Conflicts & War

Truckers stranded in Panama due to anti-mining protests denounce ‘inhumane’ conditions

David, Panama, Nov. 27 (EFE) – Freight drivers, many from Central America, denounce that they are facing “inhumane and unhygienic” conditions in the roadblocks that have been in place in Panama for more than a month to protest against a mining contract signed by Congress.

One such driver is Panamanian Ernesto Rey, who was stranded in Chiriquí, the province bordering Costa Rica, on his way back to Panama City from the neighboring country.

Like many other truckers returning from Central America, he has not seen his family in weeks, although, as he told EFE, he is fortunate to be parked near a gas station.

The prospect of being stranded in heavy traffic far from a gas station or a town would an “unhygienic and inhuman” situation, he told EFE.

“There is no bathroom (to take a shower), there is no toilet and there is nothing,” he says angrily and complains bitterly that “the truckers always pay the price” when there is a roadblock.

The line of stranded trucks can be seen along the Pan-American Highway – the country’s main highway – from Paso Canoas, the border with Costa Rica through Chiriquí, to Ojo de Agua in Veraguas, the next province over.

The roadblocks are in protest against the contract awarded to Minera Panamá, a subsidiary of the Canadian company First Quantum Minerals, for the exploitation of a large copper mine approved by the Panamanian Assembly.

The trucks carry goods coming from Asia, the United States and Europe to Central America through Panama’s Colón Free Zone, the largest on the continent, and the port system connected to the Panama Canal.

There are also trucks that bring manufactured goods of all kinds, including medicines, to Panama, where more than 80% of what is consumed is imported, including soap, cookies, beverages and other products that are now stranded in the canal, Carlos Eliécer Argueta, vice president of Panama’s National Chamber of Freight Transportation, told EFE.

Chiriquí, an important vegetable-producing area, is the area most affected by the blockades by indigenous groups and unions, which have caused shortages of basic products, gas and fuel.

Some representatives of employers’ associations have reported that drivers are victims of theft and other crimes.

Incalculable losses

The economic losses to the freight transportation sector, a neuralgic node in Panama’s powerful logistics system, are growing by the hour, Argueta said.

“There is no way to calculate the losses. Panama receives daily 250 18-wheelers from Central America,” he added.He also emphasizes that due to this situation, the Colón Free Zone “has lost the two best months of commercial sales”, the Christmas and New Year’s seasons.

The blockades, which also occurred in the Caribbean province of Colón, have almost paralyzed the free zone and affected the movement of cargo between the Atlantic and Pacific ports, as explained to EFE by businessmen of the sector, who emphasize the loss of Panama’s reputation as a safe supplier of logistics services, which represent 30% of the GDP.

Transporters ask for help

Panamanian and foreign transporters stranded on the Pan-American Highway are asking for someone to intervene to reopen the road, as they claim to feel alone.

This “kidnapping” situation, as spokesmen for the Panamanian employers have described the blockades, is keeping the north of the country in a crisis of fuel and food shortages.

“(The protesters) publish on social media when they open a road, but when the vehicles arrive at the next intersections of the closures it’s the same thing: the trucks are blocked and can’t get through,” Rey said.

On Sunday, the government of El Salvador asked Panama for a humanitarian corridor to allow the exit of heavy cargo drivers who have been stranded in Panama for “more than 30 days” due to the blockades.

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