Banana Workers Strike May be Over in Panama

Striking banana workers reached an agreement on Sunday with the Panamanian government to end their 10-day strike in western Panama, which had left two people dead and 120 others injured. The government imposed a curfew (from 9:00pm to 7:00am) in the western city of Changuinola, the Bocas del Toro province, Thursday night after striking workers clashed with riot police.

About 4,000 members of the banana union and 3,000 independent growers went on strike earlier this month, demanding better pay and repeal of a new law curbing union powers. Law No. 30, the so-called “chorizo law,” includes restrictions on the right to strike and limits the rights of workers to join trade unions. Among other changes, the law would allow businesses to avoid paying “overtime” hours and to make their workers come in on Sundays.

The Industrial and Banana Workers Union in the city of Changuinola said the union’s General Secretary Gemarp Barrett signed a deal with the country’s First Vice President Juan Carlos Varela after two-day talks. Under this deal, the government agreed to postpone the enforcement of Law No. 30. On Friday, the Panamanian president, who had to cancel his trip to South Africa (for the World Cup), began discussions with Jimmy Papadimitriu and other representatives from the Banana Workers Union.

At least 115 people have been arrested. Antonio Smith and Fernán Castillo, workers of the Bocas Fruit Company, died at the hands of Panamanian riot police ordered by President Ricardo Martinelli. After these deaths, the workers, who are mostly of indigenous origin, vowed that they would continue fighting for a just cause. Three of the injured workers remain in a coma. People from various indigenous communities added their voices to the strike and about 40 to 50 students of the University of Panama blocked one of the main avenues in front of that institution. Friday, the government then ordered all activities and classes to stop until further notice.

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