PANAMA CITY – A teenager died Tuesday in anti-mining protests in Panama, bringing to two the number of fatalities in the disturbances since the weekend, police said.
National Police spokesman Jairo Polo announced that the teen’s death came early Tuesday morning near David, in the northern border province of Chiriqui.
Around midnight Monday, Polo said, “police heard a powerful explosion coming from a vehicle, and upon arriving there found inside it this young man with his face disfigured” as well as two containers of fuel, remains of fireworks and a length of PVC pipe.
The young man, whom the media identified as Mauricio Mendez, died a few hours later at a nearby hospital.
“It’s not fair ... Today, it’s my grandson, tomorrow it could be the grandson of someone else,” the boy’s grandmother, whose name was not provided, said in remarks to television news.
Mendez is the second fatality since police last Sunday tore down the highway blockades erected by the Ngabe Bugle Indians, who are opposing mining and hydroelectric projects in their region.
On Sunday, one demonstrator died, 40 others were injured, along with six cops, and police arrested 44 people in the operation to dismantle the barricades set up by the Indians at several points along the Inter-American highway.
On Tuesday, government representatives are scheduled to meet with Indian leaders in an initial contact to discuss their differences.
The government delegation is headed by Interior Minister Ricardo Fabrega, who traveled to Chiriqui to hold the dialogue, which is being mediated by the Catholic Church.
The Catholic bishop of David, Jose Luis Lacunza, confirmed on Tuesday that he will continue in his role as mediator in the conflict and asked both parties to lower their tone so as to foster a climate of understanding.
The prelate also called for an end to the highway blockades and to police repression as basic steps to facilitate the negotiations.
Panama’s congress is currently considering a government proposal to ban mining in the Ngabe Bugle zone, but the indigenous activists want the bill expanded to bar hydroelectric projects as well.
The government opposes extending the ban beyond mining.
The Indian protests and the Inter-American highway blockade last week affected the flow of foodstuffs to Panama City and left hundreds of international tourists stranded until they were finally evacuated to their countries of origin. EFE