Two protesters were fatally shot by a 77-year-old man during a demonstration against a controversial mining contract in Panama. The violence erupted as demonstrators blocked the Pan-American Highway, leading to a deadly confrontation with the motorist.
The incident occurred near the town of Chame, 51 miles from Panama City, where protesters had taken to the highway to voice their opposition to a mining contract extension granted to Canada-based First Quantum Minerals. The deal permits the company to operate Central America’s largest open-pit copper mine for at least another two decades, a project considered to be within an environmentally sensitive area.
The motorist, identified as Kenneth Franklin Darlington Salas, was captured in harrowing footage exiting his vehicle and engaging with the protesters. What began as a verbal altercation quickly escalated when Mr. Salas fired upon the demonstrators, resulting in the deaths of Abdiel Diaz, a teacher and union activist, and Ivan Mendoza. The chilling video shows the gunman removing obstructions from the road post-shooting before he was detained by the authorities.
Kenneth Franklin Darlington Salas, known in the local media, has a controversial history. Notably, in 2005, he was acquitted of charges related to the possession of an array of weapons found in his apartment. He also served as a spokesperson for Marc Harris, a Panamanian accountant convicted of severe financial crimes.
The shooting represents the latest and most tragic episode in a series of demonstrations that began on October 20th. These protests have brought together various organisations, including a significant construction union named Suntracs and teachers’ unions, which have called for the annulment of the mining contract via legislative action. Despite a recent moratorium on new metal mining contracts and the involvement of the Supreme Court to determine the contract’s constitutionality, the unrest persists.
Local authorities responded promptly to the shooting, arresting Salas, who now faces the possibility of house arrest instead of jail time due to his advanced age. The incident has intensified the ongoing debate over environmental stewardship, indigenous rights, and economic development in Panama.