Protests paralyze Panama

In yet another example of how inflation caused by the pandemic and the war in Ukraine is stoking social upheaval around the globe, the Central American country has been paralyzed for weeks by protests over the high cost of food and gasoline.

The demonstrations began in late June, fueled by footage of lawmakers partying with $340 bottles of whisky, and they have continued despite the government’s move to lower gasoline prices over the weekend.

Now, with highways partly shut by protesters, food, and fuel shortages are worsening, and the government is rationing electricity to parts of the country because fuel trucks can’t get through. For decades, Panama has been relatively stable, owing to revenue from the Panama Canal and the fact that its currency is pegged to the US dollar. But as the Panamanian salsero Rubén Blades once noted, life is full of surprises: the pandemic crushed GDP by nearly 20% in 2020, and the recovery has been slow, with the jobless rate remaining above 12%.

Meanwhile, inequality ranks among the highest in the region, and activists say corruption is rampant, even though the country returned to democracy in 1990 after Uncle Sam’s heavy metal ouster of dictator Manuel Noriega.
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