On Thursday August 9th concerned citizens took to the streets of Isla Colón to voice their opinion. Though there were a few different reasons to protest, all shared the common goal of wanting to see the beautiful islands of Bocas del Toro progress and reach their full potential and to do so in a way that meets the community’s needs and fosters tourism growth. Protesters are questioning whether the current administration is on the same page. As such, a peaceful protest was planned where hundreds of Bocas residents dressed in white (symbolic of the goal of a peaceful dialogue) and gathered at the ferry dock touting signs and chanting as they marched down 3rd street, towards the park where speeches were made.
“The protest is for the government to repair the streets of Bocas Town and Boca del Drago, to address problems with the sewage treatment, as well as the poor condition of the Josué Ibarra school and the malpractices of the current head of the AMP (Panamanian Maritime Authority),” says Josué Contreras, protest participant and local business owner.
With these issues abound, the situation became more intense after a video circulated the internet of MOP (Ministery of Public Works) workers filling in potholes with a mixture of mud and stone. Residents complained that they would just be washed out in the next rainfall. Some went so far as to use the mud as soil to plant trees to grow in the pot holes, in a revolutionary form of playful protest.
The boat captains were less playful. They blocked the ferry dock for about 15 minutes, positioning themselves in the middle of the port, preventing the large vessel from docking. Those who had business affairs associated with the ferry and its cargo were certainly annoyed, but the blockade was effective in getting people’s attention. This was the prelude to the march down 3rd street.
Another issue that was mentioned in the protest was the suspected sale of land in Bluff Beach, which is supposed to be protected area for turtle nesting, according to a 1997 resolution by the Bocas del Toro municipal government. Real estate signs and survey markers have been spotted in the turtle nesting area which many long-time residents assert is protected area under the same 1997 municipal act.
The protest represented the views of concerned citizens and the following organizations were present: Sociedad Civil Organizada (Organized Civil Society), Comité Pro-Desarollo (Pro Development Committee), Transportistas Terrestres (Land Transport, taxis and cargo), Cámara de Turismo (Chamber of Tourism), Federación de Boteros (Boaters Federation), and Empresarios de la Construcción (Construction Proprietors).
After Thursday’s demonstration, the groups mentioned collaborated on a letter that was sent to the central government of Panama demanding a dialogue with the head administrator of each ministry in question. The letter states that if they do not secure a meeting in Almirante by Tuesday August 14th, the groups are prepared to orchestrate a complete closure of all transportation from Changuinola and Almirante. That means there will be no boat access to the island, stopping most flow of visitors, transit and cargo.
“It will be a complete strike,” says Contreras, “and we don’t wish to speak with any governor or intermediary, we want the ministers.”
Only time will tell to see if the central government will open a dialogue with the protesting citizens of Bocas del Toro. What is known for sure is that Bocas del Toro is a beautiful place and there is a community of people that love it and will protect is interests.