Three weeks of continuous demonstrations and roadblocks to protest high fuel and food costs in Panama have begun to cause shortages of some food products, fuels and medicines.
The closures, including that of the Pan-American Highway, have forced the national electricity company to ration electricity in the province of Darién, on the border with Colombia. The tankers that carry gas to run the power generation plant cannot get there. Some 7,000 families have been affected due to the reduction of electricity service to 11 hours per day.
In Panama’s main wholesale market that supplies both supermarkets and individual consumers, there was little foot traffic on Wednesday. The display tables usually packed with products had much less to offer. Some vegetables like lettuce and the tomatoesin particular, were scarce.
“This stand was always full. Now I don’t have many products,” said Víctor Palacios. “Yesterday (Tuesday) there was not much merchandise.”
He said that his product comes from the highlands of the western province of Chirique. “The little that has come from there is expensive and damaged,” Palacios said.
The province of Chiriquí is the main supplier of agricultural products in Panama. The Ngobe-Buglé indigenous people who live there have blocked important sections of the Pan-American Highway, stopping trucks trying to bring agricultural products to the capital. The blockades are also affecting shipments from other parts of Central America.
Groups representing farmers have said the protests have caused more than $130 million in losses so far.
For three weeks, Panama has faced the biggest social protests in decades, whose catalyst was the growing increase in fuel and food prices. As unrest rages in the streets Other claims are added, such as the high costs of medicines and low wages in a country with high inequality, according to statistics.
guilds of teachers lit the fuse of the protests by declaring themselves on indefinite strike and they were joined by other organizations and unions —such as the construction industry—, indigenous groups and the general public. The closures, including the international Pan-American highway, are causing shortages of food, fuel and oxygen in hospitals, according to authorities.
The straw that broke the camel’s back was the unstoppable rise in fuel prices since the end of February, which according to experts had an impact on the already rising cost of food. The price of a gallon of gasoline shot up around 40%, according to official and market estimates. A gallon of gasoline was paid for almost six dollars at the beginning of the month.
Economists estimate that inflation, which according to official figures reached 4.2% in May, would reach 6.0% in June due to the increase in gasoline.
“That is alarming for Panama, which is not used to that”, he pointed out to the agency AP Rolando Gordon, Professor of Economics at the University of Panama. He alluded to the fact that historically this country of more than four million inhabitants and with the US dollar as legal currency, was always safe from the inflationary phenomena of other countries in the region.
The guilds of teachers and professors demanded the freezing and/or reduction of fuels, a price cap on food and an increase in the budget for education. Now there are also claims to lower drug prices, put a stop to shortages in the pharmacies of the Social Security entity and improve wages.
Basically, political analyst Miguel Antonio Bernal tells the APthe protests also have to do with a social “fed up” towards what it considers wastage in the administration of public money and the recurring corruption scandals in recent decades.
He also mentions the “historic” inequality, despite a country of services that operates the interoceanic canal and with a capital full of skyscrapers. An official report on household income distribution in 2015 noted that 10% of the richest families in Panama had 37.3 times more income than the 10% of the poorest families in the country.
(With information from AP)