Panama: Twitter Users Spark Protests Against the Government

The controversial and unilateral decisions taken by the current Panamanian government have brought about fear of political instability and for some, a cruel sense of déjà vu of that which was lived through during the Panamanian dictatorship.

Following the break-up of the alliance [es] of the parties in power, the government has insisted upon changing a number of electoral laws; for example, establishing the second round of elections so that the presidential winner must acquire the post with 51%.  The CD party (governing party) has insisted that the second round strengthens democracy, while the opposition, including the Panamanian electoral tribunal, has signaled that a change of this nature can only be made by way of a constitutional motion, as opposed to law (meaning through a referendum or passage of a law in two consecutive government terms).

President of Panama, Ricardo Martinelli. Photo from the Presidency of the Republic of Ecuandor on Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Civil society seems to have begun to rise and last Sunday, September 4, and Monday, September 5, hundreds of Panamanians agreed to honk their car horns and hit their pots with spoons. This method was also adopted in the 1980s to protest the Manuel Noriega dictatorship.

Blogger Chris Faw, in his blog Chris Faw [es] reminds us of that time:

Para poner un poco en contexto las cosas: el año era 1989. El país, Panamá. Tras más de 2 décadas de dictadura militar, los sucesos estaban colmando a una población civil que no estaba en condiciones de levantarse en armas ante un régimen con más poder que tamaño (aunque esto tambien aplica para describir a quien lo encabezaba.) Su única opción era una insurrección civil organizada, pacífica y desarmada. La premisa era vestirse de blanco, con pitos y pailas en mano, y salir a la calle a protestar contra un gobierno opresor que no dudaba en utilizar la fuerza para contener a la multitud que clamaba su salida.

To put it things into context a bit: the year was 1989. The country, Panama. After more than two decades of a military dictatorship, events were pushing to the limit a civil population that was not in any condition to rise up in arms against a regime with more power than size (though that can also be applied to describe he who led it.) Their only option was an organized, calm and unarmed civil insurrection. The premise was to dress in white, with whistles and pans in their hands, and take to the streets to protest against an oppressive government that did not hesitate in using force to contain the multitude that cried out for its exit.

This was 21 years ago, returning to current times, La Prensa [es] reports:

El choque de cucharas contra las pailas hizo retumbar anoche áreas de la capital como las del Cangrejo, Vía Argentina y San Francisco durante 30 minutos. La medida se pretende repetir próximamente.

The beating of spoons against the pans resonated last night in areas of the capital such as Cangrejo, Vía Argentina and San Francisco for 30 minutes. The method is expected to be repeated soon.

Some political figures promoted the idea of making noise with kitchen utensils from balconies as a way of reminding President Ricardo Martinelli that, in Panama, people do not live under a dictatorship but rather a democracy. Miguel Antonio Bernal (@MiguelABernalV) wrote on Twitter:

Panameño prepara paila para protesta por prepotencia presidencial pita para pailear pailea para pitar panama puede prevenir peores pasos

Panamanian, prepare your pan to protest the presidential arrogance, your whistle to hit the pan, hit the pan to whistle, panama can prevent worse steps

Milton Henriquez (@miltonhenriquez), one of the government's principle opposers, appeared satisfied with the way in which Panamanians showed their discontent with the current government:

¡Exito rotundo el paileo democràtico! Sonaron como las campanas de la libertad. “Paila Pueblo, Paila…”

The democratic pan-banging was a categorical success! They sounded like the bells of liberty. “Hit the pan, People, Hit it…”

José Blandon (@BlandonJose), a member of the Panama party that just broke away from the government following the rupture, remembered how this very method was used to fight against the military dictatorship:

En la heroica Via Argentina, todavia esta la tocadera de paila. Ya luchamos una vez en dictadura y ahora d nvo x no perder la democracia.

On the heroic Via Argentina, the sounds of the pan are still there. We already fought a dictatorship once and now, once again, we cannot lose democracy.

Ricardo Zanetti (@ricardozanetti) shows his disagreement with the President's discourse and tells others to make decisions based on what the majority wants:

En un país de 3 millones, 400 mil no son la mayoría. A las 8PM toca pito y paila! #PanamaUnidaEnDemocracia

In a country of 3 million people, 400,000 is not the majority. At 8PM, blow your whistles and bang your pans! #PanamaUnidaEnDemocracia (#PanamaUnitedInDemocracy)

The hashtag #tweetpaila (#tweetpan) was also created, where people invited one another to bang pans or other items so long as they made enough noise until the sounds reached the head of state.

The Twitter user that calls himself an Agent of change (@despierta507) contributed the following:

#tweetpaila la sociedad no solo esta peleando contra las mentiras d @rmartinelli sino contra las mentiras d sus obsecuentes

#tweetpaila society is not only fighting against the lies of @rmartinelli, but against the lies of his submissive followers

Others such as Karla Acedo (@karla_acedo) protested by writing the onomatopoeic sound of the pans on Twitter:

#tweetpaila clin clin clin clin clin clin clin clin clin clin

#tweetpaila cling cling cling cling cling cling cling cling cling cling

Ricardo Martinelli (@rmartinelli), on his part, announced on Twitter that he would ask that the proposal for the second electoral round be a referendum:

Quienes se oponen a la 2 vuelta ponen sus intereses personales y del partido sobre la voluntad popular. Que el pueblo decida rn referendun

Those who oppose the 2nd round put their personal interests and that of the party over the will of the people. Let the people decide the in a referendum

The president's declarations immediately counted on the approval of those Panamanians that see the referendum as the best solution. For example, Fary Levy (@Fary71) concluded that this was proof of how democratic the current government actually is:

@rmartinelli: para lo q dicen q no tenemos un presidente DEMOCRATICO! Aqui esta! Ahora a ver inventan ☺ va x referendum la 2da vuelta

@rmartinelli: for those who say that we don't have a DEMOCRATIC president! Here he is! Now let's see what they come up with ☺ rooting for the 2nd round referendum

Ana Maria Miranda (@Annie2813) pointed out that it was further proof that this government always puts the people first:

@rmartinelli: Excelente el Pueblo Primero! Como siempre ha sido el interés de este Gobierno.

@rmartinelli: The People First, excellent! As always, it has been the top interest of this Government.

The method of hitting pans and pots seems to be gaining strength and for now, the demonstrators have decided to do it every night at 8pm. Perhaps the noise will one day reach the president's ears.

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