Panama President Cancels Colon Land Sale after Protests

Panama’s President Ricardo Martinelli says he will scrap plans to sell off state-owned land in the duty-free zone of Colon, after violent protests. Three people have been killed in the clashes between residents and security forces and protesters claim that the land sale, signed into law on Friday, would cost jobs and cut incomes. The Colon region is the biggest duty-free zone in Latin America but is blighted by poverty and crime.

President Martinelli had said the sale of the state-owned land would benefit the region. But late on Tuesday, he said on Twitter: “If the people of Colon don’t want the sale of lands in the Free Trade Zone, the sale will be repealed.” He said instead, commercial rents would be increased and the money reinvested in the region, as protesters had been demanding. [. . .] Opponents of the law included trade unions, members of the Colon Chamber of Commerce and a variety of civil society groups.

[. . .] Panama’s economy has boomed in recent years, but sections of the population remain excluded from its commercial success. The city of Colon – one of the largest free trade ports in the world and in operation since the 1950s – sits at the end of the Panama Canal just outside the former Panama Canal Zone. The canal, linking the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific, is Panama’s main source of revenue.

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