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Strike, protests and drought creates havoc in Panama

by Commodore Simon Currin 12 Nov 2023 00:19 UTC
Protests in Panama against Canadian copper mine © Commodore Simon Currin

Commodore Simon Currin reports from Panama where SHIMSHAL is awaiting passage through the Canal and into the Pacific, "Yes, It's chaos here in Panama." The US Embassy has issued an alert.

"Not only are canal transits reducing to a trickle but there's a general strike and nothing is working. Whole towns are running out of fuel and food. I think we will be changing our plans!"

Strikes & Protests

The protests and strikes are over a Canadian Copper mine concession that contributes 4% to GDP. The mine has been operating since 2018 and, inevitably, has caused environmental degradation. The current protests have been triggered by a new concession approved by the government a couple of weeks ago. The protesters want to see a greener economy based on tourism and not mining. They also allege that corruption was involved in the awarding of the concession. The environmental protesters have been joined by other anti-government protesters and general strikes by teachers, transport workers, health workers, etc.

The protests and strikes have now been going for 12 days and are impacting all parts of the economy. Roads are blocked and so there are now food and fuel shortages. Banks are closing and ATMs are, apparently, starting to run out of money. It is even impacting local farmers who can't get to their fields to harvest crops.

There has been some looting and violence and there is concern that things may escalate.

The government have made some concessions and have promised a referendum and a ban on the award of future concessions. The feeling here is that the Government's offers will not placate the protesters as they don't trust Government promises and a prolonged strike is likely.


The new locks were opened in 2016 to increase capacity but Lake Gatun's water catchment was not increased. This increased water usage has coincided with the driest wet season since records began. Lock openings were restricted a few months ago from 37 to 31 a day but will now be progressively reduced to 18 a day by the peak season in February.

We understand that yacht rallies will not get preferential treatment and rally participants will have to queue up with everyone else. Nobody is really sure how this will pan out but freight companies are now paying up to $2.8 million in auctions allowing their container ships to jump the queue.

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This article has been provided by the courtesy of the Ocean Cruising Club.

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