San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Panama lawmakers approve bill allowing the sale of state-owned land

PANAMA CITY – Panamanian lawmakers on Friday approved a controversial bill that would allow the sale of state land in the Colón Free Zone.

The bill was supported by 44 lawmakers and rejected by four. Many members of the political opposition were out of room when the legislation was passed.

In addition to allowing the sale of government-owned land in Colón, on the North Atlantic coast, the bill allows the government to adjust rent to raise more money for social investment.

Under the new law, 35 percent of proceeds from the sale of government land would go to a trust run by Colón authorities for social investment, while the remaining 65 percent would go into the national treasury.

The government claims that in 10 years, Colón will receive investments of $390 million from the sale of land and taxes.

Opponents say the initiative will benefit President Ricardo Martinelli, a billionaire businessman, or his relatives.

“The sale of national assets is a mistake by this administration and will be amended in 2014,” the leader of the opposition Democratic Revolutionary Party, Juan Carlos Navarro, said.

Demonstrations, roadblocks and clashes between residents opposed to the project and police have occurred in Colón in the past three days.

With more than 3,000 companies in operation, the Panamanian free zone in 2011 generated more than $29 billion and added $1.7 billion to a total of $23.2 billion of the country’s gross domestic product.

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