Pretend peaceful protest Panama, day 2

Filed under: News, Politikos, Vita — Jacob Welsh @ 06:40

Things seem to be heating up these days in various spots around the world, and El Pueblo Panamen~o, whoever that might be, is eager as usual not to be left behind on all the new global standards and best practices. They're not doing it correctly, of course, so I imagine they'll simply continue or escalate the pretense until their own energies are drained.

There was mention last week of brief closings such as on the Corredor Sur commuter route before work in the mornings; you know, before the picketers themselves had to report to work. Nothing too unusual for here, if you'd believe it, or at least nothing that registered any significance to me. But yesterday it clearly passed that threshold.

An unsourced message circulated on Whatsapp, purportedly from SUNTRACS, the union of perennial troublemakers, about blocking airports, flow of goods into the city, and other spots all around the country. A followup denounced it as fake news, saying they communicate all their planned actions through their own platform. But many closures at least within the city itself soon became apparent. The mob turned out in some numbers, blocking streets either by their mere presence or by setting fires. As night was falling around 6:15pm a "cacerolazo" got going in my own neighborhood: a steady clattering on pots and pans from apartments all around, lasting maybe half an hour. The rumor-phone reported tear gas fired near Avenida Balboa; not long after, all in the apartment agreed we were feeling a trace of it - scratchy eyes, headache and/or diziness - even a dozen floors up with windows shut and no sight of the source of the stuff. I wondered: do all the pools around get contaminated and how long does that take to clear out?

That was as bad as it got for us, but I heard about fires near building fuel tanks, muggings in the street (after dark), rocks thrown, random parked cars getting glass broken or even burned, shots fired (in gang territory), possibly fireworks shot at ground level, and certainly more of the US-sourced chemical weapons fired to disperse the crowds.

The pretext is the current Laurentino "Nito" Cortizo government's approval of a new contract for a long-established copper mining operation. I was clueless of its existence but apparently it's of some significant scale. Supposedly the owners aren't being fleeced enough for the privilege of making something useful of the country, because of some corrupt dealings that shouldn't count because they're now 40 years past,(i) plus there are environmental concerns about water contamination and so on.

'El capitalismo Mata' sprayed on crosswalk

But as revealed by the self-appointed spokesmen of the movement in their own handwriting, the actual matter is simply that they're communists, intent on dragging down anyone who would rise above their own misery (perhaps explaining why they see no problem with the harm they do to their countrymen and even their own much more immediate environment).

At least that's how it looks from my still somewhat outsider's perspective.


For some visuals grabbed from the phone-firehose, here's a possible source of the above smoke, from a nearby cafe:


Cinco de Mayo, a rougher spot in between the gentrified Avenida Balboa and Casco Viejo:


Deeper in the hood, what might be called a real-time renegotiation of borders:


Moving up-market, here's the Starbucks at a major intersection, Calle 50 and Calle 53:



But it was the next block south down Calle 53 that got the brunt of it:


Based on a strategy of staying in when the crowd is out and going out when the crowd stays in, I ventured forth mid-day today to survey the damage. Besides, I had stuff to buy. Against a backdrop of feminine messaging to "please stay home if you can, it's dangerous outside!", it was my own act of protest: to carry on calmly as usual, as I did in the last war. That time, I did it by retreating to a place where that was still more or less possible. But so long as I'm here, this is my city and I intend to live as a man, not hide like a mouse in a hole.

I had two shops in mind to visit and rang them to check; the Jews were open while the as-yet unknown Italians didn't answer so the itinerary simplified to one stop. I planned to walk and packed for various contingencies, forgetting as usual my umbrella until already out the door. On the walk I was in high spirits, and pretty soon didn't feel odd in the least after seeing the relative normalcy and plenty of others about.

We proceed to my own photos from the field trip. The Ministry of Economy and Finances, the one government building I happened to pass, was barricaded at the entrance.


Continuing towards the Catedral Nacional: alles in ordnung.


Passing that Starbucks intersection:





"Mining equals death". The cement in the roads and buildings; every bit of steel, plastic, wiring, and fuel in the cars; the transformer involuntarily hosting their message; the whole electric grid it's a part of; the shiny but crippled computers lining their petro-cloth pockets... where exactly do they think all these things that make up their world come from, I wonder ?

Approaching where the real ruckus was at:




Ever wondered what a spent canister of 2-chlorobenzalmalononitrile (CS for short) looks like? Me neither but here we go:


The dwellings privileged with front-row seats to the action, just off Calle 53 in Marbella.


I guess the Panda House was already closed anyway (besides the papered-up windows there was a for-rent sign not pictured).


Unclear if there's some new damage here or an existing repair job.


Something did damage to the road surface, though doesn't appear to have breached the sewer below.


A well-done asado de traffic cone, I'd say. I read that one tactic against tear gas, if you're prepared to get up close and personal with the hot canister, is to cover it with such a cone and pour in water to try to extinguish it. I'd like to think this cone had such a meaningful death.


I haven't figured out what the green mess is, possibly some part of a vehicle exterior?


An odd combination. Maybe the baby wipes would work as makeshift face coverings for gas filtration?


Nothing unusual across the street, maybe a little extra security manpower at the bank.


Falta respeto for Doctors Without Borders recruitment ads.


More than usual junk in the river-sewer.(ii)


Just a bit further down the block; I suppose even these monkeys realize that fucking up a hospital, even the rich man's, would be pretty poor optics for their cause.


Some blue lights and the way to Avenida Balboa looks closed, though I ended up on it later.


All's well at my destination, Pacific Center on the north/inland edge of Punta Paitilla.



I caught a cab back, sweating as I was enough already from the climate and happily laden with kilograms of soon-to-be tasty powders and fluids, an order that hadn't been fillable closer to home. As for this evening, the cacerolazos were back, with some horns and shouting added to the mix, but happily not the CS microdosing, and I've been blissfully tuned out from the chat groups. Work on the mission is set to continue unimpeded.

  1. Let's think for a moment what is being proposed here: suppose you own your house, free and clear and with the title to prove it, having inherited it. Now someone comes along saying your pops originally got the land through shady dealings, and after all it was so long ago that we don't need to honor the sale now, so your claim is forfeit. Wait, what ?! (But ask me again why real estate "ownership" fails to much interest me...) [^]
  2. For the LatAm innocent: yes, really, it's a cement-lined river that carries raw sewage straight to the ocean. I'm told it was constructed quite some time ago by the Americans, as a "temporary stopgap measure". In recent years they've supposedly made some progress on cleaning things up, if that does anything for you. [^]

1 Comment »

  1. Updated for two extra pics that I somehow misplaced.

    I suppose even these monkeys realize that fucking up a hospital, even the rich man's, would be pretty poor optics for their cause.

    Then again, it may just be that the police (seen at top left in protesta-calle53-1) prioritized its defense.

    Comment by Jacob Welsh — 2023-10-25 @ 19:22

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