Panamanian workers are being punished by their government for leading anti-mining protests

Panama’s largest union, SUNTRACS, has denounced that several of their bank accounts were frozen as a retaliatory measure for opposing a mining concession in 2023.

June 22, 2024 by Pablo Meriguet
SUNTRACS in a protest. Photo: SUNTRACS

Panamanian business groups and large transnational capital are trying to take revenge on the National Union of Workers of Construction and Similar Industries (SUNTRACS), says Saúl Méndez, general secretary of the union. For several months, the state-owned company Caja de Ahorros has frozen 18 bank accounts of the union, one of the largest in the country, which represents more than 40,000 people. According to government sources, the closure of the bank accounts is due to alleged links of SUNTRACS with terrorist activities.

However, according to Méndez, the freezing of their accounts is an act of retaliation by national and international economic groups that have economic interests in Panama, for being the political group that led the protests against open-pit metal mining during October and November of last year.

Last year, SUNTRACS led dozens of popular organizations that sought, through massive street protests, to defend the country’s sovereignty and environmental well-being by opposing Law 406. The law promised privileges for more than 20 years to First Quantum Minerals (FMQ), with the possibility of extending those privileges for an additional 20 years. The demonstrations resulted in the Supreme Court of Justice declaring Law 406 unconstitutional on November 28, 2023. A few hours later, President Laurentino Cortizo announced that the copper mine “offered” to FMQ would be closed.

These types of neo-colonial economic measures, which aim to cede national sovereignty for long periods, have already been applied on several occasions in Panama, probably the most infamous being the Hay-Bunau Varilla Treaty (or Convention of the Canal through the Isthmus). With this treaty, Panama ceded its sovereignty to the United States, which thus appropriated one of the most important commercial points in the world: the Panama Canal. In this way, the protests of 2023 join a long struggle of the Panamanian people against the economic and political impositions of the national and transnational oligarchic groups that promote this type of neocolonial activities.

Faced with the freezing of its bank accounts, SUNTRACS called a 24-hour strike on June 20. Road closures were reported in several cities by the mobilized workers, who demanded the restitution of “the workers’ funds”. During the demonstration, slogans such as “Here the crime was to fight for the dignity of the people” were heard. In addition, the strike managed to paralyze a good part of the construction industry.

In addition, Méndez assured that SUNTRACS filed a formal complaint for the freezing of its bank accounts before the International Labor Organization and the Superintendency of Banks. He also assured that, despite these types of measures that seek to neutralize them, SUNTRACS will continue to denounce and mobilize in favor of the interests of the Panamanian people.