New Negotiations to End Panama Cost of Living Protest

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Panama (AFP) – The Panamanian government and protesters were due to begin a new round of negotiations on Thursday to end more than two weeks of protests over the cost of living that have disrupted food supplies and hurt the economy.

Protesters demanding lower prices for fuel, food and medicine blocked the crucial Pan American Highway and other major roads with broken down trucks and burning tires, and some clashed with police.

On Sunday, the government and some protest leaders announced an agreement to end the crippling expression of anger in the country of 4.4 million people.

But on Monday there were further roadblocks and marches as other groups rejected the deal and said they had not been consulted.

As roadblocks and marches persisted this week, the government agreed to a new round of talks mediated by the Catholic Church.

The sides were due to meet on Thursday in the town of Penonome, some 150 kilometers (93 miles) southwest of the capital Panama City.

On the side of the protesters will be the Anadepo alliance of civic groups, trade unions and representatives of indigenous communities.

“Concrete answers”

“We hope that the government will provide concrete answers to the basic needs of the population,” said Saul Mendez, general secretary of the Suntracs construction workers union which took part in the revolt.

Protesters are demanding lower prices for basic consumer goods, fuel, energy, medicine and more spending on public education and health care.

They also want urgent action against corruption amid growing public concern about high civil servant salaries and government waste at a time of growing economic hardship.

Despite its dollarized economy and impressive growth figures, Panama has one of the highest rates of social inequality in the world, with limited access to health services, education and clean water in some areas. regions.

The protests have triggered severe food and fuel shortages in parts of the country, and the business sector says some $500 million has been lost.

On Wednesday, a convoy of some 200 trucks carrying much-needed food to Panama City with an escort of police and Suntracs members, was held up at a roadblock.

Suntracs had described the caravan as a “humanitarian” delivery, and the unions later denied being responsible for its heist, blaming unspecified “thugs”.

Police said they would ensure the shipment arrived safely on Thursday.

The government agreed this weekend to cut gasoline prices to $3.25 a gallon after another cut announced last week – to $3.95 from $5.20 a gallon in June – n was not enough to appease the demonstrators.

On Tuesday, the government said it was committed to dialogue with a view to “promoting social peace and the common good”.

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