Panamanian protesters are intensifying their anti-government strike, demanding the government stop rising inflation and corruption. Across the small Central American nation, thousands of protesters blocked roads and airports and stopped trucks from delivering food and other supplies, a pressure tactic that has been increasingly used since protests broke out two weeks ago as inflation accelerated to an annual rate of 5.2%.
Last week, President Laurentino Cortizo announced cuts to fuel costs and put a cap on the price of basic food items, but protesters said the measures were not enough and promised more demonstrations and blockages.
Last week, the government reduced the price of gasoline from $3.95 to $3.25 per gallon, down sharply from June’s price of $5.20.
“The situation is critical,” said Humberto Montero, a member of the Veraguenses Educators Association, which has sought, along with other organizations, to reach an agreement with the government. Protesters are also demanding the government increase public spending, add new investments in health and education and bring a halt to corruption.
The blockades are now leading to shortages, particularly of agricultural products, in the capital Panama City.
Food vendor Roberto Villarreal said he has almost nothing to sell. “Everything is stuck and very few things arrive. I have a few tomatos, onions, peppers, and carrots and potatoes. Everything else is rotting in the trucks.”
Medical student Janireth Dominguez told a reporter that the situation in the country is desperate and getting worse. “There are no medical supplies, there are salary cuts and there is no work. There is no money to pay the doctors,” she said. “As a student, the future worries me a lot. I don’t know if I will be able to continue my studies.”
Since the beginning of the protests, President Laurentino Cortizo’s government, which implemented austerity measures and froze gasoline and diesel prices, has unsuccessfully tried to reach an agreement with protesters.
On Tuesday, Panamanian police fired tear gas on protesters blocking road access in the country’s west on Tuesday. “If the police continue with repression, the dialogue will be affected,” Montero said.
Agricultural producers have asked protesters to establish “humanitarian corridors” to allow food to be distributed but so far to no avail.