National Government Responds to Strike with Promises to Improve Bocas del Toro Infrastructure

The strike is over! Central government representatives from Panama City announced the dismissal of the head of the AMP (Panamanian Maritime Authority) and the complete reparation of the streets of Isla Colón. These, along with other promises to the people of Bocas del Toro, were enough for Rubén Navarro (of La Organización Civil) to declare the strike over, at 3:30pm on August 15th, 2018:

Hoy, en este momento, levanto formalmente la huelga de Bocas y si no se cumple, se va a la calle!” That is to say that the strike is officially over and if these promises to the Bocatoreños are not delivered, they will take to the street again.

Groups of police equipped with riot gear had been flown in late the night before, which led to a bit of nervous energy on the island before day two of the strike. However, the police commissioner assured the public that the extra police force was present only as a precaution; in order to protect tourists and properties in the event that any demonstration got out of hand. Thankfully, they were never deployed.

The second day of the strike began with regular operations of transit permitted only from 5am to 7am. The boaters association took their positions at 8:30am blocking any maritime traffic on both sides of the Isla Colón and Isla Carenero channel with over 50 boats. This included the passage to the ferry, cutting off cargo deliveries for the day. Protesters gathered in the park in the early morning- chanting, holding signs and giving speeches on the issues. Sometime in the morning, it was announced that the government officials would arrive at 12pm to address their demands. The leaders of the protesting factions urged the crowd to remain civilized and respectful for when the officials come so that a peaceful dialogue could take place.

Tony Taylor of the taxi association expressing his views with a passion.

                                                      

A letter was sent (read below) to the national government, explaining the reasons for the strike. The community has been disenchanted with inept local leadership in many respects. In their opinion, it has lead to infrastructure failures and a lack of long-term vision for tourism and economic development of the islands. Some notable issues are the following: the mismanagement of the AMP (maritime authority) making boat tourism too complicated, the under-funding of the school system, lack of opportunities for higher education, job training and education in tourism, the need for infrastructure upgrades for water and electricity, including the complete reparation of roads in Isla Colón. The roads were the most urgent matter which would be non-negotiable, according to Rubén Navarro, who opened the meeting with a thorough discourse on the matters.

IDAAN official used to live in Bocas, understands the water issues and is looking forward to collaborating on solutions. He also doesn’t mind having meetings here, as he still has a special place in his heart for the islands.

Many others, of all ages and all walks of life, also had the opportunity to share their thoughts and the members of the community that gathered in the park had their full support. The government officials representing each of the various ministries then responded with what they could do to meet the demands made. After some negotiation, discussions concluded at 3:30pm with Navarro announcing the end of the strike. Here are some of the resolutions that became established and signed into an act by members of both sides:

  • Central Government and local representatives of each organization will establish a committee and meet every 15 days to keep in better communication. The next meeting is set for August 29th.
  • Two Banco Nacional automatic cash machines will be installed on Isla Colón.
  • The replacement of the head of the Bocas del Toro AMP (maritime authority) is effective immediately and the malpractices of the previous administration will be scrutinized in the August 29th and subsequent meetings.
  • There will be immediate inspections of the water treatment facilities and schools by engineers. Plans for renovations will be presented at the August 29th meeting.
  • There will be a complete repair of the streets on Isla Colon from Bocas Town to Boca del Drago and the repairs will be done with asphalt instead of mud and rocks.

All in all, Bocatoranians of all ages came out in massive support of their community, were very involved and offered some very progressive ideas for the development of tourism, including: (1) creating a route from Tocumen to the Bocas del Toro International airport on Isla Colón, so that tourists can arrive in an easier fashion and (2) constructing a dock where cruise ships could have access to Isla Colón. These are big ideas and although the officials listened to them, these were not included in the act signed by both committees.

All ages were present.

The strike was inconvenient for some, but the community will be very happy if these demands are met. So, when will these demands be met? Meetings have been set for every 15 days between the central government and local representatives, keeping both sides accountable in doing their part to make progress on these issues.

The important thing is that a dialogue was established today, where Panama City heard the voices of Bocas del Toro. Bocas residents made it clear that they are willing to speak loud for infrastructure improvements, better education and long-term tourism prosperity.

 

Letter from community to officials in Spanish with translation below:

English translation:
The community of Bocas del Toro has quietly worked on its issues with the government over the term of this administration.  But, to date, nothing has been accomplished.  The province is tired of being the “step-child” of Panama.
An initial peaceful protest was staged in March 2018 regarding a number of problems, but focused predominantly on the waste management challenges.  Promises were made, but no action has been realized.
A second peaceful protest passed eight days ago with notice to the government that the community wants a meeting with the ministers of the appropriate authorities to seriously address its issues.  The central government didn’t respond.
So yesterday, the community staged another peaceful protest.  An individual police officer got carried away and pulled a weapon on a group of protestors.  Thankfully no one was hurt.  It has caused an escalation in the government’s response and the police force seen on the islands.
Today, the governor of Bocas del Toro resigned.  He was the acting mediator in this situation between the community and the central government.  Now what?
The community is not interested in violence.  We are interested in sustaining our beloved province.  The issues at hand are putting the province in jeopardy.  We had to take a stand.
We have been subjected to inept administration on so many fronts, including, but not limited to the following:
• Electricity
• Potable water
• Wastewater treatment
• Waste management
• Street maintenance
• Maritime regulations
• Public works
• Schools
• Teacher’s salaries
• Higher education
• Environmental issues

Printed monthly in both English and Spanish with a circulation of 5,000 free copies distributed at airports, hotels, restaurants and various retail locations throughout Bocas del Toro, Panama City, David, Boquete and Costa Rica. Also published on the Internet on a daily basis.

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