People & Power - Panama: Village of the damned
By Glenn Elis, Filmmaker, People & Power; Les Blough, Commentary. Axis of Logic
People & Power. Axis of Logic.
Monday, Apr 16, 2012
The Ngäbe-Buglé people are fighting back on multiple fronts against big business, the Panamanian regime of Ricardo Martinelli and even the United Nations - in our terms - Global Corporate Empire. Martinelli, a former business tycoon and friend of Washington is bent on crushing the Ngäbe-Buglé with with his riot police, "US riot-control equipment, rubber bullet casings, shotgun shells, sting-ball grenades, teargas canisters." The Ngäbe-Buglé are fighting to save their land from road construction, a vast copper mine and building new hydro-electric dams, flooding land and virgin rainforest. In February, three young Ngäbe-Buglé men were killed, dozens were wounded and more than 100 detained. The Guardian reports:
"The Ngäbe-Buglé comarca, or territory, sits atop the huge Cerro Colorado copper deposit, the richest mineral deposit in Panama, possibly in all of central America. Pro-business Martinelli, a self-made supermarket tycoon, signed a deal with Canada's Inmet Mining with a 20% Korean investment to extract as much as 270,000 tons of copper a year, along with gold and silver, over the 30-year lifespan of the proposed mine. Panama's tribes form 10% of the population but, through a system of autonomous comarcas, they control 30% of the land, giving them greater leverage."
Silvia Carrera, chief of the Ngäbe-Buglé people has emerged as a pivotal figure in the conflict. Photograph: Ed Helmore
Silvia Carerra is the elected chief or "general cacique" of the Ngäbe-Buglé community and she has led the indigenous people in the battle against Martinelli and big business. The protests began when villagers at Ojo de Agua (Eye of the Water) in Chiriquí province used trees and rocks to block the Pan-American highway. The blockades prevented tourists crossing into Panama from Costa Rica from returning for six days. This placed Panama on the front lines of the battle between indigenous folk and the corporate demands for land, minerals and energy. In February, she explained to the international media,
"Look how they treat us. What do we have to defend ourselves? We don't have anything; we have only words. We are defenceless. We don't have weapons. We were attacked and it wasn't just by land but by air too. Everything they do to us, to our land, to our companions who will not come back to life, hurts us."
During the protests, thousands of Ngäbe-Buglé descended from the hills, block the highway; routed the police at one point in El Volcán and San Félix and set fire to a police station. In Panama City, students and unions came together with indigenous protesters marching on Martinelli's residence almost every day. Some of them painted on the walls nearby "Martinelli assassin."
The Martinelli regime argues that the flooding, dams, mines and roads are needed for "the economy" but big business is cashing in and one must wonder just whose economy Martinelli has in mind. The UN has backed these projects by awarding carbon credits "on the basis that the resultant energy will be 'sustainably' produced." But for the indigenous people it's a disaster with their homes disappearing under water. Filmmaker Glenn Elis went to Panama for People & Power to find out more.
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