Interviewees: Naso people of San San Drui, Felix Sánchez, King Valentín Santana and the mayor of Changuinola, Lorenzo Luis.
Interviewer: Martin Mowforth
Location: San San Drui, Panama
Date: 1st September 2009
Theme: Naso struggle for land rights against the Ganadera Bocas company and the violence of the company and police.
Notes: Please note that Patricia Blanco did the transcription of this conversation, of which she said: “It was really difficult to understand, especially what was being said by the indigenous woman Lupita. I had to listen many times and I opted to give a summary of some of the general ideas as I understood them because it wasn’t possible to transcribe the recording as such due to the fact that her Spanish wasn’t coherent. Nevertheless, it was possible to get some general ideas. She has problems with her control of the language, and at times she refers to actions or situations which cannot be understood without having the context or background.” Some of these observations are also just as pertinent to other speakers in the transcription.
Felix Sánchez (FS): [to the Naso people gathered together] Here we are in the community. I also want to announce that we haven’t had a formal meeting with our visitors, Martin and Karis from England. They have come on a mission to research what is happening here, but as we already had the initiative for you to have a meeting with the mayor, they are taking the opportunity to be here with us in Drui. They’ll explain presently what they are doing here, but equally the authority of our mayor is here with us and likewise the Chief Magistrate of Guabito.
It’s crucially important that they meet you and talk with you. The last time that we all met with the mayor, Doña Lupita proposed that the next meeting we were going to have with everybody in the community of Drui, including Santa Ana and San San Tigra; we would widen it out because the mayor’s work affects everybody and everything that is happening in …???… More than anything, we want to make known the reality that the community is facing today, especially to this group that is here.
Yesterday the mayor indicated to me that he urgently needed to talk with you, at least all of you who are here, about the issue of your lands because there was never a meeting that included everybody. Also I spoke by telephone with the community leader and told him that the mayor was coming and that I thought he would be there because he is the authority of the community; and we needed to express ourselves with some force about what they are doing and we needed to work together, with the local authorities and the district authorities. So the mayor has come and we are genuinely grateful to him. I think that he is one of the first mayors who has made this type of gesture of support for the community and who has one way or another taken the time of day and of night, at whatever hour, to come here to the community and to talk with you.
I’m going to let Martin say a few words so that you can all get to know his work, after which we’ll start the meeting with the mayor.
Martin Mowforth (MM): Thank you to all of you for accepting us and giving us a welcome in your community. My colleague Karis and I are carrying out a study of a range of environmental issues in Central American countries. We’ve spent some months here, the majority of our time in Costa Rica, but we have also visited Guatemala and Nicaragua. We will probably visit Honduras and El Salvador too. Right now, as you can see, we are in Panamá and we have heard and read many things about your struggle, especially about the issue of the titling of your land. For us, this type of struggle is an important environmental issue. So we are here to listen to you, your problem of land titling of the Naso land, and we understand that you have encountered problems with companies which are trying to undermine your territory. If you have no objections, we should like to record your words on this issue. We have already heard Felix, but it would be very useful for us if we could take your testimony, at least from some of you, about your problems here and your struggle.
Once again, most importantly I want to say that we are very grateful to you for your welcome. Thank you.
FS: We were in the King’s house, talking with him, earlier this morning.
OK, we’re going to get going on this issue; and we’ll give a welcome to the mayor with a big applause please. We are going to listen to him so that he can tell us what he knows first hand as the main authority of this district. And you can then talk with him. So, honourable mayor, the time is yours.
Lorenzo Luis (LL): Hello. Once again, visiting the community as we had stated at the beginning of the government of the new municipal administration, make visits to the communities and be present where the problems occur. It’s an authority which is concerned for the communities where there are problems, not like others which flee when there are problems. We are committed to give attention to all in the community when problems exist. For me, as I stated to you the last time, it’s not easy, … there are so many others that I have to give attention to. I have demonstrated to the Naso people, as I said before being elected and after being elected, I would not push my people aside; I would be an authority who acts within the law but working within the law to be a reconciling negotiator, to mediate on the matters which we have to address in our district and in our community. Not like those before when cases like these presented themselves, they acted within the law but adjusting what they said to fit the legal text. I think that all the cases which can be done in this way, without dealing with them in another way, more peacefully, so that a more suitable response can be given, a response which conforms to the need.
The truth that I must tell you is that I have a boss, at the provincial level … and at the level of Panamá, which are the ministries and the central government.
After 10th August when I visited Panamá [City] for instructions from the Vice Minister of the Department for Indigenous Policies in Panamá. Given all the instructions he gave me, I came to visit you and to communicate with you, and also left notice for you about the next meeting which was going to be on Wednesday, but for other reasons we weren’t able to get here, so the visit was left pending. Yesterday I again received information direct from the Vice Minister’s office, and he tells me that they will act within the legal framework. In the same way he also told me that he will create a local commission and get them to travel to Panamá [City] so that they can discuss issues with the commission in Panamá [City]. And I said to them when they called that they are in Panamá [City] and that I couldn’t get there but that I could get to the community again to explain what they were saying to me.
The message from the Vice Minister of Government and Justice, José Ricardo Fábrega, says that there is no other possible outcome than to act according to the legal terms which Ganadera Bocas presented. But I’m still acting in the name of the local government – they don’t know the situation.
Let me say to you that for my part it has not been easy. It’s easy for them to give instructions because they’re there, but for me it’s not easy. For nobody in the communities that I have visited is it easy to find a solution to the problems which exist in our community. I have tried to deal with this matter in a peaceful way so that you can find solutions, but I must make it clear that if it gets out of my hands by some means or other, then tomorrow it should be clear that it wasn’t the mayor[‘s fault]. And the proof of this is that I am visiting you and explaining to you what they are telling me.
In the same way, you should also understand that as the authority I do not need to come with the police and I have shown that here again I am accompanied by my work team. The Chief Magistrate of Guabito; there should also be the Chief Magistrate for here – I don’t know why he’s not here, he will have his reasons for why he’s not here, but I must say to you that the pressure [of the work] is very hard.
[Note – this doesn’t seem to make sense because earlier Felix had said that the Chief Magistrate was there – probably a different Chief Magistrate.]
I must speak sincerely and honestly to you. King Tito Santana stated to the Vice Minister that you are a small group with your own name that won’t take any notice of him; and so the Vice Minister must proceed according to the law. I told you the last time what he had talked about with the Minister and that he had suggested to us and to the provincial authorities you have enough land and that you don’t need to fight with Ganadera Bocas. In a meeting that we had in the municipal office, I told him that he was acting like a representative of Ganadera Bocas and not like a representative of you, which was deplorable. For the sake of your honour I told him that, and the proof is that in the meetings I did it, but your officials were not with me. That shows who is trying to resolve these matters for you and who is representing you. He’s not interested to resolve the situation like we want to find a solution in a peaceful way.
So for me it’s not easy, believe me, sincerely, when I get those orders from the Minister’s office to punish a people in that way, because I come from a movement, representing a group. Today I’m an official, but I don’t find this to be very satisfactory, but I have to tell you in all honesty that I’ll do what I can as far as I can, but it may slip out of my hands. If for some reasons I don’t follow the instructions, I can try to comply with them some other way if I can manage it, and I will continue visiting the Naso people, not just this community, but all the Naso people including other communities such as the case of Carbonapaba, where there’s another confrontation with a very powerful businessman.
If I’m acting a little as if something has already happened, this isn’t normally how I operate, but it’s just that I’m trying to manage things so that we can reach a peaceful solution; but to be honest things are slipping out of my hands. I must make it clear to you because tomorrow I don’t want any surprises. I don’t want you to be saying that the mayor didn’t tell us, that the mayor didn’t explain to us or that the mayor has sided with Ganadera Bocas. I have met more with you than I have with them – I’ve only been with them once in my office to hear their statement.
Once again I have to tell you that the government makes it clear that you must look for some other place to re-locate to, and to do that the government is disposed to help you in your search for other housing and for other support. That’s what the Ministry told me and that is within the legal framework. Consulting with other lawyers has given me another possible way – I’m going to continue legal consultations to see how we can go about this. After this meeting, I’m going to send a report of my visit and of our conversations to the Vice Minister. I don’t know what his reaction will be. He even told me that if I don’t follow the orders he could order me to keep away. Indeed I’ve made this consultation to see at what point that would happen, because it could be a threat, a pressure, a strategy, or a psychological effect to see at what point I would or would not obey the instructions that he wants to give me.
But really, believe me, I feel a part of this group. But as an official I have to follow an established order, but at the same time I’m not here to trample on anyone. I’m very sad that tomorrow and in the past this kind of thing happens. I will keep on visiting you. As far as I’m concerned you can count on me, but the problem has already got out of my hands and is now at the level of the central government. They are the only ones who know what they say about how I should act, but they are not where I am, and it’s difficult to act within this …???…
So today more than anything I want to tell you, to warn you that you shouldn’t be taken by surprise. In the same way, I want to communicate with your leaders, but I’m not in communication with your leaders. I was going to try to tell you what the Vice Minister told me, but if any of you have a means of communicating with your leadership, it would be good to let them know and to try to locate them. I would give them the same message that they gave to me.
That’s what we bring to you; perhaps you wouldn’t be very grateful for that, but you must understand the position that I have as an official; and my duty and my commitment is to inform people of what is happening. As for me, well I’m not very grateful for it either. But I must inform you that it is my commitment with everybody, with all the community.
Up to now the government, not including Ricardo Martinelli, although Ricardo Martinelli would probably know the case, but I don’t think that this would delay it, …???… For me, I don’t think that Ricardo Martinelli knows the case. It’s possible that the Vice Minister has not really informed Martinelli of what is happening here. Seeing everything that Ricardo Martinelli has done in the last two months, just sixty days, it looks like he cares for the poor. In Panamá [City], when I visit, there are signs all over the place, in all the different communities, which say that now it’s the people who matter, that “I am here”, and that it matters that you get an adequate response. As far as I’m concerned, Ricardo Martinelli doesn’t have the information that the Vice Minister claims he has.
In any case, last night I said to the Governor that he has direct contact and that he can make suggestions and information known, and I also told the deputies that they are close to the President, so they can do the same. If I had the opportunity of an interview with [President] Ricardo I would explain the situation and I know that he would understand the problems of the people. As some say, he is a businessman, yes, but from what I have seen of the way he acts, he responds to those communities in need. In any case, I’m going to tell the Governor again today, and when I can find Mario Vilas who’s in the province of …???…, about how this matter can be mediated, not through the way they are trying to order. As far as I’m concerned, it’s sad and regrettable to have to come and tell you the orders that I have in hand. But right now, I’m not going to do it. And as I said at the start, and I keep to it, if I were the authority charged with protecting a community, as the authority I would look for ways of resolving the problems peacefully, and today I am here to see how we can look for solutions and I don’t want to be your enemy today or tomorrow. Today I’m your friend; tomorrow I shall always be your friend. The fact that I am an official does not make me act exactly as the law says. I’m a believer in making things better by means of dialogue and of resolving problems peacefully and of finding solutions. There are few officials who can operate within this type of framework.
So I say to you today that the information that the Vice Minister gave me is that there is no other way because this is private property and you are the invaders [squatters] and you have land. But he made it clear that because Tito Santana has said …???… that it is clear today who is informing him.
So, my friends and companions, sadly you can count on me but only up to what I can do, and that if tomorrow it escapes from my hands, then it will be clear that it’s not my fault. It will escape from my hands, but that won’t stop me acting by some other means, because you need to use some other way. And so tomorrow you should separate me from my official role. But with this consultation you can see their reasons, their motives, but perhaps as pressure, as threats, perhaps you can see my abilities to be able to confront these matters.
This is my message of today – I’m concerned about the situation. I had to leave the office this morning because this journey I wanted to make calmly using half a day to visit you in the community where you had previously invited me. But something else happened in the morning for which I was responsible and I wasn’t able to warn you. So you need to be prepared and you need to communicate with your leader who is in Panamá [City] that you are looking for all possible ways and means and that you’re not sleeping on this because soon other things will be taking over in the city and here other things will also be happening. It’s important that you let him [this is Eliseo he’s talking about] know because the Minister told me that he will find him, but I haven’t been able to locate him. If somebody has contact with him it would be good to let him know that I was here telling you what I have to hand at the moment.
Today [he must mean yesterday] I arrived home late and I was thinking about this problem till three in the morning – for me it’s very difficult. I was telling my kids of the work and what I’m going to do – it’s very difficult – so that I can involve them, but it’s not easy. It’s not a question of coming here and telling you lies, firstly because with God we must follow the other path, and it’s a good thing to talk with your leader in Panamá [City] so that I don’t deal with him through the Vice Minister without the President. It’s the only recommendation that I can make to your leaders, given the limitation on what I have and what I can do, so that I can continue to manage the matter.
Lupita: [Please bear in mind that the following translation is difficult to make sense of; but as the note at the beginning (from the transcriber) said, the speech was difficult to make sense of in Spanish too. The translation came down to a matter of treating each clause separately because sentences rarely made sense when taken together. It might even appear as gobbled-goo, unless you know the context, in which case it is possible to see the point of what is being said overall. But we have to ask ourselves, ‘how much of that contextual understanding is based on assumption and prejudice?’]
Today it’s two weeks since we came to a meeting. Good day everybody. It’s very certain what you are saying. The other day you came and told us very clearly …???… This man said to him ‘How do you know that Vargas has land? How do you know that Gamarra has land?’ You’re sat down there, but as you say, through that mayor I shouted to you to go to the meeting to [with?] the family that are there in …???… They feel something good about what you said to them. They don’t want to hear more: seven cats, seven cats, seven cats, until those cats don’t die …???…
Because we aren’t doing badly with our family; we are fighting with the Ganadera [Bocas]. Instead of supporting us, they don’t want to. Previously when we went there, he took the role of …???… demanded by our people. …???… In our name, how many are there? …???… [King] Tito is walking that route, so I say to you because they say, “look at us; we are new; we are Martinelli’s people.” It left me seeing how I don’t know. I say to you: “change, change, change.” Even I think change [is OK] but now that Martín Torrijos has left, there are bad changes for much of the time …???… So what changes are there?
I tell you that you are not so guilty because you’ve come here again, but as we have always said, beneath that there is a putrid lemon, a rotten orange. That is what is harming you. So I say to you as you said to us, that the Vargases have land, the Gamarras have land – that’s your response again, is it?
Now I say to you because you have two kings, King Tito says that he is the true king, but he is the government’s king. We recognise [King] Valentín Santana – he is our king, because he [Tito] has left the community. The other king says that we are squatters [precaristas], but he is the squatter. He’s no longer the leader, because if you’re the leader you should be in your area. [King] Tito meets with the Vice Minister. We are defending our comarca. Wherever you go, [King] Valentín talks of the comarca. We don’t recognise Tito as king because he is selling us out – it’s not good enough.
The government doesn’t want to give us anything because they want to make use of everything that there is here. Those who come here and put themselves next to us are opportunists – they enjoy our riches and yet we still don’t have a comarca. They are thieves who come looking for problems. He [I think she must be referring here to King Tito] received his silver, so he’s calm but we are still fighting for the comarca. They are thieves causing trouble.
They say that we have plenty of mountains, but everything is dry sticks there so we can’t work there and we can’t fell anything. That’s what we’re demanding, but the government doesn’t listen to us; it listens more to others who are selling us out.
The kings don’t think of what our elders have left us [???]. Many people come with their projects, but they don’t have good projects. They bring work, but with heavy machinery which we don’t know how to drive. So they are careful when people come to talk. The King is against us, the representative is against us, and now the family is against us. So where are we going to go?
Thank you, mayor, for informing us.
LL: Last night I told the Governor that he should say to Tito what he said to the Minister and that he should say to you and that he should come here to talk with you.
Lupita: Some ideas expressed by this participant [Lupita, I think] (as far as I understand them):
- Problems of the boundaries
- Problems with the leaders (kings) one of whom has allied himself with the government
- Defence of the comarca and of the lands which they inherited
- There is a division within the same indigenous group – some communities, such as La Tigra, are against them
- They, however, recognise Valentín Santana as King and not Tito, who sold them out
- They claim that some of the authorities and some of their leaders (Tito) do not tell the truth, they lie by hiding information and show the other side of their face
- They claim that the government is not willing to help them
- They refer to the fact that there are economic interests and money in the way.
Other participant: [This is the man who laid out all the tear gas canisters in the middle of the meeting floor for us all to see – the ones from the time when their houses were destroyed.]
Hello. Thank you for coming brothers and sisters. The 30th March of this last year was the occasion of the government’s visit to solve these problems. …???… It was them who threw us here. When you’re in your political role, in your campaign, as our brother mayor has just said, “vote for me”. Come rain or flood or whatever, they come from one corner to another, facing whatever problem they say “count on me”, but today nothing more than the image is seen. Today being aware of what is happening in the community with the indigenous, they know that these poor citizens and poor campesinos were there and made their vote. Now I wait like a father who goes away and comes back with a sweet or some sweet coffee. Look at what he brings us [I think this is the point at which he was showing us all the tear gas canisters]; look at those that sort out the problems. It’s not because the national government isn’t respected here in Panamá. Panamá didn’t want to begin at Changuinola. The mayor, the governor, all of them, didn’t understand us, or didn’t want to understand the case.
So we have Señor Félix Sánchez here. Thank God he’s here with his talent because none of the indigenous is prepared, but today he is preparing us. He’s in touch with people from different countries who hear us and see that we are not lying.
What type of Panamanian government wants votes and arrives to throw us out from here. Ganadera Bocas says that all this and further down is theirs. Señores, I wasn’t born yesterday. I’m 57 years old, I was born here and my father arrived before that. And now Ganadera Bocas arrives and says “No, no, all the indigenous should be out of here; all of this is ours.”
Señores, God made the earth and also made humanity, and we stay here on the earth. We are more than the businessmen of Ganadera Bocas. Sadly here we cannot take that for granted any longer. With respect to what the mayor says, I don’t know much about the current government, but it still doesn’t have much awareness; but look what a mess it’s making. So, what I want to say is that we are making a call to other countries so that they can see, so that they can call the highest authority, so that they hear what happened.
On the other hand the indigenous people have rights, there is a law, a decree, I don’t know in which year, I don’t know if the President or the government functionaries can open up the drawer to see it, but the indigenous peoples have rights. …???…
Now, as my brother Tito Santana says, first when he began he began well, he was warm, he was brave and relaxed about what he was doing here, under this roof where we are sat. But the man began to cheat with the Bonyik project. When he saw the ticket [money] there where they landed the deal, they bought him and all his conscience. He abandoned the comarca, abandoned the struggle of the indigenous people, of his people. Now, he uses “my people” politically, but he …???… the tray of silver.
Look at how we are now, sick, with colds. As chief you say the man may go to hospital and they will treat him. No, we have to struggle just to see how we can leave the area. Look what a state the road is in and what problems there are here. …???… to say good, this no, this yes, there the government functionaries don’t know what to do. Tito was a true King, but with that government. Right now I don’t agree with Tito. He has already completed his period as governor.
He says that we are squatters [precaristas], but he is the squatter, we are on the land …???… We are within our rights. We believe in the lineage. We want this new government, the current government, to look for a solution, but not through that. What is the solution? Well, a lineage. Perfect, through that we will get there, respecting one another.
Look how the wire fence is going now. They aren’t looking for wire – they’re looking even further up. And then as they say, …???… the post there already belongs to the government. They have jurisdiction over it and they manage it by saying, “Listen, do not, do not, do not, do not fell that”. The streams, the mountains, I don’t know what. Señores, so where are these humble and poor residents going to live? The government is not going to have a daily, weekly or even monthly mayoral meeting for all these residents who are here.
So, as a local resident I speak, I see, I feel, because I’m still alive, and I should like whilst I’m alive that all of us struggle for one single cause, for our families, for our security. If we don’t do that, our grandchildren and our families will see it getting worse and they will drive us out more quickly.
We’re not fighting against groups like these seven. But as our sister Lupita said, we don’t have that idea …???… the land owners are coming here for everything. In Bonyik I know a man who had a stretch of land all of which had been the Naso-Teribe indigenous group’s, but today the Colombians came and he sold it to them. When the families were there they had space to work, but today they are left penniless. Now, he got the title and then sold it – like the whites have money. How can the land owners do so much buying? So we must not sell our lands, we must look after them, we must maintain them for our families. …???…
For us, for the Naso, for the true Naso groups, Tito is a ‘nobody’ king. Here is Señor Valentín Santana, the man does not sell his people, he doesn’t deceive, he doesn’t …???… We are going to make an agreement. First, we must have a meeting with the people. I have to know what my people are saying, is it good or not, so I don’t go solo, on my own, all these things we must consult on.
Tito knows this, but, well I don’t know, he’s on his own and he wants to take advantage of the money. So he does the talking – he got there …???… he told them that the limit [boundary] is Dos Bocas, but he says that and we are going to leave it there. But that limit, that line of wire doesn’t seem right to me – it leaves the people apart. So he told us talking like a king wearing a tie …???… He always talks about how Ganadera has given [him] cows and steers. Lord, how many steers do damage to these poor campesinos like us; he never paid us; how many millions of dollars did he earn by this, and just for him because Ganadera was facilitating it for him. It was a bad project. He knows that where he puts his hand I will fight it. And as poor people, we struggle, we cry out, we talk for our rights. So when he arrives, he says “my people, my people” – he has nobody in his family who is backing him.
So, Mr mayor, so as not to make you tired, that is what I can say. Moreover, …???… As my sister said, the family does not want to support …???… There are seven of us and we are struggling here and if nobody wants to participate, well, we’ll leave it and each one can fight for their own house.
Now, look at Ganadera. It’s stopping us. It seems to me that it’s made a mess of all the posts there below, and Ganadera has made a hole. They don’t support me – I don’t want any support from them, but always remember that you don’t have papers, you don’t have documents, these lands are public lands, they aren’t owned with documents or signatures; so this land is not yours, this land is loaned … And the road – …???… – I don’t want to see anything there. Your road will be …???… in a foot of mud to get round that bend so you take it as a straight line …???… But as I say, everyone will see their own problem.
We talk of our rights. Here we are not …???… along the route. Look how the bridge there has been left – the metal sheets have been lifted. If it had been any of us who had caused this mess on the bridge, we would be in prison; but as it’s a millionaire there wasn’t even a fine – no prosecution of the men from Ganadera Bocas. Look at the bases of the bridge as they are now – they’ve ruined them; they felled the trees on the river banks; and if we had done that we would be in prison. But for them, no authority or official would even appear.
Now, the new government has to consider that. Mr mayor, that is my explanation. Many thanks.
Lupita: Now, if we fight against the law, we have to pay the government. Here we have never had to pay the government. Every month we have to ask where are we going to get the money? There is no money to pay that. We think we are doing well for our families, but he [???] says that it’s bad. We have to pay, through the kings. They talk. They set their limits. We continue to work. Now he talks of collective land, and I say to him, “sir, you have to come to explain to us what is collective land for us?” They tell us that collective land is the same as the comarca, but whilst I don’t see this, I won’t accept it. So I say to people who come here from far off that we are going to invite you to the communities where there are families you can listen to so that they can tell you that I’m not lying, because I see that things are not how we think.
That day when we were there and the man from Talamanca (Costa Rica) arrived from Yorquín, where there had also been struggles. They talked of the case of the hydroelectric project; they talked of the case of the coal mine. Today all the indigenous people are not so calm – those who think and those who don’t think all say I’m very well.
I’m an old person and I think that now I’m going to suffer that heat, and if God says that …???… Paying. When God made this earth, …???… in the same way, now he is going to come for our land …???… So I would like you to come with us sir, two or three days in the community and we will visit families so that you can hear them when they say that this woman is not lying.
So we are struggling, and there’s no real power for us. So they say that it’s our fault that they aren’t making that road, but we have houses all along the road. So, as we do in Panamá, I and the people will press for the road. …???… if we’re at the side of the road because they can’t make it. Then I see that that road provides problems for all the people of …???… except the family that doesn’t want to support us; but we will do it.
FS: Mr mayor, we will congratulate you for the information you have brought with you – if only you …???… because you are a person who I can see considers …???… always to tackle hardship. And as you said yourself, look at what our family has received – there’s the education, the graduation, the doctor, there are all these things that they have done for my people. And you analyse an issue …???… so that people take photos …???…
As Sra. has said, I have come here many times. There was a mayor here called …???… I was staying here and he called me and sent me an item to look for as if I was a …???… When he arrived he told me that I was supporting him and that I was with him, or even that I was like the …???… The man armed me with a …???… I came here …???… because the money was …???…
Translation of the 3rd transcript of conversations with the Naso people in San San Druy, this one being the 2nd transcript involving the mayor.
(The same notes made about the quality of the recording and of the spoken Spanish which were made with regard to the first two transcripts and translations are just as relevant to this one.)
LL: … when it’s a big town, …???… information from Tito Santana, they are two people. I told the Minister when I had the interview on the 15th that he came to last month that there were two families, but also that this district is a big one. But also from Tito Santana they hear what they told me. He told him here the same as the Governor that those who come to the meeting here live in Guabito, in another area; they are not from here. So for that reason the Minister is trying to protect and to act quickly because according to the information in the document if there are two there’s no reason to consider both. So if tomorrow you manage to …???… then that’s down to Tito Santana – he’s the only one responsible for sinking you, the only one.
Lupita: Yes. What a bit of a family. It’s a lie, mayor, we realise what he is doing …???… by you. We are so many and we are no trouble.
LL: The other thing is …???… the same Mario Guardia told me in Panamá [City], his words, that … he doesn’t have any land. However, the Minister told me there were no problems with that; it’s resolved. We wondered with the Governor, I asked Mario Guardia, and he told me: no, that land is loaned, it’s not going to be given with a title, nor is it going to be adjudicated, now or ever, because that land belongs to Ganadera Bocas. So today it’s your problem, and if you don’t unite on this, you are going to have problems tomorrow. I told this to the Governor, so that he would relay this to the Minister, because the Minister is currently thinking and already has the information, and will say that there is no problem. The problem is here. But we know how things are. So the only one responsible for all the things that you can do is Tito Santana – just so that you know.
FS: I’m going to take the opportunity of this occasion, Mr Mayor, to show you what has been done in view of the fact that perhaps you are going to send a report to the Minister after this meeting, at least so that you can inform him about the steps that are being taken.
First of all, we have to have a clear idea that today we have a mayor who has felt the concern that the community has; first they were not buffaloes at the urns who voted for them, they were you. They weren’t Colombians, nor a transnational that went to vote; it was these people who today are asking that their rights be respected.
I want to say something very clearly in this intervention this morning. This community requested of the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights that precautionary measures be taken, and this document has already been formally accepted by the Commission. So, Mayor, I want to deliver this document to you so that you can see that we have copies for when the Minister or somebody from the government calls you or gives you instructions you will also be aware of the actions, not only local actions that this community is taking, but also actions in international law from those with whom we have been meeting.
So, perhaps not for the sake of letting them know, but you as mayor can use this document which tells in text what the community is doing on the legal front given the law that the community has and which was violated here from 30th March. So I want to give you this document. We can take copies of the document for your office in order to be able to respond to the Vice-Minister – that is the written document which we have given you and which is supported at the international level and which has been formally accepted by the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights.
The other thing that I want to make use of this occasion and for which I shall take another five minutes, Mr Mayor, and I’m not going to invent anything here, is that the people have the leadership they deserve. Today we have representatives who the people elected, but he continues operating in the same way and he is going to continue giving this payment to the community and to its people. And the mayor is a witness to this action, so that when he arrives at the office and opens the door, he talks to you of one thing, but his real actions are doing another thing.
Today we have a situation which for us since the 30th May 2004 without a king, and the fact that the government has recognised him is another problem. But it’s not our problem and it doesn’t interest us. But you’re right that today we have that problem because the previous government was interested in recognising him, and finally we’ve found some real reasons why. In December  a law which went against our aspirations – the comarca law, the law of collective lands – and which Tito said will be the same …???… which Martín Torrijos approved. But the only person – I don’t know if you think I’m lying – who is called Valentín Santana here, the only one who went to the Supreme Court of Justice demanding the law, and here is the document, to hand, this is the copy of the lawsuit. Why? Because we believe in the comarca. Yes or no?
FS: We believe in this concept which our ancestors left us and I don’t think that those who were here 30 years before, who didn’t go to school, but who were so wise, thought that the legal definition of the territory had to be consolidated as a comarca. And there is Mr Valentín, the King, who is witness to these struggles which were begun many years ago. But today we are facing a legal process, and here is the copy – we can take more copies, whatever is needed, for the mayor – if you want this copy, the copy of this lawsuit which King Valentín Santana is making to the Supreme Court of Justice.
The Court has already responded. Here we also have the Supreme Court of Justice’s reply. It’s not a mute issue – here they are responding. Why do I mention it this morning? Because at times we think so much about a scoundrel to whom his land and his territory don’t matter. And along comes another time and possibility, as I said to the director of PRONAP, when the new government continues to say that because this is the Naso people’s authority, that is a trick.
Faced with this legal petition, the Supreme Court of Justice, which is considered to be the highest authority in our country to which we can go right to the end in search of justice for the Naso people, well, at least we have some responses. And next month there are many possibilities to have an audience to explain why we are arguing for the Naso comarca, against this law which Martín [Torrijos] approved on 3 December 2008.
I want to honestly assume that this has had to be an international process which we have brought about, because although it’s certain that the local authorities have been blind to what they haven’t seen and deaf to what they haven’t heard, it seems that they don’t understand the law of the Naso people. So we have gone to the international sphere, and when an International Commission for Human Rights accepts our demand, it is because they have seen the reasons why we have been making this claim; and that although plenty has been written about this struggle, we are not going to hide because it’s a reality.
Faced with this, I want to make it clear today that the Naso people continue to lose their land; with this type of leaders that we have who came here on Sunday promoting the new government’s changes but who ignore the process and this struggle because they haven’t input even a little of the responsibility into their posts that Doña Lupita has on her shoulders, or of those here who are suffering; and the responsibility of those people, like Tito Santana, affects us here.
The previous government also delivered 1,198 hectares of our land to others. Are we going to continue losing land – yes or no?
Here is the document, and I’m not lying, it’s signed at the back, the stamp is that of the National Direction of …???…, Dr Ligia Castro as the person responsible. And in the afternoon of that same day the state company was pleased, having a fiesta, they went to …???… killing cattle, they did everything they wanted because that’s what they were expecting.
But here you have a public servant. If I’d taken on the political interests, I would not have felt what is happening to the people now. But I’m continuing at the head of this process which today, with honour, we continue to say, at least for the past week, that we are seated with part of the government talking of the consolidation of the Naso territory in a document which I have here. A letter was sent to King Valentín Santana, King of the Naso people, with the unique intention of consolidating the Naso territory with the earlier application of 160,000 hectares.
Brothers and sisters, this fraudster who approved this law – I’m going to be really clear, I’m not going to be shy about saying these things – he approved the law of collective lands where the territory of the comarca as adjudicated by this law gives only 95,000 hectares, and he’s happy with that. But what the new government is proposing is to proceed with the consolidation of the Naso territory under the previous study which gives 160,000 hectares. I’m not lying to you; you can read it here, and I’m going to be here till midday so that you can read it. 160,000 hectares – here, it’s being proposed.
So I’m in agreement with a lot of what the mayor says. I feel that the President of the Republic is ignorant of what is happening here on the Naso territory. I feel that when he finds out he will have a very different reaction because he’s prey to those people who have already intervened in this area. They are thieves, usurpers of the land of our territory and they are not one of us. Brothers and sisters, it is not us who are begging for a few metres of land. Today we have the papers saying that the government recognises our piece of land. How is it possible that the head of the household becomes the young son? [Not sure of this, but it sounds like some Panamanian metaphor or something.]
I want to say one thing that was the practice of the previous government with documentation. We went with King Valentín, the teams and Doña Lupita to a meeting with the government which was under pressure and was on its knees before international demands. Here we’ve got the same …???… with the World Bank, Martin, here in the month of June they came because we had initiated a process of claims to the previous government because PRONAP was making totally arbitrary management decisions, unrelated to the traditional practices of the people – and we showed that. Today, the World Bank approved an investigation of Panamá, and that is going to happen right now, in the first few days of October.
Why? The King sent the letter to the previous government, and to the World Bank they were saying that they were consulting the Naso people and that Valentín is …???… in an open discussion, because on the other hand they amazed me, but on the other hand they couldn’t do it. In an open discussion with the World Bank they wouldn’t dare take action and withdraw the document. The mistake was to go to look for it because when it was brought out that same document said: Señor Valentín Santana did not receive the note. But it was the work of the previous government, it’s a note from December 2008. And they were discussing whether we were being consulted. So that particular struggle was being dealt with, and now this level is being dealt with, and so here you are not only seeing the work of the mayor; and it’s not out of friendship with the mayor after we shared a political campaign that I am going to say this really clearly, I say it because today he holds a responsibility as an administrator of this district and he is the foremost authority.
I believe that here we must also unite ourselves together in this struggle; I’m very clear in what I’m going to say, my struggle is not against any of my family or members of the community, my struggle is against those who are every day legalising a meter of land and taking a meter of land away from the Naso people – that’s the focus of our struggle, our great challenge.
I believe, mayor, that this morning, as you said here on the 5th August and in the office of the Governor to the Vice Minister, here there is a people who will continue crying out for justice. I’m going to be certain about one thing today, the damage that Ganadera Bocas has wrought on this community is irreversible, it will never be paid for, nobody is going to pay anything for it. The struggle could last many years, but it won’t depend on what the mayor wants, it is going to depend on us, on what we are feeling in the community, on our reality.
The mayor is transitory. These five years pass rapidly, but he’s going to continue being a resident of this district. I want to say today that we are clear on our aims and the threats which we face. I assure you that we are armed [this means with documents and information] and we are trying to document the whole process which we are promoting in the wider world, at the international level.
If I didn’t say it to the Director of Indigenous Policy and to those who came here in this meeting place on the 15th July, I didn’t express what I said as a threat, but what I said I continue to say and have said in meetings which we have had with the new government. This servant has knocked on doors. With the previous government we spent five years on the edge of a razor blade because that’s what the last government did. But now the start of a new government could affect us in what I’m aware is the way I have trusted in it. I’ve placed a lot of trust in the new government in the hope that we can manage to do what we weren’t able to do under the previous government. But …???… I put my confidence there because this government will listen to me. I’ve said it here to the mayor. I’ve met with the mayor many times because I want to be very clear. They will also listen to me knocking on doors to the outside because we are organising an assembly for 4th October when it will be one year since we had a great assembly in Bonyic, and now it’s going to be in Teyic [???] because we want to inform everybody about this process that’s happening now. There is a process of claims relating to the issue of the comarca. It’s already in draft with our lawyers to present to the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights.
I believe it’s necessary to double our efforts today, not to get discouraged, not to lose heart, and I believe in the saying, Sr Mayor, that in a war foretold no soldiers die. And the mayor came to foretell this to us, he came to warn us, he came to inform the community; and I don’t know whether I’m exaggerating, but I believe that I see the mayor at the head of our struggle, because he’s not going to abandon his community.
Here in reality we have to be spokespersons for this hope; we mustn’t get discouraged by the fact that there’s a lot of pressure; it will depend on us and our families in the community. For your information, I was in San San Tigra on Sunday. I left late at night from a meeting at which we had been discussing this issue. We were trying to explain to them and we are not going to explain to them in other languages. As soon as he gets here to Druy with these documents I want to go to Tigra, even with videos. We are already planning this with them, to arm a meeting more broadly with all the materials and maps to hand so that we can leave materials in the community so that they have them to hand, because that’s where the power is. When we get started, that’s where the power is.
And many people have become disillusioned saying that here amongst our people are other persons talking with us who have come to make the indigenous people angry. That is not so. I think that we are prepared for this, as Doña Lupita says, we won’t be telling any stories here. [Not 100% certain about the translation of that last clause.]
As Don …???… said, I want to congratulate the management of the mayor. Sr Mayor, believe that whilst we maintain this genuine communication, this legitimate communication, we are not going to [perder el norte]. Likewise, people here are not going to disappear through the negligence of those of us who are the leaders.
We mustn’t hesitate brothers and sisters. The worst enemy is not in the municipality; the worst enemy is not in the city; the worst enemy is right here, within our own territory – that’s the greatest detractor. Why do I say that? Because I say to you that just as it was possible that one person predicted the comarca, today another government may approve a different law. For everything the government was saying, it has to say yes because it owes some favours. We don’t depend on that; we depend on the management of the community, and so Doña Lupita leaves for Panamá [City], she’s not going to ask for favours, she’s not going to beg, she’s going to fight for your lands.
Brothers and sisters, last Wednesday, I say in all honesty, they heard men and women who don’t know how to put a letter onto paper, Doña Lupita, talk for 32 minutes in front of the Director of the World Bank, the new Director of PRONAP, and when the Director of the World Bank stopped and said, “Doña Lupita, now I have nothing to say”. And so here we don’t need anyone who goes under the table trying underhand techniques; here we need genuine leaders who won’t be bought and who won’t sell themselves, but who are clear in their direction, their aim and where we are heading.
This is the way we treat others, brothers and sisters, whilst we have that I want to show you that the worst enemy is within our territory, and that’s the one that we have to confront. Working over there, I know that keeping our officials well informed, primarily the mayor and the governor, because he also communicates a lot with us, will help us to advance, and I consider that we have to confront the struggle within ourselves.
This is my message. I believe that we will take on a role as we seem to have done permanently throughout this process, we will continue to document it all, Sr Mayor, with all the materials, with everything that is happening, so that all the processes and everything that we are doing outside will be known. Because it’s necessary that he knows for when they ask him what the community is doing in the face of this action. Here the war is against those who come from beyond.
Another participant: I’d like Sr Mayor for you to come along here on a weekend, a Saturday or Sunday, so that you can see that river which took the house, or rather the site where it was. The government gave me a couple of …???… And I made a low ridge. What happened, Sr Mayor? This side slid away, this side …???… Do you think it’s fair to live there? With that danger and you’re living there … I had to knock the house down.
Why do we live here on the lowland? Because it’s wide. We’re thankful for where we are located. How are you going to live in those trees? How are you going to live there? You’ve got to get out of the ravines so that you can level it off. It’s not safe, when it rains it washes everything away, everything slides away. And that’s why you don’t see many things in this area. The government officials from the institution which deals with housing don’t come and see the damage and to see what has happened.
As I said, my mother has already been buried there; my brother with his two children and wife, along with six families, wake up in the surrounding countryside. … If only those officials would come and see the damage. That’s the problem that we have.
There’s land for crops, but for houses it’s not guaranteed and there’s no security. Look at the river bank – when it’s full of water it overflows and goes all over there. So, why doesn’t the government send its people to see. They say no, that we’ve got to locate ourselves in a better part, we’ve got to make ourselves secure; now if they want us to be secure they should put us against the cliff where we are going. What’s the best that the government sees? And if we don’t leave, they say it’s because we’re fighting and because we’re staying there. Now the damage has gone, the house has been rebuilt, the land has been washed, and nobody died. Now they want to re-locate us, but there’s no law that we have to live there and make our houses there. If I change from there I’ll need more land for my children who will also be making their homes because their families have two, three, four, five children.
So where those slides occurred we can’t locate our houses. Here you can see mountains, but that is for growing rice. We are used to living under thatched roofs which is refreshing, but now, since a year ago, we are suffering. As I said, we are not foreigners. We want a solution as soon as possible, but one which doesn’t come through a machine gun, one which comes with a document that signifies respect and your rights as indigenous peoples. But we are not expecting mistreatment and threats.
Thank you Sr Mayor.
Another participant: I also want to greet all of you on behalf of the Naso who are suffering here. We have some trips to Panamá City. Thank you Sr Mayor for bringing us such an important message. As a Naso from this territory I invited Tito Santana to talk so that we could hear another person …???… that never gives a consultation here, they never involve themselves here, Sirs, hear this clearly, with people who betray us and who are doing [something] in the community …???…
Thanks to our great friend, we have come so that he can bring this sad message, to hear of a traitor like Tito Santana who hides himself away and travels in a vehicle of …???… and buys the consciences of other people. Actually, he’s like a Vice-Minister of the new government. They’ve already bought it [???] because from what I hear the Vice-Minister has an order – well we also have an order from here for Panamá. God first – this is part of our fight. Try not to involve us with bad people, …???…
Also, the problem is not with us, the problem is that we have to hold onto each one of us and follow a good route. It’s an agreement which we have had, the greatest dream – that is the comarca, it’s our aspiration, we need the comarca. So, for the sake of the comarca we will all hold onto each other, all together, from the children to the old people. Those are going to be our needs from this day onwards.
I hear the King [please note that this could possibly be a reference to God rather than the Naso King – Señor Rey is often used in Central America to mean God] …???… the authority of Guabito. I don’t know if the Chief Magistrate could offer an opinion on this. He also has a message for us.
LL: Before the Chief Magistrate of Guabito comes in, the Chief Magistrate has nothing to do with this matter. Ganadera Bocas has also wanted to involve him in it, so the Magistrate is here because I asked him to accompany me. Likewise, I told the Ganadera Bocas representative when he visited me because he was going to start proceedings against the Chief Magistrate on the grounds that he wasn’t doing anything. And I told him that it wasn’t within the competence of the Chief Magistrate and that therefore he wasn’t going to take action, still less so if he didn’t have my authorisation.
And we have already replied through our lawyer to the representative of Ganadera Bocas that he is not going to take action because they would want this action to be taken, that action to be taken, and that in the midst of it all they will attack you. The two of them have my instructions, so if they don’t have instructions they can’t do anything. Thus he is accompanying me today so that nobody is going to think that it’s his fault if something happens.
Also here is this colleague who works with me in representing you, and the mayor’s secretary, my colleague Isabel.
There we are, Chief Magistrate.
Chief Magistrate of Guabito: Good afternoon. I’m only here to accompany the Mayor, and to collect information.
Translation of 4th transcript of meeting with the Naso people.
1st September 2009
Honourable Mr Mayor, King Valentín Santana, everyone who is present,
Listening carefully to all your opinions, I have made a brief analysis – it’s only my personal opinion.
I am a resident of the San San Druy community (Changuinola, Bocas del Toro province) and I speak as a leader of the community.
What the comrade mayor has announced about our King Tito Santana is regrettable. But we as people, comrades, are also doing nothing, we will continue to put up with this martyr till who knows when, because the truth is that we are clear and we are not children. We know perfectly well that the Naso people have two kings. One group has Sr. Tito Santana and the other has Sr Valentín Santana. Whilst there isn’t just one single line, we will continue crying all the time because we don’t have a responsible father figure who makes the assumptions for us. Say what you like, this is the reality.
On Sunday some people from further up there visited us, former kings, and at times the gossip was not good to hear. I would not be able to leave here with giving my opinion. When we need to we people can laugh. I told the comrade who was with you when he arrived that we are going to tell you a little story. You came by car, and later you got stuck; and when he got here, he said to me, “comrade, how much will it cost me for you to pull the car out?” And I told him, “the world turns”. There was a group in the hut when you passed by and you didn’t even look out of the window and say hello to us. Then a bit further on, you needed me – how do you think that appeared? But things like that happen.
Friends, if we don’t make the effort as residents of the community, we’ll keep on having the same things happen. …???… I have always said to you, because we hear it said that there are people who don’t have the pants [balls; bravery] to confront the company, and I’ve always said here are capable people. Here we have people who want to fight and who have the energy, but what happens friends? Whilst we don’t resolve our internal problems, we will live all our lives blaming one another. And we know perfectly well that God was kicked out after the creation of the world; and we always have to have someone who is to blame, so the best thing when we have made a mistake is to acknowledge it and to move on. God created man and made him a wife, and after Eve made her mistake Jesus asked Adam [God] if the woman you made gave you food. So we always have to have someone to blame.
Don’t see me as strange because I’m a resident of the community. You are all my friends. Today, by invitation from friend Felix, I came to listen. So I’m here with you and I exhort you, as Señora Lupita was saying earlier, I’m very much in agreement with her, to meet as a community with the authorities and recognise the mistakes that we make. In that way we will start pulling together. If we do the opposite, friends, we will keep on regretting that people don’t want to support us or help us, and in the end we won’t get any positive result out of this. It’s this that I wanted to make clear to you. If I have spoken badly you know to forgive me and as an authority of the San San Druy community I invite the mayor to come to the community so that people and children of the community can get to know him. These are my words. Many thanks, friends.