A 77-year-old man shot and killed two environmental protesters in an apparent fit of anger over a roadblock on Wednesday Panama.
The shooter was named in local media as Kenneth Franklin Darlington Salas. If convicted, Mr. Salas could be sentenced to house arrest instead of prison because of his age.
The protesters, opposing a controversial mining deal, had blocked the Pan-American Highway in Chame, 51 miles from the capital Panama City.
Footage posted on social media showed the driver getting out of his car and asking protesters to get off the road.
First, Mr. Salas removed the tires that were blocking the road. According to witnesses, the protesters shouted at the man: “Are you going to kill someone?”
The shooter replied, “Do you want to be first?”
He opened fire, first shooting a protester with a flag and then a second man who confronted him, before walking away and removing logs that had blocked the road. He was then arrested.
Local media identified the victims as Abdiel Diaz, a teacher and union activist, and Ivan Mendoza.
The deaths are the first fatalities in protests that erupted on October 20 against a deal that will allow Canada-based First Quantum Minerals to operate Central America’s largest open-pit copper mine for at least another 20 years.
The location in the jungle west of the capital is considered environmentally sensitive.
To calm tempers, Congress last week passed a law placing a moratorium on new metals mining contracts, leaving it to the Supreme Court to decide whether to allow the First Quantum Minerals contract.
Environmentalists welcomed the legislature’s decision, saying it is actually the court that should decide whether the treaty violates the Constitution.
But a powerful construction union called Suntracs, teachers unions and other organizations want the contract to be canceled through a law passed by Congress and are continuing their protests.
Panama-America said Mr. Salas was born in Colon and taught at several universities.
Mr. Salas was arrested back 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 plea that it was just part of a collection.
He was employed as a spokesman for Marc Harris, a Panamanian accountant who was sentenced to 17 years in prison in 2004 for money laundering and tax evasion.