A strike is paralysing the Panamanian port of Colón for a second day running after protests against plans to regenerate the city turned violent.
Civic groups behind the protest said the plans were a sneaky way of trying to gentrify the city and drive poorer residents out. But the government of President Juan Carlos Varela argues the plans will benefit the people of Colón.
So far four police officers have been injured and 45 people arrested.
A historic building in Colón’s old quarter, Casa Wilcox, was burned down. Some stores were looted and five people, four of them police officers, were injured.
Interior Minister Álvaro Alemán blamed “delinquent groups backed by people driven by political interests” for the acts of vandalism and said the government would deal swiftly with those behind them.
While the city is home to the Colón Free Trade Zone, its residential areas have been neglected for years and its infrastructure left to deteriorate.
A contract worth $537 million for the city’s regeneration was awarded in 2015 to a consortium made up of a Panamanian firm and scandal-hit Brazilian construction company Odebrecht. Residents have complained about the slow pace of the works which include the renovation of the city’s sewage system and its water supply.
They also say they fear the regeneration of the city’s housing stock will see them driven out by rising prices.
Alemán said the government would convene a council of ministers in April to examine the progress the regeneration project had made. He also said the government had registered the discontent of those affected by the works and was willing to discuss ways to mitigate their effect.