Zombie Protest in Panama City

31 Oct

Plans to celebrate Halloween in Panama City with a Zombie Walk through the old centre of town Casco Viejo were met with stern opposition from government. It was rumored in the days leading up to 30 October that the President’s Police would arrest anyone caught dressed as the living dead on the streets of Casco Viejo on the designated date of the event.

Given the history of US imperialism in the Isthmus (the Superpower only returned the Canal Zone to the Panama in 1999), I assumed that this official resistance to the Zombie Walk had its origins in anti-US sentiment. Initally I thought I could understand if Panamanian officials wanted to limit the importation of US traditions into their homeland after decades of oppression.

However it turned out that my lefty gut reaction was wrong. The Panamanian government actually opposed the Zombie walk and other public celebrations of Halloween because these were perceived as akin to demon-worshiping, and went against the teachings of the Catholic Church.

As the Zombie Walk was scheduled to start in Plaza Herrera, only a few blocks away from our Hostel, Alex and I agreed to go along as spectators. An hour before it started we were persuaded to paint our faces a ghostly white and join in the Walk with the other gringos who shared our room.

We were greeted by about fifty Zombies when we arrived in the Plaza at 7pm. Over the next two hours more zombies drifted into the Mojito bar where the participants congregated. By 9pm, when the Walk was scheduled to begin, the crowd had grown to several hundred people, about a quarter of whom were backpackers or North American expats living in Panama City. I am sure that more people would have turned out if they weren’t intimidated by the threat of arrest.

At the Zombie-filled Plaza the air was full of tension. One of the organisers of the event had been stopped by Police from entering Casco Viejo earlier that evening dressed as a Zombie Killer (she had been covered in fake-blood and carrying a plastic shovel), and had no other option but to return home, shower, and change in to normal clothes before she was permitted entry into the old town. Other Panamanians complained of similar experiences. It seemed that the rumors about arrests were correct. The dozen or so cops and Paddy Wagons gathering around the edges of the Plaza also hinted that the Walk wouldn’t progress peacefully.

Eventually a young man loudly condemning Police repression was handcuffed and stuffed into the bag of a Police Car before being driven away as the crowd cheered him on. A lot of people may think that this guy was an idiot because a prohibited Zombie Walk isn’t really worth being arrested over. I disagree. Government efforts to stop the Zombie Walk from going ahead and the counter-efforts of the young organisers and participants to make it happen revealed a much more complex politics about the uses of public space, and the rights of Panamanians to freedom of expression. If citizens of this Country can be gaoled for dressing up in a silly costume and going for a stroll in a group, then I am sure their ability to protest other government policies and programs would be severely restricted.

After the arrest the Police directed the zombies to proceed on the footpaths only, and the majority complied. At this point we decided not to continue in the Zombie Walk / Protest because I recognise that this isn’t my struggle to fight, and I didn’t really want to be arrested in a foreign country. But I respect the Panamanian organisers and participants and hope that next year’s Zombie Walk can be a more peaceful affair.

We had a lot of fun back at Luna’s Castle’s Halloween Party. Photos are posted to my Facebook page.

One Response to “Zombie Protest in Panama City”

  1. lainie November 1, 2010 at 12:22 am #

    Wonderful recollection of the evening’s events!! I love that you typed this (and I too, agree) with this: “A lot of people may think that this guy was an idiot because a prohibited Zombie Walk isn’t really worth being arrested over. I disagree. “

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