Inflation and corruption fuel street protests in Panama

Inflation corruption fuel protests Panama
Protests in Panama City. Photo: Bienvenido Velasco/EFE

For the second consecutive week, thousands of Panamanian citizens have taken to the streets of Panama City, the capital, to protest against corruption and rising living costs.

Yearly inflation in Panama has gone from negative figures early in 2021 to 4.2 percent in May. The unemployment rate sits at 10 percent. According to data from Global Petrol Prices, gasoline prices in Panama rose by 65 percent over the first half of the year.

The rallies have been backed by Panamanian union groups and the ‘People United for Life Alliance’ movement. Together, they question the government with 32 anti-crisis demands, including a cut in fuel prices and the stabilization of the cost of basic goods. Between January and July this year alone, the price of a gallon of gasoline increased by 47 percent.

Trying to avoid more demonstrations, President Laurentino Cortizo agreed to price cuts. Protesters, however, said they will keep demonstrating until all of their demands are met.

Meanwhile, one union of construction workers announced a 24-hour strike as of July 13, a standstill that could be extended if the government failed to give “concrete answers.” On Thursday, Mr. Laurentino finally decided to begin direct negotiations with protesters.

The inflationary crisis is crippling Latin Americans’ purchasing power, which had already suffered from the pandemic downturn. Protests have broken out in multiple countries, with Ecuador and Argentina being the latest. In Brazil, meanwhile, President Jair Bolsonaro has decided to break the bank and compromise public accounts in order to help his re-election campaign with new stimulus programs.