Conflicts & War

Panama trade unionists slam Cortizo’s austerity measures

Panama City, Jul 12 (EFE).- Trade union leaders who participated in a massive march in Panama on Tuesday criticized the austerity measures announced by the country’s president to reduce public spending, including a 10 percent reduction of the state’s payroll, which they said would lead to layoffs and “more hunger.”

“Do you know what it’s like to reduce the state payroll? That all these Panamanians, 10 percent – I do not know how many people they have put in there (in that percentage) – and all the others, they are out on the streets (laid off). That’s hunger,” Saul Méndez, general secretary of the powerful construction union Suntracs, told EFE.

Méndez stressed the need for a “real employment policy,” which, in a country like Panama, entails the development of agriculture and industry since these sectors are great generators of jobs.

“But we do not want bad jobs, we want them with good wages, with social benefits, social security, so that the people live with dignity,” said Méndez, who has called for a 24-hour strike in construction – the main industry in Panama – on Wednesday.

Laurentino Cortizo’s administration “has to understand that it cannot continue to govern for the rich who financed the campaign, and the people who vote for them. This is how they pay you, giving you more misery than you already have,” Méndez said.

He added that this was the reason that people have mobilized across the country and have taken to the streets demanding “concrete proposals” to lower the cost of living and approval of a general increase in wages.

The protest on Tuesday was among the biggest since demonstrations against the increase in fuel, medicines and food prices, and the squandering of public funds, began more than a week ago.

The protesters, which included indigenous groups, university students, workers and teachers’ unions, marched peacefully to the premises of the National Assembly.

A small group of students tried to break down a security barricade set up around the parliament building, but it did not lead to any clashes with the police, which kept a safe distance.

The general secretary of the Teachers’ Association, Fernando Abrego, told EFE that the fuel issue was not the only issue, and that the 1995 law that establishes that 6 percent of the country’s gross domestic product must be for public expenditure on education must be complied with “once and for all.”

Demonstrations and marches were also held in several provinces to demand more concrete measures from the government to tackle the economic crisis.

On Monday, Cortizo announced that starting Friday a gallon (3.78 liters) of gasoline will be frozen for private cars at $3.95, as has already been approved for public transport and some production sectors since last month.

He also announced a freeze on the price of 10 staple foods.

The government announced that the cabinet on Tuesday had approved “the establishment of a process of reduction of 10 percent of the state payroll and the start of a program of voluntary retirement of public sector workers,” among other austerity measures. EFE


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