Latin American Movement on a New Initiative Called Law 30 in the Country of Panama Research Paper

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Latin American Movement

Just recently, Bocas del Toro, a city of Panama, has been wrought with civil unrest, riots, protests and police violence. The cause of these disturbances is the new law that the Panamanian Assembly approved, called Law 30, or more aptly nicknamed "The Chorizo (Sausage) Law." To pass this law without public scrutiny, the National Assembly held three days of extraordinary meetings -- behind closed doors -- with no public hearing and closely guarded by the National Police (Joubert-Ceci). The driving force behind passing the law is President Ricardo Martinelli, who came into power in 2009 as a conservative candidate, full of ideas for change and betterment for his people by "cutting crime and corruption." (Brockwehl)

Since that time it has become increasingly clear to Panama, the United States and the United Nations that President Martinelli had no such plans for change or betterment. Instead of upholding his pledges, Martinelli decided to put corporate investments and institutions ahead of his country by enacting various business-friendly reforms (Brockwehl). In a sense, this is a repeat of the same story seen all over the world. Large corporations are lured to cheap-labor countries like Panama, Honduras, Mexico and India; the welfare of the citizens goes unnoticed, while wheeling and dealing changes hands under the table. The question is: will labor organizations in these countries stand up to such laws? This researcher plans to use the effects of Law 30 and subsequent riots and protests to example how laborers are realizing how valuable they are, and how valuable their country is.

The specifics of Law 30 are in itself a convoluted mess. During a special weekend session, the twelve-page law was hurriedly pushed through the Legislative Assembly. The result alters three codes and six national laws. Using the pretext of improving commercial air transportation, this law destroys unions, prohibits strikes, facilitates the destruction of the environment, and threatens civil rights by allowing total impunity for police actions (Joubert-Ceci). Several days went by before the citizens of Panama could unravel the law and discern its effects on the various labor organizations. On July 13, 2010 a general strike was issued by Unions, which joined several other organizations protesting the law with at least two lawsuits demanding its complete repeal (Joubert-Ceci). The effects of this law have now spread across the country to various groups of people who are not necessarily involved in labor organizations, but oppose the legislative power this law could bring to Panama. They are scared for the environment of their country and for the freedom it gives police. The community supports the strike and the whole region has been paralyzed. Parents have not sent their children to school. Other Indigenous people have come to Changuinola in support of their sister and brother workers (Joubert-Ceci).

Specific changes the law makes include Union fees; the workers union is no longer obligated to deduct fees from their workers. If fees are to be collected, the workers must pay the fees voluntarily (Arosemana). Legal strikes; previous to Law 30 when a strike was called this legally closed the business or establishment involved; Law 30 now takes this leverage away from workers, essentially making any strike moot (Arosemana). Also, business are now allowed to hire temporary or permanent workers to replace those who went on strike, jeopardizing the jobs of dedicated workers, also known as "blacklegging." (Arosemana) Changes to Law 18 of 1997; basically, any police officer or police force who has committed a felony while on duty or is accused of using extreme force will not be arrested or even suspended from his duties unless a judge makes that decision (Arosemana). This means that all the police violence that transpired during the strike in trying to "get control" of the crowd will not send the inexperienced force to prison for excessive use of tear gas and pellets that blinded people in the crowd. Changes to Law 41 of 1998: certain actions or works that should have gone through the Environmental Impact Studies department will have a free bypass of any restrictions, which essentially allows potentially harmful effects to happen to the environment; the only positive side to the changes is that the public must be notified so there can be a hearing for any suggestions or proposals (Arosemana). The last changes that were made had to do with Law 22 in 2006 concerning public bids; previously if there were any irregularities or illegalities concerning public bids the affected company would have to present a bond worth 10% of the offer so that the proper authorities could figure everything out (Arosemana). Now the bond has to be worth 15% of the offer made in order for anyone to untangle any messes, and even while the situation is being figured out, the contract still wouldn't be stopped or suspended, so, for example, a public bid of 1.5 million dollars would require a bond of $150 million (Arosemana).

In response to the community's anger about Law 30 and all the "modifications," Martinelli did the worse act a President could do; he responded with violence and police action. Joubert-Ceci, of Worker's World, writes:

The state responded with repression, sending thousands of armed riot police to squash the resistance. The workers replied by blockading all roads leading to the region. They set offices on fire, including the Global Bank branch and the headquarters of the police for minors, capturing four police for several hours. Workers also seized the Changuinola airport and answered police fire with rocks and sticks. Unions say that six people were killed; the government reports only two deaths. Hundreds were injured, dozens shot in the eye with pellets. The injured had to be taken to hospitals in Panama City. At the same time, 1,200 workers who had been widening the Panama Canal also went on strike, demanding better working conditions. As these actions unfolded, the regime opened a campaign of repression, arresting hundreds of workers and activists.

Soon after the law passed, Bocas Fruit Company, a subsidiary of Chiquita Brands, decided to stop taking Union dues, and break their contract with the Banana Industry Workers' Union. Thus, what began as a strike organized by Unions of various labor movements, suddenly turned into violent rioting between the Bocas Fruit Company and its mainly indigenous employees. Brockwehl, for CITRA, writes of the violent turn:

When Bocas condemned the strike as illegal, announced a postponement of pay, and threatened to discharge those workers who participated in the demonstration, protestors became incensed and took to the streets. Under government direction, police officials -- many of whom were border guards and had minimal, if any training regarding how to deal with domestic conflicts nonviolently -- moved in and attempted to quash the protest by using tear-gas and weapons. They also arrested hundreds of labor activists and environmentalist leaders. All in all, the government's official tally counted three deaths and over one hundred and forty injuries, but sources outside of the government estimate that the casualties, in reality, were considerably higher.

In recent weeks several reports have come in that suggest that president Martinelli is taking full advantage of Law 30 to "export 5,000 Honduran 'guest' workers." (Brockwehl) President Lobo, of Honduras, is said to support such an export as a way for social development and integration into globalized capitalism, as evidenced by the announcement given on Honduras' government website (Brockwehl). The workers would be brought into Panama only if Law 30 were to be upheld, and not repealed for 90 days; which was suggested by Alejandro John in the Worker's World interview:

There has been a [suggested] postponement of Law 30 for 90 days but only on the labor aspects of it. But our position in ULIP, the Coca-Cola union, and others [is that] we are demanding the complete repeal of the total law L30, not only the postponement of the labor aspects of it. Besides, the president and the banana workers reached an agreement that does not include the repeal of the L30 and that has created a dissatisfaction in the region. Apparently they have blockaded the roads again sporadically in the Bocas del Toro province. The situation in Bocas del Toro now is unstable. There is no certainty that the strike has been lifted and that the workers have returned to their jobs. Things are not clear since today is the first day that the agreement has been known (Joubert-Ceci).

Even if the law is not repealed, the intended effect by Martinelli of exporting Honduran workers into Panama is to suppress the Panamanian workers and force them into a state of helpless submission.

Meanwhile, in the United States, Washington D.C. remains uneasy about the turn of events in Panama. Most of their worries stem from the "U.S.- Panama Free Trade Agreement that was signed in 2007," which hasn't actually been approved by the United States Congress (Brockwehl). Apparently, certain parties in the United States felt that labor laws and Unions in Panama were too strict. From an outsider's perspective,…

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