On March 15, business operations and traffic in the port city of Colon, Panama returned to normal in the early hours of the day following two days of protests and looting, which paralyzed the city and impacted cargo movements in the Port of Colon. Since the beginning of the week, four police officers have been injured and 45 people arrested as demonstrations against governmental plans to rebuild the city turned violent. Several roads were blocked by burning tires north of the street Calle 16. “Casa Wilcox”, a historic building located in street Calle 9, was said to have been burned down and several incidents of looting were reported. In a related incident, workers with the FEMSA union blocked Panama’s main roads on March 13 for one hour in solidarity with the protests in the city of Colon.
The Panama Chamber of Shipping indicated that although there was no blockade around the port entrance to prevent cargo entry, the protests affected the schedule of arriving and departing shipments in the port. Reports emerged on March 13 that a railway container had been looted. The content has not yet been identified. These reports may have led logistics companies to hold back on road and rail freight due to security reasons and for fear of being robbed. The Panama Freight Agency indicated that the economic losses caused by cargo delays in Colon have not yet been measured.
Frente Amplio por Colón (FAC), the main protesting organization, stated earlier this week that it would ensure that the local government fulfills its commitment to hold a dialogue with the demonstrators. Although it was reported on March 15 that the government failed to participate in a dialogue with FAC, local sources stated it was unlikely that further protests would have the same magnitude as those seen at the beginning of the week.
In the event of longer port disruptions, shipping lines transshipping through the Port of Colon may begin to divert shipments to avoid cargo being blocked in the port area. Located in the Colon Free Trade Zone near the Atlantic entrance to the Panama Canal, the Port of Colon is a key transport hub of goods from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean. More than 12,000 cargo ships visit the zone annually.