Panama lowers gasoline prices amid growing protests but unions say it is not enough
Panama’s President Laurentino Cortizo has announced a reduction in gasoline prices following eight days of anti-government protests that have blocked roads and disrupted public transportation.
The cost of fuel for private vehicles will be lowered to $3.95 per gallon beginning Friday, a 24% drop from the price at the end of June. Protesters say the price cut isn’t enough and and are also demanding inflation curbs on the cost of food, medicine and electricity.
In a televised statement, President Cortizo said the price rises were due to the “effects of the Covid-19 pandemic and the consequences of the war in Ukraine”, adding that he is limited in his ability to change the course of the economy.
In addition to reducing gasoline prices for private vehicles, he said he would cap the price of 10 basic products, without specifying which ones.
The cost of fuel for public transport had already been capped at the start of June at $3.95 per gallon.
Panamanian media have described the measures as an attempt by Cortizo to “retake control” amid the worst crisis since he came into office three years ago. The protests coincided with a week-long absence of the president, who had travelled to the United States for medical tests.
In his TV statement he said that his condition, a blood disorder known as myelodysplastic syndrome, was “low risk” and could be controlled with medication.
Cortizo said he had reviewed the current inflationary crisis in Panama and understood “the dissatisfaction of various sectors with the situation”. Panama, which uses the U.S. dollar, has experienced inflation running at nearly 10 percent in recent months.
Teachers were the first to take to the streets at the start of July but they have since been joined by construction workers, students, and members of indigenous groups. Some of the protest leaders are expected to meet with government negotiators later on Tuesday in the city of Santiago de Veraguas.
But many protesters have already said that the gasoline price freeze is not sufficient and that they will continue taking to the streets until broader action is taken.