MADRE Statements

Take Action: Stop Human Rights and Environmental Abuses in Panama

Posted on: Thursday, September 2, 2010

Keywords: Panama, Latin America and the Caribbean, Indigenous Rights, Human Rights Advocacy

The following is an alert from our friends at Cultural Survival. See below for how you can help Indigenous people in Panama.

Indigenous Peoples, environmental groups and labor organizations in Panama are outraged over new laws that undermine human rights and erode environmental protections. When thousands of protesters took to the streets in early July, the police responded with unprecedented violence, killing at least four protesters, blinding dozens with lead bird shot, and injuring and arresting hundreds more. Indigenous leaders say many more people were killed, but the government has not released complete information to human rights investigators. One protester who was taken into police custody is listed as “disappeared.”  

To quiet the protests, government officials hurriedly set up a 90-day negotiation period, but they excluded many sectors of the population from the negotiating process (notably the Indigenous Peoples and environmental organizations). They also refused to negotiate some of the protesters' key demands, namely the revocation of three new laws: 

  • Law #30 eliminates the requirement for Environmental Impact Studies for government-sponsored development projects, protects the police from prosecution for crimes and human rights abuses that they commit on the job, and limits labor unions' right to strike.  The law was approved in June by the National Assembly with its doors chained shut and anti-riot police surrounding the building to keep out civic organizations.
  • Law #14 authorizes prison sentences ranging from six months to two years for blocking streets during protest demonstrations. 
  • Executive Decree #537 impinges on the right of Indigenous Peoples to elect leaders according to their traditional ways, in violation of the UN    Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.  

Throughout Panama, dissent and dissatisfaction with the government response could erupt into more protests at any time, and increasingly brutal police actions are feared. Many protesters and human rights activists face trumped-up criminal charges. Indigenous, labor, and environmental organizations are calling on international citizens to support their demands and help avert more brutality. 


TAKE ACTION: Please send letters, emails, or faxes to Panamanian authorities.

  • Urge them to revoke Law 30, Law 14 and Executive Decree 537, and create a legitimate negotiating process in consultation with representatives of Panama's Indigenous Peoples as well as environmental, human rights, and labor organizations.
  • Demand a thorough and independent investigation into police actions during the protests of July 2-11 in Bocas del Toro province, and prosecution of all police officers and supervisors who violated the human rights of protesters.
  • Require police forces to comply with internationally recognized human rights standards as set forth by the United Nations and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. 

      Please send emails here.

      Please send your letter to: 
      Ricardo Martinelli Berrocal
      Presidencia de la República,
      Panamá 1,
      República de Panamá
      Fax  +(507) 527-9733

Note: For highest impact, mail your letter (US postage is 98 cents).  Faxes and emails will help, too!

A model letter is available here.  Please personalize the letter if you can. 

      Send copies of your letter to:  

      Juan Carlos Varela
      Ministro de Relaciones Exteriores
      Zona postal San Felipe, Calle 3
      Palacio Bolívar, Edificio 26
      Panamá 4, Panamá
      Fax +(507) 511-4003
      Email: or  

      Jose Salvador Munoz
      Presidente de la Asamblea Nacional
      Plaza 5 de Mayo, Panamá
      Apartado Postal: 0815-01603,
      Panamá, Rep. de Panamá
      Fax: +(507) 512-8104

This Global Response Action Alert was issued at the request of and with information provided by affected Ngobe Indigenous communities in Bocas del Toro, Panama.     

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Kat Noel, Website & Media Coordinator
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