Protests against the new mining agreement have continued for a couple of weeks in Panama.
In Panama, a man shot dead two environmental activists who participated in an anti-government protest on a highway on Tuesday, local authorities say.
Police said the protesters had blocked the road when the gunman attacked them. A video circulating on social media shows an elderly man opening fire with a handgun at people blocking the Pan-American Highway. The highway connects Panama to the rest of Central America.
The shooter was apparently nervous about the inconvenience to traffic caused by the roadblock and tried to get the protesters to open the road, says an American news channel CNN.
Police say they arrested the suspect in the Chame area, located about 80 kilometers west of Panama City.
According to the Panamanian Teachers’ Association, which is participating in the protests, the shooter is an American citizen. The authorities have not confirmed this information.
The reason for the protests is a controversial mining contract
The bloodshed intensifies the social tensions that arise from the new mining contract.
In recent weeks, thousands of Panamanians have taken part in street protests against the mining deal. The government of Panama has signed an agreement with the Canadian mining company First Quantum Minerals.
The agreement gives First Quantum the right to operate the largest copper mine in Central America for at least the next 20 years. In return, the company pays $375 million a year to Panama.
According to the government, the agreement is better than the previous one. The protesters are worried about the mine’s environmental impact, among other things.
Protesters have blocked the roads. According to the Association of Business Directors of Panama, traffic jams have caused businesses up to $80 million in financial losses per day. In addition, schools have been closed for more than a week.
The protests have been described as the largest unrest in Panama since the 1980s, when Panamanians opposed Manuel Noriegan dictatorship.
The authorities have called on people to stop the demonstrations. The construction workers’ and teachers’ unions taking part in the protests say they will continue to protest until the mining deal is overturned.
Sources: AFP, AP, Reuters