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Panama is faced with largest protests in years

As Panama continues to battle ongoing protests and a financial crisis, thousands of Panamanian protesters have taken to the streets in recent weeks to demand the government put a stop to rising inflation and corruption. President Laurentino Cortizo recently announced measures to cut fuel costs and put a cap on the price of basic food items – but protesters said they were not enough and promised to continue demonstrating.

The latest protests come as Panama battles an inflation rate of 4.2 percent in May; unemployment numbers of about 10 percent; and an increase in fuel costs of almost 50 percent since January. Teachers were the first group to demonstrate at the start of July but they have since been joined by other groups, including construction workers, students and members of Indigenous groups.

Initially, the protesters called for the freezing and reduction of fuel prices, a price cap on food and an increase in the budget for education, but the demands have since widened to include a national negotiation to address political corruption and discuss larger political reforms.

“The current situation in Panama is unbelievable,” one university student said. “There are no medical supplies, there are salary cuts, and there is no work. There is no money to pay the doctors. As a student, the future worries me a lot.”

In the central province of Veraguas, protesters blocked the Pan-American highway affecting the access of goods to the Panama Canal from other Central American countries. The highway is the route through which 80 percent of Panama’s fruits and vegetables are transported.

Economists warn the demonstrations have cost the country millions of dollars in losses and are leading to shortages of fuel and food. On Monday, most of the stalls at Panama’s main produce market closed early because of a lack of fruits and vegetables.

“Everything is stuck; few things arrive,” one trader said. “A little tomato, onions, peppers, or carrots and potatoes. And usually, we can only sell 30 percent or so of what arrives. The rest is already ruined for being blocked for days.”


Source: aljazeera.com


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