PANAMA CITY – Thousands of workers expressed their rejection of government policies in the first big march against the current administration since President Ricardo Martinelli took office last year, and it ended, according to the unions that organized the demonstration, with more than 30 arrests.
The protest march, which according to the organizers was 10,000 strong, included teachers, employees of the Social Security Fund, workers in construction and other sectors protesting peacefully and without incident, two days after the police arrested 200 construction workers as they were handing out leaflets announcing this same demonstration.
Thursday’s march was called against the recently approved tax reform and government plans to modify Social Security and educational systems.
The secretary-general of the Suntracs construction workers’ union, Genaro Lopez, said in a statement to Efe that this Thursday at least 36 workers in that union were arrested, making a total of 200 now in custody following a clash with police on Tuesday for blocking a public thoroughfare.
Another union leader, Saul Mendez, warned in a statement to reporters that if the government does not free the detained workers before Saturday, a 24-hour general strike will be called.
An official of the Panamanian police told Efe that arrested on Thursday were 58 people, including two foreigners about whom no details were given, at different points in Panama City, including the area around the march.
The official said that 36 of them were arrested to check up on them for cases that are pending, and 22 had no documents, but he rejected “categorically” that any arrests had been made linked to the protest march.
After the demonstration, union leaders met with government representatives to deliver a document containing their requests, though the workers’ leaders said they were not pleased with the results of the meeting.
The secretary-general of the Panama Teachers Association, or Asoprof, Andres Rodriguez, told Efe that if the government does not accept the “immediate repeal” of the decree regarding reform of the educational sector, “there’s the possibility of a national strike.”
“If the government does not listen to our requests, we will have to call a general strike,” he said. EFE