A 77-year-old man shot dead two environmental protesters Wednesday in an apparent fit of rage at a roadblock in Panama.
The shooter was identified in local media as Kenneth Franklin Darlington Salas. If convicted, Mr. Salas could be sentenced to house arrest rather than prison because of his age.
Protesters, opposed to a controversial mining contract, blocked the Pan-American Highway in Chame, 81 kilometers from the capital Panama.
Images posted on social media showed the motorist getting out of his car, demanding that protesters leave the road.
First, Mr. Salas removed the tires that were obstructing the road. The protesters, according to witnesses, shouted at the man: “Are you going to kill someone?
The shooter replied, “Want to be first?” »
He opened fire, first shooting a protester holding a flag, then a second man who had gone to confront him, before walking away and removing tree trunks blocking the road. He was then arrested.
Local media identified the victims as Abdiel Diaz, a teacher and union activist, and Ivan Mendoza.
The deaths were the first victims of protests that broke out on October 20 against a contract allowing Canadian company First Quantum Minerals to operate Central America’s largest open-pit copper mine for at least 20 more years.
The site, located in the jungle west of the capital, is considered ecologically sensitive.
In an effort to calm tempers, Congress passed a law last week that placed a moratorium on new metals mining contracts and left it up to the Supreme Court to decide whether to allow the contract with First Quantum Minerals.
Environmentalists welcomed this decision by lawmakers, saying that in fact it is the court that should decide whether the contract violates the constitution.
But a powerful construction union called Suntracs, teachers unions and other organizations want the contract canceled by a law passed by Congress. They therefore continue their protests.
Panama America said Mr. Salas was born in Colon and had been a professor at several universities.
Mr. Salas was previously arrested in 2005 after weapons – including an AK-47 and an M-16 – were found in his apartment. He was later acquitted after a court accepted his argument that they were simply part of a collection.
He was the spokesman for Marc Harris, a Panamanian accountant who was jailed for 17 years in 2004 after being convicted of money laundering and tax evasion.
Broaden your horizons with award-winning British journalism. Try The Telegraph free for 1 month, then get a year for just $9 with our US-exclusive offer.