According to reports, what started as a simple teacher's strike against the high price of gasoline has blossomed into the largest civil unrest in the country since the end of dictator Manuel Noriega's reign of terror in 1989.
Citizens have erected fiery roadblocks on major highways that, in turn, serve only to disrupt deliveries of food and other commodities, thereby worsening shortages. And while the Panamanian government has entered a new round of talks aimed at placating the masses and avoiding further destruction, already the damage has surpassed $500 million and counting, according to Voice of America.
The America 1st Twitter account noted in a post containing video clips of the violence and unrest, which includes smashing a police vehicle: "Panama is heating up (literally). They are protesting corruption and high prices."
Panama is heating up (literally). They are protesting corruption and high prices. pic.twitter.com/oZWdge4muv
— ? America 1st ?? ? ?? (@lib_trigger) July 21, 2022
President Laurentino Cortizo in June made two major moves in a bid to end the unrest, but what he did has actually worsened the situation, so the unrest has only spread.
On June 11, he ordered wider subsidies to include extending a freeze on gasoline prices to all consumers, limiting the price to $3.95 a gallon, or 24 percent lower than the price was by the end of June. In addition, he pledged more price caps on 10 basic food items including beef loin, pasta, vegetable oil and canned sardines.
But of course, artificially capping prices never works because it forces companies to take losses on their products, which in turn, either puts them out of business or forces them to produce less so that their losses are limited. Either way, both cause increased shortages and more unrest.
"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," Zero Hedge added.
BREAKING: Panama Highway Blocked As Inflation And Corruption Protests Continue ? pic.twitter.com/GEOoUwQ5IA
— Wall Street Silver (@WallStreetSilv) July 18, 2022
Of course, blocking the crucial highway also only adds to shortages -- which then adds to anger and unrest, like a vicious circle.
In order to clear the blocked highway, Cortizo doubled down on a socialist solution, pledging to cap gasoline prices even further at $3.25 a gallon.
But even that isn't good enough.
On Monday, leaders of the National Alliance for the Rights of the People, or Anadepo, which is a coalition that is representing labor unions, civil organizations and indigenous people, announced that they would no longer honor their commitment to keep highways cleared, claiming that they made the deal with the president under duress. Some of the groups noted that they were not even represented during the talks.
Protesters in Panama take control of the Pan-American highway at Santiago de Veraguas, expressing rejection of the government's repression against the people, two weeks into mobilizations over the economic crisis. pic.twitter.com/Rr7RiZrX98
— Kawsachun News (@KawsachunNews) July 20, 2022
As such, the Cortizo government agreed to return to negotiations on Tuesday, with talks to be mediated by the Catholic Archbishop of Panama. Still, the leader of a semi-autonomous region in the country has already stated flatly that any gas price over $3 a gallon is "non-negotiable."
But in addition to gas prices and the shortages of commodities, Panamanians are also sick of the graft and corruption. In response to those demands, Cortizo ordered that government institutions would begin trimming payroll by 10 percent while cutting agency budgets and restricting foreign travel.
Still, none of these efforts may be enough to stave off a full-blown revolution "against a government seen as living well on the backs of common people," Zero Hedge reported, adding: "Earlier, members of the ruling Democratic Revolutionary Party threw fuel on the fire when photos captured them drinking $340 bottles of Macallan whisky while celebrating the start of a new legislative session."
"The protests ... began at the end of June. They were partly fuelled by a video circulated on social media in early July that showed ruling party lawmakers celebrating the beginning of the legislative period with $340 bottles of Macallan whisky." FT #HuelgaPanama2022 pic.twitter.com/IbcaJGYoJK
— Panama is my home ?? ?? (@golancrush) July 22, 2022
Ecuador is also experiencing similar problems and may be the next domino to fall in the American hemisphere.
Protests happening in Ecuador over increased gas and food prices. Not that anyone would know about it since our media is pretending like the whole world isn’t rising up against the global elite. pic.twitter.com/8jhWeSvpkE
— DuchessY ??? (@ExiledArtistY) July 22, 2022