I live by a small river in Boquerón. Everyone uses it. Kids spend most of the day behind the house diving into a deep pool they created by building a dam from the rocks in the river. Women come down and do their laundry in the river when there’s no water pressure in our houses. Others come down to take a bath. Sometimes it’s because the water in their home is off and some just like bathing in the cool waters of the river.
A little while ago one of my neighbors and his son came down the path headed to the river. I asked the boy if he was ready for school tomorrow and he said he was. But dad said, “We’ll see. Depends on what happens with the Indians.”
In an earlier post I wrote about how the Ngabe-Bugle Indians had blocked the Interamerican Highway for days in protest over plans for foreign companies to start open-pit mining for copper on their Comarca (a semi-autonomous region) and the building of hydro-electric dams. The government entered into talks with the Indians with the Catholic Church acting as moderators. The blockages were removed at the start of the talks. But the Cacica, (the feminine spelling for Cacique which means “Chief) Silvia Carrera set February 27th, tomorrow, as a deadline for the talks.
(BTW, the position is an elected one)
In my little barrio of about 20 families I’m the only gringo. I’ve asked nearly all of them what their take on the Indian’s blockade of the roads is and 100% of them support the Indians and support the blockades. Since none of my neighbors speak any English over the past year my comprehension of the Chiricano version of Spanish has risen to the level where I understand about 75 to 80% of everything they say which is sufficient to follow a conversation.
Just a short while ago as I was sitting out on the front porch enjoying a locally hand-rolled cigar and a fine cup of Finca Ruiz coffee I got a chance to talk to this man who will be on the front line of any skirmishes that are likely to take place. He’s a sergeant in the National Police.
I asked him what he thought of the whole problem. He supports the Indian cause completely, and he’s worried about his job since he said he wouldn’t use force to break up the demonstrations.
“These people are right,” he said. “They have no other way of getting the nation’s attention. The government has lied to them for generations. Told them one thing and then done whatever the government wanted to do.” Then he rubbed his thumb and his forefingers together in the universal sign. “It’s all about money,” he said. “And most of the money is going to foreigners and corrupt politicians. Not much goes to the Panamanians.”
I asked him about the hydro projects. “You see how the river is now?” he said pointing to the mere trickle of water running through the rocks now at the height of the “dry” season. “That’s what the rivers will look like all year if they build all the hydro projects. And for what? To sell the electricity to other countries while our cost in Panama goes up all the time?” Again he rubbed his fingers together. “Es para plata.” It’s all about the money!
“It’s not about me or you,” he said. “It’s about him,” he said pointing to his son. “It’s about him and his children, and the Indians children and their children.”
“What are you going to do?” I asked.
He shrugged his shoulders. “No sé.” “I don’t know. I’ll go to work and hope for the best,” he said. “I don’t know what I’ll do. I don’t know.”