Sunday, March 4, 2012

Team Update, March 4

The MPT Team has been in Panama City for several days, making connections and arranging for meetings with local leaders who are working tirelessly and round-the-clock on the issue of Ngabe land rights.  Our main local contact and cooperating organizations are very capable and respected in the area.  We have been lucky enough to meet with several Ngabe leaders and activists, mostly within the first 48 hours of our arrival in Panama City. These Ngabe leaders are currently staying in Panama City (or just "in Panama," as they call it, as opposed to their own Comarca) in order to participate in daily talks with the Panamanian government, and to continue a 25-day-long vigil outside the government building where the talks take place.  Such meetings have been crucial for us in gaining trust and understanding from the Ngabe people, and opening the lines of communication before we take the next step of first-hand observation of demonstrations (which the Ngabe leaders have, in fact, further invited us to do.)

The teamers from MPT have been living and working very closely as a team with two observers from Collective Voices for Peace.  The CVP teamers are from Costa Rica and Brazil.  Their contribution in terms of expertise and experience, as well as in language and Latino culture, has been invaluable.  The six of us have spent many hours in intensive team meetings and skill-sharing among themselves to develop a strong foundation for the observation work we are primarily invited to undertake.

While still working to establish ourselves and build trust with our contacts, the team is now moving into more firsthand observation, gathering of stories, and documentation.  Today, the team interviewed several members of the Ngabe group that are occupying a park in Panama City, just outside the National Assembly building.  The site has been a focus of police violence, and team members worked to collect stories of some of the demonstrators gathered there. We hope to share more on those stories as soon as we can upload photos/video and have a connection to write reports.

Having spent many hours meeting with tribal leaders and human rights workers, it is clear that the movement to protect land rights on the Ngabe comarca is well organized around nonviolent means.  We have been continually impressed by the commitment of the leaders to effective nonviolent resistance.  There are striking paralells with other groups working against opression by nonviolent means, and similar challenges (inaccurate protrayal of the conflict and demonstrators by a controlled media, government manipulation of factions within the movement, issues with land seizure and lack of ¨deed,¨ and many more).  We hope to further explore these similarities in a future report.

Soon the team will travel to other regions of the country to witness silent vigils along the roadsides; demonstrators come down from their mountain homes by the hundreds at the call of the Cacique (tribal leader Silvia Carreras).  At her word, they will close the roads (and have done so on several occaisions), bringing the country to a standstill-- and gaining national and international attention for their cause, and putting pressure on the government.  Still, misperceptions of the Ngobe movement to protect land rights, many stemming from  purposeful manueverings of the government to make the movement appear violent, are cited by the leadership as one of the major problems they face.

We look forward to sharing first hand reports with our readers soon, and more in-depth information and links.  If we can get permission to share them, we would also like to post some very detailed and professional human rights reports and video testimonies, prepared by local organizations.  We are working to compile more information.  Please check back soon!

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