FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Nicole Rohrkemper
Lansing, Michigan (USA)
Feb. 22, 2012 at 9:00 a.m. EST
MICHIGAN PEACE TEAM VOLUNTEERS ORGANIZING RESPONSE TO EMERGENCY REQUEST FROM
INDIGENOUS TRIBES IN PANAMA
Michigan Peace Team (MPT) staff and volunteers are working in high gear to arrange an Emergency Response to Panama's Ngabe-Bugle Comarca (autonomous indigenous tribes or “reservations”), after receiving a request for assistance. The emergency team request was received late Monday, February 19, 2012. The Peace Team has been requested to arrive within days, as negotiations and demonstrations regarding mining rights on native lands resume on February 27th, 2012 after the Carnival holiday.
MPT's Emergency Response Peace Team will provide observation and reporting of human rights violations to the United Nations, and offer protective accompaniment to people who are threatened with police violence. The team will follow the lead of local Ngabe leaders, and are also coordinating and partnering with Costa Rica Peace Team.
Currently, nonviolent demonstrations against mining on indigenous lands have met with police violence (tear gas, rubber bullets, and other weapons labeled of U.S. origin). Locals report that the government has cut cell phone reception on at least one occasion. There have been seven deaths acknowledged by the Panamanian government in relation to this matter, and many more reported by local civil society organizations, in addition to hundreds of injuries. Indigenous people and their supporters have reported hundreds of injuries at the hands of police and an unknown number of arrests.
Organized to be nonviolent in nature, the demonstrations and protests surrounding this issue have been on-going in several areas of Panama, including Bocas del Toro, Panama City, and San Lorenzo. One nonviolent protest included blocking the main thoroughfare: the Panamanian Highway.
Previous rounds of negotiations between the Ngabe-Bugle tribes (headed by first woman tribal leader Silvia Carrera) and Panamanian President Ricardo Martinelli's government have stretched out over many months. The Ngabe-Bugle people have opposed government mining on native lands and appealed through the Panamanian court system. Recently at least one decision (a law that would provide environmental protection to their lands) is reported to have been overturned.
Michigan Peace Team (MPT) trains volunteers from all walks of life in nonviolent action and communication, and deploys peace teams to areas of conflict worldwide to work with local people to reduce violence and deaths in high-tension situations. Over the past near-20 years, MPT has deployed hundreds of Peace Team volunteers in response to requests from dozens of locations all over the world, including Bosnia, Iraq, Chiapas (Mexico), Juarez (Mexico), Algonquin Territories in Canada, and Haiti. MPT has continued to maintain a long-term presence of rotating teams in the West Bank (Palestine), and also regularly deploys Domestic Peace Teams throughout the United States.
All of MPT's peace teams, including this emergency peace team, are funded by donations from the general public. People wishing to make a donation to this emergency effort would be greatly appreciated, and may do so via our website.