Panama City, Jul 15 (EFE).- The freeze in fuel price at $3.95 a gallon (3.78 liters) for the entire population came into effect Friday in Panama, where protests by trade unions and social organizations continued against the high cost of living amid allegations of public corruption.
The marches in the capital and the blockades on inland roads that began last week continued even after President Laurentino Cortizo set upnegotiations, mediated by the Catholic Church.
However, the protesting groups did not attend the talks alleging a lack of prior consensus on issues such as the mediator and the issues to be discussed.
For a period of three months, starting Friday, Cortizo has set the gas price for private vehicles at $3.95, a measure applied since June but only to certain sectors.
He also regulated the price of 10 basic foods, in a failed attempt to stop the protests that began due to a high cost of basic necessities.
For the protesting groups, these measures “are insufficient”. Their demands include gas prices capped at $3, lowering and freezing of the basic food basket, and increase in general wages, which has not happened since the 1980.
The President’s office reported that “more than 170,000 drivers of private vehicles” registered on the platform that gives access to subsidized gasoline, and that “more than 19,000” had already used it.
“It (the platform) has been a complete mess because there are so many people who don’t appear in the system, while others do,” Zuleika Marciaga, manager of one of Texaco’s stations in the Panamanian capital, told EFE.
The blockades of the Inter-American highway, which crosses Panama and links it with Central America, have prevented fuel trucks from reaching many urban centers in the interior, where shortages are being reported.
These blockades have also prevented the arrival of vegetables and legumes grown in the west of the country, especially in the province of Chiriquí, to urban centers, including the capital.
Producers, entrepreneurs and industrialists have reported suffering losses to the tune of millions, and videos on social media show truck drivers stranded on the road giving away tomatoes and fruits to people as they are about to rot.
The general secretary of the construction union Suntracs, Saul Méndez, said that on Friday police forces “have begun to repress the community of El Sapo and December 20 in the Chiriqui area, and we have been informed that the police are firing live bullets”.
In the capital several teachers’ unions, which have been holding a national strike since July 6, marched to the Comptroller of Panama, where they demanded easier payment of salaries and investments for improvements in schools. EFE