General strike and ongoing protests in Panama against electricity rate hike
19 July 2018
A general strike brought most of Panama to a halt on Monday as social anger toward planned rate hikes on electricity continues to grow and merge with opposition to social inequality and ongoing attacks against workers’ living standards across different sectors.
Ongoing protests, barricades, and violent clashes with the police since last week forced the conservative Panameñista Party government of president Juan Carlos Varela to appeal Monday for “social peace” and suspend the 8.4 percent increase in electricity prices for households that consume more than 300 kWh.
While claiming that the Congress will debate a supplementary budget of $300 million to cover the $60 million increase in electricity costs, Varela warned “if the fiscal disbursement is not approved … other areas of the state will be affected.” In other words, the government will ensure the working class pays through a tariff hike, future regressive taxes, social cuts and other attacks against the public sector.
Already, an IMF-dictated fiscal responsibility law being discussed in Congress is expected to reduce the public deficit to 1.5 percent. According to an IMF mission last month, this will require the government “curb the growth of current expenditures to provide additional room for needed strategic public spending.” One of the explanations of the tariff hike given by the state transmission authority ETESA is that the government needs to cover the costs of a recently-built transmission line. After the construction last October of the country’s third transmission line, president Varela and ETESA both promised lower rates for consumers.
However, both are now referring to the need to…