Church Urges Indigenous Groups, Panama President to Talk

PANAMA CITY, FEB. 28, 2011 ( Early this month, lawmakers in Panama repealed a law that had blocked foreign investment in mining, stirring a strong reaction from indigenous groups who say foreign mines will force their communities to move and endanger their lands.

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The Episcopal Conference of Panama has urged frank dialogue between the representatives of the indigenous groups and President Ricardo Martinelli.

«The Catholic Church is convinced that the viable means to find a solution to this conflict is to establish a table of dialogue, without preconditions, with transparency and with the necessary time,» stated a communiqué issued by the bishops’ conference.

The prelates urged study of the pros and cons, seeking the «common good of the country.»

Under the new law, the western Ngobe-Bugle reservation is opened to foreign investment. In protest, that group has blocked the Pan-American highway for several consecutive days. One member of the indigenous groups has died in the conflict.

Archbishop José Domingo Ulloa Mendieta of Panama offered the Church’s mediation, which in fact has been sought by representative of the Ngobe-Bugle group.

A presidential spokesmen said the government will study the Church’s offer, but did not say when a decision would be made.

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