The Breeze sat down with Ruben Navarro and Tony Taylor, who represent the Bocas islands in the civic organization Fuerzas Vivas. The group has emerged as a way to have a voice to the government on issues like education, infrastructure and tourism development. Navarro and Taylor will tell you that the best thing that came out of the August protests were the amount of unity and organization among various groups on the island who want to see progress in the province of Bocas del Toro. The Bocas Island representatives are now aligned with groups in Changuinola, Almirante and Guabito. Earlier this week they announced a possible strike and are still prepared to do so on today September 20th, pending a meeting with CSS (Social Security) in Almirante.
If plans for upgrades on the current Almirante hospital are not approved, the 4 districts of Fuerzas Vivas are planning to strike completely; meaning road and sea closures. Fuerzas Vivas recognizes that these measures hurt the local economy (including themselves, who also depend on transport and tourism) but would like to maintain that for over 3 years now they have tried other means to reach the central government and it has never been effective. Since the August protests, some progress has been made. Their goal is to unify and organize the people of Bocas del Toro so that they have voice in central government.
At 4pm on Thursday September 20th, if the plans for the hospital upgrades in Almirante are not approved, the strike will go on as plans. Fuerzas Vivas are hoping that Social Security will give them a response that benefits the people of Bocas del Toro.
4PM UPDATE: As of 4:10pm, Navarro has reported that the plans for the Almirante hospital have not been approved by CSS (Social Security) and that Fuerzas Vivas is preparing for a complete strike. He could not say at exactly what time the strike will begin. Prior experience will dictate that Fuerzas Vivas and associated striking organizations could be ready to shut down transport as soon as Friday, September 21st.
10PM UPDATE: Ruben Navarro informs us that “Tomorrow there will be a protest from 10am-4pm and closures in Almirante.” Whether the closures in Almirante will effect water taxis or buses to Panama City, is unknown. The exact details of the protest are still unclear. In August, there was a protest with marches and speeches and then there were also strikes with maritime blockades are road closures. The magnitude of Friday’s protest remains to be seen.
11:30PM UPDATE: The protest on Friday September 21st will not involve blockades and will be held peacefully in the park (information below). If the new hospital plans for Almirante are not approved, than a province-wide strike will effectively close down transport the islands beginning on Saturday, September 22nd.