Panamanian socialist: ‘Mineral extraction must be suspended immediately’

First published in Portuguese at Revista Movimiento. Translated by Victor Luccas.

Panamanian José Cambra is a teacher and unionist. He began his socialist activism at the age of 14 in the group Christians for Socialism, of the Base Christian Communities, a mass peasant movement. Around 1975, he became involved in the student movement in secondary schools, but primarily in neighborhood and peasant movements.

He was a member of the Simon Bolívar Brigade, which fought against the Somoza dictatorship. At university, he became a student leader, being part of an organization of the Fourth International called the Revolutionary Socialist League, which later gave rise to the Socialist Workers' Party (PST).

He was a member of the PST until he moved to Costa Rica in the 1990s, where he joined the Revolutionary Workers' Party. Upon returning to his country, he found the PST practically dissolved and, since 2013, has been active in a mass union: the Association of Teachers of the Republic of Panama.

Self-described as a “revolutionary socialist”, José Cambra gave an interview to Federico Fuentes, from LINKS International Journal of Socialist Renewal, and Antônio Neto, from Revista Movimento, last December. Check out the full conversation where he recounts how popular mobilization expelled a multinational mining company from Panama.

Antonio Neto – For those of us outside Panama, it seems there was a tremendous, resounding, gigantic victory of the Panamanian people against a mining company, actually a conglomerate of multinational corporations. It's a major victory, from the environmental issue, of course, to the social issue, the health of the people. Do you have a sense of the magnitude of this achievement, considering that today the United Nations Summit on the Environment began?

José Cambra – Of course, first let's take a look at Panama. Panama is a country of 77 thousand square kilometers. It only takes two hours by car to go from the Pacific Ocean to the Atlantic Ocean. It is also a country that currently has 4.2 million inhabitants, a significant portion of whom come from Venezuela, Colombia, Nicaragua, that is, from the migration caused by the economic situations our peoples are experiencing. This is a country that was part of Colombia when, in 1903, the United States needed to build a canal. The United States had a war against Spain for Cuba in 1898: the Spanish-American War. But when they needed to go to the Caribbean Sea, where Cuba is, their warships that were in the Pacific had to go around South America, passing through Cape Horn to reach the Caribbean. They decided that we needed a quick passage and found that Panama was the narrowest part of the continent. And indeed, it is the narrowest part, it is 80 km between the Pacific Ocean and the Atlantic. Since the Colombian bourgeoisie took a long time to approve a treaty with them, because they wanted better economic conditions, they promoted the separation of Panama, that's the reality. And they built a colonial enclave in the heart of the country, controlling this narrowest part, and there they built, directed the construction of the canal, which was a military work, a work directed by the United States Army, with labor from Barbados, Nicaragua, Spain, Argentina, but above all Afro-descendant labor from Barbados. And this canal, this area, and these inhabitants, both military and civilian from the US, were a colonial enclave in Panama. They had their own laws, their own language, their own schools, their own police, their own army, and no Panamanian could enter there without their permission. In other words, we had lost a part of 1,432 square kilometers that the Panamanian bourgeoisie and oligarchy perpetually ceded to the United States. Well, I explain this because of what the response to the question implies: the importance of what happened with the mining issue.

In Panama, the departure of the United States was obtained through negotiations. Thanks to the United States' defeat in Vietnam, a weak government emerged, that of James Carter, who negotiated an agreement with General Torrijos to leave Panama in 23 years. He negotiated it in 1977 and it was called the Torrijos-Carter treaty. And in 1979, the colonial enclave ceased to exist: there were no more American laws, American police, and so on. But the Americans kept the military bases and the canal until December 31, 1999, when it passed into the hands of Panama. Panamanian nationality was built on a relationship of love and hate with the United States. Why do I say love? Because a Panamanian who worked in the US Canal Zone earned twice as much as in Panama. A carpenter earned twice as much. But he could never rise in the hierarchy because the higher positions were reserved for white Americans. They never allowed black Americans to be here because here there were the laws of the southern United States, the so-called Jim Crow laws.

So, Panamanian nationality was formed against this colonial enclave. And here there was an insurrection led by students in 1964 when 100,000 people tried to enter the Canal Zone and the world's most powerful army killed 22 protesters and wounded 500 people with bullets. So, this marked the imagination of the Panamanian population, and the question of love took a back seat, and the issue began that these people were dangerous and had to leave Panama.

Well, this situation repeated itself with the mining issue. In 1997, there was an agreement between a neoliberal government and a company, Petaquilla Gold, to create a mining company. This company was bought by Canadian capital, First Quantum, which also has Chinese, American, South Korean capital... and I say this because the Panamanian constitution, because of what happened to us with the United States, prohibits the administration of Panama's natural resources by foreign states. And this company is owned by foreign states. It is not just a private company, but capital from foreign countries within it. Well, in 1998 there was an action of unconstitutionality, because the Constitution says that, to be able to offer mineral resources, you have to do it through a public bidding for the highest bid, and this was a direct hiring. But the Supreme Court took 20 years to decide on the unconstitutionality of the contract. It decided in 2017 and reaffirmed the decision again in 2021, but it took until 2023 to publish the decision in the official gazette. So, in 2023, the current government, which is another neoliberal government of the oligarchy, enters into negotiations with this company, when what they should have done a long time ago was to say: well, this is unconstitutional, so, leave! But they never said to leave. The company continued to operate and exploit copper, in addition to extracting gold and other minerals. It extracted them without paying anything to Panama, absolutely nothing! Not even a tax. Between 2017 and 2023, it started exporting and paid nothing to Panama. In First Quantum's financial reports, it seems that this is the most productive mine for them: 48% of their profit in the world comes from Panama. Only Panama is bigger. And, of course, they don't pay anything. So, in August, this issue reached the Assembly of Deputies, the government presented the new contract, and a significant number of personalities, unions, popular organizations, teachers, lawyers, environmentalists, began to say that the contract had the same flaw as before, that the Supreme Court should declare the government, the Executive and the Legislature in contempt of court because it was the same contract with the same unconstitutional flaw. They didn't do that.

They negotiated the contract and tried to disguise it because there were protests. In September, mass mobilizations began to occur. Mobilizations that were not as massive, but very constant, and began to occur throughout the country. And they try a maneuver, which is to invent the contract. They say they made consultations, that they had to hear about 200 people who opposed it in the first debate in the Assembly. So what they do is suspend the discussion and send the contract back to the Executive so they can reformulate it, send it back to the Assembly, and in three days, approve it! What used to take two months, in three days: first debate, second and third, the president signs and publishes it.

This is what causes, in the context of great tension, mobilization, clashes with the police, it provokes a social explosion in the country. Why do we say a social explosion? Because the country was tired of expensive medicines, of the lack of medicines from Social Security, of the very high cost of living, and had already gone through an experience last year when there was an agreement with the government and it did not fulfill it. That's why the people took to the streets.

Antonio Neto - Allow me to interrupt you because you're starting to delve into the second question I was going to ask, which was precisely to understand the thread of continuity between the events of 2022, in June/July, and what is happening now. First, I would like you to talk a little about how the events of 2022 unfolded because I know it was due to prices, the cost of living, but there was also an agenda of health budgets, education budgets. So, if you could provide the historical context between the two things, I would appreciate it.

José Cambra - Absolutely! The fact is that the intensity of what is happening now can be explained by the failure to address the demands from last year. Last year, there were the largest mobilizations in the country up to that moment. Throughout the country, there were demonstrations, marches, and clashes with the police. In other words, what I mean is that there was a teachers' strike that lasted for a month. What did this mobilization demand? That Social Security be stocked with medicines. That the prices of medicines go down. That food products decrease in price and for them to be healthy, at a good price, products at a good price. The cost of living in the city had increased significantly. And they also demanded a budget for education, fundamentally, but doctors also went out to fight for hospital budgets.

This ended in a public negotiation between the government and the organizations that were fighting, which we demanded to be broadcasted on television. Interestingly, the state radio and television system broadcasted the negotiation because we did not sit down to negotiate until it was broadcasted. And there, one of the advisors, an economics professor, played a very important role in confronting the government about its commercial interests. This colleague stepped out and started collecting signatures to be a candidate (for the presidency of the Republic) by free nomination. And in a country of 4.2 million inhabitants, where 2.8 million vote (are on the electoral rolls), she collected 167,000 signatures and today is a candidate for the Presidency of the Republic by popular organizations. It's called free nomination, meaning it's not by parties because it was more difficult to formalize the party. Well, that was the first result of that struggle. But the second benefit was that the oligarchy and the government were exposed. And this led to mobilizations every day, marches every day, mobilizations, during that month, street closures (not as large as now), but this led to a fight that had a lot of popular fervor. In the inland cities, people marched with the teachers, with the workers. In Panama City, which is larger (it should house 1.8 million people out of the country's 4.2 million), there were mainly marches of teachers and workers. One of the most important unions, the construction workers' union (Suntracs), also had a very important participation.

The fact that it was a public negotiation was such a spectacular thing that the business chambers went to the Presidency of the Republic asking the president to end the broadcast, to prevent it from continuing, because the whole country would hear the debate and the oligarchy would be exposed! This is a historic event! Public negotiations accompanied by a large part of the population, on a television station that is rarely watched, is now starting to be watched. In the street, people would say to you: "hey, what they said yesterday, it should be like this." In other words, it's impressive.

Federico Fuentes - Could you talk a little more about the role played by the teachers and also by Suntracs, which, from what I know, may have been two of the fundamental pillars of this year's mobilizations, but it seems that they were also from last year. So, obviously, there's a tradition there...

José Cambra - We started building an alliance of popular organizations early last year. Unfortunately, we couldn't make it an alliance of everyone, but we managed to make it an alliance of many. And indeed, this alliance is called the Alianza Pueblo Unido por la Vida: there's Suntracs, there are teachers' unions, there are community movements, there are youth movements, and this is a very strong alliance. There's another alliance where there's an association of educators from Veraguas, there are other unions from Coca-Cola, teachers from Chiriquí, and so on. Let's say that, along with a very important role that I want to claim: the role of indigenous peoples. The indigenous peoples on the road to Costa Rica, in a province called Chiriquí, in the eastern part of eastern Chiriquí, in the mountainous part, closed the inter-American highway at about five points throughout this period. In other words, the country's most important road was closed. And in other parts of the country, there were intermittent closures. Well, unfortunately, this situation ended when the teachers' strike was suspended after a month, but the government did not fulfill some of the requests made to it. It only complied with granting more budget for education and maintaining a subsidy. We didn't want a subsidy, we wanted a reduction in gasoline prices because the subsidy, in the end, comes out of taxpayers' money, you understand what I mean? We wanted it to affect the big monopolistic capitals, which are the ones importing gasoline into the country. The fact that they should be affected through taxes was not achieved. This "failure" explains what is happening now.

When the scandal broke out on October 20, it was noticed that the president signed the law as quickly as possible and published it in the official gazette, and the mobilizations began to occur. On Monday, the 23rd, three days after the law was passed, a 48-hour strike was declared by the teachers. Regional assemblies decreed a 48-hour strike and extended it for another 48 hours. And on Monday, the 30th, they declared an indefinite strike until Law 406, which is the mining contract law, was repealed. We were about to achieve this on November 3rd because the government had included the possibility of repealing it in a law. But other sectors said they didn't think that was the right thing to do. What was convenient was a declaration of unconstitutionality by the Supreme Court. And the government took advantage of this and withdrew the repeal, to see if they could gain time and to wear down the movement that was on the streets. But by November 3rd, things were already changing. There were closures across the country. But not like in 2022. People in their neighborhoods came out to block the streets. People we didn't know. People who were fed up. And there began to be a spontaneous call through networks, marches in a location near the sea, which is called the coastal strip, which at one point, on the fifth day of mobilization, had 250,000 people on the streets against mining.

In other words, if there's a country that has become environmentalist, it's this one. There was something impressive. Of course, behind this, there is the discontent of the neighborhoods because water doesn't reach them; the discontent of the neighborhoods because electricity runs out and appliances are damaged; the discontent with the lack of jobs for the younger generation; in other words, the discontent with corruption and the privileges of the bourgeoisie, the bosses, and the traditional politicians. And that, indeed, was a fertile ground that allowed this social explosion. This means, in a country like ours, the largest mobilizations across the entire country and with the highest popular participation ever seen. On Wednesday of that week, about four weeks ago, it is estimated that there were one million people on the streets across the country. Because the mega-marches were not just in Panama, they were in the neighboring region, they were in the region near Costa Rica, they were in the middle of the country, everywhere. And the population joined them. Even with their national folklore, Congolese dances, Afro-descendants, I mean, there was everything here. And the government was effectively isolated.

Who supported mining? All the chambers of commerce and some of the presidential candidates who, we hope, will be defeated in the next elections. In other words, there was a national revolt against mining. And that explains why, this Tuesday, the Supreme Court of Justice, the same institution that took 20 years to make a decision, which tried to say that, since there were 10 actions of unconstitutionality, by accumulating them, we would have to wait until January, the decision went ahead and made the decision in less than a week. And it's a decision that revokes the entire law, therefore, nullifies the contract and forces the mine to shut down.

In other words, Panama has placed itself at the forefront of the fight against pollution and climate change by combating mining. And the slogan is: this country, its gold is green. Not mining. Panama is worth more without mining.

Antonio Neto - I read that the mine is located in the Mesoamerican biological corridor. I also read that, in addition to the environmental impacts, which are tremendous; could you talk a little about this for us, there are also social impacts, water contamination, people, food? In other words, confirming what you just said, that Panama is at the forefront of the environmental fight because the bioecological corridor is very important.

José Cambra – Let's see, this cursed mine is in the middle of this corridor, it completely devastated it. They even wanted to use the rivers, which are the future reservoirs now that we have all this climate change, to maintain the canal with water, to keep it running, because the Panama Canal is a lock canal. In other words, a ship arrives, they put water in it and lift it in a water elevator. Then they open the lock. It goes back, goes up, and enters an artificial lake, then goes back and descends to the other ocean. Back and forth. That's the system, it needs water. But besides that, the water intakes of two entire provinces are close to the mine. So, it's a terrible danger of contamination and poisoning. This climate change, where we have terrible heat, in Panama there has never been a 40-degree heat (there has been 33-degree heat, etc., but never 40 degrees) and this year we had it, which is evidence of the climate change that is happening. But the communities in the surrounding area, when consulted by the committee of deputies, were totally against it. So much so that the mine was sabotaged by the boatmen of Donoso, the fishermen, who dedicated themselves to prevent boats from leaving with ore and entering with supplies or coal. Furthermore, the mine had to shut down the electricity production system because it relied on a source as polluting as coal. Because by sea coal could not enter, and by land they were surrounded by communities and truck drivers, who placed trucks along the entire road so that they could neither enter nor leave. Additionally, the mine is effectively trying to connect to the national electricity system to be able to operate. In other words, the mobilization has been so strong that the boatmen and residents surrounded the mine to sabotage its operation. That's an incredible show of strength. The movement was so strong, but it also had its cost. We were killed less than five meters away, a person got out of a car, an American, shot two comrades from a blockade, and killed them. And another indigenous teacher was run over at another roadblock; they surrounded a roadblock and killed him. In other words, there were attempts to intimidate us through murders. There was also judicial persecution against some of the leaders of the indigenous peoples who are closing the Inter-American Highway. And I say "are" closing it because they are still closing it today. Although the decision was made on Tuesday, they are waiting for it to be published in the official gazette. When it is published, they will withdraw to their communities, as they are suspicious because it took six years to be published before. So, they are in the position that they will not leave until it is confirmed.

In other words, the social movement organized itself into unions and teachers' associations, and the teachers' strike provoked a very strong mobilization. But the social explosion occurred because people saw that there was a decision to fight, but this social mobilization did not go beyond that. In other words, that's the style of the communities and the style of the people themselves. What I mean is that there was a massive mass movement here, on that level, and that's what led to the Supreme Court's decision.

Today, the trade minister who negotiated the contract just resigned. Now, the stage of the struggle is for the mine to be closed. In other words, the mine cannot be closed immediately, it must have 4,000 or 5,000 employees, and they say 7,000, but that's not true. We are proposing that these same employees be responsible for the gradual closure of the mine. The mine cannot be closed abruptly. The mine has to be closed with security measures and ecological conversion measures. So, we say: let the workers continue working for this; and if the mine polluted, it is the mine that has to pay. Moreover, since they did not pay for what they took out of the country, we are filing a lawsuit, we have already filed, against the mine for theft of natural resources.

Federico Fuentes – I wanted to delve into this issue. Within the left-wing and environmentalist sectors in South America, I think worldwide, there has been this debate about what to do with mining. And there are sectors that say "let's close all mines", while others say: well, the best thing is to nationalize to ensure that this can be done with good regulation and that the money stays with the State. I would like to know if there has been this debate there as well, within the mobilization; if different positions on mining were reflected and what was the impact of this mobilization, since you have already started talking about it, on what will happen to this mine, but I imagine there are other mines or projects in Panama as well.

José Cambra – What is happening is that the government, to calm the mobilization, in early November passed a mining moratorium law. In other words, all concessions that were in the processing stage or requesting an extension of the possibility of exploration were liquidated, meaning the law no longer allows it. In other words, although the Constitution allows for the exploitation of natural mineral resources, which will be part of a constitutional reform one day, in reality, part of the strength of the movement was to have wrested from the government a mining moratorium law. Now that the specific mining contract of Minera Panama has been declared unconstitutional, all other concessions can no longer operate. There is a mine that apparently has a special regime that is beginning to be contested. Now, regarding the issue of nationalization, we have a problem: those who negotiated the agreement are the rulers. Therefore, people are suspicious. What they are proposing is the creation of a commission of popular and workers' organizations, environmentalists, with experts in the field, to establish that the mining company itself closes the mine. Because the mining company has to pay for this process. We are not in favor of the State paying, but rather the polluter paying, that's the slogan: the polluter must pay. And since there is no trust in the government, what is proposed is for the government to do this with a commission, in which those who fought at this level are represented, along with technicians who are the ones who know what should be paid and what should not be paid.

Mineral extraction must be immediately suspended. Furthermore, the boatmen are preventing the ships from leaving with the ores. In other words, in practice, the social movement has prevented their departure and blocked the entry of coal so that the power plant could not operate. Moreover, the power plant has already been deactivated. Additionally, the workers are leaving because there is no more food, or the entry of anything is not allowed. In other words, it's a great force of the movement with radical measures that nobody centralizes. People are taking action. It's a truly self-managed movement, making decisions based on their popular intelligence and carrying them out, and the rest of the movement supports them. The videos of the boatmen passing in front of the large cargo ships are spectacular because these people are risking their lives. Moreover, they confronted the Panamanian Naval Force and threw stones at them. In other words, this is combat, they are heroes; the population considers them, and all of us, heroes in the struggle. In other words, there was direct action. Another issue: there were sectors that entered into permanent confrontation with the police. In other words, here, the youth sector has grown a lot in terms of direct action and self-defense.

There were real elements here of revolt and confrontation with the police. And I want to say, in Gramscian terms, that there was a rupture between civil society and political society. There was political discontent, and this is what, in Leninist terms, means a pre-revolutionary situation. That's what has been happening. There was a pre-revolutionary moment. There was no power vacuum. There were no permanent organs of dual power. But the mobilization was so strong that it was the other power, with actions like the one I am describing, the boatmen, the truck drivers, and so on.

Antonio Neto – I have one more question, and it has to do with what you're saying. The first thing is curiosity because worldwide there's always bureaucracy, some sold-out unions that play into the hands of the bosses, the government, and end up giving up on the fight. It doesn't seem to me that this happened in Panama, and it seems that the bureaucracy was pushed by the mass movement. There, the Frente Pueblo Unido por la Vida was created, which is part of the movement's leadership. As you said, there isn't a centralized direction, as there was in Brazil, at one time, with the Central Única dos Trabalhadores (CUT). I understand there was Pueblo Unido por la Vida, and outside of the networks, where the youth are organized. Do you think there's a convergence space to unite, at some point, all the actors who have been and still are involved in this struggle? In other words, as a political element, which could become a front of organizations or a proper party?

José Cambra – The Pueblo Unido alliance is one of the alliances. The other alliance is called ANADEPO and is led by the Veragua Association. And there are the indigenous peoples, there are the boatmen, there are the truck drivers, there are the indigenous peoples who are fighting the police. In other words, what I mean is that there are many sectors; it's a real movement. It's not about central leadership. The Pueblo Unido Alliance has a lot of authority and, therefore, keeps analyzing. It was the Alliance that asked for complete closure. Here, we couldn't call for a general strike because the private company unions don't have the capacity to stop private companies. Indeed, the way to stop private companies and the government was the picket line. Nobody could go to work. So, people would go to the picket line, take a photo, send it to the boss saying "I can't enter, it's closed," and would stay on the picket line! Therefore, they don't have the capacity from within the company, but they have the capacity, in street pickets, to support, as was done in neighborhoods, a widespread action. That's the characteristic of the movement; it's diversified, doesn't have a single leadership, but the United Popular Alliance is the most organized that exists and also the most attacked. The leader of the Unified Construction Union was attacked; there is a fierce anti-communism, and also these attacks from the mainstream media, in which they are barred from responding. In other words, we can't go to debates, nothing. They speak against us but don't give us the right of reply. And for the construction union, I want to denounce that, in violation of ILO agreements, their bank accounts were closed. Even the individual accounts of the leaders. In other words, financial capital organized itself to economically strangle them. Among educators, who are 48 thousand across the country, 18 thousand did not receive salaries. There's a tradition here that we, educators, go on strike, but they don't touch our salaries because they know that's a very serious issue. This time, they didn't pay us. They didn't touch, I think it was this Monday when they didn't pay 18 thousand, and that was worse. That radicalized the movement. At the moment, I want to tell you that everyone was paid, in less than two days after the measure, they were paid. In other words, it's a VERY strong movement. We think, as Andrés Gunderfrank said, that we are facing a Lumpen bourgeoisie. In other words, the business chambers that are not mining companies, which support the mine, are getting burned, in other words, they are in a bad position. But also with hatred for the blockades because the blockades caused significant economic losses. There are also blockades that have affected the population. Near the border with Costa Rica, blockades have been going on for 31 days, and there's a lack of gas, lack of gasoline, and lack of food in the provinces near Costa Rica. But the comrades have already opened and allowed the passage of twelve tanker trucks, in other words, they allowed everything to pass. But there was a moment when the right tried to take advantage of this to put us against the people. They managed to gather 190 people, nothing more. In other words, the movement is very strong. Now, I think the important thing is to generate the possibility of bringing these movements together and politically discussing the assessments of the methods. For example, we, educators, have a method: the Assembly. When we decide on a strike, it's not decided by the leaders. It's decided by educators in assembly, by school, and then there are assemblies in the regions.

This is a method we advocate for. There are no enlightened leaders, there are spokespeople for the movement. And the greatest possible coordination based on the analysis of the current situation and the definition of slogans that can be attractive to the movement and can be assumed as such. A bit of the old method of the Transitional Program.

In a front or political party, I think there are possibilities to advance towards this politics because there is an important force in the movement, but there is no party structure like the one you are suggesting. There is a presidential candidate to campaign against the candidates of the oligarchy, who have proven to be very bad, because out of these candidates only two have declared their opposition to the mine, and our candidate. When I say "our," I mean the social movement. Maribel Gordón, she is more aligned with the Suntracs current.

Antonio Neto – Yes, I heard about Maribel when I was in Costa Rica. And since then, we've been following the whole signature collection process. But I think, obviously, the movement's bet is to continue the fight for rights, for its achievements and with the methods it has learned, with indigenous peoples, peasants, and all the sectors that have learned to fight, I don't know if they learned or promoted struggles. But the fact is that next year there will be elections in Panama. And Maribel is a product, an accumulation of this struggle. And I think it's very important, for us, but also for the people who will be able to read this interview, to understand Maribel's emergence as an alternative.

José Cambra – Maribel Gordón was a leftist activist who accompanied the labor movement. She is an economist, a professor of economics at the university, and became well known when, last year, she was our economic consultant in the debate against the government that was shown on television. And everyone said, "How good! Look at how she discredited the government!", "Look at what she said!", "That such-and-such family is the one raising the prices of our medicines and putting them on insurance so that everything gets more expensive!" So, this allowed her (and her group) to make the decision to register. I want to tell you something: the Association of Teachers of the Republic is a class association, it has everything. But look at how simple it was to register teachers with Maribel. Because in Panama, the left-right issue... Let's see, if you say you're left-wing, they demonize you. But if they say you're from below, against the oligarchy, they accept you. I don't know if I'm being clear here. People see it more as those from below against those from above. Maybe in other countries in Latin America, where there has been greater development of left-wing parties, this can be understood. But here, the term is rarely used, it is used derogatorily against leaders. And we are not going to deny that we are left-wing, not at all. I mean, I was in an interview when they made me say, "Stop for a moment. I will explain to you the origin of the term left and right before, it changed later, but on the left were those who were pissed off with the privileges of the monarchy and on the right were those who were with the monarch. Speaking of Panama, on the left are all the people who are pissed off with corruption and the oligarchy; and on the right are those who support it. If you want to talk about this, this is how we speak." Now, that doesn't mean people claim to be left-wing. No, that's not true. People claim to be fighters, but the other hasn't happened yet.

Antonio Neto is a teacher in Geography at the Senador Ernesto Dornelles State Technical School in Porto Alegre.

Federico Fuentes is a member of the Green Left editorial collective and editor of LINKS International Journal of Socialist Renewal.

José Cambra is a socialist activist and member of the Association of Teachers of Panama (ASOPROF).