Panama’s Inflation Upheaval Causing Food, Fuel Shortages
It started as a teacher’s strike to protest the high cost of gas, but it’s now the largest civil unrest in Panama since the end of dictator Manuel Noriega’s reign in 1989.
With fiery roadblocks disrupting commerce and causing shortages of food, fuel and other supplies, the Panamanian government has entered a new round of talks meant to placate the masses and avoid further economic damage, which some assess at $500 million and counting.
President Laurentino Cortizo had already made two major moves to quell the unrest, only for it to continue.
On June 11, he widened subsidies to extend a freeze on gas prices to all consumers, capping the price at $3.95 a gallon, which was 24% lower than the end-of-June price. He also promised to pursue price caps on 10 basic goods, including pasta, beef loin, vegetable oil and canned sardines.
With protestors demanding economy-wide price cuts and increased spending on education and health care, the demonstrations continued, not only in the form of marches and strikes but also roadblocks of major highways, including the internationally-critical Pan-American Highway. The Panama Canal has thus far escaped disruption; strikes by canal workers are illegal.
Last weekend, Cortizo announced a deal by which the government would reduce the price of gas again — this time, to $3.25. That price cut was offered in exchange for an assurance that the roadblocks would be cleared while discussions of price relief on medicines and other essentials continued.
However, on Monday, leaders of the National Alliance for the Rights of the Peoples (Anadepo), a protestor coalition representing labor unions, civic organizations and indigenous people, announced they were breaking their commitment, saying they had made the deal under pressure. Some groups said they weren’t represented in the negotiations.
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