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Panama Government Privatizes Social Security Over Nationwide Protests and Violence

May 26 (EIRNS)—Throwing light on the drive to privatize Social Security which George W. Bush is carrying on over the strong opposition of 60% or more of the American population, forced privatization in Panama has just triggered nationwide demonstrations, violent clashes, and repression by police. Lyndon LaRouche warned Americans, in a December 2004 mass pamphlet, that Bush's privatization of Social Security could only be carried out by dictatorial measures, as its model was in Chile in the 1970s and 1980s. LaRouche's point is made by the Panama developments. The World Bank, in a report it has just released, is demanding more--that pension reform in every nation of the world must include privatization.

Four days of protests against government moves to privatize Panama's social security and medical attention plan, which have involved violent clashes with police, are rapidly moving toward an indefinite general strike, as Panama's Congress ignored a 10,000-person protest Wednesday night and voted up the privatization "reform" package in the first of two required debates. More than 240 workers and students have already been arrested, and scores injured as well. The social security system serves 75% of the Panamanian population.

In a telephone conversation today, Eduardo Rios, the former labor leader and founding member of the Schiller Institute's Labor Committee, who has written three books on the Panamanian Social Security System, said that the "reforms" include raising the retirement age (including for people who now are just a couple of years away from retiring), increasing the number of years you must contribute to qualify for retirement, and, most extreme, moving the Social Security funds from the National Bank, to whatever private banks the Social Security administrator, at his or her own discretion, deems appropiate. "From the banks' standpoint, this is even better than the Chilean scheme: Instead of individual accounts, they get the whole thing in one fell swoop; they don't have to bother with administering anyone's pension—the government does it for them—and all they have to pay is minimum interest, if that," said Rios, who added that the ultra-left, which, he said, also supported the 1989 invasion undercover, is leading people into impotent protests and useless acts of violence.

Rios has been pointing out that the "reforms" in Panama are part and parcel of what's going on in the United States and elsewhere, and for the same reason: the collapse of the world's financial system, and in recent days he had EIR's Carlos Wesley on his daily radio show, "Christianity and Society," to brief the Panamanians on the LaRouche-led fight against privatization in the United States.

The New York Times of May 26 obligingly argued the government's viewpoint, that "The social security system's reserves are inadequate for its future pension commitments, and the government needs pension reform to rein in a hefty budget deficit. Cleaning up public finances is key to Torrijos' ambitious plan to expand the country's interoceanic canal, whose locks are too small for a new generation of vast vessels."

President Torrijos, whose party holds a majority of the 78 seats of the national assembly, is planning to ram the reform through, come what may.