COLON, Panama – The city of Colon, the second largest producer of wealth in Panama, was paralyzed Tuesday morning by a civic protest with outbreaks of vandalism that began before sunrise, even though the government says it is investing more than $1 billion in urban improvements.
At least five people – four of them police officers – were injured and 35 arrested in a day of otherwise peaceful protest marred by the acts of vandalism attributed to third parties, according to preliminary reports by the authorities.
The demonstration called by the Broad Front for Colon (FAC) transpired in relative calm during the morning, although it was preceded by acts of vandalism quite early on Tuesday, with similar incidents recurring later in the afternoon.
Certain people burned the emblematic “Casa Wilcox” in Colon’s old city, along with tires and trash along public streets, and looting was reported in the afternoon spurring Mayor Jenith Campos to decree a curfew for minors starting at 6 pm Tuesday.
The National Police reported that they had arrested 35 people “for their links with looting of businesses, attempting to (harm) National Police officers, damage to property, vandalism and disturbing the public order.”
The force also said that four of its officers were injured, along with one civilian, but none of those victims has been publicly identified.
Police chief Omar Pinzon was pushed and beaten by a man who was quickly subdued by security forces.
The leader of the protest movement, Edgardo Voitier, told reporters that the mobilization was “peaceful” but was staged to demand far-reaching solutions to the breakdown of services like healthcare and public schools.
The FAC, a platform that brings together a number of civic organizations, launched the protest against the urban renovation promoted by the Panamanian government and which, it says, is a cover-up for a gentrification process.
“There are multiple reasons why they won’t get us out of the streets, but what mainly motivates us is the perverse aim of Panamanian President Juan Carlos Varela to use our money to kick poor people out of the city and hand it over to the rich,” Voitier told EFE hours earlier.
The government’s plan, he said, is to “privatize Colon and make it the home of the elite,” as occurred in the historic downtown area of the Panamanian capital, so the only people who can live there are “the rich and the foreign.”
For his part, the secretary of presidential goals, Jorge Gonzalez, said on TVN News that “more than $1 billion is being invested” in construction works in Colon, and denied that people are being “kicked out of the city” to create spaces for the well-to-do.
The city of Colon, located on the Caribbean coast and 80 kilometers (50 miles) north of the capital, is one of the poorest, most conflicted in the country, even though it includes the Free Trade Zone and has important ports, as well as the Atlantic entry to the Panama Canal and an enormous natural gas plant under construction.