Panama: The Priest in the Protest

American missionary priest Joe Fitzgerald has worked in the Comarca for more than seven years. Image by Nick Swyter. Panama, 2013.

In February 2012, the Panamanian police used a military-style crackdown on a road blockade organized by Ngäbe-Buglé activists who opposed mining and hydroelectric projects. According to American missionary priest Joe Fitzgerald, police used tear gas, pellets and live rounds on the indigenous protesters. Fitzgerald, as both an outsider and a member of the clergy, has been able to assume a number of roles that the Ngäbe have not — namely, informing Panama's media of the attacks and assessing the police treatment of prisoners.

“There may have been three or four hundred people on that Sunday morning, but once the word came about on how brutal the attack was on the police side, I would say there were about 3,000 people at our protest site,” said Fitzgerald.