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Panama's second most important city paralyzed by protests

PANAMA PROTEST | 13 de marzo de 2018

Colon, Panama, Mar 13 (efe-epa).- The city of Colon, the second largest producer of wealth in Panama, was paralyzed this morning by a civic protest with outbreaks of vandalism that began before sunrise, even though the government says it is investing more than $1 billion in urban improvements here.

The leader of the protest movement, Edgardo Voitier, told reporters that the mobilization is "peaceful" but demands far-reaching solutions to the breakdown of services like healthcare and public schools.

The Broad Front for Colon (FAC), a platform that brings together a number of civic organizations, launched a protest Tuesday in the Caribbean city against the urban renovation promoted by the Panamanian government and which, it says, is a cover-up for a gentrification process.

"There are multiple reasons why they won't get us out of the streets, but what mainly motivates us is the perverse aim of Panamanian President Juan Carlos Varela to use our money to kick poor people out of the city and hand it over to the rich," FAC coordinator Edgardo Voitier told EFE hours before.

The government's plan, the civic leader said, is to "privatize Colon and make it the home of the elite," as occurred in the historic downtown area of the Panamanian capital, so the only people who can live there are "the rich and the foreign."

For his part, the secretary of presidential goals, Jorge Gonzalez, said on TVN News that "more than $1 billion is being invested" in construction works in Colon, and denied that people are being "kicked out of the city" to create spaces for the well-to-do.

Gonzalez regretted that in the early hours the iconic Casa Wilcox in old Colon was reduced to ashes, burned down by vandals who were not associated with the FAC, and warned that the building "will be reconstructed" and repopulated by the 45 families who were living there, which is its total capacity.

The contract for renovating Colon was awarded in June 2015 to the Nuevo Colon consortium, made up of Brazil's Odebrecht and Panama's Constructora Urbana (CUSA), for $537 million, though the final cost is expected to be higher.

The city of Colon, located on the Caribbean coast and 80 kilometers (50 miles) north of the capital, is one of the poorest, most conflicted in the country, even though it includes the Free Trade Zone and has important ports, as well as the Atlantic entry to the Panama Canal and an enormous natural gas plant under construction.

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