Panama City, Jul 8 (EFE).- Striking Panamanian teachers and their allies will protest indefinitely until President Laurentino Cortizo’s administration presents clear proposals for lowering high fuel and food prices, a union leader said Friday.
“There was an attempt by the government to approach us. Now it seems they want to step back from the call to dialogue, but let’s be honest: if they don’t have anything to propose, we’ll stay in the streets,” the head of the Teachers’ Association of Panama (Asoprof), Diogenes Sanchez, told Efe.
Thousands of people gathered Friday outside the National Assembly building, the seat of the national legislature, in a new peaceful demonstration in this capital.
The protesters chanted, held up banners and played drums to press their demands for a lowering or freezing of fuel prices, a step they see as necessary to bring down the cost of basic food items.
An alliance of teachers, unions and popular organizations, which in May had presented the government a list of 32 demands, began a new round of protests this week that has steadily attracted more support.
The teachers initially declared a 72-hour strike on Wednesday, but that job action was made indefinite a day later following a failed meeting between teachers’ union representatives and Education Minister Maruja Gorday.
The coordinator of the National Union of Educators of Panama (UNEP), Alexis Cazorla, told Efe the union had proposed that authorities set the price of fuels at $3 a gallon (3.78 liters).
The administration is “irresponsibly” claiming they are unable to freeze the price even as government officials have chauffeurs and pay nothing for the gasoline they consume, he said.
Students, indigenous people, workers and members of other unions have joined the teachers in increasingly large demonstrations being held in several regions of Panama.
“The entire country is suffering the effects of the high cost of fuel, and as a knock-on effect all the prices of the basic basket are rising. The people are demanding the government intervene. It can’t turn its back on us,” said Yamir Cordoba, a member of the powerful Suntracs construction workers union, which is proposing a “24-hour warning strike.”
Cortizo’s administration temporarily froze the price per gallon of fuel, which at one point climbed over $6, setting it at $3.95 for some sectors in an attempt to prevent a hike in public transport fares and food prices.
The Panamanian Episcopal Conference, meanwhile, said Friday that it acknowledges and respects people’s right to protest.
But it urged society to work to forge a better country at a time when Panama is emerging from a health crisis that “severely affected the economy and education,” referring to the serious deficiencies in the country’s experience with remote learning during the pandemic.
“We’re calling respectfully on the national government, on social organizations, all men and women of good faith to seek adequate solutions together at this historic moment for our people,” the bishops said in a statement. “We have to find new forms of protests that avoid harming people, particularly the most vulnerable.”
The Episcopal Conference urged Panamanians to “build bridges and tear down the walls that divide us, set our sights on building a country guided by (the principles of) humane, just, equitable and sustainable development for all of its citizens.” EFE