told Estrella of Robert and John Carlos, two young professionals lineage, were taken from their home by force wile trying to assist children affected by tear gas after police threw canisters through the window. The doctor said that when a mother and sister tried to intervene they were beaten
Unofficial reports speak of 150 people arrested. Authorities said there were 125.
A team of 20 lawyers walked to the police HQ but got a negative response, to their demand to represent detainees.
Opponents of the land sale claim that the money is needed to fill a hole in the government budget caused by overspending.
“What is happening now in Columbus is the chronicle of a death foretold," lawyer Javier Ayarza told Estrella and said for three months, when the draft law was being prepared local entrepreneurs were not represented.
The government paid off some Colonenses that are a minority, said businessman Edgar Rtiz, and after three debates the Assembly passed Act 72, which he said is unconstitutional because in Panama land fillings cannot be sold and the Colon Free Zone is built on landfills.
On Saturday demonstrators crowned another day of protests with the burning of an effigy of Assembly President Sergio "Chello" Galvez, who gleefully told opponents to mourn in the cemetery after the bill was passed. The cemetery mourning has become a fact.