Four dead, over 100 injured and dozens arrested is the
balance of the clashes that erupted on Jul. 8 between banana
workers and riot police in Panama’s western province of
Bocas del Toro. Sirel
interviewed Guillermo Puga, general secretary of the
Workers’ Confederation of the Republic of Panama (CTRP), who
spoke of the serious and violent situation that is affecting
Bocas del Toro, and which is feared will spread throughout
the rest of the country.
-What is the situation in Bocas del Toro?
-The situation is serious. There are at least four dead, one
hundred wounded and several arrested as a result of the
conflict that began last Jul. 2, when more than four
thousand workers of the Union of Industrial and Banana
Workers (SITRAIBANA), an affiliate of our
confederation, organized a blockage of streets and bridges
and a partial stoppage of economic activities, primarily in
Changuinola, to demand the repeal of
Law No. 30, enacted two weeks before on Jun. 16. This
law limits trade union rights and reduces the environmental
regulations that these industries must comply with.
It violates ILO Convention 87 concerning freedom of
association and protection of the right to organize, and
ILO Convention 98 concerning the right to organize and
bargain collectively, and leaves the consideration of
environmental impact evidence up to the government. It also
allows the Police to repress the population with complete
On Jul. 8, the government ordered a brutal repression
against demonstrators, and now this chaotic and violent
situation is aggravated by the curfew imposed by the
national government of Ricardo Martinelli, which
threatens the constitutional rights of the citizens of the
-Has the conflict spilled over into other areas of the
-Yes, in particular in Panama City, where dozens of
demonstrations have been held; it has also spurred the labor
movement into action in all the other provinces of the
-Has the government given any sort of explanation for the
repressive actions in Bocas del Toro?
-So far it has given no signs of repealing the law; all it’s
done is send the police, which has come down on workers and
people in general. It should be noted that as this conflict
announced his trip to South Africa to attend the FIFA World
Cup Championship final, a decision that reflects the
government’s indifference to the problems that affect its
-What actions did CTRP take?
-Last week we filed a legal action with the Supreme Court,
demanding that the law be declared unconstitutional, along
with a complaint presented to ILO.
We have also organized several demonstrations in Panama
City, and have called on all workers to stage a national
strike in the event the government fails to repeal Law No.
-How is worker morale?
-Workers are prepared to fight. Panama’s labor movement is
willing to stage a general strike and maintain it until the
government repeals this unconstitutional law, which, among
other things, allows management to elude payment of overtime
and establishes an obligatory union fee deducted directly
from workers’ salaries.