Friday, March 2, 2012

Peace Team Meets with many Representatives in Panama

Last night, March 1st, members of the Michigan Peace Team met with two members of the Ngobe negotiations delegation.  They were informed that just a few hours earlier, police had fired buckshots into a peaceful gathering of members of the indigenous Ngobe tribe, who had been occupying a Panama City park for the last twenty-two days. Six people, including two journalists, were wounded. “The police say that we were drunk, using drugs, machetes, guns, etc. We have none of those things. We don´t even have any food to eat! We have only our voices,” said a hoarse Idi Morerra Bangam√°, a young leader in his tribe’s demonstrations. The Ngobe are protesting against hydroelectric dam projects which they claim are not only flooding homes and farms for which proper compensation is not being paid but also are depriving communities of their historic water supplies. Though the struggle has been going on for nearly twelve years, a recent decision by the Panamanian government to overturn a law that would provide environmental protection to Ngobe lands has sparked more unrest. Demonstrations by the Ngobe have been met by the police with tear gas, rubber coated bullets, and other weapons. Negotiations between the Ngobe and the Panamanian government have been underway since Monday, but talks began to deteriorate last night, and the Ngobe are currently discerning whether or not to continue with the process. Presently, hundreds of Ngobe are standing vigil at twelve different locations around their reservation (or Comarca), completely blocking several roads and bridges. Thousands more are ready to come down from the mountains should the negotiations fail. If this should happen, Panama could erupt in chaos. Says Idi, “We don´t want the government´s money, we want our land. Even with the lack of food, water, and sleep, we have our spirits.”

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