Kuna Clashes with Central Government


bayano station

During the 1970s, the Kuna of Madungandi and Embera of Bayano peoples were displaced and resettled from 35.000 hectares of their traditional lands in order to build the Bayano Hydroelectric Central Station. To this day, land of resettlement has not been legalised and compensation to affected people not paid.  In February 2013 the Interamerican Comission for Human Rights handed the case to the Interamerican Court.



The Kuna has a permanent confrontation with SENAFRONT (National Frontier Service of the Republic of Panama), body created in 2008, after Panamanian ex-President Torrijos was convinced by US ex-President Bush to become part of the Merida Initiative. This initiative is an international treaty on security established by the US with Mexico and Central America in order to combat drug traffickingAfter his meeting with Bush, Torrijos created the Vice-Ministry of Security, today the Ministry of Public Security where SENAFRONT is embedded. More recently, former President Martinelli, acting against Panamanian Constitution, placed military at the top of the Police Force.  As a result, Kuna Yala saw the police force in the area transforming into a more specialized military body which is supposedly there to patrol the Panamanian/Colombian border. Many in Panama saw this as the beginning of a militarization process that still goes on today. Currently, SENAFRONT is represented in Kuna Yala with the Caribe Batallion which, strangely enough, is positioned in Nargana, very far from the border with Colombia they are supposed to be patrolling in order to bring drug trafficking under control. The Kuna General Congress has already denounced in multiple occasions the brutality communities face in their encounters with these public security forces´militarized unit. Meanwhile,

“…the budget of the Ministry of Public Security has ballooned, reaching $7.2 billion USD in their budget request for 2014, including $79 million USD for helicopters and radar. Furthermore, counter-drug assistance has quadrupled since 2009, now reaching about $8 million USD. While these amounts seem minuscule when compared to the titanic budget wielded by the United States military, the increased spending can have a marked impact on the power and conduct of the Panamanian Public Forces. History has shown that those who have weapons tend to use them. (Council on Hemispheric Affairs)

It is well-known that the government, encouraged and supported by the USA, has for some time wanted to build military bases in Kuna territory.The Kuna General Congress has already shown too its opposition to this construction.

The Kuna are also in constant dispute with the government over tourism.  Because Kuna authorities have control over Kuna territory, a practice of anchoring floating hotels off the coast has become common, with enterprises benefiting from the Kuna without Kuna  participation.

Another focus of conflict between the Kuna and the central government is the possible construction of the Muladup-Morti highway, which would open another cattle frontier in Kuna Yala.

The government of Panama has not ratify ILO Convention 169 (1989) on Indigenous and Tribal Peoples and  does not comply with 2007 UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Documents you may like to check:

Corrupt Militarization and the Threat to Panamanian Democracy (COHA, 2013)



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